“So your marriage will positively take place?”
I forced a laugh.
“Ma! certamente! Do you doubt it?”
His handsome face clouded and his manner grew still more constrained.
“No; but I thought—I had hoped—”
“Mon cher,” I said, airily, “I perfectly understand to what you allude. But we men of the world are not fastidious—we know better than to pay any heed to the foolish love-fancies of a woman before her marriage, so long as she does not trick us afterward. The letters you sent me were trifles, mere trifles! In wedding the Contessa Romani I assure you I believe I secure the most virtuous as well as the most lovely woman in Europe!” And I laughed again heartily.
D’Avencourt looked puzzled; but he was a punctilious man, and knew how to steer clear of a delicate subject. He smiled.
“A la bonne heure,” he said—“I wish you joy with all my heart! You are the best judge of your own happiness; as for me—vive la liberte!”
And with a gay parting salute he left me. No one else in the city appeared to share his foreboding scruples, if he had any, about my forthcoming marriage. It was everywhere talked of with as much interest and expectation as though it were some new amusement invented to heighten the merriment of carnival. Among other things, I earned the reputation of being a most impatient lover, for now I would consent to no delays. I hurried all the preparations on with feverish precipitation. I had very little difficulty in persuading Nina that the sooner our wedding took place the better; she was to the full as eager as myself, as ready to rush on her own destruction as Guido had been. Her chief passion was avarice, and the repeated rumors of my supposed fabulous wealth had aroused her greed from the very moment she had first met me in my assumed character of the Count Oliva. As soon as her engagement to me became known in Naples, she was an object of envy to all those of her own sex who, during the previous autumn, had laid out their store of fascinations to entrap me in vain—and this made her perfectly happy. Perhaps the supremest satisfaction a woman of this sort can attain to is the fact of making her less fortunate sisters discontented and miserable! I loaded her, of course, with the costliest gifts, and she, being the sole mistress of the fortune left her by her “late husband,” as well as of the unfortunate Guido’s money, set no limits to her extravagance. She ordered the most expensive and elaborate costumes; she was engaged morning after morning with dressmakers, tailors, and milliners, and she was surrounded by a certain favored “set” of female friends, for whose benefit she displayed the incoming treasures of her wardrobe till they were ready to cry for spite and vexation, though they had to smile and hold in their wrath and outraged vanity beneath the social mask of complacent composure. And Nina loved nothing better than to torture the poor