Prince Montevarchi was very much surprised when he was told that Anastase Gouache wished to see him, and as he was very much occupied with the details of the suit his first impulse was to decline the visit. Although he had no idea that matters had already gone so far between the Zouave and Faustina, he was not, however, so blind as the young girl had supposed him to be. He was naturally observant, like most men who devote their lives to the pursuit of their own interests, and it had not escaped him that Faustina and Gouache were very often to be seen talking together in the world. Had he possessed a sense of humour he might possibly have thought that it would be inexpressibly comical if Gouache should take it into his head to fall in love with the girl; but the Italians are not a humorous people, and the idea did not suggest itself to the old gentleman. He consented to receive Gouache because he thought the opportunity would be a good one for reading the young man a lecture upon the humility of his station, and upon the arrogance he displayed in devoting himself thus openly to the daughter of Casa Montevarchi.
“Good-day, Monsieur Gouache,” he said solemnly, as Anastase entered. “Pray be seated. To what do I owe the honour of your visit?”
Anastase had put on a perfectly new uniform for the interview, and his movements were more than usually alert and his manners a shade more elaborate and formal than on ordinary occasions. He felt and behaved as young men of good birth do who are serving their year in the army, and who, having put on their smartest tunic, hope that in a half light they may be taken for officers.
“Will you allow me to explain my position in the first place?” he asked, seating himself and twisting his cap slowly in his hands.
“Your position? By all means, if you desire to do so. It is an excellent rule in all discourses to put the definition before the argument. Nevertheless, if you would inform me of the nature of the affair, it might help me to understand you better.”
“It is very delicate—but I will try to be plain. What I am, I think you know already. I am a painter and I have been successful. For the present, I am a Zouave, but my military service does not greatly interfere with my profession. We have a good deal of time upon our hands. My pictures bring me a larger income than I can spend.”
“I congratulate you,” observed Montevarchi, opening his small eyes in some astonishment. “The pursuit of the fine arts is not generally very lucrative. For myself, I confess that I am satisfied with those treasures which my father has left me. I am very fond of pictures, it is true; but you will understand that, when a gallery is filled, it is full. You comprehend, I am sure? Much as I might wish to own some of the works of the modern French school, the double disadvantage of possessing already so many canvases, and the still stronger consideration of my limited fortune—yes, limited, I assure you—–”