Montevarchi made his daughter sit beside him and took her hand affectionately in his, assuming at the same time the expression of sanctimonious superiority he always wore when he mentioned the cares of his household or was engaged in regulating any matter of importance in his family. Flavia used to imitate the look admirably, to the delight of her brothers and sisters. He smiled meaningly, pressed the girl’s fingers, and smiled again, attempting in vain to elicit some response. But Faustina remained cold and indifferent, for she was used to her father’s ways and did not like them.
“You know what I am going to say, I am sure,” he began. “It concerns what must be very near your heart, my dear child.”
“I do not know what it can be,” answered Faustina, gravely. She was too well brought up to show any of the dislike she felt for her father’s way of doing things, but she was willing to make it as hard as possible for him to express himself.
“Cannot you guess what it is?” asked the old man, with a ludicrous attempt at banter. “What is it that is nearest to every girl’s heart? Is not that little heart of yours already a resort of the juvenile deity?”
“I do not understand you, papa.”
“Well, well, my dear—I see that your education has not included a course of mythology. It is quite as well, perhaps, as those heathens are poor company for the young. I refer to marriage, Faustina, to that all-important step which you are soon to take.”
“Have you quite decided to marry me to Frangipani?” asked the young girl with a calmness that somewhat disconcerted her father.
“How boldly you speak of it!” he exclaimed with a sigh of disapproval. “I will not, however, conceal from you that I hope—”
“Pray talk plainly with me, papa!” cried Faustina suddenly looking up. “I cannot bear this suspense.”
“Ah! Is it so, little one?” Montevarchi shook his finger playfully at her. “I thought I should find you ready! So you are anxious to become a princess at once? Well, well, all women are alike!”