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- The Queen Pedauque - 20/43 -
dress in order and remained silent.
"I love you," I said. "What is your name?"
I did not think her to be a Salamander, and to say the truth never did think so.
"My name is Jahel," she said.
"What! you're the niece of Mosaïde?"
"Yes; but keep quiet. If he should know--"
"What would he do?"
"Oh! nothing to me--nothing. But to you the worst. He dislikes Christians."
"Oh! I? I dislike the Jews."
"Jahel, do you love me a little?"
"It seems to me, sir, that after what we have just now said to one another, your question is an offence."
"True, mademoiselle, but I try to obtain forgiveness for a vivacity, an ardour, which did not take the leisure to consult your sentiments."
"Oh! monsieur, do not make yourself out to be more guilty than you really are. All your violence, and all your passion, would not have served you at all, had I not found you lovable. When I saw you sleeping in that arm-chair, I liked your looks, waited for your awakening--the rest you know."
As reply I gave her a kiss, she gave it me back, what a kiss! I fancied fresh-gathered strawberries melting in my mouth. My desire revived and passionately I pressed her on my heart.
"This time," she said, "be less hasty, and do not think only of yourself. You must not be selfish in love. Young men do not sufficiently know that. But we teach them."
And we immersed ourselves in an unfathomable depth of deliciousness.
After that the divine Jahel asked of me:
"Have you a comb? I look like a witch."
"Jahel," I answered, "I have no comb. I had expected a Salamander. I adore you."
"Adore me, dearest, but remain secret. You do not know Mosaïde."
"What, Jahel. Is he still so terrible as that, at the age of one hundred and thirty years, of which he has lived sixty-five inside a pyramid?"
"I see, my friend, that stories of my uncle have been told you and that you were simple enough to believe them. Nobody knows his age; I myself am ignorant of it, but I have always known him as an old man. I know only that he is robust and of uncommon strength. He has been a banker at Lisbon, where he killed a Christian he surprised in the arms of my Aunt Myriam. He took to flight, and carried me with him. Since then he loves me with the tenderness of a mother. He tells me things that are told to little children only, and he cries when he sees me asleep."
"Do you live with him?"
"Yes, in the keeper's lodge, at the other end of the park."
"I know; you reach it by the lane where mandrakes are to be found. How is it that I did not meet you before? By what sinister destiny, living so near you, have I lived without seeing you? But what do I say, lived? Is it to live without knowing you? Are you shut up in yonder lodge?"
"It is true I am somewhat of a recluse, and cannot go for walks as I wish, to the shops, to theatres. Mosaïde's tenderness does not leave me any liberty. He guards me jealously, and, besides six small gold cups he brought with him from Lisbon, he loves but me on earth. As he is much more attached to me than he was to my Aunt Myriam, he would kill you, dear, with a better heart than he killed the Portuguese. I warn you so, to impress the necessity of discretion on you, and because it is not a consideration which could stop a brave gentleman. Are you of a good family, my friend?"
"Alas! no; my father applies himself to a mechanic art, and has a sort of trade."
"And he is not of any of the professions? Does not belong to the banking world? No? It is a pity. Well. you're to be loved for yourself. But speak the truth. Is M. d'Asterac to be back shortly?"
At this name and question a terrible doubt came in my mind. I suspected the enchanting Jahel to have been sent by the cabalist to play the part of a Salamander with me. I went so far as to excuse her in my mind of being the nymph of that old fool. To obtain an immediate explanation I bluntly and coarsely asked her if she was in the habit of acting the Salamander in the castle.
"I don't understand you," she replied, looking at me with eyes full of innocent surprise. "You speak like M. d'Asterac himself, and I could believe you to be attacked by his mania also, if I had not proved that you do not share the aversion to women that he has. He cannot stand any female, and it is a real annoyance to me to see and speak with him. Nevertheless I was looking for him when I found you."
The pleasure of being reassured made me again smother her with kisses.
She managed to let me see that she had black stockings which, over the knees, were held up by garters ornamented with diamond buckles and that sight brought back my mind to ideas pleasant to her. Besides she entreated me on the welcome subject with much ability and fervour, and I was aware that she became excited over the game at the very moment I began to get fatigued from it, However I did my best, and was fortunate enough to spare the beautiful girl a disgrace which she did not deserve in the least. It seemed to me that she was not discontented with me. She rose, very quietly, and said:
"Do you really not know if M. d'Asterac will soon be back? I confess to you that I came to ask him for a small amount of that pension he owes to my uncle, a trifle only. I very badly want it just now."
I took my purse out and handed her, with due excuses, the three crowns it contained. It was all that remained of the too rare liberalities of the cabalist who, professing to dislike money, unluckily forgot to pay me my salary.
I asked Mademoiselle Jahel if I should not have the pleasure of seeing her again.
"You will," she replied.
And we agreed that she should ascend at night-time to my room whenever she could escape from the lodge, where she was pretty nearly a prisoner.
"Take care to remember," I told her, "that my room is the fourth on the right of the corridor and Abbé Coignard's the fifth. The others give access to the lofts, where two or three scullions lodge, and hundreds of rats."
She assured me that she would be very careful not to make a mistake, and would scratch on my door and not on any other.
"Besides," she continued, "your Abbé Coignard seems to be a very good man, and I am pretty sure that we have in no way to be afraid of him. I looked at him, through a peephole, on the day he came with you to visit my uncle! I thought him amiable, though I could not hear what he said. Principally his nose I thought to be really ingenious and capable. A man with such a nose ought to be full of expedients and I very much wish to become acquainted with him. One can but better one's mind by having intercourse with people of high spirit. I am only sorry that my uncle was not pleased with his words and scoffing humour. Mosaïde hates him, and of his capacity for hate no Christian can form an idea."
"Mademoiselle," I replied, "Monsieur l'Abbé Jérôme Coignard is a very learned man, and he has in addition philosophy and kindness. He knows the world, and you are quite right in believing him to be a good counsellor. I regulate myself fully after his advice. But, tell me, did you see me also, on yonder day, at the lodge, through the peephole you spoke of?"
"I saw you," she said to me, "and I will not hide from you that I was pleased. But I must return to my uncle. Good-bye."
The same evening, after supper, M. d'Asterac did not fail to ask me for news of the Salamander. His curiosity troubled me somewhat. My answer was that the meeting had surpassed all my expectations, but that I thought it my duty to confine myself to a discretion due to such kind of adventures.
"That discretion, my son," he said, "is not of so much use in your case as you represent. Salamanders do not want their amours to be kept secret, they are not ashamed of them. One of those nymphs who loves me does not know of a sweeter pastime than to engrave my initials enlaced with hers on the bark of trees, as you can see for yourself by examining the stems of five or six Scotch firs, the exquisite tops of which you can see from yonder windows. But have you not, my son, learned that that kind of amour, truly sublime, far from leaving any fatigue behind, lends to the heart a new vigour? I am sure that after what passed to-day you'll employ your night in translating at least sixty pages of Zosimus the Panopolitan."
I confessed that on the contrary I felt very sleepy, which he explained by reason of the astonishment produced by such a first meeting. And so the great man remained convinced that I had had intercourse with a Salamander. I felt some scruples at deceiving him, but I was compelled to do it and, besides, he deceived himself to such a degree that it was hardly possible to add anything to his illusions. So I ascended peacefully to my room, went to bed, and blew the candle out at the end of the most glorious day of my life.
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