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- Yvette - 5/17 -
Nobody spoke for several minutes. Then as they were serving the trout, Servigny remarked:
"Silence is a good thing, at times. People are often nearer to each other when they are keeping still than when they are talking. Isn't that so, Marquise?"
She turned a little toward him and answered:
"It is quite true. It is so sweet to think together about agreeable things."
She raised her warm glance toward Saval, and they continued for some seconds looking into each other's eyes. A slight, almost inaudible movement took place beneath the table.
Servigny resumed: "Mam'zelle Yvette, you will make me believe that you are in love if you keep on being as good as that. Now, with whom could you be in love? Let us think together, if you will; I put aside the army of vulgar sighers. I'll only take the principal ones. Is it Prince Kravalow?"
At this name Yvette awoke: "My poor Muscade, can you think of such a thing? Why, the Prince has the air of a Russian in a wax-figure museum, who has won medals in a hairdressing competition."
"Good! We'll drop the Prince. But you have noticed the Viscount Pierre de Belvigne?"
This time she began to laugh, and asked: "Can you imagine me hanging to the neck of 'Raisine'?" She nicknamed him according to the day, Raisine, Malvoisie, [Footnote: Preserved grapes and pears, malmsey,- -a poor wine.] Argenteuil, for she gave everybody nicknames. And she would murmur to his face: "My dear little Pierre," or "My divine Pedro, darling Pierrot, give your bow-wow's head to your dear little girl, who wants to kiss it."
"Scratch out number two. There still remains the Chevalier Valreali whom the Marquise seems to favor," continued Servigny.
Yvette regained all her gaiety: "'Teardrop'? Why he weeps like a Magdalene. He goes to all the first-class funerals. I imagine myself dead every time he looks at me."
"That settles the third. So the lightning will strike Baron Saval, here."
"Monsieur the Colossus of Rhodes, Junior? No. He is too strong. It would seem to me as if I were in love with the triumphal arch of L'Etoile."
"Then Mam'zelle, it is beyond doubt that you are in love with me, for I am the only one of your adorers of whom we have not yet spoken. I left myself for the last through modesty and through discretion. It remains for me to thank you."
She replied with happy grace: "In love with you, Muscade? Ah! no. I like you, but I don't love you. Wait--I--I don't want to discourage you. I don't love you--yet. You have a chance--perhaps. Persevere, Muscade, be devoted, ardent, submissive, full of little attentions and considerations, docile to my slightest caprices, ready for anything to please me, and we shall see--later."
"But, Mam'zelle, I would rather furnish all you demand afterward than beforehand, if it be the same to you."
She asked with an artless air: "After what, Muscade?"
"After you have shown me that you love me, by Jove!"
"Well, act as if I loved you, and believe it, if you wish."
"Be quiet, Muscade; enough on the subject."
The sun had sunk behind the island, but the whole sky still flamed like a fire, and the peaceful water of the river seemed changed to blood. The reflections from the horizon reddened houses, objects, and persons. The scarlet rose in the Marquise's hair had the appearance of a splash of purple fallen from the clouds upon her head.
As Yvette looked on from her end, the Marquise rested, as if by carelessness, her bare hand upon Saval's hand; but the young girl made a motion and the Marquise withdrew her hand with a quick gesture, pretending to readjust something in the folds of her corsage.
Servigny, who was looking at them, said:
"If you like, Mam'zelle, we will take a walk on the island after dinner."
"Oh, yes! That will be delightful. We will go all alone, won't we, Muscade?"
"Yes, all alone, Mam'zelle!"
The vast silence of the horizon, the sleepy tranquillity of the evening captured heart, body, and voice. There are peaceful, chosen hours when it becomes almost impossible to talk.
The servants waited on them noiselessly. The firmamental conflagration faded away, and the soft night spread its shadows over the earth.
"Are you going to stay long in this place?" asked Saval.
And the Marquise answered, dwelling on each word: "Yes, as long as I am happy."
As it was too dark to see, lamps were brought. They cast upon the table a strange, pale gleam beneath the great obscurity of space; and very soon a shower of gnats fell upon the tablecloth--the tiny gnats which immolate themselves by passing over the glass chimneys, and, with wings and legs scorched, powder the table linen, dishes, and cups with a kind of gray and hopping dust.
They swallowed them in the wine, they ate them in the sauces, they saw them moving on the bread, and had their faces and hands tickled by the countless swarm of these tiny insects. They were continually compelled to throw away the beverages, to cover the plates, and while eating to shield the food with infinite precautions.
It amused Yvette. Servigny took care to shelter what she bore to her mouth, to guard her glass, to hold his handkerchief stretched out over her head like a roof. But the Marquise, disgusted, became nervous, and the end of the dinner came quickly. Yvette, who had not forgotten Servigny's proposition, said to him:
"Now we'll go to the island."
Her mother cautioned her in a languid tone: "Don't be late, above all things. We will escort you to the ferry."
And they started in couples, the young girl and her admirer walking in front, on the road to the shore. They heard, behind them, the Marquise and Saval speaking very rapidly in low tones. All was dark, with a thick, inky darkness. But the sky swarmed with grains of fire, and seemed to sow them in the river, for the black water was flecked with stars.
The frogs were croaking monotonously upon the bank, and numerous nightingales were uttering their low, sweet song in the calm and peaceful air.
Yvette suddenly said: "Gracious! They are not walking behind us any more, where are they?" And she called out: "Mamma!" No voice replied. The young girl resumed: "At any rate, they can't be far away, for I heard them just now."
Servigny murmured: "They must have gone back. Your mother was cold, perhaps." And he drew her along.
Before them a light gleamed. It was the tavern of Martinet, restaurant-keeper and fisherman. At their call a man came out of the house, and they got into a large boat which was moored among the weeds of the shore.
The ferryman took his oars, and the unwieldy barge, as it advanced, disturbed the sleeping stars upon the water and set them into a mad dance, which gradually calmed down after they had passed. They touched the other shore and disembarked beneath the great trees. A cool freshness of damp earth permeated the air under the lofty and clustered branches, where there seemed to be as many nightingales as there were leaves. A distant piano began to play a popular waltz.
Servigny took Yvette's arm and very gently slipped his hand around her waist and gave her a slight hug.
"What are you thinking about?" he said.
"I? About nothing at all. I am very happy!"
"Then you don't love me?"
"Oh, yes, Muscade, I love you, I love you a great deal; only leave me alone. It is too beautiful here to listen to your nonsense."
He drew her toward him, although she tried, by little pushes, to extricate herself, and through her soft flannel gown he felt the warmth of her flesh. He stammered:
"I do love you!"
"But you are not in earnest, Muscade."
"Oh, yes I am. I have loved you for a long time."
She continually kept trying to separate herself from him, trying to release the arm crushed between their bodies. They walked with difficulty, trammeled by this bond and by these movements, and went zigzagging along like drunken folk.
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