They were talking among themselves with those whispers and stifled bursts of laughter which are the sure signs of a young mans presence among a party of girls. The young man himself who set all these feminite wiles in motion, appeared but little impressed thereby, and while the pretty creatures vied with one another in their endeavours to attract his attention, he was chiefly occupied in polishing the buckle of his sword-belt with his doeskin glove.
From time to time the old lady addressed him in a low voice, and he answered as well as might be with a sort of awkward and constrained politeness. From the smiles and significant gestures of Madame Aloïse, and the meaning glances she threw at her daughter, Fleur-de-Lys, as she talked to the captain, it was evident that the conversation turned on some betrothal already accomplished or a marriage in the near future between the young man and the daughter of the house. Also, from the cold and embarrassed air of the officer, it was plainly to be seen than, as far as he was concerned, there was no longer any question of love. His whole demeanour expressed a degree of constraint and ennui such as a modern subaltern would translate in the admirable language of to-day by, What a beastly bore!
The good lady, infatuated like many another mother with her daughter, never noticed the officers lack of enthusiasm; but gave herself infinite pains to call his attention in a whisper to the matchless grace with which Fleur-de-Lys used her needle or unwound her silk thread.
Look, little cousin, said she, pulling him by the sleeve and speaking into his ear, look at her nownow, as she bends.
Quite so, replied the young man; and he fell back into his former icy and abstracted silence.
The next moment he had to lean down again to Madame Aloïse. Have you ever, said she, seen a blither and more engaging creature than your intended? She is all lily-white and golden. Those hands, how perfect and accomplished! and that neck, has it not all the ravishing curves of a swans? How I envy you at times! and how fortunate you are in being a man, naughty rake that you are! Is not my Fleur-de-Lys beautiful to adoration, and you head over ears in love with her?
Assuredly, he replied, thinking of something else.
Speak to her, then, said Madame Aloïse, pushing him by the shoulder. Go and say something to her; you have grown strangely timid.
We can assure our readers that timidity was no virtue or fault of the captain. He made an effort, however, to do as he was bid.
Fair cousin, said he, approaching Fleur-de-Lys, what is the subject of this piece of tapestry you are working at?
Fair cousin, answered Fleur-de-Lys somewhat pettishly, I have already informed you three times. It is the grotto of Neptune.
It was evident that Fleur-de-Lys saw more plainly than her mother through the cold and absent manner of the captain. He felt the necessity of pursuing the conversation further.
And who is to benefit by all this fine Neptunery?he asked.
It is for the Abbey of Saint-Antoine-des-Champs, answered Fleur-de-Lys, without raising her eyes.
The captain picked up a corner of the tapestry. And pray, fair cousin, who may be this big, puffy-cheeked gendarme blowing a trumpet?
That is Triton, she replied.
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