“On that score, my charmer, we do not at all agree. I ought not to despise, but to hate you.”

The girl looked up at him frightened. “Hate me! What have I done?”

“Why, you have taken so much soliciting.”

“Alas!” said she, “it is that I am breaking a vow— I shall never find my parents— the amulet will lose its virtue — but what of that?— what need have I of a father or mother now?” And she fixed on the soldier her large dark eyes, dewy with tenderness and delight.

“The devil fly away with me if I know what you mean!” cried Phœbus.

Esmeralda was silent for a moment, then a tear rose to her eyes, and a sigh to her lips, as she murmured, “Oh, sir, I love you!”

There was around the girl such a halo of chastity, such a perfume of virtue, that Phœbus was not quite at his ease with her. These words, however, emboldened him. “You love me!” he exclaimed with transport, and threw his arm round the gipsy’s waist. He had only been on the lookout for an opportunity.

The priest beheld this, and tried with his finger-tip the edge of the dagger which he kept concealed in his bosom.

“Phœbus,” the gipsy went on, at the same time gently disengaging her waist from the officer’s clinging hands, “you are good, you are generous, you are handsome. You saved me— me, who am but a poor wandering gipsy girl. I had long dreamed of an officer who should save my life. It was of you I dreamed before I met you, my Phœbus. The officer of my dream wore a fine uniform like yours, a grand look, a sword. You are called Phœbus; it is a beautiful name. I love your name; I love your sword. Draw your sword, Phœbus, and let me look at it.”

“Child!” said the captain, unsheathing his sword with an indulgent smile.

The Egyptian looked at the hilt, at the blade, examined with adorable curiosity the monogram on the guard, and then kissed the sword. “You are the sword of a brave man,” she said. “I love my officer.”

Here Phœbus availed himself of the opportunity, as she bent over the sword, to press a kiss upon her fair neck, which made the girl flush crimson and draw herself up, while the priest ground his teeth in the darkness.

“Phœbus,” the gipsy resumed, “let me talk to you. But first, pray you, walk about a little that I may see you at your full height, and hear the ring of your spurs. How handsome you are!”

The captain rose to please her, chiding her the while with a smile of satisfied vanity. “What a child it is! Apropos, sweetheart, have you ever seen me in gala uniform?”

“Alas! no,” said she.

“Ah, that’s worth looking at!” He reseated himself beside the gipsy, but much closer this time than before. “Listen, my sweet—”

The gipsy girl gave two or three little taps of her pretty hand on his mouth with a playfulness that was full of child-like grace and gaiety. “No, no, I will not listen to anything. Do you love me? I want you to tell me if you love me.”

“Do I love thee, angel of my life!” exclaimed the captain, sinking on one knee before her. “I am thine— body, blood, and soul; all, all would I give for thee. I love thee, and have never loved but thee.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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