The count had pleaded yesterday for an interview, and he had done this with so mysterious and melancholy a mien, that the gay and sportive Louise had called him the Knight of Toggenberg, and had asked him plaintively if he was coming to die at her feet.
"Possibly," he answered, with grave earnestness--"possibly, if you are cruel enough to refuse the request I prefer."
These words had occupied the thoughts of this vain coquette during the whole night; she was convinced that Ranuzi, ravished by her beauty, wished to make her a declaration, and she had been hesitating whether to reject or encourage him. As he advanced so gracefully and smilingly to meet her, she resolved to encourage him and make him forget the mockery of yesterday.
Possibly Ranuzi read this in her glance, but he did not regard it; he had attained his aim--the interview which he desired. "Madame," said he, "I come to make honorable amends, and to plead at your feet for pardon." He bowed on one knee, and looked up beseechingly.
Louise found that his languishing and at the same time glowing eyes were very beautiful, and she was entirely ready to be gracious, although she did not know the offence. "Stand up, count," said she, "and let us talk reasonably together. What have you done, and for what must I forgive you?"
"You annihilate me with your magnanimity," sighed Ranuzi. "You are so truly noble as to have forgotten my boldness of yesterday, and you choose to forget that the poor, imprisoned soldier, intoxicated by your beauty, carried away by your grace and amiability, has dared to love you and to confess it. But I swear to you, madame, I will never repeat this offence. The graceful mockery and keen wit with which you punished me yesterday has deeply moved me, and I assure you, madame, you have had more influence over me than any prude with her most eloquent sermon on virtue could have done. I have seen my crime, and never again will my lips dare to confess what lives and glows in my heart." He took her hand and kissed it most respectfully.
Louise was strangely surprised, and it seemed to her not at all necessary for the count to preserve so inviolable a silence as to his love; but she was obliged to appear pleased, and she did this with facility and grace.
"I thank you," she said, gayly, "that you have freed me from a lover whom, as the wife of Major du Trouffle, I should have been compelled to banish from my house. Now I dare give a pleasant, kindly welcome, to Count Ranuzi, and be ready at all times to serve him gladly."