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He looked at her a moment, considering the sprightly beauty of her, the adorable femininity that from the first had so irresistibly attracted him.
"One morning when I beheld you rehearsing a love-scene with Leandre."
He caught the surprise that leapt to her eyes, before she veiled them under drooping lids from his too questing gaze.
"Why, that was the first time you saw me."
"I had no earlier occasion to remark your charms."
"You ask me to believe too much," said she, but her tone was softer than he had ever known it yet.
"Then you'll refuse to believe me if I confess that it was this grace and beauty that determined my destiny that day by urging me to join your father's troupe."
At that she became a little out of breath. There was no longer any question of finding an outlet for resentment. Resentment was all forgotten.
"But why? With what object?"
"With the object of asking you one day to be my wife."
She halted under the shock of that, and swung round to face him. Her glance met his own without, shyness now; there was a hardening glitter in her eyes, a faint stir of colour in her cheeks. She suspected him of an unpardonable mockery.
"You go very fast, don't you?" she asked him, with heat.
"I do. haven't you observed it? I am a man of sudden impulses. See what I have made of the Binet troupe in less than a couple of months. Another might have laboured for a year and not achieved the half of it. Shall I be slower in love than in work? Would it be reasonable to expect it? I have curbed and repressed myself not to scare you by precipitancy. In that I have done violence to my feelings, and more than all in using the same cold aloofness with which you chose to treat me. I have waited - oh! so patiently - until you should tire of that mood of cruelty."
"You are an amazing man," said she, quite colourlessly.
"I am," he agreed with her. "It is only the conviction that I am not commonplace that has permitted me to hope as I have hoped."
Mechanically, and as if by tacit consent, they resumed their walk.
"And I ask you to observe," he said, "when you complain that I go very fast, that, after all, I have so far asked you for nothing."
"How?" quoth she, frowning.
"I have merely told you of my hopes. I am not so rash as to ask at once whether I may realize them."
"My faith, but that is prudent," said she, tartly.
It was his self-possession that exasperated her; for after that she walked the short remainder of the way in silence, and so, for the moment, the matter was left just there.
But that night, after they had supped, it chanced that when Climene was about to retire, he and she were alone together in the room abovestairs that her father kept exclusively for his company. The Binet Troupe, you see, was rising in the world.
As Climene now rose to withdraw for the night, Scaramouche rose with her to light her candle. Holding it in her left hand, she offered him her right, a long, tapering, white hand at the end of a softly rounded arm that was bare to the elbow.
"Good-night, Scaramouche," she said, but so softly, so tenderly, that he caught his breath, and stood conning her, his dark eyes aglow.
Thus a moment, then he took the tips of her fingers in his grasp, and bowing over the hand, pressed his lips upon it. Then he looked at her again. The intense femininity of her lured him on, invited him, surrendered to him. Her face was pale, there was a glitter in her eyes, a curious smile upon her parted lips, and under its fichu-menteur her bosom rose and fell to complete the betrayal of her.
By the hand he continued to hold, he drew her towards him. She came unresisting. He took the candle from her, and set it down on the sideboard by which she stood. The next moment her slight, lithe body was in his arms, and he was kissing her, murmuring her name as if it were a prayer.
"Am I cruel now?" she asked him, panting. He kissed her again for only answer. "You made me cruel because you would not see," she told him next in a whisper.
And then the door opened, and M. Binet came in to have his paternal eyes regaled by this highly indecorous behaviour of his daughter.
He stood at gaze, whilst they quite leisurely, and in a self-possession too complete to be natural, detached each from the other.
"And what may be the meaning of this?" demanded M. Binet, bewildered and profoundly shocked.
"Does it require explaining?" asked Scaramouche. "Doesn't it speak for itself - eloquently? It means that Climene and I have taken it into our heads to be married."
"And doesn't it matter what I may take into my head?"
"Of course. But you could have neither the bad taste nor the bad heart to offer any obstacle."
"You take that for granted? Aye, that is your way, to be sure - to take things for granted. But my daughter is not to be taken for granted. I have very definite views for my daughter. You have done an unworthy thing, Scaramouche. You have betrayed my trust in you. I am very angry with you."
He rolled forward with his ponderous yet curiously noiseless gait. Scaramouche turned to her, smiling, and handed her the candle.
"If you will leave us, Climene, I will ask your hand of your father in proper form."
She vanished, a little fluttered, lovelier than ever in her mixture of confusion and timidity. Scaramouche closed the door and faced the enraged M. Binet, who had flung himself into an armchair at the head of the short table, faced him with the avowed purpose of asking for Climene's hand in proper form. And this was how he did it:
"Father-in-law," said he, "I congratulate you. This will certainly mean the Comedie Francaise for Climene, and that before long, and you shall shine in the glory she will reflect. As the father of Madame Scaramouche you may yet be famous."
Binet, his face slowly empurpling, glared at him in speechless stupefaction. His rage was the more utter from his humiliating conviction that whatever he might say or do, this irresistible fellow would bend him to his will. At last speech came to him.
"You're a damned corsair," he cried, thickly, banging his ham-like fist upon the table. "A corsair! First you sail in and plunder me of half my legitimate gains; and now you want to carry off my daughter. But I'll be damned if I'll give her to a graceless, nameless scoundrel like you, for whom the gallows are waiting already."
Scaramouche pulled the bell-rope, not at all discomposed. He smiled. There was a flush on his cheeks and a gleam in his eyes. He was very pleased with the world that night. He really owed a great debt to M. de Lesdiguieres.
"Binet," said he, "forget for once that you are Pantaloon, and behave as a nice, amiable father-in-law should behave when he has secured a son-in-law of exceptionable merits. We are going to have a bottle of Burgundy at my expense, and it shall be the best bottle of Burgundy to be found in Redon. Compose yourself to do fitting honour to it. Excitations of the bile invariably impair the fine sensitiveness of the palate."
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Scaramouche, A Romance of the French Revolution -by- Rafael Sabatini