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."
Ranuzi looked steadily at her. "Will you truly do this?" said he, sighing--"will you interest yourself for a poor prisoner, who has no one to hear and sympathize in his sorrows?"
Louise gave him her hand. "Confide in me, sir count," said she, with an impulse of her better nature; "make known your sorrows, and be assured that I will take an interest in them. You are so prudent and reasonable as not to be my lover, and I will be your friend. Here is my hand--I offer you my friendship; will you accept, it?"
"Will I accept it?" said he, rapturously; "you offer me life, and ask if I will accept it!"