"But I already have more dresses than I need, madame."
"I seldom wear anything but black."
Evidently her hostess had never heard anything like this before. "Oh! all right," said she, "these dresses will doubtless do very well for your first months of mourning--but afterward? Do you suppose, my poor dear, that I'm going to allow you to shut yourself up as you did at the Hotel de Chalusse? Good heavens! how dull it must have been for you, alone in that big house, without society or friends."
A tear fell from Marguerite's long lashes. "I was very happy there, madame," she murmured.
"You think so; but you will change your mind. When one has never tasted real pleasure, one cannot realize how gloomy one's life really is. No doubt, you were very unhappy alone with M. de Chalusse."
"Tut! tut! my dear, I know what I am talking about. Wait until you have been introduced into society before you boast of the charms of solitude. Poor dear! I doubt if you have ever attended a ball in your whole life. No! I was sure of it, and you are twenty! Fortunately, I am here. I will take your mother's place, and we will make up for lost time! Beautiful as you are, my child-- for you are divinely beautiful--you will reign as a queen wherever you appear. Doesn't that thought make that cold little heart of yours throb more quickly? Ah! fetes and music, wonderful toilettes and the flashing of diamonds, the admiration of gentlemen, the envy of rivals, the consciousness of one's own beauty, are these delights not enough to fill any woman's life? It is intoxication, perhaps, but an intoxication which is happiness."
Was she sincere, or did she hope to dazzle this lonely girl, and then rule her through the tastes she might succeed in giving her? As is not unfrequently the case with callous natures, Madame de Fondege was a compound of frankness and cunning. What she was saying now she really meant; and as it was to her interest to say it, she urged her opinions boldly and even eloquently. Twenty- four hours earlier, proud and truthful Marguerite would have silenced her at once. She would have told her that such pleasures could never have any charm for her, and that she felt only scorn and disgust for such worthless aims and sordid desires. But having resolved to appear a dupe, she concealed her real feelings under an air of surprise, and was astonished and even ashamed to find that she could dissemble so well.
"Besides," continued Madame de Fondege, "a marriageable young girl should never shut herself up like a nun. She will never find a husband if she remains at home--and she must marry. Indeed, marriage is a sensible woman's only object in life, since it is her emancipation."