- Chapter VIII (continued)


At the moment when he came up to her, Viviane was sitting at the edge of the stream, a book open on her knees. The approach of the rider, pushing aside the thin branches overhanging the path, did not even make Viviane look up. She seemed to be reading, but, in reality, she was secretly watching him in the reflexions of the water.

Merlin smiled at her innocent ruse. Viviane was even more beautiful than he had imagined. Already his earlier presentiments were evaporating before the desire to enjoy the pleasure of that very moment.

"Dear little girl" he said to her, as he spurred his horse a few steps nearer , "Who are you, and what are you doing there ? Whoever taught you to read that big book must be very learned !" She closed her book, put it down beside her on the flat stone surface which served as a seat, and, smiling, replied in the sweetest way in the world: "Why do you ask me, oh my master ! You who know everything ? My name is Viviane ; my father lives in this manor-house. He has taught me the little I know... and now I await your revelations.

Merlin dismounted and went up to the girl. The latter was looking at him this time straight in the eyes ; she smiled at him again, showing not the slightest apprehension. Her bare feet were brushing the surface of the stream, and, for fun, she was splashing the water so much that a few drops even hit Merlin's face. He wiped them off with the back of his hand as if they had been tears. But what inkling or warning could have reached and saved him when his wonderful prescience of things to come had been unable to deter him from such a meeting.

And Merlin smiled in his turn.

"You have had a good teacher," he said to her. "Why do you look for another ?"

Still in her artless fashion she answered: "A father would not know how to teach everything to his daughter".
Was this innocence a pretence or was her soul as simple as the spring-water in which her body was reflected ?

"Child, have you thought of the sense which I could make of your words ?"

But she, without lowering her eyes, replied: "Their sense is clear to me."

We was almost touching her: a delightful warmth was filling his veins ; his heart was throbbing. Trembling, he blurted out: "With what lesson would you like me to start my instruction ,"

Viviane's face had not changed its expression, both naïve and fervent, but which revealed nothing of her innermost feelings.

"With whatever you wish, dear sir, provided that it does n't include its own reward."

Merlin smiled at her finesse.

"And, apart from that lesson, what would you give me in exchange for my trouble ?"

"But first of all, dear sir, what do you know how to do ?"

"I know how to walk on water, give orders to fire or wind, make a river flow where none had been seen before, and thousands and thousands of other smaller or bigger tricks. Thus again, without any trouble I can give a whisp of mist the appearance of a living person ; or, pick up a castle and bear it aloft with the army besieging it and its defending garrison.

At this very moment, in front of this spring, would it please you to watch a spectacle made for you alone and which you alone would see ?"