(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A lady of high social standing and irreproachable reputation, the widowed Marquise of O——, announces in the newspaper in the town of M—— that, without knowing how it came to be, she is expecting a child and, out of consideration for her family, is resolved to marry the father if he will come forward to acknowledge his paternity.

After the death of her husband three years earlier, Giulietta (the marquise) and her children lived with her parents at the fortress of M——, where her father was commandant. During an attack by Russian troops, several enemy soldiers assaulted the terrified Giulietta but were driven off by one of their officers before they could do her harm. Giulietta fell unconscious at this point, and her rescuer returned her to the care of her servants. Her father was forced to surrender the garrison, but he and his family felt indebted to Giulietta’s protector, a Count F——, and thus they learned with sorrow that on the same day as his departure from M—— he had fallen in battle. Giulietta regretted not having insisted on seeing Count F—— to thank him for his gallant deed, and several months passed before she could forget him.

In the meantime, she experienced physical discomforts that she jokingly described to her mother as oddly similar to those of pregnancy. These passed, however, and were soon forgotten. Then, to the entire family’s astonishment, Count F—— reappeared, not at all dead as first reported, and now fully recovered. He showed great concern for Giulietta’s well-being and abruptly asked for her hand in marriage. Giulietta and her parents were speechless, and the commandant assured him that his daughter’s marriage in such haste would be unthinkable. At a loss to explain the sudden proposal, the family agreed that Count F—— should depart on the important mission for which he was already overdue in Naples, with the understanding that on his return in four to six weeks his request might be favorably considered. During his absence the commandant would make the necessary inquiries about Count F——’s status and character.

Within a few days, Giulietta was again indisposed and expressed concern over her condition. When a doctor was called and diagnosed her complaint as pregnancy, she reacted with disbelief and indignantly sent him away. Confiding in her mother, she denied that she had engaged in any erotic adventure and...

(The entire section is 986 words.)