Count Tiretta of Trevisa Abbe Coste — Lambertini, the Pope’s Niece Her Nick — Name for Tiretta The Aunt and Niece — Our Talk by the Fireside — Punishment of Damien — Tiretta’s Mistake Anger of Madame ***— Their Reconciliation — My Happiness with Mdlle. de la Meure Silvia’s Daughter — Mdlle, de la Meure Marries My Despair and Jealousy — A Change far the Better
In the beginning of March, 1757, I received a letter from my friend Madame Manzoni, which she sent to me by a young man of good appearance, with a frank and high-born air, whom I recognized as a Venetian by his accent. He was young Count Tiretta de Trevisa, recommended to my care by Madame Manzoni, who said that he would tell me his story, which I might be sure would be a true one. The kind woman sent to me by him a small box in which she told me I should find all my manuscripts, as she did not think she would ever see me again.
I gave Tiretta the heartiest of welcomes, telling him that he could not have found a better way to my favour than through a woman to whom I was under the greatest obligations.
“And now, that you may be at your ease with me, I should like to know in what manner I can be of service to you?”
“I have need of your friendship, perhaps of your purse, but at any rate of your protection.”
“You have my friendship and my protection already, and my purse is at your service.”
After expressing his gratitude to me, Tiretta said,
“A year ago the Supreme Council of my country entrusted me with an employment dangerous to one of my years. I was made, with some other young gentlemen of my own age, a keeper of the Mont de Piete. The pleasures of the carnival having put us to a good deal of expense, we were short of money, and borrowed from the till hoping to be able to make up the money before balancing-day, but hoping all in vain.
“The fathers of my two companions, richer than mine, paid the sums they had taken, and I, not being able to pay, took the part of escaping by flight from the shame and the punishment I should have undergone.
“Madame Manzoni advised me to throw myself on your mercy, and she gave me a little box which you shall have to-day. I only got to Paris yesterday, and have only two louis, a little linen, and the clothes on my back. I am twenty-five, have an iron constitution, and a determination to do all in my power to make an honest living; but I can do nothing. I have not cultivated any one talent in a manner to make use of it now. I can play on the flute, but only as an amateur. I only know my own language, and I have no taste for literature. So what can you make of me? I must add that I have not a single expectation, least of all from my father, for to save the honour of the family he will be obliged to sell my portion of the estate, to which I shall have to bid an eternal farewell.”
If the count’s story had surprised me, the simplicity with which he told it had given me pleasure; and I was resolved to do honour to Madame Manzoni’s introduction, feeling that it was my duty to serve a fellow-countryman, who was really guilty of nothing worse than gross thoughtlessness.
“Begin,” said I, “by bringing your small belongings to the room next to mine, and get your meals there. I will pay for everything while I am looking out for something which may do for you.
“We will talk of business to-morrow, for as I never dine here I rarely if ever come home till late, and I do not expect to have the honour of seeing you again today. Leave me for the present, as I have got some work to do; and if you go out to walk, beware of bad company, and whatever you do keep your own counsel. You are fond of gaming, I suppose?”
“I hate it, as it has been the cause of half my troubles.”
“And the other half, I’ll wager, was caused by women.”
“You have guessed aright — oh, those women!”
“Well, don’t be angry with them, but make them pay for the ill they have done you.”
“I will, with the greatest pleasure, if I can.”
“If you are not too particular in your goods, you will find Paris rich in such commodities.”
“What do you mean by particular? I would never be a prince’s pathic.”
“No, no, I was not thinking of that. I mean by ‘particular’ a man who cannot be affectionate unless be is in love. The man who. . . . ”
“I see what you mean, and I can lay no claim to such a character. Any hag with golden eyes will always find me as affectionate as a Celadon.”
“Well said! I shall soon be able to arrange matters for you.”
“I hope you will.”
“Are you going to the ambassador’s?”
“Good God! — no! What should I do when I got there? Tell him my story? He might make things unpleasant for me.”
“Not without your going to see him, but I expect he is not concerning himself with your case.”
“That’s all I ask him.”
“Everybody, my dear count, is in mourning in Paris, so go to my tailor’s and get yourself a black suit. Tell him you come from me, and say you want it by tomorrow. Good bye.”
I went out soon after, and did not come back till midnight. I found the box which Madame Manzoni had sent me in my room, and in it my manuscripts and my beloved portraits, for I never pawned a snuff-box without taking the portrait out.
Next day Tiretta made his appearance all in black, and thanked me for his transformation.
“They are quick, you see, at Paris. It would have taken a week at Trevisa.”
“Trevisa, my dear fellow, is not Paris.”
As I said this, the Abbe de la Coste was announced. I did not know the name, but I gave orders for him to be admitted; and there presently appeared the same little priest with whom I had dined at Versailles after leaving the Abbe de la Ville.
After the customary greetings he began by complimenting me on the success of my lottery, and then remarked that I had distributed tickets for more than six thousand francs.
“Yes,” I said, “and I have tickets left for several thousands more.”
“Very good, then I will invest a thousand crowns in it.”
“Whenever you please. If you call at my office you can choose the numbers.”
“No, I don’t think I’ll trouble to do so; give me any numbers just as they come.”
“Very good; here is the list you can choose from.”
He chose numbers to the amount of three thousand francs, and then asked me for a piece of paper to write an acknowledgment.
“Why so? I can’t do business that way, as I only dispose of my tickets for cash.”
“But you may be certain that you will have the money to-morrow.”
“I am quite sure I should, but you ought to be certain that you will have the tickets to-morrow. They are registered at my office, and I can dispose of them in no other manner.”
“Give me some which are not registered.”
“Impossible; I could not do it.”
“Because if they proved to be winning numbers I should have to pay out of my own pocket an honour I do not desire.”
“Well, I think you might run the risk.”
“I think not, if I wish to remain an honest man, at all events.”
The abbe, who saw he could get nothing out of me, turned to Tiretta, and began to speak to him in bad Italian, and at last offered to introduce him to Madame de Lambertini, the widow of one of the Pope’s nephews. Her name, her relationship to the Pope, and the abbe’s spontaneous offer, made me curious to know more, so I said that my friend would accept his offer, and that I would have the honour to be of the party; whereupon we set out.
We got down at the door of the supposed niece of the Holy Father in the Rue Christine, and we proceeded to go upstairs. We saw a woman who, despite her youthful air, was, I am sure, not a day under forty. She was rather thin, had fine black eyes, a good complexion, lively but giddy manners, was a great laugher, and still capable of exciting a passing fancy. I soon made myself at home with her, and found out, when she began to talk, that she was neither a widow nor the niece of the Pope. She came from Modena, and was a mere adventuress. This discovery shewed me what sort of a man the abbe was.
I thought from his expression that the count had taken a fancy to her, and when she asked us to dinner I refused on the plea of an engagement; but Tiretta, who took my meaning, accepted. Soon after I went away with the abbe, whom I dropped at the Quai de la Ferraille, and I then went to beg a dinner at Calsabigi’s.
After dinner Calsabigi took me on one side, and told me that M. du Vernai had commissioned him to warn me that I could not dispose of tickets on account.
“Does M. du Vernai take me for a fool or a knave? As I am neither, I shall complain to M. de Boulogne.”
“You will be wrong; he merely wanted to warn you and not offend you.”
“You offend me very much yourself, sir, in talking to me in that fashion; and you may make up your mind that no one shall talk to me thus a second time.”
Calsabigi did all in his power to quiet me down, and at last persuaded me to go with him to M. du Vernai’s. The worthy old gentleman seeing the rage I was in apologized to me for what he had said, and told me that a certain Abbe de la Coste had informed him that I did so. At this I was highly indignant, and I told him what had happened that morning, which let M. du Vernai know what kind of a man the abbe was. I never saw him again, either because he got wind of my discovery, or because a happy chance kept him out of my way; but I heard, three years after, that he had been condemned to the hulks for selling tickets of a Trevaux lottery which was non- existent, and in the hulks he died.
Next day Tiretta came in, and said he had only just returned.
“You have been sleeping out, have you, master profligate?”
“Yes, I was so charmed with the she-pope that I kept her company all the night.”
“You were not afraid of being in the way?”
“On the contrary, I think she was thoroughly satisfied with my conversation.”
“As far as I can see, you had to bring into play all your powers of eloquence.”
“She is so well pleased with my fluency that she has begged me to accept a room in her house, and to allow her to introduce me as a cousin to M. le Noir, who, I suppose, is her lover.”
“You will be a trio, then; and how do you think you will get on together?”
“That’s her business. She says this gentleman will give me a good situation in the Inland Revenue.”
“Have you accepted her offer?”
“I did not refuse it, but I told her that I could do nothing without your advice. She entreated me to get you to come to dinner with her on Sunday.”
“I shall be happy to go.”
I went with my friend, and as soon as the harebrain saw us she fell on Tiretta’s neck, calling him dear Count “Six-times”— a name which stuck to him all the time he was at Paris.
“What has gained my friend so fine a title, madam?”
“His erotic achievements. He is lord of an honour of which little is known in France, and I am desirous of being the lady.”
“I commend you for so noble an ambition.”
After telling me of his feats with a freedom which chewed her exemption from vulgar prejudice, she informed me that she wished her cousin to live in the same house, and had already obtained M. le Noir’s permission, which was given freely.
“M. le Noir,” added the fair Lambertini, “will drop in after. dinner, and I am dying to introduce Count ‘Sixtimes’ to him.”
After dinner she kept on speaking of the mighty deeds of my countryman, and began to stir him up, while he, no doubt, pleased to have a witness to his exploits, reduced her to silence. I confess that I witnessed the scene without excitement, but as I could not help seeing the athletic person of the count, I concluded that he might fare well everywhere with the ladies.
About three o’clock two elderly women arrived, to whom the Lambertini eagerly introduced Count “Six-times.” In great astonishment they enquired the origin of his title, and the heroine of the story having whispered it to them, my friend became an object of interest.
“I can’t believe it,” said one of these ladies, ogling the count, while his face seemed to say,
“Would you like to try?”
Shortly after, a coach stopped at the door, and a fat woman of middle-aged appearance and a very pretty girl were ushered in; after them came a pale man in a black suit and a long wig. After greeting them in a manner which implied intimacy, the Pope’s niece introduced her cousin Count “Six-strokes”. The elderly woman seemed to be astonished at such a name, but the Lambertini gave no explanation. Nevertheless, people seemed to think it rather curious that a man who did not know a word of French should be living in Paris, and that in spite of his ignorance he continued to jabber away in an easy manner, though nobody could understand what he was talking about.
After some foolish conversation, the Pope’s niece proposed a game at Loo. She asked me to play but on my refusing did not make a point of it, but she insisted on her cousin being her partner.
“He knows nothing about cards,” said she; “but that’s no matter, he will learn, and I will undertake to instruct him.”
As the girl, by whose beauty I was struck, did not understand the game, I offered her a seat by the fire, asking her to grant me the honour of keeping her company, whereupon the elderly woman who had brought her began to laugh, and said I should have some difficulty in getting her niece to talk about anything, adding, in a polite manner, that she hoped I would be lenient with her as she had only just left a convent. I assured her that I should have no difficulty in amusing myself with one so amiable, and the game having begun I took up my position near the pretty niece.
I had been near her for several minutes, and solely occupied in mute admiration of her beauty, when she asked me who was that handsome gentleman who talked so oddly.
“He is a nobleman, and a fellow-countryman of mine, whom an affair of honour has banished from his country.”
“He speaks a curious dialect.”
“Yes, but the fact is that French is very little spoken in Italy; he will soon pick it up in Paris, and then he will be laughed at no longer. I am sorry to have brought him here, for in less than twenty-four hours he was spoiled.”
“I daren’t tell you as, perhaps, your aunt would not like it.”
“I don’t think I should tell her, but, perhaps, I should not have asked.”
“Oh, yes! you should; and as you wish to know I will make no mystery of it. Madame Lambertini took a fancy to him; they passed the night together, and in token of the satisfaction he gave her she has given him the ridiculous nickname of ‘Count Sixtimes.’ That’s all. I am vexed about it, as my friend was no profligate.”
Astonishment — and very reasonable astonishment — will be expressed that I dared to talk in this way to a girl fresh from a convent; but I should have been astonished myself at the bare idea of any respectable girl coming to Lambertini’s house. I fixed my gaze on my fair companion, and saw the blush of shame mounting over her pretty face; but I thought that might have more than one meaning.
Judge of my surprise when, two minutes afterwards, I heard this question:
“But what has ‘Sixtimes’ got to do with sleeping with Madame Lambertini?”
“My dear young lady, the explanation is perfectly simple: my friend in a single night did what a husband often takes six weeks to do.”
“And you think me silly enough to tell my aunt of what we have been talking? Don’t believe it.”
“But there’s another thing I am sorry about.”
“You shall tell me what that is directly.”
The reason which obliged the charming niece to retire for a few minutes may be guessed without our going into explanations. When she came back she went behind her aunt’s chair, her eyes fixed on Tiretta, and then came up to me, and taking her seat again, said:
“Now, what else is it that you are sorry about?” her eyes sparkling as she asked the question.
“May I tell you, do you think?”
“You have said so much already, that I don’t think you need have any scruples in telling me the rest.”
“Very good: you must know, then, that this very day and in my presence he —— her.”
“If that displeased you, you must be jealous.”
“Possibly, but the fact is that I was humbled by a circumstance I dare not tell you.”
“I think you are laughing at me with your ‘dare not tell you.’”
“God forbid, mademoiselle! I will confess, then, that I was humbled because Madame Lambertini made me see that my friend was taller than myself by two inches.”
“Then she imposed on you, for you are taller than your friend.”
“I am not speaking of that kind of tallness, but another; you know what I mean, and there my friend is really monstrous.”
“Monstrous! then what have you to be sorry about? Isn’t it better not to be monstrous?”
“Certainly; but in the article we are discussing, some women, unlike you, prefer monstrosity.”
“I think that’s absurd of them, or rather mad; or perhaps, I have not sufficiently clear ideas on the subject to imagine what size it would be to be called monstrous; and I think it is odd that such a thing should humble you.”
“You would not have thought it of me, to see me?”
“Certainly not, for when I came into the room I thought you looked a well-proportioned man, but if you are not I am sorry for you.”
“I won’t leave you in doubt on the subject; look for yourself, and tell me what you think.”
“Why, it’s you who are the monster! I declare you make me feel quite afraid.”
At this she began to perspire violently, and went behind her aunt’s chair. I did not stir, as I was sure she would soon come back, putting her down in my own mind as very far removed from silliness or innocence either. I supposed she wished to affect what she did not possess. I was, moreover, delighted at having taken the opportunity so well. I had punished her for having tried to impose on me; and as I had taken a great fancy to her, I was pleased that she seemed to like her punishment. As for her possession of wit, there could be no doubt on that point, for it was she who had sustained the chief part in our dialogue, and my sayings and doings were all prompted by her questions, and the persevering way in which she kept to the subject.
She had not been behind her aunt’s chair for five minutes when the latter was looed. She, not knowing whom to attack, turned on her niece and said, “Get you gone, little silly, you are bringing me bad luck! Besides, it is bad manners to leave the gentleman who so kindly offered to keep you company all by himself.”
The amiable niece made not answer, and came back to me smiling. “If my aunt knew,” said she, “what you had done to me, she would not have accused me of bad manners.”
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I want you to have some evidence of my repentance, but all that I can do is to go. Will you be offended if I do?”
“If you leave me, my aunt will call me a dreadful stupid, and will say that I have tired you out.”
“Would you like me to stay, then?”
“You can’t go.”
“Had you no idea what I shewed you was like till just now?”
“My ideas on the subject were inaccurate. My aunt only took me out of the convent a month ago, and I had been there since I was seven.”
“How old are you now?”
“Seventeen. They tried to make me take the veil, but not having any relish for the fooleries of the cloister I refused.”
“Are you vexed with me?”
“I ought to be very angry with you, but I know it was my fault, so I will only ask you to be discreet.”
“Don’t be afraid, if I were indiscreet I should be the first to suffer.”
“You have given me a lesson which will come in useful. Stop! stop! or I will go away.”
“No, keep quiet; it’s done now.”
I had taken her pretty hand, with which she let me do as I liked, and at last when she drew it back she was astonished to find it wanted wiping.
“What is that?”
“The most pleasant of substances, which renovates the world.”
“I see you are an excellent master. Your pupils make rapid progress, and you give your lessons with such a learned air.”
“Now don’t be angry with me for what has happened. I should never have dared to go so far if your beauty had not inspired me.”
“Am I to take that speech as a declaration of love?”
“Yes, it is bold, sweetheart, but it is sincere. If it were not, I should be unworthy both of you and of myself.”
“Can I believe you?”
“Yes, with all your heart. But tell me if I may hope for your love?”
“I don’t know. All I know at present is that I ought to hate you, for in the space of a quarter of an hour you have taught me what I thought I should never know till I was married.”
“Are you sorry?”
“I ought to be, although I feel that I have nothing more to learn on a matter which I never dared to think about. But how is it that you have got so quiet?”
“Because we are talking reasonably and after the rapture love requires some repose. But look at this!”
“What! again? Is that the rest of the lesson?”
“It is the natural result of it.”
“How is it that you don’t frighten me now?”
“The soldier gets used to fire.”
“I see our fire is going out.”
With these words she took up a stick to poke the fire, and as she was stooping down in a favourable position my rash hand dared to approach the porch of the temple, and found the door closed in such sort that it would be necessary to break it open if one wished to enter the sanctuary. She got up in a dignified way, and told me in a polite and feeling manner that she was a well-born girl and worthy of respect. Pretending to be confused I made a thousand excuses, and I soon saw the amiable expression return to the face which it became so well. I said that in spite of my repentance I was glad to know that she had never made another man happy.
“Believe me,” she said, “that if I make anyone happy it will be my husband, to whom I have given my hand and heart.”
I took her hand, which she abandoned to my rapturous kisses. I had reached this pleasant stage in the proceedings when M. le Noir was announced, he having come to enquire what the Pope’s niece had to say to him.
M. le Noir, a man of a certain age and of a simple appearance, begged the company to remain seated. The Lambertini introduced me to him, and he asked if I were the artist; but on being informed that I was his elder brother, he congratulated me on my lottery and the esteem in which M. du Vernai held me. But what interested him most was the cousin whom the fair niece of the Pope introduced to him under his real name of Tiretta, thinking, doubtless, that his new title would not carry much weight with M. le Noir. Taking up the discourse, I told him that the count was commanded to me by a lady whom I greatly esteemed, and that he had been obliged to leave his country for the present on account of an affair of honour. The Lambertini added that she wished to accommodate him, but had not liked to do so till she had consulted M. le Noir. “Madam,” said the worthy man, “you have sovereign power in your house, and I shall be delighted to see the count in your society.”
As M. le Noir spoke Italian very well, Tiretta left the table, and we sat down all four of us by the fire, where my fresh conquest had an opportunity of shewing her wit. M. le Noir was a man of much intelligence and great experience. He made her talk of the convent where she had been, and as soon as he knew her name he began to speak of her father, with whom he had been well acquainted. He was a councillor of the Parliament of Rouen, and had enjoyed a great reputation during his lifetime.
My sweetheart was above the ordinary height, her hair was a fine golden colour, and her regular features, despite the brilliance of her eyes, expressed candour and modesty. Her dress allowed me to follow all the lines of her figure, and the eyes dwelt pleasantly on the beauty of her form, and on the two spheres which seemed to lament their too close confinement. Although M. le Noir said nothing of all this, it was easy to see that in his own way he admired her perfections no less than I. He left us at eight o’clock, and half an hour afterwards the fat aunt went away followed by her charming niece and the pale man who had come with them. I lost no time in taking leave with Tiretta, who promised the Pope’s niece to join her on the morrow, which he did.
Three or four days later I received at my office a letter from Mdlle. de la Meure — the pretty niece. It ran as follows: “Madame, my aunt, my late mother’s sister, is a devotee, fond of gaming, rich, stingy, and unjust. She does not like me, and not having succeeded in persuading me to take the veil, she wants to marry me to a wealthy Dunkirk merchant, whom I do not know, but (mark this) whom she does not know any more than I do. The matrimonial agent has praised him very much, and very naturally, as a man must praise his own goods. This gentleman is satisfied with an income of twelve hundred francs per annum, but he promises to leave me in his will no less than a hundred and fifty thousand francs. You must know that by my mother’s will my aunt is obliged to pay me on my wedding day twenty-five thousand crowns.
“If what has taken place between us has not made me contemptible in your sight, I offer you my hand and heart with sixty-five thousand francs, and as much more on my aunt’s death.
“Don’t send me any answer, as I don’t know how or by whom to receive your letter. You can answer me in your own person next Sunday at Madame Lambertini’s. You will thus have four days whereon to consider this most important question. I do not exactly know whether I love you, but I am quite sure that I prefer you to any other man. I know that each of us has still to gain the other’s esteem, but I am sure you would make my life a happy one, and that I should be a faithful wife. If you think that the happiness I seek can add to your own, I must warn you that you will need the aid of a lawyer, as my aunt is miserly, and will stick at trifles.
“If you decide in the affirmative you must find a convent for me to take refuge in before I commit myself to anything, as otherwise I should be exposed to the harsh treatment I wish to avoid. If, on the other hand, my proposal does not meet your views, I have one favour to ask by granting which you will earn my everlasting gratitude. This is that you will endeavour to see me no more, and will take care not to be present in any company in which you think I am to be found. Thus you will help me to forget you, and this is the least you can do for me. You may guess that I shall never be happy till I have become your wife or have forgotten you. Farewell! I reckon upon seeing you on Sunday.”
This letter affected me. I felt that it was dictated by prudent, virtuous, and honourable feelings, and I found even more merit in the intellectual endowments of the girl than in her beauty. I blushed at having in a manner led her astray, and I should have thought myself worthy of punishment if I had been capable of refusing the hand offered to me with so much nobility of feeling. And a second but still a powerful consideration made me look complacently upon a fortune larger than I could reasonably expect to win. Nevertheless, the idea of the marriage state, for which I felt I had no vocation, made me tremble.
I knew myself too well not to be aware that as a married man I should be unhappy, and, consequently, with the best intentions I should fail in making the woman’s life a happy one. My uncertainty in the four days which she had wisely left me convinced me that I was not in love with her. In spite of that, so weak was I that I could not summon up courage to reject her offer — still less to tell her so frankly, which would have made her esteem me.
During these four days I was entirely absorbed in this one subject. I bitterly repented of having outraged her modesty, for I now esteemed and respected her, but yet I could not make up my mind to repair the wrong I had done her. I could not bear to incur her dislike, but the idea of tying myself down was dreadful to me; and such is the condition of a man who has to choose between two alternatives, and cannot make up his mind.
Fearing lest my evil genius should take me to the opera or elsewhere, and in spite of myself make me miss my appointment, I resolved to dine with the Lambertini without having come to any decision. The pious niece of the Pope was at mass when I reached her house. I found Tiretta engaged in playing on the flute, but as soon as he saw me he dropped the instrument, ran up to me, embraced me, and gave me back the money his suit had cost me.
“I see you are in cash, old fellow; I congratulate you.”
“It’s a grievous piece of luck to me, for the money is stolen, and I am sorry I have got it though I was an accomplice in the theft.”
“What! the money is stolen?”
“Yes, sharping is done here, and I have been taught to help. I share in their ill-gotten gains because I have not the strength of mind to refuse. My landlady and two or three women of the same sort pluck the pigeons. The business does not suit me, and I am thinking of leaving it. Sooner or later I shall kill or be killed, and either event will be the death of me, so I am thinking of leaving this cutthroat place as soon as possible.”
“I advise you — nay, I bid you do so by all means, and I should think you had better be gone to-day than to-morrow.”
“I don’t want to do anything suddenly, as M. le Noir is a gentleman and my friend, and he thinks me a cousin to this wretched woman. As he knows nothing of the infamous trade she carries on, he would suspect something, and perhaps would leave her after learning the reason of my departure. I shall find some excuse or other in the course of the next five or six days, and then I will make haste and return to you.”
The Lambertini thanked me for coming to dinner in a friendly manner, and told me that we should have the company of Mdlle. de la Meure and her aunt. I asked her if she was still satisfied with my friend “Sixtimes,” and she told me that though the count did not always reside on his manor, she was for all that delighted with him; and said she,
“I am too good a monarch to ask too much of my vassals.”
I congratulated her, and we continued to jest till the arrival of the two other guests.
As soon as Mdlle. de la Meure saw me she could scarcely conceal her pleasure. She was in half mourning, and looked so pretty in this costume, which threw up the whiteness of her skin, that I still wonder why that instant did not determine my fate.
Tiretta, who had been making his toilette, rejoined us, and as nothing prevented me from shewing the liking I had taken for the amiable girl I paid her all possible attention. I told the aunt that I found her niece so pretty that I would renounce my bachelorhood if I could find such a mate.
“My niece is a virtuous and sweet-tempered ‘girl, sir, but she is utterly devoid either of intelligence or piety.”
“Never mind the intelligence,” said the niece, “but I was never found wanting in piety at the convent.”
“I dare say the nuns are of the jesuitical party.”
“What has that got to do with it, aunt?”
“Very much, child; the Jesuits and their adherents are well known to have no vital religion. But let us talk of something else. All that I want you to do is to know how to please your future husband.”
“Is mademoiselle about to marry, then?”
“Her intended will probably arrive at the beginning of next month.”
“Is he a lawyer?”
“No, sir; he is a well-to-do merchant.”
“M. le Noir told me that your niece was the daughter of a councillor, and I did not imagine that you would sanction her marrying beneath her.”
“There will be no question of such a thing in this instance, sir; and, after all, what is marrying beneath one? My niece’s intended is an honest, and therefore a noble, man, and I am sure it will be her fault if she does not lead a life of perfect happiness with him”
“Quite so, supposing she loves him.”
“Oh! love and all that kind of thing will come in good time, you know.”
As these remarks could only give pain to the young lady, who listened in silence, I changed the conversation to the enormous crowd which would be present at the execution of Damien, and finding them extremely desirous of witnessing this horrible sight I offered them a large window with an excellent view. The ladies accepted with great pleasure, and I promised to escort them in good time.
I had no such thing as a window, but I knew that in Paris, as everywhere, money will procure anything. After dinner I went out on the plea of business, and, taking the first coach I came across, in a quarter of an hour I succeeded in renting a first floor window in excellent position for three louis. I paid in advance, taking care to have a receipt.
My business over, I hastened to rejoin the company, and found them engaged in piquet. Mdlle. de la Meure, who knew nothing about it, was tired of looking on. I came up to her, and having something to say we went to the other end of the room.
“Your letter, dearest, has made me the happiest of men. You have displayed in it such intelligence and such admirable characteristics as would win you the fervent adoration of every man of good sense.”
“I only want one man’s love. I will be content with the esteem of the rest.”
“My angel, I will make you my wife, and I shall bless till my latest breath the lucky audacity to which I owe my being chosen before other men who would not have refused your hand, even without the fifty thousand crowns, which are nothing in comparison with your beauty and your wit.”
“I am very glad you like me so much.”
“Could I do otherwise? And now that you know my heart, do nothing hastily, but trust in me.”
“You will not forget how I am placed.”
“I will bear it in mind. Let me have time to take a house, to furnish it and to put myself in a position in which I shall be worthy of your hand. You must remember that I am only in furnished apartments; that you are well connected, and that I should not like to be regarded as a fortune-hunter.”
“You know that my intended husband will soon arrive?”
“Yes, I will take care of that.”
“When he does come, you know, matters will be pushed on rapidly.”
“Not too rapidly for me to be able to set you free in twenty-four hours, and without letting your aunt know that the blow comes from me. You may rest assured, dearest, that the minister for foreign affairs, on being assured that you wish to marry me, and me only, will get you an inviolable asylum in the best convent in Paris. He will also retain counsel on your behalf, and if your mother’s will is properly drawn out your aunt will soon be obliged to hand over your dowry, and to give security for the rest of the property. Do not trouble yourself about the matter, but let the Dunkirk merchant come when he likes. At all hazards, you may reckon upon me, and you may be sure you will not be in your aunt’s house on the day fixed for the wedding.”
“I confide in you entirely, but for goodness’ sake say no more on a circumstance which wounds my sense of modesty. You said that I offered you marriage because you took liberties with me?”
“Was I wrong?”
“Yes, partly, at all events; and you ought to know that if I had not good reasons I should have done a very foolish thing in offering to marry you, but I may as well tell you that, liberties or no liberties, I should always have liked you better than anyone.”
I was beside myself with joy, and seizing her hand I covered it with tender and respectful kisses; and I feel certain that if a notary and priest had been then and there available, I should have married her without the smallest hesitation.
Full of each other, like all lovers, we paid no attention to the horrible racket that was going on at the other end of the room. At last I thought it my duty to see what was happening, and leaving my intended I rejoined the company to quiet Tiretta.
I saw on the table a casket, its lid open, and full of all sorts of jewels; close by were two men who were disputing with Tiretta, who held a book in one hand. I saw at once that they were talking about a lottery, but why were they disputing? Tiretta told me they were a pair of knaves who had won thirty or forty louis of him by means of the book, which he handed to me.
“Sir,” said one of the gamesters, “this book treats of a lottery in which all the calculations are made in the fairest manner possible. It contains twelve hundred leaves, two hundred being winning leaves, while the rest are blanks. Anyone who wants to play has only to pay a crown, and then to put a pin’s point at random between two leaves of the closed book. The book is then opened at the place where the pin is, and if the leaf is blank the player loses; but if, on the other hand, the leaf bears a number, he is given the corresponding ticket, and an article of the value indicated on the ticket is then handed to him. Please to observe, sir, that the lowest prize is twelve francs, and there are some numbers worth as much as six hundred francs, and even one to the value of twelve hundred. We have been playing for an hour, and have lost several costly articles, and madam,” pointing to my sweetheart’s aunt, “has won a ring worth six louis, but as she preferred cash, she continued playing and lost the money she had gained.”
“Yes,” said the aunt, “and these gentlemen have won everybody’s money with their accursed game; which proves it is all a mere cheat.”
“It proves they are rogues,” said Tiretta.
“But gentlemen,” answered one of them, “in that case the receivers of the Government lottery are rogues too”; whereon Tiretta gave him a box on the ear. I threw myself between the two combatants, and told them not to speak a word.
“All lotteries,” said I, “are advantageous to the holders, but the king is at the head of the Government lottery, and I am the principal receiver, in which character I shall proceed to confiscate this casket, and give you the choice of the following alternatives: You can, if you like, return to the persons present the money you have unlawfully won from them, whereupon I will let you go with your box. If you refuse to do so, I shall send for a policeman, who will take you to prison, and to-morrow you will be tried by M. Berier, to whom I shall take this book in the morning. We shall soon see whether we are rogues as well as they.”
Seeing that they had to do with a man of determination, and that resistance would only result in their losing all, they resolved with as good a grace as they could muster to return all their winnings, and for all I know double the sum, for they were forced to return forty louis, though they swore they had only won twenty. The company was too select for me to venture to decide between them. In point of fact I was rather inclined to believe the rascals, but I was angry with them, and I wanted them to pay a good price for having made a comparison, quite right in the main, but odious to me in the extreme. The same reason, doubtless, prevented me from giving them back their book, which I had no earthly right to keep, and which they asked me in vain to return to them. My firmness and my threats, and perhaps also the fear of the police, made them think themselves lucky to get off with their jewel-box. As soon as they were gone the ladies, like the kindly creatures they were, began to pity them. “You might have given them back their book,” they said to me.
“And you, ladies, might have let them keep their money.”
“But they cheated us of it.”
“Did they? Well, their cheating was done with the book, and I have done them a kindness by taking it from them.”
They felt the force of my remarks, and the conversation took another turn.
Early next morning the two gamesters paid me a visit bringing with them as a bribe a beautiful casket containing twenty-four lovely pieces of Dresden china. I found this argument irresistible, and I felt obliged to return them the book, threatening them at the same time with imprisonment if they dared to carry on their business in Paris for the future. They promised me to abstain from doing so — no doubt with a mental reservation, but I cared nothing about that.
I resolved to offer this beautiful gift to Mdlle. de la Meure, and I took it to her the same day. I had a hearty welcome, and the aunt loaded me with thanks.
On March the 28th, the day of Damien’s martyrdom, I went to fetch the ladies in good time; and as the carriage would scarcely hold us all, no objection was made to my taking my sweetheart on my knee, and in this order we reached the Place de Greve. The three ladies packing themselves together as tightly as possible took up their positions at the window, leaning forward on their elbows, so as to prevent us seeing from behind. The window had two steps to it, and they stood on the second; and in order to see we had to stand on the same step, for if we had stood on the first we should not have been able to see over their heads. I have my reasons for giving these minutiae, as otherwise the reader would have some difficulty in guessing at the details which I am obliged to pass over in silence.
We had the courage to watch the dreadful sight for four hours. The circumstances of Damien’s execution are too well known to render it necessary for me to speak of them; indeed, the account would be too long a one, and in my opinion such horrors are an offence to our common humanity.
Damien was a fanatic, who, with the idea of doing a good work and obtaining a heavenly reward, had tried to assassinate Louis XV.; and though the attempt was a failure, and he only gave the king a slight wound, he was torn to pieces as if his crime had been consummated.
While this victim of the Jesuits was being executed, I was several times obliged to turn away my face and to stop my ears as I heard his piercing shrieks, half of his body having been torn from him, but the Lambertini and the fat aunt did not budge an inch. Was it because their hearts were hardened? They told me, and I pretended to believe them, that their horror at the wretch’s wickedness prevented Them feeling that compassion which his unheard-of torments should have excited. The fact was that Tiretta kept the pious aunt curiously engaged during the whole time of the execution, and this, perhaps, was what prevented the virtuous lady from moving or even turning her head round.
Finding himself behind her, he had taken the precaution to lift up her dress to avoid treading on it. That, no doubt, was according to the rule; but soon after, on giving an involuntary glance in their direction, I found that Tiretta had carried his precautions rather far, and, not wishing to interrupt my friend or to make the lady feel awkward, I turned my head and stood in such a way that my sweetheart could see nothing of what was going on; this put the good lady at her ease. For two hours after I heard a continuous rustling, and relishing the joke I kept quiet the whole time. I admired Tiretta’s hearty appetite still more than his courage, but what pleased me most was the touching resignation with which the pious aunt bore it all.
At the end of this long session I saw Madame turn round, and doing the same I fixed my gaze on Tiretta, and found him looking as fresh and cool as if nothing had happened, but the aunt seemed to me to have a rather pensive appearance. She had been under the fatal necessity of keeping quiet and letting Tiretta do what he liked for fear of the Lambertini’s jests, and lest her niece might be scandalized by the revelation of mysteries of which she was supposed to know nothing.
We set out, and having dropped the Pope’s niece at her door, I begged her to lend me Tiretta for a few hours, and I then took Madame to her house in the Rue St. Andre-des-Arts. She asked me to come and see her the following day as she had something to tell me, and I remarked that she took no notice of my friend as she left us. We went to the “Hotel de Russie,” where they gave you an excellent dinner for six francs a head, and I thought my mad friend stood in need of recruiting his strength.
“What were you doing behind Madame —?” said I.
“I am sure you saw nothing, or anybody else either.”
“No, because when I saw the beginning of your manoeuvres, and guessed what was coming, I stood in such a way that neither the Lambertini or the pretty niece could see you. I can guess what your goal was, and I must say I admire your hearty appetite. But your wretched victim appears to be rather angry.”
“Oh! my dear fellow, that’s all the affectation of an old maid. She may pretend to be put out, but as she kept quiet the whole time I am certain she would be glad to begin all over again.”
“I think so, too, in her heart of hearts; but her pride might suggest that you had been lacking in respect, and the suggestion would be by no means groundless.”
“Respect, you say; but must one not always be lacking in respect to women when one wants to come to the point?”
“Quite so, but there’s a distinction between what lovers may do when they are together, and what is proper in the presence of a mixed company.”
“Yes, but I snatched four distinct favours from her, without the least opposition; had I not therefore good reasons for taking her consent for granted?”
“You reason well, but you see she is out of humour with you. She wants to speak to me to-morrow, and I have no doubt that you will be the subject of our conversation.”
“Possibly, but still I should think she would not speak to you of the comic piece of business; it would be very silly of her.”
“Why so? You don’t know these pious women. They are brought up by Jesuits, who often give them some good lessons on the subject, and they are delighted to confess to a third party; and these confessions with a seasoning of tears gives them in their own eyes quite a halo of saintliness.”
“Well, let her tell you if she likes. We shall see what comes of it.”
“Possibly she may demand satisfaction; in which case I shall be glad to do my best for her.”
“You make me laugh! I can’t imagine what sort of satisfaction she could claim, unless she wants to punish me by the ‘Lex talionis’, which would be hardly practicable without a repetition of the original offence. If she had not liked the game, all she had to do was to give me a push which would have sent me backwards.”
“Yes, but that would have let us know what you had been trying to do.”
“Well, if it comes to that, the slightest movement would have rendered the whole process null and void; but as it was she stood in the proper position as quiet as a lamb; nothing could be easier.”
“It’s an amusing business altogether. But did you notice that the Lambertini was angry with you, too? She, perhaps, saw what you were doing, and felt hurt.”
“Oh! she has got another cause of complaint against me. We have fallen out, and I am leaving her this evening.”
“Yes, I will tell you all about it. Yesterday evening, a young fellow in the Inland Revenue who had been seduced to sup with us by a hussy of Genoa, after losing forty louis, threw, the cards in the face of my landlady and called her a thief. On the impulse of the moment I took a candle and put it out on his face. I might have destroyed one of his eyes, but I fortunately hit him on the cheek. He immediately ran for his sword, mine was ready, and if the Genoese had not thrown herself between us murder might have been committed. When the poor wretch saw his cheek in the glass, he became so furious that nothing short of the return of all his money would appease him. They gave it him back, in spite of my advice, for in doing so they admitted, tacitly at all events, that it had been won by cheating. This caused a sharp dispute between the Lambertini and myself after he had gone. She said we should have kept the forty louis, and nothing would have happened except for my interference, that it was her and not me whom the young man had insulted. The Genoese added that if we had kept cool we should have had the plucking of him, but that God alone knew what he would do now with the mark of the burn on his face. Tired of the talk of these infamous women, I was about to leave them, but my landlady began to ride the high horse, and went so far as to call me a beggar.
“If M. le Noir had not come in just then, she would have had a bad time of it, as my stick was already in my hand. As soon as they saw him they told me to hold my tongue, but my blood was up; and turning towards the worthy man I told him that his mistress had called me a beggar, that she was a common prostitute, that I was not her cousin, nor in any way related to her, and that I should leave her that very day. As soon as I had come to the end of this short and swift discourse, I went out and shut myself up in my room. In the course of the next two hours I shall go and fetch my linen, and I hope to breakfast with you to-morrow.”
Tiretta did well. His heart was in the right place, and he was wise not to allow the foolish impulses of youth to plunge him in the sink of corruption. As long as a man has not committed a dishonourable action, as long as his heart is sound, though his head may go astray, the path of duty is still open to him. I should say the same of women if prejudice were not so strong in their case, and if they were not much more under the influence of the heart than the head.
After a good dinner washed down by some delicious Sillery we parted, and I spent the evening in writing. Next morning I did some business, and at noon went to see the distressed devotee, whom I found at home with her charming niece. We talked a few minutes about the weather, and she then told my sweetheart to leave us as she wanted to speak to me. I was prepared for what was coming and I waited for her to break the silence which all women of her position observe. “You will be surprised, sir, at what I am going to tell you, for I have determined to bring before you a complaint of an unheard-of character. The case is really of the most delicate nature, and I am impelled to make a confidant of you by the impression you made on me when I first saw you. I consider you to be a man of discretion, of honour, and above all a moral man; in short, I believe you have experienced religion, and if I am making a mistake it will be a pity, for though I have been insulted I don’t lack means of avenging myself, and as you are his friend you will be sorry for him.”
“Is Tiretta the guilty party, madam?”
“And what is his crime?”
“He is a villain; he has insulted me in the most monstrous manner.”
“I should not have thought him capable of doing so.”
“I daresay not, but then you are a moral man.”
“But what was the nature of his offence? You may confide in my secrecy.”
“I really couldn’t tell you, it’s quite out of the question; but I trust you will be able to guess it. Yesterday, during the execution of the wretched Damien, he strongly abused the position in which he found himself behind me.”
“I see; I understand what you mean; you need say no more. You have cause for anger, and he is to blame for acting in such a manner. But allow me to say that the case is not unexampled or even uncommon, and I think you might make some allowance for the strength of love, the close quarters, and above all for the youth and passion of the sinner. Moreover, the offence is one which may be expiated in a number of ways, provided the parties come to an agreement. Tiretta is young and a perfect gentleman, he is handsome and at bottom a good fellow; could not a marriage be arranged?”
I waited for a reply, but perceiving that the injured party kept silence (a circumstance which seemed to me a good omen) I went on.
“If marriage should not meet your views, we might try a lasting friendship, in which he could shew his repentance and prove himself deserving of pardon. Remember, madam, that Tiretta is only a man, and therefore subject to all the weaknesses of our poor human nature; and even you have your share of the blame.”
“Involuntarily, madam, involuntarily; not you but your charms led him astray. Nevertheless, without this incentive the circumstance would never have taken place, and I think you should consider your beauty as a mitigation of the offence.”
“You plead your cause well, sir, but I will do you justice and confess that all your remarks have been characterized by much Christian feeling. However, you are reasoning on false premises; you are ignorant of his real crime, yet how should you guess it?”
With this she burst into tears, leading me completely off the scent, and not knowing what to think.
“He can’t have stolen her purse,” said I to myself, “as I don’t think him capable of such an action; and if I did I’d blow his brains out.”
The afflicted lady soon dried her tears, and went on as follows:
“You are thinking of a deed which one might possibly succeed in reconciling with reason, and in making amends for; but the crime of which that brute has been guilty I dare scarcely imagine, as it is almost enough to drive me mad.”
“Good heavens! you can’t mean it? This is dreadful; do I hear you aright?”
“Yes. You are moved, I see, but such are the circumstances of the case. Pardon my tears, which flow from anger and the shame with which I am covered.”
“Yes, and from outraged religion, too.”
“Certainly, certainly. That is the chief source of my grief, and I should have mentioned it if I had not feared you were not so strongly attached to religion as myself.”
“Nobody, God be praised! could be more strongly attached to religion than I, and nothing can ever unloose the ties which bind me to it:”
“You will be grieved, then, to hear that I am destined to suffer eternal punishment, for I must and will be avenged.”
“Not so, madam, perish the thought, as I could not become your accomplice in such a design, and if you will not abandon it at least say nothing to me on the subject. I will promise you to tell him nothing, although as he lives with me the sacred laws of hospitality oblige me to give him due warning.”
“I thought he lived with the Lambertini”
“He left her yesterday. The connection between them was a criminal one, and I have drawn him back from the brink of the precipice.”
“You don’t mean to say so!”
“Yes, upon my word of honour:”
“You astonish one. This is very edifying. I don’t wish the young man’s death, but you must confess he owes me some reparation.”
“He does indeed. A charming Frenchwoman is not to be handled in the Italian manner without signal amends, but I can think of nothing at all commensurate with the offence. There is only one plan, which I will endeavour to carry out if you will agree to it.”
“What is that?”
“I will put the guilty party in your power without his knowing what is to happen, and I will leave you alone, so that you can wreak all your wrath upon him, provided you will allow me to be, unknown to him, in the next room, as I shall regard myself as responsible for his safety.”
“I consent. You will stay in this room, and he must be left in the other where I shall receive you, but take care he has no suspicion of your presence.”
“He shan’t dream of it. He will not even know where I am taking him, for he must not think that I have been informed of his misdoings. As soon as we be there, and the conversation becomes general, I shall leave the room, pretending to be going away.”
“When will you bring him? I long to cover him with confusion. I will make him tremble. I am curious to hear how he will justify himself for such an offence.”
“I can’t say, but I think and hope that your presence will make him eloquent, as I should like to see your differences adjusted.”
At one o’clock the Abbe des Forges arrived, and she made me sit down to dinner with them. This abbe was a pupil of the famous Bishop of Auxerre, who was still living. I talked so well on the subject of grace, and made so many quotations from St. Augustine, that the abbe and the devotee took me for a zealous Jansenista character with which my dress and appearance did not at all correspond. My sweetheart did not give me a single glance while the meal was going on, and thinking she had some motives I abstained from speaking to her.
After dinner, which, by the way, was a very good one, I promised the offended lady to bring her the culprit bound hand and foot next day, after the play was over. To put her at her ease I said I should walk, as I was certain that he would not recognize the house in the dark.
As soon as I saw Tiretta, I began with a seriocomic air to reproach him for the dreadful crime he had committed on the body of a lady in every way virtuous and respectable, but the mad fellow began to laugh, and it would have been waste of time for me to try to stop him.
“What!” said he, “she has had the courage to tell you all?”
“You don’t deny the fact, then?”
“If she says it is so, I don’t think I can give her the lie, but I am ready to swear that I don’t know how the land lay. In the position I was in it was impossible for me to say where I took up my dwelling. However, I will quiet her indignation, as I shall come to the point quickly, and not let her wait.”
“You will ruin the business if you don’t take care; be as long as you can; she will like that best, and it will be to your interest. Don’t hurry yourself, and never mind me, as I am sure to get on all right while you are changing anger into a softer passion. Remember not to know that I am in the house, and if you only stay with her a short time (which I don’t think will be the case) take a coach and be off. You know the least a pious woman like her can do will be to provide me with fire and company. Don’t forget that she is well-born like yourself. These women of quality are, no doubt, as immoral as any other women, since they are constructed of the same material, but they like to have their pride flattered by certain attentions. She is rich, a devote, and, what is more, inclined to pleasure; strive to gain her friendship ‘faciem ad faciem’, as the King of Prussia says. You may, perhaps, make your fortune.”
“If she asks you why you have left the Pope’s niece, take care not to tell her the reason. She will be pleased with your discretion. In short, do your best to expiate the enormity of your offence.”
“I have only to speak the truth. I went in in the dark.”
“That’s an odd reason, but it may seem convincing to a Frenchwoman.”
I need not tell the reader that I gave Tiretta a full account of my conversation with the lady. If any complain of this breach of honour, I must tell them that I had made a mental reservation not to keep my promise, and those who are acquainted with the morality of the children of Ignatius will understand that I was completely at my ease.
Next day we went to the opera, and afterwards, our plans made out, we walked to the house of the insulted and virtuous lady. She received us with great dignity, but yet there was an agreeable undercurrent in her voice and manner which I thought very promising.
“I never take supper,” she said, “but if you had forewarned me of your visit I should have got something for you:”
After telling her all the news I had heard in the theatre, I pretended to be obliged to go, and begged her to let me leave the count with her for a few minutes.
“If I am more than a quarter of an hour,” said I to the count, “don’t wait. Take a coach home and we shall see each other to-morrow.”
Instead of going downstairs I went into the next room, and two minutes after who should enter but my sweetheart, who looked charmed and yet puzzled at my appearance.
“I think I must be dreaming,” said she, “but my aunt has charged me not to leave you alone, and to tell her woman not to come upstairs unless she rings the bell. Your friend is with her, and she told me to speak low as he is not to know that you are here. What does it all mean?”
“You are curious, are you?”
“I confess I am in this instance, for all this mystery seems designed to excite curiosity.”
“Dearest, you shall know all; but how cold it is.”
“My aunt has told me to make a good fire, she has become liberal or rather lavish all of a sudden; look at the wax candles.”
“That’s a new thing, is it?”
“Oh, quite new.”
As soon as we were seated in front of the fire I began to tell her the story, to which she listened with all the attention a young girl can give to such a matter; but as I had thought it well to pass over some of the details, she could not properly understand what crime it was that Tiretta had committed. I was not sorry to be obliged to tell her the story in plain language, and to give more expression I employed the language of gesture, which made her blush and laugh at the same time. I then told her that, having taken up the question of the reparation that was due to her aunt, I had so arranged matters that I was certain of being alone with her all the time my friend was engaged. Thereupon I began to cover her pretty face with kisses, and as I allowed myself no other liberties she received my caresses as a proof of the greatness of my love and the purity of my feelings.
“Dearest,” she said, “what you say puzzles me; there are two things which I can’t understand. How could Tiretta succeed in committing this crime with my aunt, which I think would only be possible with the consent of the party attacked, but quite impossible without it; and this makes me believe that if the thing was done it was done with her hearty good will.”
“Very true, for if she did not like it she had only to change her position.”
“Not so much as that; she need only have kept the door shut.”
“There, sweetheart, you are wrong, for a properly-made man only asks you to keep still and he will overcome all obstacles. Moreover, I don’t expect that your aunt’s door is so well shut as yours.”
“I believe that I could defy all the Tirettas in the world.
“There’s another thing I don’t understand, and that is how my blessed aunt came to tell you all about it; for if she had any sense she might have known that it would only make you laugh. And what satisfaction does she expect to get from a brute like that, who possibly thinks the affair a matter of no consequence. I should think he would do the same to any woman who occupied the same position as my aunt.”
“You are right, for he told me he went in like a blind man, not knowing where he was going.”
“Your friend is a queer fellow, and if other men are like him I am sure I should have no feeling but contempt for them.”
“She has told me nothing about the satisfaction she is thinking of, and which she possibly feels quite sure of attaining; but I think I can guess what it will benamely, a formal declaration of love; and I suppose he will expiate his crime by becoming her lover, and doubtless this will be their wedding night.”
“The affair is getting amusing. I can’t believe it. My dear aunt is too anxious about her salvation; and how do you imagine the young man can ever fall in love with her, or play the part with such a face as hers before his eyes. Have you ever seen a countenance as disgusting as my aunt’s? Her skin is covered with pimples, her eyes distil humours, and her teeth and breath are enough to discourage any man. She’s hideous.”
“All that is nothing to a young spark of twenty-five; one is always ready for an assault at that age; not like me who only feel myself a man in presence of charms like yours, of which I long to be the lawful possessor.”
“You will find me the most affectionate of wives, and I feel quite sure that I shall have your heart in such good keeping that I shall never be afraid of losing it.”
We had talked thus pleasantly for an hour, and Tiretta was still with the aunt. I thought things pointed towards a reconciliation, and judged the matter was getting serious. I told my sweetheart my opinion, and asked her to give me something to eat.
“I can only give you,” said she, “some bread and cheese, a slice of ham, and some wine which my aunt pronounces excellent.”
“Bring them quick, then; I am fainting with hunger.”
She soon laid the table for two, and put on it all the food she had. The cheese was Roquefort, and the ham had been covered with jelly. About ten persons with reasonable appetites should have been able to sup on what there was; but (how I know not) the whole disappeared, and also two bottles of Chambertin, which I seem to taste now. My sweetheart’s eyes gleamed with pleasure: truly Chambertin and Roquefort are excellent thinks to restore an old love and to ripen a young one.
“Don’t you want to know what your aunt has been doing the last two hours with M. Sixtimes?”
“They are playing, perhaps; but there is a small hole in the wall, and I will look and see. I can only see the two candles, and the wicks are an inch long.”
“Didn’t I say so? Give me a coverlet and I will sleep on the sofa here, and do you go to bed. But let me look at it first:”
She made me come into her little room, where I saw a pretty bed, a prayer desk, and a large crucifix.
“Your bed is too small for you, dear heart.”
“Oh, not at all! I am very comfortable”; and so saying she laid down at full length.
“What a beautiful wife I shall have! Nay, don’t move, let me look at you so.” My hand began to press the bosom of her dress, where were imprisoned two spheres which seemed to lament their captivity. I went farther, I began to untie strings. .. for where does desire stop short?
“Sweetheart, I cannot resist, but you will not love me afterwards.”
“I will always love you:”
Soon her beautiful breasts were exposed to my burning kisses. The flame of my love lit another in her heart, and forgetting her former self she opened her arms to me, making me promise not to despise her, and what would one not promise! The modesty inherent in the sex, the fear of results, perhaps a kind of instinct which reveals to them the natural faithlessness of men make women ask for such promises, but what mistress, if really amorous, would even think of asking her lover to respect her in the moment of delirious ecstacy, when all one’s being is centred on the fulfilment of desire?
After we had passed an hour in these amorous toyings, which set my sweetheart on fire, her charms having never before been exposed to the burning lips or the free caresses of a man, I said to her,
“I grieve to leave you without having rendered to your beauty the greatest homage which it deserves so well.”
A sigh was her only answer.
It was cold, the fire was out, and I had to spend the night on the sofa.
“Give me a coverlet, dearest, that I may go away from you, for I should die here between love and cold if you made me abstain.”
“Lie where I have been, sweetheart. I will get up and rekindle the fire.”
She got up in all her naked charms, and as she put a stick to the fire the flame leapt up; I rose, I found her standing so as to display all her beauties, and I could refrain no longer. I pressed her to my heart, she returned my caresses, and till day-break we gave ourselves up to an ecstacy of pleasure.
We had spent four or five delicious hours on the sofa. She then left me, and after making a good fire she went to her room, and I remained on the sofa and slept till noon. I was awakened by Madame, who wore a graceful undress.
“Still asleep, M. Casanova?”
“Ah! good morning, madam, good morning. And what has become of my friend?”
“He has become mine, I have forgiven him.”
“What has he done to be worthy of so generous a pardon?”
“He proved to me that he made a mistake.”
“I am delighted to hear it; where is he?”
“He has gone home, where you will find him; but don’t say anything about your spending the night here, or he will think it was spent with my niece. I am very much obliged to you for what you have done, and I have only to ask you to be discreet.”
“You can count on me entirely, for I am grateful to you for having forgiven my friend.”
“Who would not do so? The dear young man is something more than mortal. If you knew how he loved me! I am grateful to him, and I have taken him to board for a year; he will be well lodged, well fed, and so on.”
“What a delightful plan! You have arranged the terms, I suppose.”
“All that will be settled in a friendly way, and we shall not need to have recourse to arbitration. We shall set out to-day for Villette, where I have a nice little house; for you know that it is necessary, at first, to act in such a way as to give no opportunity to slanderers. My lover will have all he wants, and whenever you, sir, honour us with your presence you will find a pretty room and a good bed at your disposal. All I am sorry for is that you will find it tedious; my poor niece is so dull.”
“Madam, your niece is delightful; she gave me yesterday evening an excellent supper and kept me company till three o’clock this morning.”
“Really? I can’t make it out how she gave you anything, as there was nothing in the house.”
“At any rate, madam, she gave me an excellent supper, of which there are no remains, and after keeping me company she went to bed, and I have had a good night on this comfortable sofa.”
“I am glad that you, like myself, were pleased with everything, but I did not think my niece so clever.”
“She is very clever, madam — in my eyes, at all events:”
“Oh, sir! you are a judge of wit, let us go and see her. She has locked her door. Come open the door, why have you shut yourself up, you little prude? what are you afraid of. My Casanova is incapable of hurting you.”
The niece opened her door and apologized for the disorder of her dress, but what costume could have suited her better? Her costume was dazzling.”
“There she is,” said the aunt, “and she is not so bad looking after all, but it is a pity she is so stupid. You were very right to give this gentleman a supper. I am much obliged to you for doing so. I have been playing all night, and when one is playing one only thinks of the game. I have determined on taking young Tiretta to board with us. He is an excellent and clever young man, and I am sure he will learn to speak French before long. Get dressed, my dear, as we must begin to pack. We shall set out this afternoon for Villette, and shall spend there the whole of the spring. There is no need, you know, to say anything about this to my sister:”
“I, aunt? Certainly not. Did I ever tell her anything on the other occasions?”
“Other occasions! You see what a silly girl it is. Do you mean by ‘other occasions,’ that I have been circumstanced like this before?”
“No, aunt. I only meant to say that I had never told her anything of what you did.”
“That’s right, my dear, but you must learn to express yourself properly. We dine at two, and I hope to have the pleasure of M. Casanova’s company at dinner; we will start immediately after the meal. Tiretta promised to bring his small portmanteau with him, and it will go with our luggage.”
After promising to dine with them, I bade the ladies good-bye; and I went home as fast as I could walk, for I was as curious as a woman to know what arrangements had been made.
“Well,” said I to Tiretta, “I find you have got a place. Tell me all about it”
“My dear fellow, I have sold myself for a year. My pay is to be twenty-five louis a month, a good table, good lodging, etc., etc.”
“I congratulate you.”
“Do you think it is worth the trouble?”
“There’s no rose without a thorn. She told me you were something more than mortal.”
“I worked hard all night to prove it to her; but I am quite sure your time was better employed than mine.”
“I slept like a king. Dress yourself, as I am coming to dinner, and I want to see you set out for Villette. I shall come and see you there now and then, as your sweetheart has told me that a room shall be set apart for my convenience.”
We arrived at two o’clock. Madame dressed in a girlish style presented a singular appearance, but Mdlle. de la Meure’s beauty shone like a star. Love and pleasure had given her a new life, a new being. We had a capital dinner, as the good lady had made the repast dainty like herself; but in the dishes there was nothing absurd, while her whole appearance was comic in the highest degree. At four they all set out, and I spent my evening at the Italian comedy.
I was in love with Mdlle. de la Meure, but Silvia’s daughter, whose company at supper was all I had of her, weakened a love which now left nothing more to desire.
We complain of women who, though loving us and sure of our love, refuse us their favours; but we are wrong in doing so, for if they love they have good reason to fear lest they lose us in the moment of satisfying our desires. Naturally they should do all in their power to retain our hearts, and the best way to do so is to cherish our desire of possessing them; but desire is only kept alive by being denied: enjoyment kills it, since one cannot desire what one has got. I am, therefore, of opinion that women are quite right to refuse us. But if it be granted that the passions of the two sexes are of equal strength, how comes it that a man never refuses to gratify a woman who loves him and entreats him to be kind?
We cannot receive the argument founded on the fear of results, as that is a particular and not a general consideration. Our conclusion, then, will be that the reason lies in the fact that a man thinks more of the pleasure he imparts than that which he receives, and is therefore eager to impart his bliss to another. We know, also, that, as a general rule, women, when once enjoyed, double their love and affection. On the other hand, women think more of the pleasure they receive than of that which they impart, and therefore put off enjoyment as long as possible, since they fear that in giving themselves up they lose their chief good — their own pleasure. This feeling is peculiar to the sex, and is the only cause of coquetry, pardonable in a woman, detestable in a man.
Silvia’s daughter loved me, and she knew I loved her, although I had never said so, but women’s wit is keen. At the same time she endeavoured not to let me know her feelings, as she was afraid of encouraging me to ask favours of her, and she did not feel sure of her strength to refuse them; and she knew my inconstant nature. Her relations intended her for Clement, who had been teaching her the clavichord for the last three years. She knew of the arrangement and had no objection, for though she did not love him she liked him very well. Most girls are wedded without love, and they are not sorry for it afterwards. They know that by marriage they become of some consequence in the world, and they marry to have a house of their own and a good position in society. They seem to know that a husband and a lover need not be synonymous terms. At Paris men are actuated by the same views, and most marriages are matters of convenience. The French are jealous of their mistresses, but never of their wives.
There could be no doubt that M. Clement was very much in love, and Mdlle. Baletti was delighted that I noticed it, as she thought this would bring me to a declaration, and she was quite right. The departure of Mdlle. de la Meure had a good deal to do with my determination to declare myself; and I was very sorry to have done so afterwards, for after I had told her I loved her Clement was dismissed, and my position was worse than before. The man who declares his love for a woman in words wants to be sent to school again.
Three days after the departure of Tiretta, I took him what small belongings he had, and Madame seemed very glad to see me. The Abbe des Forges arrived just as we were sitting down to dinner, and though he had been very friendly to me at Paris he did not so much as look at me all through the meal, and treated Tiretta in the same way. I, for my part, took no notice of him, but Tiretta, not so patient as I, at last lost his temper and got up, begging Madame to tell him when she was going to have that fellow to dine with her. We rose from table without saying a word, and the silent abbe went with madam into another room.
Tiretta took me to see his room, which was handsomely furnished, and, as was right, adjoined his sweetheart’s. Whilst he was putting his things in order, Mdlle. de la Meure made me come and see my apartment. It was a very nice room on the ground floor, and facing hers. I took care to point out to her how easily I could pay her a visit after everyone was in bed, but she said we should not be comfortable in her room, and that she would consequently save me the trouble of getting out of bed. It will be guessed that I had no objections to make to this arrangement.
She then told me of her aunt’s folly about Tiretta.
“She believes,” said she, “that we do not know he sleeps with her.”
“Believes, or pretends to believe.”
“Possibly. She rang for me at eleven o’clock this morning and told me to go and ask him what kind of night he had passed. I did so, but seeing his bed had not been slept in I asked him if he had not been to sleep.
“‘No,’ said he, ‘I have been writing all night, but please don’t say anything about it to your aunt: I promised with all my heart to be as silent as the grave.”
“Does he make sheep’s eyes at you?”
“No, but if he did it would be all the same. Though he is not over sharp he knows, I think, what I think of him.”
“Why have you such a poor opinion of him?”
“Why? My aunt pays him. I think selling one’s self is a dreadful idea.”
“But you pay me.”
“Yes, but in the same coin as you give me.”
The old aunt was always calling her niece stupid, but on the contrary I thought her very clever, and as virtuous as clever. I should never have seduced her if she had not been brought up in a convent.
I went back to Tiretta, and had some pleasant conversation with him. I asked him how he liked his place.
“I don’t like it much, but as it costs me nothing I am not absolutely wretched.”
“But her face!”
“I don’t look at it, and there’s one thing I like about her — she is so clean.”
“Does she take good care of you?”
“O yes, she is full of feeling for me. This morning she refused the greeting I offered her. ‘I am sure,’ said she, ‘that my refusal will pain you, but your health is so dear to me that I feel bound to look after it.”
As soon as the gloomy Abbe des Forges was gone and Madame was alone, we rejoined her. She treated me as her gossip, and played the timid child for Tiretta’s benefit, and he played up to her admirably, much to my admiration.
“I shall see no more of that foolish priest,” said she; “for after telling me that I was lost both in this world and the next he threatened to abandon me, and I took him at his word.”
An actress named Quinault, who had left the stage and lived close by, came to call, and soon after Madame Favart and the Abbe de Voisenon arrived, followed by Madame Amelin with a handsome lad named Calabre, whom she called her nephew. He was as like her as two peas, but she did not seem to think that a sufficient reason for confessing she was his mother. M. Patron, a Piedmontese, who also came with her, made a bank at faro and in a couple of hours won everybody’s money with the exception of mine, as I knew better than to play. My time was better occupied in the company of my sweet mistress. I saw through the Piedmontese, and had put him down as a knave; but Tiretta was not so sharp, and consequently lost all the money he had in his pockets and a hundred louis besides. The banker having reaped a good harvest put down the cards, and Tiretta told him in good Italian that he was a cheat, to which the Piedmontese replied with the greatest coolness that he lied. Thinking that the quarrel might have an unpleasant ending, I told him that Tiretta was only jesting, and I made my friend say so, too. He then left the company and went to his room.
Eight years afterwards I saw this Patron at St. Petersburg, and in the year 1767 he was assassinated in Poland.
The same evening I preached Tiretta a severe yet friendly sermon. I pointed out to him that when he played he was at the mercy of the banker, who might be a rogue but a man of courage too, and so in calling him a cheat he was risking his life.
“Am I to let myself be robbed, then?”
“Yes, you have a free choice in the matter; nobody will make you play.”
“I certainly will not pay him that hundred louis.”
“I advise you to do so, and to do so before you are asked.”
“You have a knack of persuading one to do what you will, even though one be disposed to take no notice of your advice.”
“That’s because I speak from heart and head at once, and have some experience in these affairs as well.”
Three quarters of an hour afterwards I went to bed and my mistress came to me before long. We spent a sweeter night than before, for it is often a matter of some difficulty to pluck the first flower; and the price which most men put on this little trifle is founded more on egotism than any feeling of pleasure.
Next day, after dining with the family and admiring the roses on my sweetheart’s cheeks, I returned to Paris. Three or four days later Tiretta came to tell me that the Dunkirk merchant had arrived, that he was coming to dine at Madame’s, and that she requested me to make one of the party. I was prepared for the news, but the blood rushed into my face. Tiretta saw it, and to a certain extent divined my feelings. “You are in love with the niece,” said he.
“Why do you think so?”
“By the mystery you make about her; but love betrays itself even by its silence.”
“You are a knowing fellow, Tiretta. I will come to dinner, but don’t say a word to anybody.”
My heart was rent in twain. Possibly if the merchant had put off his arrival for a month I should have welcomed it; but to have only just lifted the nectar to my lips, and to see the precious vessel escape from my hands! To this day I can recall my feelings, and the very recollection is not devoid of bitterness.
I was in a fearful state of perplexity, as I always was whenever it was necessary for me to resolve, and I felt that I could not do so. If the reader has been placed in the same position he will understand my feelings. I could not make up my mind to consent to her marrying, nor could I resolve to wed her myself and gain certain happiness.
I went to Villette and was a little surprised to find Mdlle. de la Meure more elaborately dressed than usual.
“Your intended,” I said, “would have pronounced you charming without all that.”
“My aunt doesn’t think so”
“You have not seen him yet?”
“No, but I should like to, although I trust with your help never to become his wife.”
Soon after, she arrived with Corneman, the banker, who had been the agent in this business transaction. The merchant was a fine man, about forty, with a frank and open face. His dress was good though not elaborate. He introduced himself simply but in a polite manner to Madame, and he did not look at his future wife till the aunt presented her to him. His manner immediately became more pleasing; and without making use of flowers of speech he said in a very feeling way that he trusted the impression he had made on her was equal to that which she had made on him. Her only answer was a low curtsy, but she studied him carefully.
Dinner was served, and in the course of the meal we talked of almost everything — except marriage. The happy pair only caught each other’s eyes by chance, and did not speak to one another. After dinner Mdlle. de la Meure went to her room, and the aunt went into her closet with the banker and the merchant, and they were in close conversation for two hours. At the end of that time the gentlemen were obliged to return to Paris, and Madame, after summoning her niece, told the merchant she would expect him to dinner on the day following, and that she was sure that her niece would be glad to see him again.
“Won’t you, my dear?”
“Yes, aunt, I shall be very glad to see the gentleman again.”
If she had not answered thus, the merchant would have gone away without hearing his future bride speak.
“Well,” said the aunt, “what do you think of your husband?”
“Allow me to put off my answer till to-morrow; but be good enough, when we are at table, to draw me into the conversation, for it is very possible that my face has not repelled him, but so far he knows nothing of my mental powers; possibly my want of wit may destroy any slight impression my face may have made.”
“Yes, I am afraid you will begin to talk nonsense, and make him lose the good opinion he seems to have formed of you.”
“It is not right to deceive anybody. If he is disabused of his fictitious ideas by the appearance of the truth, so much the better for him; and so much the worse for both of us, if we decide on marrying without the slightest knowledge of each other’s habits and ways of thought.”
“What do you think of him?”
“I think he is rather nice-looking, and his manners are kind and polite; but let us wait till to-morrow.”
“Perhaps he will have nothing more to say to me; I am so stupid.”
“I know very well that you think yourself very clever, and that’s where your fault lies; it’s your self-conceit which makes you stupid, although M. Casanova takes you for a wit.”
“Perhaps he may know what he is talking about.”
“My poor dear, he is only laughing at you.”
“I have good reasons for thinking otherwise, aunt.”
“There you go; you will never get any sense.”
“Pardon me, madam, if I cannot be of your opinion. Mademoiselle is quite right in saying that I do not laugh at her. I dare to say that to-morrow she will shine in the conversation.”
“You think so? I am glad to hear it. Now let us have a game at piquet, and I will play against you and my niece, for she must learn the game.”
Tiretta asked leave of his darling to go to the play, and we played on till supper-time. On his return, Tiretta made us almost die of laughing with his attempts to tell us in his broken French the plot of the play he had seen.
I had been in my bedroom for a quarter of an hour, expecting to see my sweetheart in some pretty kind of undress, when all of a sudden I saw her come in with all her clothes on. I was surprised at this circumstance, and it seemed to me of evil omen.
“You are astonished to see me thus,” said she, “but I want to speak to you for a moment, and then I will take off my clothes. Tell me plainly whether I am to consent to this marriage or no?”
“How do you like him?”
“Very good; farewell! From this moment our love ends, and our friendship begins. Get you to bed, and I will go and do the same. Farewell!”
“No, stay, and let our friendship begin to-morrow.”
“Not so, were my refusal to cost the lives of both of us. You know what it must cost me to speak thus, but it is my irrevocable determination. If I am to become another’s wife, I must take care to be worthy of him; perhaps I may be happy. Do not hold me, let me go. You know how well I love you.”
“At least, let us have one final embrace.”
“You are weeping.”
“No, I am not. In God’s name let me go.”
“Dear heart, you go but to weep in your chamber; stay here. I will marry you.”
“Nay, no more of that.”
With these words she made an effort, escaped from my hands, and fled from the room. I was covered with shame and regret, and could not sleep. I hated myself, for I knew not whether I had sinned most grievously in seducing her or in abandoning her to another.
I stayed to dinner next day in spite of my heartbreak and my sadness. Mdlle. de la Meure talked so brilliantly and sensibly to her intended that one could easily see he was enchanted with her. As for me, feeling that I had nothing pleasant to say, I pretended to have the toothache as an excuse for not talking. Sick at heart, absent- minded, and feeling the effects of a sleepless night, I was well-nigh mad with love, jealousy, and despair. Mdlle. de la Meure did not speak to me once, did not so much as look at me. She was quite right, but I did not think so then. I thought the dinner would never come to an end, and I do not think I was ever present at so painful a meal.
As we rose from the table, Madame went into her closet with her niece and nephew that was to be, and the niece came out in the course of an hour and bade us congratulate her, as she was to be married in a week, and after the wedding she would accompany her husband to Dunkirk. “To-morrow,” she added, “we are all to dine with M. Corneman, where the deed of settlement will be signed.”
I cannot imagine how it was I did not fall dead on the spot. My anguish cannot be expressed.
Before long it was proposed that we should go to the play, but excusing myself on the plea of business I returned to Paris. As I got to my door I seemed to be in a fever, and I lay down on my bed, but instead of the rest I needed I experienced only remorse and fruitless repentance-the torments of the damned. I began to think it was my duty to stop the marriage or die. I was sure that Mdlle. de la Meure loved me, and I fancied she would not say no if I told her that her refusal to marry me would cost me my life. Full of that idea I rose and wrote her a letter, strong with all the strength of tumultuous passion. This was some relief, and getting into bed I slept till morning. As soon as I was awake I summoned a messenger and promised him twelve francs if he would deliver my letter, and report its receipt in an hour and a half. My letter was under cover of a note addressed to Tiretta, in which I told him that I should not leave the house till I had got an answer. I had my answer four hours after; it ran as follows: “Dearest, it is too late; you have decided on my destiny, and I cannot go back from my word. Come to dinner at M. Corneman’s, and be sure that in a few weeks we shall be congratulating ourselves on having won a great victory. Our love, crowned all too soon, will soon live only in our memories. I beg of you to write to me no more.”
Such was my fate. Her refusal, with the still more cruel charge not to write to her again, made me furious. In it I only saw inconstancy. I thought she had fallen in love with the merchant. My state of mind may be judged from the fact that I determined to kill my rival. The most savage plans, the most cruel designs, ran a race through my bewildered brain. I was jealous, in love, a different being from my ordinary self; anger, vanity, and shame had destroyed my powers of reasoning. The charming girl whom I was forced to admire, whom I should have esteemed all the more for the course she had taken, whom I had regarded as an angel, became in my eyes a hateful monster, a meet object for punishment. At last I determined on a sure method of revenge, which I knew to be both dishonourable and cowardly, but in my blind passion I did not hesitate for a moment. I resolved to go to the merchant at M. Corneman’s, where he was staying, to tell him all that had passed between the lady and myself, and if that did not make him renounce the idea of marrying her I would tell him that one of us must die, and if he refused my challenge I determined to assassinate him.
With this terrible plan in my brain, which makes me shudder now when I think of it, I ate with the appetite of a wild beast, lay down and slept till day. I was in the same mind when I awoke, and dressed myself hastily yet carefully, put two good pistols in my pocket and went to M. Corneman’s. My rival was still asleep; I waited for him, and for a quarter of an hour my thoughts only grew more bitter and my determination more fixed. All at once he came into the room, in his dressing-gown, and received me with open arms, telling me in the kindest of voices that he had been expecting me to call, as he could guess what feelings I, a friend of his future wife’s, could have for him, and saying that his friendship for me should always be as warm as hers. His honest open face, his straightforward words, overwhelmed me, and I was silent for a few minutes — in fact I did not know what to say. Luckily he gave me enough time to recollect myself, as he talked on for a quarter of an hour without noticing that I did not open my lips.
M. Corneman then came in; coffee was served, and my speech returned to me; but I am happy to say I refrained from playing the dishonourable part I had intended; the crisis was passed.
It may be remarked that the fiercest spirits are like a cord stretched too tight, which either breaks or relaxes. I have known several persons of that temperament — the Chevalier L— — amongst others, who in a fit of passion used to feel his soul escaping by every pore. If at the moment when his anger burst forth he was able to break something and make a great noise, he calmed down in a moment; reason resumed her sway, and the raging lion became as mild as a lamb.
After I had taken a cup of coffee, I felt myself calmed but yet dizzy in the head, so I bade them good morning and went out. I was astonished but delighted that I had not carried my detestable scheme into effect. I was humbled by being forced to confess to myself that chance and chance alone had saved me from becoming a villain. As I was reflecting on what had happened I met my brother, and he completed my cure. I took him to dine at Silvia’s and stayed there till midnight. I saw that Mdlle. Baletti would make me forget the fair inconstant, whom I wisely determined not to see again before the wedding. To make sure I set out the next day for Versailles, to look after my interests with the Government.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07