My Country House — Madame Dubois — Malicious Trick Played on Me by My Lame Enemy — My Vexation
There was a reception and a supper at the Court, as they styled the hotel of M. de Chavigni, or rather of the ambassador of the King of France in Switzerland. As I came in I saw my charmer sitting apart reading a letter. I accosted her, apologizing for not having stayed to breakfast, but she said I had done quite right, adding that if I had not chosen a country house she hoped I would take one her husband would probably mention to me that evening. She could not say any more, as she was called away to a game at quadrille. For my part I did not play, but wandered from one table to another.
At supper everybody talked to me about my health, and my approaching stay in the country. This gave M. —— an opportunity to mention a delightful house near the Aar; “but,” he added, “it is not to be let for less than six months.”
“If I like it,” I replied, “and am free to leave it when I please, I will willingly pay the six months’ rent in advance.”
“There is a fine hall in it.”
“All the better; I will give a ball as evidence of my gratitude to the people of Soleure for the kind welcome I have received from them.”
“Would you like to come and see it to-morrow?”
“Very good, then I will call for you at eight o’clock, if that hour will suit you.”
“I shall expect you.”
When I got back to my lodging I ordered a travelling carriage and four, and the next morning, before eight o’clock, I called for M. who was ready, and seemed flattered at my anticipating him.
“I made my wife promise to come with us; but she is a sluggard, who prefers her bed to the fresh air.”
In less than an hour we reached our journey’s end, and I found the house a beautiful one and large enough to lodge the whole court of a prince of the Holy Roman Empire. Besides the hall, which I thought magnificent, I noted with great pleasure a closet arranged as a boudoir, and covered with the most exquisite pictures. A fine garden, fountains, baths, several well-furnished rooms, a good kitchen — in a word, everything pleased me, and I begged M. —— to arrange for me to take up my abode there in two days’ time.
When we got back to Soleure, Madame told me how pleased she was that I liked the house; and seizing the opportunity, I said that I hoped they would often do me the honour of dining with me. They promised they would do so. I drew from my pocket a packet containing a hundred louis, which I gave M. —— to pay the rent. I then embraced him, and after imprinting a respectful kiss on the hand of his fair mate I went to M. de Chavigni, who approved of my having taken the house as it pleased my lady, and asked me if it was true that I was going to give a ball.
“Yes, if I see any prospect of its being a brilliant one, and if I have your approbation.”
“You need have no doubts on that point, my dear fellow, and whatever you can’t find in the shops come to me for. Come, I see you are going to spend a little money. It is a good plan, and overcomes many difficulties. In the meanwhile you shall have two footmen, an excellent cook, a housekeeper, and whatever other servants you require. The head of my household will pay them, and you can settle with him afterwards, he is a trustworthy man. I will come now and then and take a spoonful of soup with you, and you shall reward me for what services I may have done you by telling me how things are getting on. I have a great esteem for your charming friend, her discretion is beyond her years, and the pledges of love you will obtain of her will doubtless increase your passion and your esteem. Is she aware that I know all?”
“She knows that we are firm friends, and she is glad of it, as she is sure that you will be discreet.”
“She may count on my discretion. She is really a delicious woman; I should have been tempted to seduce her myself thirty years ago.”
A druggist, whom the doctor had recommended to me, set out the same day to get ready the baths which were to cure me of my imaginary complaint, and in two days I went myself, after having given Le Duc orders to bring my baggage on.
I was extremely surprised, on entering the apartment I was to occupy, to see a pretty young woman who came up to me in a modest way to kiss my hand. I stopped her doing so, and my astonished air made her blush.
“Do you belong to the household?” I said.
“The ambassador’s steward has engaged me as your housekeeper.”
“Pardon my surprise. Take me to my room.”
She obeyed, and sitting down on the couch I begged her to sit beside me.
“That is an honour,” said she, in the most polite and modest way, “I cannot allow myself. I am only your servant.”
“Very good, but when I am alone I hope you will consent to take your meals with me, as I don’t like eating by myself.”
“I will do so, sir.”
“Where is your room?”
“This is the one the steward assigned to me, but you have only to speak if you wish me to sleep in another.”
“Not at all; it will do very well.”
Her room was just behind the recess in which my bed stood. I went in with her and was astonished to see a great display of dresses, and in an adjoining closet all the array of the toilette, linen in abundance, and a good stock of shoes and embroidered slippers. Dumb with surprise I looked at her, and was thoroughly satisfied with what I saw. Nevertheless I determined to subject her to a close examination, as I thought her manners too interesting and her linen too extensive for her to be a mere servant. All at once I was struck with the idea that it might be a trick of the ambassador’s, for a fine woman, well educated, and aged twenty-four or at the most twenty-five years, seemed to me more fitted to be my mistress than my housekeeper. I therefore asked her if she knew the ambassador, and what wages she was to receive. She replied that she only knew M. de Chavigni by sight, and that the steward had promised her two louis a month and her meals in her own room.
“Where do you come from? What’s your name?”
“I come from Lyons; I am a widow, and my name is Dubois.”
“I am delighted to have you in my service. I shall see you again.”
She then left me, and I could not help thinking her a very interesting woman, as her speech was as dignified as her appearance. I went down to the kitchen and found the cook, an honest-looking fellow, who told me his name was Rosier. I had known his brother in the service of the French ambassador at Venice. He told me that supper would be ready at nine o’clock.
“I never eat by myself,” said I.
“So I hear, sir; and I will serve supper accordingly.”
“What are your wages?”
“Four louis a month.”
I then went to see the rest of my people. I found two sharp-looking footmen, and the first of them told me he would see I had what wine I wanted. Then I inspected my bath, which seemed convenient. An apothecary was preparing certain matters for my imaginary cure. Finally, I took a walk round my garden, and before going in I went into the gate-keeper’s, where I found a numerous family, and some girls who were not to be despised. I was delighted to hear everybody speak French, and I talked with them some time.
When I got back to my room, I found Le Duc occupied in unpacking my mails; and telling him to give my linen to Madame Dubois, I went into a pretty cabinet adjoining, where there was a desk and all materials necessary for writing. This closet had only one window facing north, but it commanded a view capable of inspiring the finest thoughts. I was amusing myself with the contemplation of this sublime prospect, when I heard a knock at my door. It was my pretty housekeeper, who wore a modest and pleasant expression, and did not in the least resemble a person who bears a complaint.
“What can I do for you, madam?”
“I hope you will be good enough to order your man to be polite to me?”
“Certainly; how has he failed in politeness?”
“He might possibly tell you in no respect. He wanted to kiss me, and as I refused he thought himself justified in being rather insolent.”
“By laughing at me. You will pardon me, sir, but I do not like people who make game.”
“You are right; they are sure to be either silly or malicious. Make yourself easy; Le Duc shall understand that you are to be treated with respect. You will please sup with me.”
Le Duc came in soon after, and I told him to behave respectfully towards Madame Dubois.
“She’s a sly cat,” said the rascal; “she wouldn’t let me kiss her.”
“I am afraid you are a bad fellow.”
“Is she your servant or your mistress?”
“She might be my wife.”
“Oh! well, that’s different. That will do; Madame Dubois shall have all respect, and I will try my luck somewhere else.”
I had a delicious supper. I was contented with my cook, my butler, my housekeeper, and even with my Spaniard, who waited capitally at table.
After supper I sent out Le Duc and the other servant, and as soon as I was alone with my too lovely housekeeper, who had behaved at table like a woman of the world, I begged her to tell me her history.
“My history, sir, is short enough, and not very interesting. I was — born at Lyons, and my relations took me to Lausanne, as I have been told, for I was too young at the time to remember anything about it. My father, who was in the service of Madame d’Ermance, left me an orphan when I was fourteen. Madame d’Ermance was fond of me, and knowing that my mother’s means were small she took me to live with her. I had attained my seventeenth year when I entered the service of Lady Montagu as lady’s maid, and some time after I was married to Dubois, an old servant of the house. We went to England, and three years after my marriage I lost my husband. The climate of England affected my lungs, and I was obliged to beg my lady to allow me to leave her service. The worthy lady saw how weak I was, and paid the expenses of my journey and loaded me with rich presents. I returned to my mother at Lausanne, where my health soon returned, and I went into the service of an English lady who was very fond of me, and would have taken me with her to Italy if she had not conceived some suspicions about the young Duke of Rosebury, with whom she was in love, and whom she thought in love with me. She suspected me, but wrongfully, of being her rival in secret. She sent me away, after giving me rich presents, and saying how sorry she was she could not keep me. I went back to my mother, and for two years I have lived with the toil of my hands. Four days ago M. Lebel, the ambassador’s steward, asked me if I would enter the service of an Italian gentleman as housekeeper. I agreed, in the hope of seeing Italy, and this hope is the cause of my stupidity. In short: here I am.”
“What stupidity are you referring to?”
“The stupidity of having entered your service before I knew you.”
“I like your freedom. You would not have come, then, if you had not known me?”
“Certainly not, for no lady will ever take me after having been with you.”
“Why not? may I ask.”
“Well, sir; do you think you are the kind of man to have a house- keeper like myself without the public believing my situation to be of quite a different nature?”
“No, you are too pretty, and I don’t look like a fossil, certainly; but after all, what matter does it make?”
“It is all very well for you to make light of it, and if I were in your place I would do the same; but how am I, who am a woman and not in an independent position, to set myself above the rules and regulations of society?”
“You mean, Madame Dubois, that you would very much like to go back to Lausanne?”
“Not exactly, as that would not be just to you.”
“People would be sure to say that either your words or your deeds were too free, and you might possibly pass a rather uncharitable judgment on me.”
“What judgment could I pass on you?”
“You might think I wanted to impose on you.”
“That might be, as I should be very much hurt by so sudden and uncalled-for a departure. All the same I am sorry for you, as with your ideas you can neither go nor stay with any satisfaction. Nevertheless, you must do one or the other.”
“I have made up my mind. I shall stay, and I am almost certain I shall not regret it.”
“I am glad to hear that, but there is one point to which I wish to call your attention.”
“What is that?”
“I will tell you. Let us have no melancholy and no scruples.”
“You shall not see me melancholy, I promise you; but kindly explain what you mean by the word ‘scruples.’”
“Certainly. In its ordinary acceptation, the word ‘scruple’ signifies a malicious and superstitious whim, which pronounces an action which may be innocent to be guilty.”
“When a course of action seems doubtful to me, I never look upon the worst side of it. Besides, it is my duty to look after myself and not other people.”
“I see you have read a good deal.”
“Reading is my greatest luxury. Without books I should find life unbearable.”
“Have you any books?”
“A good many. Do you understand English?”
“Not a word.”
“I am sorry for that, as the English books would amuse you.”
“I do not care for romances.”
“Nor do I. But you don’t think that there are only romances in English, do you? I like that. Why do you take me for such a lover of the romantic, pray?”
“I like that, too. That pretty outburst is quite to my taste, and I am delighted to be the first to make you laugh.”
“Pardon me if I laugh, but . . . ”
“But me no buts, my dear; laugh away just as you like, you will find that the best way to get over me. I really think, though, that you put your services at too cheap a rate.”
“That makes me laugh again, as it is for you to increase my wages if you like.”
“I shall take care that it is done.”
I rose from table, not taken, but surprised, with this young woman, who seemed to be getting on my blind side. She reasoned well, and in this first interview she had made a deep impression on me. She was young, pretty, elegant, intellectual, and of distinguished manners; I could not guess what would be the end of our connection. I longed to speak to M. Lebel, to thank him for getting me such a marvel, and still more, to ask him some questions about her.
After the supper had been taken away, she came to ask if I would have my hair put in curl papers.
“It’s Le Duc’s business,” I answered, “but if you like, it shall be yours for the future.”
She acquitted herself like an expert.
“I see,” said I, “that you are going to serve me as you served Lady Montagu.”
“Not altogether; but as you do not like melancholy, allow me to ask a favour.”
“Do so, my dear.”
“Please do not ask me to give you your bath.”
“Upon my honour, I did not think of doing so. It would be scandalous. That’s Le Duc’s business.”
“Pardon me, and allow me to ask another favour.”
“Tell me everything you want.”
“Allow me to have one of the door-keeper’s daughters to sleep with me.”
“If it had come into my head, I would have proposed it to you. Is she in your room now?”
“Go and call her, then.”
“Let us leave that till to-morrow, as if I went at this time of night it might make people talk.”
“I see you have a store of discretion, and you may be sure I will not deprive you of any of it.”
She helped me to undress, and must have found me very modest, but I must say it was not from virtue. My heart was engaged elsewhere, and Madame Dubois had impressed me; I was possibly duped by her, but I did not trouble myself to think whether I was or not. I rang for Le Duc in the morning, and on coming in he said he had not expected the honour.
“You’re a rascal,” I said, “get two cups of chocolate ready directly after I have had my bath.”
After I had taken my first cold bath, which I greatly enjoyed, I went to bed again. Madame Dubois came in smiling, dressed in a style of careless elegance.
“You look in good spirits.”
“I am, because I am happy with you. I have had a good night, and there is now in my room a girl as lovely as an angel, who is to sleep with me.”
“Call her in.”
She called her, and a monster of ugliness entered, who made me turn my head away.
“You haven’t given yourself a rival certainly, my dear, but if she suits you it is all right. You shall have your breakfast with me, and I hope you will take chocolate with me every morning.”
“I shall be delighted, as I am very fond of it.”
I had a pleasant afternoon. M. de Chavigni spent several hours with me. He was pleased with everything, and above all with my fair housekeeper, of whom Lebel had said nothing to him.
“She will be an excellent cure for your love for Madame,” said he.
“There you are wrong,” I answered, “she might make me fall in love with her without any diminution of my affection for my charmer.”
Next day, just as I was sitting down to table with my housekeeper, I saw a carriage coming into the courtyard, and my detestable lame widow getting out of it. I was terribly put out, but the rules of politeness compelled me to go and receive her.
“I was far from anticipating that you would do me so great an honour, madam.”
“I daresay; I have come to dine with you, and to ask you to do me a favour.”
“Come in, then, dinner is just being served. I beg to introduce Madame Dubois to you.”
I turned towards my charming housekeeper, and told her that the lady would dine with us.
Madame Dubois, in the character of mistress of the house, did the honours admirably, and my lame friend, in spite of her pride, was very polite to her. I did not speak a dozen words during the meal, and paid no sort of attention to the detestable creature; but I was anxious to know what she could want me to do for her. As soon as Madame Dubois had left the room she told me straight out that she had come to ask me to let her have a couple of rooms in my house for three weeks or a month at the most.
I was astonished at such a piece of impudence, and told her she asked more than I was at liberty to give.
“You can’t refuse me, as everybody knows I have come on purpose to ask you.”
“Then everybody must know that I have refused you. I want to be alone — absolutely alone, without any kind of restriction on my liberty. The least suspicion of company would bore me.”
“I shall not bore you in any way, and you will be at perfect liberty to ignore my presence. I shall not be offended if you don’t enquire after me, and I shall not ask after you — even if you are ill. I shall have my meals served to me by my own servant, and I shall take care not to walk in the garden unless I am perfectly certain you are not there. You must allow that if you have any claims to politeness you cannot refuse me.”
“If you were acquainted with the most ordinary rules of politeness, madam, you would not persist in a request to which I have formally declined to accede.”
She did not answer, but my words had evidently produced no effect. I was choking with rage. I strode up and down the room, and felt inclined to send her away by force as a madwoman. However, I reflected that she had relations in a good position whom I might offend if I treated her roughly, and that I might make an enemy capable of exacting a terrible revenge; and, finally, that Madame might disapprove of my using violence to this hideous harpy. . . .
“Well, madam,” said I, “you shall have the apartment you have solicited with so much importunity, and an hour after you come in I shall be on my way back to Soleure.”
“I accept the apartment, and I shall occupy it the day after to- morrow. As for your threat of returning to Soleure, it is an idle one, as you would thereby make yourself the laughing-stock of the whole town.”
With this final impertinence she rose and went away, without taking any further notice of me. I let her go without moving from my seat. I was stupefied. I repented of having given in; such impudence was unparalleled. I called myself a fool, and vowed I deserved to be publicly hooted. I ought to have taken the whole thing as a jest; to have contrived to get her out of the house on some pretext, and then to have sent her about her business as a madwoman, calling all my servants as witnesses.
My dear Dubois came in, and I told my tale. She was thunderstruck.
“I can hardly credit her requesting, or your granting, such a thing,” said she, “unless you have some motives of your own.”
I saw the force of her argument, and not wishing to make a confidante of her I held my tongue, and went out to work off my bile.
I came in tired, after taking a stiff walk. I took supper with Madame Dubois, and we sat at table till midnight. Her conversation pleased me more and more; her mind was well-furnished, her speech elegant, and she told her stories and cracked her jokes with charming grace. She was devoid of prejudices, but by no means devoid of principle. Her discretion was rather the result of system than of virtue; but if she had not a virtuous spirit, her system would not have shielded her from the storms of passion or the seductions of vice.
My encounter with the impudent widow had so affected me that I could not resist going at an early hour on the following day to communicate it to M. de Chavigni. I warned Madame Dubois that if I were not back by dinner-time she was not to wait for me.
M. de Chavigni had been told by my enemy that she was going to pay me a visit, but he roared with laughter on hearing the steps she had taken to gain her ends.
“Your excellency may find it very funny,” said I, “but I don’t.”
“So I see; but take my advice, and be the first to laugh at the adventure. Behave as if you were unaware of her presence, and that will be a sufficient punishment for her. People will soon say she is smitten with you, and that you disdain her love. Go and tell the story to M. — — and stay without ceremony to dinner. I have spoken to Lebel about your pretty housekeeper: the worthy man had no malicious intent in sending her to you. He happened to be going to Lausanne, and just before, I had told him to find you a good housekeeper; thinking it over on his way, he remembered his friend Madame Dubois, and the matter was thus arranged without malice or pretense. She is a regular find, a perfect jewel for you, and if you get taken with her I don’t think she will allow you to languish for long.”
“I don’t know, she seems to be a woman of principle.”
“I shouldn’t have thought you would be taken in by that sort of thing. I will ask you both to give me a dinner to-morrow, and shall be glad to hear her chatter.”
M—— welcomed me most kindly, and congratulated me on my conquest, which would make my country house a paradise. I joined in the jest, of course, with the more ease that his charming wife, though I could see that she suspected the truth, added her congratulations to those of her husband; but I soon changed the course of their friendly mirth by telling them the circumstances of the case. They were indignant enough then, and the husband said that if she had really quartered herself on me in that fashion, all I had to do was to get an injunction from the courts forbidding her to put her foot within my doors.
“I don’t want to do that,” said I, “as besides publicly disgracing her I should be skewing my own weakness, and proclaiming that I was not the master in my own house, and that I could not prevent her establishing herself with me.”
“I think so, too,” said the wife, “and I am glad you gave way to her. That shews how polite you are, and I shall go and call on her to congratulate her on the welcome she got, as she told me that her plans had succeeded.”
Here the matter ended, and I accepted their invitation to dine with them. I behaved as a friend, but with that subtle politeness which takes away all ground for suspicion; accordingly, the husband felt no alarm. My charmer found the opportunity to tell me that I had done wisely in yielding to the ill-timed demand of that harpy, and that as soon as M. de Chauvelin, whom they were expecting, had gone away again, I could ask her husband to spend a few days with me, and that she would doubtless come too.
“Your door-keeper’s wife,” she added, “was my nurse. I have been kind to her, and when necessary I can write to you by her without running any risk.”
After calling on two Italian Jesuits who were passing through Soleure, and inviting them to dine with me on the following day, I returned home where the good Dubois amused me till midnight by philosophical discussions. She admired Locke; and maintained that the faculty of thought was not a proof of the existence of spirit in us, as it was in the power of God to endow matter with the capacity for thought; I was unable to controvert this position. She made me laugh by saying that there was a great difference between thinking and reasoning, and I had the courage to say —
“I think you would reason well if you let yourself be persuaded to sleep with me, and you think you reason well in refusing to be so persuaded.”
“Trust me, sir,” said she; “there is as much difference between the reasoning powers of men and women as there is between their physical characteristics.”
Next morning at nine o’clock we were taking our chocolate, when my enemy arrived. I heard her carriage, but I did not take the slightest notice. The villainous woman sent away the carriage and installed herself in her room with her maid.
I had sent Le Duc to Soleure for my letters, so I was obliged to beg my housekeeper to do my hair; and she did it admirably, as I told her we should have the ambassador and the two Jesuits to dinner. I thanked her, and kissed her for the first time on the cheek, as she would not allow me to touch her beautiful lips. I felt that we were fast falling in love with one another, but we continued to keep ourselves under control, a task which was much easier for her than for me, as she was helped by that spirit of coquetry natural to the fair sex, which often has greater power over them than love itself.
M. de Chavigni came at two; I had consulted him before asking the Jesuits, and had sent my carriage for them. While we were waiting for these gentlemen we took a turn in the garden, and M. de Chavigni begged my fair housekeeper to join us as soon as she had discharged certain petty duties in which she was then engaged.
M. de Chavigni was one of those men who were sent by France to such powers as she wished to cajole and to win over to her interests. M. de l’Hopital, who knew how to gain the heart of Elizabeth Petrovna, was another; the Duc de Nivernois, who did what he liked with the Court of St. James’s in 1762, is a third instance.
Madame Dubois came out to us in due course, and entertained us very agreeably; and M. de Chavigni told me that he considered she had all the qualities which would make a man happy. At dinner she enchanted him and captivated the two Jesuits by her delicate and subtle wit. In the evening this delightful old nobleman told me he had spent a most pleasant day, and after asking me to dine at his house while M. de Chauvelin was there, he left me with an effusive embrace.
M. de Chauvelin, whom I had the honour to know at Versailles, at M. de Choiseul’s, was an extremely pleasant man. He arrived at Soleure in the course of two days, and M. de Chavigni having advised me of his presence I hastened to pay my court to him. He remembered me, and introduced me to his wife, whom I had not the honour of knowing. As chance placed me next to my charmer at table, my spirits rose, and my numerous jests and stories put everybody in a good temper. On M. de Chauvelin remarking that he knew some pleasant histories of which I was the hero, M. de Chavigni told him that he did not know the best of all, and recounted to him my adventure at Zurich. M. de Chauvelin then told Madame that to serve her he would willingly transform himself into a footman, on which M. —— joined in and said that I had a finer taste for beauty, as she, for whose sake I had made myself into a waiter, was at that moment a guest of mine in my country house.
“Ah, indeed!” said M. de Chauvelin, “then we must come and see your quarters, M. Casanova.”
I was going to reply, when M. de Chavigni anticipated me by saying,
“Yes, indeed! and I hope he will lend me his beautiful hall to give you a ball next Sunday.”
In this manner the good-natured courtier prevented me from promising to give a ball myself, and relieved me of my foolish boast, which I should have been wrong in carrying out, as it would have been an encroachment on his privilege as ambassador of entertaining these distinguished strangers during the five or six days they might stay at Soleure. Besides, if I had kept to my word, it would have involved me in a considerable expense, which would not have helped me in my suit.
The conversation turning on Voltaire, the Ecossaise was mentioned, and the acting of my neighbour was highly commended in words that made her blush and shine in her beauty like a star, whereat her praises were renewed.
After dinner the ambassador invited us to his ball on the day after the morrow, and I went home more deeply in love than ever with my dear charmer, whom Heaven had designed to inflict on me the greatest grief I have had in my life, as the reader shall see.
I found that my housekeeper had gone to bed, and I was glad of it, for the presence of my fair one had excited my passions to such an extent that my reason might have failed to keep me within the bounds of respect. Next morning she found me sad, and rallied me in such a way that I soon recovered my spirits. While we were taking our chocolate the lame creature’s maid brought me a note, and I sent her away, telling her that I would send the answer by my own servant. This curious letter ran as follows:
“The ambassador has asked me to his ball on Sunday. I answered that I was not well, but if I found myself better in the evening I would come. I think that as I am staying in your house I ought to be introduced by you or stay away altogether. So if you do not wish to oblige me by taking me, I must beg of you to tell the ambassador that I am ill. Pardon me if I have taken the liberty of infringing our agreement in this peculiar instance, but it is a question of keeping up some sort of appearance in public.”
“Not so,” I cried, mad with rage; and taking my pen I wrote thus:
“I think your idea is a beautiful one, madam. You will have to be ill, as I mean to keep to the conditions you made yourself, and to enjoy full liberty in all things, and I shall therefore deny myself the honour of taking you to the ball which the ambassador is to give in my hall.”
I read her insolent letter and my reply to my housekeeper, who thought the answer just what she deserved. I then sent it to her.
I passed the next two days quietly and agreeably without going out or seeing any visitors, but the society of Madame Dubois was all- sufficient for me. Early on Sunday morning the ambassador’s people came to make the necessary preparations for the ball and supper. Lebel came to pay me his respects while I was at table. I made him sit down, while I thanked him for procuring me a housekeeper who was all perfection.
Lebel was a fine man, middle-aged, witty, and an excellent steward, though perfectly honest.
“Which of you two,” said he to me, “is the most taken in?”
“We are equally pleased with each other,” answered my charming housekeeper.
To my great delight the first pair to appear were M. —— and Madame. She was extremely polite to Madame Dubois, and did not shew the slightest astonishment when I introduced her as my housekeeper. She told me that I must take her to see her lame friend, and to my great disgust I had to go. We were received with a show of great friendship, and she went out with us into the garden, taking M. ——‘s arm, while his wife leant amorously on mine.
When we had made a few turns of the garden, Madame begged me to take her to her nurse. As her husband was close by, I said —
“Who is your nurse?”
“Your door-keeper’s wife,” said her husband, “we will wait for you in this lady’s apartment.”
“Tell me, sweetheart,” said she on the way, “does not your pretty housekeeper sleep with you?”
“I swear she does not; I can only love you.”
“I would like to believe you, but I find it hard to do so; however, if you are speaking the truth it is wrong of you to keep her in the house, as nobody will believe in your innocence.”
“It is enough for me that you believe in it. I admire her, and at any other time I expect we could not sleep under the same roof without sleeping in the same bed; but now that you rule my heart I am not capable of a passion for her.”
“I am delighted to hear it; but I think she is very pretty.”
We went in to see her nurse, who called her “my child,” and kissed her again and again, and then left us alone to prepare some lemonade for us. As soon as we found ourselves alone our mouths were glued together, and my hands touched a thousand beauties, covered only by a dress of light sarcenet; but I could not enjoy her charms without this cruel robe, which was all the worse because it did not conceal the loveliness beneath it. I am sure that the good nurse would have kept us waiting a long time if she had known how we longed to be left alone for a few moments longer; but, alas! the celerity with which she made those two glasses of lemonade was unexampled.
“It was made beforehand, was it?” said I, when I saw her coming in.
“Not at all, sir; but I am a quick hand.”
“You are, indeed.”
These words made my charmer go off into a peal of laughter, which she accompanied with a significant glance in my direction. As we were going away she said that as things seemed to be against us we must wait till her husband came to spend a few days with me.
My terrible enemy gave us some sweets, which she praised very highly, and above all some quince marmalade, which she insisted on our testing. We begged to be excused, and Madame pressed my foot with hers. When we had got away she told me I had been very wise not to touch anything, as the widow was suspected of having poisoned her husband.
The ball, the supper, the refreshments, and the guests were all of the most exquisite and agreeable kind. I only danced one minuet with Madame de Chauvelin, nearly all my evening being taken up with talking to her husband. I made him a present of my translation of his poem on the seven deadly sins, which he received with much pleasure.
“I intend,” said I, “to pay you a visit at Turin.”
“Are you going to bring your housekeeper with you?”
“You are wrong, for she is a delightful person.”
Everybody spoke of my dear Dubois in the same way. She had a perfect knowledge of the rules of good breeding, and she knew how to make herself respected without being guilty of the slightest presumption. In vain she was urged to dance, and she afterwards told me that if she had yielded she would have become an object of hatred to all the ladies. She knew that she could dance exquisitely.
M. de Chauvelin went away in two days, and towards the end of the week I heard from Madame d’Urfe, who told me that she had spent two days at Versailles in furtherance of my desires. She sent me a copy of the letters of pardon signed by the king in favour of the relation of M. — — assuring me that the original had been sent to the colonel of his regiment, where he would be reinstated in the rank which he held before the duel.
I had my horses put into my carriage, and hastened to carry this good news to M. de Chavigni. I was wild with joy, and I did not conceal it from the ambassador, who congratulated me, since M. —— having obtained by me, without the expenditure of a penny, a favour which would have cost him dear if he had succeeded in purchasing it, would henceforth be only too happy to treat me with the utmost confidence.
To make the matter still more important, I begged my noble friend to announce the pardon to M. —— in person, and he immediately wrote a note to that gentleman requesting his presence.
As soon as he made his appearance, the ambassador handed him the copy of the pardon, telling him that he owed it all to me. The worthy man was in an ecstasy, and asked what he owed me.
“Nothing, sir, unless you will give me your friendship, which I value more than all the gold in the world; and if you would give me a proof of your friendship, come and spend a few days with me; I am positively dying of loneliness. The matter I have done for you is a mere trifle; you see how quickly it has been arranged.”
“A mere trifle! I have devoted a year’s labour to it; I have moved heaven and earth without succeeding, and in a fortnight you have accomplished it. Sir, you may dispose of my life.”
“Embrace me, and come and see me. I am the happiest of men when I am enabled to serve persons of your merit.”
“I will go and tell the good news to my wife, who will love you as well as I do.”
“Yes, do so,” said the ambassador, “and bring her to dinner here to- morrow.”
When we were alone together, the Marquis de Chavigni, an old courtier and a wit, began to make some very philosophical reflections on the, state of a court where nothing can be said to be easy or difficult per se, as the one at a moment’s notice may become the other; a court where justice often pleads in vain, while interest or even importunity get a ready hearing. He had known Madame d’Urfe, had even paid his court to her at the period when she was secretly beloved by the regent. He it was who had given her the name of Egeria, because she said she had a genius who directed her and passed the nights with her when she slept by herself. The ambassador then spoke of M. — — who had undoubtedly become a very great friend of mine.
“The only way to blind a jealous husband,” said he, “is to make him your friend, for friendship will rarely admit jealousy.”
The next day at dinner, at the ambassador’s, Madame gave me a thousand proofs of grateful friendship, which my heart interpreted as pledges of love. The husband and wife promised to pay me a three days’ visit in the following week at my country house.
They kept their word without giving me any further warning, but I was not taken by surprise as I had made all preparations for their reception.
My heart leapt with joy on seeing my charmer getting down from the carriage, but my joy was not unalloyed, as the husband told me that they must absolutely return on the fourth day, and the wife insisted on the horrible widow being present at all our conversation.
I took my guests to the suite of rooms I had prepared for them, and which I judged most suitable for my designs. It was on the ground floor, opposite to my room. The bedroom had a recess with two beds, separated by a partition through which one passed by a door. I had the key to all the doors, and the maid would sleep in a closet beyond the ante-chamber.
In obedience to my divinity’s commands we went and called on the widow, who gave us a cordial welcome; but under the pretext of leaving us in freedom refused to be of our company during the three days. However, she gave in when I told her that our agreement was only in force when I was alone.
My dear Dubois, with her knowledge of the rules of society, did not need a hint to have her supper in her room, and we had an exquisite meal as I had given orders that the fare should be of the best. After supper I took my guests to their apartment, and felt obliged to do the same by the widow. She wanted me to assist at her toilet, but I excused myself with a bow. She said, maliciously, that after all the pains I had taken I deserved to be successful. I gave her no answer.
Next morning, as we were walking in the garden, I warned my charmer that I had all the keys of the house, and that I could introduce myself into her room at any moment.
“I am waiting,” said she, “for my husband’s embraces, which he has prefaced with caresses, as is usual with him. We must therefore wait till the night after next, which will take away all risk, as I have never known him to embrace me for two nights in succession.”
About noon we had a visit from M. de Chavigni, who came to ask for dinner, and made a great to-do when he heard that my housekeeper dined in her room. The ladies said he was quite right, so we all went and made her sit down at table with us. She must have been flattered, and the incident evidently increased her good humour, as she amused us by her wit and her piquant stories about Lady Montagu. When we had risen from table Madame said to me —
“You really must be in love with that young woman; she is ravishing.”
“If I could pass two hours in your company to-night, I would prove to you that I am yours alone.”
“It is still out of the question, as my husband has ascertained that the moon changes to-day.”
“He has to ask leave of the moon, has he, before discharging so sweet a duty?”
“Exactly. According to his system of astrology, it is the only way to keep his health and to have the son that Heaven wills to grant him, and indeed without aid from above it is hardly likely that his wishes will be accomplished.”
“I hope to be the instrument of Heaven,” said I, laughing.
“I only hope you may.”
Thus I was obliged to wait. Next morning, as we were walking in the garden, she said to me —
“The sacrifice to the moon has been performed, and to make sure I will cause him to renew his caresses tonight as soon as we go to bed; and after that he is certain to sleep soundly. You can come at an hour after midnight; love will await you.”
Certain of my bliss, I gave myself up to the joy that such a certainty kindles in a fiery heart. It was the only night remaining, as M. —— had decided that on the next day they would return to Soleure.
After supper I took the ladies to their apartments, and on returning told my housekeeper that I had a good deal of writing to do, and that she should go to bed.
Just before one o’clock I left my room, and the night being a dark one I had to feel my way half round my house, and to my surprise found the door open; but I did not pay any attention to this circumstance. I opened the door of the second ante-chamber, and the moment I shut it again a hand seized mine, whilst another closed my lips. I only heard a whispered “hush!” which bade me silent. A sofa was at hand; we made it our altar of sacrifice, and in a moment I was within the temple of love. It was summer time and I had only two hours before me, so I did not lose a moment, and thinking I held between my arms the woman I had so long sighed for I renewed again and again the pledges of my ardent love. In the fulness of my bliss I thought her not awaiting me in her bed an admirable idea, as the noise of our kisses and the liveliness of our motions might have awakened the troublesome husband. Her tender ecstasies equalled mine, and increased my bliss by making me believe (oh, fatal error!) that of all my conquests this was the one of which I had most reason to boast.
To my great grief the clock warned me that it was time for me to be gone. I covered her with the tenderest kisses, and returning to my room, in the greatest gladness, I resigned myself to sleep.
I was roused at nine o’clock by M. — — who seemed in a happy frame of mind, and shewed me a letter he had just received, in which his relative thanked me for restoring him to his regiment. In this letter, which was dictated by gratitude, he spoke of me as if I had been a divinity.
“I am delighted,” I said, “to have been of service to you.”
“And I,” said he, “am equally pleased to assure you of my gratitude. Come and breakfast with us, my wife is still at her toilette. Come along.”
I rose hastily, and just as I was leaving the room I saw the dreadful widow, who seemed full of glee, and said —
“I thank you, sir; I thank you with all my heart. I beg to leave you at liberty again; I am going back to Soleure.”
“Wait for a quarter of an hour, we are going to breakfast with Madame.”
“I can’t stop a moment, I have just wished her good day, and now I must be gone. Farewell, and remember me.”
She had hardly gone before M. —— asked me if the woman was beside herself.
“One might think so, certainly,” I replied, “for she has received nothing but politeness at my hands, and I think she might have waited to go back with you in the evening.”
We went to breakfast and to discuss this abrupt leave-taking, and afterwards we took a turn in the garden where we found Madame Dubois. M. —— took possession of her; and as I thought his wife looking rather downcast I asked her if she had not slept well.
“I did not go to sleep till four o’clock this morning,” she replied, “after vainly sitting up in bed waiting for you till that time. What unforeseen accident prevented your coming?”
I could not answer her question. I was petrified. I looked at her fixedly without replying; I could not shake off my astonishment. At last a dreadful suspicion came into my head that I had held within my arms for two hours the horrible monster whom I had foolishly received in my house. I was seized with a terrible tremor, which obliged me to go and take shelter behind the arbour and hide my emotion. I felt as though I should swoon away. I should certainly have fallen if I had not rested my head against a tree.
My first idea had been a fearful thought, which I hastened to repel, that Madame, having enjoyed me, wished to deny all knowledge of the fact — a device which is in the power of any woman who gives up her person in the dark to adopt, as it is impossible to convict her of lying. However, I knew the divine creature I had thought I possessed too well to believe her capable of such base deceit. I felt that she would have been lacking in delicacy, if she had said she had waited for me in vain by way of a jest; as in such a case as this the least doubt is a degradation. I was forced, then, to the conclusion that she had been supplanted by the infernal widow. How had she managed it? How had she ascertained our arrangements? I could not imagine, and I bewildered myself with painful surmises. Reason only comes to the aid of the mind when the confusion produced by painful thoughts has almost vanished. I concluded, then, that I had spent two hours with this abominable monster; and what increased my anguish, and made me loathe and despise myself still more, was that I could not help confessing that I had been perfectly happy. It was an unpardonable mistake, as the two women differed as much as white does from black, and though the darkness forbade my seeing, and the silence my hearing, my sense of touch should have enlightened me — after the first set-to, at all events, but my imagination was in a state of ecstasy. I cursed love, my nature, and above all the inconceivable weakness which had allowed me to receive into my house the serpent that had deprived me of an angel, and made me hate myself at the thought of having defiled myself with her. I resolved to die, after having torn to pieces with my own hands the monster who had made me so unhappy.
While I was strengthening myself in this resolution M. —— came up to me and asked me kindly if I were ill; he was alarmed to see me pale and covered with drops of sweat. “My wife,” said the worthy man, “is uneasy about you, and sent me to look after you.” I told him I had to leave her on account of a sudden dizziness, but that I began to feel better. “Let us rejoin her.” Madame Dubois brought me a flask of strong waters, saying pleasantly that she was sure it was only the sudden departure of the widow that had put me out.
We continued our walk, and when we were far enough from the husband, who was with my housekeeper, I said I had been overcome by what she had said, but that it had doubtless been spoken jestingly.
“I was not jesting at all,” said she, with a sigh, “tell me what prevented your coming.”
Again I was struck dumb. I could not make up my mind to tell her the story, and I did not know what to say to justify myself. I was silent and confused when my housekeeper’s little servant came up and gave me a letter which the wretched widow had sent her by an express. She had opened it, and found an enclosure addressed to me inside. I put it in my pocket, saying I would read it at my leisure. On Madame saying in joke that it was a love-letter, I could not laugh, and made no answer. The servant came to tell us that dinner was served, but I could touch nothing. My abstinence was put down to my being unwell.
I longed to read the letter, but I wished to be alone to do so, and that was a difficult matter to contrive.
Wishing to avoid the game of piquet which formed our usual afternoon’s amusement, I took a cup of coffee, and said that I thought the fresh air would do me good. Madame seconded me, and guessing what I wanted she asked me to walk up and down with her in a sheltered alley in the garden. I offered her my arm, her husband offered his to my housekeeper, and we went out.
As soon as my mistress saw that we were free from observation, she spoke as follows —
“I am sure that you spent the night with that malicious woman, and I am afraid of being compromised in consequence. Tell me everything; confide in me without reserve; ’tis my first intrigue, and if it is to serve as a lesson you should conceal nothing from me. I am sure you loved me once, tell me that you have not become my enemy.”
“Good heavens! what are you saying? I your enemy!”
“Then tell me all, and before you read that wretched creature’s letter. I adjure you in the name of love to hide nothing from me.”
“Well, divine creature, I will do as you bid me. I came to your apartment at one o’clock, and as soon as I was in the second ante- chamber, I was taken by the arm, and a hand was placed upon my lips to impose silence; I thought I held you in my arms, and I laid you gently on the sofa. You must remember that I felt absolutely certain it was you; indeed, I can scarcely doubt it even now. I then passed with you, without a word being spoken, two of the most delicious hours I have ever experienced. Cursed hours! of which the remembrance will torment me for the remainder of my days. I left you at a quarter past three. The rest is known to you.”
“Who can have told the monster that you were going to visit me at that hour?”
“I can’t make out, and that perplexes me.”
“You must confess that I am the most to be pitied of us three, and perhaps, alas! the only one who may have a just title to the name ‘wretched.’”
“If you love me, in the name of Heaven do not say that; I have resolved to stab her, and to kill myself after having inflicted on her that punishment she so well deserves.”
“Have you considered that the publicity of such an action would render me the most unfortunate of women? Let us be more moderate, sweetheart; you are not to blame for what has happened, and if possible I love you all the more. Give me the letter she has written to you. I will go away from you to read it, and you can read it afterwards, as if we were seen reading it together we should have to explain matters.”
“Here it is.”
I then rejoined her husband, whom my housekeeper was sending into fits of laughter. The conversation I had just had had calmed me a little, and the trustful way in which she had asked for the letter had done me good. I was in a fever to know the contents, and yet I dreaded to read it, as it could only increase my rage and I was afraid of the results.
Madame rejoined us, and after we had separated again she gave me the letter, telling me to keep it till I was alone. She asked me to give her my word of honour to do nothing without consulting her, and to communicate all my designs to her by means of her nurse.
“We need not fear the harpy saying anything about it,” she remarked, “as she would first have to proclaim her own prostitution, and as for us, concealment is the best plan. And I would have you note that the horrible creature gives you a piece of advice you would do well to follow.”
What completely tore my heart asunder during this interview was to see great tears — tears of love and grief — falling from her beautiful eyes; though to moderate my anguish she forced a smile. I knew too well the importance she attached to her fair fame not to guess that she was tormented with the idea that the terrible widow knew of the understanding between us, and the thought added fresh poignancy to my sorrow.
This amiable pair left me at seven in the evening, and I thanked the husband in such a manner that he could not doubt my sincerity, and, in truth, I said no more than I felt. There is no reason why the love one feels for a woman should hinder one from being the true friend of her husband — if she have a husband. The contrary view is a hateful prejudice, repugnant both to nature and to philosophy. After I had embraced him I was about to kiss the hand of his charming wife, but he begged me to embrace her too, which I did respectfully but feelingly.
I was impatient to read the terrible letter, and as soon as they were gone I shut myself up in my room to prevent any interruptions. The epistle was as follows:
“I leave your house, sir, well enough pleased, not that I have spent a couple of hours with you, for you are no better than any other man, but that I have revenged myself on the many open marks of contempt you have given me; for your private scorn I care little, and I willingly forgive you. I have avenged myself by unmasking your designs and the hypocrisy of your pretty prude, who will no longer be able to treat me with that irritating air of superiority which she, affecting a virtue which she does not possess, has displayed towards me. I have avenged myself in the fact that she must have been waiting for you all the night, and I would have given worlds to have heard the amusing conversation you must have had when she found out that I had taken for vengeance’s sake, and not for love, the enjoyment which was meant for her. I have avenged myself because you can no longer pretend to think her a marvel of beauty, as having mistaken me for her, the difference between us must needs be slight; but I have done you a service, too, as the thought of what has happened should cure you of your passion. You will no longer adore her before all other women who are just as good as she. Thus I have disabused you, and you ought to feel grateful to me; but I dispense you from all gratitude, and do not care if you choose to hate me, provided your hatred leaves me in peace; but if I find your conduct objectionable in the future, I warn you that I will tell all, since I do not care for my own fame as I am a widow and mistress of my own actions. I need no man’s favour, and care not what men may say of me. Your mistress, on the other hand, is in quite a different position.
“And here I will give you a piece of advice, which should convince you of my generosity. For the last ten years I have been troubled with a little ailment which has resisted all attempts at treatment. You exerted yourself to such an extent to prove how well you loved me that you must have caught the complaint. I advise you, then, to put yourself under treatment at once to weaken the force of the virus; but above all do not communicate it to your mistress, who might chance to hand it on to her husband and possibly to others, which would make a wretched woman of her, to my grief and sorrow, since she has never done me any harm. I felt certain that you two would deceive the worthy husband, and I wished to have proof; thus I made you take me in, and the position of the apartment you gave them was enough to remove all doubts; still I wanted to have proof positive. I had no need of any help to arrive at my ends, and I found it a pleasant joke to keep you in the dark. After passing two nights on the sofa all for nothing, I resolved on passing the third night there, and my perseverance was crowned with success. No one saw me, and my maid even is ignorant of my nocturnal wanderings, though in any case she is accustomed to observe silence. You are, then, at perfect liberty to bury the story in oblivion, and I advise you to do so.
“If you want a doctor, tell him to keep his counsel, for people at Soleure know of my little indisposition, and they might say you caught it from me, and this would do us both harm.”
Her impudence struck me so gigantic in its dimensions that I almost laughed. I was perfectly aware that after the way I had treated her she must hate me, but I should not have thought she would have carried her perverse hatred so far. She had communicated to me an infectious disease, though I did not so far feel any symptoms; however, they would no doubt appear, and I sadly thought I should have to go away to be cured, to avoid the gossip of malicious wits. I gave myself up to reflection, and after two hours’ thought I wisely resolved to hold my tongue, but to be revenged when the opportunity presented itself.
I had eaten nothing at dinner, and needed a good supper to make me sleep. I sat down to table with my housekeeper, but, like a man ashamed of himself, I dared not look her in the face.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07