My Adventures at Aix — My Second M. M. — Madame Zeroli
This man, who, though he did not know me, put the utmost confidence in me, so far from thinking he was horrifying me by the confession of such wickedness, probably considered he was doing me a great honour. While I listened to him I reflected that though depraved he might have his good points, and that his weakness might have a pitiable if not a pardonable side. However, wishing to know more of him, I said —
“In spite of your father’s sternness, you live very well.”
“On the contrary, I live very ill. I enjoy a pension from the Government, which I surrender to my wife, and as for me I make a livelihood on my travels. I play black gammon and most other games perfectly. I win more often than I lose, and I live on my winnings.”
“But is what you have told me about your daughter known to the visitors here?”
“Everybody knows it; why should I hide it? I am a man of honour and injure no one; and, besides, my sword is sharp.”
“Quite so; but would you tell me whether you allow your daughter to have a lover?”
“I should have no objection, but my wife is religious.”
“Is your daughter pretty?”
“Very; if you are going to Lyons, you can go and see her; I will give you a letter of introduction for her.” “Thank you, but I am going to Italy. Can you tell me the name of the gentleman who kept the bank?”
“That is the famous Parcalier, Marquis de Prie since the death of his father, whom you may have known as ambassador at Venice. The gentleman who asked you if you knew the Abbe Gilbert is the Chevalier Zeroli, husband of the lady you are to sup with. The rest are counts, marquises, and barons of the usual kind, some from Piedmont and some from Savoy. Two or three are merchants’ sons, and the ladies are all their friends or relations. They are all professional gamblers and sharp-witted. When a stranger comes here they know how to get over him, and if he plays it is all up with him, for they go together like pickpockets at a fair. They think they have got you, so take care of yourself.”
In the evening we returned to the inn, and found all the company playing, and my companion proceeded to play with a Count de Scarnafisch.
The Chevalier Zeroli offered to play faro with me for forty sequins, and I had just lost that sum when supper was served. My loss had not affected my spirits, and the lady finding me at once hungry and gay paid the bet with a good grace. At supper I surprised her in certain side-glances, which warned me that she was going to try to dupe me; I felt myself safe as far as love was concerned, but I had reason to dread fortune, always the friend of those who keep a bank at faro, especially as I had already lost. I should have done well to go, but I had not the strength; all I could do was to promise myself that I would be extremely prudent. Having large sums in paper money and plenty of gold, it was not difficult for me to be careful.
Just after supper the Marquis de Prie made a bank of about three hundred sequins. His staking this paltry sum shewed me that I had much to lose and little to win, as it was evident that he would have made a bank of a thousand sequins if he had had them. I put down fifty Portuguese crowns, and said that as soon as I had lost them I should go to bed. In the middle of the third deal I broke the bank.
“I am good for another two hundred louis,” said the marquis.
“I should be glad to continue playing,” I replied, “if I had not to go at day-break”; and I thereupon left the room.
Just as I was going to bed, Desarmoises came and asked me to lend him twelve louis. I had expected some such request, and I counted them out to him. He embraced me gratefully, and told me that Madame Zeroli had sworn to make me stay on at least for another day. I smiled and called Le Duc, and asked him if my coachman knew that I was starting early; he replied that he would be at the door by five o’clock.
“Very good,” said Desarmoises, “but I will wager that you will not go for all that.”
He went out and I went to bed, laughing at his prophecy.
At five o’clock next morning the coachman came to tell me that one of the horses was ill and could not travel. I saw that Desarmoises had had an inkling of some plot, but I only laughed. I sent the man roughly about his business, and told Le Duc to get me post-horses at the inn. The inn-keeper came and told me that there were no horses, and that it would take all the morning to find some, as the Marquis de Prie, who was leaving at one o’clock in the morning, had emptied his stables. I answered that in that case I would dine at Aix, but that I counted on his getting me horses by two o’clock in the afternoon.
I left the room and went to the stable, where I found the coachman weeping over one of his horses stretched out on the straw. I thought it was really an accident, and consoled the poor devil, paying him as if he had done his work, and telling him I should not want him any more. I then went towards the fountain, but the reader will be astonished by a meeting of the most romantic character, but which is yet the strict truth.
At a few paces from the fountain I saw two nuns coming from it. They were veiled, but I concluded from their appearance that one was young and the other old. There was nothing astonishing in such a sight, but their habit attracted my attention, for it was the same as that worn by my dear M—— M— — whom I had seen for the last time on July 24th, 1755, five years before. The look of them was enough, not to make me believe that the young nun was M—— M— — but to excite my curiosity. They were walking towards the country, so I turned to cut them off that I might see them face to face and be seen of them. What was my emotion when I saw the young nun, who, walking in front, and lifting her veil, disclosed the veritable face of M—— M——. I could not doubt that it was she, and I began to walk beside her; but she lowered her veil, and turned to avoid me.
The reasons she might have for such a course passed in a moment through my mind, and I followed her at a distance, and when she had gone about five hundred paces I saw her enter a lonely house of poor appearance that was enough for me. I returned to the fountain to see what I could learn about the nun.
On my way there I lost myself in a maze of conjectures.
“The too charming and hapless M—— M— — ” said I to myself, “must have left her convent, desperate — nay, mad; for why does she still wear the habit of her order? Perhaps, though, she has got a dispensation to come here for the waters; that must be the reason why she has a nun with her, and why she has not left off her habit. At all events the journey must have been undertaken under false pretences. Has she abandoned herself to some fatal passion, of which the result has been pregnancy? She is doubtless perplexed, and must have been pleased to see me. I will not deceive her expectations; I will do all in my power to convince her that I am worthy of her.”
Lost in thought I did not notice I had arrived at the fountain, round which stood the whole host of gamesters. They all crowded round me, and said how charmed they were to see me still there. I asked the Chevalier Zeroli after his wife, and he told me she was still abed, and that it would be a good thing if I would go and make her get up. I was just going when the doctor of the place accosted me, saying, that the waters of the Aix would increase my good health. Full of the one idea, I asked him directly if he were the doctor in attendance on a pretty nun I had seen.
“She takes the waters,” he replied, “but she does not speak to anyone.”
“Where does she come from?”
“Nobody knows; she lives in a peasant’s house.”
I left the doctor, and instead of going towards the inn, where the hussy Zeroli was doubtless waiting for me, I made my way towards the peasant’s house, which already seemed to me the temple of the most blissful deities, determined to obtain the information I required as prudently as might be. But as if love had favoured my vows, when I was within a hundred paces of the cottage I saw the peasant woman coming out to meet me.
“Sir,” said she, accosting me, “the young nun begs you to return this evening at nine o’clock; the lay-sister will be asleep then, and she will be able to speak freely to you.”
There could be no more doubt. My heart leapt with joy. I gave the country-woman a louis, and promised to be at the house at nine exactly.
With the certainty of seeing my dear M—— M—— again I returned to the inn, and on ascertaining which was Madame Zeroli’s room I entered without ceremony, and told her that her husband had sent me to make her get up.
“I thought you were gone?”
“I am going at two.”
I found her still more enticing in bed than at table. I helped her to put on her stays, and the sight of her charms inflamed my ardour, but I experienced more resistance than I had anticipated. I sat down at the foot of the bed, and told her how fervently I loved her, and how unhappy I was at not being able to give her marks of my love before I left.
“But,” said she, laughing, “you have only got to stay.”
“Give me some hope, and I will stay till to-morrow.”
“You are in too much of a hurry, take things more quietly.”
I contented myself with the few favours she granted me, pretending as usual only to yield to violence, when I was obliged to restrain myself on the appearance of her husband, who took the precaution of making a noise before he carne in. As soon as she saw him, she said, without the slightest perturbation, “I have persuaded the gentleman to stay tell the day after to-morrow.”
“I am all the more pleased to hear it, my dear,” said the chevalier, “as I owe him his revenge.”
With these words he took up a pack of cards, which came as readily to his hands as if they had been placed there on purpose, and seating himself beside his wife, whom he made into the table, he began to deal.
I could not draw back, and as my thoughts were distracted I kept on losing till they came to tell me dinner was ready.
“I have no time to dress,” said the lady, “so I will have my dinner in bed, if you gentlemen will keep me company.”
How could I refuse? The husband went out to order the dinner, and feeling myself authorized by the loss of twenty Louis, I told the hussy that if she would not give me a plain promise to make me happy that afternoon I should go away when I had had my dinner.
“Breakfast with me to-morrow morning. We shall be alone.”
After receiving from her certain earnests of her promise, I promised to stay on.
We dined by her bedside, and I told Le Duc that I should not be going till the afternoon of the next day, which made the husband and wife radiant. When we had done, the lady said she would like to get up; and I went out, promising to return and play piquet with her. I proceeded to reline my purse, and I met Desarmoises, who said,
“I have found out the secret; they gave her coachman two Louis to substitute a sick horse for his own.”
“It’s a matter of give and take,” said I; “I am in love with the chevalier’s wife, and I am putting off my departure till I have got all I want out of her.”
“I am afraid you will have to pay pretty dearly for your pleasure. However, I will do what I can for your interests.”
I thanked him smilingly, and returned to the lady, whom I left at eight o’clock under pretext of a violent headache, after having lost ten louis to her. I reminded her of her promise for next morning at nine o’clock, and I left her in the midst of the company.
It was a fine moonlight night as I walked towards the peasant’s house, where I was to see my dear M—— M—— once more. I was impatient to see what the visit, on which the rest of my life might depend, would bring forth.
I had taken the precaution to provide myself with a pair of pistols, and my sword hung at my side, for I was not wholly devoid of suspicion in this place, where there were so many adventurers; but at twenty paces from the cottage I saw the woman coming towards me. She told me that the nun could not come down, so I must be content to enter through the window, by means of a ladder which she had placed there for the purpose. I drew near, and not seeing any light I should not have easily decided on going up, if I had not heard the voice I thought I knew so well, saying, “Fear nothing; come.” Besides, the window was not very high up, and there could not be much danger of a trap. I ascended, and thought for certain that I held my dear M—— M—— in my arms, as I covered her face with my ardent kisses.
“Why,” said I, in Venetian, “have you not a light? I hope you are going to inform me of an event which seems wonderful to me; quick, dearest, satisfy my impatience.”
The reader will guess my surprise when he learns that on hearing her voice close to me I found that she was not M—— M——. She told me that she did not understand Venetian, and that I did not require a light to tell her what M. de Coudert had decided on doing to save her from her peril.
“You surprise me; I do not know M. de Coudert. What! Are you not a Venetian? Are you not the nun I saw this morning?”
“Hapless one! I have made a mistake. I am the nun you saw this morning, but I am French. In the name of God keep my counsel and begone, for I have nothing to say to you! Whisper, for if the lay- sister woke up I should be undone.”
“Do not be afraid of my discretion. What deceived me was your exact likeness to a nun of your order who will be always dear to me: and if you had not allowed me to see your features I should not have followed you. Forgive the tenderness I shewed towards you, though you must think me very audacious.”
“You astonished me very much, but you did not offend me. I wish I were the nun in whom you are interested. I am on the brink of a fearful precipice.”
“If ten louis are any good to you, it will be an honour for me to give you them.”
“Thank you, I have no need of money. Allow me to give you back the louis you sent me this morning.”
“The louis was for the country-woman. You increase my surprise; pray tell me what is the misfortune under which you labour, for which money can do nothing.”
“Perhaps God has sent you to my aid. Maybe you will give me good advice. Listen to what I am about to tell you.”
“I am at your service, and I will listen with the greatest attention. Let us sit down.”
“I am afraid there is neither seat nor bed.”
“Say on, then; we will remain standing.”
“I come from Grenoble. I was made to take the veil at Chamberi. Two years after my profession, M. de Coudert found means to see me. I received him in the convent garden, the walls of which he scaled, and at last I was so unfortunate as to become pregnant. The idea of giving birth to a child at the convent was too dreadful — I should have languished till I died in a terrible dungeon — and M. de Coudert thought of a plan for taking me out of the convent. A doctor whom he gained over with a large sum of money declared that I should die unless I came here to take the waters, which he declared were the only cure for my illness. A princess whom M. de Coudert knew was partly admitted to the secret, and she obtained the leave of absence for three months from the Bishop of Chamberi, and the abbess consented to my going.
“I thus hoped to be delivered before the expiration of the three months; but I have assuredly made a mistake, for the time draws to an end and I feel no signs of a speedy delivery. I am obliged to return to the convent, and yet I cannot do so. The lay-sister who is with me is a perfect shrew. She has orders not to let me speak to anybody, and never to let my face be seen. She it was who made me turn when she saw you following us. I lifted my veil for you to see that I was she of whom I thought you were in search, and happily the lay-sister did not notice me. She wants me to return with her to the convent in three days, as she thinks I have an incurable dropsy. She does not allow me to speak to the doctor, whom I might, perhaps, have gained over by telling him the truth. I am only twenty-one, and yet I long for death.”
“Do not weep so, dear sister, and tell me how you expect to be delivered here without the lay-sister being aware of it?”
“The worthy woman with whom I am staying is an angel of goodness. I have confided in her, and she promised me that when I felt the pangs coming on she would give that malicious woman a sporific, and thus we should be freed from all fears of her. By virtue of the drug she now sleeps soundly in the room under this garret.”
“Why was I not let in by the door?”
“To prevent the woman’s brother seeing you; he is a rude boor.”
“What made you think that I had anything to do with M. de Coudert?”
“Ten or twelve days ago, I wrote to him and told him of my dreadful position. I painted my situation with such lively colours that I thought he must do all in his power to help me. As the wretched cling to every straw, I thought, when I saw you following me, that you were the deliverer he had sent.”
“Are you sure he got your letter?”
“The woman posted it at Anneci.”
“You should write to the princess.”
“I dare not.”
“I will see her myself, and I will see M. de Coudert. In fine, I will move heaven and earth, I will even go to the bishop, to obtain an extension of your leave; for it is out of the question for you to return to the convent in your present situation. You must decide, for I can do nothing without your consent. Will you trust in me? If so, I will bring you a man’s clothes to-morrow and take you to Italy with me, and while I live I swear I will care for you.”
For reply, I only heard long-drawn sobs, which distressed me beyond words, for I felt acutely the situation of this poor creature whom Heaven had made to be a mother, and whom the cruelty of her parents had condemned to be a useless nun.
Not knowing what else to say, I took her hand and promised to return the next day and hear her decision, for it was absolutely necessary that she should decide on some plan. I went away by the ladder, and gave a second louis to the worthy woman, telling her that I should be with her on the morrow at the same hour, but that I should like to be able to enter by the door. I begged her to give the lay-sister a stronger dose of opium, so that there should be no fear of her awaking while I talked with the young nun.
I went to bed glad at heart that I had been wrong in thinking that the nun was M—— M——. Nevertheless the great likeness between them made me wish to see her nearer at hand, and I was sure that she would not refuse me the privilege of looking at her the next day. I smiled at the thought of the ardent kisses I had given her, but I felt that I could not leave her to her fate. I was glad to find that I did not need any sensual motive to urge me to a good deed, for as soon as I found that it was not M—— M—— who had received those tender kisses I felt ashamed of having given them. I had not even given her a friendly kiss when I left her.
In the morning Desarmoises came and told me that all the company, not seeing me at supper, had been puzzling itself to find out what had become of me. Madame Zeroli had spoken enthusiastically about me, and had taken the jests of the two other ladies in good part, boasting that she could keep me at Aix as long as she remained there herself. The fact was that I was not amorous but curious where she was concerned, and I should have been sorry to have left the place without obtaining complete possession of her, for once at all events.
I kept my appointment, and entered her room at nine o’clock exactly. I found her dressed, and on my reproaching her she said that it should be of no consequence to me whether she were dressed or undressed. I was angry, and I took my chocolate without so much as speaking to her. When I had finished she offered me my revenge at piquet, but I thanked her and begged to be excused, telling her that in the humour in which she had put me I should prove the better player, and that I did not care to win ladies’ money. So saying I rose to leave the room.
“At least be kind enough to take me to the fountain.”
“I think not. If you take me for a freshman, you make a mistake, and I don’t care to give the impression that I am pleased when I am displeased. You can get whomsoever you please to take you to the fountain, but as for me I must beg to be excused. Farewell, madam.”
With these words I went out, paying no attention to her efforts to recall me.
I found the inn-keeper, and told him that I must leave at three o’clock without a fail. The lady, who was at her window, could hear me. I went straight to the fountain where the chevalier asked me what had become of his wife, and I answered that I had left her in her room in perfect health. In half an hour we saw her coming with a stranger, who was welcomed by a certain M. de St. Maurice. Madame Zeroli left him, and tacked herself on to me, as if there had been nothing the matter. I could not repulse her without the most troublesome consequences, but I was very cold. After complaining of my conduct she said that she had only been trying me, that if I really loved her I should put off my departure, and that I should breakfast with her at eight o’clock the next day. I answered coolly that I would think it over. I was serious all dinner-time, and said once or twice that I must go at three o’clock, but as I wanted to find some pretext for staying on account of the nun, I let myself be persuaded into making a bank at faro.
I staked all the gold I had, and I saw every face light up as I put down about four hundred louis in gold, and about six hundred francs in silver. “Gentlemen,” said I, “I shall rise at eight o’clock precisely.” The stranger said, with a smile, that possibly the bank might not live so long, but I pretended not to understand him. It was just three o’clock. I begged Desarmoises to be my croupier, and I began to deal with due deliberation to eighteen or twenty punters, all professional gamblers. I took a new pack at every deal.
By five o’clock I had lost money. We heard carriage wheels, and they said it was three Englishmen from Geneva, who were changing horses to go on to Chamberi. A moment after they came in, and I bowed. It was Mr. Fox and his two friends, who had played quinze with me. My croupier gave them cards, which they received gladly, and went ten louis, playing on two and three cards, going paroli, seven and the ‘va’, as well as the ‘quinze’, so that my bank was in danger of breaking. However, I kept up my face, and even encouraged them to play, for, God being neutral, the chances were in my favour. So it happened, and at the third deal I had cleared the Englishmen out, and their carriage was ready.
While I was shuffling a fresh pack of cards, the youngest of them drew out of his pocket-book a paper which he spewed to his two companions. It was a bill of exchange. “Will you stake the value of this bill on a card, without knowing its value?” said he.
“Yes,” I replied, “if you will tell me upon whom it is drawn, and provided that it does not exceed the value of the bank.”
After a rapid glance at the pile of gold before me, he said, “The bill is not for so large a sum as your bank, and it is payable at sight by Zappata, of Turin.”
I agreed, he cut, and put his money on an ace, the two friends going half shares. I drew and drew and drew, but no ace appeared. I had only a dozen cards left.
“Sir,” said I, calmly to the punter, “you can draw back if you like.”
“No, go on.”
Four cards more, and still no ace; I had only eight cards left.
“My lord,” said I, “it’s two to one that I do not hold the ace, I repeat you can draw back.”
“No, no, you are too generous, go on.”
I continued dealing, and won; I put the bill of exchange in my pocket without looking at it. The Englishmen shook me by the hand and went off laughing. I was enjoying the effect this bold stroke had made on the company, when young Fox came in and with a roar of laughter begged me to lend him fifty Louis. I counted them out with the greatest pleasure, and he paid me them back in London three years later.
Everyone was curious to know the value of the bill of exchange, but I was not polite enough to satisfy their curiosity. It was for eight thousand Piedmontese francs, as I saw as soon as I was alone. The Englishmen had brought me good luck, for when they had gone fortune declared for the bank. I rose at eight o’clock, some ladies having won a few louis, all the others were dried up. I had won more than a thousand louis, and I gave twenty-five to Desarmoises, who jumped for joy. I locked up my money, put my pistols in my pocket, and set out towards the meeting-place.
The worthy peasant woman brought me in by the door, telling me that everybody was asleep, and that she had not found it necessary to renew the lay-sister’s dose, as she was still asleep.
I was terrified. I went upstairs, and by the light of a single candle I saw the wretched, veiled figure of the nun, extended upon a sack which the peasant woman had placed along the wall instead of a sofa. The candle which lighted this dreary place was fixed in a bottle.
“What have you decided on doing?” said I.
“I have decided on nothing, for an unforeseen incident has confounded us. The lay-sister has been asleep for eighteen hours.”
“She will die of convulsions or of an apoplectic fit to-night if you do not call a doctor, who may possibly restore her to life with a dose of castor oil.”
“We have thought of that, but we did not dare to take that step for fear of consequences; for whether he restores her or not, he will say that we have poisoned her.”
“I pity you, upon my soul! Indeed, I believe that it is too late, and that a doctor could do nothing. One must obey the laws of prudence and let her die. The mischief is done, and I see no remedy.”
“At any rate, we ought to think of her soul and send for a priest.”
“A priest would do her no good, as she is in a perfect lethargy; her soul is safe enough. Besides, an ignorant priest would find out too much, and would tell the whole story either through malice or stupidity. It will be time to call a priest when she has ceased to breathe. You must tell him that she died very suddenly; you must weep a great deal, and give him a fee, and he will think only of calming your grief, and nothing about the sudden death.”
“Then we must let her die?”
“We must leave her to nature.”
“If she dies I will send a messenger to the abbess, who will dispatch another lay-sister.”
“Yes, and that will give you another ten days. During that time you may be delivered, and you will confess that every cloud has a silver lining. Do not grieve so, but let us endeavour to submit to the will of God. Send for the country-woman, for I must give her some hints as to her conduct in this delicate matter, on which the honour and life of all three may depend. For instance, if it were discovered that I had come here, I might be taken for the poisoner.”
The woman came, and I shewed her how necessary it was for her to be prudent and discreet. She understood me perfectly, perceived her own dangerous position, and promised that she would not send for the priest till she was certain of the sister’s death. I then made her accept ten louis in case of need.
Seeing herself made rich by my liberality, she kissed my hands, knelt down, and bursting into tears promised to follow my advice carefully. When she had left us, the nun began to weep bitterly, accusing herself of the murder of the lay-sister, and thinking that she saw hell opening beneath her feet. I sought in vain to calm her; her grief increased, and at last she fell in a dead faint on the sack. I was extremely distressed, and not knowing what to do I called to the woman to bring some vinegar, as I had no essences about me. All at once I remembered the famous hellebore, which had served me so well with Madame and, taking the little box, I held it to her nostrils. It took effect just as the woman brought the vinegar. “Rub her temples,” said I. She took off her cap, and the blackness of her hair was the only thing that convinced me it was not my fair Venetian. The hellebore having brought her to her senses, she opened her large black eyes, and from that moment I fell madly in love with her. The peasant woman, seeing that she was herself again and out of danger, went away, and taking her between my arms I covered her with fiery kisses, in spite of her continuous sneezes.
“Please let me put on my veil again,” said she, “or else I shall be excommunicated.”
I laughed at her fears, and continued to lavish my burning kisses on her face.
“I see you do not believe me, but I assure you that the abbess threatened me with excommunication if I let myself be seen by a man.”
“Fear these bolts no longer, dear, they cannot hurt you.”
But she sneezed more violently than ever, and fearing lest her efforts might bring on her delivery I called the woman again, and left the nun in her care, promising to return at the same hour on the next day.
It would not have been like me to leave this interesting creature in her distress, but my devotion to her cause had no merit, since I was madly in love with this new M—— M—— with black eyes; and love always makes men selfish, since all the sacrifices they make for the beloved object are always ultimately referable to their own desires.
I had determined, then, to do all in my power for her, and certainly not to allow her to return to the convent in the state she was in. I concluded that to save her would be an action pleasing to God, since God alone could have made her so like my beloved, and God had willed that I should win a good deal of money, and had made me find the Zeroli, who would serve as a shield to my actions and baffle the curiosity of spies. The philosophers and the mystics may perhaps laugh at me, but what do I care? I have always delighted in referring all the actions of my life to God, and yet people have charged me with Atheism!
Next morning I did not forget the Zeroli, and I went to her room at eight and found her asleep. Her maid begged me to go in quietly for fear of awakening her, and then left me and shut the door. I knew my part, for I remembered how, twenty years before, a Venetian lady, whose sleep I had foolishly respected, had laughed at me and sent me about my business. I therefore knew what to do; and having gently uncovered her, I gave myself up to those delicate preliminary delights which sweeten the final pleasure. The Zeroli wisely continued to sleep; but at last, conquered by passion, she seconded my caresses with greater ardour than my own, and she was obliged to laugh at her stratagem. She told me that her husband had gone to Geneva to buy a repeating watch, and that he would not return till next day, and that she could spend the night with me.
“Why the night, dearest, while we have the day before us? The night is for slumber, and in the day one enjoys double bliss, since the light allows all the senses to be satisfied at once. If you do not expect anybody, I will pass the whole morning with you.”
“Very good; nobody will interrupt us.”
I was soon in her arms, and for four hours we gave ourselves up to every kind of pleasure, cheating each other the better to succeed, and laughing with delight each time we convinced each other of our love. After the last assault she asked me, in return for her kindness, to spend three more days at Aix.
“I promise you,” I said, “to stay here as long as you continue giving me such marks of your love as you have given me this morning.”
“Let us get up, then, and go to dinner.”
“In company, dearest? Look at your eyes.”
“All the better. People will guess what has happened, and the two countesses will burst with envy. I want everybody to know that it is for me alone that you are remaining at Aix.”
“I am not worth the trouble, my angel, but so be it; I will gladly oblige you, even though I lose all my money in the next three days.”
“I should be in despair if you lost; but if you abstain from punting you will not lose, though you may let yourself be robbed.”
“You may be sure that I know what I am about, and that I shall only allow ladies to rob me. You have had some money out of me yourself.”
“Yes, but not nearly so much as the countesses, and I am sorry you allowed them to impose on you, as they no doubt put it down to your being in love with them.”
“They are quite wrong, poor dears, for neither would have kept me here a day.”
“I am delighted to hear it. But let me tell you what the Marquis of St. Maurice was saying about you yesterday.”
“Say on. I hope he did not allow himself any offensive remarks.”
“No; he only said that you should never have offered the Englishman to be off at eight cards, as you had as much chance as he, and if he had won he might have thought that you knew the card was there.”
“Very good, but tell the marquis that a gentleman is incapable of such a thought, and besides I knew the character of the young nobleman, and I was almost sure he would not accept my offer.”
When we appeared in the dining-room we were received with applause. The fair Zeroli had the air of regarding me as her property, and I affected an extremely modest manner. No one dared to ask me to make a bank after dinner; the purses were too empty, and they contented themselves with trente-quarante, which lasted the whole day, and which cost me a score of louis.
I stole away as usual towards evening, and after having ordered Le Duc not to leave my room for a moment during my stay at Aix, I went towards the cottage where the unfortunate nun was no doubt expecting me anxiously. Soon, in spite of the darkness, I thought I made out somebody following me. I stopped short, and some persons passed me. In two or three minutes I went on again, and I saw the same people, whom I could not have caught up if they had not slackened their pace. It might all be accidental, but I wanted to be sure about it. I left the road without losing my reckoning, feeling quite sure of finding my way when I ceased to be followed; but I soon felt sure that my steps were dogged, as I saw the same shadowy figures at a little distance off. I doubled my speed, hid behind a tree, and as soon as I saw the spies fired a pistol in the air. I looked round shortly after, saw no one, and went on my way.
I went upstairs and found the nun in bed, with two candles on the table.
“Are you ill?”
“I was ill for a time, but praised be God! I am now quite well, having given birth to a fine boy at two o’clock this morning.”
“Where is the child?”
“Alas! I did but kiss him once, and my good hostess carried him away I know not where. The Holy Virgin heard my prayers, for my pains, though sharp, were soon over, and a quarter of an hour after my delivery I was still sneezing. Tell me whether you are a man or an angel, for I fear lest I sin in adoring you.”
“This is good news indeed. And how about the lay-sister?”
She still breathes, but we have no hope that she will recover. Her face is terribly distorted. We have sinned exceedingly, and God will punish me for it.”
“No, dearest, God will forgive you, for the Most Holy judges by the heart, and in your heart you had no evil thoughts. Adore Divine Providence, which doeth all things well.”
“You console me. The country-woman assures me that you are an angel, for the powder you gave me delivered me. I shall never forget you, though I do not know your name.”
The woman then came, and I thanked her for the care she had taken of the invalid. I again warned her to be prudent, and above all to treat the priest well when the lay-sister breathed her last, and thus he would not take notice of anything that might involve leer in disaster.
“All will be well,” said she, “for no one knows if the lay-sister is well or ill, or why the lady does not leave her bed.”
“What have you done with the child?”
“I took him with my own hands to Anneci, where I bought everything necessary for the well-being of this lady and for the death of the other one.”
“Doesn’t your brother know anything about it?”
“Lord preserve us — no! He went away yesterday, and will not be back for a week. We have nothing to fear.”
I gave her another ten louis, begging her to buy some furniture, and to get me something to eat by the time I came next day. She said she had still plenty of money left, and I thought she would go mad when I told her that whatever was over was her own. I thought the invalid stood in need of rest, and I left her, promising to return at the same hour on the following day.
I longed to get this troublesome matter safely over, and I knew that I could not regard myself as out of the wood till the poor lay-sister was under the sod. I was in some fear on this account, for if the priest was not an absolute idiot he must see that the woman had been poisoned.
Next morning I went to see the fair Zeroli, and I found her and her husband examining the watch he had bought her. He came up to me, took my hand, and said he was happy that his wife had the power to keep me at Aix. I replied that it was an easy task for her, and a “bravo” was all he answered.
The chevalier was one of those men who prefer to pass for good- natured than foolish husbands. His wife took my arm, and we left him in his room while we proceeded to the fountain. On the way she said she would be alone the next day, and that she would no longer indulge her curiosity in my nocturnal excursions.
“Oh! it is you who have had me followed, is it?”
“No, it is I who followed you, but to no effect. However, I did not think you were so wicked. You frightened me dreadfully! Do you know, sir, you might have killed me if your shot had not luckily missed.”
“I missed on purpose, dearest; for though I did not suspect that it was you, I fired in the air, feeling certain that that would be enough to scare off the spies.”
“You won’t be troubled with them any more.”
“If they like to follow me, perhaps I shall let them, for my walk is quite innocent. I am always back by ten.”
While we were at table we saw a travelling carriage and six horses drawn up. It was the Marquis de Prie, with a Chevalier de St. Louis and two charming ladies, of whom one, as the Zeroli hastened to inform me, was the Marquis’s mistress. Four places were laid, and while the newcomers were waiting to be served, they were told the story of my bet with the Englishman.
The marquis congratulated me, telling me that he had not hoped to find me at Aix on his return; and here Madame Zeroli put in her word, and said that if it had not been for her he would not have seen me again. I was getting used to her foolish talk, and I could only agree with a good grace, which seemed to delight her intensely although her husband was present, but he seemed to share her triumph.
The marquis said that he would make a little bank for me, and feeling obliged to accept I soon lost a hundred louis. I went to my room to write some letters, and at twilight I set out to see my nun.
“What news have you?”
“The lay-sister is dead, and she is to be buried tomorrow. To-morrow is the day we were to have returned to the convent. This is the letter I am sending to the abbess. She will dispatch another laysister, unless she orders the country-woman to bring me back to the convent.”
“What did the priest say?”
“He said the lay-sister died of a cerebral lethargy, which super- induced an attack of apoplexy.”
“Very good, very good.”
“I want him to say fifteen masses for her, if you will let me?”
“Certainly, my dear, they will serve as the priest’s reward, or rather as the reward of his happy ignorance.”
I called the peasant woman, and gave her the order to have the masses said, and bade her tell the priest that the masses were to be said for the intention of the person who paid for them. She told me that the aspect of the dead sister was dreadful, and that she had to be guarded by two women who sprinkled her with holy water, lest witches, under the form of cats, should come and tear her limb from limb. Far from laughing at her, I told her she was quite right, and asked where she had got the laudanum.
“I got it from a worthy midwife, and old friend of mine. We got it to send the poor lay-sister to sleep when the pains of child-birth should come on.”
“When you put the child at the hospital door, were you recognized?”
“Nobody saw me as I put it into the box, and I wrote a note to say the child had not been baptized.”
“Who wrote the note?”
“You will, of course, see that the funeral is properly carried out?”
“It will only cost six francs, and the parson will take that from two louis which were found on the deceased; the rest will do for masses to atone for her having had the money.”
“What! ought she not to have had the two louis?”
“No,” said the nun, “we are forbidden to have any money without the knowledge of the abbess, under pain of excommunication.”
“What did they give you to come here?”
“Ten Savoy sols a day. But now I live like a princess, as you shall see at supper, for though this worthy woman knows the money you gave her is for herself she lavishes it on me.”
“She knows, dear sister, that such is my intention, and here is some more to go on with.”
So saying I took another ten louis from my purse, and bade the country-woman spare nothing for the invalid’s comfort. I enjoyed the worthy woman’s happiness; she kissed my hands, and told me that I had made her fortune, and that she could buy some cows now.
As soon as I was alone with the charming nun, whose face recalled to my memory the happy hours I had passed with M—— M— — my imagination began to kindle, and drawing close to her I began to talk of her seducer, telling her I was surprised that be had not helped her in the cruel position in which he had placed her. She replied that she was debarred from accepting any money by her vow of poverty and obedience, and that she had given up to the abbess what remained of the alms the bishop had procured her.
“As to my state when I was so fortunate as to meet you, I think he cannot have received my letter.”
“Possibly, but is he a rich or handsome man?”
“He is rich but certainly not handsome. On the contrary, he is extremely ugly, deformed, and over fifty.”
“How did you become amorous of a fellow like that?”
“I never loved him, but he contrived to gain my pity. I thought he would kill himself, and I promised to be in the garden on the night he appointed, but I only went there with the intention of bidding him begone, and he did so, but after he had carried his evil designs into effect.”
“Did he use violence towards you, then?”
“No, for that would have been no use. He wept, threw himself on his knees, and begged so hard, that I let him do what he liked on the condition that he would not kill himself, and that he would come no more to the garden.”
“Had you no fear of consequences?”
“I did not understand anything about it; I always thought that one could not conceive under three times at least.”
“Unhappy ignorance! how many woes are caused by it! Then he did not ask you to give him any more assignations?”
“He often asked me, but I would not grant his request because our confessor made me promise to withstand him thenceforth, if I wished to be absolved.”
“Did you tell him the name of the seducer?”
“Certainly not; the good confessor would not have allowed me to do so; it would have been a great sin.”
“Did you tell your confessor the state you were in?”
“No, but he must have guessed it. He is a good old man, who doubtless prayed to God for me, and my meeting you was, perhaps, the answer to his prayers.”
I was deeply moved, and for a quarter of an hour I was silent, and absorbed in my thoughts. I saw that this interesting girl’s misfortune proceeded from her ignorance, her candour, her perfect innocence, and a foolish feeling of pity, which made her grant this monster of lubricity a thing of which she thought little because she had never been in love. She was religious, but from mere habit and not from reflection, and her religion was consequently very weak. She abhorred sin, because she was obliged to purge herself of it by confession under pain of everlasting damnation, and she did not want to be damned. She had plenty of natural common sense, little wit, for the cultivation of which she had no opportunities, and she was in a state of ignorance only pardonable in a nun. On weighing these facts I foresaw that I should find it a difficult task to gain those favours which she had granted to Coudert; her repentance had been too bitter for her to expose herself to the same danger over again.
The peasant woman returned, laid the table for two, and brought us our supper. Everything was new — napkins, plates, glasses, spoons, knives, etc., and everything was exquisitely clean. The wines were excellent, and the dishes delightful in their simplicity. We had roast game, fish, cheese with cream, and very good fruit. I spent an hour and a half at supper, and drank two bottles of wine as I talked to the nun, who ate very little.
I was in the highest spirits, and the woman, delighted with my praise of her provision, promised I should be served the same way every evening.
When I was alone with the nun, whose face filled me with such burning recollections, I began to speak of her health, and especially of the inconveniences attached to child-birth. She said she felt quite well, and would be able to return to Chamberi on foot. “The only thing that troubles me is my breasts, but the woman assures me that the milk will recede to-morrow, and that they will then assume their usual shape.”
“Allow me to examine them, I know something about it.”
She uncovered her bosom, not thinking it would give me any pleasure, but wishing to be polite, without supposing I had any concealed desires. I passed my hands over two spheres whose perfect shape and whiteness would have restored Lazarus to life. I took care not to offend her modesty, but in the coolest manner possible asked her how she felt a little lower down, and as I put the question I softly extended my hand. However, she kept it back gently, telling me not to go any further as she still felt a little uneasy. I begged her pardon, and said I hoped I should find everything quite right by the next day.
“The beauty of your bosom,” I added, “makes me take a still greater interest in you.”
So saying I let my mouth meet hers, and I felt a kiss escape as if involuntarily from her lips. It ran like fire through my veins, my brain began to whirl, and I saw that unless I took to a speedy flight I should lose all her confidence. I therefore left her, calling her “dear daughter” as I bade her farewell.
It poured with rain, and I got soaked through before I reached my lodging. This was a bath well fitted to diminish the ardour of my passion, but it made me very late in rising the next morning.
I took out the two portraits of M—— M— — one in a nun’s dress, and the other nude, as Venus. I felt sure they would be of service to me with the nun.
I did not find the fair Zeroli in her room, so I went to the fountain, where she reproached me with a tenderness I assessed at its proper value, and our quarrel was made up in the course of our walk. When dinner was over the Marquis the Prie made a bank, but as he only put down a hundred louis I guessed that he wanted to win a lot and lose a little. I put down also a hundred louis, and he said that it would be better sport if I did not stake my money on one card only. I replied that I would stake a louis on each of the thirteen.
“You will lose.”
“We will see. Here is my hand on the table, and I stake a louis on each of the thirteen cards.”
According to the laws of probability, I should certainly have lost, but fate decided otherwise and I won eighty louis. At eight o’clock I bowed to the company, and I went as usual to the place where my new love dwelt. I found the invalid ravishing. She said she had had a little fever, which the country-woman pronounced to be milk fever, and that she would be quite well and ready to get up by the next day. As I stretched out my hand to lift the coverlet; she seized it and covered it with kisses, telling me that she felt as if she must give me that mark of her filial affection. She was twenty-one, and I was thirty-five. A nice daughter for a man like me! My feelings for her were not at all of a fatherly character. Nevertheless, I told her that her confidence in me, as shewn by her seeing me in bed, increased my affection for her, and that I should be grieved if I found her dressed in her nun’s clothes next day.
“Then I will stop in bed,” said she; “and indeed I shall be very glad to do so, as I experience great discomfort from the heat of my woollen habit; but I think I should please you more if I were decently dressed; however, as you like it better, I will stop in bed.”
The country-woman came in at that moment, and gave her the abbess’ letter which her nephew had just brought from Chamberi. She read it and gave it to me. The abbess told her that she would send two lay- sisters to bring her back to the convent, and that as she had recovered her health she could come on-foot, and thus save money which could be spent in better ways. She added that as the bishop was away, and she was unable to send the lay-sisters without his permission, they could not start for a week or ten days. She ordered her, under pain of the major excommunication, never to leave her room, never to speak to any man, not even to the master of the house, and to have nothing to do with anybody except with the woman. She ended by saying that she was going to have a mass said for the repose of the departed sister’s soul.
“I am obliged to you for having shewn me this letter, but be pleased to tell me if I may visit you for the next week or ten days, without doing hurt to your conscience; for I must tell you I am a man. I have only stopped in this place because of the lively interest with which you have inspired me, but if you have the least objection to receive me on account of the singular excommunication with which you are threatened, I will leave Aix tomorrow. Speak.”
“Sir, our abbess is lavish of these thunders, and I have already incurred the excommunication with which she threatens me; but I hope it will not be ratified by God, as my fault has made me happy and not miserable. I will be sincere with you; your visits are my only joy, and that joy is doubled when you tell me you like to come. But if you can answer my question without a breach of confidence, I should like to know for whom you took me the first time you saw me; you cannot imagine how you astonished and frightened me. I have never felt such kisses as those you lavished on me, but they cannot increase my sin as I was not a consenting party, and you told me yourself that you thought you were kissing another.”
“I will satisfy your curiosity. I think I can do so as you are aware by this time that the flesh is weak, or rather stronger than the spirit, and that it compels the strongest intellects to commit faults against right reason. You shall hear the history of an amour that lasted for two years with the fairest and the best of all the nuns of Venice.”
“Tell me all, sir. I have fallen myself, and I should be cruel and unjust if I were to take offence at anything you may tell me, for you cannot have done anything with her that Coudert did not do to me.”
“I did much more and much less, for I never gave her a child. If I had been so unfortunate I should have carried her off to Rome, where we should have fallen at the feet of the Holy Father, who would have absolved her from her vows, and my dear M—— M—— would now be my wife.”
“Good heavens M—— M—— is my name.”
This circumstance, which was really a mere coincidence, rendered our meeting still more wonderful, and astonished me as much as it did her. Chance is a curious and fickle element, but it often has the greatest influence on our lives.
After a brief silence I told her all that had taken place between the fair Venetian and myself. I painted our amorous combats in a lively and natural manner, for, besides my recollections, I had her living picture before my eyes, and I could follow on her features the various emotions aroused by my recital. When I had finished she said,
“But is your M—— M—— really so like me, that you mistook me for her?”
Drawing from my pocket-book the portrait in which M—— M—— was dressed as a nun, I gave it to her, saying,
“Judge for yourself.”
“She really is; it might pass for my portrait. It is my dress and my face; it is wonderful. To this likeness I owe all my good fortune. Thanks be to God that you do not love me as you loved her, whom I am glad to call my sister. There are indeed two M—— M——s. Mighty Providence, all Thy least ways are wonderful, and we are at best poor, weak, ignorant mortals.”
The worthy country-woman came up and have us a still better supper than on the previous night. The invalid only ate soup, but she promised to do better by the following evening.
I spent an hour with her after supper, and I convinced her by my reserve that she had made a mistake in thinking that I only loved her as a daughter. Of her own accord she shewed me that her breast had regained its usual condition. I assured myself of the fact by my sense of touch, to which she made no opposition, not thinking that I could be moved by such a trifle. All the kisses which I lavished on her lips and eyes she put down to the friendship for her. She said, smiling, that she thanked God she was not fair like her sister, and I smiled myself at her simplicity.
But I could not keep up this sort of thing for long, and I had to be extremely careful. As soon as I felt that passion was getting the upper hand, I gave her a farewell kiss and went away. When I got home Le Duc gave me a note from Madame Zeroli, who said she would expect me at the fountain, as she was going to breakfast with the marquis’s mistress.
I slept well, but in my dreams I saw again and again the face of the new M—— M——. Next day, as soon as I got to the fountain, Madame Zeroli told me that all the company maintained that I ought to have lost in playing on thirteen cards at once, as it was not true that one card won four times in each deal; however, the marquis, though he agreed with the rest, had said that he would not let me play like that again.
“I have only one objection to make to that — namely, that if I wanted to play in the same way again he could only prevent me by fighting for it.”
“His mistress swears she will make you play in the usual way.”
I smiled, and thanked her for her information.
When I got back to the inn I played a game of quinze with the marquis, and lost fifty louis; afterwards I let myself be persuaded to hold a bank. I put down five hundred louis, and defied fortune. Desarmoises was my croupier, and I warned the company that every card must have the stake placed on it, and that I should rise at half-past seven. I was seated between two ladies. I put the five hundred louis on the board, and I got change from the inn-keeper to the amount of a hundred crowns, to amuse the ladies with. But something happened. All the cards before me were loose packs, and I called for new ones. The inn-keeper said he had sent to Chamberi for a hundred packs, and that the messenger would be back soon.
“In the meanwhile,” said he, “you can use the cards on the table, which are as good as new.”
“I want them new, not as good as new. I have my prejudices, and they are so strong as to be invincible. In the meanwhile I shall remain a spectator, though I am sorry to keep the ladies waiting.”
Nobody dared say a word, and I rose, after replacing my money in my cash-box. The Marquis de Prie took the bank, and played splendidly. I stood beside Madame Zeroli, who made me her partner, and gave me five or six Louis the next day. The messenger who was to be back soon did not return till midnight, and I thanked my stars for the escape I had had, for in such a place, full of professional gamesters, there are people whose eyes are considerably sharper than a lynx’s. I put the money back in my room, and proceeded on my usual way.
I found my fair nun in bed, and asked her,
“How do you feel to-day, madam?”
“Say daughter, that name is so sweet to me that I would you were my father that I might clasp you in my arms without fearing anyone.”
“Well, my dear daughter, do not fear anything, but open your arms to me.”
“I will; we will embrace one another.”
“My little ones are prettier than they were yesterday let me suck them.”
“You silly papa, you are drinking your daughter’s milk.”
“It is so sweet, darling, and the little drop I tasted has made me feel so happy. You cannot be angry at my enjoying this harmless privilege.”
“Of course I am not angry; you delighted me. But I shall have to call you baby, not papa.”
“How glad I am to find you in better spirits to-night!”
“You have ‘given me back my happiness, and I feel at peace once more. The country-woman told me that in a few days I should be just the same as if I had never seen Coudert.”
“That is not quite true; how about your stomach, for instance?”
“Be quiet; you can’t know anything about such things, and I am quite astonished myself.”
“Let me see.”
“Oh, no; you mustn’t see, but you may feel.”
“Oh! please don’t go there.”
“Why not? You can’t be made differently from your sister, who would be now about thirty. I want to shew you her portrait naked.”
“Have you got it with you? I should so like to see it.”
I drew it out and gave it to her. She admired it, kissed it, and asked me if the painter had followed nature in all respects.
“Certainly,” said I. “She knew that such a picture would give me pleasure.”
“It is very fine. It is more like me than the other picture. But I suppose the long hair is only put in to please you?”
“Not at all. Italian nuns are allowed to wear their hair as long as they please, provided they do not shew it.
“We have the same privilege. Our hair is cut once, and then we may let it grow as long as we like.”
“Then you have long hair?”
“As long as in the picture; but you would not like my hair as it is black.”
“Why, black is my favourite colour. In the name of God, let me see it.”
“You ask me in God’s name to commit a sin; I shall incur another excommunication, but I cannot refuse you anything. You shall see my hair after supper, as I don’t want to scandalize the countrywoman.”
“You are right; I think you are the sweetest of your sex. I shall die of grief when you leave this cottage to return to your sad prison.”
“I must indeed return and do penance for my sins.”
“I hope you have the wit to laugh at the abbess’s silly excommunications?”
“I begin not to dread them so much as I used to.”
“I am delighted to hear it, as I see you will make me perfectly happy after supper.”
The country-woman came up, and I gave her another ten louis; but it suddenly dawned upon me that she took me for a madman. To disabuse her of this idea I told her that I was very rich, and that I wanted to make her understand that I could not give her enough to testify my gratitude to her for the care she had taken of the good nun. She wept, kissed my hand, and served us a delicious supper. The nun ate well and drank indifferently, but I was in too great a hurry to see the beautiful black hair of this victim to her goodness of heart, and I could not follow her example. The one appetite drove out the other.
As soon as we were relieved of the country-woman’s presence, she removed her hood, and let a mass of ebon hair fall upon her alabaster shoulders, making a truly ravishing contrast. She put the portrait before her, and proceeded to arrange her hair like the first M—— M——.
“You are handsomer than your sister,” said I, “but I think she was more affectionate than you.”
“She may have been more affectionate, but she had not a better heart.”
“She was much more amorous than you.”
“I daresay; I have never been in love.”
“That is strange; how about your nature and the impulse of the senses?”
“We arrange all that easily at the convent. We accuse ourselves to the confessor, for we know it is a sin, but he treats it as a childish fault, and absolves us without imposing any penances.”
“He knows human nature, and makes allowances for your sad position.”
“He is an old man, very learned, and of ascetic habits, but he is all indulgence. It will be a sad day when we lose him.”
“But in your amorous combats with another nun, don’t you feel as if you would like her to change into a man?”
“You make me laugh. To be sure, if my sweetheart became a man I should not be sorry, but we do not desire such a miracle.”
“That is, perhaps, through a coldness of temperament. In that your sister was better, for she liked me much more than C—— C— — and you do not like me as well as the sweetheart you left behind you at the convent.”
“Certainly not, for with you I should violate my own chastity and expose myself to consequences I tremble to think of.”
“You do not love me, then?”
“What are you saying? I adore you, and I am very sorry you are not a woman.”
“I love you too, but your desire makes me laugh; for I would rather not be turned into a woman to please you, especially as I expect I should not think you nearly as beautiful. Sit down, my dear, and let me see your fine hair flowing over your beautiful body.”
“Do you want me to take off my chemise?”
“Of course; how handsome you look without it. Let me suck your pretty breasts, as I am your baby.”
She granted me this privilege, and looking at me with a face full of pleasure, she allowed me to press her naked body to my breast, not seeing, or pretending not to see, the acuteness of my enjoyment. She then said,
“If such delights as these were allowed friendship, I should say it is better than love; for I have never experienced so great pleasure as when you put your lips to my bosom. Let me do the same to you.”
“I wish you could, but you will find nothing there.”
“Never mind; it will amuse us.”
After she had fulfilled her desire, we spent a quarter of an hour in mutual embraces, and my excitement was more than I could bear.
“Tell me truly,” said I, “amidst our kisses, amidst these ecstacies which we call child-like, do you not feel a desire for something more?”
“I confess that I do, but such desires are sinful; and as I am sure that your passions are as high as mine, I think we had better stop our agreeable employment; for, papa dear, our friendship is becoming burning love, is it not?”
“Yes, love, and love that cannot be overcome.”
“I know it.”
“If you know it, let us perform to love the sweetest of all sacrifices.”
“No, no; on the contrary, let us stop and be more prudent in the future, lest we become the victims of love. If you love me, you should say so too.”
With these words she slipped gently from my arms, put back her beautiful hair under her cap, and when I had helped her on with her chemise, the coarseness of which horrified me, I told her she might calm herself. I told her how sorry I felt to see her delicate body frayed by so coarse a stuff, and she told me it was of the usual material, and that all the nuns wore chemises of the same kind.
My mind was in a state of consternation, for the constraint I had imposed on myself seemed much greater than the utmost pleasure I could have gained. I neither determined on persevering in nor on abandoning the pursuit; all I wanted was to be sure that I should not encounter the least resistance. A folded rose-leaf spoilt the repose of the famous Smindyrides, who loved a soft bed. I preferred, therefore, to go away, than to risk finding the rose-leaf which troubled the voluptuous Sybarite. I left the cottage in love and unhappy, and as I did not go to bed till two o’clock in the morning I slept till mid-day.
When I woke up Le Duc gave me a note which he should have given me the night before. He had forgotten it, and I was not sorry. The note came from Madame Zeroli, who said she would expect me at nine o’clock in the morning, as she would be alone. She told me that she was going to give a supper-party, that she was sure I would come, and that as she was leaving Aix directly after, she counted on my coming too — at any rate, as far as Chamberi. Although I still liked her, her pretensions made me laugh. It was too late now to be with her at nine, I could not go to her supper-party because of my fair nun, whom I would not have left just then for the seraglio of the Grand Turk; and it was impossible for me to accompany her to Chamberi, as when I came back I might no longer find the only object which kept me at Aix.
However, as soon as I had finished dressing, I went to see her and found her furious. I excused myself by saying that I had only had her letter for an hour, but she went away without giving me time to tell her that I could not sup with her or go to Chamberi with her. She scowled at me at table, and when the meal was over the Marquis de Prie told me that they had some new cards, and that everybody was longing to see me make a bank. I went for my money, and I made a bank of five hundred louis. At seven o’clock I had lost more than half that sum, but for all that I put the rest in my pocket and rose from the table.
After a sad glance in the direction of Madame Zeroli I went to the cottage, where I found my angel in a large new bed, with a small but pretty bed beside it which was meant for me. I laughed at the incongruity of these pieces of furniture with our surroundings, but by way of thanking the thoughtful country-woman I drew fifty louis from my purse and gave them to her, telling her it was for the remainder of the time the lady was with her, and I told her to spend no more money in furniture.
This was done in true gamester fashion. I had lost nearly three hundred louis, but I had risked more than five hundred, and I looked on the difference as pure profit. If I had gained as much as I had lost I should probably have contented myself with giving her ten louis, but I fancied I was losing the fifty louis on a card. I have always liked spending money, but I have never been careless with it except in gaming.
I was in an ecstasy to see the face of my M—— M—— light up with delight and astonishment.
“You must be very rich,” said she.
“Don’t think it, dearest, but I love you passionately; and not being able to give you anything by reason of your unfortunate vow of poverty, I lavish what I possess on this worthy woman, to induce her to spare nothing for your comfort while you are here. Perhaps, too — though it is not a definite thought — I hope that it will make you love me more.”
“How can I love you more than I do? The only thing that makes me unhappy is the idea of returning to the convent.”
“But you told me yesterday that it was exactly that idea which made you happy.”
“I have changed my mind since yesterday. I passed a cruel night, for as soon as I fell asleep I was in your arms, and I awoke again and again on the point of consummating the greatest of crimes.”
“You did not go through such a struggle before committing the same crime with a man you did — not love.”
“It is exactly because I did not love him that my sin struck me as venial. Do you understand what I mean?”
“It’s a piece of superstitious metaphysics, but I understand you perfectly.”
“You have made me happy, and I feel very grateful to you, and I feel glad and certain of conquering when I reflect that your situation is different to mine.”
“I will not dispute it with you, although I am sorry for what you say.”
“Because you think yourself in duty bound to refuse caresses which would not hurt you, and which would give me new life and happiness.”
“I have thought it over.”
“Are you weeping?”
“Yes, and what is more, these tears are dear to me.”
“I do not understand.”
“I have two favours to ask of you.”
“Say on, and be sure you will obtain what you ask.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07