My Old Friends — Pacienza — Agatha — Count Boryomeo — The Ball — Lord Percy
The Corticelli was as gentle as a lamb, and left me as we got into Turin. I promised I would come and see her, and immediately went to the house the Chevalier had taken, which I found convenient in every way.
The worthy Chevalier was not long in calling on me. He gave me an account of the moneys he had spent on the Corticelli, and handed over the rest to me.
“I am flush of money,” I said, “and I intend to invite my friends to supper frequently. Can you lay your hands on a good cook?”
“I know a pearl amongst cooks,” said he, “and you can have him directly.”
“You, chevalier, are the pearl of men. Get me this wonder, tell him I am hard to please, and agree on the sum I am to pay him per month.”
The cook, who was an excellent one, came the same evening.
“It would be a good idea,” said Raiberti, “to call on the Count d’Aglie. He knows that the Corticelli is your mistress, and he has given a formal order to Madame Pacienza, the lady with whom she lives, that when you come and see her you are not to be left alone together.”
This order amused me, and as I did not care about the Corticelli it did not trouble me in the least, though Raiberti, who thought I was in love with her, seemed to pity me.
“Since she has been here,” he said, “her conduct has been irreproachable.”
“I am glad to hear that.”
“You might let her take some lessons from the dancing-master Dupre,” said he. “He will no doubt give her something to do at the carnival.”
I promised to follow his advice, and I then paid a visit to the superintendent of police.
He received me well, complimented me on my return to Turin, and then added with a smile:—
“I warn you that I have been informed that you keep a mistress, and that I have given strict orders to the respectable woman with whom she lives not to leave her alone with you.”
“I am glad to hear it,” I replied, “and the more as I fear her mother is not a person of very rigid morals. I advised the Chevalier Raiberti of my intentions with regard to her, and I am glad to see that he has carried them out so well. I hope the girl will shew herself worthy of your protection.”
“Do you think of staying here throughout the carnival?”
“Yes, if your excellency approves.”
“It depends entirely on your good conduct.”
“A few peccadilloes excepted, my conduct is always above reproach.”
“There are some peccadilloes we do not tolerate here. Have you seen the Chevalier Osorio?”
“I think of calling on him to-day or to-morrow.”
“I hope you will remember me to him.”
He rang his bell, bowed, and the audience was over.
The Chevalier Osorio received me at his office, and gave me a most gracious reception. After I had given him an account of my visit to the superintendent, he asked me, with a smile, if I felt inclined to submit with docility to not seeing my mistress in freedom.
“Certainly,” said I, “for I am not in love with her.”
Osorio looked at me slyly, and observed, “Somehow I don’t think your indifference will be very pleasing to the virtuous duenna.”
I understood what he meant, but personally I was delighted not to be able to see the Corticelli save in the presence of a female dragon. It would make people talk, and I loved a little scandal, and felt curious to see what would happen.
When I returned to my house I found the Genoese Passano, a bad poet and worse painter, to whom I had intended to give the part of a Rosicrucian, because there was something in his appearance which inspired, if not respect, at least awe and a certain feeling of fear. In point of fact, this was only a natural presentiment that the man must be either a clever rogue or a morose and sullen scholar.
I made him sup with me and gave him a room on the third floor, telling him not to leave it without my permission. At supper I found him insipid in conversation, drunken, ignorant, and ill disposed, and I already repented of having taken him under my protection; but the thing was done.
The next day, feeling curious to see how the Corticelli was lodged, I called on her, taking with me a piece of Lyons silk.
I found her and her mother in the landlady’s room, and as I came in the latter said that she was delighted to see me and that she hoped I would often dine with them. I thanked her briefly and spoke to the girl coolly enough.
“Shew me your room,” said I. She took me there in her mother’s company. “Here is something to make you a winter dress,” said I, skewing her the silk.
“Is this from the marchioness?”
“No, it is from me”
“But where are the three dresses she said she would give me?”
“You know very well on what conditions you were to have them, so let us say no more about it.”
She unfolded the silk which she liked very much, but she said she must have some trimmings. The Pacienza offered her services, and said she would send for a dressmaker who lived close by. I acquiesced with a nod, and as soon as she had left the room the Signora Laura said she was very sorry only to be able to receive me in the presence of the landlady.
“I should have thought,” said I, “that a virtuous person like you would have been delighted.”
“I thank God for it every morning and night.”
“You infernal old hypocrite!” said I, looking contemptuously at her.
“Upon my word, anybody who didn’t know you would be taken in.”
In a few minutes Victorine and another girl came in with their band-boxes.
“Are you still at Madame R——‘s” said I.
“Yes sir,” said she, with a blush.
When the Corticelli had chosen what she wanted I told Victorine to present my compliments to her mistress, and tell her that I would call and pay for the articles.
The landlady had also sent for a dressmaker, and while the Corticelli was being measured, she shewed me her figure and said she wanted a corset. I jested on the pregnancy with which she threatened me, and of which there was now no trace, pitying Count N—— for being deprived of the joys of fatherhood. I then gave her what money she required and took my leave. She escorted me to the door, and asked me if she should have the pleasure of seeing me again before long.
“It’s a pleasure, is it?” I replied; “well, I don’t know when you will have it again; it depends on my leisure and my fancy.”
It is certain that if I had any amorous feelings or even curiosity about the girl, I should not have left her in that house for a moment; but I repeat my love for her had entirely vanished. There was one thing, however, which annoyed me intolerably, namely, that in spite of my coolness towards her, the little hussy pretended to think that I had forgotten and forgiven everything.
On leaving the Corticelli, I proceeded to call on my bankers, amongst others on M. Martin, whose wife was justly famous for her wit and beauty.
I chanced to meet the horse-dealing Jew, who had made money out of me by means of his daughter Leah. She was still pretty, but married; and her figure was too rounded for my taste. She and her husband welcomed me with great warmth, but I cared for her no longer, and did not wish to see her again.
I called on Madame R— — who had been awaiting me impatiently ever since Victorine had brought news of me. I sat down by the counter and had the pleasure of hearing from her lips the amorous histories of Turin for the past few months.
“Victorine and Caton are the only two of the old set that still remain, but I have replaced them with others.”
“Has Victorine found anyone to operate on her yet?”
“No, she is just as you left her, but a gentleman who is in love with her is going to take her to Milan.”
This gentleman was the Comte de Perouse, whose acquaintance I made three years afterwards at Milan. I shall speak of him in due time. Madame R—— told me that, in consequence of her getting into trouble several times with the police, she had been obliged to promise the Count d’Aglie only to send the girls to ladies, and, consequently, if I found any of them to my taste I should be obliged to make friends with their relations and take them to the festas. She shewed me the girls in the work-room, but I did not think any of them worth taking trouble about.
She talked about the Pacienza, and when I told her that I kept the Corticelli, and of the hard conditions to which I was obliged to submit, she exclaimed with astonishment, and amused me by her jests on the subject.
“You are in good hands, my dear sir,” said she; “the woman is not only a spy of d’Aglie’s, but a professional procuress. I wonder the Chevalier Raiberti placed the girl with her.”
She was not so surprised when I told her that the chevalier had good reasons for his action, and that I myself had good reasons of my own for wishing the Corticelli to remain there.
Our conversation was interrupted by a customer who wanted silk stockings. Hearing him speak of dancing, I asked him if he could tell me the address of Dupre, the ballet-master.
“No one better, sir, for I am Dupre, at your service.”
“I am delighted at this happy chance. The Chevalier Raiberti gave me to understand that you might be able to give dancing lessons to a ballet-girl of my acquaintance.”
“M. de Raiberti mentioned your name to me this morning. You must be the Chevalier de Seingalt?”
“I can give the young lady lessons every morning at nine o’clock at my own home.”
“No, do you come to her house, but at whatever hour you like. I will pay you, and I hope you will make her one of your best pupils. I must warn you, however, that she is not a novice.”
“I will call on her to-day, and to-morrow I will tell you what I can make of her; but I think I had better tell you my terms: I charge three Piedmontese livres a lesson.”
“I think that is very reasonable; I will call on you to-morrow.”
“You do me honour. Here is my address. If you like to come in the afternoon you will see the rehearsal of a ballet.”
“Is it not rehearsed at the theatre?”
“Yes, but at the theatre no on-lookers are allowed by the orders of the superintendent of police.”
“This superintendent of yours puts his finger into a good many pies.”
“In too many.”
“But at your own house anybody may come?”
“Undoubtedly, but I could not have the dancers there if my wife were not present. The superintendent knows her, and has great confidence in her.”
“You will see me at the rehearsal.”
The wretched superintendent had erected a fearful system of surveillance against the lovers of pleasure, but it must be confessed that he was often cheated. Voluptuousness was all the more rampant when thus restrained; and so it ever will be while men have passions and women desires. To love and enjoy, to desire and to satisfy one’s desires, such is the circle in which we move, and whence we can never be turned. When restrictions are placed upon the passions as in Turkey, they still attain their ends, but by methods destructive to morality.
At the worthy Mazzali’s I found two gentlemen to whom she introduced me. One was old and ugly, decorated with the Order of the White Eagle — his name was Count Borromeo; the other, young and brisk, was Count A—— B—— of Milan. After they had gone I was informed that they were paying assiduous court to the Chevalier Raiberti, from whom they hoped to obtain certain privileges for their lordships which were under the Sardinian rule.
The Milanese count had not a penny, and the Lord of the Borromean Isles was not much better off. He had ruined himself with women, and not being able to live at Milan he had taken refuge in the fairest of his isles, and enjoyed there perpetual spring and very little else. I paid him a visit on my return from Spain, but I shall relate our meeting when I come to my adventures, my pleasures, my misfortunes, and above all my follies there, for of such threads was the weft of my life composed, and folly was the prominent element.
The conversation turned on my house, and the lively Mazzoli asked me how I liked my cook. I replied that I had not yet tried him, but I proposed to put him to test the next day, if she and the gentlemen would do me the honour of supping with me.
The invitation was accepted, and she promised to bring her dear chevalier with her, and to warn him of the event, as his health only allowed him to eat once a day.
I called on Dupre in the afternoon. I saw the dancers, male and female, the latter accompanied by their mothers, who stood on one side muffled up in thick cloaks. As I passed them under review in my lordly manner, I noticed that one of them still looked fresh and pretty, which augured well for her daughter, though the fruit does not always correspond to the tree.
Dupre introduced me to his wife, who was young and pretty, but who had been obliged to leave the theatre owing to the weakness of her chest. She told me that if the Corticelli would work hard her husband would make a great dancer of her, as her figure was eminently suited for dancing. While I was talking with Madame Dupre, the Corticelli, late Lascaris, came running up to me with the air of a favourite, and told me she wanted some ribbons and laces to make a bonnet. The others girls began to whisper to each other, and guessing what they must be saying I turned to Dupre without taking any notice of Madame Madcap, and gave him twelve pistoles, saying that I would pay for the lessons three months in advance, and that I hoped he would bring his new pupil on well. Such a heavy payment in advance caused general surprise, which I enjoyed, though pretending not to be aware of it. Now I know that I acted foolishly, but I have promised to speak the truth in these Memoirs, which will not see the light till all light has left my eyes, and I will keep my promise.
I have always been greedy of distinction; I have always loved to draw the eyes of men towards men, but I must also add that if I have humiliated anyone it has always been a proud man or a fool, for it has been my rule to please everyone if I can.
I sat on one side, the better to observe the swarm of girls, and I soon fixed my eyes on one whose appearance struck me. She had a fine figure, delicate features, a noble air, and a patient look which interested me in the highest degree. She was dancing with a man who did not scruple to abuse her in the coarsest manner when she made any mistakes, but she bore it without replying, though an expression of contempt mingled with the sweetness of her face.
Instinct drew me to the mother I have remarked on, and I asked her to whom the dancer that interested me belonged.
“I am her mother,” she replied.
“You, madam! I should not have thought it possible.”
“I was very young when she was born.”
“I should think so. Where do you come from?”
“I am from Lucca, and what is more-a poor widow.”
“How can you be poor, when you are still young and handsome, and have an angel for a daughter?”
She replied only by an expressive glance. I understood her reserve, and I stayed by her without speaking. Soon after, Agatha, as her daughter was named, came up to her to ask for a handkerchief to wipe her face.
“Allow me to offer you mine,” said I. It was a white handkerchief, and scented with attar of roses; this latter circumstance gave her an excuse for accepting it, but after smelling it she wanted to return it to me.
“You have not used it,” said I! “do so.”
She obeyed, and then returned it to me with a bow by way of thanks.
“You must not give it me back, fair Agatha, till you have had it washed.”
She smiled, and gave it to her mother, glancing at me in a grateful manner, which I considered of good omen.
“May I have the pleasure of calling on you?” said I. “I cannot receive you, sir, except in the presence of my landlady.”
“This cursed restriction is general in Turin, then?”
“Yes, the superintendent uses everybody in the same way.”
“Then I shall have the pleasure of seeing you again here?”
In the evening I had one of the best suppers I ever had in my life, if I except those I enjoyed during my stay at Turin. My cook was worthy of a place in the kitchen of Lucullus; but without detracting from his skill I must do justice to the products of the country. Everything is delicious; game, fish, birds, meat, vegetables, fruit, milk, and truffles — all are worthy of the table of the greatest gourmets, and the wines of the country yield to none. What a pity that strangers do not enjoy liberty at Turin! It is true that better society, and more politeness, such as are found in several French and Italian towns, are to be wished for.
The beauty of the women of Turin is no doubt due to the excellence of the air and diet.
I had not much trouble in extracting a promise from Madame Mazzoli and the two counts to sup with me every night, but the Chevalier de Raiberti would only promise to come whenever he could.
At the Carignan Theatre, where opera-bouffe was being played, I saw Redegonde, with whom I had failed at Florence. She saw me in the pit and gave me a smile, so I wrote to her, offering my services if the mother had changed her way of thinking. She answered that her mother was always the same, but that if I would ask the Corticelli she could come and sup with me, though the mother would doubtless have to be of the party. I gave her no answer, as the terms she named were by no means to my taste.
I had a letter from Madame du Rumain, enclosing one from M. de Choiseul to M. de Chauvelin, the French ambassador at Turin. It will be remembered that I had known this worthy nobleman at Soleure, and had been treated with great politeness by him, but I wished to have a more perfect title to his acquaintance; hence I asked Madame du Rumain to give me a letter.
M. de Chauvelin received me with the greatest cordiality; and reproaching me for having thought a letter of introduction necessary, introduced me to his charming wife, who was no less kind than her husband. Three or four days later he asked me to dine with him, and I met at his table M. Imberti, the Venetian ambassador, who said he was very sorry not to be able to present me at Court. On hearing the reason M. de Chauvelin offered to present me himself, but I thought it best to decline with thanks. No doubt it would have been a great honour, but the result would be that I should be more spied on than even in this town of spies, where the most indifferent actions do not pass unnoticed. My pleasures would have been interfered with.
Count Borromeo continued to honour me by coming every night to sup with me, preserving his dignity the while, for as he accompanied Madame Mazzoli it was not to be supposed that he came because he was in need of a meal. Count A—— B—— came more frankly, and I was pleased with him. He told me one day that the way I put up with his visits made him extremely grateful to Providence, for his wife could not send him any money, and he could not afford to pay for his dinner at the inn, so that if it were not for my kindness he would often be obliged to go hungry to bed. He shewed me his wife’s letters; he had evidently a high opinion of her. “I hope,” he would say, “that you will come and stay with us at Milan, and that she will please you.”
He had been in the service of Spain, and by what he said I judged his wife to be a pleasing brunette of twenty-five or twenty-six. The count had told her how I had lent him money several times, and of my goodness to him, and she replied, begging him to express her gratitude to me, and to make me promise to stay with them at Milan. She wrote wittily, and her letters interested me to such an extent that I gave a formal promise to journey to Milan, if it were only for the sake of seeing her.
I confess that in doing so I was overcome by my feelings of curiosity. I knew they were poor, and I should not have given a promise which would either bring them into difficulties or expose me to paying too dearly for my lodging. However, by way of excuse, I can only say that curiosity is near akin to love. I fancied the countess sensible like an Englishwoman, passionate like a Spaniard, caressing like a Frenchwoman, and as I had a good enough opinion of my own merit, I did not doubt for a moment that she would respond to my affection. With these pleasant delusions in my head, I counted on exciting the jealousy of all the ladies and gentlemen of Milan. I had plenty of money, and I longed for an opportunity of spending it.
Nevertheless, I went every day to rehearsal at Dupre’s, and I soon got madly in love with Agatha. Madame Dupre won over by several presents I made her, received my confidences with kindness, and by asking Agatha and her mother to dinner procured me the pleasure of a more private meeting with my charmer. I profited by the opportunity to make known my feelings, and I obtained some slight favours, but so slight were they that my flame only grew the fiercer.
Agatha kept on telling me that everybody knew that the Corticelli was my mistress, and that for all the gold in the world she would not have it said that she was my last shift, as I could not see the Corticelli in private. I swore to her that I did not love the Corticelli, and that I only kept her to prevent M. Raiberti being compromised; but all this was of no avail, she had formed her plans, and nothing would content her but a formal rupture which would give all Turin to understand that I loved her and her alone. On these conditions she promised me her heart, and everything which follows in such cases.
I loved her too well not to endeavour to satisfy her, since my satisfaction depended on hers. With this idea I got Dupre to give a ball at my expense in some house outside the town, and to invite all the dancers, male and female, who were engaged for the carnival at Turin. Every gentleman had the right to bring a lady to have supper and look on, as only the professional dancers were allowed to dance.
I told Dupre that I would look after the refreshment department, and that he might tell everybody that no expense was to be spared. I also provided carriages and sedan-chairs for the ladies, but nobody was to know that I was furnishing the money. Dupre saw that there was profit in store for him, and went about it at once. He found a suitable house, asked the lady dancers, and distributed about fifty tickets.
Agatha and her mother were the only persons who knew that the project was mine, and that I was responsible to a great extent for the expenses; but these facts were generally known the day after the ball.
Agatha had no dress that was good enough, so I charged Madame Dupre to provide one at my expense, and I was well served. It is well known that when this sort of people dip their fingers into other’s purses they are not sparing, but that was just what I wanted. Agatha promised to dance all the quadrilles with me, and to return to Turin with Madame Dupre.
On the day fixed for the ball I stayed to dinner at the Dupre’s to be present at Agatha’s toilette. Her dress was a rich and newly- made Lyons silk, and the trimming was exquisite Alencon point lace, of which the girl did not know the value. Madame R— — who had arranged the dress, and Madame Dupre, had received instructions to say nothing about it to her.
When Agatha was ready to start, I told her that the ear-rings she was wearing were not good enough for her dress.
“That’s true,” said Madame Dupre, “and it’s a great pity.”
“Unfortunately,” said the mother, “my poor girl hasn’t got another pair.”
“I have some pretty imitation pendants, which I could lend you,” said I; “they are really very brilliant.”
I had taken care to put the ear-rings which Madame d’Urfe had intended for the Countess Lascaris in my pocket. I drew them out, and they were greatly admired.
“One would swear they were real diamonds,” said Madame Dupre.
I put them in Agatha’s ears. She admired them very much, and said that all the other girls would be jealous, as they would certainly take them for real stones.
I went home and made an elaborate toilette, and on arriving at the ball I found Agatha dancing with Lord Percy, a young fool, who was the son of the Duke of Northumberland, and an extravagant spendthrift.
I noticed several handsome ladies from Turin, who, being merely onlookers, might be thinking that the ball was given for their amusement, like the fly on the chariot wheel. All the ambassadors were present, and amongst others M. de Chauvelin, who told me that to make everything complete my pretty housekeeper at Soleure was wanting.
The Marquis and Marchioness de Prie were there also. The marquis did not care to dance, so was playing a little game of quinze with a rude gamester, who would not let the marquis’s mistress look over his cards. She saw me, but pretended not to recognize me; the trick I had played her at Aix being probably enough to last her for some time.
The minuets came to an end, and Dupre announced the quadrilles, and I was glad to see the Chevalier Ville-Follet dancing with the Corticelli. My partner was Agatha, who had great difficulty in getting rid of Lord Percy, though she told him that she was fully engaged.
Minuets and quadrilles followed each other in succession, and refreshments began to make their appearance. I was delighted to see that the refreshment counter was furnished with the utmost liberality. The Piedmontese, who are great at calculations, estimated that Dupre must lose by it, the firing of champagne corks was continuous.
Feeling tired I asked Agatha to sit down, and I was telling her how I loved her when Madame de Chauvelin and another lady interrupted us. I rose to give them place, and Agatha imitated my example; but Madame de Chauvelin made her sit down beside her, and praised her dress, and above all the lace trimming. The other lady said how pretty her ear-rings were, and what a pity it was that those imitation stones would lose their brilliance in time. Madame de Chauvelin, who knew something about precious stones, said that they would never lose their brilliance, as they were diamonds of the first water.
“It is not so?” she added, to Agatha, who in the candour of her heart confessed that they were imitation, and that I had lent them to her.
At this Madame de Chauvelin burst out laughing, and said —
“M. de Seingalt has deceived you, my dear child. A gentleman of his caste does not lend imitation jewellery to such a pretty girl as you are. Your ear-rings are set with magnificent diamonds.”
She blushed, for my silence confirmed the lady’s assertion, and she felt that the fact of my having lent her such stones was a palpable proof of the great esteem in which I held her.
Madame de Chauvelin asked me to dance a minuet with Agatha, and my partner executed the dance with wonderful grace. When it was over Madame de Chauvelin thanked me, and told me that she should always remember our dancing together at Soleure, and that she hoped I would dance again with her at her own house. A profound bow shewed her how flattered I felt by the compliment.
The ball did not come to an end till four o’clock in the morning, and I did not leave it till I saw Agatha going away in the company with Madame Dupre.
I was still in bed the next morning, when my man told me a pretty woman wanted to speak to me. I had her in and was delighted to find it was Agatha’s mother. I made her sit down beside me, and gave her a cup of chocolate. As soon as we were alone she drew my ear-rings from her pocket, and said, with a smile, that she had just been shewing them to a jeweller, who had offered her a thousand sequins for them.
“The man’s mad,” said I, “you ought to have let him have them; they are not worth four sequins.”
So saying, I drew her to my arms and gave her a kiss. Feeling that she had shared in the kiss, and that she seemed to like it, I went farther, and at last we spent a couple of hours in shewing what a high opinion we had of each other.
Afterwards we both looked rather astonished, and it was the beautiful mother who first broke the silence.
“Am I to tell my girl,” said she, with a smile, “of the way in which you proved to me that you love her?”
“I leave that to your discretion, my dear,” said I. “I have certainly proved that I love you, but it does not follow that I do not adore your daughter. In fact, I burn for her; and yet, if we are not careful to avoid being alone together, what has just happened between us will often happen again.”
“It is hard to resist you, and it is possible that I may have occasion to speak to you again in private.”
“You may be sure you will always be welcome, and all I ask of you is not to put any obstacles in the way of my suit with Agatha.”
“I have also a favour to ask.”
“If it is within my power, you may be sure I will grant it.”
“Very good! Then tell me if these ear-rings are real, and what was your intention in putting them in my daughter’s ears?”
“The diamonds are perfectly genuine, and my intention was that Agatha should keep them as a proof of my affection.”
She heaved a sigh, and then told me that I might ask them to supper, with Dupre and his wife, whenever I pleased. I thanked her, gave her ten sequins, and sent her away happy.
On reflection I decided that I had never seen a more sensible woman than Agatha’s mother. It would have been impossible to announce the success of my suit in a more delicate or more perspicuous manner.
My readers will ho doubt guess that I seized the opportunity and brought this interesting affair to a conclusion. The same evening I asked Dupre and his wife, Agatha and her mother, to sup with me the next day, in addition to my usual company. But as I was leaving Dupre’s I had an adventure.
My man, who was a great rascal, but who behaved well on this occasion, ran up to me panting for breath, and said triumphantly,
“Sir, I have been looking for you to warn you that I have just seen the Chevalier de Ville-Follet slip into Madame Pacienza’s house, and I suspect he is making an amorous call on the Corticelli.”
I immediately walked to the abode of the worthy spy in high spirits, and hoping that my servant’s guess had been correct. I walked in and found the landlady and the mother sitting together. Without noticing them, I was making my way towards the Corticelli’s room when the two old ladies arrested my course, telling me that the signora was not well and wanted rest. I pushed them aside, and entered the room so swiftly and suddenly that I found the gentleman in a state of nature while the girl remained stretched on the bed as if petrified by my sudden apparition.
“Sir,” said I, “I hope you will pardon me for coming in without knocking.”
“Wait a moment, wait a moment.”
Far from waiting I went away in high glee, and told the story to the Chevalier Raiberti, who enjoyed it as well as I did. I asked him to warn the Pacienza woman that from that day I would pay nothing for Corticelli, who had ceased to belong to me. He approved, and said —
“I suppose you will not be going to complain to the Count d’Aglie?”
“It is only fools who complain, above all in circumstances like these.”
This scandalous story would have been consigned to forgetfulness, if it had not been for the Chevalier de Ville-Follet’s indiscretion. He felt angry at being interrupted in the middle of the business, and remembering he had seen my man just before fixed on him as the informer. Meeting him in the street the chevalier reproached him for spying, whereon the impudent rascal replied that he was only answerable to his master, and that it was his duty to serve me in all things. On this the chevalier caned him, and the man went to complain to the superintendent, who summoned Ville-Follet to appear before him and explain his conduct. Having nothing to fear, he told the whole story.
The Chevalier de Raiberti, too, was very ill received when he went to tell Madame Pacienza that neither he nor I were going to pay her anything more in future; but he would listen to no defence. The chevalier came to sup with me, and he informed me that on leaving the house he had met a police sergeant, whom he concluded had come to cite the landlady to appear before the Count d’Aglie.
The next day, just as I was going to M. de Chauvelin’s ball, I received to my great surprise a note from the superintendent begging me to call on him as he had something to communicate to me. I immediately ordered my chairmen to take me to his residence.
M. de Aglie received me in private with great politeness, and after giving me a chair he began a long and pathetic discourse, the gist of which was that it was my duty to forgive this little slip of my mistress’s.
“That’s exactly what I am going to do,” said I; “and for the rest of my days I never wish to see the Corticelli again, or to make or mar in her affairs, and for all this I am greatly obliged to the Chevalier de Ville-Follet.”
“I see you are angry. Come, come! you must not abandon the girl for that. I will have the woman Pacienza punished in such a way as to satisfy you, and I will place the girl in a respectable family where you can go and see her in perfect liberty.”
“I am greatly obliged to you for your kindness, indeed I am grateful; but I despise the Pacienza too heartily to wish for her punishment, and as to the Corticelli and her mother, they are two female swindlers, who have given me too much trouble already. I am well quit of them”
“You must confess, however, that you had no right to make a forcible entry into a room in a house which does not belong to you.”
“I had not the right, I confess, but if I had not taken it I could never have had a certain proof of the perfidy of my mistress; and I should have been obliged to continue supporting her, though she entertained other lovers.”
“The Corticelli pretends that you are her debtor, and not vice versa. She says that the diamonds you have given another girl belong of right to her, and that Madame d’Urfe, whom I have the honour to know, presented her with them.”
“She is a liar! And as you know Madame d’Urfe, kindly write to her (she is at Lyons); and if the marchioness replies that I owe the wretched girl anything, be sure that I will discharge the debt. I have a hundred thousand francs in good banks of this town, and the money will be a sufficient surety for the ear-rings I have disposed of.”
“I am sorry that things have happened so.”
“And I am very glad, as I have ridden myself of a burden that was hard to bear.”
Thereupon we bowed politely to one another, and I left the office.
At the French ambassador’s ball I heard so much talk of my adventure that at last I refused to reply to any more questions on the subject. The general opinion was that the whole affair was a trifle of which I could not honourably take any notice; but I thought myself the best judge of my own honour, and was determined to take no notice of the opinions of others. The Chevalier de Ville-Follet came up to me and said that if I abandoned the Corticelli for such a trifle, he should feel obliged to give me satisfaction. I shook his hand, saying —
“My dear chevalier, it will be enough if you do not demand satisfaction of me.”
He understood how the land lay, and said no more about it; but not so his sister, the Marchioness de Prie, who made a vigorous attack on me after we had danced together. She was handsome, and might have been victorious if she had liked, but luckily she did not think of exerting her power, and so gained nothing.
Three days after, Madame de St. Giles, a great power in Turin, and a kind of protecting deity to all actresses, summoned me to her presence by a liveried footman. Guessing what she wanted, I called on her unceremoniously in a morning coat. She received me politely, and began to talk of the Corticelli affair with great affability; but I did not like her, and replied dryly that I had had no hesitation in abandoning the girl to the protection of the gallant gentleman with whom I had surprised her in ‘flagrante delicto’. She told me I should be sorry for it, and that she would publish a little story which she had already read and which did not do me much credit. I replied that I never changed my mind, and that threats were of no avail with me. With that parting shot I left her.
I did not attach much importance to the town gossip, but a week after I received a manuscript containing an account — accurate in most respects — of my relations with the Corticelli and Madame d’Urfe, but so ill written and badly expressed that nobody could read it without weariness. It did not make the slightest impression on me, and I stayed a fortnight longer in Turin without its causing me the slightest annoyance. I saw the Corticelli again in Paris six months after, and will speak of our meeting in due time.
The day after M. de Chauvelin’s ball I asked Agatha, her mother, the Dupres, and my usual company to supper. It was the mother’s business to so arrange matters that the ear-rings should become Agatha’s lawful property, so I left everything to her. I knew she would manage to introduce the subject, and while we were at supper she said that the common report of Turin was that I had given her daughter a pair of diamond ear-rings worth five hundred Louis, which the Corticelli claimed as hers by right.
“I do not know,” she added, “if they are real diamonds, or if they belong to the Corticelli, but I do know that my girl has received no such present from the gentleman.”
“Well, well,” said I, “we will have no more surmises in the matter;” and going up to Agatha I put the earrings on her, saying —
“Dearest Agatha, I make you a present of them before this company, and my giving them to you now is a proof that hitherto they have belonged to me.”
Everybody applauded, and I read in the girl’s eyes that I should have no cause to regret my generosity.
We then fell to speaking of the affair of Ville-Follet and the Corticelli, and of the efforts that had been made to compel me to retain her. The Chevalier Raiberti said that in my place he would have offered Madame de St. Giles or the superintendent to continue paying for her board, but merely as an act of charity, and that I could have deposited money with either of them.
“I should be very glad to do so,” said I; and the next day the worthy chevalier made the necessary arrangements with Madame de St. Giles, and I furnished the necessary moneys.
In spite of this charitable action, the wretched manuscript came out, but, as I have said, without doing me any harm. The superintendent made the Corticelli live in the same house with Redegonde, and Madame Pacienza was left in peace.
After supper, with the exception of the Chevalier Raiberti, we all masked, and went to the ball at the opera-house. I soon seized the opportunity of escaping with Agatha, and she granted me all that love can desire. All constraint was banished; she was my titular mistress, and we were proud of belonging the one to the other, for we loved each other. The suppers I had given at my house had set me perfectly at liberty, and the superintendent could do nothing to thwart our love, though he was informed of it, so well are the spies of Turin organized.
Divine Providence made use of me as its instrument in making Agatha’s fortune. It may be said that Providence might have chosen a more moral method, but are we to presume to limit the paths of Providence to the narrow circle of our prejudices and conventions? It has its own ways, which often appear dark to us because of our ignorance. At all events, if I am able to continue these Memoirs for six or seven years more, the reader will see that Agatha shewed herself grateful. But to return to our subject.
The happiness we enjoyed by day and night was so great, Agatha was so affectionate and I so amorous, that we should certainly have remained united for some time if it had not been for the event I am about to relate. It made me leave Turin much sooner than I had intended, for I had not purposed to visit the wonderful Spanish countess at Milan till Lent. The husband of the Spanish lady had finished his business and left Turin, thanking me with tears in his eyes; and if it had not been for me he would not have been able to quit the town, for I paid divers small debts he had incurred, and gave him the wherewithal for his journey. Often is vice thus found allied to virtue or masking in virtue’s guise; but what matter? I allowed myself to be taken in, and did not wish to be disabused. I do not seek to conceal my faults. I have always led a profligate life, and have not always been very delicate in the choice of means to gratify my passions, but even amidst my vices I was always a passionate lover of virtue. Benevolence, especially, has always had a great charm for me, and I have never failed to exercise it unless when restrained by the desire of vengeance — a vice which has always had a controlling influence on my actions.
Lord Percy, as I have remarked, was deeply in love with my Agatha. He followed her about everywhere, was present at all the rehearsals, waited for her at the wings, and called on her every day, although her landlady, a duenna of the Pacienza school, would never let her see him alone. The principal methods of seduction — rich presents — had not been spared, but Agatha persistently refused them all, and forbade her duenna to take anything from the young nobleman. Agatha had no liking for him, and kept me well informed of all his actions, and we used to laugh at him together. I knew that I possessed her heart, and consequently Lord Percy’s attempts neither made me angry or jealous — nay, they flattered my self-esteem, for his slighted love made my own happiness stand out in greater relief. Everybody knew that Agatha remained faithful to me, and at last Lord Percy was so convinced of the hopelessness of the attempt that he resolved on making a friend of me, and winning me over to his interests.
With the true Englishman’s boldness and coolness he came to me one morning, and asked me to give him breakfast. I welcomed him in the French manner, that is, with combined cordiality and politeness, and he was soon completely at his ease.
With insular directness he went straight to the point at the first interview, declared his love for Agatha, and proposed an exchange, which amused, but did not offend me, as I knew that such bargains were common in England.
“I know,” said he, “that you are in love with Redegonde, and have long tried vainly to obtain her; now I am willing to exchange her for Agatha, and all I want to know is what sum of money you want over and above?”
“You are very good, my dear lord, but to determine the excess of value would require a good mathematician. Redegonde is all very well, and inspires me with curiosity, but what is she compared to Agatha?”
“I know, I know, and I therefore offer you any sum you like to mention.”
Percy was very rich, and very passionate. I am sure that if I had named twenty-five thousand guineas as overplus, or rather as exchange — for I did not care for Redegonde — he would have said done. However, I did not, and I am glad of it. Even now, when a hundred thousand francs would be a fortune to me, I never repent of my delicacy.
After we had breakfasted merrily together, I told him that I liked him well, but that in the first place it would be well to ascertain whether the two commodities would consent to change masters.
“I am sure of Redegonde’s consent,” said Lord Percy.
“But I am not at all sure of Agatha’s,” said I.
“I have very strong grounds for supposing that she would not consent to the arrangement. What reasons have you for the contrary opinion?”
“She will shew her sense.”
“But she loves me.”
“Well, Redegonde loves me.”
“I dare say; but does she love me?”
“I am sure I don’t know, but she will love you.”
“Have you consulted her upon the point?”
“No, but it is all the same. What I want to know now is whether you approve of my plan, and how much you want for the exchange, for your Agatha is worth much more than my Redegonde.”
“I am delighted to hear you do my mistress justice. As for the money question, we will speak of that later. In the first place I will take Agatha’s opinion, and will let you know the result to- morrow morning.”
The plan amused me, and though I was passionately attached to Agatha I knew my inconstant nature well enough to be aware that another woman, may be not so fair as she, would soon make me forget her. I therefore resolved to push the matter through if I could do so in a manner that would be advantageous for her.
What surprised me was that the young nobleman had gained possession of Redegonde, whose mother appeared so intractable, but I knew what an influence caprice has on woman, and this explained the enigma.
Agatha came to supper as usual, and laughed heartily when I told her of Lord Percy’s proposal.
“Tell me,” said I, “if you would agree to the change?”
“I will do just as you like,” said she; “and if the money he offers be acceptable to you, I advise you to close with him.”
I could see by the tone of her voice that she was jesting, but her reply did not please me. I should have liked to have my vanity flattered by a peremptory refusal, and consequently I felt angry. My face grew grave, and Agatha became melancholy.
“We will see,” said I, “how it all ends.”
Next day I went to breakfast with the Englishman, and told him Agatha was willing, but that I must first hear what Redegonde had to say.
“Quite right,” he observed.
“I should require to know how we are to live together.”
“The four of us had better go masked to the first ball at the Carignan Theatre. We will sup at a house which belongs to me, and there the bargain can be struck.”
The party took place according to agreement, and at the given signal we all left the ball-room. My lord’s carriage was in waiting, and we all drove away and got down at a house I seemed to know. We entered the hall, and the first thing I saw was the Corticelli. This roused my choler, and taking Percy aside I told him that such a trick was unworthy of a gentleman. He laughed, and said he thought I should like her to be thrown in, and that two pretty women were surely worth as much as Agatha. This amusing answer made me less angry; but, calling him a madman, I took Agatha by the arm and went out without staying for any explanations. I would not make use of his carriage, and instead of returning to the ball we went home in sedan-chairs, and spent a delicious night in each other’s arms.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07