I Give up Agatha to Lord Percy — I Set out for Milan — The Actress at Pavia — Countess A *** B ***— Disappointment — Marquis Triulzi — Zenobia — The Two Marchionesses Q ***— The Venetian Barbaro
Far from punishing the Corticelli by making her live with Redegonde, the Count d’Aglie seemed to have encouraged her; and I was not sorry for it, since as long as she did not trouble me any more I did not care how many lovers she had. She had become a great friend of Redegonde’s, and did exactly as she pleased, for their duenna was much more easy going than the Pacienza.
Nobody knew of the trick which Lord Percy had played me, and I took care to say nothing about it. However, he did not give up his designs on Agatha, his passion for her was too violent. He hit upon an ingenious method for carrying out his plans. I have already said that Percy was very rich, and spent his money wildly, not caring at what expenditure he gratified his passion. I was the last person to reproach him for his extravagance, and in a country where money is always scarce his guineas opened every door to him.
Four or five days after the ball night, Agatha came to tell me that the manager of the Alexandria Theatre had asked her if she would take the part of second dancer throughout the carnival time.
“He offered me sixty sequins,” she added, “and I told him I would let him know by to-morrow. Do you advise me to accept his offer?”
“If you love me, dearest Agatha, you will prove it by refusing all engagements for a year. You know I will let you want for nothing.
“I will get you the best masters, and in that time you can perfect your dancing, and will be able to ask for a first-class appointment, with a salary of five hundred sequins a year.”
“Mamma thinks that I should accept the offer, as the dancing on the stage will improve my style, and I can study under a good master all the same. I think myself that dancing in public would do me good.”
“There is reason in what you say, but you do not need the sixty sequins. You will dishonour me by accepting such a poor offer, and you will do yourself harm too, as you will not be able to ask for a good salary after taking such a small one.”
“But sixty sequins is not so bad for a carnival engagement.”
“But you don’t want sixty sequins; you can have them without dancing at all. If you love me, I repeat, you will tell the manager that you are going to rest for a year.”
“I will do what you please, but it seems to me the best plan would be to ask an exorbitant sum.”
“You are right; that is a good idea. Tell him you must be first dancer, and that your salary must be five hundred sequins.”
“I will do so, and am only too happy to be able to prove that I love you.”
Agatha had plenty of inborn common sense, which only needed development. With that and the beauty which Heaven had given her her future was assured.
She was eventually happy, and she deserved her happiness.
The next day she told me that the manager did not appear at all astonished at her demands.
“He reflected a few minutes,” said she, “and told me he must think it over, and would see me again. It would be amusing if he took me at my word, would it not?”
“Yes, but we should then have to enquire whether he is a madman or a beggar on the verge of bankruptcy.”
“And if he turns out to be a man of means?”
“In that case you would be obliged to accept.”
“That is easily said and easily done, but have I sufficient talent? Where shall I find an actor to dance with me?”
“I will engage to find you one. As to talent, you have enough and to spare; but you will see that it will come to nothing.”
All the time I felt a presentiment that she would be engaged, and I was right. The manager came to her the next day, and offered her the agreement for her signature. She was quite alarmed, and sent for me. I called at her house, and finding the manager there asked him what security he could give for the fulfilment of his part of the engagement.
He answered by naming M. Martin, a banker of my acquaintance, who would be his surety. I could make no objection to this, and the agreement was made out in duplicate in good form.
On leaving Agatha I went to M. Raiberti and told him the story. He shared my astonishment that M. Martin should become surety for the manager whom he knew, and whose financial position was by no means good; but the next day the problem was solved, for in spite of the secrecy that had been observed we found out that it was Lord Percy who was behind the manager. I might still bar the Englishman’s way by continuing to keep Agatha, in spite of his five hundred sequins, but I was obliged to return to France after Easter to wait on Madame d’Urfe, and afterwards, peace having been concluded, I thought it would be a good opportunity for seeing England. I therefore determined to abandon Agatha, taking care to bind her new lover to provide for her, and I proceeded to make a friend of the nobleman.
I was curious to see how he would win Agatha’s good graces, for she did not love him, and physically he was not attractive.
In less than a week we had become intimate. We supped together every night either at his house or mine, and Agatha and her mother were always of the party. I concluded that his attentions would soon touch Agatha’s heart, and that finding herself so beloved she would end by loving. This was enough to make me determine not to put any obstacles in their way, and I resolved to leave Turin earlier than I had intended. In consequence I spoke as follows to Lord Percy, while we were breakfasting together:
“My lord, you know that I love Agatha, and that she loves me, nevertheless I am your friend, and since you adore her I will do my best to hasten your bliss. I will leave you in possession of this treasure, but you must promise that when you abandon her you will give her two thousand guineas.”
“My dear sir,” said he, “I will give them her now if you like.”
“No, my lord, I do not wish her to know anything about our agreement while you are living happily together.”
“Then I will give you a bond binding myself to pay her the two thousand guineas when we separate.”
“I don’t want that, the word of an Englishman is enough; but since we cannot command the fates, and may die without having time to put our affairs in order, I wish you to take such steps as may seem convenient to you, whereby that sum would go to her after your death.”
“I give you my word on it.”
“That is enough; but I have one other condition to make.”
“It is that you promise to say nothing to Agatha before my departure.”
“I swear I will not.”
“Very good; and on my part I promise to prepare her for the change:”
The same day the Englishman, whose love grew hotter and hotter, made Agatha and her mother rich presents, which under any other circumstances I should not have allowed them to accept.
I lost no time in preparing Agatha and her mother for the impending change. They seemed affected, but I knew they would soon get reconciled to the situation. Far from giving me any cause for complaint, Agatha was more affectionate than ever. She listened attentively to my advice as to her conduct towards her new lover and the world in general, and promised to follow it. It was to this advice that she owed her happiness, for Percy made her fortune. However, she did not leave the theatre for some years, when we shall hear more of her.
I was not the man to take presents from my equals, and Percy no doubt being aware of that succeeded in making me a handsome present in a very singular way. I told him that I thought of paying a visit to England and requested him to give me a letter of introduction to the duchess, his mother, whereon he drew out a portrait of her set with magnificent diamonds, and gave it to me, saying —
“This is the best letter I can give you. I will write and tell her that you will call and give her the portrait, unless, indeed, she likes to leave it in your hands.”
“I hope my lady will think me worthy of such an honour.”
There are certain ideas, it seems to me, which enter no head but an Englishman’s.
I was invited by Count A—— B—— to Milan, and the countess wrote me a charming letter, begging me to get her two pieces of sarcenet, of which she enclosed the patterns.
After taking leave of all my friends and acquaintances I got a letter of credit on the banker, Greppi, and started for the capital of Lombardy.
My separation from Agatha cost me many tears, but not so many as those shed by her. Her mother wept also, for she loved me, and was grateful for all my kindness to her daughter. She said again and again that she could never have borne any rival but her own daughter, while the latter sobbed out that she wished she had not to part from me.
I did not like Passano, so I sent him to his family at Genoa, giving him the wherewithal to live till I came for him. As to my man, I dismissed him for good reasons and took another, as I was obliged to have somebody; but since I lost my Spaniard I have never felt confidence in any of my servants.
I travelled with a Chevalier de Rossignan, whose acquaintance I had made, and we went by Casal to see the opera-bouffe there.
Rossignan was a fine man, a good soldier, fond of wine and women, and, though he was not learned, he knew the whole of Dante’s Divine Comedy by heart. This was his hobby-horse, and he was always quoting it, making the passage square with his momentary feelings. This made him insufferable in society, but he was an amusing companion for anyone who knew the sublime poet, and could appreciate his numerous and rare beauties. Nevertheless he made me privately give in my assent to the proverb, Beware of the man of one book. Otherwise he was intelligent, statesmanlike, and good-natured. He made himself known at Berlin by his services as ambassador to the King of Sardinia.
There was nothing interesting in the opera at Casal, so I went to Pavia, where, though utterly unknown, I was immediately welcomed by the Marchioness Corti, who received all strangers of any importance. In 1786 I made the acquaintance of her son, an admirable man, who honoured me with his friendship, and died quite young in Flanders with the rank of major-general. I wept bitterly for his loss, but tears, after all, are but an idle tribute to those who cause them to flow. His good qualities had endeared him to all his acquaintances, and if he had lived longer he would undoubtedly have risen to high command in the army.
I only stopped two days at Pavia, but it was decreed that I should get myself talked of, even in that short time.
At the second ballet at the opera an actress dressed in a tippet held out her cap to the bones as if to beg an alms, while she was dancing a pas de deux. I was in the Marchioness of Corti’s box, and when the girl held out her cap to me I was moved by feelings of ostentation and benevolence to draw forth my purse and drop it in. It contained about twenty ducats. The girl took it, thanked me with a smile, and the pit applauded loudly. I asked the Marquis Belcredi, who was near me, if she had a lover.
“She has a penniless French officer, I believe,” he replied; “there he is, in the pit.”
I went back to my inn, and was supping with M. Basili, a Modenese colonel, when the ballet girl, her mother, and her younger sister came to thank me for my providential gift. “We are so poor,” said the girl.
I had almost done supper, and I asked them all to sup with me after the performance the next day. This offer was quite a disinterested one, and it was accepted.
I was delighted to have made a woman happy at so little expense and without any ulterior objects, and I was giving orders to the landlord for the supper, when Clairmont, my man, told me that a French officer wanted to speak to me. I had him in, and asked what I could do for him.
“There are three courses before you, Mr. Venetian,” said he, “and you can take which you like. Either countermand this supper, invite me to come to it, or come and measure swords with me now.”
Clairmont, who was attending to the fire, did not give me time to reply, but seized a burning brand and rushed on the officer, who thought it best to escape. Luckily for him the door of my room was open. He made such a noise in running downstairs that the waiter came out and caught hold of him, thinking he had stolen something; but Clairmont, who was pursuing him with his firebrand, had him released.
This adventure became town talk directly. My servant, proud of his exploit and sure of my approval, came to tell me that I need not be afraid of going out, as the officer was only a braggart. He did not even draw his sword on the waiter who had caught hold of him, though the man only had a knife in his belt.
“At all events,” he added, “I will go out with you.”
I told him that he had done well this time, but that for the future he must not interfere in my affairs.
“Sir,” he replied, “your affairs of this kind are mine too, I shall take care not to go beyond my duty.”
With this speech, which I thought very sensible, though I did not tell him so, he took one of my pistols and saw to the priming, smiling at me significantly.
All good French servants are of the same stamp as Clairmont; they are devoted and intelligent, but they all think themselves cleverer than their masters, which indeed is often the case, and when they are sure of it they become the masters of their masters, tyrannize over them, and give them marks of contempt which the foolish gentlemen endeavour to conceal. But when the master knows how to make himself respected, the Clairmonts are excellent.
The landlord of my inn sent a report of the affair to the police, and the French officer was banished from the town the same day. At dinner Colonel Basili asked to hear the story, and said that no one but a French officer would think of attacking a man in his own room in such a foolish manner. I differed from him.
“The French are brave,” I replied, “but generally they are perfectly polite and have wonderful tact. Wretchedness and love, joined to a false spirit of courage, makes a fool of a man all the world over.”
At supper the ballet-girl thanked me for ridding her of the poor devil, who (as she said) was always threatening to kill her, and wearied her besides. Though she was not beautiful, there was something captivating about this girl. She was graceful, well- mannered, and intelligent, her mouth was well-shaped, and her eyes large and expressive. I think I should have found her a good bargain, but as I wanted to get away from Pavia, and piqued myself on having been good-natured without ulterior motive, I bade her farewell after supper, with many thanks for her kindness in coming. My politeness seemed rather to confuse her, but she went away reiterating her gratitude.
Next day I dined at the celebrated Chartreuse, and in the evening I reached Milan, and got out at Count A—— B——‘s, who had not expected me till the following day.
The countess, of whom my fancy had made a perfect woman, disappointed me dreadfully. It is always so when passion gives reins to the imagination. The Countess was certainly pretty, though too small, and I might still have loved her, in spite of my disappointment, but at our meeting she greeted me with a gravity that was not to my taste, and which gave me a dislike to her.
After the usual compliments, I gave her the two pieces of sarcenet she had commissioned me to get. She thanked me, telling me that her confessor would reimburse me for my expenditure. The count then took me to my room, and left me there till supper. It was nicely furnished, but I felt ill at ease, and resolved to leave in a day or two if the countess remained immovable. Twenty-four hours was as much as I cared to give her.
We made a party of four at supper; the count talking all the time to draw me out, and to hide his wife’s sulkiness. I answered in the same gay strain, speaking to his wife, however, in the hope of rousing her. It was all lost labour. The little woman only replied by faint smiles which vanished almost as they came, and by monosyllabic answers of the briefest description, without taking her eyes off the dishes which she thought tasteless; and it was to the priest, who was the fourth person present, that she addressed her complaints, almost speaking affably to him.
Although I liked the count very well, I could not help pronouncing his wife decidedly ungracious. I was looking at her to see if I could find any justification for her ill humour on her features, but as soon as she saw me she turned away in a very marked manner, and began to speak about nothing to the priest. This conduct offended me, and I laughed heartily at her contempt, or her designs on me, for as she had not fascinated me at all I was safe from her tyranny.
After supper the sarcenet was brought in; it was to be used for a dress with hoops, made after the extravagant fashion then prevailing.
The count was grieved to see her fall so short of the praises he had lavished on her, and came to my room with me, begging me to forgive her Spanish ways, and saying that she would be very pleasant when she knew me better.
The count was poor, his house was small, his furniture shabby, and his footman’s livery threadbare; instead of plate he had china, and one of the countess’s maids was chief cook. He had no carriages nor horses, not even a saddle horse of any kind. Clairmont gave me all this information, and added that he had to sleep in a little kitchen, and was to share his bed with the man who had waited at table.
I had only one room, and having three heavy trunks found myself very uncomfortable, and I decided on seeking some other lodging more agreeable to my tastes.
The count came early in the morning to ask what I usually took for breakfast.
“My dear count,” I replied, “I have enough fine Turin chocolate to go all round. Does the countess like it?”
“Very much, but she won’t take it unless it is made by her woman.”
“Here are six pounds: make her accept it, and tell her that if I hear anything about payment I shall take it back.”
“I am sure she will accept it, and thank you too. Shall I have your carriage housed?”
“I shall be extremely obliged to you, and I shall be glad if you would get me a hired carriage, and a guide for whom you can answer.”
“It shall be done.”
The count was going out when the priest, who had supped with us the night before, came in to make his bow. He was a man of forty- one of the tribe of domestic chaplains who are so common in Italy — who, in return for keeping the accounts of the house, live with its master and mistress. In the morning this priest said mass in a neighbouring church, for the rest of the day he either occupied himself with the cares of the house, or was the lady’s obedient servant.
As soon as We were alone he begged me to say that he had paid me the three hundred Milanese crowns for the sarcenet, if the countess asked me about it.
“Dear, dear, abbe!” said I, laughing, “this sort of thing is not exactly proper in a man of your sacred profession. How can you advise me to tell a lie? No, sir; if the countess asks me any such impertinent question, I shall tell her the truth.”
“I am sure she will ask you, and if you answer like that I shall suffer for it.”
“Well, sir, if you are in the wrong you deserve to suffer.”
“But as it happens, I should be blamed for nothing.”
“Well, go and tell her it’s a present; and if she won’t have that, tell her I am in no hurry to be paid.”
“I see, sir, that you don’t know the lady or the way in which this house is managed. I will speak to her husband.”
In a quarter of an hour the count told me that he owed me a lot of money, which he hoped to pay back in the course of Lent, and that I must add the sarcenet to the account. I embraced him and said that he would have to keep the account himself, as I never noted down any of the moneys that I was only too happy to lend to my friends.
“If your wife asks me whether I have received the money, be sure I will answer in the affirmative.”
He went out shedding grateful tears, while I felt indebted to him for having given me the opportunity of doing him a service; for I was very fond of him.
In the morning, the countess being invisible, I watched my man spreading out my suits over the chairs, amongst them being some handsome women’s cloaks, and a rich red dress deeply trimmed with fur, which had been originally intended for the luckless Corticelli. I should no doubt have given it to Agatha, if I had continued to live with her, and I should have made a mistake, as such a dress was only fit for a lady of rank.
At one o’clock I received another visit from the count, who told me that the countess was going to introduce me to their best friend. This was the Marquis Triuizi, a man of about, my own age, tall, well made, squinting slightly, and with all the manner of a nobleman. He told me that besides coming to have the honour of my acquaintance, he also came to enjoy the fire, “for,” said he, “there’s only one fireplace in the house and that’s in your room.”
As all the chairs were covered, the marquis drew the countess on to his knee and made her sit there like a baby; but she blushed, and escaped from his grasp. The marquis laughed heartily at her confusion, and she said —
“Is it possible that a man of your years has not yet learnt to respect a woman?”
“Really, countess,” said he, “I thought it would be very disrespectful to continue sitting while you were standing.”
While Clairmont was taking the clothes off the chairs, the marquis noticed the mantles and the beautiful dress, and asked me if I were expecting a lady.
“No,” said I, “but I hope to find someone at Milan who will be worthy of such presents.” I added, “I know the Prince Triulzi, at Venice; I suppose he is of your family?”
“He says he is, and it may be so; but I am certainly not a member of his family.”
This let me know that I should do well to say no more about the prince.
“You must stay to dinner, marquis,” said Count A—— B——; “and as you only like dishes prepared by your own cook you had better send for them.”
The marquis agreed, and we made good cheer. The table was covered with fair linen and handsome plate, the wine was good and plentiful, and the servants quick and well dressed. I could now understand the marquis’s position in the house. It was his wit and mirth which kept the conversation going, and the countess came in for a share of his pleasantries, while she scolded him for his familiarity.
I could see, however, that the marquis did not want to humiliate her; on the contrary, he was fond of her, and only wished to bring down her exaggerated pride. When he saw her on the point of bursting into tears of rage and shame, he quieted her down by saying that no one in Milan respected her charms and her high birth more than he.
After dinner the tailor who was to measure the countess for a domino for the ball was announced. On the marquis’s praising the colours and the beauty of the materials, she told him that I had brought her the sarcenet from Turin, and this reminded her to ask me whether I had been paid.
“Your husband settled with me,” said I, “but you have given me a lesson I can never forget.”
“What lesson?” said the marquis.
“I had hoped that the countess would have deigned to receive this poor present at my hands.”
“And she wouldn’t take it? It’s absurd, on my life.”
“There is nothing to laugh at,” said the countess, “but you laugh at everything.”
While the man was measuring her, she complained of feeling cold, as she was in her stays, and her beautiful breast was exposed. Thereupon, the marquis put his hands on it, as if he were quite accustomed to use such familiarities. But the Spaniard, no doubt ashamed because of my presence, got into a rage, and abused him in the most awful manner, while he laughed pleasantly, as if he could calm the storm when he pleased. This was enough to inform me of the position in which they stood to one another, and of the part I ought to take.
We remained together till the evening, when the countess and the marquis went to the opera, and the count came with me to my room, till my carriage was ready to take us there too. The opera had begun when we got in, and the first person I noticed on the stage was my dear Therese Palesi, whom I had left at Florence. It was a pleasant surprise to me, and I foresaw that we should renew our sweet interviews while I remained at Milan I was discreet enough to say nothing to the count about his wife’s charms, or the way their house was managed. I saw that the place was taken, and the odd humours of the lady prevented my falling in love with her. After the second act we went to the assembly rooms, where five or six banks at faro were being held; I staked and lost a hundred ducats as if to pay for my welcome, and then rose from the table.
At supper the countess seemed to unbend a little, she condoled with me on my loss, and I said that I was glad of it as it made her speak so.
Just as I rang my bell the next morning, Clairmont told me that a woman wanted to speak to me.
“Is she young?”
“Both young and pretty, sir.”
“That will do nicely, shew her in.”
I saw a simply dressed girl, who reminded me of Leah. She was tall and beautiful, but had not as high pretensions as the Jewess; as she only wanted to know whether she could do my washing for me. I was quite taken with her. Clairmont had just brought me my chocolate, and I asked her to sit down on the bed; but she answered modestly that she did not want to trouble me, and would come again when I was up.
“Do you live at any distance?”
“I live on the ground floor of this house.”
“All by yourself?”
“No sir, I have my father and mother.”
“And what is your name?”
“Your name is as pretty as you are. Will you give me your hand to kiss?”
“I can’t,” she replied, with a smile, “my hand is another’s.”
“You are engaged, are you?”
“Yes, to a tailor, and we are going to be married before the end of the carnival:”
“Is he rich or handsome?”
“Neither the one nor the other.”
“Then why are you going to marry him?”
“Because I want to have a house of my own:”
“I like you, and will stand your friend. Go and fetch your tailor. I will give him some work to do.”
As soon as she went out I got up and told Clairmont to put my linen on a table. I had scarcely finished dressing when she came back with her tailor. It was a striking contrast, for he was a little shrivelled-up man, whose appearance made one laugh.
“Well, master tailor,” said I, “so you are going to marry this charming girl?”
“Yes, sir, the banns have been published already.”
“You are a lucky fellow indeed to have so much happiness in store. When are you going to marry her?”
“In ten or twelve days.”
“Why not to-morrow?”
“Your worship is in a great hurry.”
“I think I should be, indeed,” said I, laughing, “if I were in your place. I want you to make me a domino for the ball to- morrow.”
“Certainly, sir; but your excellency must find me the stuff, for nobody in Milan would give me credit for it, and I couldn’t afford to lay out so much money in advance.”
“When you are married you will have money and credit too. In the meanwhile here are ten sequins for you.”
He went away in high glee at such a windfall.
I gave Zenobia some lace to do up, and asked her if she was afraid of having a jealous husband.
“He is neither jealous nor amorous,” she replied. “He is only marrying me because I earn more than he does.”
“With your charms I should have thought you might have made a better match.”
“I have waited long enough; I have got tired of maidenhood. Besides, he is sharp if he is not handsome, and perhaps a keen head is better than a handsome face.”
“You are sharp enough yourself, anyhow. But why does he put off the wedding?”
“Because he hasn’t got any money, and wants to have a fine wedding for his relations to come to. I should like it myself.”
“I think you are right; but I can’t see why you should not let an honest man kiss your hand.”
“That was only a piece of slyness to let you know I was to be married. I have no silly prejudices myself.”
“Ah, that’s better! Tell your future husband that if he likes me to be the patron of the wedding I will pay for everything.”
“Yes, really. I will give him twenty-five sequins on the condition that he spends it all on the wedding.”
“Twenty-five sequins! That will make people talk; but what care we? I will give you an answer to-morrow.”
“And a kiss now?”
“With all my heart.”
Zenobia went away in great delight, and I went out to call on my banker and dear Therese.
When the door was opened the pretty maid recognized me, and taking me by the hand led me to her mistress, who was just going to get up. Her emotion at seeing me was so great that she could not utter a word, but only claps me to her breast.
Our natural transports over, Therese told me that she had got tired of her husband, and that for the last six months they had not been living together. She had made him an allowance to get rid of him, and he lived on it at Rome.
“And where is Cesarino?”
“In this town. You can see him whenever you like.”
“Are you happy?”
“Quite. People say that I have a lover, but it is not true; and you can see me at any time with perfect liberty.”
We spent two pleasant hours in telling each other of our experiences since our last meeting, and then, finding her as fresh and fair as in the season of our early loves, I asked her if she had vowed to be faithful to her husband.
“At Florence,” she replied, “I was still in love with him; but now, if I am still pleasing in your eyes, we can renew our connection, and live together till we die.”
“I will soon shew you, dearling, that I love you as well as ever.”
She answered only by giving herself up to my embrace.
After action and contemplation I left her as amorous as she had been eighteen years before, but my passion found too many new objects to remain constant long.
Countess A—— B—— began to be more polite. “I know where you have been,” said she, with a pleased air; “but if you love that person, you will not go and see her again, or else her lover will leave her.”
“Then I would take his place, madam.”
“You are right in amusing yourself with women who know how to earn your presents. I am aware that you never give anything till you have received evident proofs of their affection.”
“That has always been my principle.”
“It’s an excellent way to avoid being duped. The lover of the person you have been with kept a lady in society for some time in great splendour, but all the rest of us despised her.”
“Why so, if you please?”
“Because she lowered herself so terribly. Greppi is absolutely a man of no family whatever.”
Without expressing my surprise at the name of Greppi, I replied that a man need not be well born to be an excellent lover.
“The only thing needful,” said I, “is a fine physique and plenty of money, and those ladies who despised their friend were either ridiculously proud or abominably envious. I have not the slightest doubt that if they could find any more Gieppis they would be willing enough to lower themselves.”
She would doubtless have made a sharp reply, for what I had said had angered her; but the Marquis Triulzi arriving, she went out with him, while her husband and myself went to a place where there was a bank at faro, the banker only having a hundred sequins before him.
I took a card and staked small sums like the rest of the company. After losing twenty ducats I left the place.
As we were going to the opera the poor count told me I had made him lose ten ducats on his word of honour, and that he did not know how he could pay it by the next day. I pitied him, and gave him the money without a word; for misery has always appealed strongly to me. Afterwards I lost two hundred ducats at the same bank to which I had lost money the evening before. The count was in the greatest distress. He did not know that Greppi, whom his proud wife considered so worthless, had a hundred thousand francs of my money, and that I possessed jewellery to an even greater amount.
The countess, who had seen me lose, asked me if I would sell my beautiful dress.
“They say it’s worth a thousand sequins,” said she.
“Yes, that is so; but I would sell everything I possess before parting with any of the articles which I intend for the fair sex.”
“Marquis Triulzi wants it badly to present to someone.”
“I am very sorry, but I cannot sell it to him.”
She went away without a word, but I could see that she was exceedingly vexed at my refusal.
As I was leaving the opera-house I saw Therese getting into her sedan-chair. I went up to her, and told her that I was sure she was going to sup with her lover. She whispered in my ear that she was going to sup by herself, and that I might come if I dared. I gave her an agreeable surprise by accepting the invitation.
“I will expect you, then,” she said.
I asked the count to ride home in my carriage, and taking a chair I reached Therese’s house just as she was going in.
What a happy evening we had! We laughed heartily when we told each other our thoughts.
“I know you were in love with Countess A—— B— — ” said she, “and I felt sure you would not dare to come to supper with me.”
“And I thought I should confound you by accepting your invitation, as I knew Greppi was your lover.”
“He is my friend,” she replied. “If he loves me in any other way than that of friendship, I pity him, for as yet he has not discovered the secret of seduction.”
“Do you think he ever will?”
“No, I don’t. I am rich.”
“Yes, but he is richer than you.”
“I know that, but I think he loves his money better than he loves me.”
“I understand. You will make him happy if he loves you well enough to ruin himself.”
“That is it, but it will never come to pass. But here we are, together again after a divorce of nearly twenty years. I don’t think you will find any change in me.”
“That is a privilege which nature grants to the fair sex only. You will find me changed, but you will be able to work miracles.”
This was a piece of politeness, for she was hardly capable of working any miracle. However, after an excellent supper, we spent two hours in amorous raptures, and then Morpheus claimed us for his own. When we awoke I did not leave her before giving her a good day equal to the good night which had sent us to sleep.
When I got back I found the fair Zenobia, who said the tailor was ready to marry her next Sunday if my offer was not a joke.
“To convince you of the contrary,” said I, “here are the twenty- five sequins.”
Full of gratitude she let herself fall into my arms, and I covered her mouth and her beautiful bosom with my fiery kisses. Therese had exhausted me, so I did not go any further, but the girl no doubt attributed my self-restraint to the fact that the door was open. I dressed carefully, and made myself look less weary, and to freshen myself up I had a long drive in an open carriage.
When I returned, I found the Marquis of Triulzi teasing the countess as usual. On that day he furnished the dinner, and it was consequently, a very good one.
The conversation turned on the dress in my possession, and the countess told the marquis, like an idiot, that it was destined for the lady who would make me desirous and gratify my desire.
With exquisite politeness the marquis told me that I deserved to enjoy favours at a cheaper rate.
“I suppose you will be giving it to the person with whom you spent the night,” said the countess.
“That’s an impossibility,” I answered, “for I spent the night in play.”
Just then Clairmont came in, and told me an officer wanted to speak to me. I went to the door, and saw a handsome young fellow, who greeted me with an embrace. I recognized him as Barbaro, the son of a Venetian noble, and brother of the fair and famous Madame Gritti Scombro, of whom I spoke ten years ago, whose husband had died in the citadel of Cattaro, where the State Inquisitors had imprisoned him. My young friend had also fallen into disgrace with the despotic Inquisitors. We had been good friends during the year before my imprisonment, but I had heard nothing of him since.
Barbaro told me the chief incidents in a life that had been adventurous enough, and informed me that he was now in the service of the Duke of Modena, the Governor of Milan.
“I saw you losing money at Canano’s bank,” said he, “and remembering our old friendship I want to communicate to you a sure way of winning money. All that is necessary is for me to introduce you to a club of young men who are very fond of play, and cannot possibly win.”
“Where does this club meet?”
“In an extremely respectable house. If you agree I will keep the bank myself, and I am sure of winning. I want you to lend me capital, and I only ask a fourth of the profits.”
“I suppose you can hold the cards well.”
“You are right.”
This was as much as to tell me that he was an adroit sharper, or, in other words, a skilful corrector of fortune’s mistakes. He concluded by saying that I should find something worth looking at in the house he had mentioned.
“My dear sir,” I replied, “I will give you my decision after seeing the club to which you want to introduce me.”
“Will you be at the theatre coffee-house at three o’clock to- morrow?”
“Yes, but I hope to see you at the ball in the evening.”
Zenobia’s betrothed brought me my domino, and the countess had hers already. As the ball did not begin till the opera was over, I went to hear Therese’s singing. In the interval between the acts I lost another two hundred sequins, and then went home to dress for the ball. The countess said that if I would be kind enough to take her to the ball in my carriage and fetch her home in it, she would not send for the Marquis Triulzi’s. I replied that I was at her service.
Under the impression that the fair Spaniard had only given me the preference to enable me to take liberties with her, I told her I should be very glad to give her the dress, and that the only condition was that I should spent a night with her.
“You insult me cruelly,” said she, “you must know my character better than that.”
“I know everything, my dear countess; but, after all, the insult’s nothing; you can easily forgive me if you pluck up a little spirit; trample on a foolish prejudice; get the dress, and make me happy for a whole night long.”
“That it all very well when one is in love, but you must confess that your coarse way of speaking is more likely to make me hate you than love you.”
“I use that style, because I want to come to the point; I have no time to waste. And you, countess, must confess in your turn, that you would be delighted to have me sighing at your feet.”
“It would be all the same to me, I don’t think I could love you.”
“Then we are agreed on one point at all events, for I love you no more than you love me.”
“And yet you would spend a thousand sequins for the pleasure of passing a night with me.”
“Not at all, I don’t want to sleep with you for the sake of the pleasure, but to mortify your infernal pride, which becomes you so ill.”
God knows what the fierce Spaniard would have answered, but at that moment the carriage stopped at the door of the theatre. We parted, and after I had got tired of threading my way amidst the crowd I paid a visit to the gaming-room, hoping to regain the money I had lost. I had more than five hundred sequins about me and a good credit at the bank, but I certainly did my best to lose everything I had. I sat down at Canano’s bank, and noticing that the poor count, who followed me wherever I went, was the only person who knew me, I thought I should have a lucky evening. I only punted on one card, and spent four hours without losing or gaining. Towards the end, wishing to force fortune’s favour, I lost rapidly, and left all my money in the hands of the banker. I went back to the ball-room, where the countess rejoined me, and we returned home.
When we were in the carriage, she said —
“You lost an immense sum, and I am very glad of it. The marquis will give you a thousand sequins, and the money will bring you luck.”
“And you, too, for I suppose you will have the dress?”
“No, madam, you shall never have it in this way, and you know the other. I despise a thousand sequins.”
“And I despise you and your presents.”
“You may despise me as much as you please, and you may be sure I despise you.”
With these polite expressions we reached the house. When I got to my room I found the count there with a long face, as if he wanted to pity me but dared not do it. However, my good temper gave him the courage to say:—
“Triulzi will give you a thousand sequins; that will fit you up again.”
“For the dress you mean?”
“I wanted to give it to your wife, but she said she would despise it, coming from my hands.”
“You astonish me; she is mad after it. You must have wounded her haughty temper in some way or another. But sell it, and get the thousand sequins.”
“I will let you know to-morrow.”
I slept four or five hours, and then rose and went out in my great coat to call on Greppi, for I had no more money. I took a thousand sequins, begging him not to tell my affairs to anyone. He replied that my affairs were his own, and that I could count on his secrecy. He complimented me on the esteem in which Madame Palesi held me, and said he hoped to meet me at supper at her house one night.
“Such a meeting would give me the greatest pleasure,” I replied.
On leaving him I called on Therese, but as there were some people with her I did not stay long. I was glad to see that she knew nothing about my losses or my affairs. She said that Greppi wanted to sup with me at her house, and that she would let me know when the day was fixed. When I got home I found the count in front of my fire.
“My wife is in a furious rage with you,” said he, “and won’t tell me why.”
“The reason is, my dear count, that I won’t let her accept the dress from any hand but mine. She told me that she should despise it as a gift from me, but she has nothing to be furious about that I know.”
“It’s some mad notion of hers, and I don’t know what to make of it. But pray attend to what I am about to say to you. You despise a thousand sequins — good. I congratulate you. But if you are in a position to despise a sum which would make me happy, offer up a foolish vanity on the shrine of friendship, take the thousand sequins, and lend them to me, and let my wife have the dress, for of course he will give it her.”
This proposal made me roar with laughter, and certainly it was of a nature to excite the hilarity of a sufferer from confirmed melancholia, which I was far from being. However, I stopped laughing when I saw how the poor count blushed from shame. I kissed him affectionately to calm him, but at last I was cruel enough to say,
“I will willingly assist you in this arrangement. I will sell the dress to the marquis as soon as you please, but I won’t lend you the money. I’ll give it to you in the person of your wife at a private interview; but when she receives me she must not only be polite and complaisant, but as gentle as a lamb. Go and see if it can be arranged, my dear count; ’tis absolutely my last word.”
“I will see,” said the poor husband; and with that he went out.
Barbaro kept his appointment with exactitude. I made him get into my carriage, and we alighted at a house at the end of Milan. We went to the first floor, and there I was introduced to a fine- looking old man, an amiable lady of pleasing appearance, and then to two charming cousins. He introduced me as a Venetian gentleman in disgrace with the State Inquisitors, like himself, adding, that as I was a rich bachelor their good or ill favour made no difference to me.
He said I was rich, and I looked like it. My luxury of attire was dazzling: My rings, my snuff-boxes, my chains, my diamonds, my jewelled cross hanging on my breast-all gave me the air of an important personage. The cross belonged to the Order of the Spur the Pope had given me, but as I had carefully taken the spur away it was not known to what order I belonged. Those who might be curious did not dare to ask me, for one can no more enquire of a knight what order he belongs to, than one can say to a lady how old are you? I wore it till 1785, when the Prince Palatine of Russia told me in private that I would do well to get rid of the thing.
“It only serves to dazzle fools,” said he, “and here you have none such to deal with.”
I followed his advice, for he was a man of profound intelligence. Nevertheless, he removed the corner-stone of the kingdom of Poland. He ruined it by the same means by which he had made it greater.
The old man to whom Barbaro presented me was a marquis. He told me that he knew Venice, and as I was not a patrician I could live as pleasantly anywhere else. He told me to consider his house and all he possessed as mine.
The two young marchionesses had enchanted me; they were almost ideal beauties. I longed to enquire about them of some good authority, for I did not put much faith in Barbaro.
In half an hour the visitors commenced to come on foot and in carriages. Among the arrivals were several pretty and well- dressed girls, and numerous smart young men all vying with each other in their eagerness to pay court to the two cousins. There were twenty of us in all. We sat round a large table, and began to play a game called bankruptcy. After amusing myself for a couple of hours in losing sequins, I went out with Barbaro to the opera.
“The two young ladies are two incarnate angels,” I said to my countryman. “I shall pay my duty to them, and shall find out in a few days whether they are for me. As for the gaming speculation, I will lend you two hundred sequins; but I don’t want to lose the money, so you must give me good security.”
“To that I agree willingly, but I am certain of giving it you back with good interest.”
“You shall have a half share and not twenty-five per cent., and I must strongly insist that nobody shall know of my having anything to do with your bank. If I hear any rumours, I shall bet heavily on my own account.”
“You may be sure I shall keep the secret; it is to my own interest to have it believed that I am my own capitalist.”
“Very good. Come to me early to-morrow morning, and bring me good security, and you shall have the money.”
He embraced me in the joy of his heart.
The picture of the two fair ladies was still in my brain, and I was thinking of enquiring of Greppi when I chanced to see Triulzi in the pit of the opera-house. He saw me at the same moment, and came up to me, saying gaily that he was sure I had had a bad dinner, and that I had much better dine with him every day.
“You make me blush, marquis, for not having called on you yet.”
“No, no; there can be nothing of that kind between men of the world, who know the world’s worth.”
“We are agreed there, at all events.”
“By the way, I hear you have decided on selling me that handsome dress of yours. I am really very much obliged to you, and will give you the fifteen thousand livres whenever you like.”
“You can come and take it to-morrow morning.”
He then proceeded to tell me about the various ladies I noticed in the theatre. Seizing the opportunity, I said —
“When I was in church the other day I saw two exquisite beauties. A man at my side told me they were cousins, the Marchionesses Q—— and I— — I think he said. Do you know them? I am quite curious to hear about them.”
“I know them. As you say, they are charming. It’s not very difficult to obtain access to them; and I suppose they are good girls, as I have not heard their names in connection with any scandal. However, I know that Mdlle. F has a lover, but it is a great secret; he is the only son of one of the noblest of our families. Unfortunately, they are not rich; but if they are clever, as I am sure they are, they may make good matches. If you like I can get someone to introduce you there.”
“I haven’t made up my mind yet. I may be able to forget them easily only having seen them once. Nevertheless, I am infinitely obliged to you for your kind offer”
After the ballet I went into the assembly-room and I heard “there he is” several times repeated as I came in. The banker made me a bow, and offered me a place next to him. I sat down and he handed me a pack of cards. I punted, and with such inveterate bad luck that in less than an hour I lost seven hundred sequins. I should probably have lost all the money I had in my pocket if Canano had not been obliged to go away. He gave the cards to a man whose looks displeased me, and I rose and went home and got into bed directly, so as not to be obliged to conceal my ill temper.
In the morning Barbaro came to claim the two hundred sequins. He gave me the right to sequestrate his pay by way of surety. I do not think I should have had the heart to exercise my rights if things had gone wrong, but I liked to have some control over him. When I went out I called on Greppi, and took two thousand sequins in gold.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07