My Departure from Grenoble — Avignon — The Fountain of Vaucluse — The False Astrodi and the Humpback — Gaetan Costa — I Arrive at Marseilles
While the three girls were helping Le Duc to pack my mails my landlord entered, gave me his bill, and finding everything correct I paid him, much to his satisfaction. I owed him a compliment, too, at which he seemed extremely gratified.
“Sir,” said I, “I do not wish to leave your house without having the pleasure of dining with your charming girls, to shew them how I appreciate the care they have taken of me. Let me have, then, a delicate repast for four, and also order post horses, that I may start in the evening.”
“Sir,” broke in Le Duc, “I entreat you to order a saddle-horse besides; I was not made for a seat behind a chaise.”
The cousin laughed openly at his vain boasting, and to avenge himself the rascal told her that he was better than she.
“Nevertheless, M. le Duc, you will have to wait on her at table.”
“Yes, as she waits on you in bed.”
I ran for my stick, but the rogue, knowing what was going to happen, opened the window and jumped into the courtyard. The girls gave a shriek of terror, but when we looked out we saw him jumping about and performing a thousand apish tricks.
Very glad to find that he had not broken a limb, I called out, “Come back, I forgive you.” The girls, and the man himself who escaped so readily, were as delighted as I. Le Duc came in in high spirits, observing that he did not know he was such a good jumper.
“Very good, but don’t be so impudent another time. Here, take this watch.”
So saying, I gave him a valuable gold watch, which he received, saying —
“I would jump again for another watch like this.”
Such was my Spaniard, whom I had to dismiss two years afterwards. I have often missed him.
The hours went by with such speed when I was seated at table with the three girls, whom I vainly endeavoured to intoxicate, that I decided that I would not leave till the next day. I was tired of making mysteries and wanted to enjoy them all together, and resolved that the orgy should take place that night. I told them that if they would pass the night in my room I would not go till the next day. This proposition was received with a storm of exclamations and with laughter, as at an impossibility, while I endeavoured to excite them to grant my request. In the midst of this the door-keeper came in, advising me not to travel by night, but to go to Avignon by a boat in which I could ship my carriage.
“You will save time and money,” said he.
“I will do so,” I answered, “if these girls of yours will keep me company all night, as I am determined I will not go to bed.”
“O Lord!” said he with a laugh, “that’s their business.”
This decided them and they gave in. The door-keeper sent to order the boat, and promised to let me have a dainty supper by midnight.
The hours passed by in jests and merriment, and when we sat down to supper I made the champagne corks fly to such an extent that the girls began to get rather gay. I myself felt a little heated, and as I held each one’s secret I had the hardihood to tell them that their scruples were ridiculous, as each of them had shewn no reserve to me in private.
At this they gazed at one another in a kind of blank surprise, as if indignant at what I had said. Foreseeing that feminine pride might prompt them to treat my accusation as an idle calumny, I resolved not to give them time, and drawing Manon on to my knee I embraced her with such ardour that she gave in and abandoned herself to my passion. Her example overcame the others, and for five hours we indulged in every kind of voluptuous enjoyment. At the end of that time we were all in need of rest, but I had to go. I wanted to give them some jewels, but they said they would rather I ordered gloves to the amount of thirty louis, the money to be paid in advance, and the gloves not to be called for.
I went to sleep on board the boat, and did not awake till we got to Avignon. I was conducted to the inn of “St. Omen” and supped in my room in spite of the marvellous tales which Le Duc told me of a young beauty at the public table.
Next morning my Spaniard told me that the beauty and her husband slept in a room next to mine. At the same time he brought me a bill of the play, and I saw Company from Paris, with Mdlle. Astrodi, who was to sing and dance. I gave a cry of wonder, and exclaimed —
“The famous Astrodi at Avignon — how she will be astonished to see me!”
Not wanting to live in hermit fashion, I went downstairs to dine at the public table, and I found a score of people sitting down to such a choice repast that I could not conceive how it could be done for forty sous a head. The fair stranger drew all eyes, and especially mine, towards her. She was a young and perfect beauty, silent, her eyes fixed on a napkin, replying in monosyllables to those who addressed her, and glancing at the speaker with large blue eyes, the beauty of which it would be difficult to describe. Her husband was seated at the other end of the table — a man of a kind that inspires contempt at the first glance. He was young, marked with the small-pox, a greedy eater, a loud talker, laughing and speaking at random, and altogether I took him for a servant in disguise. Feeling sure that such a fellow did not know how to refuse, I sent him a glass of champagne, which he drank off to my health forthwith. “May I have the pleasure of sending a glass to your wife?” He replied, with a roar of laughter, to ask her myself; and with a slight bow she told me that she never took anything to drink. When the dessert came in she rose, and her husband followed her to their room.
A stranger who like myself had never seen her before, asked me who she was. I said I was a newcomer and did not know, and somebody else said that her husband called himself the Chevalier Stuard, that he came from Lyons, and was going to Marseilles; he came, it appeared, to Avignon a week ago, without servants, and in a very poor carriage.
I intended staying at Avignon only as long as might be necessary to see the Fountain or Fall of Vaucluse, and so I had not got any letters of introduction, and had not the pretext of acquaintance that I might stay and enjoy her fine eyes. But an Italian who had read and enjoyed the divine Petrarch would naturally wish to see the place made divine by the poet’s love for Laura. I went to the theatre, where I saw the vice-legate Salviati, women of fashion, neither fair nor foul, and a wretched comic opera; but I neither saw Astrodi nor any other actor from the Comedie Italienne at Paris.
“Where is the famous Astrodi?” said I, to a young man sitting by me, “I have not seen her yet.”
“Excuse me, she has danced and sang before your eyes.”
“By Jove, it’s impossible! I know her perfectly, and if she has so changed as not to be recognized she is no longer herself.”
I turned to go, and two minutes after the young man I had addressed came up and begged me to come back, and he would take me to Astradi’s dressing-room, as she had recognized me. I followed him without saying a word, and saw a plain-looking girl, who threw her arms round my neck and addressed me by my name, though I could have sworn I had never seen her before, but she did not leave me time to speak. Close by I saw a man who gave himself out as the father of the famous Astrodi, who was known to all Paris, who had caused the death of the Comte d’Egmont, one of the most amiable noblemen of the Court of Louis XV. I thought this ugly female might be her sister, so I sat down and complimented her on her talents. She asked if I would mind her changing her dress; and in a moment she was running here and there, laughing and shewing a liberality which possibly might have been absent if what she had to display had been worth seeing.
I laughed internally at her wiles, for after my experiences at Grenoble she would have found it a hard task to arouse my desires if she had been as pretty as she was ugly. Her thinness and her tawny skin could not divert my attention from other still less pleasing features about her. I admired her confidence in spite of her disadvantages. She must have credited me with a diabolic appetite, but these women often contrive to extract charms out of their depravity which their delicacy would be impotent to furnish. She begged me to sup with her, and as she persisted I was obliged to refuse her in a way I should not have allowed myself to use with any other woman. She then begged me to take four tickets for the play the next day, which was to be for her benefit. I saw it was only a matter of twelve francs, and delighted to be quit of her so cheaply I told her to give me sixteen. I thought she would have gone mad with joy when I gave her a double louis. She was not the real Astrodi. I went back to my inn and had a delicious supper in my own room.
While Le Duc was doing my hair before I went to bed, he told me that the landlord had paid a visit to the fair stranger and her husband before supper, and had said in clear terms that he must be paid next morning; and if he were not, no place would be laid for them at table, and their linen would be detained.
“Who told you that?”
“I heard it from here; their room is only separated from this by a wooden partition. If they were in it now, I am sure they could hear all we are saying.”
“Where are they, then?”
“At table, where they are eating for to-morrow, but the lady is crying. There’s a fine chance for you, sir.”
“Be quiet; I shan’t have anything to do with it. It’s a trap, for a woman of any worth would die rather than weep at a public table.”
“Ah, if you saw how pretty she looks in tears! I am only a poor devil, but I would willingly give her two louis if she would earn them.”
“Go and offer her the money.”
A moment after the gentleman and his wife came back to their room, and I heard the loud voice of the one and the sobs of the other, but as he was speaking Walloon I did not understand what he said.
“Go to bed,” said I to Le Duc, “and next morning tell the landlord to get me another room, for a wooden partition is too thin a barrier to keep off people whom despair drive to extremities.”
I went to bed myself, and the sobs and muttering did not die away till midnight.
I was shaving next morning, when Le Duc announced the Chevalier Stuard.
“Say I don’t know anybody of that name.”
He executed my orders, and returned saying that the chevalier on hearing my refusal to see him had stamped with rage, gone into his chamber, and come out again with his sword beside him.
“I am going to see,” added Le Duc, “that your pistols are well primed for the future.”
I felt inclined to laugh, but none the less I admired the foresight of my Spaniard, for a man in despair is capable of anything.
“Go,” said I, “and ask the landlord to give me another room.”
In due course the landlord came himself and told me that he could not oblige me until the next day.
“If you don’t get me another room I shall leave your house on the spot, because I don’t like hearing sobs and reproaches all night.”
“Can you hear them, sir?”
“You can hear them yourself now. What do you think of it? The woman will kill herself, and you will be the cause of her death.”
“I, sir? I have only asked them to pay me my just debts.”
“Hush! there goes the husband. I am sure he is telling his wife in his language that you are an unfeeling monster.”
“He may tell her what he likes so long as he pays me.”
“You have condemned them to die of hunger. How much do they owe you?”
“Aren’t you ashamed of making such a row for a wretched sum like that?”
“Sir, I am only ashamed of an ill deed, and I do not commit such a deed in asking for my own.”
“There’s your money. Go and tell them that you have been paid, and that they may eat again; but don’t say who gave you the money.”
“That’s what I call a good action,” said the fellow; and he went and told them that they did not owe him anything, but that they would never know who paid the money.
“You may dine and sup,” he added, “at the public table, but you must pay me day by day.”
After he had delivered this speech in a high voice, so that I could hear as well as if I had been in the room, he came back to me.
“You stupid fool!” said I, pushing him away, “they will know everything.” So saying I shut my door.
Le Duc stood in front of me, staring stupidly before him.
“What’s the matter with you, idiot?” said I.
“That’s fine. I see. I am going on the stage. You would do well to become an actor.”
“You are a fool.”
“Not so big a fool as you think.”
“I am going for a walk; mind you don’t leave my room for a moment.”
I had scarcely shut the door when the chevalier accosted me and overwhelmed me with thanks.
“Sir, I don’t know to what you are referring.”
He thanked me again and left me, and walking by the banks of the Rhone, which geographers say is the most rapid river in Europe, I amused myself by looking at the ancient bridge. At dinner-time I went back to the inn, and as the landlord knew that I paid six francs a meal he treated me to an exquisite repast. Here, I remember, I had some exceedingly choice Hermitage. It was so delicious that I drank nothing else. I wished to make a pilgrimage to Vaucluse and begged the landlord to procure me a good guide, and after I had dressed I went to the theatre.
I found the Astrodi at the door, and giving her my sixteen tickets, I sat down near the box of the vice-legate Salviati, who came in a little later, surrounded by a numerous train of ladies and gentlemen bedizened with orders and gold lace.
The so-called father of the false Astrodi came and whispered that his daughter begged me to say that she was the celebrated Astrodi I had known at Paris. I replied, also in a whisper, that I would not run the risk of being posted as a liar by bolstering up an imposture. The ease with which a rogue invites a gentleman to share in a knavery is astonishing; he must think his confidence confers an honour.
At the end of the first act a score of lackeys in the prince’s livery took round ices to the front boxes. I thought it my duty to refuse. A young gentleman, as fair as love, came up to me, and with easy politeness asked me why I had refused an ice.
“Not having the honour to know anyone here, I did not care that anyone should be able to say that he had regaled one who was unknown to him.”
“But you, sir, are a man who needs no introduction.”
“You do me too much honour.”
“You are staying at the ‘St. Omer’!”
“Yes; I am only stopping here to see Vaucluse, where I think of going to-morrow if I can get a good guide.”
“If you would do me the honour of accepting me, I should be delighted. My name is Dolci, I am son of the captain of the vice- legate’s guard.”
“I feel the honour you do me, and I accept your obliging offer. I will put off my start till your arrival.”
“I will be with you at seven.”
I was astonished at the easy grace of this young Adonis, who might have been a pretty girl if the tone of his voice had not announced his manhood. I laughed at the false Astrodi, whose acting was as poor as her face, and who kept staring at me all the time. While she sang she regarded me with a smile and gave me signs of an understanding, which must have made the audience notice me, and doubtless pity my bad taste. The voice and eyes of one actress pleased me; she was young and tall, but hunchbacked to an extraordinary degree. She was tall in spite of her enormous humps, and if it had not been for this malformation she would have been six feet high. Besides her pleasing eyes and very tolerable voice I fancied that, like all hunchbacks, she was intelligent. I found her at the door with the ugly Astrodi when I was leaving the theatre. The latter was waiting to thank me, and the other was selling tickets for her benefit.
After the Astrodi had thanked me, the hunchbacked girl turned towards me, and with a smile that stretched from ear to ear and displayed at least twenty-four exquisite teeth, she said that she hoped I would honour her by being present at her benefit.
“If I don’t leave before it comes off, I will,” I replied.
At this the impudent Astrodi laughed, and in the hearing of several ladies waiting for their carriages told me that her friend might be sure of my presence, as she would not let me go before the benefit night. “Give him sixteen tickets,” she added. I was ashamed to refuse, and gave her two louis. Then in a lower voice the Astrodi said, “After the show we will come and sup with you, but on the condition that you ask nobody else, as we want to be alone.”
In spite of a feeling of anger, I thought that such a supper-party would be amusing, and as no one in the town knew me I resolved to stay in the hope of enjoying a hearty laugh.
I was having my supper when Stuard and his wife went to their room. This night I heard no sobs nor reproaches, but early next morning I was surprised to see the chevalier who said, as if we had been old friends, that he had heard that I was going to Vaucluse, and that as I had taken a carriage with four places he would be much obliged if I would allow him and his wife, who wanted to see the fountain, to go with me. I consented.
Le Duc begged to be allowed to accompany me on horseback, saying that he had been a true prophet. In fact it seemed as if the couple had agreed to repay me for my expenditure by giving me new hopes. I was not displeased with the expedition, and it was all to my advantage, as I had had recourse to no stratagems to obtain it.
Dolci came, looking as handsome as an angel; my neighbours were ready, and the carriage loaded with the best provisions in food and drink that were obtainable; and we set off, Dolci seated beside the lady and I beside the chevalier.
I had thought that the lady’s sadness would give place, if not to gaiety, at least to a quiet cheerfulness, but I was mistaken; for, to all my remarks, grave or gay, she replied, either in monosyllables or in a severely laconic style. Poor Dolci, who was full of wit, was stupefied. He thought himself the cause of her melancholy, and was angry with himself for having innocently cast a shadow on the party of pleasure. I relieved him of his fears by telling him that when he offered me his pleasant society I was not aware that I was to be of service to the fair lady. I added that when at day-break I received this information, I was pleased that he would have such good company. The lady did not say a word. She kept silent and gloomy all the time, and gazed to right and left like one who does not see what is before his [her] eyes.
Dolci felt at ease after my explanation, and did his best to arouse the lady, but without success. He talked on a variety of topics to the husband, always giving her an opportunity of joining in, but her lips remained motionless. She looked like the statue of Pandora before it had been quickened by the divine flame.
The beauty of her face was perfect; her eyes were of a brilliant blue, her complexion a delicate mixture of white and red, her arms were as rounded as a Grace’s, her hands plump and well shaped, her figure was that of a nymph’s, giving delightful hints of a magnificent breast; her hair was a chestnut brown, her foot small: she had all that constitutes a beautiful woman save that gift of intellect, which makes beauty more beautiful, and gives a charm to ugliness itself. My vagrant fancy shewed me her naked form, all seemed ravishing, and yet I thought that though she might inspire a passing fancy she could not arouse a durable affection. She might minister to a man’s pleasures, she could not make him happy. I arrived at the isle resolved to trouble myself about her no more; she might, I thought, be mad, or in despair at finding herself in the power of a man whom she could not possibly love. I could not help pitying her, and yet I could not forgive her for consenting to be of a party which she knew she must spoil by her morose behaviour.
As for the self-styled Chevalier Stuard, I did not trouble my head whether he were her husband or her lover. He was young, commonplace-looking, he spoke affectedly; his manners were not good, and his conversation betrayed both ignorance and stupidity. He was a beggar, devoid of money and wits, and I could not make out why he took with him a beauty who, unless she were over-kind, could add nothing to his means of living. Perhaps he expected to live at the expense of simpletons, and had come to the conclusion, in spite of his ignorance, that the world is full of such; however, experience must have taught him that this plan cannot be relied on.
When we got to Vaucluse I let Dolci lead; he had been there a hundred times, and his merit was enhanced in my eyes by the fact that he was a lover of the lover of Laura. We left the carriage at Apt, and wended our way to the fountain which was honoured that day with a numerous throng of pilgrims. The stream pours forth from a vast cavern, the handiwork of nature, inimitable by man. It is situated at the foot of a rock with a sheer descent of more than a hundred feet. The cavern is hardly half as high, and the water pours forth from it in such abundance that it deserves the name of river at its source. It is the Sorgue which falls into the Rhone near Avignon. There is no other stream as pure and clear, for the rocks over which it flows harbour no deposits of any kind. Those who dislike it on account of its apparent blackness should remember that the extreme darkness of the cavern gives it that gloomy tinge.
Chiare fresche a dolce aque
Ove le belle membra
Pose colei the sola a me pay donna.
I wished to ascend to that part of the rock where Petrarch’s house stood. I gazed on the remains with tears in my eyes, like Leo Allatius at Homer’s grave. Sixteen years later I slept at Arqua, where Petrarch died, and his house still remains. The likeness between the two situations was astonishing, for from Petrarch’s study at Arqua a rock can be seen similar to that which may be viewed at Vaucluse; this was the residence of Madonna Laura.
“Let us go there,” said I, “it is not far off.”
I will not endeavour to delineate my feelings as I contemplated the ruins of the house where dwelt the lady whom the amorous Petrarch immortalised in his verse — verse made to move a heart of stone:
“Morte bella parea nel suo bel viso”
I threw myself with arms outstretched upon the ground as if I would embrace the very stones. I kissed them, I watered them with my tears, I strove to breathe the holy breath they once contained. I begged Madame Stuard’s pardon for having left her arm to do homage to the spirit of a woman who had quickened the profoundest soul that ever lived.
I say soul advisedly, for after all the body and the senses had nothing to do with the connection.
“Four hundred years have past and gone,” said I to the statue of a woman who gazed at me in astonishment, “since Laura de Sade walked here; perhaps she was not as handsome as you, but she was lively, kindly, polite, and good of heart. May this air which she breathed and which you breathe now kindle in you the spark of fire divine; that fire that coursed through her veins, and made her heart beat and her bosom swell. Then you would win the worship of all worthy men, and from none would you receive the least offence. Gladness, madam, is the lot of the happy, and sadness the portion of souls condemned to everlasting pains. Be cheerful, then, and you will do something to deserve your beauty.”
The worthy Dolci was kindled by my enthusiasm. He threw himself upon me, and kissed me again and again; the fool Stuard laughed; and his wife, who possibly thought me mad, did not evince the slightest emotion. She took my arm, and we walked slowly towards the house of Messer Francesco d’Arezzo, where I spent a quarter of an hour in cutting my name. After that we had our dinner.
Dolci lavished more attention on the extraordinary woman than I did. Stuard did nothing but eat and drink, and despised the Sorgue water, which, said he, would spoil the Hermitage; possibly Petrarch may have been of the same opinion. We drank deeply without impairing our reason, but the lady was very temperate. When we reached Avignon we bade her farewell, declining the invitation of her foolish husband to come and rest in his rooms.
I took Dolci’s arm and we walked beside the Rhone as the sun went down. Among other keen and witty observations the young man said —
“That woman is an old hand, infatuated with a sense of her own merit. I would bet that she has only left her own country because her charms, from being too freely displayed, have ceased to please there. She must be sure of making her fortune out of anybody she comes across. I suspect that the fellow who passes for her husband is a rascal, and that her pretended melancholy is put on to drive a persistent lover to distraction. She has not yet succeeded in finding a dupe, but as she will no doubt try to catch a rich man, it is not improbable that she is hovering over you.”.
When a young man of Dolci’s age reasons like that, he is bound to become a great master. I kissed him as I bade him good-night, thanked him for his kindness, and we agreed that we would see more of one another.
As I came back to my inn I was accosted by a fine-looking man of middle age, who greeted me by name and asked with great politeness if I had found Vaucluse as fine as I had expected. I was delighted to recognize the Marquis of Grimaldi, a Genoese, a clever and good-natured man, with plenty of money, who always lived at Venice because he was more at liberty to enjoy himself there than in his native country; which shews that there is no lack of freedom at Venice.
After I had answered his question I followed him into his room, where having exhausted the subject of the fountain he asked me what I thought of my fair companion.
“I did not find her satisfactory in all respects,” I answered; and noticing the reserve with which I spoke, he tried to remove it by the following confession:
“There are some very pretty women in Genoa, but not one to compare with her whom you took to Vaucluse to-day. I sat opposite to her at table yesterday evening, and I was struck with her perfect beauty. I offered her my arm up the stair; I told her that I was sorry to see her so sad, and if I could do anything for her she had only to speak. You know I was aware she had no money. Her husband, real or pretended, thanked me for my offer, and after I had wished them a good night I left them.
“An hour ago you left her and her husband at the door of their apartment, and soon afterwards I took the liberty of calling. She welcomed me with a pretty bow, and her husband went out directly, begging me to keep her company till his return. The fair one made no difficulty in sitting next to me on a couch, and this struck me as a good omen, but when I took her hand she gently drew it away. I then told, her, in as few words as I could, that her beauty had made me in love with her, and that if she wanted a hundred louis they were at her service, if she would drop her melancholy, and behave in a manner suitable to the feelings with which she had inspired me. She only replied by a motion of the head, which shewed gratitude, but also an absolute refusal of my offer. ‘I am going to-morrow,’ said I. No answer. I took her hand again, and she drew it back with an air of disdain which wounded me. I begged her to excuse me, and I left the room without more ado.
“That’s an account of what happened an hour ago. I am not amorous of her, it was only a whim; but knowing, as I do, that she has no money, her manner astonished me. I fancied that you might have placed her in a position to despise my offer, and this would explain her conduct, in a measure; otherwise I can’t understand it at all. May I ask you to tell me whether you are more fortunate than I?”
I was enchanted with the frankness of this noble gentleman, and did not hesitate to tell him all, and we laughed together at our bad fortune: I had to promise to call on him at Genoa, and tell him whatever happened between us during the two days I purposed to remain at Avignon. He asked me to sup with him and admire the fair recalcitrant.
“She has had an excellent dinner,” said I, “and in all probability she will not have any supper.”
“I bet she will,” said the marquis; and he was right, which made me see clearly that the woman was playing a part. A certain Comte de Bussi, who had just come, was placed next to her at table. He was a good-looking young man with a fatuous sense of his own superiority, and he afforded us an amusing scene.
He was good-natured, a wit, and inclined to broad jokes, and his manner towards women bordered on the impudent. He had to leave at midnight and began to make love to his fair neighbour forthwith, and teased her in a thousand ways; but she remained as dumb as a statue, while he did all the talking and laughing, not regarding it within the bounds of possibility that she might be laughing at him.
I looked at M. Grimaldi, who found it as difficult to keep his countenance as I did. The young roue was hurt at her silence, and continued pestering her, giving her all the best pieces on his plate after tasting them first. The lady refused to take them, and he tried to put them into her mouth, while she repulsed him in a rage. He saw that no one seemed inclined to take her part, and determined to continue the assault, and taking her hand he kissed it again and again. She tried to draw it away, and as she rose he put his arm round her waist and made her sit down on his knee; but at this point the husband took her arm and led her out of the room. The attacking party looked rather taken aback for a moment as he followed her with his eyes, but sat down again and began to eat and laugh afresh, while everybody else kept a profound silence. He then turned to the footman behind his chair and asked him if his sword was upstairs. The footman said no, and then the fatuous young man turned to an abbe who sat near me, and enquired who had taken away his mistress:
“It was her husband,” said the abbe.
“Her husband! Oh, that’s another thing; husbands don’t fight — a man of honour always apologises to them.”
With that he got up, went upstairs, and came down again directly, saying —
“The husband’s a fool. He shut the door in my face, and told me to satisfy my desires somewhere else. It isn’t worth the trouble of stopping, but I wish I had made an end of it.”
He then called for champagne, offered it vainly to everybody, bade the company a polite farewell and went upon his way.
As M. Grimaldi escorted me to my room he asked me what I had thought of the scene we had just witnessed. I told him I would not have stirred a finger, even if he had turned up her clothes.
“No more would I,” said he, “but if she had accepted my hundred louis it would have been different. I am curious to know the further history of this siren, and I rely upon you to tell me all about it as you go through Genoa.”
He went away at day-break next morning.
When I got up I received a note from the false Astrodi, asking me if I expected her and her great chum to supper. I had scarcely replied in the affirmative, when the sham Duke of Courland I had left at Grenoble appeared on the scene. He confessed in a humble voice that he was the son of clock-maker at Narva, that his buckles were valueless, and that he had come to beg an alms of me. I gave him four Louis, and he asked me to keep his secret. I replied that if anyone asked me about him that I should say what was absolutely true, that I knew him nothing about him. “Thank you; I am now going to Marseilles.” “I hope you will have a prosperous journey.” Later on my readers will hear. how I found him at Genoa. It is a good thing to know something about people of his kind, of whom there are far too many in the world.
I called up the landlord and told him I wanted a delicate supper for three in my own room.
He told me that I should have it, and then said, “I have just had a row with the Chevalier Stuard.”
“Because he has nothing to pay me with, and I am going to turn them out immediately, although the lady is in bed in convulsions which are suffocating her.”
“Take out your bill in her charms.”
“Ah, I don’t care for that sort of thing! I am getting on in life, and I don’t want any more scenes to bring discredit on my house.”
“Go and tell her that from henceforth she and her husband will dine and sup in their own room and that I will pay for them as long as I remain here.”
“You are very generous, sir, but you know that meals in a private room are charged double.”
“I know they are.”
I shuddered at the idea of the woman being turned out of doors without any resources but her body, by which she refused to profit. On the other hand I could not condemn the inn-keeper who, like his fellows, was not troubled with much gallantry. I had yielded to an impulse of pity without any hopes of advantage for myself. Such were my thoughts when Stuard came to thank me, begging me to come and see his wife and try and persuade her to behave in a different manner.
“She will give me no answers, and you know that that sort of thing is rather tedious.”
“Come, she knows what you have done for her; she will talk to you, for her feelings. . . . ”
“What business have you to talk about feelings after what happened yesterday evening?”
“It was well for that gentleman that he went away at midnight, otherwise I should have killed him this morning.”
“My dear sir, allow me to tell you that all that is pure braggadocio. Yesterday, not to-day, was the time to kill him, or to throw your plate at his head, at all events. We will now go and see your wife.”
I found her in bed, her face to the wall, the coverlet right up to her chin, and her body convulsed with sobs. I tried to bring her to reason, but as usual got no reply. Stuard wanted to leave me, but I told him that if he went out I would go too, as I could do nothing to console her, as he might know after her refusing the Marquis of Grimaldi’s hundred louis for a smile and her hand to kiss.
“A hundred Louis!” cried the fellow with a sturdy oath; “what folly! We might have been at home at Liege by now. A princess allows one to kiss her hand for nothing, and she. . . . A hundred Louis! Oh, damnable!”
His exclamations, very natural under the circumstances, made me feel inclined to laugh. The poor devil swore by all his gods, and I was about to leave the room, when all at once the wretched woman was seized with true or false convulsions. With one hand she seized a water-bottle and sent it flying into the middle of the room, and with the other she tore the clothes away from her breast. Stuard tried to hold her, but her disorder increased in violence, and the coverlet was disarranged to such a degree that I could see the most exquisite naked charms imaginable. At last she grew calm, and her eyes closed as if exhausted; she remained in the most voluptuous position that desire itself could have invented. I began to get very excited. How was I to look on such beauties without desiring to possess them? At this point her wretched husband left the room, saying he was gone to fetch some water. I saw the snare, and my self-respect prevented my being caught in it. I had an idea that the whole scene had been arranged with the intent that I should deliver myself up to brutal pleasure, while the proud and foolish woman would be free to disavow all participation in the fact. I constrained myself, and gently veiled what I would fain have revealed in all its naked beauty. I condemned to darkness these charms which this monster of a woman only wished me to enjoy that I might be debased.
Stuard was long enough gone. When he came back with the water- bottle full, he was no doubt surprised to find me perfectly calm, and in no disorder of any kind, and a few minutes afterwards I went out to cool myself by the banks of the Rhone.
I walked along rapidly, feeling enraged with myself, for I felt that the woman had bewitched me. In vain I tried to bring myself to reason; the more I walked the more excited I became, and I determined that after what I had seen the only cure for my disordered fancy was enjoyment, brutal or not. I saw that I should have to win her, not by an appeal to sentiment but by hard cash, without caring what sacrifices I made. I regretted my conduct, which then struck me in the light of false delicacy, for if I had satisfied my desires and she chose to turn prude, I might have laughed her to scorn, and my position would have been unassailable. At last I determined on telling the husband that I would give him twenty-five louis if he could obtain me an interview in which I could satisfy my desires.
Full of this idea I went back to the inn, and had my dinner in my own room without troubling to enquire after her. Le Duc told me that she was dining in her room too, and that the landlord had told the company that she would not take her meals in public any more. This was information I possessed already.
After dinner I called on the good-natured Dolci, who introduced me to his father, an excellent man, but not rich enough to satisfy his son’s desire of travelling. The young man was possessed of considerable dexterity, and performed a number of very clever conjuring tricks. He had an amiable nature, and seeing that I was curious to know about his love affairs he told me numerous little stories which shewed me that he was at that happy age when one’s inexperience is one’s sole misfortune.
There was a rich lady for whom he did not care, as she wanted him to give her that which he would be ashamed to give save for love, and there was a girl who required him to treat her with respect. I thought I could give him a piece of good advice, so I told him to grant his favours to the rich woman, and to fail in respect now and again to the girl, who would be sure to scold and then forgive. He was no profligate, and seemed rather inclined to become a Protestant. He amused himself innocently with his friends of his own age, in a garden near Avignon, and a sister of the gardener’s wife was kind to him when they were alone.
In the evening I went back to the inn, and I had not long to wait for the Astrodi and the Lepi (so the hunchbacked girl was named); but when I saw these two caricatures of women I felt stupefied. I had expected them, of course, but the reality confounded me. The Astrodi tried to counterbalance her ugliness by an outrageous freedom of manners; while the Lepi, who though a hunchback was very talented and an excellent actress, was sure of exciting desire by the rare beauty of her eyes and teeth, which latter challenged admiration from her enormous mouth by their regularity and whiteness. The Astrodi rushed up to me and gave me an Italian embrace, to which, willy nilly, I was obliged to submit. The quieter Lepi offered me her cheek, which I pretended to kiss. I saw that the Astrodi was in a fair way to become intolerable, so I begged her to moderate her transports, because as a novice at these parties I wanted to get accustomed to them by degrees. She promised that she would be very good.
While we were waiting for supper I asked her, for the sake of something to say, whether she had found a lover at Avignon.
“Only the vice-legate’s auditor,” she replied; “and though he makes me his pathic he is good-natured and generous. I have accustomed myself to his taste easily enough, though I should have thought such a thing impossible a year ago, as I fancied the exercise a harmful one, but I was wrong.”
“So the auditor makes a boy of you?”
“Yes. My sister would have adored him, as that sort of love is her passion.”
“But your sister has such fine haunches.”
“So have I! Look here, feel me.”
“You are right; but wait a bit, it is too soon for that kind of thing yet.”
“We will be wanton after supper.”
“I think you are wanton now,” said the Lepi.
“Why? Ought you to shew your person like that?”
“My dear girl, you will be shewing yourself soon. When one is in good company, one is in the golden age.”
“I wonder at your telling everyone what sort of a connection you have with the auditor,” said I.
“Nonsense! I don’t tell everyone, but everyone tells me and congratulates me too. They know the worthy man never cared for women, and it would be absurd to deny what everybody guesses. I used to be astonished at my sister, but the best plan in this world is to be astonished at nothing. But don’t you like that?”
“No, I only like this.”
As I spoke I laid hands on the Lepi, on the spot where one usually finds what I called “this;” but the Astrodi, seeing that I found nothing, burst into a roar of laughter, and taking my hand put it just under her front hump, where at last I found what I wanted. The reader will guess my surprise. The poor creature, too ashamed to be prudish, laughed too. My spirits also begin to rise, as I thought of the pleasure I should get out of this new discovery after supper.
“Have you never had a lover?” said I to the Lepi.
“No,” said the Astrodi, “she is still a maid.”
“No, I am not,” replied the Lepi, in some confusion, “I had a lover at Bordeaux, and another at Montpellier.”
“Yes, I know, but you are still as you were born.”
“I can’t deny it.”
“What’s that? Two lovers and still a maid! I don’t understand; please tell me about it, for I have never heard of such a thing.”
“Before I satisfied my first lover which happened when I was only twelve, I was just the same as I am now.”
“It’s wonderful. And what did he say when he saw it?”
“I swore that he was my first, and he believed me, putting it down to the peculiar shape of my body.”
“He was a man of spirit; but didn’t he hurt you?”
“Not a bit; but then he was very gentle.”
“You must have a try after supper,” said the Astrodi to me, “that would be fine fun.”
“No, no,” said the Lepi, “the gentleman would be too big for me.”
“Nonsense! You don’t want to take in all of him. I will show you how it is.”
With these words the impudent hussy proceeded to exhibit me, and I let her do what she liked.
“That’s just what I should have thought,” cried the Lepi; “it could never be done.”
“Well, he is rather big,” answered the Astrodi; “but there’s a cure for everything, and he will be content with half-measures.”
“It’s not the length, my dear, but the thickness which frightens me; I am afraid the door is too narrow.”
“All the better for you, for you can sell your maidenhead after having had two lovers.”
This conversation, not devoid of wit, and still more the simplicity of the hunchback, had made me resolve to verify things for myself.
Supper came up, and I had the pleasure of seeing the two nymphs eat like starving savages, and drink still better. When the Hermitage had done its work the Astrodi proposed that we should cast off the clothes which disfigure nature.
“Certainly,” said I; “and I will turn away while you are getting ready.”
I went behind the curtains, took off my clothes, and went to bed with my back to them. At last the Astrodi told me that they were ready, and when I looked the Lepi took up all my attention. In spite of her double deformity she was a handsome woman. My glances frightened her, for she was doubtless taking part in an orgy for the first time. I gave her courage, however, by dint of praising those charms which the white and beautiful hands could not hide, and at last I persuaded her to come and lie beside me. Her hump prevented her lying on her back, but the ingenious Astrodi doubled up the pillows and succeeded in placing her in a position similar to that of a ship about to be launched. It was also by the tender care of the Astrodi that the introduction of the knife was managed, to the great delight of priest and victim. After the operation was over she got up and kissed me, which she could not do before, for her mouth reached to the middle of my chest, while my feet were scarcely down to her knees. I would have given ten louis to have been able to see the curious sight we must have presented at work.
“Now comes my turn,” said the Astrodi; “but I don’t want you to infringe on the rights of my auditor, so come and look round and see where the path lies. Take that.”
“What am I to do with this slice of lemon?”
“I want you to try whether the place is free from infection, or whether it would be dangerous for you to pay it a visit.”
“Is that a sure method?”
“Infallible; if everything were not right I could not bear the smart.”
“There you are. How’s that?”
“All right; but don’t deceive me, I want no half measures. My reputation would be made if I became with child.”
I ask my reader’s leave to draw a veil over some incidents of this truly scandalous orgy, in which the ugly woman taught me some things I did not know before. At last, more tired than exhausted, I told them to begone, but the Astrodi insisted on finishing up with a bowl of punch. I agreed, but not wishing to have anything more to do with either of them I dressed myself again. However, the champagne punch excited them to such an extent that at last they made me share their transports. The Astrodi placed her friend in such a singular position that the humps were no longer visible, and imagining that I had before me the high priestess of Jove, I paid her a long sacrifice, in which death and resurrection followed one another in succession. But I felt disgusted with myself, and drew away from their lascivious frenzies, and gave them ten Louis to get rid of them. The Astrodi fell on her knees, blessed me, thanked me, called me her god; and the Lepi wept and laughed for joy at the same time; and thus for a quarter of an hour I was treated to a scene of an extraordinary kind.
I had them taken home in my carriage, and slept till ten o’clock next morning. Just as I was going out for a walk Stuard came to my room and told me, with an air of despair, that if I did not give him the means of going away before I left he would throw himself in the Rhine.
“That’s rather tragic,” said I, “but I can find a cure. I will disburse twenty-five Louis, but it is your wife who must receive them; and the only condition is that she must receive me alone for an hour, and be entirely kind.”
“Sir, we need just that sum; my wife is disposed to receive you; go and talk to her. I shall not be in till noon.”
I put twenty-five Louis in a pretty little purse, and left my room thinking that the victory was won. I entered her room and approached her bed respectfully. When she heard me she sat up in bed without taking the trouble to cover her breast, and before I could wish her good-day she spoke to me as follows:
“I am ready, sir, to pay with my body for the wretched twenty-five Louis of which my husband is in need. You can do what you like with me; but remember that in taking advantage of my position to assuage your brutal lust you are the viler of the two, for I only sell myself so cheaply because necessity compels me to do so. Your baseness is more shameful than mine. Come on; here I am.”
With this flattering address she threw off the coverlet with a vigorous gesture, and displayed all her beauties, which I might have gazed on with such different feelings from those which now filled my breast. For a moment I was silent with indignation. All my passion had evaporated; in those voluptuous rounded limbs I saw now only the covering of a wild beast’s soul. I put back the coverlet with the greatest calmness, and addressed her in a tone of cold contempt:
“No, madam, I shall not leave this room degraded because you have told me so, but I shall leave it after imparting to you a few degrading truths, of which you cannot be ignorant if you are a woman of any decency whatever. Here are twenty-five louis, a wretched sum to give a virtuous woman in payment of her favours, but much more than you deserve. I am not brutal, and to convince you of the fact I am going to leave you in the undisturbed possession of your charms, which I despise as heartily as I should have admired them if your behaviour had been different. I only give you the money from a feeling of compassion which I cannot overcome, and which is the only feeling I now have for you. Nevertheless, let me tell you that whether a woman sells herself for twenty-five louis or twenty-five million louis she is as much a prostitute in the one case as in the other, if she does not give her love with herself, or at all events the semblance of love. Farewell.”
I went back to my room, and in course of time Stuard came to thank me.
“Sir,” said I, “let me alone; I wish to hear no more about your wife.”
They went away the next day for Lyons, and my readers will hear of them again at Liege.
In the afternoon Dolci took me to his garden that I might see the gardener’s sister. She was pretty, but not so pretty as he was. He soon got her into a good humour, and after some trifling objection she consented to be loved by him in my presence. I saw that this Adonis had been richly dowered by nature, and I told him that with such a physical conformation he had no need of emptying his father’s purse to travel, and before long he took my advice. This fair Ganymede might easily have turned me into Jove, as he struggled amorously with the gardener’s sister.
As I was going home I saw a young man coming out of a boat; he was from twenty to twenty-five years old, and looked very sad. Seeing me looking at him, he accosted me, and humbly asked for alms, shewing me a document authorizing him to beg, and a passport stating he had left Madrid six weeks before. He came from Parma, and was named Costa. When I saw Parma my national prejudice spoke in his favour, and I asked him what misfortune had reduced him to beggary.
“Only lack of money to return to my native country,” said he.
“What were you doing at Madrid, and why did you leave?”
“I was there four years as valet to Dr. Pistoria, physician to the King of Spain, but on my health failing I left him. Here is a certificate which will shew you that I gave satisfaction.”
“What can you do?”
“I write a good hand, I can assist a gentleman as his secretary, and I intend being a scribe when I get home. Here are some verses I copied yesterday.”
“You write well; but can you write correctly without a book?”
“I can write from dictation in French, Latin, and Spanish.”
“Yes, sir, if the dictation is done properly, for it is the business of the one who dictates to see that everything is correct.”
I saw that Master Gaetan Costa was an ignoramus, but in spite of that I took him to my room and told Le Duc to address him in Spanish. He answered well enough, but on my dictating to him in Italian and French I found he had not the remotest ideas on orthography.
“But you can’t write,” said I to him. However, I saw he was mortified at this, and I consoled him by saying that I would take him to his own country at my expense. He kissed my hand, and assured me that I should find a faithful servant in him.
This young fellow took my fancy by his originality; he had probably assumed it to distinguish himself from the blockheads amongst whom he had hitherto lived, and now used it in perfect good faith with everybody. He thought that the art of a scribe solely consisted in possessing a good hand, and that the fairest writer would be the best scribe. He said as much while he was examining a paper I had written, and as my writing was not as legible as his he tacitly told me I was his inferior, and that I should therefore treat him with some degree of respect. I laughed at this fad, and, not thinking him incorrigible I took him into my service. If it had not been for that odd notion of his I should probably have merely given him a louis, and no more. He said that spelling was of no consequence, as those who knew how to spell could easily guess the words, while those who did not know were unable to pick out the mistakes. I laughed, but as I said nothing he thought the laugh signified approval. In the dictation I gave him the Council of Trent happened to occur. According to his system he wrote Trent by a three and a nought. I burst out laughing; but he was not in the least put out, only remarking that the pronunciation being the same it was of no consequence how the word was spelt. In point of fact this lad was a fool solely through his intelligence, matched with ignorance and unbounded self-confidence. I was pleased with his originality and kept him, and was thus the greater fool of the two, as the reader will see.
I left Avignon next day, and went straight to Marseilles, not troubling to stop at Aix. I halted at the “Treize Cantons,” wishing to stay for a week at least in this ancient colony of the Phocaeans, and to do as I liked there. With this idea I took no letter of introduction; I had plenty of money, and needed nobody’s help. I told my landlord to give me a choice fish dinner in my own room, as I was aware that the fish in those parts is better than anywhere else.
I went out the next morning with a guide, to take me back to the inn when I was tired of walking. Not heeding where I went, I reached a fine quay; I thought I was at Venice again, and I felt my bosom swell, so deeply is the love of fatherland graven on the heart of every good man. I saw a number of stalls where Spanish and Levantine wines were kept, and a number of people drinking in them. A crowd of business men went hither and thither, running up against each other, crossing each other’s paths, each occupied with his own business, and not caring whose way he got into. Hucksters, well dressed and ill dressed, women, pretty and plain, women who stared boldly at everyone, modest maidens with downcast eyes, such was the picture I saw.
The mixture of nationalities, the grave Turk and the glittering Andalusian, the French dandy, the gross Negro, the crafty Greek, the dull Hollander; everything reminded me of Venice, and I enjoyed the scene.
I stopped a moment at a street corner to read a playbill, and then I went back to the inn and refreshed my weary body with a delicious dinner, washed down with choice Syracusan wine. After dinner I dressed and took a place in the amphitheatre of the theatre.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07