An Ancient Castle — Clementine — The Fair Penitent — Lodi — A Mutual Passion
The manorial castle of the little town of St. Angelo is a vast and ancient building, dating back at least eight centuries, but devoid of regularity, and not indicating the date of its erection by the style of its architecture. The ground floor consists of innumerable small rooms, a few large and lofty apartments, and an immense hall. The walls, which are full of chinks and crannies, are of that immense thickness which proves that our ancestors built for their remote descendants, and not in our modern fashion; for we are beginning to build in the English style, that is, barely for one generation. The stone stairs had been trodden by so many feet that one had to be very careful in going up or down. The floor was all of bricks, and as it had been renewed at various epochs with bricks of divers colours it formed a kind of mosaic, not very pleasant to look upon. The windows were of a piece with the rest; they had no glass in them, and the sashes having in many instances given way they were always open; shutters were utterly unknown there. Happily the want of glass was not much felt in the genial climate of the country. The ceilings were conspicuous by their absence, but there were heavy beams, the haunts of bats, owls, and other birds, and light ornament was supplied by the numerous spiders’ webs.
In this great Gothic palace — for palace it was rather than castle, for it had no towers or other attributes of feudalism, except the enormous coat-of-arms which crowned the gateway — in this palace, I say, the memorial of the ancient glories of the Counts A—— B— — which they loved better than the finest modern house, there were three sets of rooms better kept than the rest. Here dwelt the masters, of whom there were three; the Count A—— B— — my friend, Count Ambrose, who always lived there, and a third, an officer in the Spanish Walloon Guards. I occupied the apartment of the last named. But I must describe the welcome I received.
Count Ambrose received me at the gate of the castle as if I had been some high and puissant prince. The door stood wide open on both sides, but I did not take too much pride to myself on this account, as they were so old that it was impossible to shut them.
The noble count who held his cap in his hand, and was decently but negligently dressed, though he was only forty years old, told me with high-born modesty that his brother had done wrong to bring me here to see their miserable place, where I should find none of those luxuries to which I had been accustomed, but he promised me a good old-fashioned Milanese welcome instead. This is a phrase of which the Milanese are very fond, but as they put it into practice it becomes them well. They are generally most worthy and hospitable people, and contrast favourably with the Piedmontese and Genoese.
The worthy Ambrose introduced me to his countess and his two sisters-in-law, one of whom was an exquisite beauty, rather deficient in manner, but this was no doubt due to the fact that they saw no polished company whatever. The other was a thoroughly ordinary woman, neither pretty nor ugly, of a type which is plentiful all the world over. The countess looked like a Madonna; her features had something angelic about them in their dignity and openness. She came from Lodi, and had only been married two years. The three sisters were very young, very noble, and very poor. While we were at dinner Count Ambrose told me that he had married a poor woman because he thought more of goodness than riches.
“She makes me happy,” he added; “and though she brought me no dower, I seem to be a richer man, for she has taught me to look on everything we don’t possess as a superfluity.”
“There, indeed,” said I, “you have the true philosophy of an honest man.”
The countess, delighted at her husband’s praise and my approval, smiled lovingly at him, and took a pretty baby from the nurse’s arms and offered it her alabaster breast. This is the privilege of a nursing mother; nature tells her that by doing so she does nothing against modesty. Her bosom, feeding the helpless, arouses no other feelings than those of respect. I confess, however, that the sight might have produced a tenderer sentiment in me; it was exquisitely beautiful, and I am sure that if Raphael had beheld it his Madonna would have been still more lovely.
The dinner was excellent, with the exception of the made dishes, which were detestable. Soup, beef, fresh salted pork, sausages, mortadella, milk dishes, vegetables, game, mascarpon cheese, preserved fruits — all were delicious; but the count having told his brother that I was a great gourmand, the worthy Ambrose had felt it his duty to give me some ragouts, which were as bad as can well be imagined. I had to taste them, out of politeness; but I made up my mind that I would do so no more. After dinner I took my host apart, and spewed him that with ten plain courses his table would be delicate and excellent, and that he had no need of introducing any ragouts. From that time I had a choice dinner every day.
There were six of us at table, and we all talked and laughed with the exception of the fair Clementine. This was the young countess who had already made an impression on me. She only spoke when she was obliged to do so, and her words were always accompanied with a blush; but as I had no other way of getting a sight of her beautiful eyes, I asked her a good many questions. However, she blushed so terribly that I thought I must be distressing her, and I left her in peace, hoping to become better acquainted with her.
At last I was taken to my apartment and left there. The windows were glazed and curtained as in the diningroom, but Clairmont came and told me that he could not unpack my trunks as there were no locks to anything and should not care to take the responsibility. I thought he was right, and I went to ask my friend about it.
“There’s not a lock or a key,” said he, “in the whole castle, except in the cellar, but everything is safe for all that. There are no robbers at St. Angelo, and if there were they would not dare to come here.”
“I daresay, my dear count, but you know’ it is my business to suppose robbers everywhere. My own valet might take the opportunity of robbing me, and you see I should have to keep silence if I were robbed.”
“Quite so, I feel the force of your argument. Tomorrow morning a locksmith shall put locks and keys to your doors, and you will be the only person in the castle who is proof against thieves.”
I might have replied in the words of Juvenal, ‘Cantabit vacuus coram latrone viator’, but I should have mortified him. I told Clairmont to leave my trunks alone till next day, and I went out with Count A—— B—— and his sisters-in-law to take a walk in the town.
Count Ambrose and his better-half stayed in the castle; the good mother would never leave her nursling. Clementine was eighteen, her married sister being four years older. She took my arm, and my friend offered his to Eleanore.
“We will go and see the beautiful penitent,” said the count.
I asked him who the beautiful penitent was, and he answered, without troubling himself about his sisters-in-law,
“She was once a Lais of Milan, and enjoyed such a reputation for beauty that not only all the flower of Milan but people from the neighbouring towns were at her feet. Her hall-door was opened and shut a hundred times in a day, and even then she was not able to satisfy the desires aroused. At last an end came to what the old and the devout called a scandal. Count Firmian, a man of learning and wit, went to Vienna, and on his departure received orders to have her shut up in a convent. Our august Marie Therese cannot pardon mercenary beauty, and the count had no choice but to have the fair sinner imprisoned. She was told that she had done amiss, and dealt wickedly; she was obliged to make a general confession, and was condemned to a life-long penance in this convent. She was absolved by Cardinal Pozzobonelli, Archbishop of Milan, and he then confirmed her, changing the name of Therese, which she had received at the baptismal font, to Mary Magdalen, thus shewing her how she should save her soul by following the example of her new patroness, whose wantonness had hitherto been her pattern.
“Our family are the patrons of this convent, which is devoted to penitents. It is situated in an inaccessible spot, and the inmates are in the charge of a kind mother-superior, who does her best to soften the manifold austerities of their existences. They only work and pray, and see no one besides their confessor, who says mass every day. We are the only persons whom the superioress would admit, as long as some of our family are present she always let them bring whom they like.”
This story touched me and brought tears to my eyes. Poor Mary Magdalen! Cruel empress! I think I have noted in another passage the source of her austere virtue.
When we were announced the mother-superior came to meet us, and took us into a large hall, where I soon made out the famous penitent amongst five or six other girls, who were penitents like herself, but I presume for trifling offences, as they were all ugly. As soon as the poor women saw us they ceased working, and stood up respectfully. In spite of the severe simplicity of her dress, Therese made a great impression on me. What beauty! What majesty brought low! With my profane eyes, instead of looking to the enormity of the offences for which she was suffering so cruelly, I saw before me a picture of innocence — a humbled Venus. Her fine eyes were fixed on the ground, but what was my surprise, when, suddenly looking at me, she exclaimed —
“O my God! what do I see? Holy Mary, come to my aid! Begone, dreadful sinner, though thou deservest to be here more than I. Scoundrel!”
I did not feel inclined to laugh. Her unfortunate position, and the singular apostrophe she had addressed to me, pierced me to the heart. The mother-superior hastened to say —
“Do not be offended, sir, the poor girl has become mad, and unless she really has recognized you. . . . ”
“That is impossible, madam, I have never seen her before.”
“Of course not, but you must forgive her, as she has lost the use of her reason”
“Maybe the Lord has made her thus in mercy.”
As a matter of fact, I saw more sense than madness in this outburst, for it must have been very grievous for the poor girl to have to encounter my idle curiosity, in the place of her penitence. I was deeply moved, and in spite of myself a big tear rolled down my face. The count, who had known her, laughed, but I begged him to restrain himself.
A moment after, the poor wretch began again. She raved against me madly, and begged the mother-superior to send me away, as I had come there to damn her.
The good lady chid her with all a true mother’s gentleness, and told her to leave the room, adding that all who came there only desired that she should be saved eternally. She was stern enough, however, to add, that no one had been a greater sinner than she, and the poor Magdalen went out weeping bitterly.
If it had been my fortune to enter Milan at the head of a victorious army, the first thing I should have done would be he setting free of this poor captive, and if the abbess had resisted she would have felt the weight of my whip.
When Magdalen was gone, the mother-superior told us that the poor girl had many good qualities, and if God willed that she should keep some particle of sense she did not doubt her becoming a saint like her patroness.
“She has begged me,” she added, “to take down the pictures of St. Louis de Gonzaga and St. Antony from the chapel wall because she says they distract her fearfully. I have thought it my duty to yield to her request, in spite of our confessor, who says it’s all nonsense.”
The confessor was a rude churl. I did not exactly tell the abbess that, but I said enough for a clever woman as she was to grasp my meaning.
We left the sorrowful place in sadness and silence, cursing the sovereign who had made such ill use of her power.
If, as our holy religion maintains, there is a future life before us all, Marie Therese certainly deserves damnation, if only the oppressions she has used towards those poor women whose life is wretched enough at the best. Poor Mary Magdalen had gone mad and suffered the torments of the damned because nature had given her two of her best gifts — beauty, and an excellent heart. You will say she had abused them, but for a fault which is only a crime before God, should a fellow-creature and a greater sinner have condemned her to such a fearful doom? I defy any reasonable man to answer in the affirmative.
On our way back to the castle Clementine, who was on my arm, laughed to herself once or twice. I felt curious to know what she was laughing at, and said —
“May I ask you, fair countess, why you laugh thus to yourself?”
“Forgive me; I was not amused at the poor girl’s recognizing you, for that must have been a mistake, but I cannot help laughing when I think of your face at her wordy ‘You are more deserving of imprisonment than I.’”
“Perhaps you think she was right.”
“I? Not at all. But how is it that she attacked you and not my brother-in-law?”
“Probably because she thought I looked a greater sinner than he.”
“That, I suppose, must have been the reason. One should never heed the talk of mad people.”
“You are sarcastic, but I take it all in good part. Perhaps I am as great a sinner as I look; but beauty should be merciful to me, for it is by beauty that I am led astray.”
“I wonder the empress does not shut up men as well as women.”
“Perhaps she hopes to see them all at her feet when there are no more girls left to amuse them.”
“That is a jest. You should rather say that she cannot forgive her own sex the lack of a virtue which she exercises so eminently, and which is so easily observed.”
“I have nothing to allege against the empress’s virtue, but with your leave I beg to entertain very strong doubts as to the possibility of the general exercise of that virtue which we call continence.”
“No doubt everyone thinks by his own standard. A man may be praised for temperance in whom temperance is no merit. What is easy to you may be hard to me, and ‘vice versa’. Both of us may be right.”
This interesting conversation made me compare Clementine to the fair marchioness at Milan, but there was this difference between them: Mdlle. Q—— spoke with an air of gravity and importance, whereas Clementine expounded her system with great simplicity and an utter indifference of manner. I thought her observations so acute and her utterance so perfect and artistic, that I felt ashamed of having misjudged her at dinner. Her silence, and the blush which mounted to her face when anyone asked her a question, had made me suspect both confusion and poverty in her ideas, for timidity is often another word for stupidity; but the conversation I have just reported made me feel that I had made a great mistake. The marchioness, being older and having seen more of the world, was more skilled in argument; but Clementine had twice eluded my questions with the utmost skill, and I felt obliged to award her the palm.
When we got back to the castle we found a lady with her son and daughter, and another relation of the count’s, a young abbe, whom I found most objectionable.
He was a pitiless talker, and on the pretence of having seen me at Milan he took the opportunity of flattering me in a disgusting manner. Besides, he made sheep’s eyes at Clementine, and I did not like the idea of having a fellow like that for a rival. I said very dryly that I did not remember him at all; but he was not a man of delicate feeling, and this did not disconcert him in the least. He sat down beside Clementine, and taking her hand told her that she must add me to the long catalogue of her victims. She could do nothing else but laugh at silly talk of this kind; I knew it, but that laugh of hers displeased me. I would have had her say — I do not know what, but something biting and sarcastic. Not at all; the impertinent fellow whispered something in her ear, and she answered in the same way. This was more than I could bear. Some question or other was being discussed, and the abbe asked for my opinion. I do not remember what I answered, but I know that I gave him a bitter reply in the hope of putting him in a bad temper and reducing him to silence. But he was a battle charger, and used to trumpet, fife, and gun; nothing put him out. He appealed to Clementine, and I had the mortification of hearing her opinion given, though with a blush, in his favour. The fop was satisfied, and kissed the young countess’s hand with an air of fatuous happiness. This was too much; and I cursed the abbe and Clementine, too. I rose from my seat and went to the window.
The window is a great blessing to an impatient man, whom the rules of politeness in some degree constrain. He can turn his back on bores, without their being able to charge him witch direct rudeness; but people know what he means, and that soothes his feelings.
I have noted this trifling circumstance only to point out how bad temper blinds its victims. The poor abbe vexed me because he made himself agreeable to Clementine, with whom I was already in love without knowing it. I saw in him a rival, but far from endeavouring to offend me, he had done his best to please me; and I should have taken account of his good will. But under such circumstances I always gave way to ill humour, and now I am too old to begin curing myself. I don’t think I need do so, for if I am ill tempered the company politely pass me over. My misfortune obliges me to submit.
Clementine had conquered me in the space of a few hours. True, I was an inflammable subject, but hitherto no beauty had committed such ravages upon me in so short a time. I did not doubt of success, and I confess that there was a certain amount of vanity in this assurance; but at the same time I was modest, for I knew that at the slightest slip the enterprise would miscarry. Thus I regarded the abbe as a wasp to be crushed as speedily as possible. I was also a victim to that most horrible of passions, jealousy; it seemed to me that if Clementine was not in love with this man- monkey, she was extremely indulgent to him; and with this idea I conceived a horrible plan of revenging my wrongs on her. Love is the god of nature, but this god is, after all, only a spoilt child. We know all his follies and frailties, but we still adore him.
My friend the count, who was surprised, I suppose, to see me contemplating the prospect for such a long time, came up to me and asked me if I wanted anything.
“I am thinking some matter over,” said I, “and I must go and write one or two letters in my room till it is time for supper.”
“You won’t leave us surely?” said he.
“Clementine, help me to keep M. de Seingalt; you must make him postpone his letter-writing.”
“But my dear brother,” said the charming girl, “if M. de Seingalt has business to do, it would be rude of me to try and prevent his doing it.”
Though what she said was perfectly reasonable, it stung me to the quick; when one is in an ill humour, everything is fuel for the fire. But the abbe said pleasantly that I had much better come and make a bank at faro, and as everything echoed this suggestion I had to give in.
The cards were brought in, and various coloured counters handed round, and I sat down putting thirty ducats before me. This was a very large sum for a company who only played for amusement’s sake; fifteen counters were valued only at a sequin. Countess Ambrose sat at my right hand, and the abbe at my left. As if they had laid a plot to vex and annoy me, Clementine had made room for him. I took a mere accident for a studied impertinence, and told the poor man that I never dealt unless I had a lady on each side of me, and never by any chance with a priest beside me.
“Do you think it would bring you ill luck?”
“I don’t like birds of ill omen.”
At this he got up, and Clementine took his place.
At the end of three hours, supper was announced. Everybody had won from me except the abbe; the poor devil had lost counters to the extent of twenty sequins.
As a relation the abbe stayed to supper, but the lady and her children were asked in vain to do so.
The abbe looked wretched, which made me in a good temper, and inclined me to be pleasant. I proceeded to flirt with Clementine, and by making her reply to the numerous questions I asked, I gave her an opportunity of displaying her wit, and I could see that she was grateful. I was once more myself, and I took pity of the abbe, and spoke to him politely, asking him his opinion on some topic.
“I was not listening,” said he, “but I hope you will give me my revenge after supper.”
“After supper I shall be going to bed, but you shall have your revenge, and as much as you like of it, tomorrow, provided that our charming hostesses like playing. I hope the luck will be in your favour.”
After supper the poor abbe went sadly away, and the count took me to my room, telling me that I could sleep securely in spite of the lack of keys for his sisters-in-law who were lodged close by were no better off.
I was astonished and delighted at the trust he put in me, and at the really magnificent hospitality (it must be remembered all things are relative) with which I had been treated in the castle.
I told Clairmont to be quick about putting my hair in curl-papers, for I was tired and in need of rest, but he was only half-way through the operation when I was agreeably surprised by the apparition of Clementine.
“Sir,” said she, “as we haven’t got a maid to look after your linen, I have come to beg you to let me undertake that office.”
“You! my dear countess?”
“Yes, I, sir, and I hope you will make no objection. It will be a pleasure to me, and I hope to you as well. Let me have the shirt you are going to wear to-morrow, and say no more about it.”
“Very good, it shall be as you please.”
I helped Clairmont to carry my linen trunk into her room, and added —
“Every day I want a shirt, a collar, a front, a pair of drawers, a pair of stocking, and two handkerchiefs; but I don’t mind which you take, and leave the choice to you as the mistress, as I wish you were in deed and truth. I shall sleep a happier sleep than Jove himself. Farewell, dear Hebe!”
Her sister Eleanore was already in bed, and begged pardon for her position. I told Clairmont to go to the count directly, and inform him that I had changed my mind about the locks. Should I be afraid for my poor properties when these living treasures were confined to me so frankly? I should have been afraid of offending them.
I had an excellent bed, and I slept wonderfully. Clairmont was doing my hair when my youthful Hebe presented herself with a basket in her hands. She wished me good day and said she hoped I would be contented with her handiwork. I gazed at her delightedly, no trace of false shame appeared on her features. The blush on her cheeks was a witness of the pleasure she experienced in being useful — a pleasure which is unknown to those whose curse is their pride, the characteristic of fools and upstarts. I kissed her hand and told her that I had never seen linen so nicely done.
Just then the count came in and thanked Clementine for attending on me. I approved of that, but he accompanied his thanks with a kiss which was well received, and this I did not approve of at all. But you will say they were brother-in-law and sister-in-law? Just so, but I was jealous all the same. Nature is allwise, and it was nature that made me jealous. When one loves and has not as yet gained possession, jealousy is inevitable; the heart must fear lest that which it longs for so be carried away by another.
The count took a note from his pocket and begged me to read it. It came from his cousin the abbe, who begged the count to apologize to me for him if he was unable to pay the twenty sequins he had lost to me in the proper time, but that he would discharge his debt in the course of the week.
“Very good! Tell him that he can pay when he likes, but warn him not to play this evening. I will not take his bets.”
“But you would have no objection to his punting with ready money.”
“Certainly I should, unless he pays me first, otherwise he would be punting with my money. Of course it’s a mere trifle, and I hope he won’t trouble himself in the least or put himself to any inconvenience to pay it.”
“I am afraid he will be mortified.”
“So much the better,” said Clementine; “what did he play for, when he knew that he could not pay his debts if he incurred any? It will be a lesson to him.”
This outburst was balm to my heart. Such is man — a mere selfish egotist, when passion moves him.
The count made no reply, but left us alone.
“My dear Clementine, tell me frankly whether the rather uncivil way in which I have treated the abbe has pained you. I am going to give you twenty sequins, do you send them to him, and to-night he can pay me honourably, and make a good figure. I promise you no one shall know about it.”
“Thank you, but the honour of the abbe is not dear enough to me for me to accept your offer. The lesson will do him good. A little shame will teach him that he must mend his ways.”
“You will see he won’t come this evening.”
“That may be, but do you think I shall care?”
“Well — yes, I did think so.”
“Because we joked together, I suppose. He is a hare-brained fellow, to whom I do not give two thoughts in the year.”
“I pity him, as heartily as I congratulate anyone of whom you do think.”
“Maybe there is no such person”
“What! You have not yet met a man worthy of your regard?”
“Many worthy of regard, but none of love.”
“Then you have never been in love?”
“Your heart is empty?”
“You make me laugh. Is it happiness, is it unhappiness? Who can say. If it be happiness, I am glad, and if it be unhappiness, I do not care, for I do not feel it to be so.”
“Nevertheless, it is a misfortune, and you will know it to have been so on the day in which you love.”
“And if I become unhappy through love, shall I not pronounce my emptiness of heart to have been happiness.”
“I confess you would be right, but I am sure love would make you happy.”
“I do not know. To be happy one must live in perfect agreement; that is no easy matter, and I believe it to be harder still when the bond is lifelong.”
“I agree, but God sent us into the world that we might run the risk”
“To a man it may be a necessity and a delight, but a girl is bound by stricter laws.”
“In nature the necessity is the same though the results are different, and the, laws you speak of are laid down by society.”
The count came in at this point and was astonished to see us both together.
“I wish you would fall in love with one another,” said he.
“You wish to see us unhappy, do you?” said she.
“What do you mean by that?” I cried.
“I should be unhappy with an inconstant lover, and you would be unhappy too, for you would feel bitter remorse for having destroyed my peace of mind.”
After this she discreetly fled.
I remained still as if she had petrified me, but the count who never wearied himself with too much thinking, exclaimed,
“Clementine is rather too romantic; she will get over it, however; she is young yet.”
We went to bid good day to the countess, whom we found suckling her baby.
“Do you know, my dear sister,” said the count, “that the chevalier here is in love with Clementine, and she seems inclined to pay him back in his own coin?”
The countess smiled and said —
“I hope a suitable match like that may make us relations.”
There is something magical about the word “marriage.”
What the countess said pleased me extremely, and I replied with a bow of the most gracious character.
We went to pay a call on the lady who had come to the castle the day before. There was a canon regular there, who after a great many polite speeches in praise of my country, which he knew only from books, asked me of what order was the cross I carried on my breast.
I replied, with a kind of boastful modesty, that it was a peculiar mark of the favour of the Holy Father, the Pope, who had freely made me a knight of the Order of St. John Lateran, and a prothonotary-apostolic.
This monk had stayed at home far from the world, or else he would not have asked me such a question. However, far from thinking he was offending me, he thought he was honouring me by giving me an opportunity of talking of my own merit.
At London, the greatest possible rudeness is to ask anyone what his religion is, and it is something the same in Germany; an Anabaptist is by no means ready to confess his creed. And in fact the best plan is never to ask any questions whatever, not even if a man has change for a louis.
Clementine was delightful at dinner. She replied wittily and gracefully to all the questions which were addressed to her. True, what she said was lost on the majority of her auditors — for wit cannot stand before stupidity — but I enjoyed her talk immensely. As she kept filling up my glass I reproached her, and this gave rise to the following little dialogue which completed my conquest.
“You have no right to complain,” said she, “Hebe’s duty is to keep the cup of the chief of the gods always full.”
“Very good; but you know Jupiter sent her away.”
“Yes, but I know why. I will take care not to stumble in the same way; and no Ganymede shall take my place for a like cause.”
“You are very wise. Jupiter was wrong, and henceforth I will be Hercules. Will that please you, fair Hebe?”
“No; because he did not marry her till after her death.”
“True, again. I will be Iolas then, for . . . ”
“Be quiet. Iolas was old.”
“True; but so was I yesterday. You have made me young again.”
“I am very glad, dear Iolas; but remember what I did when he left me.”
“And what did you do? I do not remember.”
“I did not believe a word he said.”
“You can believe.”
“I took away the gift I had made.”
At these words this charming girl’s face was suffered with blushes. If I had touched her with my hand, sure it would have been on fire; but the rays that darted from her eyes froze my heart.
Philosophers, be not angry if I talk of freezing rays. It is no miracle, but a very natural phenomenon, which is happening every day. A great love, which elevates a man’s whole nature, is a strong flame born out of a great cold, such as I then felt for a moment; it would have killed me if it had lasted longer.
The superior manner in which Clementine had applied the story of Hebe convinced me not only that she had a profound knowledge of mythology, but also that she had a keen and far-reaching intellect. She had given me more than a glimpse of her learning; she had let me guess that I interested her, and that she thought of me.
These ideas, entering a heart which is already warm, speedily set all the senses in flames. In a moment all doubt was laid to rest; Clementine loved me, and I was sure that we should be happy.
Clementine slipped away from the table to calm herself, and thus I had time to escape from my astonishment.
“Pray where was that young lady educated?” I said to the countess.
“In the country. She was always present when my brother had his lessons, but the tutor, Sardini, never took any notice of her, and it was only she who gained anything; my brother only yawned. Clementine used to make my mother laugh, and puzzle the old tutor sadly sometimes.”
“Sardini wrote and published some poems which are not bad; but nobody reads them, because they are so full of mythology.”
“Quite so. Clementine possesses a manuscript with which he presented her, containing a number of mythological tales verified. Try and make her shew you her books and the verses she used to write; she won’t shew them to any of us.”
I was in a great state of admiration. When she returned I complimented her upon her acquirements, and said that as I was a great lover of literature myself I should be delighted if she would shew me her verses.
“I should be ashamed. I had to give over my studies two years ago, when my sister married and we came to live here, where we only see honest folks who talk about the stable, the harvest, and the weather. You are the first person I have seen who has talked to me about literature. If our old Sardini had come with us I should have gone on learning, but my sister did not care to have him here.”
“But my dear Clementine,” said the countess, “what do you think my husband could have done with an old man of eighty whose sole accomplishments are weighing the wind, writing verses, and talking mythology?”
“He would have been useful enough,” said the husband, “if he could have managed the estate, but the honest old man will not believe in the existence of rascals. He is so learned that he is quite stupid.”
“Good heavens!” cried Clementine. “Sardini stupid? It is certainly easy to deceive him, but that is because he is so noble. I love a man who is easily deceived, but they call me silly.”
“Not at all, my dear sister,” said the countess. “On the contrary, there is wisdom in all you say, but it is wisdom out of place in a woman; the mistress of a household does not want to know anything about literature, poetry, or philosophy, and when it comes to marrying you I am very much afraid that your taste for this kind of thing will stand in your way.”
“I know it, and I am expecting to die a maid; not that it is much compliment to the men.”
To know all that such a dialogue meant for me, the reader must imagine himself most passionately in love. I thought myself unfortunate. I could have given her a hundred thousand crowns, and I would have married her that moment. She told me that Sardini was at Milan, very old and ill.
“Have you been to see him?” I asked.
“I have never been to Milan.”
“Is it possible? It is not far from here.”
“Distance is relative, you know.”
This was beautifully expressed. It told me without any false shame that she could not afford to go, and I was pleased by her frankness. But in the state of mind I was in I should have been pleased with anything she chose to do. There are moments in a man’s life when the woman he loves can make anything of him.
I spoke to her in a manner that affected her so that she took me into a closet next to her room to shew me her books. There were only thirty in all, but they were chosen, although somewhat elementary. A woman like Clementine needed something more.
“Do you know, my dear Hebe, that you want more books?”
“I have often suspected it, dear Iolas, without being able to say exactly what I want.”
After spending an hour in glancing over Sardini’s works, I begged her to spew me her own.
“No,” said she, “they are too bad.”
“I expect so; but the good will outweigh the bad.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh, yes! you needn’t be afraid. I will forgive the bad grammar, bad style, absurd images, faulty method, and even the verses that won’t scan.”
“That’s too much, Iolas; Hebe doesn’t need so vast a pardon as all that. Here, sir, these are my scribblings; sift the faults and the defaults. Read what you will.”
I was delighted that my scheme of wounding her vanity had succeeded, and I began by reading aloud an anacreontic, adding to its beauties by the modulation of my voice, and keenly enjoying her pleasure at finding her work so fair. When I improved a line by some trifling change she noticed it, for she followed me with her eyes; but far from being humiliated, she was pleased with my corrections. The picture was still hers, she thought, though with my skilled brush I brought out the lights and darkened the shadows, and she was charmed to see that my pleasure was as great or greater than hers. The reading continued for two hours. It was a spiritual and pure, but a most intensely voluptuous, enjoyment. Happy, and thrice happy, if we had gone no farther; but love is a traitor who laughs at us when we think to play with him without falling into his nets. Shall a man touch hot coals and escape the burning?
The countess interrupted us, and begged us to join the company. Clementine hastened to put everything back, and thanked me for the happiness I had given her. The pleasure she felt shewed itself in her blushes, and when she came into the drawing-room she was asked if she had been fighting, which made her blush still more.
The faro-table was ready, but before sitting down I told Clairmont to get me four good horses for the following day. I wanted to go to Lodi and back by dinnertime.
Everybody played as before, the abbe excepted, and he, to my huge delight, did not put in an appearance at all, but his place was supplied by a canon, who punted a ducat at a time and had a pile of ducats before him. This made me increase my bank, and when the game was over, I was glad to see that everybody had won except the canon, but his losses had not spoilt his temper.
Next day I started for Lodi at day-break without telling anybody where I was going, and bought all the books I judged necessary for Clementine, who only knew Italian. I bought numerous translation, which I was surprised to find at Lodi, which hitherto had been only famous in my mind for its cheese, usually called Parmesan. This cheese is made at Lodi and not at Parma, and I did not fail to make an entry to that effect under the article “Parmesan” in my “Dictionary of Cheeses,” a work which I was obliged to abandon as beyond my powers, as Rousseau was obliged to abandon his “Dictionary of Botany.” This great but eccentric individual was then known under the pseudonym of Renaud, the Botanist. ‘Quisque histrioniam exercet’. But Rousseau, great man though he was, was totally deficient in humour.
I conceived the idea of giving a banquet at Lodi the day after next, and a project of this kind not calling for much deliberation I went forthwith to the best hotel to make the necessary arrangements. I ordered a choice dinner for twelve, paid the earnest money, and made the host promise that everything should be of the best.
When I got back to St. Angelo, I had a sackfull of books carried into Clementine’s room. She was petrified. There were more than one hundred volumes, poets, historians, geographers, philosophers, scientists — nothing was forgotten. I had also selected some good novels, translated from the Spanish, English, and French, for we have no good novels in Italian.
This admission does not prove by any means that Italian literature is surpassed by that of any other country. Italy has little to envy in other literatures, and has numerous masterpieces, which are unequalled the whole world over. Where will you find a worthy companion to the Orlando Furioso? There is none, and this great work is incapable of transalation. The finest and truest panegyric of Ariosto was written by Voltaire when he was sixty. If he had not made this apology for the rash judgement of his youthful days, he would not have enjoyed, in Italy at all events, that immortality which is so justly his due. Thirty-six years ago I told him as much, and he took me at my word. He was afraid, and he acted wisely.
If I have any readers, I ask their pardon for these digressions. They must remember that these Memoirs were written in my old age, and the old are always garrulous. The time will come to them also, and then they will understand that if the aged repeat themselves, it is because they live in a world of memories, without a present and without a future.
I will now return to my narrative, which I have kept steadily in view.
Clementine gazed from me to the books, and from the books to me. She wondered and admired, and could scarcely believe this treasure belonged to her. At last she collected herself, and said in a tone full of gratitude —
“You have come to St. Angelo to make me happy.”
Such a saying makes a man into a god. He is sure that she who speaks thus will do all in her power to make a return for the happiness which she has been given.
There is something supremely lovely in the expression of gratefulness on the face of the being one loves. If you have not experienced the feelings I describe, dear reader, I pity you, and am forced to conclude that you must have been either awkward or miserly, and therefore unworthy of love.
Clementine ate scarcely anything at dinner, and afterwards retired to her room where I soon joined her. We amused ourselves by putting the books in order, and she sent for a carpenter to make a bookcase with a lock and key.
“It will be my pleasure to read these books,” said she, “when you have left us.”
In the evening she was lucky with the cards, and in delightful spirits. I asked them all to dine with me at Lodi, but as the dinner was for twelve the Countess Ambrose said she would be able to find the two guests who were wanted at Lodi, and the canon said he would take the lady friend with her two children.
The next day was one of happy quiet, and I spent it without leaving the castle, being engaged in instructing my Hebe on the nature of the sphere, and in preparing her for the beauties of Wolf. I presented her with my case of mathematical instruments, which seemed to her invaluable.
I burned with passion for this charming girl; but would I have done so in her taste for literature and science had not been backed up by her personal charms? I suspect not. I like a dish pleasing to the palate, but if it is not pleasing to the eye as well, I do not taste it but put down as bad. The surface is always the first to interest, close examination comes afterwards. The man who confines himself to superficial charms, is superficial himself, but with them all love begins, except that which rises in the realm of fancy, and this nearly always falls before the reality.
When I went to bed, still thinking of Clementine, I began to reflect seriously, and I was astonished to find that during all the hours we had spent together she had not caused the slightest sensual feeling to arise in me. Nevertheless, I could not assign the reason to fear, nor to shyness which is unknown to me, nor to false shame, nor to what is called a feeling of duty. It was certainly not virtue, for I do not carry virtue so far as that. Then what was it? I did not tire myself by pursuing the question. I felt quite sure that the Platonic stage must soon come to an end, and I was sorry, but my sorrow was virtue in extremis. The fine things we read together interested us so strongly that we did not think of love, nor of the pleasure we took in each other’s company; but as the saying goes, the devil lost nothing by us. When intellect enters on the field, the heart has to yield; virtue triumphs, but the battle must not last for long. Our conquests made us too sure, but this feeling of security was a Colossus whose feet were of clay; we knew that we loved but were not sure that we were beloved. But when this became manifest the Colossus must fall to the ground.
This dangerous trust made me go to her room to tell her something about our journey to Lodi, the carriages were already waiting. She was still asleep, but my step on the floor made her awake with a start. I did not even think it necessary to apologize. She told me that Tasso’s Aminta had interested her to such an extent that she had read it till she fell asleep.
“The Pastor Fido will please you still more.”
“Is it more beautiful?”
“Then why do you say it will please me more?”
“Because it charms the heart. It appeals to our softest feelings, and seduces us — and we love seduction.”
“It is a seducer, then?”
“No, not a seducer; but seductive, like you.”
“That’s a good distinction. I will read it this evening. Now I am going to dress.”
She put on her clothes in seeming oblivion that I was a man, but without shewing any sights that could be called indecent. Nevertheless it struck me that if she had thought I was in love with her, she would have been more reserved, for as she put on her chemise, laced her corset, fastened her garters above her knee, and drew on her boots, I saw glimpses of beauty which affected me so strongly that I was obliged to go out before she was ready to quench the flames she had kindled in my senses.
I took the countess and Clementine in my carriage, and sat on the bracket seat holding the baby on my knee. My two fair companions laughed merrily, for I held the child as if to the manner born. When we had traversed half the distance the baby demanded nourishment, and the charming mother hastened to uncover a sphere over which my eyes roved with delight, not at all to her displeasure. The child left its mother’s bosom satisfied, and at the sight of the liquor which flowed so abundantly I exclaimed —
“It must not be lost, madam; allow me to sip nectar which will elevate me to the rank of the gods. Do not be afraid of my teeth.” I had some teeth in those days.
The smiling countess made no opposition, and I proceeded to carry out my design, while the ladies laughed that magic laugh which not painter can portray. The divine Homer is the only poet who has succeeded in delineating it in those lines in which he describes Andromache with the young Astyanax in her arms, when Hector is leaving her to return to the battle.
I asked Clementine if she had the courage to grant me a similar favour.
“Certainly,” said she, “if I had any milk.”
“You have the source of the milk; I will see to the rest.”
At this the girl’s face suffused with such a violent blush that I was sorry I had spoken; however, I changed the conversation, and it soon passed away. Our spirits were so high that when the time came for us to get down at the inn at Lodi, we could scarcely believe it possible, so swiftly had the time gone by.
The countess sent a message to a lady friend of hers, begging her to dine with us, and to bring her sister; while I dispatched Clairmont to a stationer’s, where he bought me a beautiful morocco case with lock and key, containing paper, pens, sealing-wax, ink- well, paper knife, seal, and in fact, everything necessary for writing. It was a present I meant to give Clementine before dinner. It was delightful to watch her surprise and pleasure, and to read gratitude so legibly written in her beautiful eyes. There is not a woman in the world who cannot be overcome by being made grateful. It is the best and surest way to get on, but it must be skilfully used. The countess’s friend came and brought her sister, a girl who was dazzlingly beautiful. I was greatly struck with her, but just then Venus herself could not have dethroned Clementine from her place in my affections. After the friends had kissed each other, and expressed their joy at meeting, I was introduced, and in so complimentary a manner that I felt obliged to turn it off with a jest.
The dinner was sumptuous and delicious. At dessert two self- invited guests came in, the lady’s husband and the sister’s lover, but they were welcome, for it was a case of the more the merrier. After the meal, in accordance with the request of the company, I made a bank at faro, and after three hours’ play I was delighted to find myself a loser to the extent of forty sequins. It was these little losses at the right time which gave me the reputation of being the finest gamester in Europe.
The lady’s lover was named Vigi, and I asked him if he was descended from the author of the thirteenth book of the “AEneid.” He said he was, and that in honour of his ancestor he had translated the poem into Italian verse. I expressed myself curious as to his version, and he promised to bring it me in two days’ time. I complimented him on belonging to such a noble and ancient family; Maffeo Vigi flourished at the beginning of the fifteenth century.
We started in the evening, and less than two hours we got home. The moon which shone brightly upon us prevented me making any attempts on Clementine, who had put up her feet in order that she might be able to hold her little nephew with more ease. The pretty mother could not help thanking me warmly for the pleasure I had given them; I was a universal favourite with them all.
We did not feel inclined to eat any supper, and therefore retired to our apartments; and I accompanied Clementine, who told me that she was ashamed at not knowing anything about the “AEneid.”
“Vigi will bring his translation of the thirteenth book, and I shall not know a word about it.”
I comforted her by telling her that we would read the fine translation by Annibale Caro that very night. It was amongst her books, as also the version by Anguilara, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Marchetti’s Lucreece.
“But I wanted to read the Pastor Fido.”
“We are in a hurry; we must read that another time.”
“I will follow your advice in all things, my dear Iolas.”
“That will make me happy, dearest Hebe.”
We spent the night in reading that magnificent translation in Italian blank verse, but the reading was often interrupted by my pupil’s laughter when we came to some rather ticklish passage. She was highly amused by the account of the chance which gave ‘AEneas an opportunity of proving his love for Dido in a very inconvenient place, and still more, when Dido, complaining of the son of Priam’s treachery, says —
“I might still pardon you if, before abandoning me, you had left me a little AEneas to play about these halls.”
Clementine had cause to be amused, for the reproach has something laughable in it; but how is it that one does not feel inclined to smile in reading the Latin —‘Si quis mihi parvulus aula luderet AEneas?’. The reason must be sought for in the grave and dignified nature of the Latin tongue.
We did not finish our reading till day-break.
“What a night!” exclaimed Clementine, with a sigh.
“It has been one of great pleasure to me, has it not to you?”
“I have enjoyed it because you have.”
“And if you had been reading by yourself?”
“It would have still been a pleasure, but a much smaller one. I love your intellect to distraction, Clementine, but tell me, do you think it possible to love the intellect without loving that which contains it?”
“No, for without the body the spirit would vanish away.”
“I conclude from that that I am deeply in love with you, and that I cannot pass six or seven hours in your company without longing to kiss you.”
“Certainly, but we resist these desires because we have duties to perform, which would rise up against us if we left them undone.”
“True again, but if your disposition at all resembles mine this constraint must be very painful to you.”
“Perhaps I feel it as much as you do, but it is my belief that it is only hard to withstand temptation at first. By degrees one gets accustomed to loving without running any risk and without effort. Our senses, at first so sharp set, end by becoming blunted, and when this is the case we may spend hours and days in safety, untroubled by desire.”
“I have my doubts as far as I am concerned, but we shall see. Good night, fair Hebe.”
“Good night, my good Iolas, may you sleep well!”
“My sleep will be haunted by visions of you.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07