Our Excursion — Parting From Clementine — I Leave Milan With Croce’s Mistress My Arrival At Genoa
The ancients, whose fancy was so fertile in allegory, used to figure Innocence as playing with a serpent or with a sharp arrow. These old sages had made a deep study of the human heart; and whatever discoveries modern science may have made, the old symbols may still be profitably studied by those who wish to gain a deep insight into the working of man’s mind.
I went to bed, and after having dismissed Clairmont I began to reflect on my relations with Clementine, who seemed to have been made to shine in a sphere from which, in spite of her high birth, her intelligence, and her rare beauty, her want of fortune kept her apart. I smiled to myself at her doctrines, which were as much as to say that the best way of curing appetite was to place a series of appetising dishes before a hungry man, forbidding him to touch them. Nevertheless I could but approve the words which she had uttered with such an air of innocence — that if one resists desires, there is no danger of one being humiliated by giving way to them.
This humiliation would arise from a feeling of duty, and she honoured me by supposing that I had as high principles as herself. But at the same time the motive of self-esteem was also present, and I determined not to do anything which would deprive me of her confidence.
As may be imagined, I did not awake till very late the next morning, and when I rang my bell Clementine came in, looking very pleased, and holding a copy of the Pastor Fido in her hand. She wished me good day, and said she had read the first act, and that she thought it very beautiful, and told me to get up that we might read the second together before dinner.
“May I rise in your presence?”
“Why not? A man has need of very little care to observe the laws of decency.”
“Then please give me that shirt.”
She proceeded to unfold it, and then put it over my head, smiling all the time.
“I will do the same for you at the first opportunity,” said I.
She blushed and answered, “It’s not nearly so far from you to me as it is from me to you.”
“Divine Hebe, that is beyond my understanding. You speak like the Cumaean sibyls, or as if you were rendering oracles at your temple in Corinth.”
“Had Hebe a temple at Corinth? Sardini never said so.”
“But Apollodorus says so. It was an asylum as well as a temple. But come back to the point, and pray do not elude it. What you said is opposed to all the laws of geometry. The distance from you to me ought to be precisely the same as from me to you.”
“Perhaps, then, I have said a stupid thing.”
“Not at all, Hebe, you have an idea which may be right or wrong, but I want to bring it out. Come, tell me.”
“Well, then, the two distances differ from each other with respect to the ascent and descent, or fall, if you like. Are not all bodies inclined to obey the laws of gravitation unless they are held back by a superior force?”
“And is it not the case that no bodies move in an upward direction unless they are impelled?”
“Then you must confess that since I am shorter than you I should have to ascend to attain you, and ascension is always an effort; while if you wish to attain me, you have only to let yourself go, which is no effort whatever. Thus it is no risk at all for you to let me put on your shirt, but it would be a great risk for me if I allowed you to do the same service for me. I might be overwhelmed by your too rapid descent on me. Are you persuaded?”
“Persuaded is not the word, fair Hebe. I am ravished in an ecstacy of admiration. Never was paradox so finely maintained. I might cavil and contest it, but I prefer to keep silence to admire and adore.”
“Thank you, dear Iolas, but I want no favour. Tell me how you could disprove my argument?”
“I should attack it on the point of height. You know you would not let me change your chemise even if I were a dwarf.”
“Ah, dear Iolas! we cannot deceive each other. Would that Heaven had destined me to be married to a man like you!”
“Alas! why am I not worthy of aspiring to such a position?”
I do not know where the conversation would have landed us, but just then the countess came to tell us that dinner was waiting, adding that she was glad to see we loved one another.
“Madly,” said Clementine, “but we are discreet.”
“If you are discreet, you cannot love madly.”
“True, countess,” said I, “for the madness of love and wisdom cannot dwell together. I should rather say we are reasonable, for the mind may be grave while the heart’s gay.”
We dined merrily together, then we played at cards, and in the evening we finished reading the Pastor Fido. When we were discussing the beauties of this delightful work Clementine asked me if the thirteenth book of the “AEneid” was fine.
“My dear countess, it is quite worthless; and I only praised it to flatter the descendant of the author. However, the same writer made a poem on the tricks of countryfolk, which is by no means devoid of merit. But you are sleepy, and I am preventing you from undressing.”
“Not at all.”
She took off her clothes in a moment with the greatest coolness, and did not indulge my licentious gaze in the least. She got into bed, and I sat beside her; whereupon she sat up again, and her sister turned her back upon us. The Pastor Fido was on her night- table, and opening the book I proceeded to read the passage where Mirtillo describes the sweetness of the kiss Amaryllis had given him, attuning my voice to the sentiment of the lines. Clementine seemed as much affected as I was, and I fastened my lips on hers. What happiness! She drew in the balm of my lips with delight, and appeared to be free from alarm, so I was about to clasp her in my arms when she pushed me away with the utmost gentleness, begging me to spare her.
This was modesty at bay. I begged her pardon, and taking her hand breathed out upon it all the ecstasy of my lips.
“You are trembling,” said she, in a voice that did but increase the amorous tumult of my heart.
“Yes, dearest countess, and I assure you I tremble for fear of you. Good night, I am going; and my prayer must be that I may love you less.”
“Why so? To love less is to begin to hate. Do as I do, and pray that your love may grow and likewise the strength to resist it.”
I went to bed ill pleased with myself. I did not know whether I had gone too far or not far enough; but what did it matter? One thing was certain, I was sorry for what I had done, and that was always a thought which pained me.
In Clementine I saw a woman worthy of the deepest love and the greatest respect, and I knew not how I could cease to love her, nor yet how I could continue loving her without the reward which every faithful lover hopes to win.
“If she loves me,” I said to myself, “she cannot refuse me, but it is my part to beg and pray, and even to push her to an extremity, that she may find an excuse for her defeat. A lover’s duty is to oblige the woman he loves to surrender at discretion, and love always absolves him for so doing.”
According to this argument, which I coloured to suit my passions, Clementine could not refuse me unless she did not love me, and I determined to put her to the proof. I was strengthened in this resolve by the wish to free myself from the state of excitement I was in, and I was sure that if she continued obdurate I should soon get cured. But at the same time I shuddered at the thought; the idea, of my no longer loving Clementine seemed to me an impossibility and a cruelty.
After a troubled night I rose early and went to wish her good morning. She was still asleep, but her sister Eleanore was dressing.
“My sister,” said she, “read till three o’clock this morning. Now that she has so many books, she is getting quite mad over them. Let us play a trick on her; get into the bed beside her; it will be amusing to see her surprise when she wakes up.”
“But do you think she will take it as a joke?”
“She won’t be able to help laughing; besides, you are dressed.”
The opportunity was too tempting, and taking off my dressing-gown, I gently crept into the bed, and Eleanore covered me up to my neck. She laughed, but my heart was beating rapidly. I could not give the affair the appearance of a joke, and I hoped Clementine would be some time before she awoke that I might have time to compose myself.
I had been in this position for about five minutes, when Clementine, half asleep and half awake, turned over, and stretching out her arm, gave me a hasty kiss, thinking I was her sister. She then fell asleep again in the same position. I should have stayed still long enough, for her warm breath played on my face, and gave me a foretaste of ambrosia; but Eleanore could restrain herself no longer, and, bursting into a peal of laughter, forced Clementine to open her eyes. Nevertheless, she did not discover that she held me in her arms till she saw her sister standing laughing beside the bed.
“This is a fine trick,” said she, “you are two charmers indeed!”
This quiet reception gave me back my self-composure, and I was able to play my part properly.
“You see,” said I, “I have had a kiss from my sweet Hebe.”
“I thought I was giving it to my sister. ’Tis the kiss that Amaryllis gave to Mistillo.”
“It comes to the same thing. The kiss has produced its effects, and Iolas is young again.”
“Dear Eleanore, you have gone too far, for we love each other, and I was dreaming of him.”
“No, no,” said her sister, “Iolas is dressed. Look!”
So saying, the little wanton with a swift movement uncovered me, but at the same time she uncovered her sister, and Clementine with a little scream veiled the charms which my eyes had devoured for a moment. I had seen all, but as one sees lightning. I had seen the cornice and the frieze of the altar of love.
Eleanore then went out, and I remained gazing at the treasure I desired but did not dare to seize. At last I broke the silence.
“Dearest Hebe,” said I, “you are certainly fairer than the cupbearer of the gods. I have just seen what must have been seen when Hebe was falling, and if I had been Jupiter I should have changed my mind.”
“Sardini told me that Jupiter drove Hebe away, and now I ought to drive Jupiter away out of revenge.”
“Yes; but, my angel, I am Iolas, and not Jupiter. I adore you, and I seek to quench the desires which torture me.”
“This is a trick between you and Eleanore.”
“My dearest, it was all pure chance. I thought I should find you dressed, and I went in to wish you good day. You were asleep and your sister was dressing. I gazed at you, and Eleanore suggested that I should lie down beside you to enjoy your astonishment when you awoke. I ought to be grateful to her for a pleasure which has turned out so pleasantly. But the beauties she discovered to me surpass all the ideas I had formed on the subject. My charming Hebe will not refuse to pardon me.”
“No, since all is the effect of chance. But it is curious that when one loves passionately one always feels inquisitive concerning the person of the beloved object.”
“It is a very natural feeling, dearest. Love itself is a kind of curiosity, if it be lawful to put curiosity in the rank of the passions; but you have not that feeling about me?”
“No, for fear you might disappoint me, for I love you, and I want everything to speak in your favour.”
“I know you might be disappointed, and consequently I must do everything in my power to preserve your good opinion.”
“Then you are satisfied with me?”
“Surely. I am a good architect, and I think you are grandly built.”
“Stay, Iolas, do not touch me; it is enough that you have seen me.”
“Alas! it is by touching that one rectifies the mistakes of the eyes; one judges thus of smoothness and solidity. Let me kiss these two fair sources of life. I prefer them to the hundred breasts of Cybele, and I am not jealous of Athys.”
“You are wrong there; Sardini told me that it was Diana of Ephesus who had the hundred breasts.”
How could I help laughing to hear mythology issuing from Clementine’s mouth at such a moment! Could any lover foresee such an incident?
I pressed with my hand her alabaster breast, and yet the desire of knowledge subdued love in the heart of Clementine. But far from mistaking her condition I thought it a good omen. I told her that she was perfectly right, and that I was wrong, and a feeling of literary vanity prevented her opposing my pressing with my lips a rosy bud, which stood out in relief against the alabaster sphere.
“You apply your lips in vain, my dear Iolas, the land is barren. But what are you swallowing?”
“The quintessence of a kiss.”
“I think you must have swallowed something of me, since you have given me a pleasurable sensation I have never before experienced.”
“Dear Hebe, you make me happy.”
“I am glad to hear it, but I think the kiss on the lips is much better.”
“Certainly, because the pleasure is reciprocal, and consequently greater.”
“You teach by precept and example too. Cruel teacher! Enough, this pleasure is too sweet. Love must be looking at us and laughing.”
“Why should we not let him enjoy a victory which would make us both happier?”
“Because such happiness is not built on a sure foundation. No, no! put your arms down. If we can kill each other with kisses, let us kiss on; but let us use no other arms.”
After our lips had clung to each other cruelly but sweetly, she paused, and gazing at me with eyes full of passion she begged me to leave her alone.
The situation in which I found myself is impossible to describe. I deplored the prejudice which had constrained me, and I wept with rage. I cooled myself by making a toilette which was extremely necessary, and returned to her room.
She was writing.
“I am delighted to see you back,” said she, “I am full of the poetic frenzy and propose to tell the story of the victory we have gained in verse.”
“A sad victory, abhorred by love, hateful to nature.”
“That will do nicely. Will each write a poem; I to celebrate the victory and you to deplore it. But you look sad.”
“I am in pain; but as the masculine anatomy is unknown to you, I cannot explain matters.”
Clementine did not reply, but I could see that she was affected. I suffered a dull pain in that part which prejudice had made me hold a prisoner while love and nature bade me give it perfect freedom. Sleep was the only thing which would restore the balance of my constitution.
We went down to dinner, but I could not eat. I could not attend to the reading of the translation which M. Vigi had brought with him, and I even forgot to compliment him upon it. I begged the count to hold the bank for me, and asked the company to allow me to lie down; nobody could tell what was the matter with me, though Clementine might have her suspicions.
At supper-time Clementine, accompanied by a servant, brought me a delicate cold collation, and told me that the bank had won. It was the first time it had done so, for I had always taken care to play a losing game. I made a good supper, but remained still melancholy and silent. When I had finished Clementine bade me good night, saying that she was going to write her poem.
I, too, was in the vein: I finished my poem, and made a fair copy of it before I went to bed. In the morning Clementine came to see me, and gave me her piece, which I read with pleasure; though I suspect that the delight my praises gave was equal to mine.
Then came the turn of my composition, and before long I noticed that the picture of my sufferings was making a profound impression on her. Big tears rolled down her cheeks, and from her eyes shot forth tender glances. When I had finished, I had the happiness of hearing her say that if she had known that part of physiology better, she would not have behaved so.
We took a cup of chocolate together, and I then begged her to lie down beside me in bed without undressing, and to treat me as I had treated her the day before, that she might have some experience of the martyrdom I had sung in my verses. She smiled and agreed, on the condition that I should do nothing to her.
It was a cruel condition, but it was the beginning of victory, and I had to submit. I had no reason to repent of my submission, for I enjoyed the despotism she exercised on me, and the pain she must be in that I did nothing to her, whilst I would not let her see the charms which she held in her hands. In vain I excited her to satisfy herself, to refuse her desires nothing, but she persisted in maintaining that she did not wish to go any further.
“Your enjoyment cannot be so great as mine,” said I. But her subtle wit never left her without a reply.
“Then,” said she, “you have no right to ask me to pity you.”
The test, however, was too sharp for her. She left me in a state of great excitement, giving me a kiss which took all doubts away, and saying that in love we must be all or nothing.
We spent the day in reading, eating, and walking, and in converse grave and gay. I could not see, however, that my suit had progressed, as far as the events of the morning seemed to indicate. She wanted to reverse the medal of Aristippus, who said, in speaking of Lois, “I possess her, but she does not possess me.” She wanted to be my mistress, without my being her master. I ventured to bewail my fate a little, but that did not seem to advance my cause.
Three or four days after, I asked Clementine in the presence of her sister to let me lie in bed beside her. This is the test proposed to a nun, a widow, a girl afraid of consequences, and it nearly always succeeds. I took a packet of fine English letters and explained their use to her. She took them examined them attentively, and after a burst of laughter declared them to be scandalous, disgusting, horrible in which anathema her sister joined. In vain I tried to plead their utility in defence, but Clementine maintained that there was no trusting them, and pushed her finger into one so strongly that it burst with a loud crack. I had to give way, and put my specialties in my pocket, and her final declaration was that such things made her shudder.
I wished them good night, and retired in some confusion. I pondered over Clementine’s strange resistance, which could only mean that I had not inspired her with sufficient love. I resolved on overcoming her by an almost infallible method. I would procure her pleasures that were new to her without sparing expense. I could think of nothing better than to take the whole family to Milan, and to give them a sumptuous banquet at my pastry-cook’s. “I will take them there,” I said to myself, “without saying a word about our destination till we are on our way, for if I were to name Milan the count might feel bound to tell his Spanish countess, that she might have an opportunity of making the acquaintance of her sisters-in-law, and this would vex me to the last degree.” The party would be a great treat to the sisters, who had never been in Milan, and I resolved to make the expedition as splendid as I possibly could.
When I awoke the next morning I wrote to Zenobia to buy three dresses of the finest Lyons silk for three young ladies of rank. I sent the necessary measurements, and instructions as to the trimming. The Countess Ambrose’s dress was to be white satin with a rich border of Valenciennes lace. I also wrote to M. Greppi, asking him to pay for Zenobia’s purchases. I told her to take the three dresses to my private lodgings, and lay them upon the bed, and give the landlord a note I enclosed. This note ordered him to provide a banquet for eight persons, without sparing expense. On the day and hour appointed, Zengbia was to be at the pastrycook’s ready to wait on the three ladies. I sent the letter by Clairmont, who returned before dinner, bearing a note from Zenobia assuring me that all my wishes should be carried out. After dessert I broached my plan to the countess, telling her that I wanted to give a party like the one at Lodi, but on two conditions: the first, that no one was to know our destination till we were in the carriages, and the second, that after dinner we should return to St. Angelo.
Out of politeness the countess looked at her husband before accepting the invitation, but he cried out, without ceremony, that he was ready to go if I took the whole family.
“Very good,” said I, “we will start at eight o’clock to-morrow, and nobody need be at any trouble, the carriages are ordered.”
I felt obliged to include the canon, because he was a great courtier of the countess, and also because he lost money to me every day, and thus it was he, in fact, who was going to pay for the expedition. That evening he lost three hundred sequins, and was obliged to ask me to give him three day’s grace to pay the money. I replied by assuring him that all I had was at his service.
When the company broke up I offered my hand to Hebe, and escorted her and her sister to their room. We had begun to read Fontenelle’s “Plurality of Worlds,” and I had thought we should finish it that night; but Clementine said that as she had to get up early, she would want to get to sleep early also.
“You are right, dearest Hebe, do you go to bed, and I will read to you.”
She made no objection, so I took the Ariosto, and began to read the history of the Spanish princess who fell in love with Bradamante. I thought that by the time I had finished Clementine would be ardent, but I was mistaken; both she and her sister seemed pensive.
“What is the matter with you, dearest? Has Ricciardetto displeased you?”
“Not at all, he has pleased me, and in the princess’s place I should have done the same; but we shall not sleep all night, and it is your fault.”
“What have I done, pray?”
“Nothing, but you can make us happy, and give us a great proof of your friendship.”
“Speak, then. What is it you want of me? I would do anything to please you. My life is yours. You shall sleep soundly.”
“Well, then, tell us where we are going to-morrow.”
“Have I not already said that I would tell you just as we are going?”
“Yes, but that won’t do. We want to know now, and if you won’t tell us we shan’t sleep, all night, and we shall look frightful to-morrow.”
“I should be so sorry, but I don’t think that you could look frightful.”
“You don’t think we can keep a secret. It is nothing very important, is it?”
“No, it is not very important, but all the same it is a secret.”
“It would be dreadful if you refused me.”
“Dearest Hebe! how can I refuse you anything? I confess freely that I have been wrong in keeping you waiting so long. Here is my secret: you are to dine with me to-morrow.”
“With you? Where?”
In their immoderate joy they got out of bed, and without caring for their state of undress, threw their arms round my neck, covered me with kisses, clasped me to their breasts, and finally sat down on my knees.
“We have never seen Milan,” they cried, “and it has been the dream of our lives to see that splendid town. How often I have been put to the blush when I have been forced to confess that I have never been to Milan.”
“It makes me very happy,” said Hebe, “but my happiness is troubled by the idea that we shall see nothing of the town, for we shall have to return after dinner. It is cruel! Are we to go fifteen miles to Milan only to dine and come back again? At least we must see our sister-in-law.”
“I have foreseen all your objections, and that was the reason I made a mystery of it, but it has been arranged. You don’t like it? Speak and tell me your pleasure.”
“Of course we like it, dear Iolas. The party will be charming, and perhaps, if we knew all, the very conditions are all for the best.”
“It may be so, but I may not tell you any more now.”
“And we will not press you.”
In an ecstasy of joy she began to embrace me again, and Eleanore said that she would go to sleep so as to be more on the alert for the morrow. This was the best thing she could have done. I knew the fortunate hour was at hand, and exciting Clementine by my fiery kisses, and drawing nearer and nearer, at last I was in full possession of the temple I had so long desired to attain. Hebe’s pleasure and delight kept her silent; she shared my ecstasies, and mingled her happy tears with mine.
I spent two hours in this manner, and then went to bed, impatient to renew the combat on the following day more at my ease and with greater comfort.
At eight o’clock we were all assembled round the breakfast-table, but in spite of my high spirits I could not make the rest of the company share them. All were silent and pensive; curiosity shewed itself on every face. Clementine and her sister pretended to partake the general feeling, and were silent like the rest while I looked on and enjoyed their expectancy.
Clairmont, who had fulfilled my instructions to the letter, came in and told us that the carriages were at the door. I asked my guests to follow me, and they did so in silence. I put the countess and Clementine in my carriage, the latter holding the baby on her lap, her sister and the three gentlemen being seated in the other carriage. I called out, with a laugh,
“Drive to Milan.”
“Milan! Milan!” they exclaimed with one voice. “Capital! capital!”
Clairmont galloped in front of us and went off. Clementine pretended to be astonished, but her sister looked as if she had known something of our destination before. All care, however, had disappeared, and the highest spirits prevailed. We stopped at a village half-way between St. Angelo and Milan to blow the horses, and everybody got down.
“What will my wife say?” asked the count.
“Nothing, for she will not know anything about it, and if she does I am the only guilty party. You are to dine with me in a suite of rooms which I have occupied incognito since I have been at Milan; for you will understand that I could not have my wants attended to at your house, where the place is already taken.”
“And how about Zenobia?”
“Zenobia was a lucky chance, and is a very nice girl, but she would not suffice for my daily fare.”
“You are a lucky fellow!”
“I try to make myself comfortable.”
“My dear husband,” said the Countess Ambrose, “you proposed a visit to Milan two years ago, and the chevalier proposed it a few hours ago, and now we are on our way.”
“Yes, sweetheart, but my idea was that we should spend a month there.”
“If you want to do that,” said I, “I will see to everything.”
“Thank you, my dear sir; you are really a wonderful man.”
“You do me too much honour, count, there is nothing wonderful about me, except that I execute easily an easy task.”
“Yes; but you will confess that a thing may be difficult from the way in which we regard it, or from the position in which we find ourselves.”
“You are quite right.”
When we were again on our way the countess said —
“You must confess, sir, that you are a very fortunate man.”
“I do not deny it, my dear countess, but my happiness is due to the company I find myself in; if you were to expel me from yours, I should be miserable”
“You are not the kind of man to be expelled from any society.”
“That is a very kindly compliment.”
“Say, rather, a very true one.”
“I am happy to hear you say so, but it would be both foolish and presumptuous for me to say so myself.”
Thus we made merry on our way, above all at the expense of the canon, who had been begging the countess to intercede with me to give him leave to absent himself half an hour.
“I want to call on a lady,” said he; “I should lose her favour forever if she came to know that I had been in Milan without paying her a visit.”
“You must submit to the conditions,” replied the amiable countess, “so don’t count on my intercession.”
We got to Milan exactly at noon, and stepped out at the pastry- cook’s door. The landlady begged the countess to confide her child to her care, and shewed her a bosom which proved her fruitfulness. This offer was made at the foot of the stairs, and the countess accepted it with charming grace and dignity. It was a delightful episode, which chance had willed should adorn the entertainment I had invented. Everybody seemed happy, but I was the happiest of all. Happiness is purely a creature of the imagination. If you wish to be happy fancy that you are so, though I confess that circumstances favourable to this state are often beyond our control. On the other hand, unfavourable circumstances are mostly the result of our own mistakes.
The countess took my arm, and we led the way into my room which I found exquisitely neat and clean. As I had expected, Zenobia was there, but I was surprised to see Croce’s mistress, looking very pretty; however, I pretended not to know her. She was well dressed, and her face, free from the sadness it had borne before, was so seductive in its beauty, that I felt vexed at her appearance at that particular moment.
“Here are two pretty girls,” said the countess. “Who are you, pray?”
“We are the chevalier’s humble servants,” said Zenobia, “and we are here only to wait on you.”
Zenobia had taken it on herself to bring her lodger, who began to speak Italian, and looked at me in doubt, fearing that I was displeased at her presence. I had to reassure her by saying I was very glad she had come with Zenobia. These words were as balm to her heart; she smiled again, and became more beautiful than ever. I felt certain that she would not remain unhappy long; it was impossible to behold her without one’s interest being excited in her favour. A bill signed by the Graces can never be protested; anyone with eyes and a heart honours it at sight.
My humble servants took the ladies’ cloaks and followed them into the bedroom, where the three dresses were laid out on a table. I only knew the white satin and lace, for that was the only one I had designed. The countess, who walked before her sisters, was the first to notice it, and exclaimed —
“What a lovely dress! To whom does it belong, M. de Seingalt? You ought to know.”
“Certainly. It belongs to your husband who can do what he likes with it, and I hope, if he gives it you, you will take it. Take it, count; it is yours; and if you refuse I will positively kill myself.”
“We love you too well to drive you to an act of despair. The idea is worthy of your nobility of heart. I take your beautiful present with one hand, and with the other I deliver it to her to whom it really belongs.”
“What, dear husband! is this beautiful dress really mine? Whom am I to thank? I thank you both, and I must put it on for dinner.”
The two others were not made of such rich materials, but they were more showy, and I was delighted to see Clementine’s longing gaze fixed upon the one I had intended for her. Eleanore in her turn admired the dress that had been made for her. The first was in shot satin, and ornamented with lovely wreaths of flowers; the second was sky-blue satin, with a thousand flowers scattered all over it. Zenobia took upon herself to say that the first was for Clementine.
“How do you know?”
“It is the longer, and you are taller than your sister.”
“That is true. It is really mine, then?” said she, turning to me.
“If I may hope that you will deign to accept it.”
“Surely, dear Iolas, and I will put it on directly.”
Eleanore maintained that her dress was the prettier, and said she was dying to put it on.
“Very good, very good!” I exclaimed, in high glee, “we will leave you to dress, and here are your maids.”
I went out with the two brothers and the canon, and I remarked that they looked quite confused. No doubt they were pondering the prodigality of gamesters; light come, light go. I did not interrupt their thoughts, for I loved to astonish people. I confess it was a feeling of vanity which raised me above my fellow-men-at least, in my own eyes, but that was enough for me. I should have despised anyone who told me that I was laughed at, but I daresay it was only the truth.
I was in the highest spirits, and they soon proved infectious. I embraced Count Ambrose affectionately, begging his pardon for having presumed to make the family a few small presents, and I thanked his brother for having introduced me to them. “You have all given me such a warm welcome,” I added, “that I felt obliged to give you some small proof of my gratitude.”
The fair countesses soon appeared, bedecked with smiles and their gay attire.
“You must have contrived to take our measures,” said they; “but we cannot imagine how you did it.”
“The funniest thing is,” said the eldest, “that you have had my dress made so that it can be let out when necessary without destroying the shape. But what a beautiful piece of trimming! It is worth four times as much as the dress itself.”
Clementine could not keep away from the looking-glass. She fancied that in the colours of her dress, rose and green, I had indicated the characteristics of the youthful Hebe. Eleanore still maintained that her dress was the prettiest of all.
I was delighted with the pleasure of my fair guests, and we sat down to table with excellent appetites. The dinner was extremely choice; but the finest dish of all was a dish of oysters, which the landlord had dressed a la maitre d’hotel. We enjoyed them immensely. We finished off three hundred of them, for the ladies relished them extremely, and the canon seemed to have an insatiable appetite; and we washed down the dishes with numerous bottles of champagne. We stayed at table for three hours, drinking, singing, and jesting, while my humble servants, whose beauty almost rivalled that of my guests, waited upon us.
Towards the end of the meal the pastry-cook’s wife came in with the countess’s baby on her breast. This was a dramatic stroke. The mother burst into a cry of joy, and the woman seemed quite proud of having suckled the scion of so illustrious a house for nearly four hours. It is well known that women, even more than men, are wholly under the sway of the imagination. Who can say that this woman, simple and honest like the majority of the lower classes, did not think that her own offspring would be ennobled by being suckled at the breast which had nourished a young count? Such an idea is, no doubt, foolish, but that is the very reason why it is dear to the hearts of the people.
We spent another hour in taking coffee and punch, and then the ladies went to change their clothes again. Zenobia took care that their new ones should be carefully packed in cardboard boxes and placed under the seat of my carriage.
Croce’s abandoned mistress found an opportunity of telling me that she was very happy with Zenobia. She asked me when we were to go.
“You will be at Marseilles,” said I, pressing her hand, “a fortnight after Easter at latest.”
Zenobia had told me that the girl had an excellent heart, behaved very discreetly, and that she should be very sorry to see her go. I gave Zenobia twelve sequins for the trouble she had taken.
I was satisfied with everything and paid the worthy pastry-cook’s bill. I noticed we had emptied no less than twenty bottles of champagne, though it is true that we drank very little of any other wine, as the ladies preferred it.
I loved and was beloved, my health was good, I had plenty of money, which I spent freely; in fine, I was happy. I loved to say so in defiance of those sour moralists who pretend that there is no true happiness on this earth. It is the expression on this earth which makes me laugh; as if it were possible to go anywhere else in search of happiness. ‘Mors ultima linea rerum est’. Yes, death is the end of all, for after death man has no senses; but I do not say that the soul shares the fate of the body. No one should dogmatise on uncertainties, and after death everything is doubtful.
It was seven o’clock when we began our journey home, which we reached at midnight. The journey was so pleasant that it seemed to us but short. The champagne, the punch, and the pleasure, had warmed my two fair companions, and by favour of the darkness I was able to amuse myself with them, though I loved Clementine too well to carry matters very far with her sister.
When we alighted we wished each other good night, and everybody retired to his or her room, myself excepted, for I spent several happy hours with Clementine, which I can never forget.
“Do you think,” said she, “that I shall be happy when you have left me all alone?”
“Dearest Hebe, both of us will be unhappy for the first few days, but then philosophy will step in and soften the bitterness of parting without lessening our love.”
“Soften the bitterness! I do not think any philosophy can work such a miracle. I know that you, dear sophist, will soon console yourself with other girls. Don’t think me jealous; I should abhor myself if I thought I was capable of so vile a passion, but I should despise myself if I was capable of seeking consolation in your way.”
“I shall be in despair if you entertain such ideas of me.”
“They are natural, however.”
“Possibly. What you call ‘other girls’ can never expel your image from my breast. The chief of them is the wife of a tailor, and the other is a respectable young woman, whom I am going to take back to Marseilles, whence she has been decoyed by her wretched seducer.
“From henceforth to death, you and you alone will reign in my breast; and if, led astray by my senses, I ever press another in these arms, I shall soon be punished for an act of infidelity in which my mind will have no share.”
“I at all events will never need to repent in that fashion. But I cannot understand how, with your love for me, and holding me in your arms, you can even contemplate the possibility of becoming unfaithful to me.”
“I don’t contemplate it, dearest, I merely take it as an hypothesis.”
“I don’t see much difference.”
What reply could I make? There was reason in what Clementine said, though she was deceived, but her mistakes were due to her love. My love was so ardent as to be blind to possible — nay, certain, infidelities. The only circumstance which made me more correct in my estimate of the future than she, was that this was by no means my first love affair. But if my readers have been in the same position, as I suppose mast of them have, they will understand how difficult it is to answer such arguments coming from a woman one wishes to render happy. The keenest wit has to remain silent and to take refuge in kisses.
“Would you like to take me away with you?” said she, “I am ready to follow you, and it would make me happy. If you love me, you ought to be enchanted for your own sake. Let us make each other happy, dearest.”
“I could not dishonour your family.”
“Do you not think me worthy of becoming your wife?”
“You are worthy of a crown, and it is I who am all unworthy of possessing such a wife. You must know that I have nothing in the world except my fortune, and that may leave me to-morrow. By myself I do not dread the reverses of fortune, but I should be wretched if, after linking your fate with mine, you were forced to undergo any privation.”
“I think — I know not why — that you can never be unfortunate, and that you cannot be happy without me. Your love is not so ardent as mine; you have not so great a faith.”
“My angel, if my fate is weaker than yours, that is the result of cruel experience which makes me tremble for the future. Affrighted love loses its strength but gains reason.”
“Cruel reason! Must we, then, prepare to part?”
“We must indeed, dearest; it is a hard necessity, but my heart will still be thine. I shall go away your fervent adorer, and if fortune favours me in England you will see me again next year. I will buy an estate wherever you like, and it shall be yours on your wedding day, our children and literature will be our delights.”
“What a happy prospect! — a golden vision indeed! I would that I might fall asleep dreaming thus, and wake not till that blessed day, or wake only to die if it is not to be. But what shall I do if you have left me with child?”
“Divine Hebe, you need not fear. I have managed that.”
“Managed? I did not think of that, but I see what you mean, and I am very much obliged to you. Alas perhaps after all it would have been better if you had not taken any precautions, for surely you are not born for my misfortune, and you could never have abandoned the mother and the child.”
“You are right, sweetheart, and if before two months have elapsed you find any signs of pregnancy in spite of my precautions, you have only to write to me, and whatever my fortunes may be, I will give you my hand and legitimise our offspring. You would certainly be marrying beneath your station, but you would not be the less happy for that, would you?”
“No, no! to bear your name, and to win your hand would be the crowning of all my hopes. I should never repent of giving myself wholly to you.”
“You make me happy.”
“All of us love you, all say that you are happy, and that you deserve your happiness. What praise is this! You cannot tell how my heart beats when I hear you lauded when you are away. When they say I love you, I answer that I adore you, and you know that I do not lie.”
It was with such dialogues that we passed away the interval between our amorous transports on the last five or six nights of my stay. Her sister slept, or pretended to sleep. When I left Clementine I went to bed and did not rise till late, and then I spent the whole day with her either in private or with the family. It was a happy time. How could I, as free as the air, a perfect master of my movements, of my own free will put my happiness away from me? I cannot understand it now.
My luck had made me win all the worthy canon’s money, which in turn I passed on to the family at the castle. Clementine alone would not profit by my inattentive play, but the last two days I insisted on taking her into partnership, and as the canon’s bad luck still continued she profited to the extent of a hundred louis. The worthy monk lost a thousand sequins, of which seven hundred remained in the family. This was paying well for the hospitality I had received, and as it was at the expense of the monk, though a worthy one, the merit was all the greater.
The last night, which I spent entirely with the countess, was very sad; we must have died of grief if we had not taken refuge in the transports of love. Never was night better spent. Tears of grief and tears of love followed one another in rapid succession, and nine times did I offer up sacrifice on the altar of the god, who gave me fresh strength to replace that which was exhausted. The sanctuary was full of blood and tears, but the desires of the priest and victim still cried for more. We had at last to make an effort and part. Eleanore had seized the opportunity of our sleeping for a few moments, and had softly risen and left us alone. We felt grateful to her, and agreed that she must either be very insensitive or have suffered torments in listening to our voluptuous combats. I left Clementine to her ablutions, of which she stood in great need, while I went to my room to make my toilette.
When we appeared at the breakfast, table we looked as if we had been on the rack, and Clementine’s eyes betrayed her feelings, but our grief was respected. I could not be gay in my usual manner, but no one asked me the reason. I promised to write to them, and come and see them again the following year. I did write to them, but I left off doing so at London, because the misfortunes I experienced there made me lose all hope of seeing them again. I never did see any of them again, but I have never forgotten Clementine.
Six years later, when I came back from Spain, I heard to my great delight that she was living happily with Count N— — whom she had married three years after my departure. She had two sons, the younger, who must now be twenty-seven, is in the Austrian army. How delighted I should be to see him! When I heard of Clementine’s happiness, it was, as I have said, on my return from Spain, and my fortunes were at a low ebb. I went to see what I could do at Leghorn, and as I went through Lombardy I passed four miles from the estate where she and her husband resided, but I had not the courage to go and see her; perhaps I was right. But I must return to the thread of my story.
I felt grateful to Eleanore for her kindness to us, and I had resolved to leave her some memorial of me. I took her apart for a moment, and drawing a fine cameo, representing the god of Silence, off my finger, I placed it on hers, and then rejoined the company, without giving her an opportunity to thank me.
The carriage was ready to take me away, and everyone was waiting to see me off, but my eyes filled with tears. I sought for Clementine in vain; she had vanished. I pretended to have forgotten something in my room, and going to my Hebe’s chamber I found her in a terrible state, choking with sobs. I pressed her to my breast, and mingled my tears with hers; and then laying her gently in her bed, and snatching a last kiss from her trembling lips, I tore myself away from a place full of such sweet and agonizing memories.
I thanked and embraced everyone, the good canon amongst others, and whispering to Eleanore to see to her sister I jumped into the carriage beside the count. We remained perfectly silent, and slept nearly the whole of the way. We found the Marquis Triulzi and the countess together, and the former immediately sent for a dinner for four. I was not much astonished to find that the countess had found out about our being at Milan, and at first she seemed inclined to let us feel the weight of her anger; but the count, always fertile in expedients, told her that it was delicacy on my part not to tell her, as I was afraid she would be put out with such an incursion of visitors.
At dinner I said that I should soon be leaving for Genoa, and for my sorrow the marquis gave me a letter of introduction to the notorious Signora Isola-Bella, while the countess gave me a letter to her kinsman the Bishop of Tortona.
My arrival at Milan was well-timed; Therese was on the point of going to Palermo, and I just succeeded in seeing her before she left. I talked to her of the wish of Cesarino to go to sea, and I did all in my power to make her yield to his inclinations.
“I am leaving him at Milan,” said she. “I know how he got this idea into his head, but I will never give my consent. I hope I shall find him wiser by the time I come back.”
She was mistaken. My son never altered his mind, and in fifteen years my readers will hear more of him.
I settled my accounts with Greppi and took two bills of exchange on Marseilles, and one of ten thousand francs on Genoa, where I did not think I would have to spend much money. In spite of my luck at play, I was poorer by a thousand sequins when I left Milan than when I came there; but my extravagant expenditure must be taken into account.
I spent all my afternoons with the fair Marchioness sometimes alone and sometimes with her cousin, but with my mind full of grief for Clementine she no longer charmed me as she had done three weeks ago.
I had no need to make any mystery about the young lady I was going to take with me, so I sent Clairmont for her small trunk, and at eight o’clock on the morning of my departure she waited on me at the count’s. I kissed the hand of the woman who had attempted my life, and thanked her for her hospitality, to which I attributed the good reception I had had at Milan. I then thanked the count, who said once more that he should never cease to be grateful to me, and thus I left Milan on the 20th of March, 1763. I never re- visited that splendid capital.
The young lady, whom out of respect for her and her family I called Crosin, was charming. There was an air of nobility and high-bred reserve about her which bore witness to her excellent upbringing. As I sat next to her, I congratulated myself on my immunity from love of her, but the reader will guess that I was mistaken. I told Clairmont that she was to be called my niece, and to be treated with the utmost respect.
I had had no opportunity of conversing with her, so the first thing I did was to test her intelligence, and though I had not the slightest intention of paying my court to her, I felt that it would be well to inspire her with friendship and confidence as far as I was concerned.
The scar which my late amours had left was still bleeding, and I was glad to think that I should be able to restore the young Marseillaise to the paternal hearth without any painful partings or vain regrets. I enjoyed in advance my meritorious action, and I was quite vain to see my self-restraint come to such a pitch that I was able to live in close intimacy with a pretty girl without any other desire than that of rescuing her from the shame into which she might have fallen if she had traveled alone. She felt my kindness to her, and said —
“I am sure M. de la Croix would not have abandoned me if he had not met you at Milan.”
“You are very charitable, but I am unable to share in your good opinion. To my mind Croce has behaved in a rascally manner, to say the least of it, for in spite of your many charms he had no right to count on me in the matter. I will not say that he openly scorned you, since he might have acted from despair; but I am sure he must have ceased to love you, or he could never have abandoned you thus.”
“I am sure of the contrary. He saw that he had no means of providing for me, and he had to choose between leaving me and killing himself.”
“Not at all. He ought to have sold all he had and sent you back to Marseilles. Your journey to Genoa would not have cost much, and thence you could have gone to Marseilles by sea. Croce counted on my having been interested in your pretty face, and he was right; but you must see that he exposed you to a great risk. You must not be offended if I tell you the plain truth. If your face had not inspired me with a lively interest in you, I should have only felt ordinary compassion on reading your appeal, and this would not have been enough to force me to great sacrifices of time and trouble. But I have no business to be blaming Croce. You are hurt; I see you are still in love with him.”
“I confess it, and I pity him. As for myself, I only pity my cruel destiny. I shall never see him again, but I shall never love anyone else, for my mind is made up. I shall go into a convent and expiate my sins. My father will pardon me, for he is a man of an excellent heart. I have been the victim of love; my will was not my own. The seductive influence of passion ravished my reason from me, and the only thing that I blame myself for is for not having fortified my mind against it. Otherwise I cannot see that I have sinned deeply, but I confess I have done wrong.”
“You would have gone with Croce from Milan if he had asked you, even on foot.”
“Of course; it would have been my duty; but he would not expose me to the misery that he saw before us.”
“Nay, you were miserable enough already. I am sure that if you meet him at Marseilles you will go with him again.”
“Never. I begin to get back my reason. I am free once more, and the day will come when I shall thank God for having forgotten him.”
Her sincerity pleased me, and as I knew too well the power of love I pitied her from my heart. For two hours she told me the history of her unfortunate amour, and as she told it well I began to take a liking for her.
We reached Tortona in the evening, and with the intention of sleeping there I told Clairmont to get us a supper to my taste. While we were eating it I was astonished at my false niece’s wit, and she made a good match for me at the meal, for she had an excellent appetite, and drank as well as any girl of her age. As we were leaving the table, she made a jest which was so much to the point that I burst out laughing, and her conquest was complete. I embraced her in the joy of my heart, and finding my kiss ardently returned, I asked her without any, circumlocution if she was willing that we should content ourselves with one bed.
At this invitation her face fell, and she replied, with an air of submission which kills desire —
“Alas! you can do what you like. If liberty is a precious thing, it is most precious of all in love.”
“There is no need for this disobedience. You have inspired me with a tender passion, but if you don’t share my feelings my love for you shall be stifled at its birth. There are two beds here, as you see; you can choose which one you will sleep in.”
“Then I will sleep in that one, but I shall be very sorry if you are not so kind to me in the future as you have been in the past.”
“Don’t be afraid. You shall not find me un worthy of your esteem. Good night; we shall be good friends.”
Early the next morning I sent the countess’s letter to the bishop, and an hour afterwards, as I was at breakfast, an old priest came to ask me and the lady with me to dine with my lord. The countess’s letter did not say anything about a lady, but the prelate, who was a true Spaniard and very polite, felt that as I could not leave my real or false niece alone in the inn I should not have accepted the invitation if she had not been asked as well. Probably my lord had heard of the lady through his footmen, who in Italy are a sort of spies, who entertain their masters with the scandalous gossip of the place. A bishop wants something more than his breviary to amuse him now that the apostolic virtues have grown old-fashioned and out of date; in short, I accepted the invitation, charging the priest to present my respects to his lordship.
My niece was delightful, and treated me as if I had no right to feel any resentment for her having preferred her own bed to mine. I was pleased with her behaviour, for now that my head was cool I felt that she would have degraded herself if she had acted otherwise. My vanity was not even wounded, which is so often the case under similar circumstances. Self-love and prejudice prevent a woman yielding till she has been assidiously courted, whereas I had asked her to share my bed in an off-hand manner, as if it were a mere matter of form. However, I should not have done it unless it had been for the fumes of the champagne and the Somard, with which we had washed down the delicious supper mine host had supplied us with. She had been flattered by the bishop’s invitation, but she did not know whether I had accepted for her as well as myself; and when I told her that we were going out to dinner together, she was wild with joy. She made a careful toilette, looking very well for a traveller, and at noon my lord’s carriage came to fetch us.
The prelate was a tall man, two inches taller than myself; and in spite of the weight of his eighty years, he looked well and seemed quite active, though grave as became a Spanish grandee. He received us with a politeness which was almost French, and when my niece would have kissed his hand, according to custom, he affectionately drew it back, and gave her a magnificent cross of amethysts and brilliants to kiss. She kissed it with devotion, saying —
“This is what I love.”
She looked at me as she said it, and the jest (which referred to her lover La Croix or Croce) surprised me.
We sat down to dinner, and I found the bishop to be a pleasant and a learned man. We were nine in all; four priests, and two young gentlemen of the town, who behaved to my niece with great politeness, which she received with all the manner of good society. I noticed that the bishop, though he often spoke to her, never once looked at her face. My lord knew what danger lurked in those bright eyes, and like a prudent greybeard he took care not to fall into the snare. After coffee had been served, we took leave, and in four hours we left Tortona, intending to lie at Novi.
In the course of the afternoon my fair niece amused me with the wit and wisdom of her conversation. While we were supping I led the conversation up to the bishop, and then to religion, that I might see what her principles were. Finding her to be a good Christian, I asked her how she could allow herself to make a jest when she kissed the prelate’s cross.
“It was a mere chance,” she said. “The equivocation was innocent because it was not premeditated, for if I had thought it over I should never have said such a thing.”
I pretended to believe her; she might possibly be sincere. She was extremely clever, and my love for her was becoming more and more ardent, but my vanity kept my passion in check. When she went to bed I did not kiss her, but as her bed had no screen as at Tortona, she waited until she thought I was asleep to undress herself. We got to Genoa by noon the next day.
Pogomas had got me some rooms and had forwarded me the address. I visited it, and found the apartment to consist of four well-furnished rooms, thoroughly comfortable, as the English, who understand how to take their ease, call it. I ordered a good dinner, and sent to tell Pogomas of my arrival.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07