I Find Rosalie Happy — The Signora Isola-Bella — The Cook — Biribi — Irene — Possano in Prison — My Niece Proves to be an Old Friend of Rosalie’s
At Genoa, where he was known to all, Pogomas called himself Possano. He introduced me to his wife and daughter, but they were so ugly and disgusting in every respect that I left them on some trifling pretext, and went to dine with my new niece. Afterwards I went to see the Marquis Grimaldi, for I longed to know what had become of Rosalie. The marquis was away in Venice, and was not expected back till the end of April; but one of his servants took me to Rosalie, who had become Madame Paretti six months after my departure.
My heart beat fast as I entered the abode of this woman, of whom I had such pleasant recollections. I first went to M. Paretti in his shop, and he received me with a joyful smile, which shewed me how happy he was. He took me to his wife directly, who cried out with delight, and ran to embrace me.
M. Paretti was busy, and begged me to excuse him, saying his wife would entertain me.
Rosalie shewed me a pretty little girl of six months old, telling me that she was happy, that she loved her husband, and was loved by him, that he was industrious and active in business, and under the patronage of the Marquis Grimaldi had prospered exceedingly.
The peaceful happiness of marriage had improved her wonderfully; she had become a perfect beauty in every sense of the word.
“My dear friend,” she said, “you are very good to call on me directly you arrive, and I hope you will dine with us to-morrow. I owe all my happiness to you, and that is even a sweeter thought than the recollection of the passionate hours we have spent together. Let us kiss, but no more; my duty as an honest wife forbids me from going any further, so do not disturb the happiness you have given.”
I pressed her hand tenderly, to skew that I assented to the conditions she laid down.
“Oh! by the way,” she suddenly exclaimed, “I have a pleasant surprise for you.”
She went out, and a moment afterward returned with Veronique, who had become her maid. I was glad to see her and embraced her affectionately, asking after Annette. She said her sister was well, and was working with her mother.
“I want her to come and wait on my niece while we are here,” said I.
At this Rosalie burst out laughing.
“What! another niece? You have a great many relations! But as she is your niece, I hope you will bring her with you to-morrow.”
“Certainly, and all the more willingly as she is from Marseilles.”
“From Marseilles? Why, we might know each other. Not that that would matter, for all your nieces are discreet young persons. What is her name?”
“I don’t know it.”
“I daresay you don’t. She is the daughter of a cousin of mine who lived at Marseilles.”
“Tell that to someone else; but, after all, what does it matter? You choose well, amuse yourself, and make them happy. It may be wisdom after all, and at any rate I congratulate you. I shall be delighted to see your niece, but if she knows me you must see that she knows her part as well.”
On leaving Madame Paretti I called on the Signora Isola-Bella, and gave her the Marquis Triulzi’s letter. Soon after she came into the room and welcomed me, saying that she had been expecting me, as Triulzi had written to her on the subject. She introduced me to the Marquis Augustino Grimaldi delta Pietra, her ‘cicisbeoin-chief’ during the long absence of her husband, who lived at Lisbon.
The signora’s apartments were very elegant. She was pretty with small though regular features, her manner was pleasant, her voice sweet, and her figure well shaped, though too thin. She was nearly thirty. I say nothing of her complexion, for her face was plastered with white and red, and so coarsely, that these patches of paint were the first things that caught my attention. I was disgusted at this, in spite of her fine expressive eyes. After an hour spent in question and reply, in which both parties were feeling their way, I accepted her invitation to come to supper on the following day. When I got back I complimented my niece on the way in which she had arranged her room, which was only separated from mine by a small closet which I intended for her maid, who, I told her, was coming the next day. She was highly pleased with this attention, and it paved the way for my success. I also told her that the next day she was to dine with me at a substantial merchant’s as my niece, and this piece of news made her quite happy.
This girl whom Croce had infatuated and deprived of her senses was exquisitely beautiful, but more charming than all her physical beauties were the nobleness of her presence and the sweetness of her disposition. I was already madly in love with her, and I repented not having taken possession of her on the first day of our journey. If I had taken her at her word I should have been a steadfast lover, and I do not think it would have taken me long to make her forget her former admirer.
I had made but a small dinner, so I sat down to supper famishing with hunger; and as my niece had an excellent appetite we prepared ourselves for enjoyment, but instead of the dishes being delicate, as we had expected, they were detestable. I told Clairmont to send for the landlady, and she said that she could not help it, as everything had been done by my own cook.
“My cook?” I repeated.
“Yes, sir, the one your secretary, M. Possano, engaged for you. I could have got a much better one and a much cheaper one myself.”
“Get one to-morrow.”
“Certainly; but you must rid yourself and me of the present cook, for he has taken up his position here with his wife and children. Tell Possano to send for him.”
“I will do so, and in the meanwhile do you get me a fresh cook. I will try him the day after to-morrow.”
I escorted my niece into her room, and begged her to go to bed without troubling about me, and so saying I took up the paper and began to read it. When I had finished, I went up to bed, and said,
“You might spare me the pain of having to sleep by myself.”
She lowered her eyes but said nothing, so I gave her a kiss and left her.
In the morning my fair niece came into my room just as Clairmont was washing my feet, and begged me to let her have some coffee as chocolate made her hot. I told my man to go and fetch some coffee, and as soon as he was gone she went down on her knees and would have wiped my feet.
“I cannot allow that, my dear young lady.”
“Why not? it is a mark of friendship.”
“That may be, but such marks cannot be given to anyone but your lover without your degrading yourself.”
She got up and sat down on a chair quietly, but saying nothing.
Clairmont came back again, and I proceeded with my toilette.
The landlady came in with our breakfast, and asked my niece if she would like to buy a fine silk shawl made in the Genoese fashion. I did not let her be confused by having to answer, but told the landlady to let us see it. Soon after the milliner came in, but by that time I had given my young friend twenty Genoese sequins, telling her that she might use them for her private wants. She took the money, thanking me with much grace, and letting me imprint a delicious kiss on her lovely lips.
I had sent away the milliner after having bought the shawl, when Possano took it upon himself to remonstrate with me in the matter of the cook.
“I engaged the man by your orders,” said he, “for the whole time you stayed at Genoa, at four francs a day, with board and lodging.”
“Where is my letter?”
“Here it is: ‘Get me a good cook; I will keep him while I stay in Genoa.’”
“Perhaps you did not remark the expression, d good cook? Well, this fellow is a very bad cook; and, at all events, I am the best judge whether he is good or bad.”
“You are wrong, for the man will prove his skill. He will cite you in the law courts, and win his case.”
“Then you have made a formal agreement with him?”
“Certainly; and your letter authorized me to do so.”
“Tell him to come up; I want to speak to him.”
While Possano was downstairs I told Clairmont to go and fetch me an advocate. The cook came upstairs, I read the agreement, and I saw that it was worded in such a manner that I should be in the wrong legally; but I did not change my mind for all that.
“Sir,” said the cook, “I am skilled in my business, and I can get four thousand Genoese to swear as much.”
“That doesn’t say much for their good taste; but whatever they may- say, the execrable supper you gave me last night proves that you are only fit to keep a low eating-house.”
As there is nothing more irritable than the feelings of a culinary artist, I was expecting a sharp answer; but just then the advocate came in. He had heard the end of our dialogue, and told me that not only would the man find plenty of witnesses to his skill, but that I should find a very great difficulty in getting anybody at all to swear to his want of skill.
“That may be,” I replied, “but as I stick to my own opinion, and think his cooking horrible, he must go, for I want to get another, and I will pay that fellow as if he had served me the whole time.”
“That won’t do,” said the cook; “I will summon you before the judge and demand damages for defamation of character.”
At this my bile overpowered me, and I was going to seize him anti throw him out of the window, when Don Antonio Grimaldi came in. When he heard what was the matter, he laughed and said, with a shrug of his shoulders,
“My dear sir, you had better not go into court, or you will be cast in costs, for the evidence is against you. Probably this man makes a slight mistake in believing himself to be an excellent cook, but the chief mistake is in the agreement, which ought to have stipulated that he should cook a trial dinner. The person who drew up the agreement is either a great knave or a great fool.”
At this Possano struck in in his rude way, and told the nobleman that he was neither knave nor fool.
“But you are cousin to the cook,” said the landlady.
This timely remark solved the mystery. I paid and dismissed the advocate, and having sent the cook out of the room I said,
“Do I owe you any money, Possano?”
“On the contrary, you paid me a month in advance, and there are ten more days of the month to run.”
“I will make you a present of the ten days and send you away this very moment, unless your cousin does not leave my house to-day, and give you the foolish engagement which you signed in my name.”
“That’s what I call cutting the Gordian knot,” said M. Grimaldi.
He then begged me to introduce him to the lady he had seen with me, and I did so, telling him she was my niece.
“Signora Isola-Bella will be delighted to see her.”
“As the marquis did not mention her in his letter, I did not take the liberty of bringing her.”
The marquis left a few moments afterwards, and soon after Annette came in with her mother. The girl had developed in an incredible manner while I was away. Her cheeks blossomed like the rose, her teeth were white as pearls, and her breasts, though modestly concealed from view, were exquisitely rounded. I presented her to her mistress, whose astonishment amused me.
Annette, who looked pleased to be in my service again, went to dress her new mistress; and, after giving a few sequins to the mother I sent her away, and proceeded to make my toilette.
Towards noon, just as I was going out with my niece to dine at Rosalie’s, my landlady brought me the agreement Possano had made, and introduced the new cook. I ordered the next day’s dinner, and went away much pleased with my comic victory.
A brilliant company awaited us at the Paretti’s, but I was agreeably surprised on introducing my niece to Rosalie to see them recognize each other. They called each other by their respective names, and indulged in an affectionate embrace. After this they retired to another room for a quarter of an hour, and returned looking very happy. Just then Paretti entered, and on Rosalie introducing him to my niece under her true name he welcomed her in the most cordial manner. Her father was a correspondent of his, and drawing a letter he had just received from him from his pocket, he gave it to her to read. My niece read it eagerly, with tears in her eyes, and gave the signature a respectful pressure with her lips. This expression of filial love, which displayed all the feelings of her heart, moved me to such an extent that I burst into tears. Then taking Rosalie aside, I begged her to ask her husband not to mention the fact to his correspondent that he had seen his daughter.
The dinner was excellent, and Rosalie did the honours with that grace which was natural to her. However, the guests did not by any means pay her all their attentions, the greater portion of which was diverted in the direction of my supposed niece. Her father, a prosperous merchant of Marseilles, was well known in the commercial circles of Genoa, and besides this her wit and beauty captivated everybody, and one young gentleman fell madly in love with her. He was an extremely good match, and proved to be the husband whom Heaven had destined for my charming friend. What a happy thought it was for me that I had been the means of rescuing her from the gulf of shame, misery, and despair, and placing her on the high road to happiness. I own that I have always felt a keener pleasure in doing good than in anything else, though, perhaps, I may not always have done good from strictly disinterested motives.
When we rose from the table in excellent humour with ourselves and our surroundings, cards were proposed, and Rosalie, who knew my likings, said it must be trente-quarante. This was agreed to, and we played till supper, nobody either winning or losing to any extent. We did not go till midnight, after having spent a very happy day.
When we were in our room I asked my niece how she had known Rosalie.
“I knew her at home; she and her mother used to bring linen from the wash. I always liked her.”
“You must be nearly the same age.”
“She is two years older than I am. I recognized her directly.”
“What did she tell you?”
“That it was you who brought her from Marseilles and made her fortune.”
“She has not made you the depositary of any other confidences?”
“No, but there are some things which don’t need telling.”
“You are right. And what did you tell her?”
“Only what she could have guessed for herself. I told her that you were not my uncle, and if she thought you were my lover I was not sorry. You do not know how I have enjoyed myself to-day, you must have been born to make me happy.”
“But how about La Croix?”
“For heaven’s sake say nothing about him.”
This conversation increased my ardour. She called Annette, and I went to my room.
As I had expected, Annette came to me as soon as her mistress was in bed.
“If the lady is really your niece,” said she, “may I hope that you still love me?”
“Assuredly, dear Annette, I shall always love you. Undress, and let us have a little talk.”
I had not long to wait, and in the course of two voluptuous hours I quenched the flames that another woman had kindled in my breast.
Next morning Possano came to tell me that he had arranged matters with the cook with the help of six sequins. I gave him the money, and told him to be more careful for the future.
I went to Rosalie’s for my breakfast, which she was delighted to give me: and I asked her and her husband to dinner on the following day, telling her to bring any four persons she liked.
“Your decision,” said I, “will decide the fate of my cook; it will be his trial dinner.”
She promised to come, and then pressed me to tell her the history of my amours with her fair country-woman.
“Alas!” I said, “you may not believe me, but I assure you I am only beginning with her.”
“I shall certainly believe you, if you tell me so, though it seems very strange.”
“Strange but true. You must understand, however, that I have only known her for a very short time; and, again, I would not be made happy save through love, mere submission would kill me.”
“Good! but what did she say of me?”
I gave her a report of the whole conversation I had had with my niece the night before, and she was delighted.”
“As you have not yet gone far with your niece, would you object if the young man who shewed her so much attention yesterday were of the party to-morrow?”
“Who is he? I should like to know him.”
“M. N— — the only son of a rich merchant.”
“Certainly, bring him with you.”
When I got home I went to my niece, who was still in bed, and told her that her fellow-countryman would dine with us to-morrow. I comforted her with the assurance that M. Paretti would not tell her father that she was in Genoa. She had been a good deal tormented with the idea that the merchant would inform her father of all.
As I was going out to supper I told her that she could go and sup with Rosalie, or take supper at home if she preferred it.
“You are too kind to me, my dear uncle. I will go to Rosalie’s.”
“Very good. Are you satisfied with Annette?”
“Oh! by the way, she told me that you spent last night with her, and that you had been her lover and her sister’s at the same time.”
“It is true, but she is very indiscreet to say anything about it.”
“We must forgive her, though. She told me that she only consented to sleep with you on the assurance that I was really your niece. I am sure she only made this confession out of vanity, and in the hope of gaining my favour, which would be naturally bestowed on a woman you love.”
“I wish you had the right to be jealous of her; and I swear that if she does not comport herself with the utmost obedience to you in every respect, I will send her packing, in despite of our relations. As for you, you may not be able to love me, and I have no right to complain; but I will not have you degrade yourself by becoming my submissive victim.”
I was not sorry for my niece to know that I made use of Annette, but my vanity was wounded at the way she took it. It was plain that she was not at all in love with me, and that she was glad that there was a safeguard in the person of her maid, and that thus we could be together without danger, for she could not ignore the power of her charms.
We dined together, and augured well of the skill of the new cook. M. Paretti had promised to get me a good man, and he presented himself just as we were finishing dinner, and I made a present of him to my niece. We went for a drive together, and I left my niece at Rosalie’s, and I then repaired to Isola-Bella’s, where I found a numerous and brilliant company had assembled consisting of all the best people in Genoa.
Just then all the great ladies were mad over ‘biribi’, a regular cheating game. It was strictly forbidden at Genoa, but this only made it more popular, and besides, the prohibition had no force in private houses, which are outside of the jurisdiction of the Government; in short, I found the game in full swing at the Signora Isola-Bella’s. The professional gamesters who kept the bank went from house to house, and the amateurs were advised of their presence at such a house and at such a time.
Although I detested the game, I began to play — to do as the others did.
In the room there was a portrait of the mistress of the house in harlequin costume, and there happened to be the same picture on one of the divisions of the biribi-table: I chose this one out of politeness, and did not play on any other. I risked a sequin each time. The board had thirty-six compartments, and if one lost, one paid thirty-two tines the amount of the stake; this, of course, was an enormous advantage for the bank.
Each player drew three numbers in succession, and there were three professionals; one kept the bag, another the bank, and the third the board, and the last took care to gather in the winnings as soon as the result was known, and the bank amounted to two thousand sequins or thereabouts. The table, the cloth, and four silver candlesticks belonged to the players.
I sat at the left of Madame Isola-Bella, who began to play, and as there were fifteen or sixteen of us I had lost about fifty sequins when my turn came, for my harlequin had not appeared once. Everybody pitied me, or pretended to do so, for selfishness is the predominant passion of gamesters.
My turn came at last. I drew my harlequin and received thirty-two sequins. I left them on the same figure, and got a thousand sequins. I left fifty still on the board, and the harlequin came out for the third time. The bank was broken, and the table, the cloth, the candlesticks, and the board all belonged to me. Everyone congratulated me, and the wretched bankrupt gamesters were hissed, hooted, and turned out of doors.
After the first transports were over, I saw that the ladies were in distress; for as there could be no more gaming they did not know what to do. I consoled them by declaring that I would be banker, but with equal stakes, and that I would pay winning cards thirty-six times the stake instead of thirty-two. This was pronounced charming of me, and I amused everybody till supper-time, without any great losses or gains on either side. By dint of entreaty I made the lady of the house accept the whole concern as a present, and a very handsome one it was.
The supper was pleasant enough, and my success at play was the chief topic of conversation. Before leaving I asked Signora Isola-Bella and her marquis to dine with me, and they eagerly accepted the invitation. When I got home I went to see my niece, who told me she had spent a delightful evening.
“A very pleasant young man,” said she, “who is coming to dine with us to-morrow, paid me great attention.”
“The same, I suppose, that did so yesterday?”
“Yes. Amongst other pretty things he told me that if I liked he would go to Marseilles and ask my hand of my father. I said nothing, but I thought to myself that if the poor young man gave himself all this trouble he would be woefully misled, as he would not see me.”
“Because I should be in a nunnery. My kind good father will forgive me, but I must punish myself.”
“That is a sad design, which I hope you will abandon. You have all that would make the happiness of a worthy husband. The more I think it over, the more I am convinced of the truth of what I say.”
We said no more just then, for she needed rest. Annette came to undress her, and I was glad to see the goodness of my niece towards her, but the coolness with which the girl behaved to her mistress did not escape my notice. As soon as she came to sleep with me I gently remonstrated with her, bidding her to do her duty better for the future. Instead of answering with a caress, as she ought to have done, she began to cry.
“My dear child,” said I, “your tears weary me. You are only here to amuse me, and if you can’t do that, you had better go.”
This hurt her foolish feelings of vanity, and she got up and went away without a word, leaving me to go to sleep in a very bad temper.
In the morning I told her, in a stern voice, that if she played me such a trick again I would send her away. Instead of trying to soothe me with a kiss the little rebel burst out crying again. I sent her out of the room impatiently, and proceeded to count my gains.
I thought no more about it, but presently my niece came in and asked me why I had vexed poor Annette.
“My dear niece,” said I, “tell her to behave better or else I will send her back to her mother’s.”
She gave me no reply, but took a handful of silver and fled. I had not time to reflect on this singular conduct, for Annette came in rattling her crowns in her pocket, and promised, with a kiss, not to make me angry any more.
Such was my niece. She knew I adored her, and she loved me; but she did not want me to be her lover, though she made use of the ascendancy which my passion gave her. In the code of feminine coquetry such cases are numerous.
Possano came uninvited to see me, and congratulated me on my victory of the evening before.
“Who told you about it?”
“I have just been at the coffee-house, where everybody is talking of it. It was a wonderful victory, for those biribanti are knaves of the first water. Your adventure is making a great noise, for everyone says that you could not have broken their bank unless you had made an agreement with the man that kept the bag.”
“My dear fellow, I am tired of you. Here, take this piece of money for your wife and be off.”
The piece of money I had given him was a gold coin worth a hundred Genoese livres, which the Government had struck for internal commerce; there were also pieces of fifty and twenty-five livres.
I was going on with my calculations when Clairmont brought me a note. It was from Irene, and contained a tender invitation to breakfast with her. I did not know that she was in Genoa, and the news gave me very great pleasure. I locked up my money, dressed in haste, and started out to see her. I found her in good and well-furnished rooms, and her old father, Count Rinaldi, embraced me with tears of joy.
After the ordinary compliments had been passed, the old man proceeded to congratulate me on my winnings of the night before.
“Three thousand sequins!” he exclaimed, “that is a grand haul indeed.”
“The funny part of it is that the man who keeps the bag is in the pay of the others.”
“What strikes you as funny in that?”
“Why, he gained half without any risk, otherwise he would not have been likely to have entered into an agreement with you.”
“You think, then, that it was a case of connivance?”
“Everybody says so; indeed what else could it be? The rascal has made his fortune without running any risk. All the Greeks in Genoa are applauding him and you.”
“As the greater rascal of the two?”
“They don’t call you a rascal; they say you’re a great genius; you are praised and envied.”
“I am sure I ought to be obliged to them.”
“I heard it all from a gentleman who was there. He says that the second and the third time the man with the bag gave you the office.”
“And you believe this?”
“I am sure of it. No man of honour in your position could have acted otherwise. However, when you come to settle up with the fellow I advise you to be very careful, for there will be spies on your tracks. If you like, I will do the business for you.”
I had enough self-restraint to repress the indignation and rage I felt. Without a word I took my hat and marched out of the room, sternly repulsing Irene who tried to prevent me from going as she had done once before. I resolved not to have anything more to do with the wretched old count.
This calumnious report vexed me extremely, although I knew that most gamesters would consider it an honour. Possano and Rinaldi had said enough to shew me that all the town was talking over it, and I was not surprised that everyone believed it; but for my part I did not care to be taken for a rogue when I had acted honourably.
I felt the need of unbosoming myself to someone, and walked towards the Strada Balbi to call on the Marquis Grimaldi, and discuss the matter with him. I was told he was gone to the courts, so I followed him there and was ushered into vast hall, where he waited on me. I told him my story, and he said,
“My dear chevalier, you ought to laugh at it, and I should not advise you to take the trouble to refute the calumny.”
“Then you advise me to confess openly that I am a rogue?”
“No, for only fools will think that of you. Despise them, unless they tell you you are a rogue to your face.”
“I should like to know the name of the nobleman who was present and sent this report about the town.”
“I do not know who it is. He was wrong to say anything, but you would be equally wrong in taking any steps against him, for I am sure he did not tell the story with any intention of giving offence; quite the contrary.”
“I am lost in wonder at his course of reasoning. Let us suppose that the facts were as he told them, do you think they are to my honour?”
“Neither to your honour nor shame. Such are the morals and such the maxims of gamesters. The story will be laughed at, your skill will be applauded, and you will be admired, for each one will say that in your place he would have done likewise!”
“Certainly. If I had been sure that the ball would have gone to the harlequin, I would have broken the rascal’s bank, as you did. I will say honestly that I do not know whether you won by luck or skill, but the most probable hypothesis, to my mind, is that you knew the direction of the ball. You must confess that there is something to be said in favour of the supposition.”
“I confess that there is, but it is none the less a dishonourable imputation on me, and you in your turn must confess that those who think that I won by sleight of hand, or by an agreement with a rascal, insult me grievously.”
“That depends on the way you look at it. I confess they insult you, if you think yourself insulted; but they are not aware of that, and their intention being quite different there is no insult at all in the matter. I promise you no one will tell you to your face that you cheated, but how are you going to prevent them thinking so?”
“Well, let them think what they like, but let them take care not to tell me their thoughts.”
I went home angry with Grimaldi, Rinaldi, and everyone else. My anger vexed me, I should properly have only laughed, for in the state of morals at Genoa, the accusation, whether true or false, could not injure my honour. On the contrary I gained by it a reputation for being a genius, a term which the Genoese prefer to that Methodistical word, “a rogue,” though the meaning is the same. Finally I was astonished to find myself reflecting that I should have had no scruple in breaking the bank in the way suggested, if it had only been for the sake of making the company laugh. What vexed me most was that I was credited with an exploit I had not performed.
When dinner-time drew near I endeavoured to overcome my ill temper for the sake of the company I was going to receive. My niece was adorned only with her native charms, for the rascal Croce had sold all her jewels; but she was elegantly dressed, and her beautiful hair was more precious than a crown of rubies.
Rosalie came in richly dressed and looking very lovely. Her husband, her uncle, and her aunt were with her, and also two friends, one of whom was the aspirant for the hand of my niece.
Madame Isola-Bella and her shadow, M. Grimaldi, came late, like great people. Just as we were going to sit down, Clairmont told me that a man wanted to speak to me.
“Shew him in.”
As soon as he appeared M. Grimaldi exclaimed:
“The man with the bag!”
“What do you want?” I said, dryly.
“Sir, I am come to ask you to help me. I am a family man, and it is thought that . . . ”
I did not let him finish.
“I have never refused to aid the unfortunate,” said I. “Clairmont, give him ten sequins. Leave the room.”
This incident spoke in my favour, and made me in a better temper.
We sat down to table, and a letter was handed to me. I recognized Possano’s writing, and put it in my pocket without reading it.
The dinner was delicious, and my cook was pronounced to have won his spurs. Though her exalted rank and the brilliance of her attire gave Signora Isoia-Bella the first place of right, she was nevertheless eclipsed by my two nieces. The young Genoese was all attention for the fair Marseillaise, and I could see that she was not displeased. I sincerely wished to see her in love with someone, and I liked her too well to bear the idea of her burying herself in a convent. She could never be happy till she found someone who would make her forget the rascal who had brought her to the brink of ruin.
I seized the opportunity, when all my guests were engaged with each other, to open Possano’s letter. It ran as follows:
“I went to the bank to change the piece of gold you gave me. It was weighed, and found to be ten carats under weight. I was told to name the person from whom I got it, but of course I did not do so. I then had to go to prison, and if you do not get me out of the scrape I shall be prosecuted, though of course I am not going to get myself hanged for anybody.”
I gave the letter to Grimaldi, and when we had left the table he took me aside, and said —
“This is a very serious matter, for it may end in the gallows for the man who clipped the coin.”
“Then they can hang the biribanti! That won’t hurt me much.”
“No, that won’t do; it would compromise Madame Isola-Bella, as biribi is strictly forbidden. Leave it all to me, I will speak to the State Inquisitors about it. Tell Possano to persevere in his silence, and that you will see him safely through. The laws against coiners and clippers are only severe with regard to these particular coins, as the Government has special reasons for not wishing them to be depreciated.”
I wrote to Possano, and sent for a pair of scales. We weighed the gold I had won at biribi, and every single piece had been clipped. M. Grimaldi said he would have them defaced and sold to a jeweller.
When we got back to the dining-room we found everybody at play. M. Grimaldi proposed that I should play at quinze with him. I detested the game, but as he was my guest I felt it would be impolite to refuse, and in four hours I had lost five hundred sequins.
Next morning the marquis told me that Possano was out of prison, and that he had been given the value of the coin. He brought me thirteen hundred sequins which had resulted from the sale of the gold. We agreed that I was to call on Madame Isola-Bella the next day, when he would give me my revenge at quinze.
I kept the appointment, and lost three thousand sequins. I paid him a thousand the next day, and gave him two bills of exchange, payable by myself, for the other two thousand. When these bills were presented I was in England, and being badly off I had to have them protested. Five years later, when I was at Barcelona, M. de Grimaldi was urged by a traitor to have me imprisoned, but he knew enough of me to be sure that if I did not meet the bills it was from sheer inability to do so. He even wrote me a very polite letter, in which he gave the name of my enemy, assuring me that he would never take any steps to compel me to pay the money. This enemy was Possano, who was also at Barcelona, though I was not aware of his presence. I will speak of the circumstance in due time, but I cannot help remarking that all who aided me in my pranks with Madame d’Urfe proved traitors, with the exception of a Venetian girl, whose acquaintance the reader will make in the following chapter.
In spite of my losses I enjoyed myself, and had plenty of money, for after all I had only lost what I had won at biribi. Rosalie often dined with us, either alone or with her husband, and I supped regularly at her home with my niece, whose love affair seemed quite promising. I congratulated her upon the circumstance, but she persisted in her determination to take refuge from the world in a cloister. Women often do the most idiotic things out of sheer obstinacy; possibly they deceive even themselves, and act in good faith; but unfortunately, when the veil falls from before their eyes, they see but the profound abyss into which their folly had plunged them.
In the meanwhile, my niece had become so friendly and familiar that she would often come and sit on my bed in the morning when Annette was still in my arms. Her presence increased my ardour, and I quenched the fires on the blonde which the brunette was kindling. My niece seemed to enjoy the sight, and I could see that her senses were being pleasantly tortured. Annette was short-sighted, and so did not perceive my distractions, while my fair niece caressed me slightly, knowing that it would add to my pleasures. When she thought I was exhausted she told Annette to get up and leave me alone with her, as she wanted to tell me something. She then began to jest and toy, and though her dress was extremely disordered she seemed to think that her charms would exercise no power over me. She was quite mistaken, but I was careful not to undeceive her for fear of losing her confidence. I watched the game carefully, and noting how little by little her familiarity increased, I felt sure that she would have to surrender at last, if not at Genoa, certainly on the journey, when we would be thrown constantly in each other’s society with nobody to spy upon our actions, and with nothing else to do but to make love. It is the weariness of a journey, the constant monotony, that makes one do something to make sure of one’s existence; and when it comes to the reckoning there is usually more joy than repentance.
But the story of my journey from Genoa to Marseilles was written in the book of fate, and could not be read by me. All I knew was that I must soon go as Madame d’Urfe was waiting for me at Marseilles. I knew not that in this journey would be involved the fate of a Venetian girl of whom I had never heard, who had never seen me, but whom I was destined to render happy. My fate seemed to have made me stop at Genoa to wait for her.
I settled my accounts with the banker, to whom I had been accredited, and I took a letter of credit on Marseilles, where, however, I was not likely to want for funds, as my high treasurer, Madame d’Urfe was there. I took leave of Madame Isola-Bella and her circle that I might be able to devote all my time to Rosalie and her friends.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07