The Assembly — Adventure at Ranelagh The English Courtezans — Pauline
I went in due time to the assembly, and the secretary at the door wrote down my name as I handed in my ticket. When Madame Cornelis saw me she said she was delighted I had come in by ticket, and that she had had some doubts as to whether I would come.
“You might have spared yourself the trouble of doubting,” said I, “for after hearing that I had been to Court you might have guessed that a matter of two guineas would not have kept me away. I am sorry for our old friendship’s sake that I did not pay the money to you; for you might have known that I would not condescend to be present in the modest manner you indicated.”
This address, delivered with an ironical accent, embarrassed Madame Cornelis, but Lady Harrington, a great supporter of hers, came to her rescue.
“I have a number of guineas to hand over to you, my dear Cornelis, and amongst others two from M. de Seingalt, who, I fancy, is an old friend of yours. Nevertheless, I did not dare to tell him so,” she added, with a sly glance in my direction.
“Why not, my lady? I have known Madame Cornelis for many years.”
“I should think you have,” she answered, laughing, “and I congratulate you both. I suppose you know the delightful Miss Sophie too, Chevalier?”
“Certainly, my lady, who so knows the mother knows the daughter.”
“Quite so, quite so.”
Sophie was standing by, and after kissing her fondly Lady Harrington said —
“If you love yourself, you ought to love her, for she is the image of you.”
“Yes, it is a freak of nature.”
“I think there is something more than a freak in this instance.”
With these words the lady took Sophie’s hand, and leaning on my arm she led us through the crowd, and I had to bear in silence the remarks of everyone.
“There is Madame Cornelis’s husband.”
“That must be M. Cornelis.”
“Oh! there can be no doubt about it.”
“No, no,” said Lady Harrington, “you are all quite wrong.”
I got tired of these remarks, which were all founded on the remarkable likeness between myself and Sophie. I wanted Lady Harrington to let the child go, but she was too much amused to do so.
“Stay by me,” she said, “if you want to know the names of the guests.” She sat down, making me sit on one side and Sophie on the other.
Madame Cornelis then made her appearance, and everyone asked her the same questions, and made the same remarks about me. She said bravely that I was her best and her oldest friend, and that the likeness between me and her daughter might possibly be capable of explanation. Everyone laughed and said it was very natural that it should be so. To change the subject, Madame Cornelis remarked that Sophie had learnt the minuet and danced it admirably.
“Then fetch a violin player,” said Lady Harrington, “that we may have the pleasure of witnessing the young artist’s performance.”
The ball had not yet begun, and as soon as the violinist appeared, I stepped forward and danced with Sophie, to the delight of the select circle of spectators.
The ball lasted all night without ceasing, as the company ate by relays, and at all times and hours; the waste and prodigality were worthy of a prince’s palace. I made the acquaintance of all the nobility and the Royal Family, for they were all there, with the exception of the king and queen, and the Prince of Wales. Madame Cornelis must have received more than twelve hundred guineas, but the outlay was enormous, without any control or safeguard against the thefts, which must have been perpetrated on all sides. She tried to introduce her son to everybody, but the poor lad looked like a victim, and did nothing but make profound bows. I pitied him from my heart.
As soon as I got home I went to bed and spent the whole of the next day there. The day after I went to the “Staven Tavern,” as I had been told that the prettiest girls in London resorted to it. Lord Pembroke gave me this piece of information; he went there very frequently himself. When I got to the tavern I asked for a private room, and the landlord, perceiving that I did not know English, accosted me in French, and came to keep me company. I was astonished at his grave and reverend manner of speaking, and did not like to tell him that I wanted to dine with a pretty Englishwoman. At last, however, I summoned up courage to say, with a great deal of circumlocution, that I did not know whether Lord Pembroke had deceived me in informing me that I should find the prettiest girls in London at his house.
“No, sir,” said he, “my lord has not deceived you, and you can have as many as you like.”
“That’s what I came for.”
He called out some name, and a tidy-looking lad making his appearance, he told him to get me a wench just as though he were ordering a bottle of champagne. The lad went out, and presently a girl of herculean proportions entered.
“Sir,” said I, “I don’t like the looks of this girl.”
“Give her a shilling and send her away. We don’t trouble ourselves about ceremonies in London.”
This put me at my ease, so I paid my shilling and called for a prettier wench. The second was worse than the first, and I sent her away, and ten others after her, while I could see that my fastidiousness amused the landlord immensely.
“I’ll see no more girls,” said I at last, “let me have a good dinner. I think the procurer must have been making game of me for the sake of the shillings.”
“It’s very likely; indeed it often happens so when a gentleman does not give the name and address of the wench he wants.”
In the evening as I was walking in St. James’s Park, I remembered it was a Ranelagh evening, and wishing to see the place I took a coach and drove there, intending to amuse myself till midnight, and to find a beauty to my taste.
I was pleased with the rotunda. I had some tea, I danced some minuets, but I made no acquaintances; and although I saw several pretty women, I did not dare to attack any of them. I got tired, and as it was near midnight I went out thinking to find my coach, for which I had not paid, still there, but it was gone, and I did not know what to do. An extremely pretty woman who was waiting for her carriage in the doorway, noticed my distress, and said that if I lived anywhere near Whitehall, she could take me home. I thanked her gratefully, and told her where I lived. Her carriage came up, her man opened the door, and she stepped in on my arm, telling me to sit beside her, and to stop the carriage when it got to my house.
As soon as we were in the carriage, I burst out into expressions of gratitude; and after telling her my name I expressed my regret at not having seen her at Soho Square.
“I was not in London,” she replied, “I returned from Bath to-day.”
I apostrophised my happiness in having met her. I covered her hands with kisses, and dared to kiss her on the cheek; and finding that she smiled graciously, I fastened my lips on hers, and before long had given her an unequivocal mark of the ardour with which she had inspired me.
She took my attentions so easily that I flattered myself I had not displeased her, and I begged her to tell me where I could call on her and pay my court while I remained in London, but she replied —
“We shall see each other again; we must be careful.”
I swore secrecy, and urged her no more. Directly after the carriage stopped, I kissed her hand and was set down at my door, well pleased with the ride home.
For a fortnight I saw nothing of her, but I met her again in a house where Lady Harrington had told me to present myself, giving her name. It was Lady Betty German’s, and I found her out, but was asked to sit down and wait as she would be in soon. I was pleasantly surprised to find my fair friend of Ranelagh in the room, reading a newspaper. I conceived the idea of asking her to introduce me to Lady Betty, so I went up to her and proffered my request, but she replied politely that she could not do so not having the honour to know my name.
“I have told you my name, madam. Do you not remember me?”
“I remember you perfectly, but a piece of folly is not a title of acquaintance.”
I was dumbfounded at the extraordinary reply, while the lady calmly returned to her newspaper, and did not speak another word till the arrival of Lady Betty.
The fair philosopher talked for two hours without giving the least sign of knowing who I was, although she answered me with great politeness whenever I ventured to address her. She turned out to be a lady of high birth and of great reputation.
Happening to call on Martinelli, I asked him who was the pretty girl who was kissing her hands to me from the house opposite. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that she was a dancer named Binetti. Four years ago she had done me a great service at Stuttgart, but I did not know she was in London. I took leave of Martinelli to go and see her, and did so all the more eagerly when I heard that she had parted from her husband, though they were obliged to dance together at the Haymarket.
She received me with open arms, telling me that she had recognized me directly.
“I am surprised, my dear elder,” said she, “to see you in London.”
She called me “elder” because I was the oldest of her friends.
“Nor did I know that you were here. I came to town after the close of the opera. How is it that you are not living with your husband?”
“Because he games, loses, and despoils me of all I possess. Besides, a woman of my condition, if she be married, cannot hope that a rich lover will come and see her, while if she be alone she can receive visits without any constraint.”
“I shouldn’t have thought they would be afraid of Binetti; he used to be far from jealous.”
“Nor is he jealous now; but you must know that there is an English law which allows the husband to arrest his wife and her lover if he finds them in ‘flagrante delicto’. He only wants two witnesses, and it is enough that they are sitting together on a bed. The lover is forced to pay to the husband the half of all he possesses. Several rich Englishmen have been caught in this way, and now they are very shy of visiting married women, especially Italians.”
“So you have much to be thankful for. You enjoy perfect liberty, can receive any visitors you like, and are in a fair way to make a fortune.”
“Alas! my dear friend, you do not know all. When he has information from his spies that I have had a visitor, he comes to me in a sedan- chair at night, and threatens to turn me out into the street if I do not give him all the money I have. He is a terrible rascal!”
I left the poor woman, after giving her my address, and telling her to come and dine with me whenever she liked. She had given me a lesson on the subject of visiting ladies. England has very good laws, but most of them are capable of abuse. The oath which jurymen have to take to execute them to the letter has caused several to be interpreted in a manner absolutely contrary to the intention of the legislators, thus placing the judges in a difficult predicament. Thus new laws have constantly to be made, and new glosses to explain the old ones.
My Lord Pembroke, seeing me at my window, came in, and after examining my house, including the kitchen, where the cook was at work, told me that there was not a nobleman in town who had such a well-furnished and comfortable house. He made a calculation, and told me that if I wanted to entertain my friends I should require three hundred pounds a month. “You can’t live here,” said he, “without a pretty girl, and those who know that you keep bachelor’s hall are of opinion that you are very wise, and will save a great deal of useless expense.”
“Do you keep a girl, my lord?”
“No, for I am unfortunate enough to be disgusted with a woman after I have had her for a day.”
“Then you require a fresh one every day?”
“Yes, and without being as comfortable as you I spend four times as much. You must know that I live in London like a stranger. I never dine at my own house. I wonder at your dining alone.”
“I can’t speak English. I like soup and good wine, and that is enough to keep me from your taverns.”
“I expect so, with your French tastes.”
“You will confess that they are not bad tastes.”
“You are right, for, good Englishman as I am, I get on very well in Paris.”
He burst out laughing when I told him how I had dispatched a score of wenches at the “Staven Tavern,” and that my disappointment was due to him.
“I did not tell you what names to send for, and I was wrong.”
“Yes, you ought to have told me.”
“But even if I did they wouldn’t have come, for they are not at the orders of the procurers. If you will promise to pay them as I do, I will give you some tickets which will make them come.”
“Can I have them here?”
“Just as you like.”
“That will be most convenient for me. Write out the tickets and let them know French if you can.”
“That’s the difficulty; the prettiest only speak English.”
“Never mind, we shall understand each other well enough for the purpose I dare say.”
He wrote several tickets for four and six guineas each; but one was marked twelve guineas.
“She is doubly pretty, is she?” said I.
“Not exactly, but she has cuckolded a duke of Great Britain who keeps her, and only uses her once or twice a month.”
“Would you do me the honour of testing the skill of my cook?”
“Certainly, but I can’t make an appointment.”
“And supposing I am out.”
“I’ll go to the tavern.”
Having nothing better to do I sent Jarbe to one of the four-guinea wenches, telling him to advise her that she would dine with me. She came. She did not attract me sufficiently to make me attempt more than some slight toying. She went away well pleased with her four guineas, which she had done nothing to earn. Another wench, also at four guineas, supped with me the following evening. She had been very pretty, and, indeed, was so still, but she was too melancholy and quiet for my taste, and I could not makeup my mind to tell her to undress.
The third day, not feeling inclined to try another ticket, I went to Covent Garden, and on meeting an attractive young person I accosted her in French, and asked her if she would sup with me.
“How much will you give me at dessert?”
After the play I ordered a good supper for two, and she displayed an appetite after mine own heart. When we had supped I asked for her name and address, and I was astonished to find that she was one of the girls whom Lord Pembroke had assessed at six guineas. I concluded that it was best to do one’s own business, or, at any rate, not to employ noblemen as agents. As to the other tickets, they procured me but little pleasure. The twelve-guinea one, which I had reserved for the last, as a choice morsel, pleased me the least of all, and I did not care to cuckold the noble duke who kept her.
Lord Pembroke was young, handsome, rich, and full of wit. I went to see him one day, and found him just getting out of bed. He said he would walk with me and told his valet to shave him.
“But,” said I, “there’s not a trace of beard on your face.”
“There never is,” said he, “I get myself shaved three times a day.”
“Yes, when I change my shirt I wash my hands; when I wash my hands I have to wash my face, and the proper way to wash a man’s face is with a razor.”
“When do you make these three ablutions?”
“When I get up, when I dress for dinner, and when I go to bed, for I should not like the woman who is sleeping with me to feel my beard.”
We had a short walk together, and then I left him as I had some writing to do. As we parted, he asked me if I dined at home. I replied in the affirmative, and foreseeing that he intended dining with me I warned my cook to serve us well, though I did not let him know that I expected a nobleman to dinner. Vanity has more than one string to its bow.
I had scarcely got home when Madame Binetti came in, and said that if she were not in the way, she would be glad to dine with me. I gave her a warm welcome, and she said I was really doing her a great service, as her husband would suffer the torments of hell in trying to find out with whom she had dined.
This woman still pleased me; and though she was thirty-five, nobody would have taken her for more than twenty-five. Her appearance was in every way pleasing. Her lips were of the hue of the rose, disclosing two exquisite rows of teeth. A fine complexion, splendid eyes, and a forehead where Innocence might have been well enthroned, all this made an exquisite picture. If you add to this, that her breast was of the rarest proportions, you will understand that more fastidious tastes than mine would have been satisfied with her.
She had not been in my house for half an hour when Lord Pembroke came in. They both uttered an exclamation, and the nobleman told me that he had been in love with her for the last six months; that he had written ardent letters to her of which she had taken no notice.
“I never would have anything to do with him,” said she, “because he is the greatest profligate in all England; and it’s a pity,” she added, “because he is a kindhearted nobleman.”
This explanation was followed by a score of kisses, and I saw that they were agreed.
We had a choice dinner in the French style, and Lord Pembroke swore he had not eaten so good a dinner for the last year.
“I am sorry for you,” he said, “when I think of you being alone every day.”
Madame Binetti was as much a gourmet as the Englishman, and when we rose from table we felt inclined to pass from the worship of Comus to that of Venus; but the lady was too experienced to give the Englishman anything more than a few trifling kisses.
I busied myself in turning over the leaves of some books I had bought the day before, and left them to talk together to their heart’s content; but to prevent their asking me to give them another dinner I said that I hoped chance would bring about such another meeting on another occasion.
At six o’clock, after my guests had left me, I dressed and went to Vauxhaull, where I met a French officer named Malingan, to whom I had given some money at Aix-la-Chapelle. He said he would like to speak to me, so I gave him my name and address. I also met a well-known character, the Chevalier Goudar, who talked to me about gaming and women. Malingan introduced me to an individual who he said might be very useful to me in London. He was a man of forty, and styled himself son of the late Theodore, the pretender to the throne of Corsica, who had died miserably in London fourteen years before, after having been imprisoned for debt for seven years. I should have done better if I had never gone to Vauxhall that evening.
The entrance-fee at Vauxhall was half the sum charged at Ranelagh, but in spite of that the amusements were of the most varied kinds. There was good fare, music, walks in solitary alleys, thousands of lamps, and a crowd of London beauties, both high and low.
In the midst of all these pleasures I was dull, because I had no girl to share my abode or my good table, and make it dear to me. I had been in London for six weeks; ana in no other place had I been alone for so long.
My house seemed intended for keeping a mistress with all decency, and as I had the virtue of constancy a mistress was all I wanted to make me happy. But how was I to find a woman who should be the equal of those women I had loved before? I had already seen half a hundred of girls, whom the town pronounced to be pretty, and who did not strike me as even passable. I thought the matter over continually, and at last an odd idea struck me.
I called the old housekeeper, and told her by the servant, who acted as my interpreter, that I wanted to let the second or third floor for the sake of company; and although I was at perfect liberty to do what I liked with the house, I would give her half-a-guinea a week extra. Forthwith I ordered her to affix the following bill to the window:
Second or third floor to be let, furnished, to a young lady speaking English and French, who receives no visitors, either by day or night.
The old Englishwoman, who had seen something of the world, began to laugh so violently when the document was translated to her that I thought she would have choked.
“What are you laughing at, my worthy woman?”
“Because this notice is a laughing matter.”
“I suppose you think I shall have no applications?”
“Not at all, the doorstep will be crowded from morn to night, but I shall leave it all to Fanny. Only tell me how much to ask.”
“I will arrange about the rent in my interview with the young lady. I don’t think I shall have so many enquiries, for the young lady is to speak French and English, and also to be respectable. She must not receive any visits, not even from her father and mother, if she has them.”
“But there will be a mob in front of the house reading the notice.”
“All the better. Nothing is the worse for being a little odd.”
It happened just as the old woman had foretold; as soon as the notice was up, everybody stopped to read it, made various comments, and passed on. On the second day after it was up, my Negro told me that my notice was printed in full in the St. James’s Chronicle, with some amusing remarks. I had the paper brought up to me, and Fanny translated it. It ran as follows:
“The landlord of the second and third floors probably occupies the first floor himself. He must be a man of the world and of good taste, for he wants a young and pretty lodger; and as he forbids her to receive visits, he will have to keep her company himself.”
He added —
“The landlord should take care lest he become his own dupe, for it is very likely that the pretty lodger would only take the room to sleep in, and possibly only to sleep in now and then; and if she chose she would have a perfect right to refuse to receive the proprietor’s visits.”
These sensible remarks delighted me, for after reading them I felt forewarned.
Such matters as these give their chief interest to the English newspapers. They are allowed to gossip about everything, and the writers have the knack of making the merest trifles seem amusing. Happy is the nation where anything may be written and anything said!
Lord Pembroke was the first to come and congratulate me on my idea, and he was succeeded by Martinelli; but he expressed some fears as to the possible consequences, “for,” said he, “there are plenty of women in London who would come and lodge with you to be your ruin.”
“In that case,” I answered, “it would be a case of Greek meeting Greek; however, we shall see. If I am taken in, people will have the fullest right to laugh at me, for I have been warned.”
I will not trouble my readers with an account of the hundred women who came in the first ten days, when I refused on one pretext or another, though some of them were not wanting in grace and beauty. But one day, when I was at dinner, I received a visit from a girl of from twenty to twenty-four years, simply but elegantly dressed; her features were sweet and gracious, though somewhat grave, her complexion pale, and her hair black. She gave me a bow which I had to rise to return, and as I remained standing she politely begged me not to put myself out, but to continue my dinner. I begged her to be seated and to take dessert, but she refused with an air of modesty which delighted me.
This fair lady said, not in French, but in Italian worthy of a Sinnese, its purity was so perfect, that she hoped I would let her have a room on the third floor, and that she would gladly submit to all my conditions.
“You may only make use of one room if you like, but all the floor will belong to you.”
“Although the notice says the rooms will be let cheaply, I shall not be able to afford more than one room. Two shillings a week is all I can spend.”
“That’s exactly what I want for the whole suite of rooms; so you see you can use them all. My maid will wait on you, get you whatever food you may require, and wash your linen as well. You can also employ her to do your commissions, so that you need not go out for trifles.”
“Then I will dismiss my maid,” she said; “she robs me of little, it is true, but still too much for my small means. I will tell your maid what food to buy for me every day, and she shall have six sots a week for her pains.”
“That will be ample. I should advise you to apply to my cook’s wife, who will get your dinner and supper for you as cheaply as you could buy it.”
“I hardly think so, for I am ashamed to tell you how little I spend.”
“Even if you only spend two sols a day, she will give you two sols’ worth. All the same I advise you to be content with what you get from the kitchen, without troubling about the price, for I usually have provision made for four, though I dine alone, and the rest is the cook’s perquisite. I merely advise you to the best of my ability, and I hope you will not be offended at my interest in your welfare.”
“Really, sir, you are too generous.”
“Wait a moment, and you will see how everything will be settled comfortably.”
I told Clairmont to order up the maid and the cook’s wife, and I said to the latter:
“For how much could you provide dinner and supper for this young lady who is not rich, and only wants to eat to live?”
“I can do it very cheaply; for you usually eat alone, and have enough for four.”
“Very good; then I hope you will treat her very well for the sum she gives you.”
“I can only afford five sols a day.”
“That will do nicely.”
I gave orders that the bill should be taken down directly, and that the young lady’s room should be made comfortable. When the maid and the cook’s wife had left the room, the young lady told me that she should only go out on Sundays to hear mass at the Bavarian ambassador’s chapel, and once a month to a person who gave her three guineas to support her.
“You can go out when you like,” said I, “and without rendering an account to anybody of your movements.”
She begged me not to introduce anyone to her, and to tell the, porter to deny her to anyone who might come to the door to make enquiries. I promised that her wishes should be respected, and she went away saying that she was going for her trunk.
I immediately ordered my household to treat her with the utmost respect. The old housekeeper told me that she had paid the first week in advance, taking a receipt, and had gone, as she had come, in a sedan-chair. Then the worthy old woman made free to tell me to be on my guard.
“Against what? If I fall in love with her, so much the better; that is just what I want. What name did she give you?”
“Mistress Pauline. She was quite pale when she came, and she went away covered with blushes.”
I was delighted to hear it. I did not want a woman merely to satisfy my natural desires, for such can be found easily enough; I wished for some one whom I could love. I expected beauty, both of the body and the soul; and my love increased with the difficulties and obstacles I saw before me. As to failure, I confess I did not give it a moment’s thought, for there is not a woman in the world who can resist constant and loving attentions, especially when her lover is ready to make great sacrifices.
When I got back from the theatre in the evening the maid told me that the lady had chosen a modest closet at the back, which was only suitable for a servant. She had had a moderate supper, only drinking water, and had begged the cook’s wife only to send her up soup and one dish, to which the woman had replied that she must take what was served, and what she did not eat would do for the servant.
“When she finished she shut herself up to write, and wished me good evening with much politeness.”
“What is she going to take in the morning?”
“I asked her, and she said she would only take a little bread.”
“Then you had better tell her that it is the custom of the house for the cook to serve everybody with coffee, chocolate, or tea, according to taste, in the morning, and that I shall be pained if she refuses to fare like the rest of us. But don’t tell her I said so. Here’s a crown for you, and you shall have one every week if you will wait upon and care for her properly.”
Before going to bed I wrote her a polite note, begging her to leave the closet. She did so, but she went into another back room, and consented to take coffee for her breakfast. Wishing to make her dine and sup with me, I was dressing myself, and preparing to proffer my request in such a way as to make a refusal impossible, when young Cornelis was announced. I received him smilingly, and thanked him for the first visit he had paid me in the course of six weeks.
“Mamma hasn’t allowed me to come. I have tried to do so a score of times without her leave. Read this letter, and you will find something which will surprise you.”
I opened the letter and read as follows:
“Yesterday a bailiff waited for my door to be opened and slipped in and arrested me. I was obliged to go with him, and I am now in the sponging-house, and if I can’t get bail by to-day he will take me to Kings Bench Prison. The bail I require is to the amount of two hundred pounds, to pay a bill which has fallen due. Dear friend, come and succour me or else my other creditors will get wind of my imprisonment and I shall be ruined. You surely will not allow that to happen, if not for my sake at least for the sake of my innocent children. You cannot bail me yourself, but you can easily get a householder to do so. If you have the time come and call on me, and I will shew you that I could not help doing the bill, otherwise I could not have given my last ball, as the whole of my plate and china was pledged.”
I felt angry with the impudent woman who had hitherto paid me so little attention, and I wrote that I could only pity her, and that I had no time to go and see her, and that I should be ashamed to ask anyone to bail her out.
When young Cornelis had gone away in a melancholy mood, I told Clairmont to ask Pauline if she would allow me to bid her a good day. She sent word that I was at liberty to do so, and on going upstairs to her room I found her sitting at a table on which were several books.
Some linen on a chest of drawers did not give me the idea that she was very poor.
“I am immensely obliged,” said she, “for all your goodness to me.”
“Say nothing of that, madam; it is I who have need of your goodness.”
“What can I do to shew my gratitude?”
“Could you trouble yourself to take your meals with me? When I am alone I eat like an ogre, and my health suffers. If you do not feel inclined to grant me that favour, do not hesitate to refuse, and I assure you you shall fare just as well as if you had acceded to my request.”
“I shall be delighted to dine and sup with you; sir, whenever you are alone and you like to send for me. Nevertheless, I am not sure that my society will amuse you.”
“Very good, I am grateful to you, and I promise you you shall never repent of your kindness. I will do my best to amuse you, and I hope I shall succeed, for you have inspired me with the liveliest interest. We will dine at one to-day.”
I did not sit down or look at her books, or even ask her if she had spent a good night. The only thing I noted was that she had looked pale and careworn when I came in, and when I went out her cheeks were the colour of the rose.
I went for a walk in the park, feeling quite taken with this charming woman, and resolved to make her love me, for I did not want to owe anything to gratitude. I felt curious to know where she came from, and suspected she was an Italian; but I determined to ask her no questions for fear of offending her.
When I got home Pauline came down of her own free will, and I was delighted with this, which I took for a good omen. As we had half an hour before us, I asked her how she found her health.
“Nature,” she replied, “has favoured me with such a good constitution that I have never had the least sickness in my life, except on the sea.”
“You have made a voyage, then.”
“I must have done so to come to England.”
“You might be an Englishwoman.”
“Yes, for the English language has been familiar to me from my childhood.”
We were seated on a sofa, and on the table in front of us was a chess-board. Pauline toyed with the pawns, and I asked her if she could play chess.
“Yes, and pretty well too from what they tell me.”
“Then we will have a game together; my blunders will amuse you.”
We began, and in four moves I was checkmated. She laughed, and I admired her play. We began again, and I was checkmated in five moves. My agreeable guest laughed heartily, and while she laughed I became intoxicated with love, watching the play of her features, her exquisite teeth, and her happy expression. We began another game, Pauline played carelessly, and I placed her in a difficult position.
“I think you may conquer me,” said she.
“What happiness for me!”
The servant came in to tell us that dinner was ready.
“Interruptions are often extremely inconvenient,” said I, as I offered her my arm, feeling quite sure that she had not lost the significance of my last words, for women find a meaning for everything.
We were just sitting down to table when Clairmont announced my daughter and Madame Rancour.
“Tell them that I am at dinner, and that I shall not be disengaged till three o’clock.”
Just as my man was leaving the room to carry back my answer, Sophie rushed in and knelt before me, choking with sobs.
This was too much for me, and raising her I took her on my knees, saying I knew what she had come for, and that for love of her I would do it.
Passing from grief to joy the dear child kissed me, calling me her father, and at last made me weep myself.
“Dine with us, dear Sophie,” said I, “I shall be the more likely to do what you wish.”
She ran from my arms to embrace Pauline, who was weeping out of sympathy, and we all dined happily together. Sophie begged me to give Madame Rancour some dinner.
“It shall be so if you please, but only for your sake, for that woman Rancour deserves that I should leave her standing at the door to punish her for her impertinence to me when I came to London.”
The child amused us in an astonishing way all dinnertime, Pauline keeping her ears open and not saying a word, so surprised was she to hear a child of her age talk in a way that would have excited attention in a woman of twenty. Although perfectly respectful she condemned her mother’s conduct, and said that she was unfortunate in being obliged to give her a blind obedience.
“I would wager that you don’t love her much.”
“I respect, but I cannot love her, for I am always afraid. I never see her without fearing her.”
“Why do you weep, then, at her fate?”
“I pity her, and her family still more, and the expressions she used in sending me to you were very affecting.”
“What were these expressions?”
“‘Go,’ said she, ‘kneel before him, for you and you alone can soften his heart.’”
“Then you knelt before me because your mother told you to do so.”
“Yes, for if I had followed my own inclination I should have rushed to your arms.”
“You answer well. But are you sure of persuading me?”
“No, for one can never be sure of anything; but I have good hopes of success, remembering what you told me at the Hague. My mother told me that I was only three then, but I know I was five. She it was who told me not to look at you when I spoke to you, but fortunately you made her remove her prohibition. Everybody says that you are my father, and at the Hague she told me so herself; but here she is always dinning it into my ears that I am the daughter of M. de Monpernis.”
“But, Sophie dear, your mother does wrong in making you a bastard when you are the legitimate daughter of the dancer Pompeati, who killed himself at Vienna.”
“Then I am not your daughter?”
“Clearly, for you cannot have two fathers, can you?”
“But how is it that I am your image?”
“It’s a mere chance.”
“You deprive me of a dream which has made me happy.”
Pauline said nothing, but covered her with kisses, which Sophie returned effusively. She asked me if the lady was my wife, and on my replying in the affirmative she called Pauline her “dear mamma,” which made “dear mamma” laugh merrily.
When the dessert was served I drew four fifty-pound notes out of my pocket-book, and giving them to Sophie told her that she might hand them over to her mother if she liked, but that the present was for her and not for her mother.
“If you give her the money,” I said, “she will be able to sleep to- night in the fine house where she gave me such a poor reception.”
“It makes me unhappy to think of it, but you must forgive her.”
“Yes, Sophie; but out of love for you.”
“Write to her to the effect that it is to me you give the money, not to her; I dare not tell her so myself.”
“I could not do that, my dear; it would be insulting her in her affliction. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, quite well.”
“You may tell her that whenever she sends you to dine or sup with me, she will please me very much.”
“But you can write that down without wounding her, can you not? Do so, I entreat you. Dear mamma,” said she, addressing Pauline, “ask papa to do so, and then I will come and dine with you sometimes.”
Pauline laughed with all her heart as she addressed me as husband, and begged me to write the desired epistle. The effect on the mother could only let her know how much I loved her daughter, and would consequently increase her love for her child. I gave in, saying that I could not refuse anything to the adorable woman who had honoured me with the name of husband. Sophie kissed us, and went away in a happy mood.
“It’s a long time since I have laughed so much,” said Pauline, “and I don’t think I have ever had such an agreeable meal. That child is a perfect treasure. She is unhappy, poor little girl, but she would not be so if I were her mother.”
I then told her of the true relationship between Sophie and myself, and the reasons I had for despising her mother.
“I wonder what she will say when Sophie tells her that she found you at table with your wife.”
“She won’t believe it, as she knows my horror for the sacrament of matrimony.”
“How is that?”
“I hate it because it is the grave of love.”
As she said this Pauline sighed, and lowering her eyes changed the conversation. She asked me how long I intended to stay in London and when I had replied, “Nine or ten months,” I felt myself entitled to ask her the same question.
“I really can’t say,” she answered, “my return to my country depends on my getting a letter.”
“May I ask you what country you come from?”
“I see I shall soon have no secrets from you, but let me have a little time. I have only made your acquaintance to-day, and in a manner which makes me have a very high opinion of you.”
“I shall try my best to deserve the good opinions you have conceived of my character.”
“You have shewn yourself to me in a thoroughly estimable light.”
“Give me your esteem, I desire it earnestly, but don’t say anything of respect, for that seems to shut out friendship; I aspire to yours, and I warn you that I shall do my best to gain it.”
“I have no doubt you are very clever in that way, but you are generous too, and I hope you will spare me. If the friendship between us became too ardent, a parting would be dreadful, and we may be parted at any moment, indeed I ought to be looking forward to it.”
Our dialogue was getting rather sentimental, and with that ease which is only acquired in the best society, Pauline turned it to other topics, and soon asked me to allow her to go upstairs. I would have gladly spent the whole day with her, for I have never met a woman whose manners were so distinguished and at the same time so pleasant.
When she left me I felt a sort of void, and went to see Madame Binetti, who asked me for news of Pembroke. She was in a rage with him.
“He is a detestable fellow,” said she; “he would like to have a fresh wife every day! What do you think of such conduct?”
“I envy him his happiness.”
“He enjoys it because all women are such fools. He caught me through meeting me at your house; he would never have done so otherwise. What are you laughing at?”
“Because if he has caught you, you have also caught him; you are therefore quits.”
“You don’t know what you are talking about.”
I came home at eight o’clock, and as soon as Fanny had told Pauline that I had returned she came downstairs. I fancied she was trying to captivate me by her attentions, and as the prospect was quite agreeable to me I thought we should come to an understanding before very long.
Supper was brought in and we stayed at table till midnight, talking about trifles, but so pleasantly that the time passed away very quickly. When she left me she wished me good night, and said my conversation had made her forget her sorrows.
Pembroke came next morning to ask me to give him breakfast, and congratulated me on the disappearance of the bill from my window.
“I should very much like to see your boarder,” said he.
“I daresay, my lord, but I can’t gratify your curiosity just now, for the lady likes to be alone, and only puts up with my company because she can’t help it.”
He did not insist, and to turn the conversation I told him that Madame Binetti was furious with him for his inconstancy, which was a testimony to his merits. That made him laugh, and without giving me any answer he asked me if I dined at home that day.
“No, my lord, not to-day.”
“I understand. Well, it’s very natural; bring the affair to a happy conclusion.”
“I will do my best.”
Martinelli had found two or three parodies of my notice in the Advertiser, and came and read them to me. I was much amused with them; they were mostly indecent, for the liberty of the press is much abused in London. As for Martinelli he was too discreet and delicate a man to ask me about my new boarder. As it was Sunday, I begged him to take me to mass at the Bavarian ambassador’s chapel; and here I must confess that I was not moved by any feelings of devotion, but by the hope of seeing Pauline. I had my trouble for nothing, for, as I heard afterwards, she sat in a dark corner where no one could see her. The chapel was full, and Martinelli pointed out several lords and ladies who were Catholics, and did not conceal their religion.
When I got home I received a note from Madame Cornelis, saying that as it was Sunday and she could go out freely, she hoped I would let her come to dinner. I shewed the letter to Pauline, not knowing whether she would object to dining with her, and she said she would be happy to do so, provided there were no men. I wrote in answer to Madame Cornelis that I should be glad to see her and her charming daughter at dinner. She came, and Sophie did not leave my side for a moment. Madame Cornelis, who was constrained in Pauline’s presence, took me aside to express her gratitude and to communicate to me some chimerical schemes of hers which were soon to make her rich.
Sophie was the life and soul of the party, but as I happened to tell her mother that Pauline was a lady who was lodging in my house, she said,
“Then she is not your wife?”
“No; such happiness is not for me. It was a joke of mine, and the lady amused herself at the expense of your credulity.”
“Well, I should like to sleep with her.”
“Whenever mamma will let me.”
“We must first ascertain,” said the mother, “what the lady thinks of the arrangement.”
“She needn’t fear a refusal,” said Pauline, giving the child a kiss.
“Then you shall have her with pleasure, madam. I will get her governess to fetch her away to-morrow.”
“At three o’clock,” said I, “for she must dine with us.”
Sophie, taking her mother’s silence for consent, went up to her and kissed her, but these attentions were but coldly received. She unfortunately did not know how to inspire love.
After Madame Cornelis had gone, I asked Pauline if she would like to take a walk with Sophie and myself in the suburbs, where nobody would know her.
“In prudence,” said she, “I cannot go out unless I am alone.”
“Then shall we stay here?”
“We could not do better.”
Pauline and Sophie sang Italian, French, and English duets, and the concert of their voices seemed to me ravishing. We supped gaily, and at midnight I escorted them to the third floor, telling Sophie that I would come and breakfast with her in the morning, but that I should expect to find her in bed. I wanted to see if her body was as beautiful as her face. I would gladly have asked Pauline to grant me the same favour, but I did not think things had advanced far enough for that. In the morning I found Pauline up and dressed.
When Sophie saw me she laughed and hid her head under the sheets, but as soon as she felt me near her she soon let me see her pretty little face, which I covered with kisses.
When she had got up we breakfasted together, and the time went by as pleasantly as possible till Madame Rancour came for her little charge, who went away with a sad heart. Thus I was left alone with my Pauline who began to inspire me with such ardent desires that I dreaded an explosion every moment. And yet I had not so much as kissed her hand.
When Sophie had gone I made her sit beside me, and taking her hand I kissed it rapturously, saying,
“Are you married, Pauline?”
“Do you know what it is to be a mother?”
“No, but I can partly imagine what happiness it must be.”
“Are you separated from your husband?”
“Yes, by circumstances and against our will. We were separated before we had cohabited together.”
“Is he at London?”
“No, he is far away, but please don’t say anything more about it.”
“Only tell me whether my loss will be his gain.”
“Yes, and I promise not to leave you till I have to leave England — that is, unless you dismiss me — and I shall leave this happy island to be happy with the husband of my choice.”
“But I, dear Pauline, will be left unhappy, for I love you with all my heart, and am afraid to give you any proof of my love.”
“Be generous and spare me, for I am not my own mistress, and have no right to give myself to you; and perhaps, if you were so ungenerous as to attack me, I should not have the strength to resist.”
“I will obey, but I shall still languish. I cannot be unhappy unless I forfeit your favour.”
“I have duties to perform, my dear friend, and I cannot neglect them without becoming contemptible in my own eyes and yours too.”
“I should deem myself the most miserable of men if I despised a woman for making me happy.”
“Well, I like you too well to think you capable of such conduct, but let us be moderate, for we may have to part to-morrow. You must confess that if we yielded to desire, this parting would be all the more bitter. If you are of another opinion, that only shews that your ideas of love and mine are different.”
“Then tell me of what sort of love is that with which I am happy enough to have inspired you?”
“It is of such a kind that enjoyment would only increase it, and yet enjoyment seems to me a mere accident.”
“Then what is its essence?”
“To live together in perfect unity.”
“That’s a blessing we can enjoy from morning to eve, but why should we not add the harmless accident which would take so short a time, and give us such peace and tranquillity. You must confess, Pauline, that the essence cannot exist long without the accident.”
“Yes, but you in your turn, you will agree that the food often proves in time to be deadly.”
“No, not when one loves truly, as I do. Do you think that you will not love me so well after having possessed me?”
“No, it’s because I think quite otherwise, that I dread to make the moment of parting so bitter.”
“I see I must yield to your logic. I should like to see the food on which you feed your brain, otherwise your books. Will you let me come upstairs?”
“Certainly, but you will be caught.”
“Come and see.”
We went to her room, and I found that all her books were Portuguese, with the exception of Milton, in English, Ariosto, in Italian, and Labruyere’s “Characters,” in French.
“Your selection gives me a high idea of your mental qualities,” said I, “but tell me, why do you give such a preference to Camoens and all these Portuguese authors?”
“For a very good reason, I am Portuguese myself.”
“You Portuguese? I thought you were Italian. And so you already know five languages, for you doubtless know Spanish.”
“Yes, although Spanish is not absolutely necessary.”
“What an education you have had!”
“I am twenty-two now, but I knew all these languages at eighteen.”
“Tell me who you are, tell me all about yourself. I am worthy of your confidence.”
“I think so too, and to give you a proof of my trust in you I am going to tell you my history, for since you love me you can only wish to do me good.”
“What are all these manuscripts?”
“My history, which I have written down myself. Let us sit down:”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07