Miss Betty — TheComte de L’Etoile — Sir B *** M *** Reassured
This was the fourth adventure I had had of this kind. There is nothing particularly out of the common in having a fellow-traveller in one’s carriage; this time, however, the affair had something decidedly romantic about it.
I was forty-five, and my purse contained two hundred sequins. I still loved the fair sex, though my ardour had decreased, my experience had ripened, and my caution increased. I was more like a heavy father than a young lover, and I limited myself to pretensions of the most modest character.
The young person beside me was pretty and gentle-looking, she was neatly though simply dressed in the English fashion, she was fair and small, and her budding breast could be seen outlined beneath the fine muslin of her dress. She had all the appearances of modesty and noble birth, and something of virginal innocence, which inspired one with attachment and respect at the same time.
“I hope you can speak French madam?” I began.
“Yes, and a little Italian too.”
“I congratulate myself on having you for my travelling companion.”
“I think you should congratulate me.”
“I heard you came to Sienna on horseback.”
“Yes, but I will never do such a foolish thing again.” “I think your husband would have been wise to sell his horse and buy a carriage.”
“He hired it; it does not belong to him. From Rome we are going to drive to Naples.”
“You like travelling?”
“Very much, but with greater comfort.”
With these words the English girl, whose white skin did not look as if it could contain a drop of blood, blushed most violently.
I guessed something of her secret, and begged pardon; and for more than an hour I remain silent, pretending to gaze at the scenery, but in reality thinking of her, for she began to inspire me with a lively interest.
Though the position of my young companion was more than equivocal, I determined to see my way clearly before I took any decisive step; and I waited patiently till we got to Bon Couvent, where we expected to dine and meet the husband.
We got there at ten o’clock.
In Italy the carriages never go faster than a walk; a man on foot can outstrip them, as they rarely exceed three miles an hour. The tedium of a journey under such circumstances is something dreadful, and in the hot months one has to stop five or six hours in the middle of the day to avoid falling ill.
My coachman said he did not want to go beyond St. Quirico, where there was an excellent inn, that night, so he proposed waiting at Bon Couvent till four o’clock. We had therefore six hours wherein to rest.
The English girl was astonished at not finding her husband, and looked for him in all directions. I noticed her, and asked the landlord what had become of him. He informed us that he had breakfasted and baited his horse, and had then gone on, leaving word that he would await us at St. Quirico and order supper there.
I thought it all very strange, but I said nothing. The poor girl begged me to excuse her husband’s behaviour.
“He has given me a mark of his confidence, madam, and there is nothing to be offended at.”
The landlord asked me if the vetturino paid my expenses, and I answered in the negative; and the girl then told him to ask the vetturino if he was paying for her.
The man came in, and to convince the lady that providing her with meals was not in the contract, he gave her a paper which she handed to me to read. It was signed “Comte de l’Etoile.”
When she was alone with me my young companion begged me only to order dinner for myself.
I understood her delicacy, and this made her all the dearer to me.
“Madame,” said I, “you must please look upon me as an old friend. I guess you have no money about you, and that you wish to fast from motives of delicacy. Your husband shall repay me, if he will have it so. If I told the landlord to only prepare dinner for myself I should be dishonouring the count, yourself possibly, and myself most of all.”
“I feel you are right sir. Let dinner be served for two, then; but I cannot eat, for I feel ill, and I hope you will not mind my lying on the bed for a moment.”
“Pray do not let me disturb you. This is a pleasant room, and they can lay the table in the next. Lie down, and sleep if you can, and I will order dinner to be ready by two. I hope you will be feeling better by then.”
I left her without giving her time to answer, and went to order dinner.
I had ceased to believe the Frenchman to be the beautiful Englishwoman’s husband, and began to think I should have to fight him.
The case, I felt certain, was one of elopement and seduction; and, superstitious as usual, I was sure that my good genius had sent me in the nick of time to save her and care for her, and in short to snatch her from the hands of her infamous deceiver.
Thus I fondled my growing passion.
I laughed at the absurd title the rascal had given himself, and when the thought struck me that he had possibly abandoned her to me altogether, I made up my mind that he deserved hanging. Nevertheless, I resolved never to leave her.
I lay down on the bed, and as I built a thousand castles in the air I fell asleep.
The landlady awoke me softly, saying that three o’clock had struck.
“Wait a moment before you bring in the dinner. I will go and see if the lady is awake.”
I opened the door gently, and saw she was still asleep, but as I closed the door after me the noise awoke her, and she asked if I had dined.
“I shall not take any dinner, madam, unless you do me the honour to dine with me. You have had a five hours’ rest, and I hope you are better.”
“I will sit down with you to dinner, as you wish it.”
“That makes me happy, and I will order dinner to be served forthwith.”
She ate little, but what little she did eat was taken with a good appetite. She was agreeably surprised to see the beefsteaks and plum pudding, which I had ordered for her.
When the landlady came in, she asked her if the cook was an Englishman, and when she heard that I had given directions for the preparation of her national dishes, she seemed full of gratitude. She cheered up, and congratulated me on my appetite, while I encouraged her to drink some excellent Montepulciano and Montefiascone. By dessert she was in good spirits, while I felt rather excited. She told me, in Italian, that she was born in London, and I thought I should have died with joy, in reply to my question whether she knew Madame Cornelis, she replied that she had known her daughter as they had been at school together.
“Has Sophie grown tall?”
“No, she is quite small, but she is very pretty, and so clever.”
“She must now be seventeen.”
“Exactly. We are of the same age.”
As she said this she blushed and lowered her eyes.
“Are you ill?”
“Not at all. I scarcely like to say it, but Sophie is the very image of you.”
“Why should you hesitate to say so? It has been remarked to me before. No doubt it is a mere coincidence. How long ago is it since you have seen her?”
“Eighteen months; she went back to her mother’s, to be married as it was said, but I don’t know to whom.”
“Your news interests me deeply.”
The landlord brought me the bill, and I saw a note of three pains which her husband had spent on himself and his horse.
“He said you would pay,” observed the landlord.
The Englishwoman blushed. I paid the bill, and we went on.
I was delighted to see her blushing, it proved she was not a party to her husband’s proceedings.
I was burning with the desire to know how she had left London and had met the Frenchman, and why they were going to Rome; but I did not want to trouble her by my questions, and I loved her too well already to give her any pain.
We had a three hours’ drive before us, so I turned the conversation to Sophie, with whom she had been at school.
“Was Miss Nancy Steyne there when you left?” said I.
The reader may remember how fond I had been of this young lady, who had dined with me, and whom I had covered with kisses, though she was only twelve.
My companion sighed at hearing the name of Nancy, and told me that she had left.
“Was she pretty when you knew her?”
“She was a beauty, but her loveliness was a fatal gift to her. Nancy was a close friend of mine, we loved each other tenderly; and perhaps our sympathy arose from the similarity of the fate in store for us. Nancy, too loving and too simple, is now, perhaps, even more unhappy than myself.”
“More unhappy? What do you mean?”
“Is it possible that fate has treated you harshly? Is it possible that you can be unhappy with such a letter of commendation as nature has given you?”
“Alas! let us speak of something else.”
Her countenance was suffused with emotion. I pitied her in secret, and led the conversation back to Nancy.
“Tell me why you think Nancy is unhappy.”
“She ran away with a young man she loved; they despaired of gaining the parents’ consent to the match. Since her flight nothing has been heard of her, and you see I have some reason to fear that she is unhappy.”
“You are right. I would willingly give my life if it could be the saving of her.”
“Where did you know her?”
“In my own house. She and Sophie dined with me, and her father came in at the end of the meal.”
“Now I know who you are. How often have I heard Sophie talking of you. Nancy loved you as well as her father. I heard that you had gone to Russia, and had fought a duel with a general in Poland. Is this true? How I wish I could tell dear Sophie all this, but I may not entertain such hopes now.”
“You have heard the truth about me; but what should prevent you writing what you like to England? I take a lively interest in you, trust in me, and I promise you that you shall communicate with whom you please.”
“I am vastly obliged to you.”
With these words she became silent, and I left her to her thoughts.
At seven o’clock we arrived at St. Quirico, and the so-called Comte de l’Etoile came out and welcomed his wife in the most loving fashion, kissing her before everybody, no doubt with the object of giving people to understand that she was his wife, and I her father.
The girl responded to all his caresses, looking as if a load had been lifted off her breast, and without a word of reproach she went upstairs with him, having apparently forgotten my existence. I set that down to love, youth, and the forgetfulness natural to that early age.
I went upstairs in my turn with my carpet bag, and supper was served directly, as we had to start very early the next morning if we wished to reach Radicofani before the noonday heat.
We had an excellent supper, as the count had preceded us by six hours, and the landlord had had plenty of time to make his preparations. The English girl seemed as much in love with de l’Etoile as he with her, and I was left completely out in the cold. I cannot describe the high spirits, the somewhat risky sallies, and the outrageous humours of the young gentleman; the girl laughed with all her heart, and I could not help laughing too.
I considered that I was present at a kind of comedy, and not a gesture, not a word, not a laugh did I allow to escape me.
“He may be merely a rich and feather-brained young officer,” I said to myself, “who treats everything in this farcical manner. He won’t be the first of the species I have seen. They are amusing, but frivolous, and sometimes dangerous, wearing their honour lightly, and too apt to carry it at the sword’s point.”
On this hypothesis I was ill pleased with my position. I did not much like his manner towards myself; he seemed to be making a dupe of me, and behaved all the while as if he were doing me an honour.
On the supposition that the Englishwoman was his wife, his treatment of myself was certainly not warranted, and I was not the man to play zero. I could not disguise the fact, however, that any onlooker would have pronounced me to be playing an inferior part.
There were two beds in the room where we had our supper. When the chambermaid came to put on the sheets, I told her to give me another room. The count politely begged me to sleep in the same room with them, and the lady remained neutral; but I did not much care for their company, and insisted on leaving them alone.
I had my carpet bag taken to my room, wished them a good night and locked myself in. My friends had only one small trunk, whence I concluded that they had sent on their luggage by another way; but they did not even have the trunk brought up to their room. I went to bed tranquilly, feeling much less interested about the lady than I had been on the journey.
I was roused early in the morning, and made a hasty toilette. I could hear my neighbours dressing, so I half opened my door, and wished them good day without going into their room.
In a quarter of an hour I heard the sound of a dispute in the court-yard, and on looking out, there were the Frenchman and the vetturino arguing hotly. The vetturino held the horse’s bridle, and the pretended count did his best to snatch it away from him.
I guessed the bone of contention: the Frenchman had no money, and the vetturino asked in vain for his due. I knew that I should be drawn into the dispute, and was making up my mind to do my duty without mercy, when the Count de l’Etoile came in and said —
“This blockhead does not understand what I say to him; but as he may have right on his side, I must ask you to give him two sequins. I will return you the money at Rome. By an odd chance I happen to have no money about me, but the fellow might trust me as he has got my trunk. However, he says he must be paid, so will you kindly oblige me? You shall hear more of me at Rome.”
Without waiting for me to reply, the rascal went out and ran down the stairs. The vetturino remained in the room. I put my head out of the window, and saw him leap on horseback and gallop away.
I sat down on my bed, and turned the scene over in my mind, rubbing my hands gently. At last I went off into a mad roar of laughter; it struck me as so whimsical and original an adventure.
“Laugh too,” said I to the lady, “laugh or I will never get up.”
“I agree with you that it’s laughable enough, but I have not the spirit to laugh.”
“Well, sit down at all events.”
I gave the poor devil of a vetturino two sequins, telling him that I should like some coffee and to start in a quarter of an hour.
I was grieved to see my companion’s sadness.
“I understand your grief,” said I, “but you must try to overcome it. I have only one favour to ask of you, and if you refuse to grant me that, I shall be as sad as you, so we shall be rather a melancholy couple.”
“What can I do for you?”
“You can tell me on your word of honour whether that extraordinary character is your husband, or only your lover.”
“I will tell you the simple truth; he is not my husband, but we are going to be married at Rome.”
“I breathe again. He never shall be your husband, and so much the better for you. He has seduced you, and you love him, but you will soon get over that.”
“Never, unless he deceives me.”
“He has deceived you already. I am sure he has told you that he is rich, that he is a man of rank, and that he will make you happy; and all that is a lie.”
“How can you know all this?”
“Experience — experience is my great teacher. Your lover is a young feather-brain, a man of no worth. He might possibly marry you, but it would be only to support himself by the sale of your charms.”
“He loves me; I am sure of it.”
“Yes, he loves you, but not with the love of a man of honour. Without knowing my name, or my character, or anything about me, he delivered you over to my tender mercies. A man of any delicacy would never abandon his loved one thus.”
“He is not jealous. You know Frenchmen are not.”
“A man of honour is the same in France, and England, and Italy, and all the world over. If he loved you, would he have left you penniless in this fashion? What would you do, if I were inclined to play the brutal lover? You may speak freely.”
“I should defend myself.”
“Very good; then I should abandon you here, and what would you do then? You are pretty, you are a woman of sensibility, but many men would take but little account of your virtue. Your lover has left you to me; for all he knew I might be the vilest wretch; but as it is, cheer up, you have nothing to fear.
“How can you think that adventurer loves you? He is a mere monster. I am sorry that what I say makes you weep, but it must be said. I even dare tell you that I have taken a great liking to you; but you may feel quite sure that I shall not ask you to give me so much as a kiss, and I will never abandon you. Before we get to Rome I shall convince you that the count, as he calls himself, not only does not love you, but is a common swindler as well as a deceiver.”
“You will convince me of that?”
“Yes, on my word of honour! Dry your eyes, and let us try to make this day pass as pleasantly as yesterday. You cannot imagine how glad I feel that chance has constituted me your protector. I want you to feel assured of my friendship, and if you do not give me a little love in return, I will try and bear it patiently.”
The landlord came in and brought the bill for the count and his mistress as well as for myself. I had expected this, and paid it without a word, and without looking at the poor wandering sheep beside me. I recollected that too strong medicines kill, and do not cure, and I was afraid I had said almost too much.
I longed to know her history, and felt sure I should hear it before we reached Rome. We took some coffee and departed, and not a word passed between us till we got to the inn at La Scala, where we got down.
The road from La Scala to Radicofani is steep and troublesome. The vetturino would require an extra horse, and even then would have taken four hours. I decided, therefore, to take two post horses, and not to begin the journey till ten o’clock.
“Would it not be better to go on now?” said the English girl; “it will be very hot from ten till noon.”
“Yes, but the Comte de l’Ltoile, whom we should be sure to meet at Radicofani, would not like to see me.”
“Why not? I am sure he would.”
If I had told her my reason she would have wept anew, so in pity I spared her. I saw that she was blinded by love, and could not see the true character of her lover. It would be impossible to cure her by gentle and persuasive argument; I must speak sharply, the wound must be subjected to the actual cautery. But was virtue the cause of all this interest? Was it devotion to a young and innocent girl that made me willing to undertake so difficult and so delicate a task? Doubtless these motives went for something, but I will not attempt to strut in borrowed plumes, and must freely confess that if she had been ugly and stupid I should probably have left her to her fate. In short, selfishness was at the bottom of it all, so let us say no more about virtue.
My true aim was to snatch this delicate morsel from another’s hand that I might enjoy it myself. I did not confess as much to myself, for I could never bear to calmly view my own failings, but afterwards I came to the conclusion that I acted a part throughout. Is selfishness, then, the universal motor of our actions? I am afraid it is.
I made Betty (such was her name) take a country walk with me, and the scenery there is so beautiful that no poet nor painter could imagine a more delicious prospect. Betty spoke Tuscan with English idioms and an English accent, but her voice was so silvery and clear that her Italian was delightful to listen to. I longed to kiss her lips as they spoke so sweetly, but I respected her and restrained myself.
We were walking along engaged in agreeable converse, when all at once we heard the church bells peal out. Betty said she had never seen a Catholic service, and I was glad to give her that pleasure. It was the feast day of some local saint, and Betty assisted at high mass with all propriety, imitating the gestures of the people, so that no one would have taken her for a Protestant. After it was over, she said she thought the Catholic rite was much more adapted to the needs of loving souls than the Angelican. She was astonished at the southern beauty of the village girls, whom she pronounced to be much handsomer that the country lasses in England. She asked me the time, and I replied without thinking that I wondered she had not got a watch. She blushed and said the count had asked her to give it him to leave in pawn for the horse he hired.
I was sorry for what I had said, for I had put Betty, who was incapable of a lie, to great pain.
We started at ten o’clock with three horses, and as a cool wind was blowing we had a pleasant drive, arriving at Radicofani at noon.
The landlord, who was also the postmaster, asked if I would pay three pauls which the Frenchman had expended for his horse and himself, assuring the landlord that his friend would pay.
For Betty’s sake I said I would pay; but this was not all.
“The gentleman,” added the man, “has beaten three of my postillions with his naked sword. One of them was wounded in the face, and he has followed his assailant, and will make him pay dearly for it. The reason of the assault was that they wanted to detain him till he had paid.”
“You were wrong to allow violence to be used; he does not look like a thief, and you might have taken it for granted that I should pay.”
“You are mistaken; I was not obliged to take anything of the sort for granted; I have been cheated in this sort many times before. Your dinner is ready if you want any.”
Poor Betty was in despair. She observed a distressed silence; and I tried to raise her spirits, and to make her eat a good dinner, and to taste the excellent Muscat, of which the host had provided an enormous flask.
All my efforts were in vain, so I called the vetturino to tell him that I wanted to start directly after dinner. This order acted on Betty like magic.
“You mean to go as far as Centino, I suppose,” said the man. “We had better wait there till the heat is over.”
“No, we must push on, as the lady’s husband may be in need of help. The wounded postillion has followed him; and as he speaks Italian very imperfectly, there’s no knowing what may happen to him.”
“Very good; we will go off.”
Betty looked at me with the utmost gratitude; and by way of proving it, she pretended to have a good appetite. She had noticed that this was a certain way of pleasing me.
While we were at dinner I ordered up one of the beaten postillions, and heard his story. He was a frank rogue; he said he had received some blows with the flat of the sword, but he boasted of having sent a stone after the Frenchman which must have made an impression on him.
I gave him a Paul, and promised to make it a crown if he would go to Centino to bear witness against his comrade, and he immediately began to speak up for the count, much to Betty’s amusement. He said the man’s wound in the face was a mere scratch, and that he had brought it on himself, as he had no business to oppose a traveller as he had done. By way of comfort he told us that the Frenchman had only been hit by two or three stones. Betty did not find this very consoling, but I saw that the affair was more comic than tragic, and would end in nothing. The postillion went off, and we followed him in half an hour.
Betty was tranquil enough till we got there, and heard that the count had gone on to Acquapendente with the two postillions at his heels; she seemed quite vexed. I told her that all would be well; that the count knew how to defend himself; but she only answered me with a deep sigh.
I suspected that she was afraid we should have to pass the night together, and that I would demand some payment for all the trouble I had taken.
“Would you like us to go on to Acquapendente?” I asked her.
At this question her face beamed all over; she opened her arms, and I embraced her.
I called the vetturino, and told him. I wanted to go on to Acquapendente immediately.
The fellow replied that his horses were in the stable, and that he was not going to put them in; but that I could have post horses if I liked.
“Very good. Get me two horses immediately.”
It is my belief that, if I had liked, Betty would have given me everything at that moment, for she let herself fall into my arms. I pressed her tenderly and kissed her, and that was all She seemed grateful for my self-restraint.
The horses were put in, and after I had paid the landlord for the supper, which he swore he had prepared for us, we started.
We reached Acquapendente in three quarters of an hour, and we found the madcap count in high spirits. He embraced his Dulcinea with transports, and Betty seemed delighted to find him safe and sound. He told us triumphantly that he had beaten the rascally postillions, and had warded their stones off.
“Where’s the slashed postillion?” I asked.
“He is drinking to my health with his comrade; they have both begged my pardon.”
“Yes,” said Betty, “this gentleman gave him a crown.”
“What a pity! You shouldn’t have given them anything.”
Before supper the Comte de l’Etoile skewed us the bruises on his thighs and side; the rascal was a fine well-made fellow. However, Betty’s adoring airs irritated me, though I was consoled at the thought of the earnest I had received from her.
Next day, the impudent fellow told me that he would order us a good supper at Viterbo, and that of course I would lend him a sequin to pay for his dinner at Montefiascone. So saying, he skewed me in an off-hand way a bill of exchange on Rome for three thousand crowns.
I did not trouble to read it, and gave him the sequin, though I felt sure I should never see it again.
Betty now treated me quite confidentially, and I felt I might ask her almost any questions.
When we were at Montefiascone she said —
“You see my lover is only without money by chance; he has a bill of exchange for a large amount.”
“I believe it to be a forgery.”
“You are really too cruel.”
“Not at all; I only wish I were mistaken, but I am sure of the contrary. Twenty years ago I should have taken it for a good one, but now it’s another thing, and if the bill is a good one, why did he not negotiate it at Sienna, Florence, or Leghorn?”
“It may be that be had not the time; he was in such a hurry to be gone. Ah! if you knew all!”
“I only want to know what you like to tell me, but I warn you again that what I say is no vague suspicion but hard fact.”
“Then you persist in the idea that he does not love me.”
“Nay, he loves you, but in such a fashion as to deserve hatred in return.”
“How do you mean?”
“Would you not hate a man who loved you only to traffic in your charms?”
“I should be sorry for you to think that of him.”
“If you like, I will convince you of what I say this evening.”
“You will oblige me; but I must have some positive proof. It would be a sore pain to me, but also a true service.”
“And when you are convinced, will you cease to love him?”
“Certainly; if you prove him to be dishonest, my love will vanish away.”
“You are mistaken; you will still love him, even when you have had proof positive of his wickedness. He has evidently fascinated you in a deadly manner, or you would see his character in its true light before this.”
“All this may be true; but do you give me your proofs, and leave to me the care of shewing that I despise him.”
“I will prove my assertions this evening; but tell me how long you have known him?”
“About a month; but we have only been together for five days.”
“And before that time you never accorded him any favours?”
“Not a single kiss. He was always under my windows, and I had reason to believe that he loved me fondly.”
“Oh, yes! he loves you, who would not? but his love is not that of a man of honour, but that of an impudent profligate.”
“But how can you suspect a man of whom you know nothing?”
“Would that I did not know him! I feel sure that not being able to visit you, he made you visit him, and then persuaded you to fly with him.”
“Yes, he did. He wrote me a letter, which I will shew you. He promises to marry me at Rome.”
“And who is to answer for his constancy?”
“His love is my surety.”
“Do you fear pursuit?”
“Did he take you from a father, a lover, or a brother?”
“From a lover, who will not be back at Leghorn for a week or ten days.”
“Where has he gone?”
“To London on business; I was under the charge of a woman whom he trusted.”
“That’s enough; I pity you, my poor Betty. Tell me if you love your Englishman, and if he is worthy of your love.”
“Alas! I loved him dearly till I saw this Frenchman, who made me unfaithful to a man I adored. He will be in despair at not finding me when he returns.”
“Is he rich?”
“Not very; he is a business man, and is comfortably off.”
“Is he young?”
“No. He is a man of your age, and a thoroughly kind and honest person. He was waiting for his comsumptive wife to die to marry me.”
“Poor man! Have you presented him with a child?”
“No. I am sure God did not mean me for him, for the count has conquered me completely.”
“Everyone whom love leads astray says the same thing.”
“Now you have heard everything, and I am glad I told you, for I am sure you are my friend.”
“I will be a better friend to you, dear Betty, in the future than in the past. You will need my services, and I promise not to abandon you. I love you, as I have said; but so long as you continue to love the Frenchman I shall only ask you to consider me as your friend.”
“I accept your promise, and in return I promise not to hide anything from you.”
“Tell me why you have no luggage.”
“I escaped on horseback, but my trunk, which is full of linen and other effects, will be at Rome two days after us. I sent it off the day before my escape, and the man who received it was sent by the count.”
“Then good-bye to your trunk!”
“Why, you foresee nothing but misfortune!”
“Well, dear Betty, I only wish my prophecies may not be accomplished. Although you escaped on horseback I think you should have brought a cloak and a carpet bag with some linen.”
“All that is in the small trunk; I shall have it taken into my room tonight.”
We reached Viterbo at seven o’clock, and found the count very cheerful.
In accordance with the plot I had laid against the count, I began by shewing myself demonstratively fond of Betty, envying the fortunate lover, praising his heroic behaviour in leaving her to me, and so forth.
The silly fellow proceeded to back me up in my extravagant admiration. He boasted that jealousy was utterly foreign to his character, and maintained that the true lover would accustom himself to see his mistress inspire desires in other men.
He proceeded to make a long dissertation on this theme, and I let him go on, for I was waiting till after supper to come to the conclusive point.
During the meal I made him drink, and applauded his freedom from vulgar prejudices. At dessert he enlarged on the duty of reciprocity between lovers.
“Thus,” he remarked, “Betty ought to procure me the enjoyment of Fanny, if she has reason to think I have taken a fancy to her; and per contra, as I adore Betty, if I found that she loved you I should procure her the pleasure of sleeping with you.”
Betty listened to all this nonsense in silent astonishment.
“I confess, my dear count,” I replied, “that, theoretically speaking, your system strikes me as sublime, and calculated to bring about the return of the Golden Age; but I am afraid it would prove absurd in practice. No doubt you are a man of courage, but I am sure you would never let your mistress be enjoyed by another man. Here are twenty-five sequins. I will wager that amount that you will not allow me to sleep with your wife.”
“Ha! ha! You are mistaken in me, I assure you. I’ll bet fifty sequins that I will remain in the room a calm spectator of your exploits. My dear Betty, we must punish this sceptic; go to bed with him.”
“You are joking.”
“Not at all; to bed with you, I shall love you all the more.”
“You must be crazy, I shall do nothing of the kind.”
The count took her in his arms, and caressing her in the tenderest manner begged her to do him this favour, not so much for the twenty-five Louis, as to convince me that he was above vulgar prejudices. His caresses became rather free, but Betty repulsed him gently though firmly, saying that she would never consent, and that he had already won the bet, which was the case; in fine the poor girl besought him to kill her rather than oblige her to do a deed which she thought infamous.
Her words, and the pathetic voice with which they were uttered, should have shamed him, but they only put him into a furious rage. He repulsed her, calling her the vilest names, and finally telling her that she was a hypocrite, and he felt certain she had already granted me all a worthless girl could grant.
Betty grew pale as death, and furious in my turn, I ran for my sword. I should probably have run him through, if the infamous scoundrel had not fled into the next room, where he locked himself in.
I was in despair at seeing Betty’s distress, of which I had been the innocent cause, and I did my best to soothe her.
She was in an alarming state. Her breath came with difficulty, her eyes seemed ready to start out of her head, her lips were bloodless and trembling, and her teeth shut tight together. Everyone in the inn was asleep. I could not call for help, and all I could do was to dash water in her face, and speak soothing words.
At last she fell asleep, and I remained beside her for more than two hours, attentive to her least movements, and hoping that she would awake strengthened and refreshed.
At day-break I heard l’Etoile going off, and I was glad of it. The people of the inn knocked at our door, and then Betty awoke.
“Are you ready to go, my dear Betty?”
“I am much better, but I should so like a cup of tea.”
The Italians cannot make tea, so I took what she gave me, and went to prepare it myself.
When I came back I found her inhaling the fresh morning air at the window. She seemed calm, and I hoped I had cured her. She drank a few cups of tea (of which beverage the English are very fond), and soon regained her good looks.
She heard some people in the room where we had supped, and asked me if I had taken up the purse which I had placed on the table. I had forgotten it completely.
I found my purse and a piece of paper bearing the words, “bill of exchange for three thousand crowns.” The impostor had taken it out of his pocket in making his bet, and had forgotten it. It was dated at Bordeaux, drawn on a wine merchant at Paris to l’Etoile’s order. It was payable at sight, and was for six months. The whole thing was utterly irregular.
I took it to Betty, who told me she knew nothing about bills, and begged me to say nothing more about that infamous fellow. She then said, in a voice of which I can give no idea —
“For pity’s sake do not abandon a poor girl, more worthy of compassion than blame!”
I promised her again to have all a father’s care for her, and soon after we proceeded on our journey.
The poor girl fell asleep, and I followed her example. We were awoke by the vetturino who informed us, greatly to our astonishment, that we were at Monterosi. We had slept for six hours, and had done eighteen miles.
We had to stay at Monterosi till four o’clock, and we were glad of it, for we needed time for reflection.
In the first place I asked about the wretched deceiver, and was told that he had made a slight meal, paid for it, and said he was going to spend the night at La Storta.
We made a good dinner, and Betty plucking up a spirit said we must consider the case of her infamous betrayer, but for the last time.
“Be a father to me,” said she; “do not advise but command; you may reckon on my obedience. I have no need to give you any further particulars, for you have guessed all except the horror with which the thought of my betrayer now inspires me. If it had not been for you, he would have plunged me into an abyss of shame and misery.”
“Can you reckon on the Englishman forgiving you?”
“I think so.”
“Then we must go back to Leghorn. Are you strong enough to follow this counsel? I warn you that if you approve of it, it must be put into execution at once. Young, pretty, and virtuous as you are, you need not imagine that I shall allow you to go by yourself, or in the company of strangers. If you think I love you, and find me worthy of your esteem, that is sufficient regard for me. I will live with you like a father, if you are not in a position to give me marks of a more ardent affection. Be sure I will keep faith with you, for I want to redeem your opinion of men, and to shew you that there are men as honourable as your seducer was vile.”
Betty remained for a quarter of an hour in profound silence, her head resting on her elbows, and her eyes fixed on mine. She did not seem either angry or astonished, but as far as I could judge was lost in thought. I was glad to see her reflective, for thus she would be able to give me a decided answer: At last she said:
“You need not think, my dear friend, that my silence proceeds from irresolution. If my mind were not made up already I should despise myself. I am wise enough at any rate to appreciate the wisdom of your generous counsels. I thank Providence that I have fallen into the hands of such a man who will treat me as if I were his daughter.”
“Then we will go back to Leghorn, and start immediately.”
“My only doubt is how to manage my reconcilliation with Sir B—— M——. I have no doubt he will pardon me eventually; but though he is tender and good-hearted he is delicate where a point of honour is concerned, and Subject to sudden fits of violence. This is what I want to avoid; for he might possibly kill me, and then I should be the cause of his ruin.”
“You must consider it on the way, and tell me any plans you may think of.”
“He is an intelligent man, and it would be hopeless to endeavour to dupe him by a lie. I must make a full confession in writing without hiding a single circumstance; for if he thought he was being duped his fury would be terrible. If you will write to him you must not say that you think me worthy of forgiveness; you must tell him the facts and leave him to judge for himself. He will be convinced of my repentance when he reads the letter I shall bedew with my tears, but he must not know of my whereabouts till he has promised to forgive me. He is a slave to his word of honour, and we shall live together all our days without my ever hearing of this slip. I am only sorry that I have behaved so foolishly.”
“You must not be offended if I ask you whether you have ever given him like cause for complaint before.”
“What is his history?”
“He lived very unhappily with his first wife; and he was divorced from his second wife for sufficient reasons. Two years ago he came to our school with Nancy’s father, and made my acquaintance. My father died, his creditors seized everything, and I had to leave the school, much to Nancy’s distress and that of the other pupils. At this period Sir B—— M—— took charge of me, and gave me a sum which placed me beyond the reach of, want for the rest of my days. I was grateful, and begged him to take me with him when he told me he was leaving England. He was astonished; and, like a man of honour, said he loved me too well to flatter himself that we could travel together without his entertaining more ardent feelings for me than those of a father. He thought it out of the question for me to love him, save as a daughter.
“This declaration, as you may imagine, paved the way for a full agreement.”
“‘However you love me,’ I said, ‘I shall be well pleased, and if I can do anything for you I shall be all the happier.’
“He then gave me of his own free will a written promise to marry me on the death of his wife. We started on our travels, and till my late unhappy connection I never gave him the slightest cause for complaint.”
“Dry your eyes, dear Betty, he is sure to forgive you. I have friends at Leghorn, and no one shall find out that we have made acquaintance. I will put you in good hands, and I shall not leave the town till I hear you are back with Sir B—— M——. If he prove inexorable I promise never to abandon you, and to take you back to England if you like.”
“But how can you spare the time?”
“I will tell you the truth, my dear Betty. I have nothing particular to do at Rome, or anywhere else. London and Rome are alike to me.”
“How can I shew my gratitude to you?”
I summoned the vetturino, and told him we must return to Viterbo. He objected, but I convinced him with a couple of piastres, and by agreeing to use the post horses and to spare his own animals.
We got to Viterbo by seven o’clock, and asked anxiously if no one had found a pocket-book which I pretended I had lost. I was told no such thing had been found, so I ordered supper with calmness, although bewailing my loss. I told Betty that I acted in this sort to obviate any difficulties which the vetturino might make about taking us back to Sienna, as he might feel it his duty to place her in the hands of her supposed husband. I had up the small trunk, and after we had forced the lock Betty took out her cloak and the few effects she had in it, and we then inspected the adventurer’s properties, most likely all he possessed in the world. A few tattered shirts, two or three pairs of mended silk stockings, a pair of breeches, a hare’s foot, a pot of grease, and a score of little books-plays or comic operas, and lastly a packet of letters; such were the contents of the trunk.
We proceeded to read the letters, and the first thing we noted was the address: “To M. L’Etoile, Actor, at Marseilles, Bordeaux, Bayonne, Montpellier, etc.”
I pitied Betty. She saw herself the dupe of a vile actor, and her indignation and shame were great.
“We will read it all to-morrow,” said I; “to-day we have something else to do.”
The poor girl seemed to breathe again.
We got over our supper hastily, and then Betty begged me to leave her alone for a few moments for her to change her linen and go to bed.
“If you like,” said I, “I will have a bed made up for me in the next room.”
“No, dear friend, ought I not to love your society? What would have become of me without you?”
I went out for a few minutes, and when I returned and came to her bedside to wish her good night, she gave me such a warm embrace that I knew my hour was come.
Reader, you must take the rest for granted. I was happy, and I had reason to believe that Betty was happy also.
In the morning, we had just fallen asleep, when the vettuyino knocked at the door.
I dressed myself hastily to see him.
“Listen,” I said, “it is absolutely necessary for me to recover my pocket-book, and I hope to find it at Acquapendente.”
“Very good, sir, very good,” said the rogue, a true Italian, “pay me as if I had taken you to Rome, and a sequin a day for the future, and if you like, I will take you to England on those terms.”
The vetturino was evidently what is called wide awake. I gave him his money, and we made a new agreement. At seven o’clock we stopped at Montefiascone to write to Sir B—— M— — she in English, and I in French.
Betty had now an air of satisfaction and assurance which I found charming. She said she was full of hope, and seemed highly amused at the thought of the figure which the actor would cut when he arrived at Rome by himself. She hoped that we should come across the man in charge of her trunk, and that we should have no difficulty in getting it back.
“He might pursue us.”
“He dare not do so.”
“I expect not, but if he does I will give him a warm welcome. If he does not take himself off I will blow out his brains.”
Before I began my letter to Sir B—— M——. Betty again warned me to conceal nothing from him.
“Not even the reward you gave me?”
“Oh, yes! That is a little secret between ourselves.”
In less than three hours the letters were composed and written. Betty was satisfied with my letter; and her own, which she translated for my benefit, was a perfect masterpiece of sensibility, which seemed to me certain of success.
I thought of posting from Sienna, to ensure her being in a place of safety before the arrival of her lover.
The only thing that troubled me was the bill of exchange left behind by l’Etoile, for whether it were true or false, I felt bound to deal with it in some way, but I could not see how it was to be done.
We set out again after dinner in spite of the heat, and arrived at Acquapendente in the evening and spent the night in the delights of mutual love.
As I was getting up in the morning I saw a carriage in front of the inn, just starting for Rome. I imagined that amidst the baggage Betty’s trunk might be discovered, and I told her to get up, and see if it were there. We went down, and Betty recognized the trunk she had confided to her seducer.
We begged the vetturino to restore it to us, but he was inflexible; and as he was in the right we had to submit. The only thing he could do was to have an embargo laid on the trunk at Rome, the said embargo to last for a month. A notary was called, and our claim properly drawn up. The vetturino, who seemed an honest and intelligent fellow, assured us he had received nothing else belonging to the Comte de l’Etoile, so we were assured that the actor was a mere beggar on the lookout for pickings, and that the rags in the small trunk were all his possessions.
After this business had been dispatched Betty brightened up amazingly.
“Heaven,” she exclaimed, “is arranging everything. My mistake will serve as a warning to me for the future, for the lesson has been a severe one, and might have been much worse if I had not had the good fortune of meeting you.”
“I congratulate you,” I replied, “on having cured yourself so quickly of a passion that had deprived you of your reason.”
“Ah! a woman’s reason is a fragile thing. I shudder when I think of the monster; but I verily believe that I should not have regained my senses if he had not called me a hypocrite, and said that he was certain I had already granted you my favours. These infamous words opened my eyes, and made me see my shame. I believe I would have helped you to pierce him to the heart if the coward had not run away. But I am glad he did run away, not for his sake but for ours, for we should have been in an unpleasant position if he had been killed.”
“You are right; he escaped my sword because he is destined for the rope.”
“Let him look to that himself, but I am sure he will never dare to shew his face before you or me again.”
We reached Radicofani at ten o’clock, and proceeded to write postscripts to our letters to Sir B—— M—— We were sitting at the same table, Betty opposite to the door and I close to it, so that anyone coming in could not have seen me without turning round.
Betty was dressed with all decency and neatness, but I had taken off my coat on account of the suffocating heat. Nevertheless, though I was in shirt sleeves, I should not have been ashamed of my attire before the most respectable woman in Italy.
All at once I heard a rapid step coming along the passage, and the door was dashed open. A furious-looking man came in, and, seeing Betty, cried out —
“Ah! there you are.”
I did not give him time to turn round and see me, but leapt upon him and seized him by the shoulders. If I had not done so he would have shot me dead on the spot.
As I leapt upon him I had involuntarily closed the door, and as he cried, “Let me go, traitor!” Betty fell on her knees before him, exclaiming, “No, no! he is my preserver.”
Sir B—— M—— was too mad with rage to pay any attention to her, and kept on — -
“Let me go, traitors”
As may be imagined, I did not pay much attention to this request so long as the loaded pistol was in his hand.
In our struggles he at last fell to the ground and I on top of him. The landlord and his people had heard the uproar, and were trying to get in; but as we had fallen against the door they could not do so.
Betty had the presence of mind to snatch the pistol from his hand, and I then let him go, calmly observing,
“Sir, you are labouring under a delusion.”
Again Betty threw herself on her knees, begging him to calm himself, as I was her preserver not her betrayer.
“What do you mean by ‘preserver’?” said B—— M——
Betty gave him the letter, saying —
The Englishman read the letter through without rising from the ground, and as I was certain of its effect I opened the door and told the landlord to send his people away, and to get dinner for three, as everything had been settled.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52