I Sup at the Inn With Armelline and Emilie
These innovations were the work of some six months. The first reform was the abolition of the prohibition on entering the large parlour and even the interior of the convent; for as the inmates had taken no vows and were not cloistered nuns, the superior should have been at liberty to act according to her discretion. Menicuccio had learnt this from a note his sister wrote him, and which he brought to me in high glee, asking me to come with him to the convent, according to his sister’s request, who said my presence would be acceptable to her governess. I was to ask for the governess.
I was only too glad to lend myself to this pleasant arrangement, and felt curious to see the faces of the three recluses, as well as to hear what they had to say on these great changes.
When we got into the large parlour I saw two grates, one occupied by the Abbe Guasco, whom I had known in Paris in 1751, the other by a Russian nobleman, Ivan Ivanovitch Schuvaloff, and by Father Jacquier, a friar minim of the Trinita dei Monti, and a learned astronomer. Behind the grate I saw three very pretty girls.
When our friends came down we began a very interesting conversation, which had to be conducted in a low tone for fear of our being overheard. We could not talk at our ease till the other visitors had taken their leave. My young friend’s mistress was a very pretty girl, but his sister was a ravishing beauty. She had just entered on her sixteenth year, but she was tall and her figure well developed; in short, she enchanted me. I thought I had never seen a whiter skin or blacker hair and eyebrows and eyes, but still more charming was the sweetness of her voice and expression, and the naive simplicity of her expressions. Her governess who was ten or twelve years older than she was, was a woman of an extremely interesting expression; she was pale and melancholy looking, no doubt from the fires which she had been forced to quench within her. She delighted me by telling me of the confusion which the new regulations had caused in the house.
“The mother-superior is well pleased,” she said, “and all my young companions are overjoyed; but the older ones whom circumstance has made into bigots are scandalized at everything. The superior has already given orders for windows to be made in the dark parlours, though the old women say that she cannot go beyond the concessions she has already received. To this the superior answered that as free communication had been allowed, it would be absurd to retain the darkness. She has also given orders for the alteration of the double grating, as there was only a single one in the large parlour.”
I thought the superior must be a woman of intelligence, and expressed a desire to see her. Emilie obtained this pleasure for me the following day.
Emilie was the friend of Armelline, Menicuccio’s sister. This first visit lasted two hours, and seemed all too short. Menicuccio spoke to his well-beloved at the other grating.
I went away, after having given them ten Roman crowns as before. I kissed Armelline’s fair hands, and as she felt the contact of my lips her face was suffused by a vivid blush. Never had the lips of man touched more dainty hands before, and she looked quite astounded at the ardour with which I kissed them.
I went home full of love for her, and without heeding the obstacles in my path I gave reins to my passion, which seemed to me the most ardent I had ever experienced.
My young friend was in an ocean of bliss. He had declared his love, and the girl had said that she would gladly become his wife if he could get the cardinal’s consent. As this consent only depended on his ability to keep himself, I promised to give him a hundred crowns and my patronage. He had served his time as a tailor’s apprentice, and was in a position to open a shop of his own.
“I envy your lot,” said I, “for your happiness is assured, while I, though I love your sister, despair of possessing her.”
“Are you married then?” he asked.
“Alas, yes! Keep my counsel, for I propose visiting her every day, and if it were known that I was married, my visits would be received with suspicion.”
I was obliged to tell this lie to avoid the temptation of marrying her, and to prevent Armelline thinking that I was courting her with that intention.
I found the superioress a polite and clever woman, wholly free from prejudices. After coming down to the grate to oblige me, she sometimes came for her own pleasure. She knew that I was the author of the happy reform in the institution, and she told me that she considered herself under great obligations to me. In less than six weeks three of her girls made excellent marriages, and six hundred crowns had been added to the yearly income of the house.
She told me that she was ill pleased with one of their confessors. He was a Dominican, and made it a rule that his penitents should approach the holy table every Sunday and feast day; he kept them for hours in the confessional, and imposed penances and fastings which were likely to injure the health of young girls.
“All this,” said she, “cannot improve them from a mortal point of view, and takes up a lot of their time, so that they have none left for their work, by the sale of which they procure some small comforts for themselves.
“How many confessors have you?”
“Are you satisfied with the other three?”
“Yes, they are sensible men, and do not ask too much of poor human nature.”
“I will carry your just complaint to the cardinal; will you write out your petition?”
“Kindly give me a model.”
I gave her a rough draft, which she copied out and signed, and I laid it before his eminence. A few days after the Dominican was removed, and his penitents divided amongst the three remaining confessors. The younger members of the community owed me a great debt of gratitude on account of this change.
Menicuccio went to see his sweetheart every holiday, while I, in my amorous ardour, visited his sister every morning at nine o’clock. I breakfasted with her and Emilie, and remained in the parlour till eleven. As there was only one grating I could lock the door behind me, but we could be seen from the interior of the convent, as the door was left open to admit light, there being no window. This was a great annoyance for me; recluses, young or old, were continually passing by, and none of them failed to give a glance in the direction of the grate; thus my fair Armelline could not stretch out her hand to receive my amorous kisses.
Towards the end of December the cold became intense, and I begged the superior to allow me to place a screen in front of the door, as I feared I should catch cold otherwise. The worthy woman granted my request without any difficulty, and we were at our ease for the future, though the desires with which Armelline inspired me had become dreadful torment.
On the 1st day of January, 1771, I presented each of them with a good winter dress, and sent the superior a quantity of chocolate, sugar, and coffee, all of which were extremely welcome.
Emilie often came by herself to the grating, as Armelline was not ready, and in the same way Armelline would come by herself when her governess happened to be busy. It was in these quarters of an hour that she succeeded in captivating me, heart and soul.
Emilie and Armelline were great friends, but their prejudices on the subject of sensual enjoyment were so strong that I could never get them to listen to licentious talk, to allow certain small liberties which I would gladly have taken, or to afford me those pleasures of the eyes that we accept in default of better things.
One day they were petrified by my asking them whether they did not sometimes sleep in the same bed, so as to give each other proofs of the tenderness of their mutual affection.
How they blushed Emilie asked me with the most perfect innocence what there was in common between affection and the inconvenience of sleeping two in a narrow bed.
I took care not to explain myself, for I saw that I had frightened them. No doubt they were of the same flesh and blood as I, but our educators had differed widely. They had evidently never confided their little secrets to one another, possibly not even to their confessor, either through shame, or with the idea that the liberties they indulged in alone were no sin.
I made them a present of some silk stockings, lined with plush to keep out the cold, and vainly endeavoured to make them try the stockings on before me. I might say as often as I pleased that there was no real difference between a man’s legs and a woman’s, and that their confessor would laugh at them if they confessed to shewing their legs. They only answered that girls were not allowed to take such a liberty, as they wore petticoats on purpose to conceal their legs.
The manner in which Emilie spoke, always with Armelline’s approbation, convinced me that their modesty was genuine. I penetrated her idea; she thought that in acceding to my request she would be lowering herself in my eyes, and that I should despise her ever after. Nevertheless Emilie was a woman of twenty-seven, and by no means a devotee.
As for Armelline, I could see that she took Emilie for her model, and would have been ashamed of appearing less precise than her friend. I thought she loved me, and that, contrary to the general rule, she would be more easily won by herself than in company with her friend.
I made the trial one morning when she appeared at the grating by herself, telling me that her governess was busy. I said that I adored her and was the most hapless of men, for being a married man I had no hope of ever being able to clasp her to my arms and cover her with kisses.
“Can I continue to live, dear Armelline, with no other consolation than that of kissing your fair hands?”
At these words, pronounced with so much passion, she fixed her gaze on me, and after a few moments’ reflection she began to kiss my hands as ardently as I had kissed hers.
I begged her to put her mouth so that I might kiss it. She blushed arid looked down, and did nothing. I bewailed my fate bitterly, but in vain. She was deaf and dumb till Emilie came and asked us why we were so dull.
About this time, the beginning of 1771, I was visited by Mariuccia, whom I had married ten years before to a young hairdresser. My readers may remember how I met her at Abbe Momolo’s. During the three months I had been in Rome I had enquired in vain as to what had become of her; so that I was delighted when she made her appearance.
“I saw you at St. Peter’s,” said she, “at the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, but not daring to approach you because of the people with whom I was, I told a friend of mine to follow you and find out where you lived.”
“How is it that I have tried to find you out in vain for the last three months?”
“My husband set up at Frascati eight years ago, and we have lived there very happily ever since.”
“I am very glad to hear it. Have you any children?”
“Four; and the eldest, who is nine years old, is very like you.”
“Do you love her?”
“I adore her, but I love the other three as well.”
As I wanted to go to breakfast with Armelline I begged Margarita to keep Mariuccia company till my return.
Mariuccia dined with me, and we spent a pleasant day together without attempting to renew our more tender relationship. We had plenty to talk about, and she told me that Costa, my old servant, had come back to Rome in a splendid coach, three years after I had left, and that he had married one of Momolo’s daughters.
“He’s a rascal; he robbed me.”
“I guessed as much; his theft did him no good. He left his wife two years after their marriage, and no one knows what has become of him.”
“How about his wife?”
“She is living miserably in Rome. Her father is dead.”
I did not care to go and see the poor woman, for I could not do anything for her, and I could not have helped saying that if I caught her husband I would do my best to have him hanged. Such was indeed my intention up to the year 1785, when I found this runagate at Vienna. He was then Count Erdich’s man, and when we come to that period the reader shall hear what I did.
I promised Mariuccia to come and see her in the course of Lent.
The Princess Santa Croce and the worthy Cardinal Bernis pitied me for my hapless love; I often confided my sufferings to their sympathizing ears.
The cardinal told the princess that she could very well obtain permission from Cardinal Orsini to take Armelline to the theatre, and that if I cared to join the party I might find her less cruel.
“The cardinal will make no objection,” said he, “as Armelline has taken no vows; but as you must know our friend’s mistress before making your request, you have only to tell the cardinal that you would like to see the interior of the house.”
“Do you think he will give me leave?”
“Certainly; the inmates are not cloistered nuns. We will go with you.”
“You will come too? that will be a delightful party indeed.”
“Ask for leave, and we will arrange the day.”
This plan seemed to me a delicious dream. I guessed that the gallant cardinal was curious to see Armelline, but I was not afraid as I knew he was a constant lover. Besides I felt sure that if he took an interest in the fair recluse he would be certain to find her a husband.
In three or four days the princess summoned me to her box in the Alberti Theatre, and shewed me Cardinal Orsini’s note, allowing her and her friends to see the interior of the house.
“To-morrow afternoon,” said she, “we will fix the day and the hour for the visit.”
Next day I paid my usual visit to the recluses, and the superioress came to tell me that the cardinal had told her that the Princess Santa Croce was coming to visit the house with some friends.
“I know it,” said I; “I am coming with her.”
“When is she coming?”
“I don’t know yet, but I will inform you later on.”
“This novelty has turned the house upside down. The devotees scarcely know whether they are awake or dreaming, for with the exception of a few priests, the doctor, and the surgeon, no one has ever entered the house since its foundation.”
“All these restrictions are now removed, and you need not ask the cardinal’s permission to receive visits from your friends.”
“I know that, but I don’t like to go so far.”
The time for the visit was fixed for the afternoon of the next day, and I let the superioress know early the next morning. The Duchess of Fiano had asked to join us; the cardinal came, of course, dressed as a simple priest, with no indication of his exalted rank. He knew Armelline directly from my description, and congratulated her on having made my acquaintance.
The poor girl blushed to the roots of her hair; and I thought she would have fainted when the princess, after telling her she was the prettiest girl in the house, gave her two affectionate kisses, a mark of friendship strictly forbidden by the rules.
After these caresses, the princess proceeded to compliment the superioress. She said that I had done well to praise her parts, as she could judge of them by the order and neatness which reigned everywhere.
“I shall mention your name to Cardinal Orsini,” she added, “and you may be sure I shall do you all the justice you deserve.”
When we had seen all the rooms, which contained nothing worth seeing, I presented Emilie to the princess, who received her with great cordiality.
“I have heard of your sadness,” she said, “but I know the reason of it. You are a good girl, and pretty too, and I shall get you a husband who will cure you of your melancholy.”
The superioress gave a smile of approbation, but I saw a dozen aged devotees pulling wry faces.
Emilie dared not reply, but she took the princess’s hand and kissed it, as if to summon her to keep her promise.
As for me, I was delighted to see that though all the girls were really pretty, my Armelline eclipsed them all, as the light of the sun obscures the stars.
When we came down to the parlour, the princess told Armelline that she meant to ask leave of the cardinal to take her two or three times to the theatre before Lent began. This observation seemed to petrify everyone except the superioress, who said that his eminence had now a perfect right to relax any or all of the rules of the establishment.
Poor Armelline was so overwhelmed between joy and confusion that she could not speak. She seemed unable to find words wherein to thank the princess, who commended her and her friend Emilie to the superioress before she left the house, and gave her a small present to buy necessaries for them.
Not to be outdone, the Duchess of Fiano told the superioress that she would make me the almoner of her bounty towards Armelline and Emilie. My expressions of gratitude to the princess when we were back in the carriage may be imagined.
I had no need to excuse Armelline, for the princess and the cardinal had gauged her capacities. Her confusion had prevented her shewing her cleverness, but her face shewed her to possess it. Besides, the influence of the education she had received had to be taken into account. The princess was impatient to take her to the theatre, and afterwards to supper at an inn, according to the Roman custom.
She wrote the names of Armelline and Emilie upon her tablets, so as to remember them on every occasion.
I did not forget the mistress of my poor friend Menicuccio, but the time was not opportune for mentioning her name. The next day, however, I got the cardinal’s ear, and told him that I was anxious to do something for the young man. The cardinal saw him, and Menicuccio pleased him so well that the marriage took place before the end of the carnival, the bride having a dowry of five hundred crowns. With this sum and the hundred crowns I gave him, he was in a position to open a shop for himself.
The day after the princess’s visit was a triumphant one for me. As soon as I appeared at the grating the superioress was sent for, and we had an interview.
The princess had given her fifty crowns, which she was going to lay out on linen for Armelline and Emilie.
The recluses were stupefied when I told them that the fat priest was Cardinal Bernis, as they had an idea that a cardinal can never doff the purple.
The Duchess of Fiano had sent a cask of wine, which was an unknown beverage there, and these presents made them hope for others. I was looked upon as the bringer of all this good luck, and gratitude shewed itself so plainly in every word and glance that I felt I might hope for everything.
A few days later, the princess told Cardinal Orsini that she had taken a peculiar interest in two of the young recluses, and desiring to provide them with suitable establishments she wished to take them now and again to the theatre so as to give them some knowledge of the world. She undertook to take them and bring them back herself or only to confide them to sure hands. The cardinal replied that the superioress should receive instructions to oblige her in every paraticular.
As soon as I heard of this from the princess, I said that I would ascertain what orders had been actually received at the convent.
The next day the superioress told me that his eminence had instructed her to do what she thought best for the welfare of the young people committed to her charge.
“I have also received orders,” she added, “to send in the names of those who have attained the age of thirty, and wish to leave the convent, that they may receive a warrant for their two hundred crowns. I have not yet published this command, but I haven’t the slightest doubt that we shall get rid of a score at least.”
I told the princess of the cardinal’s orders, and she agreed with me that his behaviour was most generous.
Cardinal Bernis, who was by, advised her that the first time she took the girls to the theatre she had better go in person, and tell the superioress that she would always send her carriage and liveried servants to fetch them.
The princess approved of this advice, and a few days later she called for Emilie and Armelline, and brought them to her palace, where I awaited them with the cardinal, the prince, and the Duchess of Fiano.
They were welcomed warmly, encouraged to reply, to laugh, and to say what was in their minds, but all in vain; finding themselves for the first time in a splendid apartment surrounded by brilliant company, they were so confounded that they could not say a word. Emilie persisted in rising from her seat whenever she was addressed, and Armelline shone only by her beauty and the vivid blush which suffused her face whenever she was addressed. The princess might kiss her as much as she pleased, but the novice had not the courage to return her kisses.
At last Armelline mustered up courage to take the princess’s hand and kiss it, but when the lady kissed her on the lips the girl remained inactive, seeming to be absolutely ignorant of such a natural and easy matter as the returning of a kiss.
The cardinal and the prince laughed; the duchess said that so much restraint was unnatural. As for me I was on thorns, such awkwardness seemed to me near akin to stupidity, for Armelline had only to do to the princess’s lips what she had already done to her hand. No doubt she fancied that to do to the princess what the princess had done to her would shew too much familiarity.
The cardinal took me on one side and said he could not believe that I had not initiated her in the course of two months’ intimacy, but I pointed out to him the immense force of long engrained prejudice.
Far this first tine the princess had made up her mind to take them to the Torre di Nonna Theatre, as comic pieces were played there, and they could not help but laugh.
After the play we went to sup at an inn, and at table the good cheer and my exhortations began to take some effect on her. We persuaded them to drink a little wine, and their spirits improved visibly. Emilie ceased to be sad, and Armelline gave the princess some real kisses. We applauded their efforts to be gay and our applause convinced them that they had done nothing wrong.
Of course the princess charged me with the pleasant trust of taking the two guests back to the convent. Now, I thought, my time has come; but when we were in the carriage I saw that I had reckoned without my host. When I would have kissed, heads were turned aside; when I would have stretched forth an indiscreet hand, dresses were wrapped more tightly; when I would have forced my way, I was resisted by force; when I complained, I was told that I was in the wrong; when I got in a rage, I was allowed to say on; and when I threatened to see them no more, they did not believe me.
When we got to the convent a servant opened the side door, and noticing that she did not shut it after the girls, I went in too, and went with them to see the superioress, who was in bed, and did not seem at all astonished to see me. I told her that I considered it my duty to bring back her young charges in person. She thanked me, asked them if they had had a pleasant evening, and bade me good night, begging me to make as little noise as possible on my way downstairs.
I wished them all happy slumbers, and after giving a sequin to the servant who opened the door, and another to the coachman, I had myself set down at the door of my lodging. Margarita was asleep on a sofa and welcomed me with abuse, but she soon found out by the ardour of my caresses that I had not been guilty of infidelity.
I did not get up till noon, and at three o’clock I called on the princess and found the cardinal already there.
They expected to hear the story of my triumph, but the tale I told and my apparent indifference in the matter came as a surprise.
I may as well confess that my face was by no means the index of my mind. However, I did my best to give the thing a comic turn, saying that I did not care for Pamelas, and that I had made up my mind to give up the adventure.
“My dear fellow,” said the cardinal, “I shall take two or three days before I congratulate you on your self-restraint.”
His knowledge of the human heart was very extensive.
Armelline thought I must have slept till late as she did not see me in the morning as usual; but when the second day went by without my coming she sent her brother to ask if I were ill, for I had never let two days pass without paying her a visit.
Menicuccio came accordingly, and was delighted to find me in perfect health.
“Go and tell your sister,” I said, “that I shall continue to interest the princess on her behalf, but that I shall see her no more.”
“Because I wish to cure myself of an unhappy passion. Your sister does not love me: I am sure of it. I am no longer a young man, and I don’t feel inclined to become a martyr to her virtue. Virtue goes rather too far when it prevents a girl giving the man who adores her a single kiss.”
“Indeed, I would not have believed that of her.”
“Nevertheless it is the fact, and I must make an end of it. Your sister cannot understand the danger she runs in treating a lover in this fashion. Tell her all that, my dear Menicuccio, but don’t give her any advice of your own.”
“You can’t think how grieved I am to hear all this; perhaps it’s Emilie’s presence that makes her so cold.”
“No; I have often pressed her when we have been alone together, but all in vain. I want to cure myself, for if she does not love me I do not wish to obtain her either by seduction or by any feeling of gratitude on her part. Tell me how your future bride treats you.”
“Very well, ever since she has been sure of my marrying her.”
I felt sorry then that I had given myself out as a married man, for in my state of irritation I could even have given her a promise of marriage without deliberately intending to deceive her.
Menicuccio went on his way distressed, and I went to the meeting of the “Arcadians,” at the Capitol, to hear the Marchioness d’Aout recite her reception piece. This marchioness was a young Frenchwoman who had been at Rome for the last six months with her husband, a man of many talents, but inferior to her, for she was a genius. From this day I became her intimate friend, but without the slightest idea of an intrigue, leaving all that to a French priest who was hopelessly in love with her, and had thrown up his chances of preferment for her sake.
Every day the Princess Santa Croce told me that I could have the key to her box at the theatre whenever I liked to take Armelline and Emilie, but when a week passed by without my giving any sign she began to believe that I had really broken off the connection.
The cardinal, on the other hand, believed me to be still in love, and praised my conduct. He told me that I should have a letter from the superioress, and he was right; for at the end of the week she wrote me a polite note begging me to call on her, which I was obliged to obey.
I called on her, and she began by asking me plainly why my visits had ceased.
“Because I am in love with Armelline.”
“If that reason brought you here every day, I do not see how it can have suddenly operated in another direction.”
“And yet it is all quite natural; for when one loves one desires, and when one desires in vain one suffers, and continual suffering is great unhappiness. And so you see that I am bound to act thus for my own sake.”
“I pity you, and see the wisdom of your course; but allow me to tell you that, esteeming Armelline, you have no right to lay her open to a judgment being passed upon her which is very far from the truth.”
“And what judgment is that?”
“That your love was only a whim, and that as soon as it was satisfied you abandoned her.”
“I am sorry indeed to hear of this, but what can I do? I must cure myself of this unhappy passion. Do you know any other remedy than absence? Kindly advise me.”
“I don’t know much about the affection called love, but it seems to me that by slow degrees love becomes friendship, and peace is restored.”
“True, but if it is to become friendship, love must be gently treated. If the beloved object is not very tender, love grows desperate and turns to indifference or contempt. I neither wish to grow desperate nor to despise Armelline, who is a miracle of beauty and goodness. I shall do my utmost for her, just as if she had made me happy, but I will see her no more.”
“I am in complete darkness on the matter. They assure me that they have never failed in their duty towards you, and that they cannot imagine why you have ceased coming here.”
“Whether by prudence, or timidity, or a delicate wish not to say anything against me, they have told you a lie; but you deserve to know all, and my honour requires that I should tell you the whole story.”
“Please do so; you may count on my discretion.”
I then told my tale, and I saw she was moved.
“I have always tried,” she said, “never to believe evil except on compulsion, nevertheless, knowing as I do the weakness of the human heart, I could never have believed that throughout so long and intimate an acquaintance you could have kept yourself so severely within bounds. In my opinion there would be much less harm in a kiss than in all this scandal.”
“I am sure that Armelline does not care about it.”
“She does nothing but weep.”
“Her tears probably spring from vanity, or from the cause her companions assign for my absence.”
“No, I have told them all that you are ill.”
“What does Emilie say?”
“She does not weep, but she looks sad, and says over and over again that it is not her fault if you do not come, thereby hinting that it is Armelline’s fault. Come tomorrow to oblige me. They are dying to see the opera at the Aliberti, and the comic opera at the Capronica.”
“Very good, then I will breakfast with them to-morrow morning, and to- morrow evening they shall see the opera.”
“You are very good; I thank you. Shall I tell them the news?”
“Please tell Armelline that I am only coming after hearing all that you have said to me.”
The princess skipped for joy when she heard of my interview with the superioress, and the cardinal said he had guessed as much. The princess gave me the key of her box, and ordered that her carriage and servants should be at my orders.
The next day when I went to the convent Emilie came down by herself to reproach me on my cruel conduct. She told me that a man who really loved would not have acted in such a manner, and that I had been wrong to tell the superioress everything.
“I would not have said anything if I had had anything important to say.”
“Armelline has become unhappy through knowing you.”
“Because she does not want to fail in her duty, and she sees that you only love her to turn her from it.”
“But her unhappiness will cease when I cease troubling her.”
“Do you mean you are not going to see her any more?”
“Exactly. Do you think that it costs me no pain? But I must make the effort for the sake of my peace of mind.”
“Then she will be sure that you do not love her.”
“She must think what she pleases. In the meanwhile I feel sure that if she loved me as I loved her, we should be of one mind.”
“We have duties which seem to press lightly on you.”
“Then be faithful to your duties, and permit a man of honour to respect them by visiting you no more.”
Armelline then appeared. I thought her changed.
“Why do you look so grave and pale?”
“Because you have grieved me.”
“Come then, be gay once more, and allow me to cure myself of a passion, the essence of which is to induce you to fail in your duty. I shall be still your friend, and I shall come to see you once a week while I remain in Rome.”
“Once a week! You needn’t have begun by coming once a day.”
“You are right; it was your kind expression which deceived me, but I hope you will allow me to become rational again. For this to happen, I must try not to see you more than I can help. Think over it, and you will see that I am doing all for the best.”
“It’s very hard that you can’t love me as I love you.”
“You mean calmly, and without desires.”
“I don’t say that; but holding your desires in check, if they are contrary to the voice of duty.”
“I’m too old to learn this method, and it does not seem to me an attractive one. Kindly tell me whether the restraint of your desires gives you much pain?”
“I don’t repress my desires when I think of you, I cherish them; I wish you were the Pope, I wish you were my father, that I might caress you in all innocence; in my dreams I wish you could become a girl, so that we might always live happily together.”
At this true touch of native simplicity, I could not help smiling.
I told them that I should come in the evening to take them to the Aliberti, and felt in a better humour after my visit, for I could see that there was no art or coquetry in what Armelline said. I saw that she loved me, but would not come to a parley with her love, hence her repugnance to granting me her favours; if she once did so, her eyes would be opened. All this was pure nature, for experience had not yet taught her that she ought either to avoid me or to succumb to my affection.
In the evening I called for the two friends to take them to the opera, and I had not long to wait. I was by myself in the carriage, but they evinced no surprise. Emilie conveyed to me the compliments of the superioress, who would be obliged by my calling on her the following day. At the opera I let them gaze at the spectacle which they saw for the first time, and answered whatever questions they put to me. As they were Romans, they ought to have known what a castrato was, nevertheless, Armelline took the wretched individual who sang the prima donna’s part for a woman, and pointed to his breast, which was really a fine one.
“Would you dare to sleep in the same bed with him?” I asked.
“No; an honest girl ought always to sleep by herself.”
Such was the severity of the education they had received. Everything connected with love was made a mystery of, and treated with a kind of superstitious awe. Thus Armelline had only let me kiss her hands after a long contest, and neither she nor Emilie would allow me to see whether the stockings I had given them fitted well or not. The severe prohibition that was laid on sleeping with another girl must have made them think that to shew their nakedness to a companion would be a great sin, and let a man see their beauties a hideous crime. The very idea of such a thing must have given them a shudder.
Whenever I had attempted to indulge in conversation which was a little free, I had found them deaf and dumb.
Although Emilie was a handsome girl in spite of her pallor, I did not take sufficient interest in her to try to dissipate her melancholy; but loving Armelline to desperation I was cut to the quick to see her look grave when I asked her if she had any idea of the difference between the physical conformation of men and women.
As we were leaving Armelline said she was hungry, as she had scarcely eaten anything for the last week on account of the grief I had given her.
“If I had foreseen that,” I answered, “I would have ordered a good supper, whereas I have now only potluck to offer you.”
“Never mind. How many shall we be?”
“So much the better; we shall be more at liberty.”
“Then you don’t like the princess?”
“I beg your pardon, but she wants me to kiss her in a way I don’t like.”
“Nevertheless, you kissed her ardently enough.”
“I was afraid she would take me for a simpleton if I did not do so.”
“Then do you think you committed a sin in kissing her like that?”
“Certainly not, for it was very unpleasant for me.”
“Then why won’t you make the same effort on my behalf?”
She said nothing, and when we got to the inn I ordered them to light a fire and to get a good supper ready.
The waiter asked me if I would like some oysters, and noticing the curiosity of my guests on the subject I asked him how much they were.”
“They are from the arsenal at Venice,” he replied, “and we can’t sell them under fifty pains a hundred.”
“Very good, I will take a hundred, but you must open them here.”
Armelline was horrified to think that I was going to pay five crowns for her whim, and begged me to revoke the order; but she said nothing when I told her that no pleasure of hers could be bought too dearly by me.
At this she took my hand and would have carried it to her lips, but I took it away rather roughly, greatly to her mortification.
I was sitting in front of the fire between them, and I was sorry at having grieved her.
“I beg pardon, Armelline,” I said, “I only took my hand away because it was not worthy of being carried to your fair lips.”
In spite of this excuse she could not help two big tears coursing down her blushing cheeks. I was greatly pained.
Armelline was a tender dove, not made to be roughly treated. If I did not want her to hate me I felt that I must either not see her at all or treat her more gently for the future.
Her tears convinced me that I had wounded her feelings terribly, and I got up and went out to order some champagne.
When I came back I found that she had been weeping bitterly. I did not know what to do; I begged her again and again to forgive me, and to be gay once more, unless she wished to subject me to the severest of all punishments.
Emilie backed me up, and on taking her hand and covering it with kisses, I had the pleasure of seeing her smile once more.
The oysters were opened in our presence, and the astonishment depicted on the girls’ countenances would have amused me if my heart had been more at ease. But I was desperate with love, and Armelline begged me vainly to be as I was when we first met.
We sat down, and I taught my guests how to suck up the oysters, which swam in their own liquid, and were very good.
Armelline swallowed half a dozen, and then observed to her friend that so delicate a morsel must be a sin.
“Not on account of its delicacy,” said Emilie, “but because at every mouthful we swallow half a Paul.”
“Half a Paul!” said Armelline, “and the Holy Father does not forbid such a luxury? If this is not the sin of gluttony, I don’t know what is. These oysters are delightful; but I shall speak about the matter to my director.”
These simplicities of hers afforded me great mental pleasure, but I wanted bodily pleasure as well.
We ate fifty oysters, and drank two bottles of sparkling champagne, which made my two guests eruct and blush and laugh at the same time.
I would fain have laughed too and devoured Armelline with my kisses, but I could only devour her with by eyes.
I kept the remainder of the oysters for dessert, and ordered the supper to be served. It was an excellent meal, and the two heroines enjoyed it; even Emilie became quite lively.
I ordered up lemons and a bottle of rum, and after having the fifty remaining oysters opened I sent the waiter away. I then made a bowl of punch, pouring in a bottle of champagne as a finishing touch.
After they had swallowed a few oysters and drank one or two glasses of punch, which they liked amazingly, I begged Emilie to give me an oyster with her lips.
“I am sure you are too sensible to find anything wrong in that,” I added.
Emilie was astonished at the proposition, and thought it over. Armelline gazed at her anxiously, as if curious as to how she would answer me.
“Why don’t you ask Armelline?” she said at length.
“Do you give him one first,” said Armelline, “and if you have the courage I will try to do the same.”
“What courage do you want? It’s a child’s game; there’s no harm in it.”
After this reply, I was sure of victory. I placed the shell on the edge of her lips, and after a good deal of laughing she sucked in the oyster, which she held between her lips. I instantly recovered it by placing my lips on hers.
Armelline clapped her hands, telling Emilie that she would never have thought her so brave; she then imitated her example, and was delighted with my delicacy in sucking away the oyster, scarcely touching her lips with mine. My agreeable surprise may be imagined when I heard her say that it was my turn to hold the oysters. It is needless to say that I acquitted myself of the duty with much delight.
After these pleasant interludes we went to drinking punch and swallowing oysters.
We all sat in a row with our backs to the fire, and our brains began to whirl, but never was there such a sweet intoxication. However, the punch was not finished and we were getting very hot. I took off my coat, and they were obliged to unlace their dresses, the bodices of which were lined with fur. Guessing at necessities which they did not dare to mention, I pointed out a closet where they could make themselves comfortable, and they went in hand-in-hand. When they came out they were no longer timid recluses, they were shrieking with laughter, and reeling from side to side.
I was their screen as we sat in front of the fire, and I gazed freely on charms which they could no longer conceal. I told them that we must not think of going till the punch was finished, and they agreed, saying, in high glee, that it would be a great sin to leave so good a thing behind.
I then presumed so far as to tell them that they had beautiful legs, and that I should be puzzled to assign the prize between them. This made them gayer than ever, for they had not noticed that their unlaced bodices and short petticoats let me see almost everything.
After drinking our punch to the dregs, we remained talking for half an hour, while I congratulated myself on my self-restraint. Just as we were going I asked them if they had any grounds of complaint against me. Armelline replied that if I would adopt her as my daughter she was ready to follow me to the end of the world. “Then you are not afraid of my turning you from the path of duty?”
“No, I feel quite safe with you.”
“And what do you say, dear Emilie?”
“I shall love you too, when you do for me what the superioress will tell you to-morrow.”
“I will do anything, but I shan’t come to speak to her till the evening, for it is three o’clock now.”
They laughed all the louder, exclaiming —
“What will the mother say?”
I paid the bill, gave something to the waiter, and took them back to the convent, where the porteress seemed well enough pleased with the new rules when she saw two sequins in her palm.
It was too late to see the superioress, so I drove home after rewarding the coachman and the lackey.
Margarita was ready to scratch my eyes out if I could not prove my fidelity, but I satisfied her by quenching on her the fires Armelline and the punch had kindled. I told her I had been kept by a gaming party, and she asked no more questions.
The next day I amused the princess and the cardinal by a circumstantial account of what had happened.
“You missed your opportunity,” said the princess.
“I don’t think so,” said the cardinal, “I believe, on the contrary, that he has made his victory more sure for another time.”
In the evening, I went to the convent where the superioress gave me her warmest welcome. She complimented me on having amused myself with the two girls till three o’clock in the morning without doing anything wrong. They had told her how we had eaten the oysters, and she said it was an amusing idea. I admired her candour, simplicity, or philosophy, whichever you like to call it.
After these preliminaries, she told me that I could make Emilie happy by obtaining, through the influence of the princess, a dispensation to marry without the publication of banns a merchant of Civita Vecchia, who would have married her long ago only that there was a woman who pretended to have claims upon him. If banns were published this woman would institute a suit which might go on forever.
“If you do this,” she concluded, “you will have the merit of making Emilie happy.”
I took down the man’s name, and promised to do my best with the princess.
“Are you still determined to cure yourself of your love for Armelline?”
“Yes, but I shall not begin the cure till Lent.”
“I congratulate you; the carnival is unusually long this year.”
The next day I spoke of the matter to the princess. The first requisite was a certificate from the Bishop of Civita Vecchia, stating that the man was free to marry. The cardinal said that the man must come to Rome, and that the affair could be managed if he could bring forward two good witnesses who would swear that he was unmarried.
I told the superioress what the cardinal said, and she wrote to the merchant, and a few days after I saw him talking to the superioress and Emilie through the grating.
He commended himself to my protection, and said that before he married he wanted to be sure of having six hundred crowns.
The convent would give him four hundred crowns, so we should have to obtain a grant of two hundred more.
I succeeded in getting the grant, but I first contrived to have another supper with Armelline, who asked me every morning when I was going to take her to the comic opera. I said I was afraid of turning her astray from the path of duty, but she replied that experience had taught her to dread me no longer.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07