The Florentine — Marriage of Emilie — Scholastica — Armelline at the Ball
Before the supper I had loved Armelline to such an extent that I had determined to see her no more, but after it I felt that I must obtain her or die. I saw that she had only consented to my small liberties because she regarded them as mere jokes, of no account, and I resolved to take advantage of this way of looking at it to go as far as I could. I begin to play the part of indifferent to the best of my ability, only visiting her every other day, and looking at her with an expression of polite interest. I often pretended to forget to kiss her hand, while I kissed Emilie’s and told her that if I felt certain of receiving positive marks of her affection I should stay at Civita Vecchia for some weeks after she was married. I would not see Armelline’s horror, who could not bear me to take a fancy to Emilie.
Emilie said that she would be more at liberty when she was married, while Armelline, vexed at her giving me any hopes, told her sharply that a married woman had stricter duties to perform than a girl.
I agreed with her in my heart, but as it would not have suited my purpose to say so openly I insinuated the false doctrine that a married woman’s chief duty is to keep her husband’s descent intact, and that everything else is of trifling importance.
With the idea of driving Emilie to an extremity I told Emilie that if she wanted me to exert myself to my utmost for her she must give me good hopes of obtaining her favours not only after but before marriage.
“I will give you no other favours.” she replied, “than those which Armelline may give you. You ought to try to get her married also.”
In spite of her grief at these proposals, gentle Armelline replied — —
“You are the only man I have ever seen; and as I have no hopes of getting married I will give you no pledges at all, though I do not know what you mean by the word.”
Though I saw how pure and angelic she was, I had the cruelty to go away, leaving her to her distress.
It was hard for me to torment her thus, but I thought it was the only way to overcome her prejudices.
Calling on the Venetian ambassador’s steward I saw some peculiarly fine oysters, and I got him to let me have a hundred. I then took a box at the Capronica Theatre, and ordered a good supper at the inn where we had supped before.
“I want a room with a bed,” I said to the waiter.
“That’s not allowed in Rome, signor,” he replied, “but on the third floor we have two rooms with large sofas which might do instead, without the Holy Office being able to say anything.”
I looked at the rooms and took them, and ordered the man to get the best supper that Rome could offer.
As I was entering the boa with the two girls I saw the Marchioness d’Aout was my near neighbour. She accosted me, and congratulated herself on her vicinity to me. She was accompanied by her French abbe, her husband, and a fine-looking young man, whom I had never seen before. She asked who my companions were, and I told her they were in the Venetian ambassador’s household. She praised their beauty and began to talk to Armelline, who answered well enough till the curtain went up. The young man also complimented her, and after having asked my permission he gave her a large packet of bonbons, telling her to share them with her neighbour. I had guessed him to be a Florentine from his accent, and asked him if the sweets came from the banks of the Arno; he told me they were from Naples, whence he had just arrived.
At the end of the first act I was surprised to hear him say that he had a letter of introduction for me from the Marchioness of C——.
“I have just heard your name,” he said, “and tomorrow I shall have the honour of delivering the letter in person, if you will kindly give me your address.”
After these polite preliminaries I felt that I must comply with his request.
I asked after the marquis, his mother-in-law, and Anastasia, saying that I was delighted to hear from the marchioness from whom I had been expecting an answer for the last month.
“The charming marchioness has deigned to entrust me with the answer you speak of.”
“I long to read it.”
“Then I may give you the letter now, though I shall still claim the privilege of calling on you to-morrow. I will bring it to you in your box, if you will allow me.”
“Pray do so.”
He might easily have given it to me from the box where he was, but this would not have suited his plans. He came in, and politeness obliged me to give him my place next to Armelline. He took out an elaborate pocket- book, and gave me the letter. I opened it, but finding that it covered four pages, I said I would read it when I got home, as the box was dark. “I shall stay in Rome till Easter,” he said, “as I want to see all the sights; though indeed I cannot hope to see anything more beautiful than the vision now before me.”
Armelline, who was gazing fixedly at him, blushed deeply. I felt that his compliment, though polite, was entirely out of place, and in some sort an insult to myself. However, I said nothing, but decided mentally that the Florentine Adonis must be a fop of the first water.
Finding his compliment created a silence, he saw he had made himself offensive, and after a few disconnected remarks withdrew from the box. In spite of myself the man annoyed me, and I congratulated Armelline on the rapidity of her conquest, asking her what she thought of him. “He is a fine man, but his compliments shews he has no taste. Tell me, is it the custom for people of fashion to make a young girl blush the first time they see her?”
“No, dear Armelline, it is neither customary nor polite; and anyone who wishes to mix in good society would never do such a thing.”
I lapsed into silence, as though I wanted to listen to the music; but as a matter of fact my heart was a prey to cruel jealousy. I thought the matter over, and came to the conclusion that the Florentine had treated me rudely. He might have guessed that I was in love with Armelline, and to make such an open declaration of love to my very face was nothing more nor less than an insult to me.
After I had kept this unusual silence for a quarter of an hour the simple Armelline made me worse by saying that I must calm myself, as I might be sure that the young man’s compliment had not given her the slightest pleasure. She did not see that by saying this she made me feel that the compliment had had the directly opposite effect.
I said that I had hoped he had pleased her.
To finish the matter up, she said by way of soothing me that the young man did not mean to vex me, as he doubtless took me for her father.
What could I reply to this observation, as cruel as it was reasonable? Nothing; I could only take refuge in silence and a fit of childish ill- humour.
At last I could bear it no longer, and begged the two girls to come away with me.
The second act was just over, and if I had been in my right senses I should never have made them such an unreasonable request; but the crassness of my proceedings did not strike me till the following day.
In spite of the strangeness of my request they merely exchanged glances and got ready to go. Not knowing what better excuse to give I told them I did not want the princess’s carriage to be noticed as everyone left the theatre, and that I would bring them again to the theatre the following day.
I would not let Armelline put her head inside the Marchioness d’Aout’s box, and so we went out. I found the man who accompanied the carriage talking to one of his mates at the door of the theatre, and this made me think that the princess had come to the opera.
We got down at the inn, and I whispered to the man to take his horses home and to call for us at three o’clock; for the cold was intense, and both horses and men had to be considered.
We began by sitting down in front of a roaring fire, and for half an hour we did nothing but eat oysters, which were opened in our presence by a clever waiter, who took care not to lose a drop of the fluid. As quick as he opened we ate, and the laughter of the girls, who talked of how we had eaten them before, caused my anger to gradually disappear.
In Armelline’s gentleness I saw the goodness of her heart, and I was angry with myself for my absurd jealousy of a man who was much more calculated to please a young girl than I.
Armelline drank champagne, and stole occasional glances in my direction as if to entreat me to join them in their mirth.
Emilie spoke of her marriage, and without saying anything about my projected visit to Civita Vecchia I promised that her future husband should have his plenary dispensation before very long. While I spoke I kissed Armelline’s fair hands, and she looked at me as if thankful for the return of my affection.
The oysters and champagne had their natural effect, and we had a delightful supper. We had sturgeon and some delicious truffles, which I enjoyed not so much for my own sake as for the pleasure with which my companions devoured them.
A man in love is provided with a kind of instinct which tells him that the surest way to success is to provide the beloved object with pleasures that are new to her.
When Armelline saw me become gay and ardent once more she recognized her handiwork, and was doubtless proud of the power she exercised over me. She took my hand of her own accord, and continued gazing into my eyes. Emilie was occupied in the enjoyment of the meal, and did not trouble herself about our behaviour. Armelline was so tender and loving that I made sure of victory after we had had some more oysters and a bowl of punch.
When the dessert, the fifty oysters, and all the materials for making the punch were on the table, the waiter left the room, saying that the ladies would find every requisite in the neighbouring apartment.
The room was small, and the fire very hot, and I bade the two friends arrange their dress more comfortably.
Their dresses fitted their figures, and were trimmed with fur and stiffened with whalebones, so they went into the next room, and came back in white bodices and short dimity petticoats, laughing at the slightness of their attire.
I had sufficient strength of mind to conceal my emotion, and even not to look at their breasts when they complained of having no neckerchiefs or breast-bands to their chemises. I knew how inexperienced they were, and felt certain that when they saw the indifference with which I took their slight attire they themselves would think it was of no consequence. Armelline and Emilie had both beautiful breasts, and knew it; they were therefore astonished at my indifference, perhaps thought that I had never seen a fine breast. As a matter of fact a fine figure is much more scarce at Rome than a pretty face.
Thus, in spite of their modesty, their vanity impelled them to shew me that my indifference was ill-placed, but it was my part to put them at their ease, and to make them fling shame to the winds.
They were enchanted when I told them to try their hands at a bowl of punch, and they simply danced for joy when I pronounced it better than my own brew.
Then came the oyster-game, and I scolded Armelline for having swallowed the liquid as I was taking the oyster from her lips. I agreed that it was very hard to avoid doing so, but I offered to shew them how it could be done by placing the tongue in the way. This gave me an opportunity of teaching them the game of tongues, which I shall not explain because it is well known to all true lovers. Armelline played her part with such evident relish that I could see she enjoyed it as well as I, though she agreed it was a very innocent amusement.
It so chanced that a fine oyster slipped from its shell as I was placing it between Emilie’s lips. It fell on to her breast, and she would have recovered it with her fingers; but I claimed the right of regaining it myself, and she had to unlace her bodice to let me do so. I got hold of the oyster with my lips, but did so in such a manner as to prevent her suspecting that I had taken any extraordinary pleasure in the act. Armelline looked on without laughing; she was evidently surprised at the little interest I had taken in what was before my eye. Emilie laughed and relaced her bodice.
The opportunity was too good to be lost, so taking Armelline on my knee I gave her an oyster and let it slip as Emilie’s had slipped, much to the delight of the elder, who wanted to see how her young companion would go through the ordeal.
Armelline was really as much delighted herself, though she tried to conceal her pleasure.
“I want my oyster,” said I.
“Take it, then.”
There was no need to tell me twice. I unlaced her corset in such a way as to make it fall still lower, bewailing the necessity of having to search for it with my hands.
What a martyrdom for an amorous man to have to conceal his bliss at such a moment!
I did not let Armelline have any occasion to accuse me of taking too much licence, for I only touched her alabaster spheres so much as was absolutely necessary.
When I had got the oyster again I could restrain myself no more, and affixing my lips to one of the blossoms of her breast I sucked it with a voluptuous pleasure which is beyond all description.
She was astonished, but evidently moved, and I did not leave her till my enjoyment was complete.
When she marked my dreamy langourous gaze, she asked me it it had given me much pleasure to play the part of an infant.
“Yes, dearest,” I replied, “but it’s only an innocent jest.”
“I don’t think so; and I hope you will say nothing about it to the superioress. It may be innocent for you, but it is not for me, as I experienced sensations which must partake of the nature of sin. We will pick up no more oysters.”
“These are mere trifles,” said Emilie, “the stain of which will easily be wiped out with a little holy water. At all events we can swear that there has been no kissing between us.”
They went into the next room for a moment, I did the same, and we then sat on the sofa before the fire. As I sat between them I observed that our legs were perfectly alike, and that I could not imagine why women stuck so obstinately to their petticoats.
While I talked I touched their legs, saying it was just as if I were to touch my own.
They did not interrupt this examination which I carried up to the knee, and I told Emilie that all the reward I would ask for my services was that I might see her thighs, to compare them with Armelline’s.
“She will be bigger than I,” said Armelline, “though I am the taller.”
“Well, there would be no harm in letting me see.”
“I think there would.”
“Well, I will feel with my hands.”
“No, you would look at the same time.”
“I swear I will not.”
“Let me bandage your eyes.”
“Certainly; but I will: bandage yours too.”
“Yes; we will play, at blindman’s buff.”
Before the bandaging began I took care to make them swallow a good dose of punch, and, then we proceeded to play. The two girls let me span their thighs several times, laughing and falling over me whenever my hands went too high.
I lifted the bandage and saw everything, but they pretended not to suspect anything.
They treated me in the same way, no doubt to see what it was that they felt when they fell upon me.
This delightful game went on; till exhausted, nature would not allow me to play it any more. I put myself in a state of decency, and then told them to take off their bandages.
They did so and sat beside me, thinking, perhaps, that they would be able to, disavow everything on the score of the bandage.
It seemed to me that Emilie had had a lover, though I took good care not to tell her so; but Armelline was a pure virgin. She was meeker than her friend, and her great eyes shone as voluptuously but more modestly.
I would have snatched a kiss from her pretty mouth, but she turned away her head, though she squeezed my hands tenderly. I was astonished at this refusal after the liberties I had taken with her.
We had talked about balls, and they were both extremely anxious to see one.
The public ball was the rage with all the young Romans. For ten long years the Pope Rezzonico had deprived them of this pleasure. Although Rezzonico forbade dancing, he allowed gaming of every description. Ganganelli, his successor, had other views, and forbade gaming but allowed dancing.
So much for papal infallibility; what one condemns the other approves. Ganganelli thought it better to let his subjects skip than to give them the opportunity of ruining themselves, of committing suicide, or of becoming brigands; but Rezzonico did not see the matter in that light. I promised the girls I would take them to the ball as soon as I could discover one where I was not likely to be recognized.
Three o’clock struck, and I took them back to the convent, well enough pleased with the progress I had made, though I had only increased my passion. I was surer than ever that Armelline was born to exercise an irresistible sway over every man who owed fealty to beauty.
I was amongst her liegemen, and am so still, but the incense is all gone and the censer of no value.
I could not help reflecting on the sort of glamour which made me fall in love with one who seemed all new to me, while I loved her in exactly the same manner as I had loved her predecessor. But in reality there was no real novelty; the piece was the same, though the title might be altered. But when I had won what I coveted, did I realize that I was going over old ground? Did I complain? Did I think myself deceived?
Not one whit; and doubtless for this reason, that whilst I enjoyed the piece I kept my eyes fixed on the title which had so taken my fancy. If this be so, of what use is title at all? The title of a book, the name of a dish, the name of a town — of what consequence are all these when what one wants is to read the book, to eat the dish, and to see the town.
The comparison is a sophism. Man becomes amorous through the senses, which, touch excepted, all reside in the head. In love a beautiful face is a matter of the greatest moment.
A beautiful female body might well excite a man to carnal indulgence, even though the head were covered, but never to real love. If at the moment of physical delight the covering were taken away, and a face of hideous, revolting ugliness disclosed, one would fly in horror, in spite of the beauties of the woman’s body.
But the contrary does not hold good. If a man has fallen in love with a sweet, enchanting face, and succeeds in lifting the veil of the sanctuary only to find deformities there, still the face wins the day, atones for all, and the sacrifice is consummated.
The face is thus paramount, and hence it has come to be agreed that women’s bodies shall be covered and their faces disclosed; while men’s clothes are arranged in such a way that women can easily guess at what they cannot see.
This arrangement is undoubtedly to the advantage of women; art can conceal the imperfections of the face, and even make it appear beautiful, but no cosmetic can dissemble an ugly breast, stomach, or any other part of the man body.
In spite of this, I confess that the phenomerides of Sparta were in the right, like all women who, though they possess a fine figure, have a repulsive face; in spite of the beauty of the piece, the title drives spectators away. Still an interesting face is an inseparable accident of love.
Thrice happy are they who, like Armelline, have beauty both in the face and body.
When I got home I was so fortunate as to find Margarita in a deep sleep. I took care not to awake her, and went to bed with as little noise as possible. I was in want of rest, for I no longer enjoyed the vigour of youth, and I slept till twelve.
When I awoke, Margarita told me that a handsome young man had called on me at ten o’clock, and that she had amused him till eleven, not daring to awake me.
“I made him some coffee,” said she, “and he was pleased to pronounce it excellent. He would not tell me his name, but he will come again tomorrow. He gave me a piece of money, but I hope you will not mind. I don’t know how much it is worth.”
I guessed that it was the Florentine. The piece was of two ounces. I only laughed, for not loving Margarita I was not jealous of her. I told her she had done quite right to amuse him and to accept the piece, which was worth forty-eight pauls.
She kissed me affectionately, and thanks to this incident I heard nothing about my having come home so late.
I felt curious to learn more about this generous Tuscan, so I proceeded to read Leonilda’s letter.
His name, it appeared, was M——. He was a rich merchant established in London, and had been commended to her husband by a Knight of Malta.
Leonilda said he was generous, good-hearted, and polished, and assured me that I should like him.
After telling me the family news, Leonilda concluded by saying that she was in a fair way to become a mother, and that she would be perfectly happy if she gave birth to a son. She begged me to congratulate the marquis.
Whether from a natural instinct or the effects of prejudice, this news made me shudder. I answered her letter in a few days, enclosing it in a letter to the marquis, in which I told him that the grace of God was never too late, and that I had never been so much pleased by any news as at hearing he was likely to have an heir.
In the following May Leonilda gave birth to a son, whom I saw at Prague, on the occasion of the coronation of Leopold. He called himself Marquis C— — like his father, or perhaps we had better say like his mother’s husband, who attained the age of eighty.
Though the young marquis did not know my name, I got introduced to him, and had the pleasure of meeting him a second time at the theatre. He was accompanied by a priest, who was called his governor, but such an office was a superfluity for him, who was wiser at twenty than most men are at sixty.
I was delighted to see that the young man was the living image of the old marquis. I shed tears of joy as I thought how this likeness must have pleased the old man and his wife, and I admired this chance which seemed to have abetted nature in her deceit.
I wrote to my dear Leonilda, placing the letter in the hands of her son. She did not get it till the Carnival of 1792, when the young marquis returned to Naples; and a short time after I received an answer inviting me to her son’s marriage and begging me to spend the remainder of my days with her.
“Who knows? I may eventually do so.”
I called on the Princess Santa Croce at three o’clock, and found her in bed, with the cardinal reading to her.
The first question she asked was, why I had left the opera at the end of the second act.
“Princess, I can tell you an interesting history of my six hours of adventure, but you must give me a free hand, for some of the episodes must be told strictly after nature.”
“Is it anything in the style of Sister M—— M——?” asked the cardinal.
“Yes, my lord, something of the kind.”
“Princess, will you be deaf?” said his eminence,
“Of course I will,” she replied.
I then told my tale almost as I have written it. The slipping oysters and the game of blind man’s buff made the princess burst with laughing, in spite of her deafness. She agreed with the cardinal that I had acted with great discretion, and told me that I should be sure to succeed on the next attempt.
“In three or four days,” said the cardinal, “you will have the dispensation, and then Emilie can marry whom she likes.”
The next morning the Florentine came to see me at nine o’clock, and I found him to answer to the marchioness’s description; but I had a bone to pick with him, and I was none the better pleased when he began asking me about the young person in my box at the theatre; he wanted to know whether she were married or engaged, if she had father, mother, or any other relations.
I smiled sardonically, and begged to be excused giving him the required information, as the young lady was masked when he saw her.
He blushed, and begged my pardon.
I thanked him for doing Margarita the honour of accepting a cup of coffee from her hands, and begged him to take one with me, saying I would breakfast with him next morning. He lived with Roland, opposite St. Charles, where Madame Gabrieli, the famous singer, nicknamed la Coghetta, lived.
As soon as the Florentine was gone, I went to St. Paul’s in hot haste, for I longed to see what reception I should have from the two vestals I had initiated so well.
When they appeared I noticed a great change. Emilie had become gay, while Armelline looked sad.
I told the former that she should have her dispensation in three days, and her warrant for four hundred crowns in a week.
“At the same time,” I added, “you shall have your grant of two hundred crowns.”
At this happy tidings she ran to tell the superioress of her good fortune.
As soon as I was alone with Armelline I took her hands and covered them with kisses, begging her to resume her wonted gaiety.
“What shall I do,” said she, “without Emilie? What shall I do when you are gone? I am unhappy. I love myself no longer.”
She shed tears which pierced me to the heart. I swore I would not leave Rome till I had seen her married with a dowry of a thousand crowns.
“I don’t want a thousand crowns, but I hope you will see me married as you say; if you do not keep your promise it will kill me.”
“I would die rather than deceive you; but you on your side must forgive my love, which, perhaps, made me go too far the other evening.”
“I forgive you everything if you will remain my friend.”
“I will; and now let me kiss your beautiful lips.”
After this first kiss, which I took as a pledge of certain victory, she wiped away her tears; and soon after Emilie reappeared, accompanied by the superioress, who treated me with great cordiality.
“I want you to do as much for Armelline’s new friend as you have done for Emilie,” said she.
“I will do everything in my power,” I replied; “and in return I hope you will allow me to take these young ladies to the theatre this evening.”
“You will find them ready; how could I refuse you anything?”
When I was alone with the two friends I apologised for having disposed of them without their consent.
“Our consent!” said Emilie: “we should be ungrateful indeed if we refused you anything after all you have done for us.”
“And you, Armelline, will you withstand my love?”
“No; so long as it keeps within due bounds. No more blind man’s buff!”
“And it is such a nice game! You really grieve me.”
“Well, invent another game,” said Emilie.
Emilie was becoming ardent, somewhat to my annoyance, for I was afraid Armelline would get jealous. I must not be charged with foppishness on this account. I knew the human heart.
When I left them I went to the Tordinona Theatre and took a box, and then ordered a good supper at the same inn, not forgetting the oysters, though I felt sure I should not require their aid.
I then called on a musician, whom I requested to get me three tickets for a ball, where no one would be likely to know me.
I went home with the idea of dining by myself, but I found a note from the Marchioness d’Aout, reproaching me in a friendly manner for not having broken bread with her, and inviting me to dinner. I resolved to accept the invitation, and when I got to the house I found the young Florentine already there.
It was at this dinner that I found out many of his good qualities, and I saw that Donna Leonilda had not said too much in his favour.
Towards the end of the meal the marchioness asked why I had not stayed till the end of the opera.
“Because the young ladies were getting tired.”
“I have found out that they do not belong to the Venetian ambassador’s household.
“You are right, and I hope you will pardon my small fiction.”
“It was an impromptu effort to avoid telling me who they are, but they are known.”
“Then I congratulate the curious.”
“The one I addressed deserves to excite general curiosity; but if I were in your place I should make her use a little powder.”
“I have not the authority to do so, and if I had, I would not trouble her for the world.”
I was pleased with the Florentine, who listened to all this without saying a word. I got him to talk of England and of his business. He told me that he was going to Florence to take possession of his inheritance, and to get a wife to take back with him to London. As I left, I told him that I could not have the pleasure of calling on him till the day after next, as I was prevented by important business. He told me I must come at dinnertime, and I promised to do so.
Full of love and hope, I went for my two friends, who enjoyed the whole play without any interruption.
When we alighted at the inn I told the coachman to call for me at two, and we then went up to the third floor, where we sat before the fire while the oysters were being opened. They did not interest us as they had done before.
Emilie had an important air; she was about to make a good marriage. Armelline was meek, smiling, and affectionate, and reminded me of the promise I had given her. I replied by ardent kisses which reassured her, while they warned her that I would fain increase the responsibility I had already contracted towards her. However, she seemed resigned, and I sat down to table in a happy frame of mind.
As Emilie was on the eve of her wedding, she no doubt put down my neglect of her to my respect for the sacrament of matrimony.
When supper was over I got on the sofa with Armelline, and spent three hours which might have been delicious if I had not obstinately endeavoured to obtain the utmost favour. She would not give in; all my supplications and entreaties could not move her; she was sweet, but firm. She lay between my arms, but would not grant what I wanted, though she gave me no harsh or positive refusal.
It seems a puzzle, but in reality it is quite simple.
She left my arms a virgin, sorry, perhaps, that her sense of duty had not allowed her to make me completely happy.
At last nature bade me cease, in spite of my love, and I begged her to forgive me. My instinct told me that this was the only way by which I might obtain her consent another time.
Half merry and half sad, we awoke Emilie who was in a deep sleep, and then we started. I went home and got into bed, not troubling myself about the storm of abuse with which Margarita greeted me.
The Florentine gave me a delicious dinner, overwhelmed me with protestations of friendship, and offered me his purse if I needed it.
He had seen Armelline, and had been pleased with her. I had answered him sharply when he questioned me about her, and ever since he had never mentioned her name.
I felt grateful to him, and as if I must make him some return.
I asked him to dinner, and had Margarita to dine with us. Not caring for her I should have been glad if he had fallen in love with her; there would have been no difficulty, I believe, on her part, and certainly not on mine; but nothing came of it. She admired a trinket which hung from his watch-chain, and he begged my permission to give it her. I told him to do so by all means, and that should have been enough; but the affair went no farther.
In a week all the arrangements for Emilie’s marriage had been made. I gave her her grant, and the same day she was married and went away with her husband to Civita Vecchia. Menicuccio, whose name I have not mentioned for some time, was well pleased with my relations with his sister, foreseeing advantages for himself, and still better pleased with the turn his own affairs were taking, for three days after Emilie’s wedding he married his mistress, and set up in a satisfactory manner. When Emilie was gone the superioress gave Armelline a new companion. She was only a few years older than my sweetheart, and very pretty; but she did not arouse a strong interest in my breast. When violently in love no other woman has ever had much power over me.
The superioress told me that her name was Scholastica, and that she was well worthy of my esteem, being, as she said, as good as Emilie. She expressed a hope that I would do my best to help Scholastica to marry a man whom she knew and who was in a good position.
This man was the son of a cousin of Scholastica’s. She called him her nephew, though he was older than she. The dispensation could easily be got for money, but if it was to be had for nothing I should have to make interest with the Holy Father. I promised I would do my best in the matter.
The carnival was drawing to a close, and Scholastica had never seen an opera or a play. Armelline wanted to see a ball, and I had at last succeeded in finding one where it seemed unlikely that I should be recognized. However, it would have to be carefully managed, as serious consequences might ensue; so I asked the two friends if they would wear men’s clothes, to which they agreed very heartily.
I had taken a box at the Aliberti Theatre for the day after the ball, so I told the two girls to obtain the necessary permission from the superioress.
Though Armelline’s resistance and the presence of her new friend discouraged me, I procured everything requisite to transform them into two handsome lads.
As Armelline got into the carriage she gave me the bad news that Scholastica knew nothing about our relations, and that we must be careful what we did before her. I had no time to reply, for Scholastica got in, and we drove off to the inn. When we were seated in front of a good fire, I told them that if they liked I would go into the next room in spite of the cold.
So saying, I shewed them their disguises, and Armelline said it would do if I turned my back, appealing to Scholastics to confirm her.
“I will do as you like,” said she, “but I am very sorry to be in the way. You are in love with each other, and here am I preventing you from giving one another marks of your affection. Why don’t you treat me with confidence? I am not a child, and I am your friend.”
These remarks shewed that she had plenty of common sense, and I breathed again.
“You are right, fair Scholastics,” I said, “I do love Armelline, but she does not love me, and refuses to make me happy on one pretence or another.”
With these words I left the room, and after shutting the door behind me proceeded to make up a fire in the second apartment.
In a quarter of an hour Armelline knocked at the door, and begged me to open it. She was in her breeches, and said they needed my assistance as their shoes were so small they could not get them on.
I was in rather a sulky humour, so she threw her arms round my neck and covered my face with kisses which soon restored me to myself.
While I was explaining the reason of my ill temper, and kissing whatever I could see, Scholastica burst out laughing.
“I was sure that I was in the way,” said she; “and if you do not trust me, I warn you that I will not go with you to the opera to-morrow.”
“Well, then, embrace him,” said Armelline.
“With all my heart.”
I did not much care for Armelline’s generosity, but I embraced Scholastica as warmly as she deserved. Indeed I would have done so if she had been less pretty, for such kindly consideration deserved a reward. I even kissed her more ardently than I need have done, with the idea of punishing Armelline, but I made a mistake. She was delighted, and kissed her friend affectionately as if in gratitude.
I made them sit down, and tried to pull on their shoes, but I soon found that they were much too small, and that we must get some more.
I called the waiter who attended to us, and told him to go and fetch a bootmaker with an assortment of shoes.
In the meanwhile I would not be contented with merely kissing Armelline. She neither dared to grant nor to refuse; and as if to relieve herself of any responsibility, made Scholastica submit to all the caresses I lavished on her. The latter seconded my efforts with an ardour that would have pleased me exceedingly if I had been in love with her.
She was exceedingly beautiful, and her features were as perfectly chiselled as Armelline’s, but Armelline was possessed of a delicate and subtle charm of feature peculiar to herself.
I liked the amusement well enough, but there was a drop of bitterness in all my enjoyment. I thought it was plain that Armelline did not love me, and that Scholastica only encouraged me to encourage her friend.
At last I came to the conclusion that I should do well to attach myself to the one who seemed likely to give me the completest satisfaction.
As soon as I conceived this idea I felt curious to see whether Armelline would discover any jealousy if I shewed myself really in love with Scholastica, and if the latter pronounced me to be too daring, for hitherto my hands had not crossed the Rubicon of their waistbands. I was just going to work when the shoemaker arrived, and in a few minutes the girls were well fitted.
They put on their coats, and I saw two handsome young men before me, while their figures hinted their sex sufficiently to make a third person jealous of my good fortune.
I gave orders for supper to be ready at midnight, and we went to the ball. I would have wagered a hundred to one that no one would recognize me there, as the man who got the tickets had assured me that it was a gathering of small tradesmen. But who can trust to fate or chance?
We went into the hall, and the first person I saw was the Marchioness d’Aout, with her husband and her inseparable abbe.
No doubt I turned a thousand colours, but it was no good going back, for the marchioness had recognized me, so I composed myself and went up to her. We exchanged the usual compliments of polite society, to which she added some good-natured though ironical remarks on my two young friends. Not being accustomed to company, they remained confused and speechless. But the worst of all was to come. A tall young lady who had just finished a minuet came up to Armelline, dropped a curtsy, and asked her to dance.
In this young lady I recognized the Florentine who had disguised himself as a girl, and looked a very beautiful one.
Armelline thought she would not appear a dupe, and said she recognized him.
“You are making a mistake,” said he, calmly. “I have a brother who is very like me, just as you have a sister who is your living portrait. My brother had the pleasure of exchanging a few words with her at the Capronica.” The Florentine’s cleverness made the marchioness laugh, and I had to join in her mirth, though I felt little inclination to do so.
Armelline begged to be excused dancing, so the marchioness made her sit between the handsome Florentine and herself. The marquis took possession of Scholastica, and I had to be attentive to the marchioness without seeming to be aware of the existence of Armelline, to whom the Florentine was talking earnestly.
I felt as jealous as a tiger; and having to conceal my rage under an air of perfect satisfaction, the reader may imagine how well I enjoyed the ball.
However, there was more anxiety in store for me; for presently I noticed Scholastica leave the marquis, and go apart with a middle-aged man, with whom she conversed in an intimate manner.
The minuets over, the square dances began, and I thought I was dreaming when I saw Armelline and the Florentine taking their places.
I came up to congratulate them, and asked Armelline, gently, if she was sure of the steps.
“This gentleman says I have only to imitate him, and that I cannot possibly make any mistakes.”
I had nothing to say to this, so I went towards Scholastica, feeling very curious to know who was her companion.
As soon as she saw me she introduced me to him, saying timidly that this was the nephew of whom she had spoken, the same that wished to marry her.
I was surprised, but I did not let it appear. I told him that the superioress had spoken of him to me, and that I was thinking over the ways and means of obtaining a dispensation without any costs.
He was an honest-looking man, and thanked me heartily, commending himself to my good offices, as he said he was far from rich.
I left them together, and on turning to view the dance I was astonished to see that Armelline was dancing admirably, and executing all the figures. The Florentine seemed a finished dancer, and they both looked very happy.
I was far from pleased, but I congratulated them both on their performance. The Florentine had disguised himself so admirably that no one would have taken him for a man. It was the Marchioness d’Aout who had been his dresser.
As I was too jealous to leave Armelline to her own devices, I refused to dance, preferring to watch her.
I was not at all uneasy about Scholastica, who was with her betrothed. About half-past eleven the Marchioness d’Aout, who was delighted with Armelline, and possibly had her protege’s happiness in view, asked me, in a tone that amounted to a command, to sup with her in company with my two companions.
“I cannot have the honour,” I replied, “and my two companions know the reason.”
“That is as much as to say,” said the marchioness, “that he will do as you please,” turning to Armelline as she spoke.
I addressed myself to Armelline, and observed smilingly that she knew perfectly well that she must be home by half-past twelve at latest.
“True,” she replied, “but you can do as you please.”
I replied somewhat sadly that I did not feel myself at liberty to break my word, but that she could make me do even that if she chose.
Thereupon the marchioness, her husband, the abbe, and the Florentine, urged her to use her power to make me break my supposed word, and Armelline actually began to presume to do so.
I was bursting with rage; but making up my mind to do anything rather than appear jealous, I said simply that I would gladly consent if her friend would consent also.
“Very well,” said she, with a pleased air that cut me to the quick, “go and ask her.”
That was enough for me. I went to Scholastica and told her the circumstances in the presence of her lover, begging her to refuse without compromising me.
Her lover said I was perfectly right, but Scholastica required no persuasion, telling me that she had quite made up her mind not to sup with anyone.
She came with me, and I told her to speak to Armelline apart before saying anything to the others.
I led Scholastica before the marchioness, bewailing my want of success.
Scholastica told Armelline that she wanted to say a few words to her aside, and after a short conversation they came back looking sorry, and Armelline told the marchioness that she found it would be impossible for them to come. The lady did not press us any longer, so we went away.
I told Scholastica’s intended to keep what had passed to himself, and asked him to dine with me on the day after Ash Wednesday.
The night was dark, and we walked to the place where I had ordered the carriage to be in waiting.
To me it was as if I had come out of hell, and on the way to the inn I did not speak a word, not even answering the questions which the too- simple Armelline addressed to me in a voice that would have softened a heart of stone. Scholastica avenged me by reproaching her for having obliged me to appear either rude or jealous, or a breaker of my word.
When we got to the inn Armelline changed my jealous rage into pity; her eyes swam with tears, which Scholastica’s home truths had drawn forth.
The supper was ready, so they had no time to change their dress. I was sad enough, but I could not bear to see Armelline sad also. I resolved to do my best to drive away her melancholy, even though I suspected that it arose from love of the Florentine.
The supper was excellent, and Scholastica did honour to it, while Armelline, contrary to her wont, scarcely touched a thing. Scholastica was charming. She embraced her friend, and told her to be merry with her, as I had become the friend of her betrothed, and she was sure I would do as much for her as I had done for Emilie. She blessed the ball and the chance which had brought him there. In short, she did her best to shew Armelline that with my love she had no reason to be sad.
Armelline dared not disclose the true cause of her sadness. The fact was, that she wanted to get married, and the handsome Florentine was the man to her liking.
Our supper came to an end, and still Armelline was gloomy. She only drank one glass of punch, and as she had eaten so little I would not try and make her drink more for fear lest it should do her harm. Scholastica, on the other hand, took such a fancy to this agreeable fluid, which she tasted for the first time, that she drank deeply, and was amazed to find it mounting to her head instead of descending to her stomach. In this pleasant state, she felt it was her duty to reconcile Armelline and myself, and to assure us that we might be as tender as we liked without minding her presence.
Getting up from table and standing with some difficulty, she carried her friend to the sofa, and caressed her in such a way that Armelline could not help laughing, despite her sadness. Then she called me and placed her in my arms. I caressed her, and Armelline, though she did not repulse me, did not respond as Scholastica had hoped. I was not disappointed; I did not think it likely she would grant now what she had refused to grant when I had held her in my arms for those hours whilst Emilie was fast asleep.
However, Scholastica began to reproach me with my coldness, though I deserved no blame at all on this score.
I told them to take off their men’s clothes, and to dress themselves as women.
I helped Scholastica to take off her coat and waistcoat, and then aided Armelline in a similar manner.
When I brought them their chemises, Armelline told me to go and stand by the fire, and I did so.
Before long a noise of kissing made me turn round, and I saw Scholastica, on whom the punch had taken effect, devouring Armelline’s breast with kisses. At last this treatment had the desired result; Armelline became gay, and gave as good as she got.
At this sight the blood boiled in my veins, and running to them I found Scholastic was not ill pleased that I should do justice to her beautiful spheres, while for the nonce I transformed her into a nurse.
Armelline was ashamed to appear less generous than her friend, and Scholastica was triumphant when she saw the peculiar use to which (for the first time) I put Armelline’s hands.
Armelline called to her friend to help, and she was not backward; but in spite of her twenty years her astonishment at the catastrophe was great.
After it was over I put on their chemises and took off their breeches with all the decency imaginable, and after spending a few minutes in the next room they came and sat down on my knee of their own accord.
Scholastica, instead of being annoyed at my giving the preference to the hidden charms of Armelline, seemed delighted, watching what I did, and how Armelline took it, with the closest attention. She no doubt longed to see me perform the magnum opus, but the gentle Armelline would not allow me to go so far.
After I had finished with Armelline I recollected I had duties towards Scholastica, and I proceeded to inspect her charms.
It was difficult to decide which of the two deserved to carry off the apple. Scholastica, perhaps, was strictly speaking the more beautiful of the two, but I loved Armelline, and love casts a glamour over the beloved object. Scholastica appeared to me to be as pure a virgin as Armelline, and I saw that I might do what I liked with her. But I would not abuse my liberty, not caring to confess how powerful an ally the punch had been.
However, I did all in my power to give her pleasure without giving her the greatest pleasure of all. Scholastica, was glutted with voluptuous enjoyment, and was certain that I had only eluded her desires from motives of delicacy.
I took them back to the convent, assuring them that I would take them to the opera on the following evening.
I went to bed, doubtful whether I had gained a victory or sustained a defeat; and it was not till I awoke that I was in a position to give a decided opinion.
[There is here a considerable hiatus in the authors manuscript.]
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52