My Stay at Spa — The Blow — The Sword — Della Croce — Charlotte; Her Lying-in and Death — A Lettre de Cachet Obliges Me to Leave Paris in the Course of Twenty-four Hours
All my friends seemed delighted to see me, and I was well pleased to find myself in such good company. People were on the point of leaving Aix for Spa. Nearly everyone went, and those who stayed only did so because lodgings were not to be had at Spa. Everybody assured me that this was the case, and many had returned after seeking in vain for a mere garret. I paid no attention to all this, and told the princess that if she would come with me I would find some lodging, were it only in my carriage. We accordingly set out the next day, and got to Spa in good time, our company consisting of the princess, the prothonotary, Roniker, and the Tomatis. Everyone except myself had taken rooms in advance, I alone knew not where to turn. I got out and prepared for the search, but before going along the streets I went into a shop and bought a hat, having lost mine on the way. I explained my situation to the shopwoman, who seemed to take an interest in me, and began speaking to her husband in Flemish or Walloon, and finally informed me that if it were only for a few days she and her husband would sleep in the shop and give up their room to me. But she said that she had absolutely no room whatever for my man.
“I haven’t got one.”
“All the better. Send away your carriage.”
“Where shall I send it?”
“I will see that it is housed safely.”
“How much am I to pay?”
“Nothing; and if you are not too particular, we should like you to share our meals.”
“I accept your offer thankfully.”
I went up a narrow staircase, and found myself in a pretty little room with a closet, a good bed, suitable furniture, and everything perfectly neat and clean. I thought myself very lucky, and asked the good people why they would not sleep in the closet rather than the shop, and they replied with one breath that they would be in my way, while their niece would not interfere with me.
This news about the niece was a surprise to me. The closet had no door, and was not much bigger than the bed which it contained; it was, in fact, a mere alcove, without any window.
I must note that my hostess and her husband, both of them from Liege, were perfect models of ugliness.
“It’s not within the limits of possibility,” I said to myself, “for the niece to be uglier than they, but if they allow her to sleep thus in the same room with the first comer, she must be proof against all temptation.”
However, I gave no sign, and did not ask to see the niece for fear of offense, and I went out without opening my trunk. I told them as I went out that I should not be back till after supper, and gave them some money to buy wax candles and night lights.
I went to see the princess with whom I was to sup. All the company congratulated me on my good fortune in finding a lodging. I went to the concert, to the bank at faro, and to the other gaming saloons, and there I saw the so-called Marquis d’Aragon, who was playing at piquet with an old count of the Holy Roman Empire. I was told about the duel he had had three weeks before with a Frenchman who had picked a quarrel with him; the Frenchman had been wounded in the chest, and was still ill. Nevertheless, he was only waiting for his cure to be completed to have his revenge, which he had demanded as he was taken off the field. Such is the way of the French when a duel is fought for a trifling matter. They stop at the first blood, and fight the duel over and over again. In Italy, on the other hand, duels are fought to the death. Our blood burns to fire when our adversary’s sword opens a vein. Thus stabbing is common in Italy and rare in France; while duels are common in France, and rare in Italy.
Of all the company at Spa, I was most pleased to see the Marquis Caraccioli, whom I had left in London. His Court had given him leave of absence, and he was spending it at Spa. He was brimful of wit and the milk of human kindness, compassionate for the weaknesses of others, and devoted to youth, no matter of what sex, but he knew well the virtue of moderation, and used all things without abusing them. He never played, but he loved a good gamester and despised all dupes. The worthy marquis was the means of making the fortune of the so-called Marquis d’Aragon by becoming surety for his nobility and bona fides to a wealthy English widow of fifty, who had taken a fancy to him, and brought him her fortune of sixty thousand pounds sterling. No doubt the widow was taken with the gigantic form and the beautiful title of d’Aragon, for Dragon (as his name really was) was devoid of wit and manners, and his legs, which I suppose he kept well covered, bore disgusting marks of the libertine life he had led. I saw the marquis some time afterwards at Marseilles, and a few years later he purchased two estates at Modena. His wife died in due course, and according to the English law he inherited the whole of her property.
I returned to my lodging in good time, and went to bed without seeing the niece, who was fast asleep. I was waited on by the ugly aunt, who begged me not to take a servant while I remained in her house, for by her account all servants were thieves.
When I awoke in the morning the niece had got up and gone down. I dressed to go to the Wells, and warned my host and hostess that I should have the pleasure of dining with them. The room I occupied was the only place in which they could take their meals, and I was astonished when they came and asked my permission to do so. The niece had gone out, so I had to put my curiosity aside. When I was out my acquaintances pointed out to me the chief beauties who then haunted the Wells. The number of adventurers who flock to Spa during the season is something incredible, and they all hope to make their fortunes; and, as may be supposed, most of them go away as naked as they came, if not more so. Money circulates with great freedom, but principally amongst the gamesters, shop-keepers, money-lenders, and courtezans. The money which proceeds from the gaming-table has three issues: the first and smallest share goes to the Prince-Bishop of Liege; the second and larger portion, to the numerous amateur cheats who frequent the place; and by far the largest of all to the coffers of twelve sharpers, who keep the tables and are authorized by the sovereign.
Thus goes the money. It comes from the pockets of the dupes — poor moths who burn their wings at Spa!
The Wells are a mere pretext for gaming, intriguing, and fortune-hunting. There are a few honest people who go for amusement, and a few for rest and relaxation after the toils of business.
Living is cheap enough at Spa. The table d’hote is excellent, and only costs a small French crown, and one can get good lodging for the like sum.
I came home at noon having won a score of louis. I went into the shop, intending to go to my room, but I was stopped short by seeing a handsome brunette, of nineteen or twenty, with great black eyes, voluptuous lips, and shining teeth, measuring out ribbon on the counter. This, then, was the niece, whom I had imagined as so ugly. I concealed my surprise and sat down in the shop to gaze at her and endeavour to make her acquaintance. But she hardly seemed to see me, and only acknowledged my presence by a slight inclination of the head. Her aunt came down to say that dinner was ready, and I went upstairs and found the table laid for four. The servant brought in the soup, and then asked me very plainly to give her some money if I wanted any wine, as her master and mistress only drank beer. I was delighted with her freedom, and gave her money to buy two bottles of Burgundy.
The master came up and shewed me a gold repeater with a chain also of gold by a well-known modern maker. He wanted to know how much it was worth.
“Forty louis at the least.”
“A gentleman wants me to give him twenty louis for it, on the condition that I return it to-morrow if he brings me twenty-two.”
“Then I advise you to accept his offer.”
“I haven’t got the money.”
“I will lend it you with pleasure.”
I gave him the twenty Louis, and placed the watch in my jewel-casket. At table the niece sat opposite to me, but I took care not to look at her, and she, like a modest girl, did not say a score of words all through the meal. The meal was an excellent one, consisting of soup, boiled beef, an entree, and a roast. The mistress of the house told me that the roast was in my honour, “for,” she said, “we are not rich people, and we only allow ourselves this Luxury on a Sunday.” I admired her delicacy, and the evident sincerity with which she spoke. I begged my entertainers to help me with my wine, and they accepted the offer, saying they only wished they were rich enough to be able to drink half a bottle a day.
“I thought trade was good with you.”
“The stuff is not ours, and we have debts; besides, the expenses are very great. We have sold very little up to now.”
“Do you only sell hats?”
“No, we have silk handkerchiefs, Paris stockings, and lace ruffs, but they say everything is too dear.”
“I will buy some things for you, and will send all my friends here. Leave it to me; I will see what I can do for you.”
“Mercy, fetch down one or two packets of those handkerchiefs and some stockings, large size, for the gentleman has a big leg.”
Mercy, as the niece was called, obeyed. I pronounced the handkerchiefs superb and the stockings excellent. I bought a dozen, and I promised them that they should sell out their whole stock. They overwhelmed me with thanks, and promised to put themselves entirely in my hands.
After coffee, which, like the roast, was in my honour, the aunt told her niece to take care to awake me in the morning when she got up. She said she would not fail, but I begged her not to take too much trouble over me, as I was a very heavy sleeper.
In the afternoon I went to an armourer’s to buy a brace of pistols, and asked the man if he knew the tradesman with whom I was staying.
“We are cousins-german,” he replied.
“Is he rich?”
“Yes, in debts.”
“Because he is unfortunate, like most honest people.”
“How about his wife?”
“Her careful economy keeps him above water.”
“Do you know the niece?”
“Yes; she’s a good girl, but very pious. Her silly scruples keep customers away from the shop.”
“What do you think she should do to attract customers?”
“She should be more polite, and not play the prude when anyone wants to give her a kiss.”
“She is like that, is she?”
“Try her yourself and you will see. Last week she gave an officer a box on the ear. My cousin scolded her, and she wanted to go back to Liege; however, the wife soothed her again. She is pretty enough, don’t you think so?”
“Certainly I do, but if she is as cross-grained as you say, the best thing will be to leave her alone.”
After what I had heard I made up my mind to change my room, for Mercy had pleased me in such a way that I was sure I should be obliged to pay her a call before long, and I detested Pamelas as heartily as Charpillons.
In the afternoon I took Rzewuski and Roniker to the shop, and they bought fifty ducats’ worth of goods to oblige me. The next day the princess and Madame Tomatis bought all the handkerchiefs.
I came home at ten o’clock, and found Mercy in bed as I had done the night before. Next morning the watch was redeemed, and the hatter returned me twenty-two louis. I made him a present of the two louis, and said I should always be glad to lend him money in that way — the profits to be his. He left me full of gratitude.
I was asked to dine with Madame Tomatis, so I told my hosts that I would have the pleasure of supping with them, the costs to be borne by me. The supper was good and the Burgundy excellent, but Mercy refused to taste it. She happened to leave the room for a moment at the close of the meal, and I observed to the aunt that her niece was charming, but it was a pity she was so sad.
“She will have to change her ways, or I will keep her no longer.”
“Is she the same with all men?”
“Then she has never been in love.”
“She says she has not, but I don’t believe her.”
“I wonder she can sleep so comfortably with a man at a few feet distant.”
“She is not afraid.”
Mercy came in, bade us good night, and said she would go to bed. I made as if I would give her a kiss, but she turned her back on me, and placed a chair in front of her closet so that I might not see her taking off her chemise. My host and hostess then went to bed, and so did I, puzzling my head over the girl’s behaviour which struck me as most extraordinary and unaccountable. However, I slept peacefully, and when I awoke the bird had left the nest. I felt inclined to have a little quiet argument with the girl, and to see what I could make of her; but I saw no chance of my getting an opportunity. The hatter availed himself of my offer of purse to lend money on pledges, whereby he made a good profit. There was no risk for me in the matter, and he and his wife declared that they blessed the day on which I had come to live with them.
On the fifth or sixth day I awoke before Mercy, and only putting on my dressing-gown I came towards her bed. She had a quick ear and woke up, and no sooner did she see me coming towards her than she asked me what I wanted. I sat down on her bed and said gently that I only wanted to wish her a good day and to have a little talk. It was hot weather, and she was only covered by a single sheet; and stretching out one arm I drew her towards me, and begged her to let me give her a kiss. Her resistance made me angry; and passing an audacious hand under the sheet I discovered that she was made like other women; but just as my hand was on the spot, I received a fisticuff on the nose that made me see a thousand stars, and quite extinguished the fire of my concupiscence. The blood streamed from my nose and stained the bed of the furious Mercy. I kept my presence of mind and left her on the spot, as the blow she had given me was but a sample of what I might expect if I attempted reprisals. I washed my face in cold water, and as I was doing so Mercy dressed herself and left the room.
At last my blood ceased to flow, and I saw to my great annoyance that my nose was swollen in such a manner that my face was simply hideous. I covered it up with a handkerchief and sent for the hairdresser to do my hair, and when this was done my landlady brought me up some fine trout, of which I approved; but as I was giving her the money she saw my face and uttered a cry of horror. I told her the whole story, freely acknowledging that I was in the wrong, and begging her to say nothing to her niece. Then heeding not her excuses I went out with my handkerchief before my face, and visited a house which the Duchess of Richmond had left the day before.
Half of the suite she had abandoned had been taken in advance by an Italian marquis; I took the other half, hired a servant, and had my effects transported there from my old lodgings. The tears and supplications of my landlady had no effect whatever upon me, I felt I could not bear the sight of Mercy any longer.
In the house into which I had moved I found an Englishman who said he would bring down the bruise in one hour, and make the discoloration of the flesh disappear in twenty-four. I let him do what he liked and he kept his word. He rubbed the place with spirits of wine and some drug which is unknown to me; but being ashamed to appear in public in the state I was in, I kept indoors for the rest of the day. At noon the distressed aunt brought me my trout, and said that Mercy was cut to the heart to have used me so, and that if I would come back I could do what I liked with her.
“You must feel,” I replied, “that if I complied with your request the adventure would become public to the damage of my honour and your business, and your niece would not be able to pass for a devotee any longer.”
I made some reflections on the blow she had given the officer, much to the aunt’s surprise, for she could not think how I had heard of it; and I shewed her that, after having exposed me to her niece’s brutality, her request was extremely out of place. I concluded by saying that I could believe her to be an accomplice in the fact without any great stretch of imagination. This made her burst into tears, and I had to apologize and to promise to continue forwarding her business by way of consolation, and so she left me in a calmer mood. Half an hour afterwards her husband came with twenty-five Louis I had lent him on a gold snuff-box set with diamonds, and proposed that I should lend two hundred Louis on a ring worth four hundred.
“It will be yours,” he said, “if the owner does not bring me two hundred and twenty Louis in a week’s time.”
I had the money and proceeded to examine the stone which seemed to be a good diamond, and would probably weigh six carats as the owner declared. The setting was in gold.
“I consent to give the sum required if the owner is ready to give me a receipt.”
“I will do so myself in the presence of witnesses.”
“Very good. You shall have the money in the course of an hour; I am going to have the stone taken out first. That will make no difference to the owner, as I shall have it reset at my own expense. If he redeems it, the twenty Louis shall be yours.”
“I must ask him whether he has any objection to the stone being taken out.”
“Very good, but you can tell him that if he will not allow it to be done he will get nothing for it.”
He returned before long with a jeweller who said he would guarantee the stone to be at least two grains over the six carats.
“Have you weighed it?”
“No, but I am quite sure it weighs over six carats.”
“Then you can lend the money on it?”
“I cannot command such a sum.”
“Can you tell me why the owner objects to the stone being taken out and put in at my expense?”
“No, I can’t; but he does object.”
“Then he may take his ring somewhere else.”
They went away, leaving me well pleased at my refusal, for it was plain that the stone was either false or had a false bottom.
I spent the rest of the day in writing letters and making a good supper, In the morning I was awoke by someone knocking at my door, and on my getting up to open it, what was my astonishment to find Mercy!
I let her in, and went back to bed, and asked her what she wanted with me so early in the morning. She sat down on the bed, and began to overwhelm me with apologies. I replied by asking her why, if it was her principle to fly at her lovers like a tiger, she had slept almost in the same room as myself.
“In sleeping in the closet,” said she, “I obeyed my aunt’s orders, and in striking you (for which I am very sorry) I was but defending my honour; and I cannot admit that every man who sees me is at liberty to lose his reason. I think you will allow that your duty is to respect, and mine to defend, my honour.”
“If that is your line of argument, I acknowledge that you are right; but you had nothing to complain of, for I bore your blow in silence, and by my leaving the house you might know that it was my intention to respect you for the future. Did you come to hear me say this? If so, you are satisfied. But you will not be offended if I laugh at your excuses, for after what you have said I cannot help thinking them very laughable.”
“What have I said?”
“That you only did your duty in flattening my nose. If so, do you think it is necessary to apologize for the performance of duty?”
“I ought to have defended myself more gently. But forget everything and forgive me; I will defend myself no more in any way. I am yours and I love you, and I am ready to prove my love.”
She could not have spoken more plainly, and as she spoke the last words she fell on me with her face close to mine, which she bedewed with her tears. I was ashamed of such an easy conquest, and I gently withdrew from her embrace, telling her to return after the bruise on my face had disappeared. She left me deeply mortified.
The Italian, who had taken half the suite of rooms, had arrived in the course of the night. I asked his name, and was given a card bearing the name of The Marquis Don Antonio della Croce.
Was it the Croce I knew?
It was very possible.
I asked what kind of an establishment he had, and was informed that the marchioness had a lady’s maid, and the marquis a secretary and two servants. I longed to see the nobleman in question.
I had not long to wait, for as soon as he heard that I was his neighbour, he came to see me, and we spent two hours in telling each other our adventures since we had parted in Milan. He had heard that I had made the fortune of the girl he had abandoned, and in the six years that had elapsed he had been travelling all over Europe, engaged in a constant strife with fortune. At Paris and Brussels he had made a good deal of money, and in the latter town he had fallen in love with a young lady of rank, whom her father had shut up in a convent. He had taken her away, and she it was whom he called the Marchioness della Croce, now six months with child.
He made her pass for his wife, because, as he said, he meant to marry her eventually.
“I have fifty thousand francs in gold,” said he, “and as much again in jewellery and various possessions. It is my intention to give suppers here and hold a bank, but if I play without correcting the freaks of fortune I am sure to lose.” He intended going to Warsaw, thinking I would give him introductions to all my friends there; but he made a mistake, and I did not even introduce him to my Polish friends at Spa. I told him he could easily make their acquaintance by himself, and that I would neither make nor mar with him.
I accepted his invitation to dinner for the same day. His secretary, as he called him, was merely his confederate. He was a clever Veronese named Conti, and his wife was an essential accomplice in Croce’s designs.
At noon my friend the hatter came again with the ring, followed by the owner, who looked like a bravo. They were accompanied by the jeweller and another individual. The owner asked me once more to lend him two hundred louis on the ring.
My proper course would have been to beg to be excused, then I should have had no more trouble in the matter; but it was not to be. I wanted to make him see that the objection he made to having the stone taken out was an insuperable obstacle to my lending him the money.
“When the stone is removed,” said I, “we shall see what it really is. Listen to my proposal: if it weighs twenty-six grains, I will give you, not two but three hundred louis, but in its present condition I shall give nothing at all.”
“You have no business to doubt my word; you insult me by doing so.”
“Not at all, I have no intentions of the kind. I simply propose a wager to you. If the stone be found to weigh twenty-six grains, I shall lose two hundred Louis, if it weighs much less you will lose the ring.”
“That’s a scandalous proposal; it’s as much as to tell me that I am a liar.”
I did not like the tone with which these words were spoken, and I went up to the chest of drawers where I kept my pistols, and bade him go and leave me in peace.
Just then General Roniker came in, and the owner of the ring told him of the dispute between us. The general looked at the ring, and said to him —
“If anyone were to give me the ring I should not have the stone taken out, because one should not look a gift horse in the mouth; but if it came to a question of buying or lending I would not give a crown for it, were the owner an emperor, before the stone was taken out; and I am very much surprised at your refusing to let this be done.”
Without a word the knave made for the door, and the ring remained in the hands of my late host.
“Why didn’t you give him his ring?” said I.
“Because I have advanced him fifty Louis on it; but if he does not redeem it to-morrow I will have the stone taken out before a judge, and afterwards I shall sell it by auction.”
“I don’t like the man’s manners, and I hope you will never bring anyone to my rooms again.”
The affair came to the following conclusion: The impostor did not redeem the ring, and the Liege tradesman had the setting removed. The diamond was found to be placed on a bed of rock crystal, which formed two-thirds of the whole bulk. However, the diamond was worth fifty Louis, and an Englishman bought it. A week afterwards the knave met me as I was walking by myself, and begged me to follow him to place where we should be free from observation, as his sword had somewhat to say to mine. Curiously enough I happened to be wearing my sword at the time.
“I will not follow you,” I replied; “the matter can be settled here?”
“We are observed.”
“All the better. Make haste and draw your sword first.”
“The advantage is with you.”
“I know it, and so it ought to be. If you do not draw I will proclaim you to be the coward I am sure you are.”
At this he drew his sword rapidly and came on, but I was ready to receive him. He began to fence to try my mettle, but I lunged right at his chest, and gave him three inches of cold steel. I should have killed him on the spot if he had not lowered his sword, saying he would take his revenge at another time. With this he went off, holding his hand to the wound.
A score of people were close by, but no one troubled himself about the wounded man, as he was known to have been the aggressor. The duel had no further consequences for me. When I left Spa the man was still in the surgeon’s hands. He was something worse than an adventurer, and all the French at Spa disowned him.
But to return to Croce and his dinner.
The marchioness, his wife so-called, was a young lady of sixteen or seventeen, fair-complexioned and tall, with all the manners of the Belgian nobility. The history of her escape is well known to her brothers and sisters, and as her family are still in existence my readers will be obliged to me for concealing her name.
Her husband had told her about me, and she received me in the most gracious manner possible. She shewed no signs of sadness or of repentance for the steps she had taken. She was with child for some months, and seemed to be near her term, owing to the slimness of her figure. Nevertheless she had the aspect of perfect health. Her countenance expressed candour and frankness of disposition in a remarkable degree. Her eyes were large and blue, her complexion a roseate hue, her small sweet mouth, her perfect teeth made her a beauty worthy of the brush of Albano.
I thought myself skilled in physiognomy, and concluded that she was not only perfectly happy, but also the cause of happiness. But here let me say how vain a thing it is for anyone to pronounce a man or woman to be happy or unhappy from a merely cursory inspection.
The young marchioness had beautiful ear-rings, and two rings, which gave me a pretext for admiring the beauty of her hands.
Conti’s wife did not cut any figure at all, and I was all eyes for the marchioness, whose name was Charlotte. I was profoundly impressed by her that I was quite abstracted during dinner.
I sought in vain to discover by what merits Croce had been able to seduce two such superior women. He was not a fine-looking man, he was not well educated, his manners were doubtful, and his way of speaking by no means seductive; in fine, I saw nothing captivating about him, and yet I could be a witness to his having made two girls leave their homes to follow him. I lost myself in conjecture; but I had no premonition of what was to happen in the course of a few weeks.
When dinner was over I took Croce apart, and talked seriously to him. I impressed on him the necessity of circumspect conduct, as in my opinion he would be for ever infamous if the beautiful woman whom he had seduced was to become wretched by his fault.
“For the future I mean to trust to my skill in play, and thus I am sure of a comfortable living.”
“Does she know, that your revenue is fed solely by the purses of dupes?”
“She knows that I am a gamester; and as she adores me, her will is as mine. I am thinking of marrying her at Warsaw before she is confined. If you are in any want of money, look upon my purse as your own.”
I thanked him, and once more pressed on him the duty of exercising extreme prudence.
As a matter of fact, I had no need of money. I had played with moderation, and my profits amounted to nearly four hundred louis. When the luck turned against me I was wise enough to turn my back on the board. Although the bruise that Mercy had given me was still apparent, I escorted the marchioness to the tables, and there she drew all eyes upon her. She was fond of piquet, and we played together for small stakes for some time. In the end she lost twenty crowns to me, and I was forced to take the money for fear of offending her.
When we went back we met Croce and Conti, who had both won — Conti a score of louis at Faro, and Croce more than a hundred guineas at ‘passe dix’, which he had been playing at a club of Englishmen. I was more lively at supper than dinner, and excited Charlotte to laughter by my wit.
Henceforth the Poles and the Tomatis only saw me at intervals. I was in love with the fair marchioness, and everybody said it was very natural. When a week had elapsed, Croce, finding that the pigeons would not come to be plucked, despite the suppers he gave, went to the public room, and lost continually. He was as used to loss as to gain, and his spirits were unaltered; he was still gay, still ate well and drank better, and caressed his victim, who had no suspicions of what was going on.
I loved her, but did not dare to reveal my passion, fearing lest it should be unrequited; and I was afraid to tell her of Croce’s losses lest she should put down my action to some ulterior motive; in fine, I was afraid to lose the trust she had already begun to place in me.
At the end of three weeks Conti, who had played with prudence and success, left Croce and set out for Verona with his wife and servant. A few days later Charlotte dismissed her maid, sending her back to Liege, her native town.
Towards the middle of September all the Polish party left the Spa for Paris, where I promised to rejoin them. I only stayed for Charlotte’s sake; I foresaw a catastrophe, and I would not abandon her. Every day Croce lost heavily, and at last he was obliged to sell his jewellery. Then came Charlotte’s turn; she had to give up her watches, ear-rings, her rings, and all the jewels she had. He lost everything, but this wonderful girl was as affectionate as ever. To make a finish he despoiled her of her lace and her best gowns, and then selling his own wardrobe he went to his last fight with fortune, provided with two hundred Louis. He played like a madman, without common-sense or prudence, and lost all.
His pockets were empty, and seeing me he beckoned to me, and I followed him out of the Spa.
“My friend,” he began, “I have two alternatives, I can kill myself this instant or I can fly without returning to the house. I shall embrace the latter and go to Warsaw on foot, and I leave my wife in your hands, for I know you adore her. It must be your task to give her the dreadful news of the pass to which I have come. Have a care of her, she is too good by far for a poor wretch like me. Take her to Paris and I will write to you there at your brother’s address. I know you have money, but I would die rather than accept a single louis from you. I have still two or three pieces left, and I assure you that I am richer at the present moment than I was two months ago. Farewell; once more I commend Charlotte to your care; I would that she had never known me.”
With these words he shed tears, and embracing me went his way. I was stupefied at what lay before me.
I had to inform a pregnant woman that the man she dearly loved had deserted her. The only thought that supported me in that moment was that it would be done for love of her, and I felt thankful that I had sufficient means to secure her from privation.
I went to the house and told her that we might dine at once, as the marquis would be engaged till the evening. She sighed, wished him luck, and we proceeded to dine. I disguised my emotions so well that she conceived no suspicion. After the meal was over, I asked her to walk with me in the garden of the Capuchin Monastery, which was close at hand. To prepare her for the fatal news I asked her if she would approve of her lover exposing himself to assassination for the sake of bidding adieu to her rather than making his escape.
“I should blame him for doing so,” she replied. “He ought to escape by all means, if only to save his life for my sake. Has my husband done so? Speak openly to me. My spirit is strong enough to resist even so fatal a blow, for I know I have a friend in you. Speak.”
“Well, I will tell you all. But first of all remember this; you must look upon me as a tender father who will never let you want, so long as life remains to him.”
“In that case I cannot be called unfortunate, for I have a true friend. Say on.”
I told all that Croce had told me, not omitting his last words: “I commend Charlotte to your care; I would that she had never known me.”
For a few minutes she remained motionless, as one turned into stone. By her attitude, by her laboured and unequal breath, I could divine somewhat of the battle between love, and anger, and sorrow, and pity, that was raging in the noble breast. I was cut to the heart. At last she wiped away the big tears that began to trickle down her cheeks, and turning to me sighed and said —
“Dear friend, since I can count on you, I am far indeed from utter misery.”
“I swear to you, Charlotte, that I will never leave you till I place you again in your husband’s hands, provided I do not die before.”
“That is enough. I swear eternal gratitude, and to be as submissive to you as a good daughter ought to be.”
The religion and philosophy with which her heart and mind were fortified, though she made no parade of either, began to calm her spirit, and she proceeded to make some reflections on Croce’s unhappy lot, but all in pity not in anger, excusing his inveterate passion for play. She had often heard from Croce’s lips the story of the Marseilles girl whom he had left penniless in an inn at Milan, commending her to my care. She thought it something wonderful that I should again be intervening as the tutelary genius; but her situation was much the worse, for she was with child.
“There’s another difference,” I added, “for I made the fortune of the first by finding her an honest husband, whereas I should never have the courage to adopt the same method with the second.”
“While Croce lives I am no man’s wife but his, nevertheless I am glad to find myself free.”
When we were back in the house, I advised her to send away the servant and to pay his journey to Besanion, where she had taken him. Thus all unpleasantness would be avoided. I made her sell all that remained of her poor lover’s wardrobe, as also his carriage, for mine was a better one. She shewed me all she had left, which only amounted to some sets of linen and three or four dresses.
We remained at Spa without going out of doors. She could see that my love was a tenderer passion than the love of a father, and she told me so, and that she was obliged to me for the respect with which I treated her. We sat together for hours, she folded in my arms, whilst I gently kissed her beautiful eyes, and asked no more. I was happy in her gratitude and in my powers of self-restraint. When temptation was too strong I left the beautiful girl till I was myself again, and such conquests made me proud. In the affection between us there was somewhat of the purity of a man’s first love.
I wanted a small travelling cap, and the servant of the house went to my former lodging to order one. Mercy brought several for me to choose from. She blushed when she saw me, but I said nothing to her. When she had gone I told Charlotte the whole story, and she laughed with all her heart when I reminded her of the bruise on my face when we first met, and informed her that Mercy had given it me. She praised my firmness in rejecting her repentance, and agreed with me in thinking that the whole plan had been concerted between her and her aunt.
We left Spa without any servant, and when we reached Liege we took the way of the Ardennes, as she was afraid of being recognized if we passed through Brussels. At Luxemburg we engaged a servant, who attended on us till we reached Paris. All the way Charlotte was tender and affectionate, but her condition prescribed limits to her love, and I could only look forward to the time after her delivery. We got down at Paris at the “Hotel Montmorenci,” in the street of the same name.
Paris struck me quite as a new place. Madame d’Urfe was dead, my friends had changed their houses and their fortunes; the poor had become rich and the rich poor, new streets and buildings were rising on all sides; I hardly knew my way about the town. Everything was dearer; poverty was rampant, and luxury at it highest pitch. Perhaps Paris is the only city where so great a change could take place in the course of five or six years.
The first call I made was on Madame du Rumain, who was delighted to see me. I repaid her the money she had so kindly lent me in the time of my distress. She was well in health, but harassed by so many anxieties and private troubles that she said Providence must have sent me to her to relieve her of all her griefs by my cabala. I told her that I would wait on her at any hour or hours; and this, indeed, was the least I could do for the woman who had been so kind to me.
My brother had gone to live in the Faubourg St. Antoine. Both he and his wife (who remained constant to him, despite his physical disability) were overjoyed to see me, and entreated me to come and stop with them. I told them I should be glad to do so, as soon as the lady who had travelled with me had got over her confinement. I did not think proper to tell them her story, and they had the delicacy to refrain from questioning me on the subject. The same day I called on Princess Lubomirska and Tomatis, begging them not to take it amiss if my visits were few and far between, as the lady they had seen at Spa was approaching her confinement, and demanded all my care.
After the discharge of these duties I remained constantly by Charlotte’s side. On October 8th I thought it would be well to take her to Madame Lamarre, a midwife, who lived in the Faubourg St. Denis, and Charlotte was of the same opinion. We went together, she saw the room, the bed, and heard how she would be tended and looked after, for all of which I would pay. At nightfall we drove to the place, with a trunk containing all her effects.
As we were leaving the Rue Montmorenci our carriage was obliged to stop to allow the funeral of some rich man to go by. Charlotte covered her face with her handkerchief, and whispered in my ear, “Dearest, I know it is a foolish superstition, but to a woman in my condition such a meeting is of evil omen.”
“What, Charlotte! I thought you were too wise to have such silly fears. A woman in child-bed is not a sick woman, and no woman ever died of giving birth to a child except some other disease intervened.”
“Yes, my dear philosopher, it is like a duel; there are two men in perfect health, when all of a sudden there comes a sword-thrust, and one of them is dead.”
“That’s a witty idea. But bid all gloomy thoughts go by, and after your child is born, and we have placed it in good hands, you shall come with me to Madrid, and there I hope to see you happy and contented.”
All the way I did my best to cheer her, for I knew only too well the fatal effects of melancholy on a pregnant woman, especially in such a delicate girl as Charlotte.
When I saw her completely settled I returned to the hotel, and the next day I took up my quarters with my brother. However, as long as my Charlotte lived, I only slept at his house, for from nine in the morning till after midnight I was with my dear.
On October 13th Charlotte was attacked with a fever which never left her. On the 17th she was happily delivered of a boy, which was immediately taken to the church and baptized at the express wishes of the mother. Charlotte wrote down what its name was to be — Jacques (after me), Charles (after her), son of Antonio della Croce and of Charlotte de (she gave her real name). When it was brought from the church she told Madame Lamarre to carry it to the Foundling Hospital, with the certificate of baptism in its linen. I vainly endeavoured to persuade her to leave the care of the child to me. She said that if it lived the father could easily reclaim it. On the same day, October 18th, the, midwife gave me the following certificate, which I still possess:
It was worded as follows:
“We, J. B. Dorival, Councillor to the King, Commissary of the Chatelet, formerly Superintendent of Police in the City of Paris, do certify that there has been taken to the Hospital for Children a male infant, appearing to be one day old, brought from the Faubourg St. Denis by the midwife Lamarre, and bearing a certificate of baptism to the effect that its name is Jacques Charles, son of Antonio della Croce and of Charlotte de ——. Wherefore, we have delivered the above certificate at our office in the City of Paris, this 18th day of October, in the year of our Lord, 1767, at seven o’clock in the afternoon.
If any of my readers have any curiosity to know the real name of the mother, I have given them the means of satisfying it.
After this I did not leave the bed of the invalid for a single instant. In spite of all the doctor’s care the fever increased, and at five o’clock in the morning of October 26th, she succumbed to it. An hour before she sighed her last, she bade me the last farewell in the presence of the venerable ecclesiastic who had confessed her at midnight. The tears which gather fast as I write these words are probably the last honours I shall pay to this poor victim of a man who is still alive, and whose destiny seemed to be to make women unhappy.
I sat weeping by the bed of her I loved so dearly, and in vain Madame Lamarre tried to induce me to come and sit with her. I loved the poor corpse better than all the world outside.
At noon my brother and his wife came to see me; they had not seen me for a week, and were getting anxious. They saw the body lovely in death; they understood my tears, and mingled theirs with mine. At last I asked them to leave me, and I remained all night by Charlotte’s bed, resolved not to leave it till her body had been consigned to the grave.
The day before this morning of unhappy memory my brother had given me several letters, but I had not opened any of them. On my return from the funeral I proceeded to do so, and the first one was from M. Dandolo, announcing the death of M. de Bragadin; but I could not weep. For twenty-two years M. de Bragadin had been as a father to me, living poorly, and even going into debt that I might have enough. He could not leave me anything, as his property was entailed, while his furniture and his library would become the prey of his creditors. His two friends, who were my friends also, were poor, and could give me nothing but their love. The dreadful news was accompanied by a bill of exchange for a thousand crowns, which he had sent me twenty-four hours before his death, foreseeing that it would be the last gift he would ever make me.
I was overwhelmed, and thought that Fortune had done her worst to me.
I spent three days in my brother’s house without going out. On the fourth I began to pay an assiduous court to Princess Lubomirska, who had written the king, her brother, a letter that must have mortified him, as she proved beyond a doubt that the tales he had listened to against me were mere calumny. But your kings do not allow so small a thing to vex or mortify them. Besides, Stanislas Augustus had just received a dreadful insult from Russia. Repnin’s violence in kidnapping the three senators who had spoken their minds at the Diet was a blow which must have pierced the hapless king to the heart.
The princess had left Warsaw more from hatred than love; though such was not the general opinion. As I had decided to visit the Court of Madrid before going to Portugal, the princess gave me a letter of introduction to the powerful Count of Aranda; and the Marquis Caraccioli, who was still at Paris, gave me three letters, one for Prince de la Catolica, the Neapolitan ambassador at Madrid, one for the Duke of Lossada, the king’s favourite and lord high steward, and a third for the Marquis Mora Pignatelli.
On November 4th I went to a concert with a ticket that the princess had given me. When the concert was half-way through I heard my name pronounced, accompanied by scornful laughter. I turned round and saw the gentleman who was speaking contemptuously of me. It was a tall young man sitting between two men advanced in years. I stared him in the face, but he turned his head away and continued his impertinencies, saying, amongst other things, that I had robbed him of a million francs at least by my swindling his late aunt, the Marchioness d’Urfe.
“You are an impudent liar,” I said to him, “and if we were out of this room I would give you a kick to teach you to speak respectfully.”
With these words I made my way out of the hall, and on turning my head round I saw that the two elderly men were keeping the young blockhead back. I got into my carriage and waited some time, and as he did not come I drove to the theatre and chanced to find myself in the same box as Madame Valville. She informed me that she had left the boards, and was kept by the Marquis the Brunel.
“I congratulate you, and wish you good luck.”
“I hope you will come to supper at my house.”
“I should be only too happy, but unfortunately I have an engagement; but I will come and see you if you will give me your address.”
So saying, I slipped into her hand a rouleau, it being the fifty louis I owed her.
“What is this?”
“The money you lent me so kindly at Konigsberg.”
“This is neither the time nor the place to return it. I will only take it at my own house, so please do not insist.”
I put the money back into my pocket, she gave me her address, and I left her. I felt too sad to visit her alone.
Two days later, as I was at table with my brother, my sister-in-law, and some young Russians whom he was teaching to paint, I was told that a Chevalier of St. Louis wanted to speak to me in the antechamber. I went out, and he handed me a paper without making any preface. I opened the document, and found it was signed “Louis.” The great king ordered me to leave Paris in twenty-four hours and his realm of France within three weeks, and the reason assigned was: “It is our good pleasure.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07