A Jew Named Mardocheus Becomes My Travelling Companion — He Persuades Me to Lodge in His House — I Fall in Love With His Daughter Leah — After a Stay of Six Weeks I Go to Trieste
Some time elapsed before I had time to examine the Marquis of Mosca’s collection of Latin poets, amongst which the ‘Priapeia’ found no place.
No doubt this work bore witness to his love for literature but not to his learning, for there was nothing of his own in it. All he had done was to classify each fragment in chronological order. I should have liked to see notes, comments, explanations, and such like; but there was nothing of the kind. Besides, the type was not elegant, the margins were poor, the paper common, and misprints not infrequent. All these are bad faults, especially in a work which should have become a classic. Consequently, the book was not a profitable one; and as the marquis was not a rich man he was occasionally reproached by his wife for the money he had expended.
I read his treatise on almsgiving and his apology for it, and understood a good deal of the marquis’s way of thinking. I could easily imagine that his writings must have given great offence at Rome, and that with sounder judgment he would have avoided this danger. Of course the marquis was really in the right, but in theology one is only in the right when Rome says yes.
The marquis was a rigorist, and though he had a tincture of Jansenism he often differed from St. Augustine.
He denied, for instance, that almsgiving could annul the penalty attached to sin, and according to him the only sort of almsgiving which had any merit was that prescribed in the Gospel: “Let not thy right hand know what thy left hand doeth.”
He even maintained that he who gave alms sinned unless it was done with the greatest secrecy, for alms given in public are sure to be accompanied by vanity.
It might have been objected that the merit of alms lies in the intention with which they are given. It is quite possible for a good man to slip a piece of money into the palm of some miserable being standing in a public place, and yet this may be done solely with the idea of relieving distress without a thought of the onlookers.
As I wanted to go to Trieste, I might have crossed the gulf by a small boat from Pesaro; a good wind was blowing, and I should have got to Trieste in twelve hours. This was my proper way, for I had nothing to do at Ancona, and it was a hundred miles longer; but I had said I would go by Ancona, and I felt obliged to do so.
I had always a strong tincture of superstition, which has exercised considerable influence on my strange career.
Like Socrates I, too, had a demon to whom I referred my doubtful counsels, doing his will, and obeying blindly when I felt a voice within me telling me to forbear.
A hundred times have I thus followed my genius, and occasionally I have felt inclined to complain that it did not impel me to act against my reason more frequently. Whenever I did so I found that impulse was right and reason wrong, and for all that I have still continued reasoning.
When I arrived at Senegallia, at three stages from Ancona, my vetturino asked me, just as I was going to bed, whether I would allow him to accommodate a Jew who was going to Ancona in the chaise.
My first impulse made me answer sharply that I wanted no one in my chaise, much less a Jew.
The vetturino went out, but a voice said within me, “You must take this’ poor Israelite;” and in spite of my repugnance I called back the man and signified my assent.
“Then you must make up your mind to start at an earlier hour, for it is Friday to-morrow, and you know the Jews are not allowed to travel after sunset.”
“I shall not start a moment earlier than I intended, but you can make your horses travel as quickly as you like.”
He gave me no answer, and went out. The next morning I found my Jew, an honest-looking fellow, in the carriage. The first thing he asked me was why I did not like Jews.
“Because your religion teaches you to hate men of all other religions, especially Christians, and you think you have done a meritorious action when you have deceived us. You do not look upon us as brothers. You are usurious, unmerciful, our enemies, and so I do not like you.”
“You are mistaken, sir. Come with me to our synagogue this evening, and you will hear us pray for all Christians, beginning with our Lord the Pope.”
I could not help bursting into a roar of laughter.
“True,” I replied, “but the prayer comes from the mouth only, and not from the heart. If you do not immediately confess that the Jews would not pray for the Christians if they were the masters, I will fling you out of the chaise.”
Of course I did not carry out this threat, but I completed his confusion by quoting in Hebrew the passages in the Old Testament, where the Jews are bidden to do all possible harm to the Gentiles, whom they were to curse every day.
After this the poor man said no more. When we were going to take our dinner I asked him to sit beside me, but he said his religion would not allow him to do so, and that he would only eat eggs, fruit, and some foiegras sausage he had in his pocket. He only drank water because he was not sure that the wine was unadulterated.
“You stupid fellow,” I exclaimed, “how can you ever be certain of the purity of wine unless you have made it yourself?”
When we were on our way again he said that if I liked to come and stay with him, and to content myself with such dishes as God had not forbidden, he would make me more comfortable than if I went to the inn, and at a cheaper rate.
“Then you let lodgings to Christians?”
“I don’t let lodgings to anybody, but I will make an exception in your case to disabuse you of some of your mistaken notions. I will only ask you six pauls a day, and give you two good meals without wine.”
“Then you must give me fish and wine, I paying for them as extras.”
“Certainly; I have a Christian cook, and my wife pays a good deal of attention to the cooking.”
“You can give me the foie gras every day, if you will eat it with me.”
“I know what you think, but you shall be satisfied.”
I got down at the Jew’s house, wondering at myself as I did so. However, I knew that if I did not like my accommodation I could leave the next day.
His wife and children were waiting for him, and gave him a joyful welcome in honour of the Sabbath. All servile work was forbidden on this day holy to the Lord; and all over the house, and in the face of all the family, I observed a kind of festal air.
I was welcomed like a brother, and I replied as best I could; but a word from Mardocheus (so he was called) changed their politeness of feeling into a politeness of interest.
Mardocheus shewed me two rooms for me to choose the one which suited me, but liking them both I said I would take the two for another paul a day, with which arrangement he was well enough pleased.
Mardocheus told his wife what we had settled, and she instructed the Christian servant to cook my supper for me.
I had my effects taken upstairs, and then went with Mardocheus to the synagogue.
During the short service the Jews paid no attention to me or to several other Christians who were present. The Jews go to the synagogue to pray, and in this respect I think their conduct worthy of imitation by the Christians.
On leaving the synagogue I went by myself to the Exchange, thinking over the happy time which would never return.
It was in Ancona that I had begun to enjoy life; and when I thought it over, it was quite a shock to find that this was thirty years ago, for thirty years is a long period in a man’s life. And yet I felt quite happy, in spite of the tenth lustrum so near at hand for me.
What a difference I found between my youth and my middle age! I could scarcely recognize myself. I was then happy, but now unhappy; then all the world was before me, and the future seemed a gorgeous dream, and now I was obliged to confess that my life had been all in vain. I might live twenty years more, but I felt that the happy time was passed away, and the future seemed all dreary.
I reckoned up my forty-seven years, and saw fortune fly away. This in itself was enough to sadden me, for without the favours of the fickle goddess life was not worth living, for me at all events.
My object, then, was to return to my country; it was as if I struggled to undo all that I had done. All I could hope for was to soften the hardships of the slow but certain passage to the grave.
These are the thoughts of declining years and not of youth. The young man looks only to the present, believes that the sky will always smile upon him, and laughs at philosophy as it vainly preaches of old age, misery, repentance, and, worst of all, abhorred death.
Such were my thoughts twenty-six years ago; what must they be now, when I am all alone, poor, despised, and impotent. They would kill me if I did not resolutely subdue them, for whether for good or ill my heart is still young. Of what use are desires when one can no longer satisfy them? I write to kill ennui, and I take a pleasure in writing. Whether I write sense or nonsense, what matters? I am amused, and that is enough.
‘Malo scriptor delirus, inersque videri,
Dum mea delectent mala me vel denique fallunt,
When I came back I found Mardocheus at supper with his numerous family, composed of eleven or twelve individuals, and including his mother — an old woman of ninety, who looked very well. I noticed another Jew of middle age; he was the husband of his eldest daughter, who did not strike me as pretty; but the younger daughter, who was destined for a Jew of Pesaro, whom she had never seen, engaged all my attention. I remarked to her that if she had not seen her future husband she could not be in love with him, whereupon she replied in a serious voice that it was not necessary to be in love before one married. The old woman praised the girl for this sentiment, and said she had not been in love with her husband till the first child was born.
I shall call the pretty Jewess Leah, as I have good reasons for not using her real name.
While they were enjoying their meal I sat down beside her and tried to make myself as agreeable as possible, but she would not even look at me.
My supper was excellent, and my bed very comfortable.
The next day my landlord told me that I could give my linen to the maid, and that Leah could get it up for me.
I told him I had relished my supper, but that I should like the foie gras every day as I had a dispensation.
“You shall have some to-morrow, but Leah is the only one of us who eats it.”
“Then Leah must take it with me, and you can tell her that I shall give her some Cyprus wine which is perfectly pure.”
I had no wine, but I went for it the same morning to the Venetian consul, giving him M. Dandolo’s letter.
The consul was a Venetian of the old leaven. He had heard my name, and seemed delighted to make my acquaintance. He was a kind of clown without the paint, fond of a joke, a regular gourmand, and a man of great experience. He sold me some Scopolo and old Cyprus Muscat, but he began to exclaim when he heard where I was lodging, and how I had come there.
“He is rich,” he said, “but he is also a great usurer, and if you borrow money of him he will make you repent it.”
After informing the consul that I should not leave till the end of the month, I went home to dinner, which proved excellent.
The next day I gave out my linen to the maid, and Leah came to ask me how I liked my lace got up.
If Leah had examined me more closely she would have seen that the sight of her magnificent breast, unprotected by any kerchief, had had a remarkable effect on me.
I told her that I left it all to her, and that she could do what she liked with the linen.
“Then it will all come under my hands if you are in no hurry to go.”
“You can make me stay as long as you like,” said I; but she seemed not to hear this declaration.
“Everything is quite right,” I continued, “except the chocolate; I like it well frothed.”
“Then I will make it for you myself.”
“Then I will give out a double quantity, and we will take it together.”
“I don’t like chocolate.”
“I am sorry to hear that; but you like foie gras?”
“Yes, I do; and from what father tells me I am going to take some with you to-day.”
“I shall be delighted.”
“I suppose you are afraid of being poisoned?”
“Not at all; I only wish we could die together.”
She pretended not to understand, and left me burning with desire. I felt that I must either obtain possession of her or tell her father not to send her into my room any more.
The Turin Jewess had given me some valuable hints as to the conduct of amours with Jewish girls.
My theory was that Leah would be more easily won than she, for at Ancona there was much more liberty than at Turin.
This was a rake’s reasoning, but even rakes are mistaken sometimes.
The dinner that was served to me was very good, though cooked in the Jewish style, and Leah brought in the foie gras and sat down opposite to me with a muslin kerchief over her breast.
The foie gras was excellent, and we washed it down with copious libations of Scopolo, which Leah found very much to her taste.
When the foie gras was finished she got up, but I stopped her, for the dinner was only half over.
“I will stay then,” said she, “but I am afraid my father will object.”
“Very good. Call your master,” I said to the maid who came in at that moment, “I have a word to speak to him.”
“My dear Mardocheus,” I said when he came, “your daughter’s appetite doubles mine, and I shall be much obliged if you will allow her to keep me company whenever we have foie gras.”
“It isn’t to my profit to double your appetite, but if you like to pay double I shall have no objection.”
“Very good, that arrangement will suit me.”
In evidence of my satisfaction I gave him a bottle of Scopolo, which Leah guaranteed pure.
We dined together, and seeing that the wine was making her mirthful I told her that her eyes were inflaming me and that she must let me kiss them.
“My duty obliges me to say nay. No kissing and no touching; we have only got to eat and drink together, and I shall like it as much as you.”
“You are cruel.”
“I am wholly dependent on my father.”
“Shall I ask your father to give you leave to be kind?”
“I don’t think that would be proper, and my father might be offended and not allow me to see you any more.”
“And supposing he told you not to be scrupulous about trifles?”
“Then I should despise him and continue to do my duty.”
So clear a declaration shewed me that if I persevered in this intrigue I might go on for ever without success. I also bethought me that I ran a risk of neglecting my chief business, which would not allow me to stay long in Ancona.
I said nothing more to Leah just then, and when the dessert came in I gave her some Cyprus wine, which she declared was the most delicious nectar she had ever tasted.
I saw that the wine was heating her, and it seemed incredible to me that Bacchus should reign without Venus; but she had a hard head, her blood was hot and her brain cool.
However, I tried to seize her hand and kiss it, but she drew it away, saying pleasantly —
“It’s too much for honour and too little for love.”
This witty remark amused me, and it also let me know that she was not exactly a neophyte.
I determined to postpone matters till the next day, and told her not to get me any supper as I was supping with the Venetian consul.
The consul had told me that he did not dine, but that he would always be delighted to see me at supper.
It was midnight when I came home, and everyone was asleep except the maid who let me in. I gave her such a gratuity that she must have wished me to keep late hours for the rest of my stay.
I proceeded to sound her about Leah, but she told me nothing but good. If she was to be believed, Leah was a good girl, always at work, loved by all, and fancy free. The maid could not have praised her better if she had been paid to do so.
In the morning Leah brought the chocolate and sat down on my bed, saying that we should have some fine foie gras, and that she should have all the better appetite for dinner as she had not taken any supper.
“Why didn’t you take any supper?”
“I suppose it was because of your excellent Cyprus wine, to which my father has taken a great liking.”
“Ah! he like it? We will give him some.”
Leah was in a state of undress as before, and the sight of her half- covered spheres drove me to distraction.
“Are you not aware that you have a beautiful breast?” said I.
“I thought all young girls were just the same.”
“Have you no suspicion that the sight is a very pleasant one for me?”
“If that be so, I am very glad, for I have nothing to be ashamed of, for a girl has no call to hide her throat any more than her face, unless she is in grand company.”
As she was speaking, Leah looked at a golden heart transfixed with an arrow and set with small diamonds which served me as a shirt stud.
“Do you like the little heart?” said I.
“Very much. Is it pure gold?”
“Certainly, and that being so I think I may offer it to you.”
So saying I took it off, but she thanked me politely, and said that a girl who gave nothing must take nothing.
“Take it; I will never ask any favour of you.”
“But I should be indebted to you, and that’s the reason why I never take anything.”
I saw that there was nothing to be done, or rather that it would be necessary to do too much to do anything, and that in any case the best plan would be to give her up.
I put aside all thoughts of violence, which would only anger her or make her laugh at me. I should either have been degraded, or rendered more amorous, and all for nothing. If she had taken offense she would not have come to see me any more, and I should have had nought to complain of. In fine I made up my mind to restrain myself, and indulge no more in amorous talk.
We dined very pleasantly together. The servant brought in some shell- fish, which are forbidden by the Mosaic Law. While the maid was in the room I asked Leah to take some, and she refused indignantly; but directly the girl was gone she took some of her own accord and ate them eagerly, assuring me that it was the first time she had had the pleasure of tasting shellfish.
“This girl,” I said to myself, “who breaks the law of her religion with such levity, who likes pleasure and does not conceal it, this is the girl who wants to make me believe that she is insensible to the pleasures of love; that’s impossible, though she may not love me. She must have some secret means of satisfying her passions, which in my opinion are very violent. We will see what can be done this evening with the help of a bottle of good Muscat.”
However, when the evening came, she said she could not drink or eat anything, as a meal always prevented her sleeping.
The next day she brought me my chocolate, but her beautiful breast was covered with a white kerchief. She sat down on the bed as usual, and I observed in a melancholy manner that she had only covered her breast because I had said I took a pleasure in seeing it.
She replied that she had not thought of anything, and had only put on her kerchief because she had had no time to fasten her stays.
“You are whole right,” I said, smilingly, “for if I were to see the whole breast I might not think it beautiful.”
She gave no answer, and I finished my chocolate.
I recollected my collection of obscene pictures, and I begged Leah to give me the box, telling her that I would shew her some of the most beautiful breasts in the world.
“I shan’t care to see them,” said she; but she gave me the box, and sat down on my bed as before.
I took out a picture of a naked woman lying on her back and abusing herself, and covering up the lower part of it I shewed it to Leah.
“But her breast is like any other,” said Leah.
“Take away your handkerchief.”
“Take it back; it’s disgusting. It’s well enough done,” she added, with a burst of laughter, “but it’s no novelty for me.”
“No novelty for you?”
“Of course not; every girl does like that before she gets married.”
“Then you do it, too?”
“Whenever I want to.”
“Do it now.”
“A well-bred girl always does it in private.”
“And what do you do after?”
“If I am in bed I go to sleep.”
“My dear Leah, your sincerity is too much for me. Either be kind or visit me no more.”
“You are very weak, I think.”
“Yes, because I am strong.”
“Then henceforth we shall only meet at dinner. But chew me some more miniatures.”
“I have some pictures which you will not like.”
“Let me see them.”
I gave her Arentin’s figures, and was astonished to see how coolly she examined them, passing from one to the other in the most commonplace way.
“Do you think them interesting?” I said.
“Yes, very; they are so natural. But a good girl should not look at such pictures; anyone must be aware that these voluptuous attitudes excite one’s emotions.”
“I believe you, Leah, and I feel it as much as you. Look here!”
She smiled and took the book away to the window, turning her back towards me without taking any notice of my appeal.
I had to cool down and dress myself, and when the hairdresser arrived Leah went away, saying she would return me my book at dinner.
I was delighted, thinking I was sure of victory either that day or the next, but I was out of my reckoning.
We dined well and drank better. At dessert Leah took the book out of her pocket and set me all on fire by asking me to explain some of the pictures but forbidding all practical demonstration.
I went out impatiently, determined to wait till next morning.
When the cruel Jewess came in the morning she told me that she wanted explanations, but that I must use the pictures and nothing more as a demonstration of my remarks.
“Certainly,” I replied, “but you must answer all my questions as to your sex.”
“I promise to do so, if they arise naturally from the pictures.”
The lesson lasted two hours, and a hundred times did I curse Aretin and my folly in shewing her his designs, for whenever I made the slightest attempt the pitiless woman threatened to leave me. But the information she gave me about her own sex was a perfect torment to me. She told me the most lascivious details, and explained with the utmost minuteness the different external and internal movements which would be developed in the copulations pictured by Aretin. I thought it quite impossible that she could be reasoning from theory alone. She was not troubled by the slightest tincture of modesty, but philosophized on coition as coolly and much more learnedly than Hedvig. I would willingly have given her all I possessed to crown her science by the performance of the great work. She swore it was all pure theory with her, and I thought she must be speaking the truth when she said she wanted to get married to see if her notions were right or wrong. She looked pensive when I told her that the husband destined for her might be unable to discharge his connubial duties more than once a week.
“Do you mean to say,” said she, “that one man is not as good as another?”
“How do you mean?”
“Are not all men able to make love every day, and every hour, just as they eat, drink and sleep every day?”
“No, dear Leah, they that can make love every day are very scarce.”
In my state of chronic irritation I felt much annoyed that there was no decent place at Ancona where a man might appease his passions for his money. I trembled to think that I was in danger of falling really in love with Leah, and I told the consul every day that I was in no hurry to go. I was as foolish as a boy in his calf-love. I pictured Leah as the purest of women, for with strong passions she refused to gratify them. I saw in her a model of virtue; she was all self-restraint and purity, resisting temptation in spite of the fire that consumed her.
Before long the reader will discover how very virtuous Leah was.
After nine or ten days I had recourse to violence, not in deeds but in words. She confessed I was in the right, and said my best plan would be to forbid her to come and see me in the morning. At dinner, according to her, there would be no risk.
I made up my mind to ask her to continue her visits, but to cover her breast and avoid all amorous conversation.
“With all my heart,” she replied, laughing; “but be sure I shall not be the first to break the conditions.”
I felt no inclination to break them either, for three days later I felt weary of the situation, and told the consul I would start on the first opportunity. My passion for Leah was spoiling my appetite, and I thus saw myself deprived of my secondary pleasure without any prospect of gaining my primary enjoyment.
After what I had said to the consul I felt I should be bound to go, and I went to bed calmly enough. But about two o’clock in the morning I had, contrary to my usual habit, to get up and offer sacrifice to Cloacina. I left my room without any candle, as I knew my way well enough about the house.
The temple of the goddess was on the ground floor, but as I had put on my soft slippers, and walked very softly, my footsteps did not make the least noise.
On my way upstairs I saw a light shining through a chink in the door of a room which I knew to be unoccupied. I crept softly up, not dreaming for a moment that Leah could be there at such an hour. But on putting my eye to the chink I found I could see a bed, and on it were Leah and a young man, both stark naked, and occupied in working out Aretin’s postures to the best of their ability. They were whispering to one another, and every four or five minutes I had the pleasure of seeing a new posture. These changes of position gave me a view of all the beauties of Leah, and this pleasure was something to set against my rage in having taken such a profligate creature for a virtuous woman.
Every time they approached the completion of the great work they stopped short, and completed what they were doing with their hands.
When they were doing the Straight Tree, to my mind the most lascivious of them all, Leah behaved like a true Lesbian; for while the young man excited her amorous fury she got hold of his instrument and took it between her lips till the work was complete. I could not doubt that she had swallowed the vital fluid of my fortunate rival.
The Adonis then shewed her the feeble instrument, and Leah seemed to regret what she had done. Before long she began to excite him again; but the fellow looked at his watch, pushed her away, and began to put on his shirt.
Leah seemed angry, and I could see that she reproached him for some time before she began to dress.
When they were nearly clothed I softly returned to my room and looked out of a window commanding the house-door. I had not to wait long before I saw the fortunate lover going out.
I went to bed indignant with Leah; I felt myself degraded. She was no longer virtuous, but a villainous prostitute in my eyes; and I fell to sleep with the firm resolve of driving her from my room the next morning, after shaming her with the story of the scene I had witnessed. But, alas, hasty and angry resolves can seldom withstand a few hours’ sleep. As soon as I saw Leah coming in with my chocolate, smiling and gay as usual, I told her quite coolly all the exploits I had seen her executing, laying particular stress on the Straight Tree, and the curious liquid she had swallowed. I ended by saying that I hoped she would give me the next night, both to crown my love and insure my secrecy.
She answered with perfect calm that I had nothing to expect from her as she did not love me, and as for keeping the secret she defied me to disclose it.
“I am sure you would not be guilty of such a disgraceful action,” said she.
With these words she turned her back on me and went out.
I could not help confessing to myself that she was in the right; I could not bring myself to commit such a baseness. She had made me reasonable in a few words:
“I don’t love you.” There was no reply to this, and I felt I had no claim on her.
Rather it was she who might complain of me; what right had I to spy over her? I could not accuse her of deceiving me; she was free to do what she liked with herself. My best course was clearly to be silent.
I dressed myself hastily, and went to the Exchange, where I heard that a vessel was sailing for Fiume the same day.
Fiume is just opposite Ancona on the other side of the gulf. From Fiume to Trieste the distance is forty miles, and I decided to go by that route.
I went aboard the ship and took the best place, said good-bye to the consul, paid Mardocheus, and packed my trunks.
Leah heard that I was going the same day, and came and told me that she could not give me back my lace and my silk stockings that day, but that I could have them by the next day.
“Your father,” I replied coolly, “will hand them all over to the Venetian consul, who will send them to me at Trieste.”
Just as I was sitting down to dinner, the captain of the boat came for my luggage with a sailor. I told him he could have my trunk, and that I would bring the rest aboard whenever he liked to go.
“I intend setting out an hour before dusk.”
“I shall be ready.”
When Mardocheus heard where I was going he begged me to take charge of a small box and a letter he wanted to send to a friend.
“I shall be delighted to do you this small service.”
At dinner Leah sat down with me and chattered as usual, without troubling herself about my monosyllabic answers.
I supposed she wished me to credit her with calm confidence and philosophy, while I looked upon it all as brazen impudence.
I hated and despised her. She had inflamed my passions, told me to my face she did not love me, and seemed to claim my respect through it all. Possibly she expected me to be grateful for her remark that she believed me incapable of betraying her to her father.
As she drank my Scopolo she said there were several bottles left, as well as some Muscat.
“I make you a present of it all,” I replied, “it will prime you up for your nocturnal orgies.”
She smiled and said I had had a gratuitous sight of a spectacle which was worth money, and that if I were not going so suddenly she would gladly have given me another opportunity.
This piece of impudence made me want to break the wine bottle on her head. She must have known what I was going to do from the way I took it up, but she did not waver for a moment. This coolness of hers prevented my committing a crime.
I contented myself with saying that she was the most impudent slut I had ever met, and I poured the wine into my glass with a shaking hand, as if that were the purpose for which I had taken up the bottle.
After this scene I got up and went into the next room; nevertheless, in half an hour she came to take coffee with me.
This persistence of hers disgusted me, but I calmed myself by the reflection that her conduct must be dictated by vengeance.
“I should like to help you to pack,” said she.
“And I should like to be left alone,” I replied; and taking her by the arm I led her out of the room and locked the door after her.
We were both of us in the right. Leah had deceived and humiliated me, and I had reason to detest her, while I had discovered her for a monster of hypocrisy and immodesty, and this was good cause for her to dislike me.
Towards evening two sailors came after the rest of the luggage, and thanking my hostess I told Leah to put up my linen, and to give it to her father, who had taken the box of which I was to be the bearer down to the vessel.
We set sail with a fair wind, and I thought never to set face on Leah again. But fate had ordered otherwise.
We had gone twenty miles with a good wind in our quarter, by which we were borne gently from wave to wave, when all of a sudden there fell a dead calm.
These rapid changes are common enough in the Adriatic, especially in the part we were in.
The calm lasted but a short time, and a stiff wind from the west-north- west began to blow, with the result that the sea became very rough, and I was very ill.
At midnight the storm had become dangerous. The captain told me that if we persisted in going in the wind’s eye we should be wrecked, and that the only thing to be done was to return to Ancona.
In less than three hours we made the harbour, and the officer of the guard having recognized me kindly allowed me to land.
While I was talking to the officer the sailors took my trunks, and carried them to my old lodgings without waiting to ask my leave.
I was vexed. I wanted to avoid Leah, and I had intended to sleep at the nearest inn. However, there was no help for it. When I arrived the Jew got up, and said he was delighted to see me again.
It was past three o’clock in the morning, and I felt very ill, so I said I would not get up till late, and that I would dine in my bed without any foie gras. I slept ten hours, and when I awoke I felt hungry and rang my bell.
The maid answered and said that she would have the honour of waiting on me, as Leah had a violent headache.
I made no answer, thanking Providence for delivering me from this impudent and dangerous woman.
Having found my dinner rather spare I told the cook to get me a good supper.
The weather was dreadful. The Venetian consul had heard of my return, and not having seen me concluded I was ill, and paid me a two hours’ visit. He assured me the storm would last for a week at least. I was very sorry to hear it; in the first place, because I did not want to see any more of Leah, and in the second, because I had not got any money. Luckily I had got valuable effects, so this second consideration did not trouble me much.
As I did not see Leah at supper-time I imagined that she was feigning illness to avoid meeting me, and I felt very much obliged to her on this account. As it appeared, however, I was entirely mistaken in my conjectures.
The next day she came to ask for chocolate in her usual way, but she no longer bore upon her features her old tranquillity of expression.
“I will take coffee, mademoiselle,” I observed; “and as I do not want foie gras any longer, I will take dinner by myself. Consequently, you may tell your father that I shall only pay seven pauls a day. In future I shall only drink Orvieto wine.”
“You have still four bottles of Scopolo and Cyprus”
“I never take back a present; the wine belongs to you. I shall be obliged by your leaving me alone as much as possible, as your conduct is enough to irritate Socrates, and I am not Socrates. Besides, the very sight of you is disagreeable to me. Your body may be beautiful, but knowing that the soul within is a monster it charms me no longer. You may be very sure that the sailors brought my luggage here without my orders, or else you would never have seen me here again, where I dread being poisoned every day.”
Leah went out without giving me any answer, and I felt certain that after my plain-spoken discourse she would take care not to trouble me again.
Experience had taught me that girls like Leah are not uncommon. I had known specimens at Spa, Genoa, London, and at Venice, but this Jewess was the worst I had ever met.
It was Saturday. When Mardocheus came back from the synagogue he asked me gaily why I had mortified his daughter, as she had declared she had done nothing to offend me.
“I have not mortified her, my dear Mardocheus, or at all events, such was not my intention; but as I have put myself on diet, I shall be eating no more foie gras, and consequently I shall dine by myself, and save three pauls a day.”
“Leah is quite ready to pay me out of her private purse, and she wants to dine with you to assure you against being poisoned, as she informs me that you have expressed that fear.”
“That was only a jest; I am perfectly aware that I am in the house of an honest man. I don’t want your daughter to pay for herself, and to prove that I am not actuated by feelings of economy, you shall dine with me too. To offer to pay for me is an impertinence on her part. In fine, I will either dine by myself and pay you seven pawls a day, or I will pay you thirteen, and have both father and daughter to dine with me.”
The worthy Mardocheus went away, saying that he really could not allow me to dine by myself.
At dinner-time I talked only to Mardocheus, without glancing at Leah or paying any attention to the witty sallies she uttered to attract me. I only drank Orvieto.
At dessert Leah filled my glass with Scopolo, saying that if I did not drink it neither would she.
I replied, without looking at her, that I advised her only to drink water for the future, and that I wanted nothing at her hands.
Mardocheus, who liked wine, laughed and said I was right, and drank for three.
The weather continued bad, and I spent the rest of the day in writing, and after supper I retired and went to sleep.
Suddenly I was aroused by a slight noise.
“Who is there?” said I.
I heard Leah’s voice, whispering in reply,
“’Tis I; I have not come to disturb you, but to justify myself.”
So saying she lay down on the bed, but on the outside of the coverlet.
I was pleased with this extraordinary visit, for my sole desire was for vengeance, and I felt certain of being able to resist all her arts. I therefore told her politely enough that I considered her as already justified and that I should be obliged by her leaving me as I wanted to go to sleep.
“Not before you have heard what I have to say.”
“Go on; I am listening to you.”
Thereupon she began a discourse which I did not interrupt, and which lasted for a good hour.
She spoke very artfully, and after confessing she had done wrong she said that at my age I should have been ready to overlook the follies of a young and passionate girl. According to her it was all weakness, and pardonable at such an age.
“I swear I love you,” said she, “and I would have given you good proof before now if I had not been so unfortunate as to love the young Christian you saw with me, while he does not care for me in the least; indeed I have to pay him.
“In spite of my passion,” she continued, “I have never given him what a girl can give but once. I had not seen him for six months, and it was your fault that I sent for him, for you inflamed me with your pictures and strong wines.”
The end of it all was that I ought to forget everything, and treat her kindly during the few days I was to remain there.
When she finished I did not allow myself to make any objection. I pretended to be convinced, assuring her that I felt I had been in the wrong in letting her see Aretin’s figures, and that I would no longer evince any resentment towards her.
As her explanation did not seem likely to end in the way she wished, she went on talking about the weakness of the flesh, the strength of self- love which often hushes the voice of passion, etc., etc.; her aim being to persuade me that she loved me, and that her refusals had all been given with the idea of making my love the stronger.
No doubt I might have given her a great many answers, but I said nothing. I made up my mind to await the assault that I saw was impending, and then by refusing all her advances I reckoned on abasing her to the uttermost. Nevertheless, she made no motion; her hands were at rest, and she kept her face at a due distance from mine.
At last, tired out with the struggle, she left me pretending to be perfectly satisfied with what she had done.
As soon as she had gone, I congratulated myself on the fact that she had confined herself to verbal persuasion; for if she had gone further she would probably have achieved a complete victory, though we were in the dark.
I must mention that before she left me I had to promise to allow her to make my chocolate as usual.
Early the next morning she came for the stick of chocolate. She was in a complete state of negligee, and came in on tiptoe, though if she chose to look towards the bed she might have seen that I was wide awake.
I marked her artifices and her cunning, and resolved to be equal to all her wiles. When she brought the chocolate I noticed that there were two cups on the tray, and I said —
“Then it is not true that you don’t like chocolate?”
“I feel obliged to relieve you of all fear of being poisoned.”
I noticed that she was now dressed with the utmost decency, while half an hour before she had only her chemise and petticoat her neck being perfectly bare. The more resolved she seemed to gain the victory, the more firmly I was determined to humiliate her, as it appeared to me the only other alternative would have been my shame and dishonour; and this turned me to stone.
In spite of my resolves, Leah renewed the attack at dinner, for, contrary to my orders, she served a magnificent foie gras, telling me that it was for herself, and that if she were poisoned she would die of pleasure; Mardocheus said he should like to die too, and began regaling himself on it with evident relish.
I could not help laughing, and announced my wish to taste the deadly food, and so we all of us were eating it.
“Your resolves are not strong enough to withstand seduction,” said Leah. This remark piqued me, and I answered that she was imprudent to disclose her designs in such a manner, and that she would find my resolves strong enough when the time came.
A faint smile played about her lips.
“Try if you like,” I said, “to persuade me to drink some Scopolo or Muscat. I meant to have taken some, but your taunt has turned me to steel. I mean to prove that when I make up my mind I never alter it.”
“The strong-minded man never gives way,” said Leah, “but the good-hearted man often lets himself be overpersuaded.”
“Quite so, and the good-hearted girl refrains from taunting a man for his weakness for her.”
I called the maid and told her to go to the Venetian consul’s and get me some more Scopolo and Muscat. Leah piqued me once more by saying enthusiastically —
“I am sure you are the most good-hearted of men as well as the firmest.” Mardocheus, who could not make out what we meant, ate, drank, and laughed, and seemed pleased with everything.
In the afternoon I went out to a cafe in spite of the dreadful weather. I thought over Leah and her designs, feeling certain that she would pay me another nocturnal visit and renew the assault in force. I resolved to weaken myself with some common woman, if I could find one at all supportable.
A Greek who had taken me to a disgusting place a few days before, conducted me to another where he introduced me to a painted horror of a woman from whose very sight I fled in terror.
I felt angry that in a town like Ancona a man of some delicacy could not get his money’s worth for his money, and went home, supped by myself, and locked the door after me.
The precaution, however, was useless.
A few minutes after I had shut the door, Leah knocked on the pretext that I had forgotten to give her the chocolate.
I opened the door and gave it her, and she begged me not to lock myself in, as she wanted to have an important and final interview.
“You can tell me now what you want to say.”
“No, it will take some time, and I should not like to come till everyone is asleep. You have nothing to be afraid of; you are lord of yourself. You can go to bed in peace.”
“I have certainly nothing to be afraid of, and to prove it to you I will leave the door open.”
I felt more than ever certain of victory, and resolved not to blow out the candles, as my doing so might be interpreted into a confession of fear. Besides, the light would render my triumph and her humiliation more complete. With these thoughts I went to bed.
At eleven o’clock a slight noise told me that my hour had come. I saw Leah enter my room in her chemise and a light petticoat. She locked my door softly, and when I cried, “Well; what do you want with me?” she let her chemise and petticoat drop, and lay down beside me in a state of nature.
I was too much astonished to repulse her.
Leah was sure of victory, and without a word she threw herself upon me, pressing her lips to mine, and depriving me of all my faculties except one.
I utilised a short moment of reflection by concluding that I was a presumtuous fool, and that Leah was a woman with a most extensive knowledge of human nature.
In a second my caress became as ardent as hers, and after kissing her spheres of rose and alabaster I penetrated to the sanctuary of love, which, much to my astonishment, I found to be a virgin citadel.
There was a short silence, and then I said —
“Dearest Leah, you oblige me to adore you; why did you first inspire me with hate? Are you not come here merely to humiliate me, to obtain an empty victory? If so, I forgive you; but you are in the wrong, for, believe me, enjoyment is sweeter far than vengeance.”
“Nay, I have not come to achieve a shameful victory, but to give myself to you without reserve, to render you my conqueror and my king. Prove your love by making me happy, break down the barrier which I kept intact, despite its fragility and my ardour, and if this sacrifice does not convince you of my affection you must be the worst of men.”
I had never heard more energetic opinions, and I had never seen a more voluptuous sight. I began the work, and while Leah aided me to the best of her ability, I forced the gate, and on Leah’s face I read the most acute pain and pleasure mingled. In the first ecstasy of delight I felt her tremble in every limb.
As for me, my enjoyment was quite new; I was twenty again, but I had the self-restraint of my age, and treated Leah with delicacy, holding her in my arms till three o’clock in the morning. When I left her she was inundated and exhausted with pleasure, while I could do no more.
She left me full of gratitude, carrying the soaking linen away with her. I slept on till twelve o’clock.
When I awoke and saw her standing by my bedside with the gentle love of the day after the wedding, the idea of my approaching departure saddened me. I told her so, and she begged me to stay on as long as I could. I repeated that we would arrange everything when we met again at night.
We had a delicious dinner, for Mardocheus was bent on convincing me that he was no miser.
I spent the afternoon with the consul, and arranged that I should go on a Neapolitan man-of-war which was in quarantine at the time, and was to sail for Trieste.
As I should be obliged to pass another month at Ancona, I blessed the storm that had driven me back.
I gave the consul the gold snuff-box with which the Elector of Cologne had presented me, keeping the portrait as a memento. Three days later he handed me forty gold sequins, which was ample for my needs.
My stay in Ancona was costing me dear; but when I told Mardocheus that I should not be going for another month he declared he would no longer feed at my expense. Of course I did not insist. Leah still dined with me.
It has always been my opinion, though perhaps I may be mistaken, that the Jew was perfectly well aware of my relations with his daughter. Jews are usually very liberal on this article, possibly because they count on the child being an Israelite.
I took care that my dear Leah should have no reason to repent of our connection. How grateful and affectionate she was when I told her that I meant to stay another month! How she blessed the bad weather which had driven me back. We slept together every night, not excepting those nights forbidden by the laws of Moses.
I gave her the little gold heart, which might be worth ten sequins, but that would be no reward for the care she had taken of my linen. She also made me accept some splendid Indian handkerchiefs. Six years later I met her again at Pesaro.
I left Ancona on November 14th, and on the 15th I was at Trieste.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07