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“Who knows? You don’t know me, Redegonde. I do not care to indulge myself in idle hopes, and I thought I had spoken to you plainly enough.”
Feeling angry, and vowing to have no more to do with this strange girl, I supped with Therese, and spent three delightful hours with her. I had a great deal of writing to do the next day and kept in doors, and in the evening I had a visit from the young Corticelli, her mother and brother.
She begged me to keep my promise regarding the manager of the theatre, who would not let her dance the ‘pas de deux’ stipulated for in the agreement.
“Come and breakfast with me to-morrow morning,” said I, “and I will speak to the Israelite in your presence–at least I will do so if he comes.”
“I love you very much,” said the young wanton, “can’t I stop a little longer here.”
“You may stop as long as you like, but as I have got some letters to finish, I must ask you to excuse my entertaining you.”
“Oh! just as you please.”
I told Costa to give her some supper.
I finished my letters and felt inclined for a little amus.e.m.e.nt, so I made the girl sit by me and proceeded to toy with her, but in such a way that her mother could make no objection. All at once the brother came up and tried to join in the sport, much to my astonishment.
“Get along with you,” said I, “you are not a girl.”
At this the young scoundrel proceeded to shew me his s.e.x, but in such an indecent fashion that his sister, who was sitting on my knee, burst out laughing and took refuge with her mother, who was sitting at the other end of the room in grat.i.tude for the good supper I had given her. I rose from my chair, and after giving the impudent pederast a box on the ear I asked the mother with what intentions she had brought the young rascal to my house. By way of reply the infamous woman said,–
“He’s a pretty lad, isn’t he?”
I gave him a ducat for the blow I had given him, and told the mother to begone, as she disgusted me. The pathic took my ducat, kissed my hand, and they all departed.
I went to bed feeling amused at the incident, and wondering at the wickedness of a mother who would prost.i.tute her own son to the basest of vices.
Next morning I sent and asked the Jew to call on me. The Corticelli came with her mother, and the Jew soon after, just as we were going to breakfast.
I proceeded to explain the grievance of the young dancer, and I read the agreement he had made with her, telling him politely that I could easily force him to fulfil it. The Jew put in several excuses, of which the Corticelli demonstrated the futility. At last the son of Judah was forced to give in, and promised to speak to the ballet-master the same day, in order that she might dance the ‘pas’ with the actor she named.
“And that, I hope, will please your excellency,” he added, with a low bow, which is not often a proof of sincerity, especially among Jews.
When my guests had taken leave I went to the Abbe Gama, to dine with Marshal Botta who had asked us to dinner. I made the acquaintance there of Sir Mann, the English amba.s.sador, who was the idol of Florence, very rich, of the most pleasing manners although an Englishman; full of wit, taste, and a great lover of the fine arts. He invited me to come next day and see his house and garden. In this home he had made–furniture, pictures, choice books–all shewed the man of genius. He called on me, asked me to dinner, and had the politeness to include Therese, her husband, and Cesarino in the invitation. After dinner my son sat down at the clavier and delighted the company by his exquisite playing. While we were talking of likenesses, Sir Mann shewed us some miniatures of great beauty.
Before leaving, Therese told me that she had been thinking seriously of me.
“In what respect?” I asked.
“I have told Redegonde that I am going to call for her, that I will keep her to supper, and have her taken home. You must see that this last condition is properly carried out. Come to supper too, and have your carriage in waiting. I leave the rest to you. You will only be a few minutes with her, but that’s something; and the first step leads far.”
“An excellent plan. I will sup with you, and my carriage shall be ready.
I will tell you all about it to-morrow.”
I went to the house at nine o’clock, and was welcomed as an unexpected guest. I told Redegonde that I was glad to meet her, and she replied that she had not hoped to have the pleasure of seeing me. Redegonde was the only one who had any appet.i.te; she ate capitally, and laughed merrily at the stories I told her.
After supper Therese asked her if she would like to have a sedan-chair sent for, or if she would prefer to be taken back in my carriage.
“If the gentleman will be so kind,” said she, “I need not send for a chair.”
I thought this reply of such favourable omen that I no longer doubted of my success. After she had wished the others good night, she took my arm, pressing it as she did so; we went down the stairs, and she got into the carriage. I got in after her, and on attempting to sit down I found the place taken.
“Who is that?” I cried.
Redegonde burst out laughing, and informed me it was her mother.
I was done; I could not summon up courage to pa.s.s it off as a jest.
Such a shock makes a man stupid; for a moment it numbs all the mental faculties, and wounded self-esteem only gives place to anger.
I sat down on the front seat and coldly asked the mother why she had not come up to supper with us. When the carriage stopped at their door, she asked me to come in, but I told her I would rather not. I felt that for a little more I would have boxed her ears, and the man at the house door looked very like a cut-throat.
I felt enraged and excited physically as well as mentally, and though I had never been to see the Corticelli, told the coachman to drive there immediately, as I felt sure of finding her well disposed. Everybody was gone to bed. I knocked at the door till I got an answer, I gave my name, and I was let in, everything being in total darkness. The mother told me she would light a candle, and that if she had expected me she would have waited up in spite of the cold. I felt as if I were in the middle of an iceberg. I heard the girl laughing, and going up to the bed and pa.s.sing my hand over it I came across some plain tokens of the masculine gender.
I had got hold of her brother. In the meanwhile the mother had got a candle, and I saw the girl with the bedclothes up to her chin, for, like her brother, she was as naked as my hand. Although no Puritan, I was shocked.
“Why do you allow this horrible union?” I said to the mother.
“What harm is there? They are brother and sister.”
“That’s just what makes it a criminal matter.”
“Everything is perfectly innocent.”
“Possibly; but it’s not a good plan.”
The pathic escaped from the bed and crept into his mother’s, while the little wanton told me there was really no harm, as they only loved each other as brother and sister, and that if I wanted her to sleep by herself all I had to do was to get her a new bed. This speech, delivered with arch simplicity, in her Bolognese jargon, made me laugh with all my heart, for in the violence of her gesticulations she had disclosed half her charms, and I saw nothing worth looking at. In spite of that, it was doubtless decreed that I should fall in love with her skin, for that was all she had.
If I had been alone I should have brought matters to a crisis on the spot, but I had a distaste to the presence of her mother and her scoundrelly brother. I was afraid lest some unpleasant scenes might follow. I gave her ten ducats to buy a bed, said good night, and left the house. I returned to my lodging, cursing the too scrupulous mothers of the opera girls.
I pa.s.sed the whole of the next morning with Sir Mann, in his gallery, which contained some exquisite paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and engraved gems. On leaving him, I called on Therese and informed her of my misadventure of the night before. She laughed heartily at my story, and I laughed too, in spite of a feeling of anger due to my wounded self-esteem.
“You must console yourself,” said she; “you will not find much difficulty in filling the place in your affections.”
“Ah! why are you married?”
“Well, it’s done; and there’s no helping it. But listen to me. As you can’t do without someone, take up with the Corticelli; she’s as good as any other woman, and won’t keep you waiting long.”
On my return to my lodging, I found the Abbe Gama, whom I had invited to dinner, and he asked me if I would accept a post to represent Portugal at the approaching European Congress at Augsburg. He told me that if I did the work well, I could get anything I liked at Lisbon.
“I am ready to do my best,” said I; “you have only to write to me, and I will tell you where to direct your letters.” This proposal made me long to become a diplomatist.
In the evening I went to the opera-house and spoke to the ballet-master, the dancer who was to take part in the ‘pas de deux’, and to the Jew, who told me that my protegee should be satisfied in two or three days, and that she should perform her favourite ‘pas’ for the rest of the carnival. I saw the Corticelli, who told me she had got her bed, and asked me to come to supper. I accepted the invitation, and when the opera was over I went to her house.
Her mother, feeling sure that I would pay the bill, had ordered an excellent supper for four, and several flasks of the best Florence wine.
Besides that, she gave me a bottle of the wine called Oleatico, which I found excellent. The three Corticellis unaccustomed to good fare and wine, ate like a troop, and began to get intoxicated. The mother and son went to bed without ceremony, and the little wanton invited me to follow their example. I should have liked to do so, but I did not dare. It was very cold and there was no fire in the room, there was only one blanket on the bed, and I might have caught a bad cold, and I was too fond of my good health to expose myself to such a danger. I therefore satisfied myself by taking her on my knee, and after a few preliminaries she abandoned herself to my transports, endeavouring to persuade me that I had got her maidenhead. I pretended to believe her, though I cared very little whether it were so or not.
I left her after I had repeated the dose three or four times, and gave her fifty sequins, telling her to get a good wadded coverlet and a large brazier, as I wanted to sleep with her the next night.
Next morning I received an extremely interesting letter from Gren.o.ble.
M. de Valenglard informed me that the fair Mdlle. Roman, feeling convinced that her horoscope would never come true unless she went to Paris, had gone to the capital with her aunt.
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