"Ah, that's better! Tell your future husband that if he likes me to be the patron of the wedding I will pay for everything."
"Yes, really. I will give him twenty-five sequins on the condition that he spends it all on the wedding."
"Twenty-five sequins! That will make people talk; but what care we? I will give you an answer to-morrow."
"And a kiss now?"
"With all my heart."
Zenobia went away in great delight, and I went out to call on my banker and dear Therese.
When the door was opened the pretty maid recognized me, and taking me by the hand led me to her mistress, who was just going to get up. Her emotion at seeing me was so great that she could not utter a word, but only claps me to her breast.
Our natural transports over, Therese told me that she had got tired of her husband, and that for the last six months they had not been living together. She had made him an allowance to get rid of him, and he lived on it at Rome.
"And where is Cesarino?"
"In this town. You can see him whenever you like."
"Are you happy?"
"Quite. People say that I have a lover, but it is not true; and you can see me at any time with perfect liberty."
We spent two pleasant hours in telling each other of our experiences since our last meeting, and then, finding her as fresh and fair as in the season of our early loves, I asked her if she had vowed to be faithful to her husband.
"At Florence," she replied, "I was still in love with him; but now, if I am still pleasing in your eyes, we can renew our connection, and live together till we die."
"I will soon shew you, darling, that I love you as well as ever."
She answered only by giving herself up to my embrace.
After action and contemplation I left her as amorous as she had been eighteen years before, but my passion found too many new objects to remain constant long.
Countess A—— B—— began to be more polite. "I know where you have been," said she, with a pleased air; "but if you love that person, you will not go and see her again, or else her lover will leave her."
"Then I would take his place, madam."
"You are right in amusing yourself with women who know how to earn your presents. I am aware that you never give anything till you have received evident proofs of their affection."
"That has always been my principle."
"It's an excellent way to avoid being duped. The lover of the person you have been with kept a lady in society for some time in great splendour, but all the rest of us despised her."
"Why so, if you please?"
"Because she lowered herself so terribly. Greppi is absolutely a man of no family whatever."
Without expressing my surprise at the name of Greppi, I replied that a man need not be well born to be an excellent lover.
"The only thing needful," said I, "is a fine physique and plenty of money, and those ladies who despised their friend were either ridiculously proud or abominably envious. I have not the slightest doubt that if they could find any more Gieppis they would be willing enough to lower themselves."
She would doubtless have made a sharp reply, for what I had said had angered her; but the Marquis Triulzi arriving, she went out with him, while her husband and myself went to a place where there was a bank at faro, the banker only having a hundred sequins before him.
I took a card and staked small sums like the rest of the company. After losing twenty ducats I left the place.
As we were going to the opera the poor count told me I had made him lose ten ducats on his word of honour, and that he did not know how he could pay it by the next day. I pitied him, and gave him the money without a word; for misery has always appealed strongly to me. Afterwards I lost two hundred ducats at the same bank to which I had lost money the evening before. The count was in the greatest distress. He did not know that Greppi, whom his proud wife considered so worthless, had a hundred thousand francs of my money, and that I possessed jewellery to an even greater amount.
The countess, who had seen me lose, asked me if I would sell my beautiful dress.
"They say it's worth a thousand sequins," said she.
"Yes, that is so; but I would sell everything I possess before parting with any of the articles which I intend for the fair sex."
"Marquis Triulzi wants it badly to present to someone."
"I am very sorry, but I cannot sell it to him."
She went away without a word, but I could see that she was exceedingly vexed at my refusal.
As I was leaving the opera-house I saw Therese getting into her sedan-chair. I went up to her, and told her that I was sure she was going to sup with her lover. She whispered in my ear that she was going to sup by herself, and that I might come if I dared. I gave her an agreeable surprise by accepting the invitation.
"I will expect you, then," she said.
I asked the count to ride home in my carriage, and taking a chair I reached Therese's house just as she was going in.
What a happy evening we had! We laughed heartily when we told each other our thoughts.
"I know you were in love with Countess A—— B——," said she, "and I felt sure you would not dare to come to supper with me."
"And I thought I should confound you by accepting your invitation, as I knew Greppi was your lover."
"He is my friend," she replied. "If he loves me in any other way than that of friendship, I pity him, for as yet he has not discovered the secret of seduction."
"Do you think he ever will?"
"No, I don't. I am rich."
"Yes, but he is richer than you."
"I know that, but I think he loves his money better than he loves me."
"I understand. You will make him happy if he loves you well enough to ruin himself."
"That is it, but it will never come to pass. But here we are, together again after a divorce of nearly twenty years. I don't think you will find any change in me."
"That is a privilege which nature grants to the fair sex only. You will find me changed, but you will be able to work miracles."
This was a piece of politeness, for she was hardly capable of working any miracle. However, after an excellent supper, we spent two hours in amorous raptures, and then Morpheus claimed us for his own. When we awoke I did not leave her before giving her a good day equal to the good night which had sent us to sleep.
When I got back I found the fair Zenobia, who said the tailor was ready to marry her next Sunday if my offer was not a joke.
"To convince you of the contrary," said I, "here are the twenty-five sequins."
Full of gratitude she let herself fall into my arms, and I covered her mouth and her beautiful bosom with my fiery kisses. Therese had exhausted me, so I did not go any further, but the girl no doubt attributed my self-restraint to the fact that the door was open. I dressed carefully, and made myself look less weary, and to freshen myself up I had a long drive in an open carriage.
When I returned, I found the Marquis of Triulzi teasing the countess as usual. On that day he furnished the dinner, and it was consequently, a very good one.