brow by saying that as soon as I got the money for the dress I would take it to the countess.
"I have spoken to her about it," said he, "and your proposal made her laugh; but I am sure she will make up her mind when she finds herself in possession of the dress."
It was a Friday. The marquis sent in an excellent fish dinner, and came himself soon after with the dress in a basket. The present was made with all ceremony, and the proud countess was profuse in her expressions of thanks, which the giver received coolly enough, as if accustomed to that kind of thing. However, he ended by the no means flattering remark that if she had any sense she would sell it, as everybody knew she was too poor to wear it. This suggestion by no means met with her approval. She abused him to her heart's content, and told him he must be a great fool to give her a dress which he considered unsuitable to her.
They were disputing warmly when the Marchioness Menafoglio was announced. As soon as she came in her eyes were attracted by the dress, which was stretched over a chair, and finding it superb she exclaimed,
"I would gladly buy that dress."
"I did not buy it to sell again," said the countess, sharply.
"Excuse me," replied the marchioness, "I thought it was for sale, and I am sorry it is not."
The marquis, who was no lover of dissimulation, began to laugh, and the countess, fearing he would cover her with ridicule, hastened to change the conversation. But when the marchioness was gone the countess gave reins to her passion, and scolded the marquis bitterly for having laughed. However, he only replied by remarks which, though exquisitely polite, had a sting in them; and at last the lady said she was tired, and was going to lie down.
When she had left the room the marquis gave me the fifteen thousand francs, telling me that they would bring me good luck at Canano's.
"You are a great favourite of Canano's," he added, "and he wants you to come and dine with him. He can't ask you to supper, as he is obliged to spend his nights in the assembly-rooms."
"Tell him I will come any day he likes except the day after to-morrow, when I have to go to a wedding at the 'Apple Garden.'"
"I congratulate you," said the count and the marquis together, "it will no doubt be very pleasant."
"I expect to enjoy myself heartily there."
"Could not we come, too?"
"Do you really want to?"
"Then I will get you an invitation from the fair bride herself on the condition that the countess comes as well. I must warn you that the company will consist of honest people of the lower classes, and I cannot have them humiliated in any way."
"I will persuade the countess," said Triulzi.
"To make your task an easier one, I may as well tell you that the wedding is that of the fair Zenobia."
"Bravo! I am sure the countess will come to that."
The count went out, and shortly reappeared with Zenobia. The marquis congratulated her, and encouraged her to ask the countess to the wedding. She seemed doubtful, so the marquis took her by the hand and let her into the proud Spaniard's room. In half an hour they returned informing us that my lady had deigned to accept the invitation.
When the marquis had gone, the count told me that I might go and keep his wife company, if I had nothing better to do, and that he would see to some business.
"I have the thousand sequins in my pocket," I remarked, "and if I find her reasonable, I will leave them with her."
"I will go and speak to her first."
While the count was out of the room, I exchanged the thousand sequins for the fifteen thousand francs in bank notes which Greppi had given me.
I was just shutting up my cash-box when Zenobia came in with my lace cuffs. She asked me if I would like to buy a piece of lace. I replied in the affirmative, and she went out and brought it me.
I liked the lace, and bought it for eighteen sequins, and said,—
"This lace is yours, dearest Zenobia, if you will content me this moment."
"I love you well, but I should be glad if you would wait till after my marriage."
"No, dearest, now or never. I cannot wait. I shall die if you do not grant my prayer. Look! do you not see what a state I am in?"
"I see it plainly enough, but it can't be done."
"Why not? Are you afraid of your husband noticing the loss of your maidenhead?"
"Not I, and if he did I shouldn't care. I promise you if he dared to reproach me, he should not have me at all."
"Well said, for my leavings are too good for him. Come quick!"
"But you will shut the door, at least?"
"No, the noise would be heard, and might give rise to suspicion. Nobody will come in."
With these words I drew her towards me, and finding her as gentle as a lamb and as loving as a dove, the amorous sacrifice was offered with abundant libations on both sides. After the first ecstacy was over, I proceeded to examine her beauties, and with my usual amorous frenzy told her that she should send her tailor out to graze and live with me. Fortunately she did not believe in the constancy of my passion. After a second assault I rested, greatly astonished that the count had not interrupted our pleasures. I thought he must have gone out, and I told Zenobia my opinion, whereon she overwhelmed me with caresses. Feeling at my ease, I set her free from her troublesome clothes, and gave myself up to toying with her in a manner calculated to arouse the exhausted senses; and then for the third time we were clasped to each other's arms, while I made Zenobia put herself into the many attitudes which I knew from experience as most propitious to the voluptuous triumph.
We were occupied a whole hour in these pleasures, but Zenobia, in the flower of her age and a novice, poured forth many more libations than I.
Just as I lost life for the third time, and Zenobia for the fourteenth, I heard the count's voice. I told my sweetheart, who had heard it as well, and after we had dressed hastily I gave her the eighteen sequins, and she left the room.
A moment after the count came in laughing, and said,—
"I have been watching you all the time by this chink" (which he shewed me), "and I have found it very amusing."
"I am delighted to hear it, but keep it to yourself."
"Of course, of course."
"My wife," said he, "will be very pleased to see you; and I," he added, "shall be very pleased as well."
"You are a philosophical husband," said I, "but I am afraid after the exercises you witnessed the countess will find me rather slow."
"Not at all, the recollection will make it all the pleasanter for you."
"Mentally perhaps, but in other respects . . ."
"Oh! you will manage to get out of it."
"My carriage is at your service, as I shall not be going out for the rest of the day."
I softly entered the countess's room and finding her in bed enquired affectionately after her health.
"I am very well," said she, smiling agreeably, "my husband has done me good."
I had seated myself quietly on the bed, and she had shewn no vexation; certainly a good omen.
"Aren't you going out any more to-day?" said she, "you have got your dressing-gown on."