Part 4 out of 4
"You do me too much honour, count, there is nothing wonderful
about me, except that I execute easily an easy task."
"Yes; but you will confess that a thing may be difficult from the
way in which we regard it, or from the position in which we find
"You are quite right."
When we were again on our way the countess said,--
"You must confess, sir, that you are a very fortunate man."
"I do not deny it, my dear countess, but my happiness is due to
the company I find myself in; if you were to expel me from yours,
I should be miserable"
"You are not the kind of man to be expelled from any society."
"That is a very kindly compliment."
"Say, rather, a very true one."
"I am happy to hear you say so, but it would be both foolish and
presumptuous for me to say so myself."
Thus we made merry on our way, above all at the expense of the
canon, who had been begging the countess to intercede with me to
give him leave to absent himself half an hour.
"I want to call on a lady," said he; "I should lose her favour
forever if she came to know that I had been in Milan without
paying her a visit."
"You must submit to the conditions," replied the amiable countess,
"so don't count on my intercession."
We got to Milan exactly at noon, and stepped out at the pastry-
cook's door. The landlady begged the countess to confide her
child to her care, and shewed her a bosom which proved her
fruitfulness. This offer was made at the foot of the stairs, and
the countess accepted it with charming grace and dignity. It was
a delightful episode, which chance had willed should adorn the
entertainment I had invented. Everybody seemed happy, but I was
the happiest of all. Happiness is purely a creature of the
imagination. If you wish to be happy fancy that you are so,
though I confess that circumstances favourable to this state are
often beyond our control. On the other hand, unfavourable
circumstances are mostly the result of our own mistakes.
The countess took my arm, and we led the way into my room which I
found exquisitely neat and clean. As I had expected, Zenobia was
there, but I was surprised to see Croce's mistress, looking very
pretty; however, I pretended not to know her. She was well
dressed, and her face, free from the sadness it had borne before,
was so seductive in its beauty, that I felt vexed at her
appearance at that particular moment.
"Here are two pretty girls," said the countess. "Who are you,
"We are the chevalier's humble servants," said Zenobia, "and we
are here only to wait on you."
Zenobia had taken it on herself to bring her lodger, who began to
speak Italian, and looked at me in doubt, fearing that I was
displeased at her presence. I had to reassure her by saying I was
very glad she had come with Zenobia. These words were as balm to
her heart; she smiled again, and became more beautiful than ever.
I felt certain that she would not remain unhappy long; it was
impossible to behold her without one's interest being excited in
her favour. A bill signed by the Graces can never be protested;
anyone with eyes and a heart honours it at sight.
My humble servants took the ladies' cloaks and followed them into
the bedroom, where the three dresses were laid out on a table. I
only knew the white satin and lace, for that was the only one I
had designed. The countess, who walked before her sisters, was
the first to notice it, and exclaimed,--
"What a lovely dress! To whom does it belong, M. de Seingalt?
You ought to know."
"Certainly. It belongs to your husband who can do what he likes
with it, and I hope, if he gives it you, you will take it. Take
it, count; it is yours; and if you refuse I will positively kill
"We love you too well to drive you to an act of despair. The idea
is worthy of your nobility of heart. I take your beautiful
present with one hand, and with the other I deliver it to her to
whom it really belongs."
"What, dear husband! is this beautiful dress really mine? Whom
am I to thank? I thank you both, and I must put it on for
The two others were not made of such rich materials, but they were
more showy, and I was delighted to see Clementine's longing gaze
fixed upon the one I had intended for her. Eleanore in her turn
admired the dress that had been made for her. The first was in
shot satin, and ornamented with lovely wreaths of flowers; the
second was sky-blue satin, with a thousand flowers scattered all
over it. Zenobia took upon herself to say that the first was for
"How do you know?"
"It is the longer, and you are taller than your sister."
"That is true. It is really mine, then?" said she, turning to me.
"If I may hope that you will deign to accept it."
"Surely, dear Iolas, and I will put it on directly."
Eleanore maintained that her dress was the prettier, and said she
was dying to put it on.
"Very good, very good!" I exclaimed, in high glee, "we will leave
you to dress, and here are your maids."
I went out with the two brothers and the canon, and I remarked
that they looked quite confused. No doubt they were pondering the
prodigality of gamesters; light come, light go. I did not
interrupt their thoughts, for I loved to astonish people. I
confess it was a feeling of vanity which raised me above my
fellow-men-at least, in my own eyes, but that was enough for me.
I should have despised anyone who told me that I was laughed at,
but I daresay it was only the truth.
I was in the highest spirits, and they soon proved infectious. I
embraced Count Ambrose affectionately, begging his pardon for
having presumed to make the family a few small presents, and I
thanked his brother for having introduced me to them. "You have
all given me such a warm welcome," I added, "that I felt obliged
to give you some small proof of my gratitude."
The fair countesses soon appeared, bedecked with smiles and their
"You must have contrived to take our measures," said they; "but we
cannot imagine how you did it."
"The funniest thing is," said the eldest, "that you have had my
dress made so that it can be let out when necessary without
destroying the shape. But what a beautiful piece of trimming! It
is worth four times as much as the dress itself."
Clementine could not keep away from the looking-glass. She
fancied that in the colours of her dress, rose and green, I had
indicated the characteristics of the youthful Hebe. Eleanore
still maintained that her dress was the prettiest of all.
I was delighted with the pleasure of my fair guests, and we sat
down to table with excellent appetites. The dinner was extremely
choice; but the finest dish of all was a dish of oysters, which
the landlord had dressed a la maitre d'hotel. We enjoyed them
immensely. We finished off three hundred of them, for the ladies
relished them extremely, and the canon seemed to have an
insatiable appetite; and we washed down the dishes with numerous
bottles of champagne. We stayed at table for three hours,
drinking, singing, and jesting, while my humble servants, whose
beauty almost rivalled that of my guests, waited upon us.
Towards the end of the meal the pastry-cook's wife came in with
the countess's baby on her breast. This was a dramatic stroke.
The mother burst into a cry of joy, and the woman seemed quite
proud of having suckled the scion of so illustrious a house for
nearly four hours. It is well known that women, even more than
men, are wholly under the sway of the imagination. Who can say
that this woman, simple and honest like the majority of the lower
classes, did not think that her own offspring would be ennobled by
being suckled at the breast which had nourished a young count?
Such an idea is, no doubt, foolish, but that is the very reason
why it is dear to the hearts of the people.
We spent another hour in taking coffee and punch, and then the
ladies went to change their clothes again. Zenobia took care that
their new ones should be carefully packed in cardboard boxes and
placed under the seat of my carriage.
Croce's abandoned mistress found an opportunity of telling me that
she was very happy with Zenobia. She asked me when we were to go.
"You will be at Marseilles," said I, pressing her hand,
"a fortnight after Easter at latest."
Zenobia had told me that the girl had an excellent heart, behaved
very discreetly, and that she should be very sorry to see her go.
I gave Zenobia twelve sequins for the trouble she had taken.
I was satisfied with everything and paid the worthy pastry-cook's
bill. I noticed we had emptied no less than twenty bottles of
champagne, though it is true that we drank very little of any
other wine, as the ladies preferred it.
I loved and was beloved, my health was good, I had plenty of
money, which I spent freely; in fine, I was happy. I loved to say
so in defiance of those sour moralists who pretend that there is
no true happiness on this earth. It is the expression on this
earth which makes me laugh; as if it were possible to go anywhere
else in search of happiness. 'Mors ultima linea rerum est'. Yes,
death is the end of all, for after death man has no senses; but I
do not say that the soul shares the fate of the body. No one
should dogmatise on uncertainties, and after death everything is
It was seven o'clock when we began our journey home, which we
reached at midnight. The journey was so pleasant that it seemed
to us but short. The champagne, the punch, and the pleasure, had
warmed my two fair companions, and by favour of the darkness I was
able to amuse myself with them, though I loved Clementine too well
to carry matters very far with her sister.
When we alighted we wished each other good night, and everybody
retired to his or her room, myself excepted, for I spent several
happy hours with Clementine, which I can never forget.
"Do you think," said she, "that I shall be happy when you have
left me all alone?"
"Dearest Hebe, both of us will be unhappy for the first few days,
but then philosophy will step in and soften the bitterness of
parting without lessening our love."
"Soften the bitterness! I do not think any philosophy can work
such a miracle. I know that you, dear sophist, will soon console
yourself with other girls. Don't think me jealous; I should abhor
myself if I thought I was capable of so vile a passion, but I should
despise myself if I was capable of seeking consolation in your
"I shall be in despair if you entertain such ideas of me."
"They are natural, however."
"Possibly. What you call 'other girls' can never expel your image
from my breast. The chief of them is the wife of a tailor, and
the other is a respectable young woman, whom I am going to take
back to Marseilles, whence she has been decoyed by her wretched
"From henceforth to death, you and you alone will reign in my
breast; and if, led astray by my senses, I ever press another in
these arms, I shall soon be punished for an act of infidelity in
which my mind will have no share."
"I at all events will never need to repent in that fashion. But I
cannot understand how, with your love for me, and holding me in
your arms, you can even contemplate the possibility of becoming
unfaithful to me."
"I don't contemplate it, dearest, I merely take it as an
"I don't see much difference."
What reply could I make? There was reason in what Clementine
said, though she was deceived, but her mistakes were due to her
love. My love was so ardent as to be blind to possible--nay,
certain, infidelities. The only circumstance which made me more
correct in my estimate of the future than she, was that this was
by no means my first love affair. But if my readers have been in
the same position, as I suppose mast of them have, they will
understand how difficult it is to answer such arguments coming
from a woman one wishes to render happy. The keenest wit has to
remain silent and to take refuge in kisses.
"Would you like to take me away with you?" said she, "I am ready
to follow you, and it would make me happy. If you love me, you
ought to be enchanted for your own sake. Let us make each other
"I could not dishonour your family."
"Do you not think me worthy of becoming your wife?"
"You are worthy of a crown, and it is I who am all unworthy of
possessing such a wife. You must know that I have nothing in the
world except my fortune, and that may leave me to-morrow. By
myself I do not dread the reverses of fortune, but I should be
wretched if, after linking your fate with mine, you were forced to
undergo any privation."
"I think--I know not why--that you can never be unfortunate, and
that you cannot be happy without me. Your love is not so ardent
as mine; you have not so great a faith."
"My angel, if my fate is weaker than yours, that is the result of
cruel experience which makes me tremble for the future.
Affrighted love loses its strength but gains reason."
"Cruel reason! Must we, then, prepare to part?"
"We must indeed, dearest; it is a hard necessity, but my heart
will still be thine. I shall go away your fervent adorer, and if
fortune favours me in England you will see me again next year. I
will buy an estate wherever you like, and it shall be yours on
your wedding day, our children and literature will be our
"What a happy prospect!--a golden vision indeed! I would that I
might fall asleep dreaming thus, and wake not till that blessed
day, or wake only to die if it is not to be. But what shall I do
if you have left me with child?"
"Divine Hebe, you need not fear. I have managed that."
"Managed? I did not think of that, but I see what you mean, and I
am very much obliged to you. Alas perhaps after all it would have
been better if you had not taken any precautions, for surely you
are not born for my misfortune, and you could never have abandoned
the mother and the child."
"You are right, sweetheart, and if before two months have elapsed
you find any signs of pregnancy in spite of my precautions, you
have only to write to me, and whatever my fortunes may be, I will
give you my hand and legitimise our offspring. You would
certainly be marrying beneath your station, but you would not be
the less happy for that, would you?"
"No, no! to bear your name, and to win your hand would be the
crowning of all my hopes. I should never repent of giving myself
wholly to you."
"You make me happy."
"All of us love you, all say that you are happy, and that you
deserve your happiness. What praise is this! You cannot tell how
my heart beats when I hear you lauded when you are away. When
they say I love you, I answer that I adore you, and you know that
I do not lie."
It was with such dialogues that we passed away the interval
between our amorous transports on the last five or six nights of
my stay. Her sister slept, or pretended to sleep. When I left
Clementine I went to bed and did not rise till late, and then I
spent the whole day with her either in private or with the family.
It was a happy time. How could I, as free as the air, a perfect
master of my movements, of my own free will put my happiness away
from me? I cannot understand it now.
My luck had made me win all the worthy canon's money, which in
turn I passed on to the family at the castle. Clementine alone
would not profit by my inattentive play, but the last two days I
insisted on taking her into partnership, and as the canon's bad
luck still continued she profited to the extent of a hundred
louis. The worthy monk lost a thousand sequins, of which seven
hundred remained in the family. This was paying well for the
hospitality I had received, and as it was at the expense of the
monk, though a worthy one, the merit was all the greater.
The last night, which I spent entirely with the countess, was very
sad; we must have died of grief if we had not taken refuge in the
transports of love. Never was night better spent. Tears of grief
and tears of love followed one another in rapid succession, and
nine times did I offer up sacrifice on the altar of the god, who
gave me fresh strength to replace that which was exhausted. The
sanctuary was full of blood and tears, but the desires of the
priest and victim still cried for more. We had at last to make an
effort and part. Eleanore had seized the opportunity of our
sleeping for a few moments, and had softly risen and left us
alone. We felt grateful to her, and agreed that she must either
be very insensitive or have suffered torments in listening to our
voluptuous combats. I left Clementine to her ablutions, of which
she stood in great need, while I went to my room to make my
When we appeared at the breakfast, table we looked as if we had
been on the rack, and Clementine's eyes betrayed her feelings, but
our grief was respected. I could not be gay in my usual manner,
but no one asked me the reason. I promised to write to them, and
come and see them again the following year. I did write to them,
but I left off doing so at London, because the misfortunes I
experienced there made me lose all hope of seeing them again.
I never did see any of them again, but I have never forgotten
Six years later, when I came back from Spain, I heard to my great
delight that she was living happily with Count N----, whom she had
married three years after my departure. She had two sons, the
younger, who must now be twenty-seven, is in the Austrian army.
How delighted I should be to see him! When I heard of
Clementine's happiness, it was, as I have said, on my return from
Spain, and my fortunes were at a low ebb. I went to see what I
could do at Leghorn, and as I went through Lombardy I passed four
miles from the estate where she and her husband resided, but I had
not the courage to go and see her; perhaps I was right. But I
must return to the thread of my story.
I felt grateful to Eleanore for her kindness to us, and I had
resolved to leave her some memorial of me. I took her apart for a
moment, and drawing a fine cameo, representing the god of Silence,
off my finger, I placed it on hers, and then rejoined the company,
without giving her an opportunity to thank me.
The carriage was ready to take me away, and everyone was waiting
to see me off, but my eyes filled with tears. I sought for
Clementine in vain; she had vanished. I pretended to have
forgotten something in my room, and going to my Hebe's chamber I
found her in a terrible state, choking with sobs. I pressed her
to my breast, and mingled my tears with hers; and then laying her
gently in her bed, and snatching a last kiss from her trembling
lips, I tore myself away from a place full of such sweet and
I thanked and embraced everyone, the good canon amongst others,
and whispering to Eleanore to see to her sister I jumped into the
carriage beside the count. We remained perfectly silent, and
slept nearly the whole of the way. We found the Marquis Triulzi
and the countess together, and the former immediately sent for a
dinner for four. I was not much astonished to find that the
countess had found out about our being at Milan, and at first she
seemed inclined to let us feel the weight of her anger; but the
count, always fertile in expedients, told her that it was delicacy
on my part not to tell her, as I was afraid she would be put out
with such an incursion of visitors.
At dinner I said that I should soon be leaving for Genoa, and for
my sorrow the marquis gave me a letter of introduction to the
notorious Signora Isola-Bella, while the countess gave me a letter
to her kinsman the Bishop of Tortona.
My arrival at Milan was well-timed; Therese was on the point of
going to Palermo, and I just succeeded in seeing her before she
left. I talked to her of the wish of Cesarino to go to sea, and I
did all in my power to make her yield to his inclinations.
"I am leaving him at Milan," said she. "I know how he got this
idea into his head, but I will never give my consent. I hope I
shall find him wiser by the time I come back."
She was mistaken. My son never altered his mind, and in fifteen
years my readers will hear more of him.
I settled my accounts with Greppi and took two bills of exchange
on Marseilles, and one of ten thousand francs on Genoa, where I
did not think I would have to spend much money. In spite of my
luck at play, I was poorer by a thousand sequins when I left Milan
than when I came there; but my extravagant expenditure must be
taken into account.
I spent all my afternoons with the fair Marchioness sometimes
alone and sometimes with her cousin, but with my mind full of
grief for Clementine she no longer charmed me as she had done
three weeks ago.
I had no need to make any mystery about the young lady I was going
to take with me, so I sent Clairmont for her small trunk, and at
eight o'clock on the morning of my departure she waited on me at
the count's. I kissed the hand of the woman who had attempted my
life, and thanked her for her hospitality, to which I attributed
the good reception I had had at Milan. I then thanked the count,
who said once more that he should never cease to be grateful to
me, and thus I left Milan on the 20th of March, 1763. I never re-
visited that splendid capital.
The young lady, whom out of respect for her and her family I
called Crosin, was charming. There was an air of nobility and
high-bred reserve about her which bore witness to her excellent
upbringing. As I sat next to her, I congratulated myself on my
immunity from love of her, but the reader will guess that I was
mistaken. I told Clairmont that she was to be called my niece,
and to be treated with the utmost respect.
I had had no opportunity of conversing with her, so the first
thing I did was to test her intelligence, and though I had not the
slightest intention of paying my court to her, I felt that it
would be well to inspire her with friendship and confidence as far
as I was concerned.
The scar which my late amours had left was still bleeding, and I
was glad to think that I should be able to restore the young
Marseillaise to the paternal hearth without any painful partings
or vain regrets. I enjoyed in advance my meritorious action, and
I was quite vain to see my self-restraint come to such a pitch
that I was able to live in close intimacy with a pretty girl
without any other desire than that of rescuing her from the shame
into which she might have fallen if she had traveled alone. She
felt my kindness to her, and said,--
"I am sure M. de la Croix would not have abandoned me if he had
not met you at Milan."
"You are very charitable, but I am unable to share in your good
opinion. To my mind Croce has behaved in a rascally manner, to
say the least of it, for in spite of your many charms he had no
right to count on me in the matter. I will not say that he openly
scorned you, since he might have acted from despair; but I am sure
he must have ceased to love you, or he could never have abandoned
"I am sure of the contrary. He saw that he had no means of
providing for me, and he had to choose between leaving me and
"Not at all. He ought to have sold all he had and sent you back
to Marseilles. Your journey to Genoa would not have cost much,
and thence you could have gone to Marseilles by sea. Croce
counted on my having been interested in your pretty face, and he
was right; but you must see that he exposed you to a great risk.
You must not be offended if I tell you the plain truth. If your
face had not inspired me with a lively interest in you, I should
have only felt ordinary compassion on reading your appeal, and
this would not have been enough to force me to great sacrifices of
time and trouble. But I have no business to be blaming Croce.
You are hurt; I see you are still in love with him."
"I confess it, and I pity him. As for myself, I only pity my
cruel destiny. I shall never see him again, but I shall never
love anyone else, for my mind is made up. I shall go into a
convent and expiate my sins. My father will pardon me, for he is
a man of an excellent heart. I have been the victim of love; my
will was not my own. The seductive influence of passion ravished
my reason from me, and the only thing that I blame myself for is
for not having fortified my mind against it. Otherwise I cannot
see that I have sinned deeply, but I confess I have done wrong."
"You would have gone with Croce from Milan if he had asked you,
even on foot."
"Of course; it would have been my duty; but he would not expose me
to the misery that he saw before us."
"Nay, you were miserable enough already. I am sure that if you
meet him at Marseilles you will go with him again."
"Never. I begin to get back my reason. I am free once more, and
the day will come when I shall thank God for having forgotten
Her sincerity pleased me, and as I knew too well the power of love
I pitied her from my heart. For two hours she told me the history
of her unfortunate amour, and as she told it well I began to take
a liking for her.
We reached Tortona in the evening, and with the intention of
sleeping there I told Clairmont to get us a supper to my taste.
While we were eating it I was astonished at my false niece's wit,
and she made a good match for me at the meal, for she had an
excellent appetite, and drank as well as any girl of her age. As
we were leaving the table, she made a jest which was so much to
the point that I burst out laughing, and her conquest was
complete. I embraced her in the joy of my heart, and finding my
kiss ardently returned, I asked her without any, circumlocution if
she was willing that we should content ourselves with one bed.
At this invitation her face fell, and she replied, with an air of
submission which kills desire,--
"Alas! you can do what you like. If liberty is a precious thing,
it is most precious of all in love."
"There is no need for this disobedience. You have inspired me
with a tender passion, but if you don't share my feelings my love
for you shall be stifled at its birth. There are two beds here,
as you see; you can choose which one you will sleep in."
"Then I will sleep in that one, but I shall be very sorry if you
are not so kind to me in the future as you have been in the past."
"Don't be afraid. You shall not find me un worthy of your esteem.
Good night; we shall be good friends."
Early the next morning I sent the countess's letter to the bishop,
and an hour afterwards, as I was at breakfast, an old priest came
to ask me and the lady with me to dine with my lord. The
countess's letter did not say anything about a lady, but the
prelate, who was a true Spaniard and very polite, felt that as I
could not leave my real or false niece alone in the inn I should
not have accepted the invitation if she had not been asked as
well. Probably my lord had heard of the lady through his footmen,
who in Italy are a sort of spies, who entertain their masters with
the scandalous gossip of the place. A bishop wants something more
than his breviary to amuse him now that the apostolic virtues have
grown old-fashioned and out of date; in short, I accepted the
invitation, charging the priest to present my respects to his
My niece was delightful, and treated me as if I had no right to
feel any resentment for her having preferred her own bed to mine.
I was pleased with her behaviour, for now that my head was cool I
felt that she would have degraded herself if she had acted
otherwise. My vanity was not even wounded, which is so often the
case under similar circumstances. Self-love and prejudice prevent
a woman yielding till she has been assidiously courted, whereas I
had asked her to share my bed in an off-hand manner, as if it were
a mere matter of form. However, I should not have done it unless
it had been for the fumes of the champagne and the Somard, with
which we had washed down the delicious supper mine host had
supplied us with. She had been flattered by the bishop's
invitation, but she did not know whether I had accepted for her as
well as myself; and when I told her that we were going out to
dinner together, she was wild with joy. She made a careful
toilette, looking very well for a traveller, and at noon my lord's
carriage came to fetch us.
The prelate was a tall man, two inches taller than myself; and in
spite of the weight of his eighty years, he looked well and seemed
quite active, though grave as became a Spanish grandee. He
received us with a politeness which was almost French, and when my
niece would have kissed his hand, according to custom, he
affectionately drew it back, and gave her a magnificent cross of
amethysts and brilliants to kiss. She kissed it with devotion,
"This is what I love."
She looked at me as she said it, and the jest (which referred to
her lover La Croix or Croce) surprised me.
We sat down to dinner, and I found the bishop to be a pleasant and
a learned man. We were nine in all; four priests, and two young
gentlemen of the town, who behaved to my niece with great
politeness, which she received with all the manner of good
society. I noticed that the bishop, though he often spoke to her,
never once looked at her face. My lord knew what danger lurked in
those bright eyes, and like a prudent greybeard he took care not
to fall into the snare. After coffee had been served, we took
leave, and in four hours we left Tortona, intending to lie at
In the course of the afternoon my fair niece amused me with the
wit and wisdom of her conversation. While we were supping I led
the conversation up to the bishop, and then to religion, that I
might see what her principles were. Finding her to be a good
Christian, I asked her how she could allow herself to make a jest
when she kissed the prelate's cross.
"It was a mere chance," she said. "The equivocation was innocent
because it was not premeditated, for if I had thought it over I
should never have said such a thing."
I pretended to believe her; she might possibly be sincere. She
was extremely clever, and my love for her was becoming more and
more ardent, but my vanity kept my passion in check. When she
went to bed I did not kiss her, but as her bed had no screen as at
Tortona, she waited until she thought I was asleep to undress
herself. We got to Genoa by noon the next day.
Pogomas had got me some rooms and had forwarded me the address.
I visited it, and found the apartment to consist of four well-
furnished rooms, thoroughly comfortable, as the English, who
understand how to take their ease, call it. I ordered a good
dinner, and sent to tell Pogomas of my arrival.