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  • 1894
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“You console me. The country-woman assures me that you are an angel, for the powder you gave me delivered me. I shall never forget you, though I do not know your name.”

The woman then came, and I thanked her for the care she had taken of the invalid. I again warned her to be prudent, and above all to treat the priest well when the lay-sister breathed her last, and thus he would not take notice of anything that might involve leer in disaster.

“All will be well,” said she, “for no one knows if the lay-sister is well or ill, or why the lady does not leave her bed.”

“What have you done with the child?”

“I took him with my own hands to Anneci, where I bought everything necessary for the well-being of this lady and for the death of the other one.”

“Doesn’t your brother know anything about it?”

“Lord preserve us–no! He went away yesterday, and will not be back for a week. We have nothing to fear.”

I gave her another ten louis, begging her to buy some furniture, and to get me something to eat by the time I came next day. She said she had still plenty of money left, and I thought she would go mad when I told her that whatever was over was her own. I thought the invalid stood in need of rest, and I left her, promising to return at the same hour on the following day.

I longed to get this troublesome matter safely over, and I knew that I could not regard myself as out of the wood till the poor lay-sister was under the sod. I was in some fear on this account, for if the priest was not an absolute idiot he must see that the woman had been poisoned.

Next morning I went to see the fair Zeroli, and I found her and her husband examining the watch he had bought her. He came up to me, took my hand, and said he was happy that his wife had the power to keep me at Aix. I replied that it was an easy task for her, and a “bravo” was all he answered.

The chevalier was one of those men who prefer to pass for good- natured than foolish husbands. His wife took my arm, and we left him in his room while we proceeded to the fountain. On the way she said she would be alone the next day, and that she would no longer indulge her curiosity in my nocturnal excursions.

“Oh! it is you who have had me followed, is it?”

“No, it is I who followed you, but to no effect. However, I did not think you were so wicked. You frightened me dreadfully! Do you know, sir, you might have killed me if your shot had not luckily missed.”

“I missed on purpose, dearest; for though I did not suspect that it was you, I fired in the air, feeling certain that that would be enough to scare off the spies.”

“You won’t be troubled with them any more.”

“If they like to follow me, perhaps I shall let them, for my walk is quite innocent. I am always back by ten.”

While we were at table we saw a travelling carriage and six horses drawn up. It was the Marquis de Prie, with a Chevalier de St. Louis and two charming ladies, of whom one, as the Zeroli hastened to inform me, was the Marquis’s mistress. Four places were laid, and while the newcomers were waiting to be served, they were told the story of my bet with the Englishman.

The marquis congratulated me, telling me that he had not hoped to find me at Aix on his return; and here Madame Zeroli put in her word, and said that if it had not been for her he would not have seen me again. I was getting used to her foolish talk, and I could only agree with a good grace, which seemed to delight her intensely although her husband was present, but he seemed to share her triumph.

The marquis said that he would make a little bank for me, and feeling obliged to accept I soon lost a hundred louis. I went to my room to write some letters, and at twilight I set out to see my nun.

“What news have you?”

“The lay-sister is dead, and she is to be buried tomorrow. To-morrow is the day we were to have returned to the convent. This is the letter I am sending to the abbess. She will dispatch another laysister, unless she orders the country-woman to bring me back to the convent.”

“What did the priest say?”

“He said the lay-sister died of a cerebral lethargy, which super- induced an attack of apoplexy.”

“Very good, very good.”

“I want him to say fifteen masses for her, if you will let me?”

“Certainly, my dear, they will serve as the priest’s reward, or rather as the reward of his happy ignorance.”

I called the peasant woman, and gave her the order to have the masses said, and bade her tell the priest that the masses were to be said for the intention of the person who paid for them. She told me that the aspect of the dead sister was dreadful, and that she had to be guarded by two women who sprinkled her with holy water, lest witches, under the form of cats, should come and tear her limb from limb. Far from laughing at her, I told her she was quite right, and asked where she had got the laudanum.

“I got it from a worthy midwife, and old friend of mine. We got it to send the poor lay-sister to sleep when the pains of child-birth should come on.”

“When you put the child at the hospital door, were you recognized?”

“Nobody saw me as I put it into the box, and I wrote a note to say the child had not been baptized.”

“Who wrote the note?”

“I did.”

“You will, of course, see that the funeral is properly carried out?”

“It will only cost six francs, and the parson will take that from two louis which were found on the deceased; the rest will do for masses to atone for her having had the money.”

“What! ought she not to have had the two louis?”

“No,” said the nun, “we are forbidden to have any money without the knowledge of the abbess, under pain of excommunication.”

“What did they give you to come here?”

“Ten Savoy sols a day. But now I live like a princess, as you shall see at supper, for though this worthy woman knows the money you gave her is for herself she lavishes it on me.”

“She knows, dear sister, that such is my intention, and here is some more to go on with.”

So saying I took another ten louis from my purse, and bade the country-woman spare nothing for the invalid’s comfort. I enjoyed the worthy woman’s happiness; she kissed my hands, and told me that I had made her fortune, and that she could buy some cows now.

As soon as I was alone with the charming nun, whose face recalled to my memory the happy hours I had passed with M—- M—-, my imagination began to kindle, and drawing close to her I began to talk of her seducer, telling her I was surprised that be had not helped her in the cruel position in which he had placed her. She replied that she was debarred from accepting any money by her vow of poverty and obedience, and that she had given up to the abbess what remained of the alms the bishop had procured her.

“As to my state when I was so fortunate as to meet you, I think he cannot have received my letter.”

“Possibly, but is he a rich or handsome man?”

“He is rich but certainly not handsome. On the contrary, he is extremely ugly, deformed, and over fifty.”

“How did you become amorous of a fellow like that?”

“I never loved him, but he contrived to gain my pity. I thought he would kill himself, and I promised to be in the garden on the night he appointed, but I only went there with the intention of bidding him begone, and he did so, but after he had carried his evil designs into effect.”

“Did he use violence towards you, then?”

“No, for that would have been no use. He wept, threw himself on his knees, and begged so hard, that I let him do what he liked on the condition that he would not kill himself, and that he would come no more to the garden.”

“Had you no fear of consequences?”

“I did not understand anything about it; I always thought that one could not conceive under three times at least.”

“Unhappy ignorance! how many woes are caused by it! Then he did not ask you to give him any more assignations?”

“He often asked me, but I would not grant his request because our confessor made me promise to withstand him thenceforth, if I wished to be absolved.”

“Did you tell him the name of the seducer?”

“Certainly not; the good confessor would not have allowed me to do so; it would have been a great sin.”

“Did you tell your confessor the state you were in?”

“No, but he must have guessed it. He is a good old man, who doubtless prayed to God for me, and my meeting you was, perhaps, the answer to his prayers.”

I was deeply moved, and for a quarter of an hour I was silent, and absorbed in my thoughts. I saw that this interesting girl’s misfortune proceeded from her ignorance, her candour, her perfect innocence, and a foolish feeling of pity, which made her grant this monster of lubricity a thing of which she thought little because she had never been in love. She was religious, but from mere habit and not from reflection, and her religion was consequently very weak. She abhorred sin, because she was obliged to purge herself of it by confession under pain of everlasting damnation, and she did not want to be damned. She had plenty of natural common sense, little wit, for the cultivation of which she had no opportunities, and she was in a state of ignorance only pardonable in a nun. On weighing these facts I foresaw that I should find it a difficult task to gain those favours which she had granted to Coudert; her repentance had been too bitter for her to expose herself to the same danger over again.

The peasant woman returned, laid the table for two, and brought us our supper. Everything was new–napkins, plates, glasses, spoons, knives, etc., and everything was exquisitely clean. The wines were excellent, and the dishes delightful in their simplicity. We had roast game, fish, cheese with cream, and very good fruit. I spent an hour and a half at supper, and drank two bottles of wine as I talked to the nun, who ate very little.

I was in the highest spirits, and the woman, delighted with my praise of her provision, promised I should be served the same way every evening.

When I was alone with the nun, whose face filled me with such burning recollections, I began to speak of her health, and especially of the inconveniences attached to child-birth. She said she felt quite well, and would be able to return to Chamberi on foot. “The only thing that troubles me is my breasts, but the woman assures me that the milk will recede to-morrow, and that they will then assume their usual shape.”

“Allow me to examine them, I know something about it.”

“Look!”

She uncovered her bosom, not thinking it would give me any pleasure, but wishing to be polite, without supposing I had any concealed desires. I passed my hands over two spheres whose perfect shape and whiteness would have restored Lazarus to life. I took care not to offend her modesty, but in the coolest manner possible asked her how she felt a little lower down, and as I put the question I softly extended my hand. However, she kept it back gently, telling me not to go any further as she still felt a little uneasy. I begged her pardon, and said I hoped I should find everything quite right by the next day.

“The beauty of your bosom,” I added, “makes me take a still greater interest in you.”

So saying I let my mouth meet hers, and I felt a kiss escape as if involuntarily from her lips. It ran like fire through my veins, my brain began to whirl, and I saw that unless I took to a speedy flight I should lose all her confidence. I therefore left her, calling her “dear daughter” as I bade her farewell.

It poured with rain, and I got soaked through before I reached my lodging. This was a bath well fitted to diminish the ardour of my passion, but it made me very late in rising the next morning.

I took out the two portraits of M—- M—-, one in a nun’s dress, and the other nude, as Venus. I felt sure they would be of service to me with the nun.

I did not find the fair Zeroli in her room, so I went to the fountain, where she reproached me with a tenderness I assessed at its proper value, and our quarrel was made up in the course of our walk. When dinner was over the Marquis the Prie made a bank, but as he only put down a hundred louis I guessed that he wanted to win a lot and lose a little. I put down also a hundred louis, and he said that it would be better sport if I did not stake my money on one card only. I replied that I would stake a louis on each of the thirteen.

“You will lose.”

“We will see. Here is my hand on the table, and I stake a louis on each of the thirteen cards.”

According to the laws of probability, I should certainly have lost, but fate decided otherwise and I won eighty louis. At eight o’clock I bowed to the company, and I went as usual to the place where my new love dwelt. I found the invalid ravishing. She said she had had a little fever, which the country-woman pronounced to be milk fever, and that she would be quite well and ready to get up by the next day. As I stretched out my hand to lift the coverlet; she seized it and covered it with kisses, telling me that she felt as if she must give me that mark of her filial affection. She was twenty-one, and I was thirty-five. A nice daughter for a man like me! My feelings for her were not at all of a fatherly character. Nevertheless, I told her that her confidence in me, as shewn by her seeing me in bed, increased my affection for her, and that I should be grieved if I found her dressed in her nun’s clothes next day.

“Then I will stop in bed,” said she; “and indeed I shall be very glad to do so, as I experience great discomfort from the heat of my woollen habit; but I think I should please you more if I were decently dressed; however, as you like it better, I will stop in bed.”

The country-woman came in at that moment, and gave her the abbess’ letter which her nephew had just brought from Chamberi. She read it and gave it to me. The abbess told her that she would send two lay- sisters to bring her back to the convent, and that as she had recovered her health she could come on-foot, and thus save money which could be spent in better ways. She added that as the bishop was away, and she was unable to send the lay-sisters without his permission, they could not start for a week or ten days. She ordered her, under pain of the major excommunication, never to leave her room, never to speak to any man, not even to the master of the house, and to have nothing to do with anybody except with the woman. She ended by saying that she was going to have a mass said for the repose of the departed sister’s soul.

“I am obliged to you for having shewn me this letter, but be pleased to tell me if I may visit you for the next week or ten days, without doing hurt to your conscience; for I must tell you I am a man. I have only stopped in this place because of the lively interest with which you have inspired me, but if you have the least objection to receive me on account of the singular excommunication with which you are threatened, I will leave Aix tomorrow. Speak.”

“Sir, our abbess is lavish of these thunders, and I have already incurred the excommunication with which she threatens me; but I hope it will not be ratified by God, as my fault has made me happy and not miserable. I will be sincere with you; your visits are my only joy, and that joy is doubled when you tell me you like to come. But if you can answer my question without a breach of confidence, I should like to know for whom you took me the first time you saw me; you cannot imagine how you astonished and frightened me. I have never felt such kisses as those you lavished on me, but they cannot increase my sin as I was not a consenting party, and you told me yourself that you thought you were kissing another.”

“I will satisfy your curiosity. I think I can do so as you are aware by this time that the flesh is weak, or rather stronger than the spirit, and that it compels the strongest intellects to commit faults against right reason. You shall hear the history of an amour that lasted for two years with the fairest and the best of all the nuns of Venice.”

“Tell me all, sir. I have fallen myself, and I should be cruel and unjust if I were to take offence at anything you may tell me, for you cannot have done anything with her that Coudert did not do to me.”

“I did much more and much less, for I never gave her a child. If I had been so unfortunate I should have carried her off to Rome, where we should have fallen at the feet of the Holy Father, who would have absolved her from her vows, and my dear M—- M—- would now be my wife.”

“Good heavens M—- M—- is my name.”

This circumstance, which was really a mere coincidence, rendered our meeting still more wonderful, and astonished me as much as it did her. Chance is a curious and fickle element, but it often has the greatest influence on our lives.

After a brief silence I told her all that had taken place between the fair Venetian and myself. I painted our amorous combats in a lively and natural manner, for, besides my recollections, I had her living picture before my eyes, and I could follow on her features the various emotions aroused by my recital. When I had finished she said,

“But is your M—- M—- really so like me, that you mistook me for her?”

Drawing from my pocket-book the portrait in which M—- M—- was dressed as a nun, I gave it to her, saying,

“Judge for yourself.”

“She really is; it might pass for my portrait. It is my dress and my face; it is wonderful. To this likeness I owe all my good fortune. Thanks be to God that you do not love me as you loved her, whom I am glad to call my sister. There are indeed two M—- M—-s. Mighty Providence, all Thy least ways are wonderful, and we are at best poor, weak, ignorant mortals.”

The worthy country-woman came up and have us a still better supper than on the previous night. The invalid only ate soup, but she promised to do better by the following evening.

I spent an hour with her after supper, and I convinced her by my reserve that she had made a mistake in thinking that I only loved her as a daughter. Of her own accord she shewed me that her breast had regained its usual condition. I assured myself of the fact by my sense of touch, to which she made no opposition, not thinking that I could be moved by such a trifle. All the kisses which I lavished on her lips and eyes she put down to the friendship for her. She said, smiling, that she thanked God she was not fair like her sister, and I smiled myself at her simplicity.

But I could not keep up this sort of thing for long, and I had to be extremely careful. As soon as I felt that passion was getting the upper hand, I gave her a farewell kiss and went away. When I got home Le Duc gave me a note from Madame Zeroli, who said she would expect me at the fountain, as she was going to breakfast with the marquis’s mistress.

I slept well, but in my dreams I saw again and again the face of the new M—- M—-. Next day, as soon as I got to the fountain, Madame Zeroli told me that all the company maintained that I ought to have lost in playing on thirteen cards at once, as it was not true that one card won four times in each deal; however, the marquis, though he agreed with the rest, had said that he would not let me play like that again.

“I have only one objection to make to that–namely, that if I wanted to play in the same way again he could only prevent me by fighting for it.”

“His mistress swears she will make you play in the usual way.”

I smiled, and thanked her for her information.

When I got back to the inn I played a game of quinze with the marquis, and lost fifty louis; afterwards I let myself be persuaded to hold a bank. I put down five hundred louis, and defied fortune. Desarmoises was my croupier, and I warned the company that every card must have the stake placed on it, and that I should rise at half-past seven. I was seated between two ladies. I put the five hundred louis on the board, and I got change from the inn-keeper to the amount of a hundred crowns, to amuse the ladies with. But something happened. All the cards before me were loose packs, and I called for new ones. The inn-keeper said he had sent to Chamberi for a hundred packs, and that the messenger would be back soon.

“In the meanwhile,” said he, “you can use the cards on the table, which are as good as new.”

“I want them new, not as good as new. I have my prejudices, and they are so strong as to be invincible. In the meanwhile I shall remain a spectator, though I am sorry to keep the ladies waiting.”

Nobody dared say a word, and I rose, after replacing my money in my cash-box. The Marquis de Prie took the bank, and played splendidly. I stood beside Madame Zeroli, who made me her partner, and gave me five or six Louis the next day. The messenger who was to be back soon did not return till midnight, and I thanked my stars for the escape I had had, for in such a place, full of professional gamesters, there are people whose eyes are considerably sharper than a lynx’s. I put the money back in my room, and proceeded on my usual way.

I found my fair nun in bed, and asked her,

“How do you feel to-day, madam?”

“Say daughter, that name is so sweet to me that I would you were my father that I might clasp you in my arms without fearing anyone.”

“Well, my dear daughter, do not fear anything, but open your arms to me.”

“I will; we will embrace one another.”

“My little ones are prettier than they were yesterday let me suck them.”

“You silly papa, you are drinking your daughter’s milk.”

“It is so sweet, darling, and the little drop I tasted has made me feel so happy. You cannot be angry at my enjoying this harmless privilege.”

“Of course I am not angry; you delighted me. But I shall have to call you baby, not papa.”

“How glad I am to find you in better spirits to-night!”

“You have ‘given me back my happiness, and I feel at peace once more. The country-woman told me that in a few days I should be just the same as if I had never seen Coudert.”

“That is not quite true; how about your stomach, for instance?”

“Be quiet; you can’t know anything about such things, and I am quite astonished myself.”

“Let me see.”

“Oh, no; you mustn’t see, but you may feel.”

“All right.”

“Oh! please don’t go there.”

“Why not? You can’t be made differently from your sister, who would be now about thirty. I want to shew you her portrait naked.”

“Have you got it with you? I should so like to see it.”

I drew it out and gave it to her. She admired it, kissed it, and asked me if the painter had followed nature in all respects.

“Certainly,” said I. “She knew that such a picture would give me pleasure.”

“It is very fine. It is more like me than the other picture. But I suppose the long hair is only put in to please you?”

“Not at all. Italian nuns are allowed to wear their hair as long as they please, provided they do not shew it.

“We have the same privilege. Our hair is cut once, and then we may let it grow as long as we like.”

“Then you have long hair?”

“As long as in the picture; but you would not like my hair as it is black.”

“Why, black is my favourite colour. In the name of God, let me see it.”

“You ask me in God’s name to commit a sin; I shall incur another excommunication, but I cannot refuse you anything. You shall see my hair after supper, as I don’t want to scandalize the countrywoman.”

“You are right; I think you are the sweetest of your sex. I shall die of grief when you leave this cottage to return to your sad prison.”

“I must indeed return and do penance for my sins.”

“I hope you have the wit to laugh at the abbess’s silly excommunications?”

“I begin not to dread them so much as I used to.”

“I am delighted to hear it, as I see you will make me perfectly happy after supper.”

The country-woman came up, and I gave her another ten louis; but it suddenly dawned upon me that she took me for a madman. To disabuse her of this idea I told her that I was very rich, and that I wanted to make her understand that I could not give her enough to testify my gratitude to her for the care she had taken of the good nun. She wept, kissed my hand, and served us a delicious supper. The nun ate well and drank indifferently, but I was in too great a hurry to see the beautiful black hair of this victim to her goodness of heart, and I could not follow her example. The one appetite drove out the other.

As soon as we were relieved of the country-woman’s presence, she removed her hood, and let a mass of ebon hair fall upon her alabaster shoulders, making a truly ravishing contrast. She put the portrait before her, and proceeded to arrange her hair like the first M—- M—-.

“You are handsomer than your sister,” said I, “but I think she was more affectionate than you.”

“She may have been more affectionate, but she had not a better heart.”

“She was much more amorous than you.”

“I daresay; I have never been in love.”

“That is strange; how about your nature and the impulse of the senses?”

“We arrange all that easily at the convent. We accuse ourselves to the confessor, for we know it is a sin, but he treats it as a childish fault, and absolves us without imposing any penances.”

“He knows human nature, and makes allowances for your sad position.”

“He is an old man, very learned, and of ascetic habits, but he is all indulgence. It will be a sad day when we lose him.”

“But in your amorous combats with another nun, don’t you feel as if you would like her to change into a man?”

“You make me laugh. To be sure, if my sweetheart became a man I should not be sorry, but we do not desire such a miracle.”

“That is, perhaps, through a coldness of temperament. In that your sister was better, for she liked me much more than C—- C—-, and you do not like me as well as the sweetheart you left behind you at the convent.”

“Certainly not, for with you I should violate my own chastity and expose myself to consequences I tremble to think of.”

“You do not love me, then?”

“What are you saying? I adore you, and I am very sorry you are not a woman.”

“I love you too, but your desire makes me laugh; for I would rather not be turned into a woman to please you, especially as I expect I should not think you nearly as beautiful. Sit down, my dear, and let me see your fine hair flowing over your beautiful body.”

“Do you want me to take off my chemise?”

“Of course; how handsome you look without it. Let me suck your pretty breasts, as I am your baby.”

She granted me this privilege, and looking at me with a face full of pleasure, she allowed me to press her naked body to my breast, not seeing, or pretending not to see, the acuteness of my enjoyment. She then said,

“If such delights as these were allowed friendship, I should say it is better than love; for I have never experienced so great pleasure as when you put your lips to my bosom. Let me do the same to you.”

“I wish you could, but you will find nothing there.”

“Never mind; it will amuse us.”

After she had fulfilled her desire, we spent a quarter of an hour in mutual embraces, and my excitement was more than I could bear.

“Tell me truly,” said I, “amidst our kisses, amidst these ecstacies which we call child-like, do you not feel a desire for something more?”

“I confess that I do, but such desires are sinful; and as I am sure that your passions are as high as mine, I think we had better stop our agreeable employment; for, papa dear, our friendship is becoming burning love, is it not?”

“Yes, love, and love that cannot be overcome.”

“I know it.”

“If you know it, let us perform to love the sweetest of all sacrifices.”

“No, no; on the contrary, let us stop and be more prudent in the future, lest we become the victims of love. If you love me, you should say so too.”

With these words she slipped gently from my arms, put back her beautiful hair under her cap, and when I had helped her on with her chemise, the coarseness of which horrified me, I told her she might calm herself. I told her how sorry I felt to see her delicate body frayed by so coarse a stuff, and she told me it was of the usual material, and that all the nuns wore chemises of the same kind.

My mind was in a state of consternation, for the constraint I had imposed on myself seemed much greater than the utmost pleasure I could have gained. I neither determined on persevering in nor on abandoning the pursuit; all I wanted was to be sure that I should not encounter the least resistance. A folded rose-leaf spoilt the repose of the famous Smindyrides, who loved a soft bed. I preferred, therefore, to go away, than to risk finding the rose-leaf which troubled the voluptuous Sybarite. I left the cottage in love and unhappy, and as I did not go to bed till two o’clock in the morning I slept till mid-day.

When I woke up Le Duc gave me a note which he should have given me the night before. He had forgotten it, and I was not sorry. The note came from Madame Zeroli, who said she would expect me at nine o’clock in the morning, as she would be alone. She told me that she was going to give a supper-party, that she was sure I would come, and that as she was leaving Aix directly after, she counted on my coming too–at any rate, as far as Chamberi. Although I still liked her, her pretensions made me laugh. It was too late now to be with her at nine, I could not go to her supper-party because of my fair nun, whom I would not have left just then for the seraglio of the Grand Turk; and it was impossible for me to accompany her to Chamberi, as when I came back I might no longer find the only object which kept me at Aix.

However, as soon as I had finished dressing, I went to see her and found her furious. I excused myself by saying that I had only had her letter for an hour, but she went away without giving me time to tell her that I could not sup with her or go to Chamberi with her. She scowled at me at table, and when the meal was over the Marquis de Prie told me that they had some new cards, and that everybody was longing to see me make a bank. I went for my money, and I made a bank of five hundred louis. At seven o’clock I had lost more than half that sum, but for all that I put the rest in my pocket and rose from the table.

After a sad glance in the direction of Madame Zeroli I went to the cottage, where I found my angel in a large new bed, with a small but pretty bed beside it which was meant for me. I laughed at the incongruity of these pieces of furniture with our surroundings, but by way of thanking the thoughtful country-woman I drew fifty louis from my purse and gave them to her, telling her it was for the remainder of the time the lady was with her, and I told her to spend no more money in furniture.

This was done in true gamester fashion. I had lost nearly three hundred louis, but I had risked more than five hundred, and I looked on the difference as pure profit. If I had gained as much as I had lost I should probably have contented myself with giving her ten louis, but I fancied I was losing the fifty louis on a card. I have always liked spending money, but I have never been careless with it except in gaming.

I was in an ecstasy to see the face of my M—- M—-light up with delight and astonishment.

“You must be very rich,” said she.

“Don’t think it, dearest, but I love you passionately; and not being able to give you anything by reason of your unfortunate vow of poverty, I lavish what I possess on this worthy woman, to induce her to spare nothing for your comfort while you are here. Perhaps, too– though it is not a definite thought–I hope that it will make you love me more.”

“How can I love you more than I do? The only thing that makes me unhappy is the idea of returning to the convent.”

“But you told me yesterday that it was exactly that idea which made you happy.”

“I have changed my mind since yesterday. I passed a cruel night, for as soon as I fell asleep I was in your arms, and I awoke again and again on the point of consummating the greatest of crimes.”

“You did not go through such a struggle before committing the same crime with a man you did–not love.”

“It is exactly because I did not love him that my sin struck me as venial. Do you understand what I mean?”

“It’s a piece of superstitious metaphysics, but I understand you perfectly.”

“You have made me happy, and I feel very grateful to you, and I feel glad and certain of conquering when I reflect that your situation is different to mine.”

“I will not dispute it with you, although I am sorry for what you say.”

“Why?”

“Because you think yourself in duty bound to refuse caresses which would not hurt you, and which would give me new life and happiness.”

“I have thought it over.”

“Are you weeping?”

“Yes, and what is more, these tears are dear to me.”

“I do not understand.”

“I have two favours to ask of you.”

“Say on, and be sure you will obtain what you ask.”

CHAPTER XXI

End of My Adventure with the Nun from Chamberi–My Flight from Aix

“Yesterday,” said the charming nun, “you left in my hands the two portraits of my Venetian sister. I want you to give them to me.”

“They are yours.”

“I thank you. My second favour is, that you will be good enough to take my portrait in exchange; you shall have it to-morrow.”

“I shall be delighted. It will be the most precious of all my jewels, but I wonder how you can ask me to take it as a favour, whereas you are doing me a favour I should never have dared to demand. How shall I make myself worthy of giving you my portrait?”

“Ah, dearest! it would be a dear possession, but God preserve me from having it at the convent!”

“I will get myself painted under the costume of St. Louis of Gonzaga, or St. Anthony of Padua.”

“I shall be damned eternally.”

“We will say no more about it.”

She had on a dimity corset, trimmed with red ribbon, and a cambric chemise. I was surprised, but politeness did not allow me to ask where they came from, so I contented myself with staring at them. She guessed my thoughts, and said, smilingly, that it was a present from the countrywoman.

“Seeing her fortune made, the worthy woman tries every possible way to convince her benefactor that she is grateful to him. Look at the bed; she was certainly thinking of you, and look at these fine materials. I confess I enjoy their softness extremely. I shall sleep better to-night if I am not plagued by those seductive dreams which tormented me last night.”

“Do you think that the bed and the fine linen will deliver you from the dreams you fear?”

“No doubt they will have a contrary effect, for softness irritates the passions. I shall leave everything with the good woman. I do not know what they would say if I took them with me to the convent.”

“You are not so comfortable there?”

“Oh, no! A straw bed, a couple of blankets, and sometimes, as a great favour, a thin mattress and two coarse sheets. But you seem sad; you were so happy yesterday.”

“How can I be happy when I can no longer toy with you without making you unhappy.”

“You should have said without giving me the greatest delight.”

“Then will you consent to receive pleasure in return for that which you give me?”

“But yours is innocent and mine is not.”

“What would you do, then, if mine and yours were the same?”

“You might have made me wretched yesterday, for I could not have refused you anything.”

“Why wretched? You would have had none of those dreams, but would have enjoyed a quiet night. I am very sorry the peasant woman has given you that corset, as otherwise I might at least have seen my little pets without fear of bad dreams.”

“But you must not be angry with the good woman, for she knows that a corset is easy to unlace. And I cannot bear to see you sad.”

With these words she turned her ardent gaze upon me, and I covered her with kisses which she returned with interest. The country-woman came up to lay the pretty new table, just as I was taking off her corset without her offering the least resistance.

This good omen put me in high spirits, but as I looked at her I saw a shadow passing across her face. I took care not to ask her the reason, for I guessed what was the matter, and I did not wish to discuss those vows which religion and honour should have made inviolable. To distract her mind from these thoughts, I made her eat by the example I set, and she drank the excellent claret with as much pleasure as I, not thinking that as she was not used to it it would put her in a frame of mind not favourable to continence. But she did not notice this, for her gaiety made her look prettier than before, and aroused her passions.

When we were alone I congratulated her on her high spirits, telling her that my sadness had fled before her gaiety, and that the hours I could spend with her would be all too short.

“I should be blithe,” said she, “if it were only to please you.”

“Then grant me the favour you accorded me yesterday evening.”

“I would rather incur all the excommunications in the world than run the risk of appearing unjust to you. Take me.”

“So saying, she took off her cap, and let down her beautiful hair. I unlaced her corset, and in the twinkling of an eye I had before me such a siren as one sees on the canvas of Correggio. I could not look upon her long without covering her with my burning kisses, and, communicating my ardour, before long she made a place for me beside herself. I felt that there was no time for thinking, that nature had spoken out, and that love bade me seize the opportunity offered by that delicious weakness. I threw myself on her, and with my lips glued to hers I pressed her between my amorous arms, pending the moment of supreme bliss.

But in the midst of these joys, she turned her head, closed her eyelids, and fell asleep. I moved away a little, the better to contemplate the treasures that love displayed before me. The nun slept, as I thought; but even if her sleep was feigned, should I be angry with her for the stratagem? Certainly not; true or feigned, the sleep of a loved one should always be respected by a delicate lover, although there are some pleasures he may allow himself. If the sleep is real there is no harm done, and if it is put on the lover only responds to the lady’s desires. All that is necessary is so to manage one’s caresses that they are pleasant to the beloved object. But M—- M—- was really asleep; the claret had numbed her senses, and she had yielded to its influence without any ulterior motives. While I gazed at her I saw that she was dreaming. Her lips uttered words of which I could not catch the meaning, but her voluptuous aspect told me of what she dreamt. I took off my clothes; and in two minutes I had clasped her fair body to mine, not caring much whether she slept on or whether I awoke her and brought our drama to a climax, which seemed inevitable.

I was not long uncertain, for the instinctive movements she made when she felt the minister that would fain accomplish the sacrifice at the door of the sanctuary, convinced me that her dream still lasted, and that I could not make her happier than by changing it into reality. I delicately moved away all obstacles, and gently and by degrees consummated this sweet robbery, and when at last I abandoned myself to all the force of passion, she awoke with a sigh of bliss, murmuring,

“Ah! it is true then.”

“Yes, my angel! are you happy?”

For all reply she drew me to her and fastened her lips on mine, and thus we awaited the dawn of day, exhausting all imaginable kinds of pleasure, exciting each other’s desires, and only wishing to prolong our enjoyment.

“Alas!” said she, “I am happy now, but you must leave me till the evening. Let us talk of our happiness, and enjoy it over again.”

“Then you do not repent having made me a happy man?”

“No; it is you who have made me happy. You are an angel from heaven. We loved, we crowned our love; I cannot have done aught to offend God. I am free from all my fears. We have obeyed nature and our destinies. Do you love me still?”

“Can you ask me? I will shew you to-night.”

I dressed myself as quickly as possible while we talked of our love, and I left her in bed, bidding her rest.

It was quite light when I got home. Le Duc had not gone to bed, and gave me a letter from the fair Zeroli, telling me that it had been delivered at eleven o’clock. I had not gone to her supper, and I had not escorted her to Chamberi; I had not had time to give her a moment’s thought. I was sorry, but I could not do anything. I opened her letter which consisted of only six lines, but they were pregnant ones. She advised me never to go to Turin, for if I went there she would find means to take vengeance on me for the dastardly affront I had put upon her. She reproached me with having put her to public shame, said I had dishonoured her, and vowed she would never forgive me. I did not distress myself to any great extent; I tore up the friendly missive, and after I had had my hair done I went to the fountain.

Everybody flew at me for not having been at Madame Zeroli’s supper. I defended myself as best I could, but my excuses were rather tame, about which I did not trouble myself. I was told that all was known, and this amused me as I was aware that nothing was known. The marquis’s mistress took hold of my arm, and told me, without any circumlocution, that I had the reputation of being inconstant, and by way of reply I observed politely that I was wrongfully accused, but that if there was any ground for the remark it was because I had never served so sweet a lady as herself. She was flattered by my compliment, and I bit my lip when I heard her ask in the most gracious manner why I did not breakfast sometimes with the marquis.

“I was afraid of disturbing him,” said I.

“How do you mean?”

“I should be interrupting him in his business.”

“He has no business, and he would be delighted to see you. Come to- morrow, he always breakfasts in my room”

This lady was the widow of a gentleman of quality; she was young, undoubtedly pretty, and possessing in perfection the jargon of good society; nevertheless, she did not attract me. After recently enjoying the fair Zeroli, and finding my suit with the fair nun at the height of its prosperity, I was naturally hard to please, and in plain words–I was perfectly contented with my situation. For all that, I had foolishly placed myself in such a position that I was obliged to give her to understand that she had delighted me by her preference.

She asked the marquis if she could return to the inn.

“Yes,” said he, “but I have some business in hand, and cannot come with you.”

“Would you be kind enough to escort me?” said she to me. I bowed in assent.

On the way she told me that if Madame Zeroli were still there she would not have dared to take my arm. I could only reply by equivocating, as I had no wish to embark in a fresh intrigue. However, I had no choice; I was obliged to accompany her to her room and sit down beside her; but as I had had no sleep the night before I felt tired and began to yawn, which was not flattering for the lady. I excused myself to the best of my ability, telling her that I was ill, and she believed me or pretended to believe me. But I felt sleep stealing upon me, and I should have infallibly dropped off if it had not been for my hellebore, which kept me awake by making me sneeze.

The marquis came in, and after a thousand compliments he proposed a game of quinze. I begged him to excuse me, and the lady backed me up, saying I could not possibly play in the midst of such a sneezing fit. We went down to dinner, and afterwards I easily consented to make a bank, as I was vexed at my loss of the day before. As usual I staked five hundred louis, and about seven o’clock, though two-thirds of the bank had gone, I announced the last deal. The marquis and two other heavy gamesters then endeavoured to break the bank, but fortune turned, and I not only got back my losses but won three hundred Louis besides. Thereupon I rose, promising the company to begin again next day. All the ladies had won, as Desarmoises had orders to let them play as they liked up to a certain limit.

I locked up my money, and warning my faithful Spaniard that I should not be coming back, I went to my idol, having got wet through on the way, and being obliged to undress as soon as I arrived. The good woman’ of the house took care to dry my clothes.

I found the fair nun dressed in her religious habit, and lying on the small bed.

“Why are you not in your own bed, dearest?”

“Because I feel quite well again, my darling, and I wished to sup with you at table. We will go to bed afterwards, if that will give you any pleasure.”

“It will give me pleasure if you share in my delight.”

“Alas! I am undone, and I shall doubtless die when I have to leave you.”

“Do not leave me, sweetheart; come with me to Rome; and leave the matter in my hands. I will make you my wife, and we will live happily together ever after.”

“That would be too great a bliss, but I could never make up my mind to it; say no more about it.”

I was sure of spending a delicious night–in the possession of all her charms, and we stayed an hour at table, seasoning the dishes with sweet converse. When we had done, the woman came up, gave her a packet, and went away again, wishing us good night.

“What does this packet contain, darling?”

“It is the present I have got for you-my portrait, but you must not see it till I am in bed.”

“I will indulge you in that fancy, although I am very curious to see the portrait.”

“You will say I am right afterwards.”

I wanted to undress her myself, and she submitted like a lamb. When she was in bed, she opened the packet, and shewed me her portrait, naked, and very like the naked portrait of M—- M—-. I praised the painter for the excellence of the copy he had made; nothing was altered but the colour of the hair and eyes.

“It isn’t a copy,” she said, “there would not have been time. He only made the eyes and hair black, and the latter more abundant. Thus you have in it a portrait of the first and also of the second M—- M—-, in whom you must forget the first. She has also vanished from the clothed portrait, for you see the nun has black eyes. I could shew this picture to anyone as my portrait.”

“You do not know how precious your present is to me! Tell me, dearest, how you succeeded in carrying out your plan so well.”

“I told the country-woman about it yesterday morning, and she said that she had a foster-son at Anneci, who was a miniature painter. Through him she sent the two miniatures to a more skilful painter at Geneva, who made the change you see for four or five Louis; he was probably able to do it in two or three hours. I entrusted the two portraits to him, and you see how well he did his work. The woman has no doubt just received them, and to-morrow she may be able to tell you more about it.”

“She is really a wonderful woman. I will indemnify her for the expense. But now tell me why you did not want me to see the portrait before you were in bed?”

“Guess.”

“Because I can now see you in the same posture as that in which you are represented.”

“Exactly.”

“It is an excellent idea; only love can have given it you. But you must wait till I am in the same state.”

When we were both in a state of nature, exactly like Adam and Eve before they tasted the fatal apple, I placed her in the position of the portrait, and guessing my intention from my face she opened her arms for me to come to her; but I asked her to wait a moment, for I had a little packet too, which contained something she would like. I then drew from my pocket-book a little article of transparent skin, about eight inches long, with one opening, which was ornamented with a red rosette. I gave her this preventive sheath, and she looked, admired, and laughed loudly, asking me if I had used such articles with her Venetian sister. “I will put it on myself; you don’t know how I shall enjoy it. Why didn’t you use one last night? How could you have forgotten it? Well, I shall be very wretched if anything comes of it. What shall I do in four or five months, when my condition becomes past doubt?”

“Dearest, the only thing to do is not to think of it, for if the damage is done, there is no cure for it; but from my experience and knowledge of the laws of nature I expect that our sweet combats of last night will probably have no troublesome consequences. It has been stated that after child-birth a woman cannot conceive afresh without having seen something which I expect you have not seen.”

“No, God be thanked!”

“Good. Then let us not give any thought to the dismal future lest we lose our present bliss.”

“I am quite comforted; but I can’t understand why you are afraid to- day of what you were not afraid yesterday; my state is the same.”

“The event has sometimes given the lie to the most eminent physicians. Nature, wiser than they, has exceptions to her rules, let us not defy them for the future, but let us not trouble ourselves if we have defied there in the past.”

“I like to hear you talk so sagely. Yes, we will be prudent whatever it costs. There you are, hooded like a mother abbess, but in spite of the fineness of the sheath I like the little fellow better quite naked. I think that this covering degrades us both.”

“You are right, it does. But let us not dwell on these ideas which will only spoil our pleasure.”

“We will enjoy our pleasure directly; let me be reasonable now, for I have never thought of these matters before. Love must have invented these little sheaths, but it must first have listened to the voice of prudence, and I do not like to see love and prudence allied.”

“The correctness of your arguments surprises me, but we will philosophize another time.”

“Wait a minute. I have never seen a man before, and I have never wished to enjoy the sight as much as now. Ten months ago I should have called that article an invention of the devil; but now I look upon the inventor as a benefactor, for if my wretched hump-back had provided himself with such a sheath he would not have exposed me to the danger of losing my honour and my life. But, tell me, how is that the makers of these things remain unmolested; I wonder they are not found out, excommunicated, or heavily fined, or even punished corporeally, if they are Jews as I expect. Dear me, the maker of this one must have measured you badly! Look! it is too large here, and too small there; it makes you into a regular curve. What a stupid the fellow must be, he can’t know his own trade! But what is that?”

“You make me laugh; it’s all your fault. You have been feeling and fondling, and you see the natural consequence. I knew it would be so.”

“And you couldn’t keep it back a minute. It is going on now. I am so sorry; it is a dreadful pity.”

“There is not much harm done, so console yourself.”

“How can I? you are quite dead. How can you laugh?”

“At your charming simplicity. You shall see in a moment that your charms will give me new life which I shall not lose so easily.”

“Wonderful! I couldn’t have believed it!”

I took off the sheath, and gave her another, which pleased her better, as it seemed to fit me better, and she laughed for joy as she put it on. She knew nothing of these wonders. Her thoughts had been bound in chains, and she could not discover the truth before she knew me; but though she was scarcely out of Egypt she shewed all the eagerness of an enquiring and newly emancipated spirit. “But how if the rubbing makes the sheath fall off?” said she. I explained to her that such an accident could scarcely happen, and also told her of what material the English made these articles.

After all this talking, of which my ardour began to weary, we abandoned ourselves to love, then to sleep, then to love again, and so on alternately till day-break. As I was leaving, the woman of the house told us that the painter had asked four louis, and that she had give two louis to her foster-son. I gave her twelve, and went home, where I slept till morn, without thinking of breakfasting with the Marquis de Prie, but I think I should have given him some notice of my inability to come. His mistress sulked with me all dinner-time, but softened when I allowed myself to be persuaded into making a bank. However, I found she was playing for heavy stakes, and I had to check her once or twice, which made her so cross that she went to hide her ill-temper in a corner of the hall. However, the marquis won, and I was losing, when the taciturn Duke of Rosebury, his tutor Smith, and two of his fellow-countrymen, arrived from Geneva. He came up to me and said, “How do you do?” and without another word began to play, inviting his companions to follow his example.

Seeing my bank in the last agony I sent Le Duc to my room for the cash-box, whence I drew out five rolls of a hundred louis each. The Marquis de Prie said, coolly, that he wouldn’t mind being my partner, and in the same tone I begged to be excused. He continued punting without seeming to be offended at my refusal and when I put down the cards and rose from the table he had won two hundred louis; but all the others had lost, especially one of the Englishmen, so that I had made a profit of a thousand louis. The marquis asked me if I would give him chocolate in my room next morning, and I replied that I should be glad to see him. I replaced my cash-box in my room, and proceeded to the cottage, pleased with the day’s work and feeling inclined to crown it with love.

I found my fair friend looking somewhat sad, and on my enquiring the reason she told me that a nephew of the country-woman’s, who had come from Chamberi that morning, had told her that he had heard from a lay-sister of the same convent, whom he knew, that two sisters would start at day-break in two days’ time to fetch her; this sad news, she said, had made her tears flow fast.

“But the abbess said the sisters could not start before ten days had expired.”

“She must have changed her mind.”

“Sorrow intrudes into our happy state. Will you be my wife? Will you follow me to Rome and receive absolution from your vows. You may be sure that I shall have a care for your happiness.”

“Nay, I have lived long enough; let me return to my tomb.”

After supper I told the good woman that if she could rely on her nephew, she would do well to send him at once to Chamberi with orders to return directly the lay-sisters started, and to endeavour to reach Aix two hours before them. She told me that I might reckon on the young man’s silence, and on his carrying out my orders. I quieted in this way the charming nun’s alarm, and got into bed with her, feeling sad though amorous; and on the pretext that she required rest I left her at midnight, as I wanted to be at home in the morning since I had an engagement with the marquis. In due course he arrived with his mistress, two other ladies, and their husbands or lovers.

I did not limit myself to giving them chocolate; my breakfast consisted of all the luxuries the place afforded. When I had got rid of my troublesome company, I told Le Duc to shut my door, and to tell everybody that I was ill in bed and could not see any visitors. I also warned him that I should be away for two days, and that he must not leave my room a moment till I came back. Having made these arrangements, I slipped away unperceived and went to my mistress, resolved not to leave her till half an hour before the arrival of the lay-sisters.

When she saw me and heard that I was not going to leave her till she went away, she jumped for joy; and we conceived the idea of not having any dinner that we might enjoy our supper the better.

“We will go to bed after supper,” said she, “and will not get up till the messenger brings the fatal news that the lay-sisters have started.”

I thought the idea an excellent one, and I called the, woman of the house to tell her of our arrangements, and she promised to see that we were not disturbed.

We did not find the time long, for two passionate lovers find plenty to talk about since their talk is of themselves. And besides our caresses, renewed again and again, there was something so mysterious and solemn in our situation that our souls and our senses were engaged the whole time.

After a supper which would have pleased a Lucullus, we spent twelve hours in giving each other proofs, of our passionate love, sleeping after our amorous struggles, and waking only to renew the fight. The next day we rose to refresh ourselves, and after a good dinner, mashed down by some excellent Burgundy, we went to bed again; but at four the country-woman came to tell us that the lay-sisters would arrive about six. We had nothing now to look for in the future, the die was cast, and we began our farewell caresses. I sealed the last with my blood. My first M—- M—- had seen it, and my second rightly saw it also. She was frightened, but I calmed her fears. I then rose, and taking a roll containing fifty louis I begged her to keep them for me, promising to come for them in two years, and take them from her hands through the grating of her terrible prison. She spent the last quarter of an hour in tears, and mine were only restrained lest I should add to her grief. I cut off a piece of her fleece and a lock of her beautiful hair, promising her always to bear them next my heart.

I left her, telling the country-woman that she should see me again the next day, and I went to bed as soon as I got home. Next morning I was on the way to Chamberi. At a quarter of a league’s distance from Aix I saw my angel slowly walking along. As soon as the lay- sisters were near enough they asked an alms in the name of God. I gave them a Louis, but my saint did not look at me.

With a broken heart I went to the good countrywoman, who told me that M—- M—- had gone at day-break, bidding her to remind me of the convent grating. I kissed the Worthy woman, and I gave her nephew all the loose silver I had about me, and returning to the inn I had my luggage put on to the carriage, and would have started that moment if I had had any horses. But I had two hours to wait, and I went and bade the marquis farewell. He was out, but his mistress was in the room by herself. On my telling her of my departure, she said,

“Don’t go, stay with me a couple of days longer.”

“I feel the honour you are conferring on me, but business of the greatest importance obliges me to be gone forthwith.”

“Impossible,” said the lady, as she went to a glass the better to lace herself, shewing me a superb breast. I saw her design, but I determined to baulk her. She then put one foot upon a couch to retie her garter, and when she put up the other foot I saw beauties more enticing than Eve’s apple. It was nearly all up with me, when the marquis came in. He proposed a little game of quinze, and his mistress asked me to be her partner. I could not escape; she sat next to me, and I had lost forty Louis by dinner-time.

“I owe you twenty,” said the lady, as we were going down.

At dessert Le Duc came to tell me that my carriage was at the door, and I got up, but under the pretence of paying me the twenty louis the marquis’s mistress made me come with her to her room.

When we were there she addressed me in a serious and supplicating voice, telling me that if I went she would be dishonoured, as everybody knew that she had engaged to make me stay.

“Do I look worthy of contempt?” said she, making me sit down upon the sofa.

Then with a repetition of her tactics in the morning she contrived that I should see everything. Excited by her charms I praised her beauties, I kissed, I touched; she let herself fall on me, and looked radiant when her vagrant hand found palpable proof of her powers of attraction.

“I promise to be yours to-morrow, wait till then.”

Not knowing how to refuse, I said I would keep her to her word, and would have my horses taken out. Just then the marquis came in, saying he would give me my revenge and without answering I went downstairs as if to come back again, but I ran out of the inn, got into my carriage, and drove off, promising a good fee to the postillion if he would put his horses at a gallop.