At the dinner-table everyone spoke to me, and I fancied I had given proper answers to all, but, when the repast was over, the Abbe Gama invited me to take coffee in his own apartment. The moment we were alone, he told me that all the guests I had met were worthy and honest men, and he asked me whether I believed that I had succeeded in pleasing the company.
"I flatter myself I have," I answered.
"You are wrong," said the abbe, "you are flattering yourself. You have so conspicuously avoided the questions put to you that everybody in the room noticed your extreme reserve. In the future no one will ask you any questions."
"I should be sorry if it should turn out so, but was I to expose my own concerns?"
"No, but there is a medium in all things."
"Yes, the medium of Horace, but it is often a matter of great difficulty to hit it exactly."
"A man ought to know how to obtain affection and esteem at the same time."
"That is the very wish nearest to my heart."
"To-day you have tried for the esteem much more than for the affection of your fellow-creatures. It may be a noble aspiration, but you must prepare yourself to fight jealousy and her daughter, calumny; if those two monsters do not succeed in destroying you, the victory must be yours. Now, for instance, you thoroughly refuted Salicetti to-day. Well, he is a physician, and what is more a Corsican; he must feel badly towards you."
"Could I grant that the longings of women during their pregnancy have no influence whatever on the skin of the foetus, when I know the reverse to be the case? Are you not of my opinion?"
"I am for neither party; I have seen many children with some such marks, but I have no means of knowing with certainty whether those marks have their origin in some longing experienced by the mother while she was pregnant."
"But I can swear it is so."
"All the better for you if your conviction is based upon such evidence, and all the worse for Salicetti if he denies the possibility of the thing without certain authority. But let him remain in error; it is better thus than to prove him in the wrong and to make a bitter enemy of him."
In the evening I called upon Lucrezia. The family knew my success, and warmly congratulated me. Lucrezia told me that I looked sad, and I answered that I was assisting at the funeral of my liberty, for I was no longer my own master. Her husband, always fond of a joke, told her that I was in love with her, and his mother-in-law advised him not to show so much intrepidity. I only remained an hour with those charming persons, and then took leave of them, but the very air around me was heated by the flame within my breast. When I reached my room I began to write, and spent the night in composing an ode which I sent the next day to the advocate. I was certain that he would shew it to his wife, who loved poetry, and who did not yet know that I was a poet. I abstained from seeing her again for three or four days. I was learning French, and making extracts from ministerial letters.
His eminence was in the habit of receiving every evening, and his rooms were thronged with the highest nobility of Rome; I had never attended these receptions. The Abbe Gama told me that I ought to do so as well as he did, without any pretension. I followed his advice and went; nobody spoke to me, but as I was unknown everyone looked at me and enquired who I was. The Abbe Gama asked me which was the lady who appeared to me the most amiable, and I shewed one to him; but I regretted having done so, for the courtier went to her, and of course informed her of what I had said. Soon afterwards I saw her look at me through her eye-glass and smile kindly upon me. She was the Marchioness G----, whose 'cicisbeo' was Cardinal S---- C----.
On the very day I had fixed to spend the evening with Donna Lucrezia the worthy advocate called upon me. He told me that if I thought I was going to prove I was not in love with his wife by staying away I was very much mistaken, and he invited me to accompany all the family to Testaccio, where they intended to have luncheon on the following Thursday. He added that his wife knew my ode by heart, and that she had read it to the intended husband of Angelique, who had a great wish to make my acquaintance. That gentleman was likewise a poet, and would be one of the party to Testaccio. I promised the advocate I would come to his house on the Thursday with a carriage for two.
At that time every Thursday in the month of October was a festival day in Rome. I went to see Donna Cecilia in the evening, and we talked about the excursion the whole time. I felt certain that Donna Lucrezia looked forward to it with as much pleasure as I did myself. We had no fixed plan, we could not have any, but we trusted to the god of love, and tacitly placed our confidence in his protection.
I took care that Father Georgi should not hear of that excursion before I mentioned it to him myself, and I hastened to him in order to obtain his permission to go. I confess that, to obtain his leave, I professed the most complete indifference about it, and the consequence was that the good man insisted upon my going, saying that it was a family party, and that it was quite right for me to visit the environs of Rome and to enjoy myself in a respectable way.