The next day I found M. Dalacqua ill in bed; his daughter gave me my lesson in his room, and I thought that perhaps she had obtained her pardon. I contrived to give her her lover's letter, which she dextrously conveyed to her pocket, but her blushes would have easily betrayed her if her father had been looking that way. After the lesson I gave M. Dalacqua notice that I would not come on the morrow, as it was the Festival of St. Ursula, one of the eleven thousand princesses and martyr-virgins.
In the evening, at the reception of his eminence, which I attended regularly, although persons of distinction seldom spoke to me, the cardinal beckoned to me. He was speaking to the beautiful Marchioness G----, to whom Gama had indiscreetly confided that I thought her the handsomest woman amongst his eminence's guests.
"Her grace," said the Cardinal, "wishes to know whether you are making rapid progress in the French language, which she speaks admirably."
I answered in Italian that I had learned a great deal, but that I was not yet bold enough to speak.
"You should be bold," said the marchioness, "but without showing any pretension. It is the best wav to disarm criticism."
My mind having almost unwittingly lent to the words "You should be bold" a meaning which had very likely been far from the idea of the marchioness, I turned very red, and the handsome speaker, observing it, changed the conversation and dismissed me.
The next morning, at seven o'clock, I was at Donna Cecilia's door. The phaeton was there as well as the carriage for two persons, which this time was an elegant vis-a-vis, so light and well-hung that Donna Cecilia praised it highly when she took her seat.
"I shall have my turn as we return to Rome," said Lucrezia; and I bowed to her as if in acceptance of her promise.
Lucrezia thus set suspicion at defiance in order to prevent suspicion arising. My happiness was assured, and I gave way to my natural flow of spirits. I ordered a splendid dinner, and we all set out towards the Villa Ludovisi. As we might have missed each other during our ramblings, we agreed to meet again at the inn at one o'clock. The discreet widow took the arm of her son-in-law, Angelique remained with her sister, and Lucrezia was my delightful share; Ursula and her brother were running about together, and in less than a quarter of an hour I had Lucrezia entirely to myself.
"Did you remark," she said, "with what candour I secured for us two hours of delightful 'tete-a-tete', and a 'tete-a-tete' in a 'vis-a- vis', too! How clever Love is!"
"Yes, darling, Love has made but one of our two souls. I adore you, and if I have the courage to pass so many days without seeing you it is in order to be rewarded by the freedom of one single day like this."
"I did not think it possible. But you have managed it all very well. You know too much for your age, dearest."
"A month ago, my beloved, I was but an ignorant child, and you are the first woman who has initiated me into the mysteries of love. Your departure will kill me, for I could not find another woman like you in all Italy."
"What! am I your first love? Alas! you will never be cured of it. Oh! why am I not entirely your own? You are also the first true love of my heart, and you will be the last. How great will be the happiness of my successor! I should not be jealous of her, but what suffering would be mine if I thought that her heart was not like mine!"
Lucrezia, seeing my eyes wet with tears, began to give way to her own, and, seating ourselves on the grass, our lips drank our tears amidst the sweetest kisses. How sweet is the nectar of the tears shed by love, when that nectar is relished amidst the raptures of mutual ardour! I have often tasted them--those delicious tears, and I can say knowingly that the ancient physicians were right, and that the modern are wrong.
In a moment of calm, seeing the disorder in which we both were, I told her that we might be surprised.
"Do not fear, my best beloved," she said, "we are under the guardianship of our good angels."
We were resting and reviving our strength by gazing into one another's eyes, when suddenly Lucrezia, casting a glance to the right, exclaimed,
"Look there! idol of my heart, have I not told you so? Yes, the angels are watching over us! Ah! how he stares at us! He seems to try to give us confidence. Look at that little demon; admire him! He must certainly be your guardian spirit or mine."
I thought she was delirious.
"What are you saying, dearest? I do not understand you. What am I to admire?"
"Do you not see that beautiful serpent with the blazing skin, which lifts its head and seems to worship us?"
I looked in the direction she indicated, and saw a serpent with changeable colours about three feet in length, which did seem to be looking at us. I was not particularly pleased at the sight, but I could not show myself less courageous than she was.
"What!" said I, "are you not afraid?"
"I tell you, again, that the sight is delightful to me, and I feel certain that it is a spirit with nothing but the shape, or rather the appearance, of a serpent."
"And if the spirit came gliding along the grass and hissed at you?"