Progress of My Amour--My Journey to Otranto--I Enter the Service of Madame F.--A Fortunate Excoriation
The room I entered was full of people. His excellency, seeing me, smiled and drew upon me the attention of all his guests by saying aloud, "Here comes the young man who is a good judge of princes."
"My lord, I have become a judge of nobility by frequenting the society of men like you."
"The ladies are curious to know all you have done from the time of your escape from Corfu up to your return."
"Then you sentence me, monsignor, to make a public confession?"
"Exactly; but, as it is to be a confession, be careful not to omit the most insignificant circumstance, and suppose that I am not in the room."
"On the contrary, I wish to receive absolution only from your excellency. But my history will be a long one."
"If such is the case, your confessor gives you permission to be seated."
I gave all the particulars of my adventures, with the exception of my dalliance with the nymphs of the island.
"Your story is a very instructive one," observed the general.
"Yes, my lord, for the adventures shew that a young man is never so near his utter ruin than when, excited by some great passion, he finds himself able to minister to it, thanks to the gold in his purse."
I was preparing to take my leave, when the majordomo came to inform me that his excellency desired me to remain to supper. I had therefore the honour of a seat at his table, but not the pleasure of eating, for I was obliged to answer the questions addressed to me from all quarters, and I could not contrive to swallow a single mouthful. I was seated next to the Proto-Papa Bulgari, and I entreated his pardon for having ridiculed Deldimopulo's oracle. "It is nothing else but regular cheating," he said, "but it is very difficult to put a stop to it; it is an old custom."
A short time afterwards, Madame F---- whispered a few words to the general, who turned to me and said that he would be glad to hear me relate what had occurred to me in Constantinople with the wife of the Turk Yusuf, and at another friend's house, where I had seen bathing by moonlight. I was rather surprised at such an invitation, and told him that such frolics were not worth listening to, and the general not pressing me no more was said about it. But I was astonished at Madame F----'s indiscretion; she had no business to make my confidences public. I wanted her to be jealous of her own dignity, which I loved even more than her person.
Two or three days later, she said to me,
"Why did you refuse to tell your adventures in Constantinople before the general?"
"Because I do not wish everybody to know that you allow me to tell you such things. What I may dare, madam, to say to you when we are alone, I would certainly not say to you in public."
"And why not? It seems to me, on the contrary, that if you are silent in public out of respect for me, you ought to be all the more silent when we are alone."
"I wanted to amuse you, and have exposed myself to the danger of displeasing you, but I can assure you, madam, that I will not run such a risk again."
"I have no wish to pry into your intentions, but it strikes me that if your wish was to please me, you ought not to have run the risk of obtaining the opposite result. We take supper with the general this evening, and M. D---- R----- has been asked to bring you. I feel certain that the general will ask you again for your adventures in Constantinople, and this time you cannot refuse him."
M. D---- R----- came in and we went to the general's. I thought as we were driving along that, although Madame F---- seemed to have intended to humiliate me, I ought to accept it all as a favour of fortune, because, by compelling me to explain my refusal to the general; Madame F---- had, at the same time, compelled me to a declaration of my feelings, which was not without importance.
The 'proveditore-generale' gave me a friendly welcome, and kindly handed me a letter which had come with the official dispatches from Constantinople. I bowed my thanks, and put the letter in my pocket: but he told me that he was himself a great lover of news, and that I could read my letter. I opened it; it was from Yusuf, who announced the death of Count de Bonneval. Hearing the name of the worthy Yusuf, the general asked me to tell him my adventure with his wife. I could not now refuse, and I began a story which amused and interested the general and his friends for an hour or so, but which was from beginning to end the work of my imagination.
Thus I continued to respect the privacy of Yusuf, to avoid implicating the good fame of Madame F----, and to shew myself in a light which was tolerably advantageous to me. My story, which was full of sentiment, did me a great deal of honour, and I felt very happy when I saw from the expression of Madame F----'s face that she was pleased with me, although somewhat surprised.
When we found ourselves again in her house she told me, in the presence of M. D---- R-----, that the story I had related to the general was certainly very pretty, although purely imaginary, that she was not angry with me, because I had amused her, but that she could not help remarking my obstinacy in refusing compliance with her wishes. Then, turning to M. D---- R-----, she said,