I Purchase a Handsome Carriage, and Proceed to Parma With the Old Captain and the Young Frenchwoman--I Pay a Visit to Javotte, and Present Her With a Beautiful Pair of Gold Bracelets--My Perplexities Respecting My Lovely Travelling Companion--A Monologue--Conversation with the Captain--Tete-a-Tete with Henriette
The conversation was animated, and the young female officer was entertaining everybody, even Madame Querini, although she hardly took the trouble of concealing her spleen.
"It seems strange," she remarked, "that you and the captain should live together without ever speaking to each other."
"Why, madam? We understand one another perfectly, for speech is of very little consequence in the kind of business we do together."
That answer, given with graceful liveliness, made everybody laugh, except Madame Querini-Juliette, who, foolishly assuming the air of a prude, thought that its meaning was too clearly expressed.
"I do not know any kind of business," she said, "that can be transacted without the assistance of the voice or the pen."
"Excuse me, madam, there are some: playing at cards, for instance, is a business of that sort."
"Are you always playing?"
"We do nothing else. We play the game of the Pharaoh (faro), and I hold the bank."
Everybody, understanding the shrewdness of this evasive answer, laughed again, and Juliette herself could not help joining in the general merriment.
"But tell me," said Count Spada, "does the bank receive much?"
"As for the deposits, they are of so little importance, that they are hardly worth mentioning."
No one ventured upon translating that sentence for the benefit of the worthy captain. The conversation continued in the same amusing style, and all the guests were delighted with the graceful wit of the charming officer.
Late in the evening I took leave of the general, and wished him a pleasant journey.
"Adieu," he said, "I wish you a pleasant journey to Naples, and hope you will enjoy yourself there"
"Well, general, I am not going to Naples immediately; I have changed my mind and intend to proceed to Parma, where I wish to see the Infante. I also wish to constitute myself the interpreter of these two officers who know nothing of Italian:"
"Ah, young man! opportunity makes a thief, does it not? Well, if I were in your place, I would do the same."
I also bade farewell to Madame Querini, who asked me to write to her from Bologna. I gave her a promise to do so, but without meaning to fulfil it.
I had felt interested in the young Frenchwoman when she was hiding under the bed-clothes: she had taken my fancy the moment she had shewn her features, and still more when I had seen her dressed. She completed her conquest at the dinner-table by the display of a wit which I greatly admired. It is rare in Italy, and seems to belong generally to the daughters of France. I did not think it would be very difficult to win her love, and I resolved on trying. Putting my self-esteem on one side, I fancied I would suit her much better than the old Hungarian, a very pleasant man for his age, but who, after all, carried his sixty years on his face, while my twenty-three were blooming on my countenance. It seemed to me that the captain himself would not raise any great objection, for he seemed one of those men who, treating love as a matter of pure fancy, accept all circumstances easily, and give way good-naturedly to all the freaks of fortune. By becoming the travelling companion of this ill-matched couple, I should probably succeed in my aims. I never dreamed of experiencing a refusal at their hands, my company would certainly be agreeable to them, as they could not exchange a single word by themselves.
With this idea I asked the captain, as we reached our inn, whether he intended to proceed to Parma by the public coach or otherwise.
"As I have no carriage of my own," he answered, "we shall have to take the coach."
"I have a very comfortable carriage, and I offer you the two back seats if you have no objection to my society."
"That is a piece of good fortune. Be kind enough to propose it to Henriette."
"Will you, madam, grant me the favour of accompanying you to Parma?"
"I should be delighted, for we could have some conversation, but take care, sir, your task will not be an easy one, you will often find yourself obliged to translate for both of us."
"I shall do so with great pleasure; I am only sorry that the journey is not longer. We can arrange everything at supper-time; allow me to leave you now as I have some business to settle."
My business was in reference to a carriage, for the one I had boasted of existed only in my imagination. I went to the most fashionable coffee-house, and, as good luck would have it, heard that there was a travelling carriage for sale, which no one would buy because it was too expensive. Two hundred sequins were asked for it, although it had but two seats and a bracket-stool for a third person. It was just what I wanted. I called at the place where it would be seen. I found a very fine English carriage which could not have cost less than two hundred guineas. Its noble proprietor was then at supper, so I sent him my name, requesting him not to dispose of his carriage until the next morning, and I went back to the hotel well pleased with my discovery. At supper I arranged with the captain that we would not leave Cesena till after dinner on the following day, and the conversation was almost entirely a dialogue between Henriette and myself; it was my first talk with a French woman. I thought this young creature more and more charming, yet I could not suppose her to be anything else but an adventurers, and I was astonished at discovering in her those noble and delicate feelings which denote a good education. However, as such an idea would not have suited the views I had about her, I rejected it whenever it presented itself to my mind. Whenever I tried to make her talk about the captain she would change the subject of conversation, or evade my insinuations with a tact and a shrewdness which astonished and delighted me at the same time, for everything she said bore the impress of grace and wit. Yet she did not elude this question: