Tonine had told me that for manners' sake I should sup once with her. I went the same evening and found Righelini and Murray there. The supper was delicious, and I was delighted with the excellent understanding the two lovers had already come to. I complimented the ambassador on the loss of one of his tastes, and he told me he should be very sorry at such a loss, as it would warn him of his declining powers.
"But," said I, "you used to like to perform the mysterious sacrifice of Love without a veil."
"It was not I but Ancilla who liked it, and as I preferred pleasing her to pleasing myself, I gave in to her taste without any difficulty."
"I am delighted with your answer, as I confess it would cost me something to be the witness of your exploits with Tonine."
Having casually remarked that I had no longer a house in Muran, Righelini told me that if I liked he could get me a delightful house at a low rent on the Tondamente Nuovo.
As this quarter facing north, and as agreeable in summer as disagreeable in winter, was opposite to Muran, where I should have to go twice a week, I told the doctor I should be glad to look at the house.
I took leave of the rich and fortunate ambassador at midnight, and before passing the day with my new prize I went to sleep so as to be fresh and capable of running a good course.
I went to Barberine at an early hour, and as soon as she saw me she said,
"My mother will not be back till the evening, and my brother will take his dinner at the school. Here is a fowl, a ham, some cheese, and two bottles of Scopolo wine. We will take our mess whenever you like:"
"You astonish me, sweetheart, for how did you manage to get such a good dinner?"
"We owe it to my mother, so to her be the praise."
"You have told her, then, what we are going to do?"
"No, not I, for I know nothing about it; but I told her you were coming to see me, and at the same time I gave her the ten sequins."
"And what did your mother say?"
"She said she wouldn't be sorry if you were to love me as you loved my sister."
"I love you better, though I love her well."
"You love her? Why have you left her, then?"
"I have not left her, for we supped together yesterday evening; but we no longer live together as lovers, that is all. I have yielded her up to a rich friend of mine, who has made her fortune."
"That is well, though I don't understand much about these affairs. I hope you will tell Tonine that I have taken her place, and I should be very pleased if you would let her know that you are quite sure you are my first lover."
"And supposing the news vexes her?"
"So much the better. Will you do it for me? it's the first favour I have asked of you."
"I promise to do so."
After this rapid dialogue we took breakfast, and then, perfectly agreed, we went to bed, rather as if we were about to sacrifice to Hymen than to love.
The game was new to Barberine, and her transports, her green notions- -which she told me openly--her inexperience, or rather her awkwardness, enchanted me. I seemed for the first time to pluck the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and never had I tasted fruit so delicious. My little maid would have been ashamed to let me see how the first thorn hurt her, and to convince me that she only smelt the rose, she strove to make me think she experienced more pleasure than is possible in a first trial, always more or less painful. She was not yet a big girl, the roses on her swelling breasts were as yet but buds, and she was a woman only in her heart.
After more than one assault delivered and sustained with spirit, we got up for dinner, and after we had refreshed ourselves we mounted once more the altar of love, where we remained till the evening. Laura found us dressed and well pleased with each other on her return. I made Barberine another present of twenty sequins, I swore to love her always, and went on my way. At the time I certainly meant to keep to my oath, but that which destiny had in store for me could not be reconciled with these promises which welled forth from my soul in a moment of excitement.
The next morning Righelini took me to see the lodging he had spoken to me about. I liked it and took it on the spot, paying the first quarter in advance. The house belonged to a widow with two daughters, the elder of whom had just been blooded. Righelini was her doctor, and had treated her for nine months without success. As he was going to pay her a visit I went in with him, and found myself in the presence of a fine waxen statue. Surprise drew from me these words:
"She is pretty, but the sculptor should give her some colour."
On which the statue smiled in a manner which would have been charming if her lips had but been red.
"Her pallor," said Righelini, "will not astonish you when I tell you she has just been blooded for the hundred and fourth time."
I gave a very natural gesture of surprise.
This fine girl had attained the age of eighteen years without experiencing the monthly relief afforded by nature, the result being that she felt a deathly faintness three or four times a week, and the only relief was to open the vein.
"I want to send her to the country," said the doctor, "where pure and wholesome air, and, above all, more exercise, will do her more good than all the drugs in the world."
After I had been told that my bed should be made ready by the evening, I went away with Righelini, who told me that the only cure for the girl would be a good strong lover.
"But my dear doctor," said I, "can't you make your own prescription?"
"That would be too risky a game, for I might find myself compelled to marry her, and I hate marriage like the devil."
Though I was no better inclined towards marriage than the doctor, I was too near the fire not to get burnt, and the reader will see in the next chapter how I performed the miraculous cure of bringing the colours of health into the cheeks of this pallid beauty.