The elderly woman seemed to be astonished at such a name, but the Lambertini gave no explanation. Nevertheless, people seemed to think it rather curious that a man who did not know a word of French should be living in Paris, and that in spite of his ignorance he continued to jabber away in an easy manner, though nobody could understand what he was talking about.
After some foolish conversation, the Pope's niece proposed a game at Loo. She asked me to play but on my refusing did not make a point of it, but she insisted on her cousin being her partner.
"He knows nothing about cards," said she; "but that's no matter, he will learn, and I will undertake to instruct him."
As the girl, by whose beauty I was struck, did not understand the game, I offered her a seat by the fire, asking her to grant me the honour of keeping her company, whereupon the elderly woman who had brought her began to laugh, and said I should have some difficulty in getting her niece to talk about anything, adding, in a polite manner, that she hoped I would be lenient with her as she had only just left a convent. I assured her that I should have no difficulty in amusing myself with one so amiable, and the game having begun I took up my position near the pretty niece.
I had been near her for several minutes, and solely occupied in mute admiration of her beauty, when she asked me who was that handsome gentleman who talked so oddly.
"He is a nobleman, and a fellow-countryman of mine, whom an affair of honour has banished from his country."
"He speaks a curious dialect."
"Yes, but the fact is that French is very little spoken in Italy; he will soon pick it up in Paris, and then he will be laughed at no longer. I am sorry to have brought him here, for in less than twenty-four hours he was spoiled."
"I daren't tell you as, perhaps, your aunt would not like it."
"I don't think I should tell her, but, perhaps, I should not have asked."
"Oh, yes! you should; and as you wish to know I will make no mystery of it. Madame Lambertini took a fancy to him; they passed the night together, and in token of the satisfaction he gave her she has given him the ridiculous nickname of 'Count Sixtimes.' That's all. I am vexed about it, as my friend was no profligate."
Astonishment--and very reasonable astonishment--will be expressed that I dared to talk in this way to a girl fresh from a convent; but I should have been astonished myself at the bare idea of any respectable girl coming to Lambertini's house. I fixed my gaze on my fair companion, and saw the blush of shame mounting over her pretty face; but I thought that might have more than one meaning.
Judge of my surprise when, two minutes afterwards, I heard this question:
"But what has 'Sixtimes' got to do with sleeping with Madame Lambertini?"
"My dear young lady, the explanation is perfectly simple: my friend in a single night did what a husband often takes six weeks to do."
"And you think me silly enough to tell my aunt of what we have been talking? Don't believe it."
"But there's another thing I am sorry about."
"You shall tell me what that is directly."
The reason which obliged the charming niece to retire for a few minutes may be guessed without our going into explanations. When she came back she went behind her aunt's chair, her eyes fixed on Tiretta, and then came up to me, and taking her seat again, said:
"Now, what else is it that you are sorry about?" her eyes sparkling as she asked the question.
"May I tell you, do you think?"
"You have said so much already, that I don't think you need have any scruples in telling me the rest."
"Very good: you must know, then, that this very day and in my presence he ------ her."
"If that displeased you, you must be jealous."
"Possibly, but the fact is that I was humbled by a circumstance I dare not tell you."
"I think you are laughing at me with your 'dare not tell you.'"
"God forbid, mademoiselle! I will confess, then, that I was humbled because Madame Lambertini made me see that my friend was taller than myself by two inches."
"Then she imposed on you, for you are taller than your friend."
"I am not speaking of that kind of tallness, but another; you know what I mean, and there my friend is really monstrous."
"Monstrous! then what have you to be sorry about? Isn't it better not to be monstrous?"
"Certainly; but in the article we are discussing, some women, unlike you, prefer monstrosity."
"I think that's absurd of them, or rather mad; or perhaps, I have not sufficiently clear ideas on the subject to imagine what size it would be to be called monstrous; and I think it is odd that such a thing should humble you."
"You would not have thought it of me, to see me?"
"Certainly not, for when I came into the room I thought you looked a well-proportioned man, but if you are not I am sorry for you."
"I won't leave you in doubt on the subject; look for yourself, and tell me what you think."
"Why, it's you who are the monster! I declare you make me feel quite afraid."
At this she began to perspire violently, and went behind her aunt's chair.