I took care, however, to learn everything which would be of service to me, and in the evenings I put down on paper all the mental notes I had made during the day. Four or five hours was all I allowed myself for sleep, and in fifteen days I had learnt enough.
Pleasure, gaming, and idleness--my usual companions--had no part in this expedition, and I devoted all my energies to the object of my mission. I dined once with the banker, once with Madame P----, in the town, and once in a pretty country house which her husband had, at about a league's distance from Dunkirk. She took me there herself, and on finding myself alone with the woman I had loved so well I delighted her by the delicacy of my behaviour, which was marked only by respect and friendship. As I still thought her charming, and as our connection had only ended six weeks ago, I was astonished to see myself so quiet, knowing my disposition too well to attribute my restraint to virtue. What, then, was the reason? An Italian proverb, speaking for nature, gives the true solution of the riddle.
'La Mona non vuol pensieri', and my head was full of thought.
My task was done, and bidding good-bye to all my friends, I set out in my post-chaise for Paris, going by another way for the sake of the change. About midnight, on my asking for horses at some stage, the name of which I forget, they told me that the next stage was the fortified town of Aire, which we should not be allowed to pass through at midnight.
"Get me the horses," said I, "I will make them open the gates."
I was obeyed, and in due time we reached the gates.
The postillion cracked his whip and the sentry called out, "Who goes there?"
After making me wait for an hour the gate was opened, and I was told that I must go and speak to the governor. I did so, fretting and fuming on my way as if I were some great person, and I was taken to a room where a man in an elegant nightcap was lying beside a very pretty woman.
"Whose messenger are you?"
"Nobody's, but as I am in a hurry."
"That will do. We will talk the matter over tomorrow. In the meanwhile you will accept the hospitality of the guard-room."
"But, sir . . ."
"But me no buts, if you please; leave the room."
I was taken to the guard-room where I spent the night seated on the ground. The daylight appeared. I shouted, swore, made all the racket I could, said I wanted to go on, but nobody took any notice of me.
Ten o'clock struck. More impatient than I can say, I raised my voice and spoke to the officer, telling him that the governor might assassinate me if he liked, but had no right to deny me pen and paper, or to deprive me of the power of sending a messenger to Paris.
"Your name, sir?"
"Here is my passport."
He told me that he would take it to the governor, but I snatched it away from him.
"Would you like to see the governor?"
"Yes, I should."
We started for the governor's apartments. The officer was the first to enter, and in two minutes came out again and brought me in. I gave up my passport in proud silence. The governor read it through, examining me all the while to see if I was the person described; he then gave it me back, telling me that I was free to go where I liked.
"Not so fast, sir, I am not in such a hurry now. I shall send a messenger to Paris and wait his return; for by stopping me on my journey you have violated all the rights of the subject."
"You violated them yourself in calling yourself a messenger."
"Not at all; I told you that I was not one."
"Yes, but you told your postillion that you were, and that comes to the same thing."
"The postillion is a liar, I told him nothing of the kind."
"Why didn't you shew your passport?"
"Why didn't you give me time to do so? In the course of the next few days we shall see who is right."
"Just as you please."
I went out with the officer who took me to the posting-place, and a minute afterwards my carriage drew up. The posting-place was also an inn, and I told the landlord to have a special messenger ready to carry out my orders, to give me a good room and a good bed, and to serve me some rich soup immediately; and I warned him that I was accustomed to good fare.