Besides the hall, which I thought magnificent, I noted with great pleasure a closet arranged as a boudoir, and covered with the most exquisite pictures. A fine garden, fountains, baths, several well-furnished rooms, a good kitchen--in a word, everything pleased me, and I begged M.---- to arrange for me to take up my abode there in two days' time.
When we got back to Soleure, Madame told me how pleased she was that I liked the house; and seizing the opportunity, I said that I hoped they would often do me the honour of dining with me. They promised they would do so. I drew from my pocket a packet containing a hundred louis, which I gave M.---- to pay the rent. I then embraced him, and after imprinting a respectful kiss on the hand of his fair mate I went to M. de Chavigni, who approved of my having taken the house as it pleased my lady, and asked me if it was true that I was going to give a ball.
"Yes, if I see any prospect of its being a brilliant one, and if I have your approbation."
"You need have no doubts on that point, my dear fellow, and whatever you can't find in the shops come to me for. Come, I see you are going to spend a little money. It is a good plan, and overcomes many difficulties. In the meanwhile you shall have two footmen, an excellent cook, a housekeeper, and whatever other servants you require. The head of my household will pay them, and you can settle with him afterwards, he is a trustworthy man. I will come now and then and take a spoonful of soup with you, and you shall reward me for what services I may have done you by telling me how things are getting on. I have a great esteem for your charming friend, her discretion is beyond her years, and the pledges of love you will obtain of her will doubtless increase your passion and your esteem. Is she aware that I know all?"
"She knows that we are firm friends, and she is glad of it, as she is sure that you will be discreet."
"She may count on my discretion. She is really a delicious woman; I should have been tempted to seduce her myself thirty years ago."
A druggist, whom the doctor had recommended to me, set out the same day to get ready the baths which were to cure me of my imaginary complaint, and in two days I went myself, after having given Le Duc orders to bring my baggage on.
I was extremely surprised, on entering the apartment I was to occupy, to see a pretty young woman who came up to me in a modest way to kiss my hand. I stopped her doing so, and my astonished air made her blush.
"Do you belong to the household?" I said.
"The ambassador's steward has engaged me as your housekeeper."
"Pardon my surprise. Take me to my room."
She obeyed, and sitting down on the couch I begged her to sit beside me.
"That is an honour," said she, in the most polite and modest way, "I cannot allow myself. I am only your servant."
"Very good, but when I am alone I hope you will consent to take your meals with me, as I don't like eating by myself."
"I will do so, sir."
"Where is your room?"
"This is the one the steward assigned to me, but you have only to speak if you wish me to sleep in another."
"Not at all; it will do very well."
Her room was just behind the recess in which my bed stood. I went in with her and was astonished to see a great display of dresses, and in an adjoining closet all the array of the toilette, linen in abundance, and a good stock of shoes and embroidered slippers. Dumb with surprise I looked at her, and was thoroughly satisfied with what I saw. Nevertheless I determined to subject her to a close examination, as I thought her manners too interesting and her linen too extensive for her to be a mere servant. All at once I was struck with the idea that it might be a trick of the ambassador's, for a fine woman, well educated, and aged twenty-four or at the most twenty-five years, seemed to me more fitted to be my mistress than my housekeeper. I therefore asked her if she knew the ambassador, and what wages she was to receive. She replied that she only knew M.