I had determined, then, to do all in my power for her, and certainly not to allow her to return to the convent in the state she was in. I concluded that to save her would be an action pleasing to God, since God alone could have made her so like my beloved, and God had willed that I should win a good deal of money, and had made me find the Zeroli, who would serve as a shield to my actions and baffle the curiosity of spies. The philosophers and the mystics may perhaps laugh at me, but what do I care? I have always delighted in referring all the actions of my life to God, and yet people have charged me with Atheism!
Next morning I did not forget the Zeroli, and I went to her room at eight and found her asleep. Her maid begged me to go in quietly for fear of awakening her, and then left me and shut the door. I knew my part, for I remembered how, twenty years before, a Venetian lady, whose sleep I had foolishly respected, had laughed at me and sent me about my business. I therefore knew what to do; and having gently uncovered her, I gave myself up to those delicate preliminary delights which sweeten the final pleasure. The Zeroli wisely continued to sleep; but at last, conquered by passion, she seconded my caresses with greater ardour than my own, and she was obliged to laugh at her stratagem. She told me that her husband had gone to Geneva to buy a repeating watch, and that he would not return till next day, and that she could spend the night with me.
"Why the night, dearest, while we have the day before us? The night is for slumber, and in the day one enjoys double bliss, since the light allows all the senses to be satisfied at once. If you do not expect anybody, I will pass the whole morning with you."
"Very good; nobody will interrupt us."
I was soon in her arms, and for four hours we gave ourselves up to every kind of pleasure, cheating each other the better to succeed, and laughing with delight each time we convinced each other of our love. After the last assault she asked me, in return for her kindness, to spend three more days at Aix.
"I promise you," I said, "to stay here as long as you continue giving me such marks of your love as you have given me this morning."
"Let us get up, then, and go to dinner."
"In company, dearest? Look at your eyes."
"All the better. People will guess what has happened, and the two countesses will burst with envy. I want everybody to know that it is for me alone that you are remaining at Aix."
"I am not worth the trouble, my angel, but so be it; I will gladly oblige you, even though I lose all my money in the next three days."
"I should be in despair if you lost; but if you abstain from punting you will not lose, though you may let yourself be robbed."
"You may be sure that I know what I am about, and that I shall only allow ladies to rob me. You have had some money out of me yourself."
"Yes, but not nearly so much as the countesses, and I am sorry you allowed them to impose on you, as they no doubt put it down to your being in love with them."
"They are quite wrong, poor dears, for neither would have kept me here a day."
"I am delighted to hear it. But let me tell you what the Marquis of St. Maurice was saying about you yesterday."
"Say on. I hope he did not allow himself any offensive remarks."
"No; he only said that you should never have offered the Englishman to be off at eight cards, as you had as much chance as he, and if he had won he might have thought that you knew the card was there."
"Very good, but tell the marquis that a gentleman is incapable of such a thought, and besides I knew the character of the young nobleman, and I was almost sure he would not accept my offer."
When we appeared in the dining-room we were received with applause. The fair Zeroli had the air of regarding me as her property, and I affected an extremely modest manner. No one dared to ask me to make a bank after dinner; the purses were too empty, and they contented themselves with trente-quarante, which lasted the whole day, and which cost me a score of louis.