I slept well, but in my dreams I saw again and again the face of the new M---- M----. Next day, as soon as I got to the fountain, Madame Zeroli told me that all the company maintained that I ought to have lost in playing on thirteen cards at once, as it was not true that one card won four times in each deal; however, the marquis, though he agreed with the rest, had said that he would not let me play like that again.
"I have only one objection to make to that--namely, that if I wanted to play in the same way again he could only prevent me by fighting for it."
"His mistress swears she will make you play in the usual way."
I smiled, and thanked her for her information.
When I got back to the inn I played a game of quinze with the marquis, and lost fifty louis; afterwards I let myself be persuaded to hold a bank. I put down five hundred louis, and defied fortune. Desarmoises was my croupier, and I warned the company that every card must have the stake placed on it, and that I should rise at half-past seven. I was seated between two ladies. I put the five hundred louis on the board, and I got change from the inn-keeper to the amount of a hundred crowns, to amuse the ladies with. But something happened. All the cards before me were loose packs, and I called for new ones. The inn-keeper said he had sent to Chamberi for a hundred packs, and that the messenger would be back soon.
"In the meanwhile," said he, "you can use the cards on the table, which are as good as new."
"I want them new, not as good as new. I have my prejudices, and they are so strong as to be invincible. In the meanwhile I shall remain a spectator, though I am sorry to keep the ladies waiting."
Nobody dared say a word, and I rose, after replacing my money in my cash-box. The Marquis de Prie took the bank, and played splendidly. I stood beside Madame Zeroli, who made me her partner, and gave me five or six Louis the next day. The messenger who was to be back soon did not return till midnight, and I thanked my stars for the escape I had had, for in such a place, full of professional gamesters, there are people whose eyes are considerably sharper than a lynx's. I put the money back in my room, and proceeded on my usual way.
I found my fair nun in bed, and asked her,
"How do you feel to-day, madam?"
"Say daughter, that name is so sweet to me that I would you were my father that I might clasp you in my arms without fearing anyone."
"Well, my dear daughter, do not fear anything, but open your arms to me."
"I will; we will embrace one another."
"My little ones are prettier than they were yesterday let me suck them."
"You silly papa, you are drinking your daughter's milk."
"It is so sweet, darling, and the little drop I tasted has made me feel so happy. You cannot be angry at my enjoying this harmless privilege."
"Of course I am not angry; you delighted me. But I shall have to call you baby, not papa."
"How glad I am to find you in better spirits to-night!"
"You have 'given me back my happiness, and I feel at peace once more. The country-woman told me that in a few days I should be just the same as if I had never seen Coudert."
"That is not quite true; how about your stomach, for instance?"
"Be quiet; you can't know anything about such things, and I am quite astonished myself."
"Let me see."
"Oh, no; you mustn't see, but you may feel."
"Oh! please don't go there."
"Why not? You can't be made differently from your sister, who would be now about thirty. I want to shew you her portrait naked."
"Have you got it with you? I should so like to see it."
I drew it out and gave it to her. She admired it, kissed it, and asked me if the painter had followed nature in all respects.
"Certainly," said I. "She knew that such a picture would give me pleasure."
"It is very fine. It is more like me than the other picture. But I suppose the long hair is only put in to please you?"
"Not at all. Italian nuns are allowed to wear their hair as long as they please, provided they do not shew it.