The hours passed by in jests and merriment, and when we sat down to supper I made the champagne corks fly to such an extent that the girls began to get rather gay. I myself felt a little heated, and as I held each one's secret I had the hardihood to tell them that their scruples were ridiculous, as each of them had shewn no reserve to me in private.
At this they gazed at one another in a kind of blank surprise, as if indignant at what I had said. Foreseeing that feminine pride might prompt them to treat my accusation as an idle calumny, I resolved not to give them time, and drawing Manon on to my knee I embraced her with such ardour that she gave in and abandoned herself to my passion. Her example overcame the others, and for five hours we indulged in every kind of voluptuous enjoyment. At the end of that time we were all in need of rest, but I had to go. I wanted to give them some jewels, but they said they would rather I ordered gloves to the amount of thirty louis, the money to be paid in advance, and the gloves not to be called for.
I went to sleep on board the boat, and did not awake till we got to Avignon. I was conducted to the inn of "St. Omen" and supped in my room in spite of the marvellous tales which Le Duc told me of a young beauty at the public table.
Next morning my Spaniard told me that the beauty and her husband slept in a room next to mine. At the same time he brought me a bill of the play, and I saw Company from Paris, with Mdlle. Astrodi, who was to sing and dance. I gave a cry of wonder, and exclaimed,--
"The famous Astrodi at Avignon--how she will be astonished to see me!"
Not wanting to live in hermit fashion, I went downstairs to dine at the public table, and I found a score of people sitting down to such a choice repast that I could not conceive how it could be done for forty sous a head. The fair stranger drew all eyes, and especially mine, towards her. She was a young and perfect beauty, silent, her eyes fixed on a napkin, replying in monosyllables to those who addressed her, and glancing at the speaker with large blue eyes, the beauty of which it would be difficult to describe. Her husband was seated at the other end of the table--a man of a kind that inspires contempt at the first glance. He was young, marked with the small-pox, a greedy eater, a loud talker, laughing and speaking at random, and altogether I took him for a servant in disguise. Feeling sure that such a fellow did not know how to refuse, I sent him a glass of champagne, which he drank off to my health forthwith. "May I have the pleasure of sending a glass to your wife?" He replied, with a roar of laughter, to ask her myself; and with a slight bow she told me that she never took anything to drink. When the dessert came in she rose, and her husband followed her to their room.
A stranger who like myself had never seen her before, asked me who she was. I said I was a newcomer and did not know, and somebody else said that her husband called himself the Chevalier Stuard, that he came from Lyons, and was going to Marseilles; he came, it appeared, to Avignon a week ago, without servants, and in a very poor carriage.
I intended staying at Avignon only as long as might be necessary to see the Fountain or Fall of Vaucluse, and so I had not got any letters of introduction, and had not the pretext of acquaintance that I might stay and enjoy her fine eyes. But an Italian who had read and enjoyed the divine Petrarch would naturally wish to see the place made divine by the poet's love for Laura. I went to the theatre, where I saw the vice-legate Salviati, women of fashion, neither fair nor foul, and a wretched comic opera; but I neither saw Astrodi nor any other actor from the Comedie Italienne at Paris.
"Where is the famous Astrodi?" said I, to a young man sitting by me, "I have not seen her yet."
"Excuse me, she has danced and sang before your eyes."
"By Jove, it's impossible! I know her perfectly, and if she has so changed as not to be recognized she is no longer herself."
I turned to go, and two minutes after the young man I had addressed came up and begged me to come back, and he would take me to Astradi's dressing-room, as she had recognized me.