I pretended to have seen nothing.
While dressing she maintained with much ingenuity that a wise girl will be much more chary of her favours towards a man she loves than towards a man she does not love, because she would be afraid to lose the first, whereas she does not care about the second.
"It will not be so with me, charming Leonilda," said I.
"You make a mistake, I am sure."
The pictures with which the closet where we breakfasted was adorned were admirable more from the colouring and the design than from the amorous combats they represented.
"They don't make any impression on me," said the duke, and he shewed us that it was so.
Leonilda looked away, and I felt shocked, but concealed my feelings.
"I am in the same state as you," said I, "but I will not take the trouble of convincing you."
"That can't be," said he; and passing his hand rapidly over me he assured himself that it was so. "It's astonishing," he cried; "you must be as impotent as I am."
"If I wanted to controvert that assertion one glance into Leonilda's eyes would be enough."
"Look at him, dearest Leonilda, that I may be convinced."
Leonilda looked tenderly at me, and her glance produced the result I had expected.
"Give me your hand," said I, to the poor duke, and he did so.
"I was in the wrong," he exclaimed, but when he endeavoured to bring the surprising object to light I resisted. He persisted in his endeavours, and I determined to play on him a trick. I took Leonilda's hand and pressed my lips to it, and just as the duke thought he had triumphed I besprinkled him, and went off into a roar of laughter. He laughed too, and went to get a napkin.
The girl could see nothing of all this, as it went on under the table; and while my burning lips rested on her hand, my eyes were fixed on hers and our breath mingled. This close contact had enabled me to baptise the duke, but when she took in the joke we made a group worthy of the pen of Aretin.
It was a delightful breakfast, though we passed certain bounds which decency ought to have proscribed to us, but Leonilda was wonderfully innocent considering her position. We ended the scene by mutual embraces, and when I took my burning lips from Leonilda's I felt consumed with a fire which I could not conceal.
When we left I told the duke that I would see his mistress no more, unless he would give her up to me, declaring that I would marry her and give her a dower of five thousand ducats.
"Speak to her, and if she consents I will not oppose it. She herself will tell you what property she has."
I then went to dress for dinner. I found the duchess in the midst of a large circle, and she told me kindly that she was very sorry to hear of my losses.
"Fortune is the most fickle of beings, but I don't complain of my loss--nay, when you speak thus I love it, and I even think that you will make me win this evening."
"I hope so, but I am afraid not; you will have to contend against Monte Leone, who is usually very lucky."
In considering the matter after dinner, I determined for the future to play with ready money and not on my word of honour, lest I should at any time be carried away by the excitement of play and induced to stake more than I possessed. I thought, too, that the banker might have his doubts after the two heavy losses I had sustained, and I confess that I was also actuated by the gambler's superstition that by making a change of any kind one changes the luck.
I spent four hours at the theatre in Leonilda's box, where I found her more gay and charming than I had seen her before.
"Dear Leonilda," I said, "the love I feel for you will suffer no delay and no rivals, not even the slightest inconstancy. I have told the duke that I am ready to marry you, and that I will give you a dower of five thousand ducats."
"What did he say?"
"That I must ask you, and that he would offer no opposition."
"Then we should leave Naples together."
"Directly, dearest, and thenceforth death alone would part us."
"We will talk of it to-morrow, dear Don Giacomo, and if I can make you happy I am sure you will do the same by me."
As she spoke these delightful words the duke came in.