I continued to deal in the hope that she would get her money back, but seeing that she still lost I put down the cards, and told her that she must pay me at Rome. She was a handsome and agreeable woman, but she did not inspire me with any passions, no doubt because my mind was occupied with another, otherwise I should have drawn a bill on sight, and paid myself without meddling with her purse. It was two o'clock in the morning when I got to bed.
Both Leonilda and myself wished to see Caserta before leaving Naples, and the duke sent us there in a carriage drawn by six mules, which went faster than most horses. Leonilda's governess accompanied us.
The day after, we settled the particulars of our marriage in a conversation which lasted for two hours.
"Leonilda," began the duke, "has a mother, who lives at a short distance from here, on an income of six hundred ducats, which I have given her for life, in return for an estate belonging to her husband; but Leonilda does not depend on her. She gave her up to me seven years ago, and I have given her an annuity of five hundred ducats, which she will bring to you, with all her diamonds and an extensive trousseau. Her mother gave her up to me entirely, and I gave my word of honour to get her a good husband. I have taken peculiar care of her education, and as her mind has developed I have put her on her guard against all prejudices, with the exception of that which bids a woman keep herself intact for her future husband. You may rest assured that you are the first man whom Leonilda (who is a daughter to me) has pressed to her heart."
I begged the duke to get the contract ready, and to add to her dower the sum of five thousand ducats, which I would give him when the deed was signed.
"I will mortgage them," said he, "on a house which is worth double."
Then turning to Leonilda, who was shedding happy tears, he said,--
"I am going to send for your mother, who will be delighted to sign the settlement, and to make the acquaintance of your future husband."
The mother lived at the Marquis Galiani's, a day's journey from Naples. The duke said he would send a carriage for her the next day, and that we could all sup together the day after.
"The law business will be all done by then, and we shall be able to go to the little church at Portici, and the priest will marry you. Then we will take your mother to St. Agatha and dine with her, and you can go your way with her maternal blessing."
This conclusion gave me an involuntary shudder, and Leonilda fell fainting in the duke's arms. He called her dear child, cared for her tenderly, and brought her to herself.
We all had to wipe our eyes, as we were all equally affected.
I considered myself as a married man and under obligation to alter my way of living, and I stopped playing. I had won more than fifteen thousand ducats, and this sum added to what I had before and Leonilda's dowry should have sufficed for an honest livelihood.
Next day, as I was at supper with the duke and Leonilda, she said,--
"What will my mother say to-morrow evening, when she sees you?"
"She will say that you are silly to marry a stranger whom you have only known for a week. Have you told her my name, my nation, my condition, and my age?"
"I wrote to her as follows:
"'Dear mamma, come directly and sign my marriage contract with a gentleman introduced to me by the duke, with whom I shall be leaving for Rome on Monday next.'"
"My letter ran thus," said the duke,
"'Come without delay, and sign your daughter's marriage contract, and give her your blessing. She has wisely chosen a husband old enough to be her father; he is a friend of mine.'"
"That's not true," cried Leonilda, rushing to my arms, "she will think you are really old, and I am sorry."
"Is your mother an elderly woman?"
"She's a charming Woman," said the duke, "full of wit, and not thirty-eight yet."
"What has she got to do with Galiani?"
"She is an intimate friend of the marchioness's, and she lives with the family but pays for her board."
Next morning, having some business with my banker to attend to, I told the duke that I should not be able to see Leonilda till supper-time.