This was enough to inform me of the position in which they stood to one another, and of the part I ought to take.
We remained together till the evening, when the countess and the marquis went to the opera, and the count came with me to my room, till my carriage was ready to take us there too. The opera had begun when we got in, and the first person I noticed on the stage was my dear Therese Palesi, whom I had left at Florence. It was a pleasant surprise to me, and I foresaw that we should renew our sweet interviews while I remained at Milan I was discreet enough to say nothing to the count about his wife's charms, or the way their house was managed. I saw that the place was taken, and the odd humours of the lady prevented my falling in love with her. After the second act we went to the assembly rooms, where five or six banks at faro were being held; I staked and lost a hundred ducats as if to pay for my welcome, and then rose from the table.
At supper the countess seemed to unbend a little, she condoled with me on my loss, and I said that I was glad of it as it made her speak so.
Just as I rang my bell the next morning, Clairmont told me that a woman wanted to speak to me.
"Is she young?"
"Both young and pretty, sir."
"That will do nicely, shew her in."
I saw a simply dressed girl, who reminded me of Leah. She was tall and beautiful, but had not as high pretensions as the Jewess; as she only wanted to know whether she could do my washing for me. I was quite taken with her. Clairmont had just brought me my chocolate, and I asked her to sit down on the bed; but she answered modestly that she did not want to trouble me, and would come again when I was up.
"Do you live at any distance?"
"I live on the ground floor of this house."
"All by yourself?"
"No sir, I have my father and mother."
"And what is your name?"
"Your name is as pretty as you are. Will you give me your hand to kiss?"
"I can't," she replied, with a smile, "my hand is another's."
"You are engaged, are you?"
"Yes, to a tailor, and we are going to be married before the end of the carnival:"
"Is he rich or handsome?"
"Neither the one nor the other."
"Then why are you going to marry him?"
"Because I want to have a house of my own:"
"I like you, and will stand your friend. Go and fetch your tailor. I will give him some work to do."
As soon as she went out I got up and told Clairmont to put my linen on a table. I had scarcely finished dressing when she came back with her tailor. It was a striking contrast, for he was a little shrivelled-up man, whose appearance made one laugh.
"Well, master tailor," said I, "so you are going to marry this charming girl?"
"Yes, sir, the banns have been published already."
"You are a lucky fellow indeed to have so much happiness in store. When are you going to marry her?"
"In ten or twelve days."
"Why not to-morrow?"
"Your worship is in a great hurry."
"I think I should be, indeed," said I, laughing, "if I were in your place. I want you to make me a domino for the ball to- morrow."
"Certainly, sir; but your excellency must find me the stuff, for nobody in Milan would give me credit for it, and I couldn't afford to lay out so much money in advance."
"When you are married you will have money and credit too. In the meanwhile here are ten sequins for you."
He went away in high glee at such a windfall.
I gave Zenobia some lace to do up, and asked her if she was afraid of having a jealous husband.
"He is neither jealous nor amorous," she replied. "He is only marrying me because I earn more than he does."
"With your charms I should have thought you might have made a better match."
"I have waited long enough; I have got tired of maidenhood. Besides, he is sharp if he is not handsome, and perhaps a keen head is better than a handsome face."
"You are sharp enough yourself, anyhow. But why does he put off the wedding?"
"Because he hasn't got any money, and wants to have a fine wedding for his relations to come to.