Those who might be curious did not dare to ask me, for one can no more enquire of a knight what order he belongs to, than one can say to a lady how old are you? I wore it till 1785, when the Prince Palatine of Russia told me in private that I would do well to get rid of the thing.
"It only serves to dazzle fools," said he, "and here you have none such to deal with."
I followed his advice, for he was a man of profound intelligence. Nevertheless, he removed the corner-stone of the kingdom of Poland. He ruined it by the same means by which he had made it greater.
The old man to whom Barbaro presented me was a marquis. He told me that he knew Venice, and as I was not a patrician I could live as pleasantly anywhere else. He told me to consider his house and all he possessed as mine.
The two young marchionesses had enchanted me; they were almost ideal beauties. I longed to enquire about them of some good authority, for I did not put much faith in Barbaro.
In half an hour the visitors commenced to come on foot and in carriages. Among the arrivals were several pretty and well- dressed girls, and numerous smart young men all vying with each other in their eagerness to pay court to the two cousins. There were twenty of us in all. We sat round a large table, and began to play a game called bankruptcy. After amusing myself for a couple of hours in losing sequins, I went out with Barbaro to the opera.
"The two young ladies are two incarnate angels," I said to my countryman. "I shall pay my duty to them, and shall find out in a few days whether they are for me. As for the gaming speculation, I will lend you two hundred sequins; but I don't want to lose the money, so you must give me good security."
"To that I agree willingly, but I am certain of giving it you back with good interest."
"You shall have a half share and not twenty-five per cent., and I must strongly insist that nobody shall know of my having anything to do with your bank. If I hear any rumours, I shall bet heavily on my own account."
"You may be sure I shall keep the secret; it is to my own interest to have it believed that I am my own capitalist."
"Very good. Come to me early to-morrow morning, and bring me good security, and you shall have the money."
He embraced me in the joy of his heart.
The picture of the two fair ladies was still in my brain, and I was thinking of enquiring of Greppi when I chanced to see Triulzi in the pit of the opera-house. He saw me at the same moment, and came up to me, saying gaily that he was sure I had had a bad dinner, and that I had much better dine with him every day.
"You make me blush, marquis, for not having called on you yet."
"No, no; there can be nothing of that kind between men of the world, who know the world's worth."
"We are agreed there, at all events."
"By the way, I hear you have decided on selling me that handsome dress of yours. I am really very much obliged to you, and will give you the fifteen thousand livres whenever you like."
"You can come and take it to-morrow morning."
He then proceeded to tell me about the various ladies I noticed in the theatre. Seizing the opportunity, I said,--
"When I was in church the other day I saw two exquisite beauties. A man at my side told me they were cousins, the Marchionesses Q---- and I----, I think he said. Do you know them? I am quite curious to hear about them."
"I know them. As you say, they are charming. It's not very difficult to obtain access to them; and I suppose they are good girls, as I have not heard their names in connection with any scandal. However, I know that Mdlle. F has a lover, but it is a great secret; he is the only son of one of the noblest of our families. Unfortunately, they are not rich; but if they are clever, as I am sure they are, they may make good matches. If you like I can get someone to introduce you there."
"I haven't made up my mind yet. I may be able to forget them easily only having seen them once. Nevertheless, I am infinitely obliged to you for your kind offer"
After the ballet I went into the assembly-room and I heard "there he is" several times repeated as I came in.