The reader will remember how M. de Bragadin paid her husband the money he won from me at play.
Madame Rinaldi had aged somewhat, but I knew her directly. However, as I had never had more than a passing fancy for her, we did not go back to days which did neither of us any honour.
"I am delighted to see you again," said I; "are you still living with your husband?"
"You will see him in half an hour, and he will be glad to present his respects to you."
"I should not at all care for it myself, madam; there are old quarrels between us which I do not want to renew, so, madam, farewell."
"No, no, don't go yet, sit down."
"Irene, don't let the gentleman go."
At these words Irene ran and barred the way--not like a fierce mastiff, but like an angel, entreating me to stay with that mingled look of innocence, fear, and hope, of which girls know the effect so well. I felt I could not go.
"Let me through, fair Irene," said I, "we may see each other somewhere else."
"Pray do not go before you have seen my father:"
The words were spoken so tenderly that our lips met. Irene was victorious. How can one resist a pretty girl who implores with a kiss? I took a chair, and Irene, proud of her victory, sat on my knee and covered me with kisses.
I took it into my head to task the countess where and when Irene was born.
"At Mantua," said she, "three months after I left Venice."
"And when did you leave Venice?"
"Six months after I met you."
"That is a curious coincidence, and if we had been tenderly acquainted you might say that Irene was my daughter, and I should believe you, and think that my affection for her was purely paternal."
"Your memory is not very good, sir, I wonder at that."
"I may tell you, that I never forget certain things, But I guess your meaning. You want me to subdue my liking for Irene. I am willing to do so, but she will be the loser."
This conversation had silenced Irene, but she soon took courage, and said she was like me.
"No, no," I answered, "if you were like me you would not be so pretty."
"I don't think so; I think you are very handsome."
"You flatter me."
"Stay to dinner with us."
"No, if I stayed I might fall in love with you, and that would be a pity, as your mother says I am your father."
"I was joking," said the countess, "you may love Irene with a good conscience."
"We will see what can be done."
When Irene had left the room, I said to the mother,--
"I like your daughter, but I won't be long sighing for her, and you mustn't take me for a dupe."
"Speak to my husband about it. We are very poor, and we want to go to Cremona."
"I suppose Irene has a lover?"
"But she has had one, of course?"
"Never anything serious."
"I can't believe it."
"It's true, nevertheless. Irene is intact."
Just then Irene came in with her father, who had aged to such an extent that I should never have known him in the street. He came up to me and embraced me, begging me to forget the past. "It is only you," he added, "who can furnish me with funds to go to Cremona.
"I have several debts here, and am in some danger of imprisonment. Nobody of any consequence comes to see me. My dear daughter is the only thing of value which I still possess. I have just been trying to sell this pinchbeck watch, and though I asked only six sequins, which is half what it is worth, they would not give me more than two. When a man gets unfortunate, everything is against him."
I took the watch, and gave the father six sequins for it, and then handed it to Irene. She said with a smile that she could not thank me, as I only gave her back her own, but she thanked me for the present I had made her father.
"Here," said she seriously to the old man, "you can sell it again now."
This made me laugh. I gave the count ten sequins in addition, embraced Irene, and said I must be gone, but that I would see them again in three or four days.
Irene escorted me to the bottom of the stairs, and as she allowed me to assure myself that she still possessed the rose of virginity, I gave her another ten sequins, and told her that the first time she went alone to the ball with me I would give her a hundred sequins.