"The advantages of the banker," said I, "are two. The first and the smaller is that all he has got to attend to is not to deal wrongly, which is a very small matter to an habitual player; and all the time the punter has to rack his brains on the chances of one card or another coming out. The other advantage is one of time. The banker draws his card at least a second before the punter, and this again gives him a purchase"
No one replied; but after some thought the Marquis Triulzi said that to make the chances perfectly equal the players would have to be equal, which was almost out of the question.
"All that is too sublime for me," said Canano; "I don't understand it." But, after all, there was not much to understand.
After dinner I went to the "Three Kings" to find out what Irene had to say to me, and to enjoy her presence. When she saw me she ran up to me, threw her arms round my neck, and kissed me, but with too much eagerness for me to lay much value on the salute. However, I have always known that if one wants to enjoy pleasure one must not philosophise about it, or one runs a risk of losing half the enjoyment. If Irene had struck me in dancing the 'forlana', why should not I have pleased her in spite of my superiority in age? It was not impossible, and that should be enough for me, as I did not intend to make her my wife.
The father and mother received me as their preserver, and they may have been sincere. The count begged me to come out of the room for a moment with him, and when we were on the other side of the door, said,--
"Forgive an old and unfortunate man, forgive a father, if I ask you whether it is true that you promised Irene a hundred sequins if I would let her go to the ball with you."
"It is quite true, but of course you know what the consequences will be."
At these words the poor old rascal took hold of me in a way which would have frightened me if I had not possessed twice his strength, but it was only to embrace me.
We went back to the room, he in tears and I laughing. He ran and told his wife, who had not been able to believe in such luck any more than her husband, and Irene added a comic element to the scene by saying,--
"You must not think me a liar, or that my parents suspected that I was imposing on them; they only thought you said fifty instead of a hundred, as if I were not worth such a sum"
"You are worth a thousand, my dear Irene; your courage in barring the way pleased me extremely. But you must come to the ball in a domino."
"Oh! you will be pleased with my dress."
"Are those the shoes and buckles you are going to wear? Have you no other stockings? Where are your gloves?"
"Good heavens! I have nothing."
"Quick! Send for the tradesmen. We will choose what we want, and I will pay."
Rinaldi went out to summon a jeweller, a shoemaker, a stocking- maker, and a perfumer. I spent thirty sequins in what I considered necessary, but then I noticed that there was no English point on her mask, and burst out again. The father brought in a milliner, who adorned the mask with an ell of lace for which I paid twelve sequins. Irene was in great delight, but her father and mother would have preferred to have the money in their pockets, and at bottom they were right.
When Irene put on her fine clothes I thought her delicious, and I saw what an essential thing dress is to a woman.
"Be ready," said I, "before the time for the opera to-morrow, for before going to the ball we will sup together in a room which belongs to me, where we shall be quite at our ease. You know what to expect," I added, embracing her. She answered me with an ardent kiss.
As I took leave of her father, he asked me where I was going after leaving Milan.
"To Marseilles, then to Paris, and then to London, at which place I intend stopping a year."
"Your flight from The Leads was wonderfully lucky."
"Yes, but I risked my life."
"You have certainly deserved all your good fortune."
"Do you think so? I have only used my fortune--in subservience to my pleasures."
"I wonder you do not have a regular mistress:"
"The reason is, that I like to be my own master.