A mistress at my coat-tails would be more troublesome than a wife; she would be an obstacle to the numerous pleasant adventures I encounter at every town. For example, if I had a mistress I should not be able to take the charming Irene to the ball to-morrow."
"You speak like a wise man."
"Yes, though my wisdom is by no means of the austere kind."
In the evening I went to the opera, and should no doubt have gone to the card-table if I had not seen Cesarino in the pit. I spent two delightful hours with him. He opened his heart to me, and begged me to plead for him with his sister to get her consent to his going to sea, for which he had a great longing. He said that he might make a large fortune by a judicious course of trading. After a temperate supper with my dear boy, I went to bed. The next morning the fine young officer, the Marchioness of Q----'s brother, came and asked me to give him a breakfast. He said he had communicated my proposal to his sister, and that she had replied that I must be making a fool of him, as it was not likely that a man who lived as I did would be thinking of marrying.
"I did not tell you that I aspired to the honour of marrying her."
"No, and I did not say anything about marriage; but that's what the girls are always aiming at."
"I must go and disabuse her of the notion."
"That's a good idea; principals are always the best in these affairs. Come at two o'clock, I shall be dining there, and as I have got to speak to her cousin you will be at liberty to say what you like."
This arrangement suited me exactly. I noticed that my future brother-in-law admired a little gold case on my night-table, so I begged him to accept it as a souvenir of our friendship. He embraced me, and put it in his pocket, saying he would keep it till his dying day.
"You mean till the day when it advances your suit with a lady," said I.
I was sure of having a good supper with Irene, so I resolved to take no dinner. As the count had gone to St. Angelo, fifteen miles from Milan, the day before, I felt obliged to wait on the countess in her room, to beg her to excuse my presence at dinner. She was very polite, and told me by no means to trouble myself. I suspected that she was trying to impose on me, but I wanted her to think she was doing so successfully. In my character of dupe I told her that in Lent I would make amends for the dissipation which prevented me paying my court to her. "Happily," I added, "Lent is not far off."
"I hope it will be so," said the deceitful woman with an enchanting smile, of which only a woman with poison in her heart is capable. With these words she took a pinch of snuff, and offered me her box.
"But what is this, my dear countess, it isn't snuff?"
"No," she replied, "it makes the nose bleed, and is an excellent thing for the head-ache."
I was sorry that I had taken it, but said with a laugh, that I had not got a head-ache, and did not like my nose to bleed.
"It won't bleed much," said she, with a smile, "and it is really beneficial."
As she spoke, we both began to sneeze, and I should have felt very angry if I had not seen her smile.
Knowing something about these sneezing powders, I did not think we should bleed, but I was mistaken. Directly after, I felt a drop of blood, and she took a silver basin from her night-table.
"Come here," said she, "I am beginning to bleed too."
There we were, bleeding into the same basin, facing each other in the most ridiculous position. After about thirty drops had fallen from each of us, the bleeding ceased. She was laughing all the time, and I thought the best thing I could do was to imitate her example. We washed ourselves in fair water in another basin.
"This admixture of our blood," said she, still smiling, "will create a sweet sympathy between us, which will only end with the death of one or the other"
I could make no sense of this, but the reader will soon see that the wretched woman did not mean our friendship to last very long. I asked her to give me some of the powder, but she refused; and on my enquiring the name of it, she replied that she did not know, as a lady friend had given it to her.