I was about to do so, when the gentleman who did the honours of the house came and asked me, on behalf of the lady, to sup and pass the night at her house, as to go to the wheelwright's would be out of my way; the man would have to work by night, I should be uncomfortable, and the work would be ill done. I assented to the countess's proposal, and having agreed with the man to come early the next day and bring his tools with him, I told Clairmont to take my belongings into the room which was assigned to me.
When I returned to the countess's room I found everyone laughing at Marcoline's sallies, which the countess translated. I was not astonished at seeing the way in which my fair Venetian caressed the countess, but I was enraged at not being able to see her, for I knew Marcoline would not treat any woman in that manner unless she were pretty.
The table was spread in the bedroom of the countess, whom I hoped to see at supper-time, but I was disappointed; for she declared that she could not take anything, and all supper-time she talked to Marcoline and myself, shewing intelligence, education, and a great knowledge of Italian. She let fall the expression, "my late husband," so I knew her for a widow, but as I did not dare to ask any questions, my knowledge ended at that point. When Clairmont was undressing me he told me her married name, but as I knew nothing of the family that was no addition to my information.
When we had finished supper, Marcoline took up her old position by the countess's bed, and they talked so volubly to one another that nobody else could get in a word.
When politeness bade me retire, my pretended cousin said she was going to sleep with the countess. As the latter laughingly assented, I refrained from telling my madcap that she was too forward, and I could see by their mutual embraces that they were agreed in the matter. I satisfied myself with saying that I could not guarantee the sex of the countess's bed-fellow, but she answered,
"Never mind; if there be a mistake I shall be the gainer."
This struck me as rather free, but I was not the man to be scandalized. I was amused at the tastes of my fair Venetian, and at the manner in which she contrived to gratify them as she had done at Genoa with my last niece. As a rule the Provencal women are inclined this way, and far from reproaching them I like them all the better for it.
The next day I rose at day-break to hurry on the wheelwright, and when the work was done I asked if the countess were visible. Directly after Marcoline came out with one of the gentlemen, who begged me to excuse the countess, as she could not receive me in her present extremely scanty attire; "but she hopes that whenever you are in these parts you will honour her and her house by your company, whether you are alone or with friends."
This refusal, gilded as it was, was a bitter pill for me to swallow, but I concealed my disgust, as I could only put it down to Marcoline's doings; she seemed in high spirits, and I did not like to mortify her. I thanked the gentleman with effusion, and placing a Louis in the hands of all the servants who were present I took my leave.
I kissed Marcoline affectionately, so that she should not notice my ill humour, and asked how she and the countess spent the night."
"Capitally," said she. "The countess is charming, and we amused ourselves all night with the tricks of two amorous women."
"Is she pretty or old?"
"She is only thirty-three, and, I assure you, she is as pretty as my friend Mdlle. Crosin. I can speak with authority for we saw each other in a state of nature."
"You are a singular creature; you were unfaithful to me for a woman, and left me to pass the night by myself."
"You must forgive me, and I had to sleep with her as she was the first to declare her love."
"Really? How was that?"
"When I gave her the first of my kisses she returned it in the Florentine manner, and our tongues met. After supper, I confess, I was the first to begin the suggestive caresses, but she met me half- way.