Good heavens! how lucky I am to find you again. I am quite weak. Will you allow me to sit down, madam?"
"Yes, yes, my dear," said I, "sit down;" and I gave her a glass of wine which restored her.
A waiter came up, and said they were waiting for her at supper, but she said, "I won't take any supper;" and Marcoline, always desirous of pleasing me, ordered a third place to be laid. I made her happy by giving an approving nod.
We sat down to table, and ate our meal with great appetite. "When we have done," I said to Irene, "you must tell us what chance has brought you to Avignon."
Marcoline, who had not spoken a word hitherto, noticing how hungry Irene was, said pleasantly that it would have been a mistake if she had not taken any supper. Irene was delighted to hear Venetian spoken, and thanked her for her kindness, and in three or four minutes they had kissed and become friends.
It amused me to see the way in which Marcoline always fell in love with pretty women, just as if she had been a man.
In the course of conversation I found that Irene's father and mother were at the table d'hote below, and from sundry exclamations, such as "you have been brought to Avignon out of God's goodness," I learned that they were in distress. In spite of that Irene's mirthful countenance matched Marcoline's sallies, and the latter was delighted to hear that Irene had only called me papa because her mother had styled her my daughter at Milan.
We had only got half-way through our supper when Rinaldi and his wife came in. I asked them to sit down, but if it had not been for Irene I should have given the old rascal a very warm reception. He began to chide his daughter for troubling me with her presence when I had such fair company already, but Marcoline hastened to say that Irene could only have given me pleasure, for in my capacity of her uncle I was always glad when she was able to enjoy the society of a sweet young girl.
"I hope," she added, "that if she doesn't mind she will sleep with me."
"Yes, yes," resounded on all sides, and though I should have preferred to sleep with Marcoline by herself, I laughed and agreed; I have always been able to accommodate myself to circumstances.
Irene shared Marcoline's desires, for when it was settled that they should sleep together they seemed wild with joy, and I added fuel to the fire by plying them with punch and champagne.
Rinaldi and his wife did not leave us till they were quite drunk. When we had got rid of them, Irene told us how a Frenchman had fallen in love with her at Genoa, and had persuaded her father to go to Nice where high play was going on, but meeting with no luck there she had been obliged to sell what she had to pay the inn-keeper. Her lover had assured her that he would make it up to her at Aix, where there was some money owing to him, and she persuaded her father to go there; but the persons who owed the money having gone to Avignon, there had to be another sale of goods.
"When we got here the luck was no better, and the poor young man, whom my father reproached bitterly, would have killed himself if I had not given him the mantle you gave me that he might pawn it and go on his quest. He got four louis for it, and sent me the ticket with a very tender letter, in which he assured me that he would find some money at Lyons, and that he would then return and take us to Bordeaux, where we are to find treasures. In the meanwhile we are penniless, and as we have nothing more to sell the landlord threatens to turn us out naked."
"And what does your father mean to do?"
"I don't know. He says Providence will take care of us."
"What does your mother say?"
"Oh! she was as quiet as usual."
"How about yourself?"
"Alas! I have to bear a thousand mortifications every day. They are continually reproaching me with having fallen in love with this Frenchman, and bringing them to this dreadful pass."
"Were you really in love with him?"
"Then you must be very unhappy."
"Yes, very; but not on account of my love, for I shall get over that in time, but because of that which will happen to-morrow."
"Can't you make any conquests at the table-d'hote?"
"Some of the men say pretty things to me, but as they all know how poor we are they are afraid to come to our room."
"And yet in spite of all you keep cheerful; you don't look sad like most of the unhappy.