If you like, I will stop to dinner, and pay for all, yourself included."
"You are an eccentric individual. My girls are sad, for I am going to prison. You will find their company wearisome."
"That is my affair."
"You had much better give them the money you would spend on the dinner."
"No, madam. I must have at least the pleasures of sight and sound for my money. I will stay your arrest till to-morrow, and afterwards Providence may possibly intervene on your behalf."
"The landlord will not wait."
"Leave me to deal with him."
I told Goudar to go and see what the man would take to send the bailiff away for twenty-four hours. He returned with the message that he must have a guinea and bail for the twenty guineas, in case the lodgers might take to flight before the next day.
My wine merchant lived close by. I told Gondar to wait for me, and the matter was soon settled and the bailiff sent away, and I told the five girls that they might take their ease for twenty-four hours more.
I informed Gondar of the steps I had taken, and told him to go out and get a good dinner for eight people. He went on his errand, and I summoned the girls to their mother's bedside, and delighted them all by telling them that for the next twenty-four hours they were to make good cheer. They could not get over their surprise at the suddenness of the change I had worked in the house.
"But this is all I can do for you," said I to the mother. "Your daughters are charming, and I have obtained a day's respite for you all without asking for anything in return; I shall dine, sup, and pass the night with them without asking so much as a single kiss, but if your ideas have not changed by to-morrow you will be in exactly the same position as you were a few minutes ago, and I shall not trouble you any more with my attentions."
"What do you mean my 'changing my ideas'?"
"I need not tell you, for you know perfectly well what I mean."
"My daughters shall never become prostitutes."
"I will proclaim their spotless chastity all over London--but I shall spend my guineas elsewhere."
"You are a cruel man."
"I confess I can be very cruel, but it is only when I don't meet with kindness."
Goudar came back and we returned to the ladies' room, as the mother did not like to shew herself to my friend, telling me that I was the only man she had permitted to see her in bed during the whole time she had been in London.
Our English dinner was excellent in its way, but my chief pleasure was to see the voracity with which the girls devoured the meal. One would have thought they were savages devouring raw meat after a long fast. I had got a case of excellent wine and I made each of them drink a bottle, but not being accustomed to such an indulgence they became quite drunk. The mother had devoured the whole of the plentiful helpings I had sent in to her, and she had emptied a bottle of Burgundy, which she carried very well.
In spite of their intoxication, the girls were perfectly safe; I kept my word, and Goudar did not take the slightest liberty. We had a pleasant supper, and after a bowl of punch I left them feeling in love with the whole bevy, and very uncertain whether I should be able to shew as brave a front the next day.
As we were going away Goudar said that I was conducting the affair admirably, but if I made a single slip I should be undone.
I saw the good sense of his advice, and determined to shew that I was as sharp as he.
The next day, feeling anxious to hear the result of the council which the mother had doubtless held with the daughters, I called at their house at ten o'clock. The two eldest sisters were out, endeavouring to beat up some more friends, and the three youngest rushed up to me as if they had been spaniels and I their master, but they would not even allow me to kiss them. I told them they made a mistake, and knocked at the mother's door. She told me to come in, and thanked me for the happy day I had given them.
"Am I to withdraw my bail, countess?"
"You can do what you like, but I do not think you capable of such an action."
"You are mistaken.