You have inspired me with feelings that will make me unhappy unless you reciprocate them. I beg to take the liberty of asking myself to sup with you, but please tell me how much it will cost me. I am obliged to leave for Warsaw in the course of a month, and I shall be happy to offer you a place in my travelling carriage. I shall be able to get you a passport. The bearer of this has orders to wait, and I hope your answer will be as plainly worded as my question."
In two hours I received this reply:
"Sir,--As I have the knack of putting an end to an intrigue when it has ceased to amuse me, I have no hesitation in accepting your proposal. As to the sentiments with which you say I have inspired you, I will do my best to share them, and to make you happy. Your supper shall be ready, and later on we will settle the price of the dessert. I shall be delighted to accept the place in your carriage if you can obtain my expenses to Paris as well as my passport. And finally, I hope you will find my plain speaking on a match with yours. Good bye, till the evening."
I found my new friend in a comfortable lodging, and we accosted each other as if we had been old acquaintances.
"I shall be delighted to travel with you," said she, "but I don't think you will be able to get my passport."
"I have no doubt as to my success," I replied, "if you will present to the empress the petition I shall draft for you."
"I will surely do so," said she, giving me writing materials.
I wrote out the following petition,--
"Your Majesty,--I venture to remind your highness that my enforced idleness is making me forget my art, which I have not yet learnt thoroughly. Your majesty's generosity is therefore doing me an injury, and your majesty would do me a great benefit in giving me permission to leave St. Petersburg."
"Nothing more than that?"
"Not a word."
"You say nothing about the passport, and nothing about the journey- money. I am not a rich woman."
"Do you only present this petition; and, unless I am very much mistaken, you will have, not only your journey-money, but also your year's salary."
"Oh, that would be too much!"
"Not at all. You do not know Catherine, but I do. Have this copied, and present it in person."
"I will copy it out myself, for I can write a good enough hand. Indeed, it almost seems as if I had composed it; it is exactly my style. I believe you are a better actor than I am, and from this evening I shall call myself your pupil. Come, let us have some supper, that you may give me my first lesson."
After a delicate supper, seasoned by pleasant and witty talk, Madame Valville granted me all I could desire. I went downstairs for a moment to send away my coachman and to instruct him what he was to say to Zaira, whom I had forewarned that I was going to Cronstadt, and might not return till the next day. My coachman was a Ukrainian on whose fidelity I could rely, but I knew that it would be necessary for me to be off with the old love before I was on with the new.
Madame Valville was like most young Frenchwomen of her class; she had charms which she wished to turn to account, and a passable education; her ambition was to be kept by one man, and the title of mistress was more pleasing in her ears than that of wife.
In the intervals of four amorous combats she told me enough of her life for me to divine what it had been. Clerval, the actor, had been gathering together a company of actors at Paris, and making her acquaintance by chance and finding her to be intelligent, he assured her that she was a born actress, though she had never suspected it. The idea had dazzled her, and she had signed the agreement. She started from Paris with six other actors and actresses, of whom she was the only one that had never played.
"I thought," she said, "it was like what is done at Paris, where a girl goes into the chorus or the ballet without having learnt to sing or dance. What else could I think, after an actor like Clerval had assured me I had a talent for acting and had offered me a good engagement? All he required of me was that I should learn by heart and repeat certain passages which I rehearsed in his presence.