He said I made a capital soubrette, and he certainly could not have been trying to deceive me, but the fact is he was deceived himself. A fortnight after my arrival I made my first appearance, and my reception was not a flattering one."
"Perhaps you were nervous?"
"Nervous? not in the least. Clerval said that if I could have put on the appearance of nervousness the empress, who is kindness itself, would certainly have encouraged me."
I left her the next morning after I had seen her copy out the petition. She wrote a very good hand.
"I shall present it to-day," said she.
I wished her good luck, and arranged to sup with her again on the day I meant to part with Zaira.
All French girls who sacrifice to Venus are in the same style as the Valville; they are entirely without passion or love, but they are pleasant and caressing. They have only one object; and that is their own profit. They make and unmake an intrigue with a smiling face and without the slightest difficulty. It is their system, and if it be not absolutely the best it is certainly the most convenient.
When I got home I found Zaira submissive but sad, which annoyed me more than anger would have done, for I loved her. However, it was time to bring the matter to an end, and to make up my mind to endure the pain of parting.
Rinaldi, the architect, a man of seventy, but still vigorous and sensual, was in love with her, and he had hinted to me several times that he would be only too happy to take her over and to pay double the sum I had given for her. My answer had been that I could only give her to a man she liked, and that I meant to make her a present of the hundred roubles I had given for her. Rinaldi did not like this answer, as he had not very strong hopes of the girl taking a fancy to him; however, he did not despair.
He happened to call on me on the very morning on which I had determined to give her up, and as he spoke Russian perfectly he gave Zaira to understand how much he loved her. Her answer was that he must apply to me, as my will was law to her, but that she neither liked nor disliked anyone else. The old man could not obtain any more positive reply and left us with but feeble hopes, but commending himself to my good offices.
When he had gone, I asked Zaira whether she would not like me to leave her to the worthy man, who would treat her as his own daughter.
She was just going to reply when I was handed a note from Madame Valville, asking me to call on her, as she had a piece of news to give me. I ordered the carriage immediately, telling Zaira that I should not be long.
"Very good," she replied, "I will give you a plain answer when you come back."
I found Madame Valville in a high state of delight.
"Long live the petition!" she exclaimed, as soon as she saw me. "I waited for the empress to come out of her private chapel. I respectfully presented my petition, which she read as she walked along, and then told me with a kindly smile to wait a moment. I waited, and her majesty returned me the petition initialled in her own hand, and bade me take it to M. Ghelagin. This gentleman gave me an excellent reception, and told me that the sovereign hand ordered him to give me my passport, my salary for a year, and a hundred ducats for the journey. The money will be forwarded in a fortnight, as my name will have to be sent to the Gazette."
Madame Valville was very grateful, and we fixed the day of our departure. Three or four days later I sent in my name to the Gazette.
I had promised Zaira to come back, so telling my new love that I would come and live with her as soon as I had placed the young Russian in good hands, I went home, feeling rather curious to hear Zaira's determination.
After Zaira had supped with me in perfect good humour, she asked if M. Rinaldi would pay me back the money I had given far her. I said he would, and she went on,--
"It seems to me that I am worth more than I was, for I have all your presents, and I know Italian."
"You are right, dear, but I don't want it to be said that I have made a profit on you; besides, I intend to make you a present of the hundred roubles."
"As you are going to make me such a handsome present, why not send me back to my father's house? That would be still more generous.