Madame Vestri was a handsome woman, but her wit and the charm of her manner enchanted me still more. She had only one fault--she lisped.
There was a certain reserve about the manner of Mdlle. Toscani, so I chiefly addressed myself to Madame Vestri, whose husband was not jealous, for he neither cared for her nor she for him. On the day of my arrival the manager had distributed the parts of a little play which was to be given in honour of the duke's arrival. It had been written by a local author, in hopes of its obtaining the favour of the Court for him.
After supper the little piece was discussed. Madame Vestri played the principal part, which she was prevailed upon to recite.
"Your elocution is admirable, and your expression full of spirit," I observed; "but what a pity it is that you do not pronounce the dentals."
The whole table scouted my opinion.
"It's a beauty, not a defect," said they. "It makes her acting soft and delicate; other actresses envy her the privilege of what you call a defect."
I made no answer, but looked at Madame Vestri.
"Do you think I am taken in by all that?" said she.
"I think you are much too sensible to believe such nonsense."
"I prefer a man to say honestly, 'what a pity,' than to hear all that foolish flattery. But I am sorry to say that there is no remedy for the defect."
"Pardon me, I have an infallible remedy for your complaint. You shall give me a good hearty blow if I do not make you read the part perfectly by to-morrow, but if I succeed in making you read it as your husband, for example's sake, might read it you shall permit me to give you a tender embrace."
"Very good; but what must I do?"
"You must let me weave a spell over your part, that is all. Give it to me. To-morrow morning at nine o'clock I will bring it to you to get my blow or my kiss, if your husband has no objection."
"None whatever; but we do not believe in spells."
"You are right, in a general way; but mine will not fail."
Madame Vestri left me the part, and the conversation turned on other subjects. I was condoled with on my swollen hand, and I told the story of my duel. Everybody seemed to delight in entertaining me and feasting me, and I went back to Baletti's in love with all the ladies, but especially with Madame Vestri and Mdlle. Toscani.
Baletti had a beautiful little girl of three years old.
"How did you get that angel?" I asked.
"There's her mother; and, as a proof of my hospitality, she shall sleep with you to-night."
"I accept your generous offer; but let it be to-morrow night."
"And why not to-night?"
"Because I shall be engaged all night in weaving my spell."
"What do you mean? I thought that was a joke."
"No, I am quite serious."
"Are you a little crazy?"
"You shall see. Do you go to bed, and leave me a light and writing materials."
I spent six hours in copying out the part, only altering certain phrases. For all words in which the letter r appeared I substituted another. It was a tiresome task, but I longed to embrace Madame Vestri before her husband. I set about my task in the following manner:
The text ran:
"Les procedes de cet homme m'outragent et me deseparent, je dois penser a me debarrasser."
For this I substituted:
"Cet homme a des facons qui m'offensent et me desolent, il faut que je m'en defasse;" and so on throughout the piece.
When I had finished I slept for three hours, and then rose and dressed. Baletti saw my spell, and said I had earned the curses of the young author, as Madame Vestri would no doubt make him write all parts for her without using the letter 'r'; and, indeed, that was just what she did.
I called on the actress and found her getting up. I gave her the part, and as soon as she saw what I had done she burst out into exclamations of delight; and calling her husband shewed him my contrivance, and said she would never play a part with an 'r' in it again. I promised to copy them all out, and added that I had spent the whole night in amending the present part.