But Leonilda will be a rich woman for all that; she will have a hundred thousand ducats of her own."
"You have never married."
"You are as pretty as you were twenty-six years ago, and if it had not been for the Abbe Galiani I should have left Naples without seeing you."
I found Leonilda had developed into a perfect beauty. She was at that time twenty-three years old.
Her husband's presence was no constraint upon her; she received me with open arms, and put me completely at my ease.
No doubt she was my daughter, but in spite of our relationship and my advancing years I still felt within my breast the symptoms of the tenderest passion for her.
She presented me to her husband, who suffered dreadfully from gout, and could not stir from his arm-chair.
He received me with smiling face and open arms, saying,--
"My dear friend, embrace me."
I embraced him affectionately, and in our greeting I discovered that he was a brother mason. The marquis had expected as much, but I had not; for a nobleman of sixty who could boast that he had been enlightened was a 'rara avis' in the domains of his Sicilian majesty thirty years ago.
I sat down beside him and we embraced each other again, while the ladies looked on amazed, wondering to see us so friendly to each other.
Donna Leonilda fancied that we must be old friends, and told her husband how delighted she was. The old man burst out laughing, and Lucrezia suspecting the truth bit her lips and said nothing. The fair marchioness reserved her curiosity for another reason.
The marquis had seen the whole of Europe. He had only thought of marrying on the death of his father, who had attained the age of ninety. Finding himself in the enjoyment of thirty thousand ducats a year he imagined that he might yet have children in spite of his advanced age. He saw Leonilda, and in a few days he made her his wife, giving her a dowry of a hundred thousand ducats. Donna Lucrezia went to live with her daughter. Though the marquis lived magnificently, he found it difficult to spend more than half his income.
He lodged all his relations in his immense palace; there were three families in all, and each lived apart.
Although they were comfortably off they were awaiting with impatience the death of the head of the family, as they would then share his riches. The marquis had only married in the hope of having an heir; and these hopes he could no longer entertain. However, he loved his wife none the less, while she made him happy by her charming disposition.
The marquis was a man of liberal views like his wife, but this was a great secret, as free thought was not appreciated at Salerno. Consequently, any outsider would have taken the household for a truly Christian one, and the marquis took care to adopt in appearance all the prejudices of his fellow-countrymen.
Donna Lucrezia told me all this three hours after as we walked in a beautiful garden, where her husband had sent us after a long conversation on subjects which could not have been of any interest to the ladies. Nevertheless, they did not leave us for a moment, so delighted were they to find that the marquis had met a congenial spirit.
About six o'clock the marquis begged Donna Lucrezia to take me to the garden and amuse me till the evening. His wife he asked to stay, as he had something to say to her.
It was in the middle of August and the heat was great, but the room on the ground floor which we occupied was cooled by a delicious breeze.
I looked out of the window and noticed that the leaves on the trees were still, and that no wind was blowing; and I could not help saying to the marquis that I was astonished to find his room as cool as spring in the heats of summer.
"Your sweetheart will explain it to you," said he.
We went through several apartments, and at last reached a closet, in one corner of which was a square opening.
From it rushed a cold and even violent wind. From the opening one could go down a stone staircase of at least a hundred steps, and at the bottom was a grotto where was the source of a stream of water as cold as ice. Donna Lucrezia told me it would be a great risk to go down the steps without excessively warm clothing.