I have never cared to run risks of this kind. Lord Baltimore, on the other hand, would have laughed at the danger, and gone, maybe, to his death. I told my old sweetheart that I could imagine the thing very well from the description, and that I had no curiosity to see whether my imagination were correct.
Lucrezia told me I was very prudent, and took me to the garden.
It was a large place, and separated from the garden common to the three other families who inhabited the castle. Every flower that can be imagined was there, fountains threw their glittering sprays, and grottoes afforded a pleasing shade from the sun.
The alleys of this terrestrial paradise were formed of vines, and the bunches of grapes seemed almost as numerous as the leaves.
Lucrezia enjoyed my surprise, and I told her that I was not astonished at being more moved by this than by the vines of Tivoli and Frascati. The immense rather dazzles the eyes than moves the heart.
She told me that her daughter was happy, and that the marquis was an excellent man, and a strong man except for the gout. His great grief was that he had no children. Amongst his dozen of nephews there was not one worthy of succeeding to the title.
"They are all ugly, awkward lads, more like peasants than noblemen; all their education has been given them by a pack of ignorant priests; and so it is not to be wondered that the marquis does not care for them much."
"But is Leonilda really happy?"
"She is, though her husband cannot be quite so ardent as she would like at her age."
"He doesn't seem to me to be a very jealous man."
"He is entirely free from jealousy, and if Leonilda would take a lover I am sure he would be his best friend. And I feel certain he would be only too glad to find the beautiful soil which he cannot fertile himself fertilized by another."
"Is it positively certain that he is incapable of begetting a child?"
"No, when he is well he does his best; but there seems no likelihood of his ardour having any happy results. There was some ground to hope in the first six months of the marriage, but since he has had the gout so badly there seems reason to fear lest his amorous ecstasies should have a fatal termination. Sometimes he warts to approach her, but she dare not let him, and this pains her very much."
I was struck with a lively sense of Lucrezia's merits, and was just revealing to her the sentiments which she had re-awakened in my breast, when the marchioness appeared in the garden, followed by a page and a young lady.
I affected great reverence as she came up to us; and as if we had given each other the word, she answered me in atone of ceremonious politeness.
"I have come on an affair of the highest importance," she said, "and if I fail I shall for ever lose the reputation of a diplomatist?"
"Who is the other diplomatist with whom you are afraid of failing?"
"Then your battle is over, for I consent before I know what you ask. I only make a reserve on one point."
"So much the worse, as that may turn out to be just what I want you to do. Tell me what it is."
"I was going to Rome, when the Abbe Galiani told me that Donna Lucrezia was here with you."
"And can a short delay interfere with your happiness? Are you not your own master?"
"Smile on me once more; your desires are orders which must be obeyed. I have always been my own master, but I cease to be so from this moment, since I am your most humble servant."
"Very good. Then I command you to come and spend a few days with us at an estate we have at a short distance. My husband will have himself transported here. You will allow me to send to the inn for your luggage?"
"Here, sweet marchioness, is the key to my room. Happy the mortal whom you deign to command."
Leonilda gave the key to the page, a pretty boy, and told him to see that all my belongings were carefully taken to the castle.
Her lady-in-waiting was very fair. I said so to Leonilda in French, not knowing that the young lady understood the language, but she smiled and told her mistress that we were old acquaintances.