"When had I the pleasure of knowing you, mademoiselle?"
"Nine year ago. You have often spoken to me and teased me."
"Where, may I ask?"
"At the Duchess of Matalone's."
"That may be, and I think I do begin to remember, but I really cannot recollect having teased you."
The marchioness and her mother were highly amused at this conversation, and pressed the girl to say how I had teased her. She confined herself, however, to saying that I had played tricks on her. I thought I remembered having stolen a few kisses, but I left the ladies to think what they liked.
I was a great student of the human heart, and felt that these reproaches of Anastasia's (such was her name) were really advances, but unskillfully made, for if she had wanted more of me, she should have held her peace and bided her time.
"It strikes me," said I, "that you were much smaller in those days."
"Yes, I was only twelve or thirteen. You have changed also."
"Yes, I have aged."
We began talking about the late Duke of Matalone, and Anastasia left us.
We sat down in a charming grotto, and began styling each other papa and daughter, and allowing ourselves liberties which threatened to lead to danger.
The marchioness tried to calm my transports by talking of her good husband.
Donna Lucrezia remarked our mutual emotion as I held Leonilda in my arms, and warned us to be careful. She then left us to walk in a different part of the garden.
Her words had the contrary effect to what was intended, for as soon as she left us in so opportune a manner, although we had no intention of committing the double crime, we approached too near to each other, and an almost involuntary movement made, the act complete.
We remained motionless, looking into one another's eyes, in mute astonishment, as we confessed afterwards, to find neither guilt nor repentance in our breasts.
We rearranged our position, and the marchioness sitting close to me called me her dear husband, while I called her my dear wife.
The new bond between us was confirmed by affectionate kisses. We were absorbed and silent, and Lucrezia was delighted to find us so calm when she returned.
We had no need to warn each other to observe secrecy. Donna Lucrezia was devoid of prejudice, but there was no need to give her a piece of useless information.
We felt certain that she had left us alone, so as not to be a witness of what we were going to do.
After some further conversation we went back to the palace with Anastasia, whom we found in the alley by herself.
The marquis received his wife with joy, congratulating her on the success of her negotiations. He thanked me for my compliance, and assured me I should have a comfortable apartment in his country house.
"I suppose you will not mind having our friend for a neighbor?" he said to Lucrezia.
"No," said she; "but we will be discreet, for the flower of our lives has withered."
"I shall believe as much of that as I please."
The worthy man dearly loved a joke.
The long table was laid for five, and as soon as dinner was served an old priest came in and sat down. He spoke to nobody, and nobody spoke to him.
The pretty page stood behind the marchioness, and we were waited on by ten or twelve servants.
I had only a little soup at dinner, so I ate like an ogre, for I was very hungry, and the marquis's French cook was a thorough artist.
The marquis exclaimed with delight as I devoured one dish after another. He told me that the only fault in his wife that she was a very poor eater like her mother. At dessert the wine began to take effect, and our conversation, which was conducted in French, became somewhat free. The old priest took no notice, as he only understood Italian, and he finally left us after saying the 'agimus'.
The marquis told me that this ecclesiastic had been a confessor to the palace for the last twenty years, but had never confessed anybody. He warned me to take care what I said before him if I spoke Italian, but he did not know a word of French.