The prince, however, was very determined, and she would have been obliged to go if the cardinal had not come in and heard the story from the mouth of the innocent princess. He shewed the husband that it was to his own interests to go into the country by himself, and to let his wife remain in Rome. He spoke for her, assuring the prince that she would take more care for the future and avoid such meetings, always unpleasant in a house.
In less than a month I became the shadow of the three principal persons in the play. I listened and admired and became as necessary to the personages as a marker at billiards. When any of the parties were afflicted I consoled them with tales or amusing comments, and, naturally, they were grateful to me. The cardinal, the prince, and his fair wife amused each other and offended no one.
The Duchess of Fiano was proud of being the possessor of the prince who left his wife to the cardinal, but no one was deceived but herself. The good lady wondered why no one acknowledged that the reason why the princess never came to see her was mere jealousy. She spoke to me on the subject with so much fire that I had to suppress my good sense to keep her good graces.
I had to express my astonishment as to what the cardinal could see in the princess, who, according to her, was skinny in person and silly in mind, altogether a woman of no consequence. I agreed to all this, but I was far from thinking so, for the princess was just the woman to amuse a voluptuous and philosophic lover like the cardinal.
I could not help thinking now and again that the cardinal was happier in the possession of this treasure of a woman than in his honours and dignities.
I loved the princess, but as I did not hope for success I confined myself strictly to the limits of my position.
I might, no doubt, have succeeded, but more probably I should have raised her pride against me, and wounded the feelings of the cardinal, who was no longer the same as when we shared M---- M---- in common. He had told me that his affection for her was of a purely fatherly character, and I took that as a hint not to trespass on his preserves.
I had reason to congratulate myself that she observed no more ceremony with me than with her mail. I accordingly pretended to see nothing, while she felt certain I saw all.
It is no easy matter to win the confidence of such a woman, especially if she be served by a king or a cardinal.
My life at Rome was a tranquil and happy one. Margarita had contrived to gain my interest by the assiduity of her attentions. I had no servant, so she waited on me night and morning, and her false eye was such an excellent match that I quite forgot its falsity. She was a clever, but a vain girl, and though at first I had no designs upon her I flattered her vanity by my conversation and the little presents I bestowed upon her, which enabled her to cut a figure in church on Sundays. So before long I had my eyes opened to two facts; the one that she was sure of my love, and wondered why I did not declare it; the other, that if I chose I had an easy conquest before me.
I guessed the latter circumstance one day when, after I had asked her to tell me her adventures from the age of eleven to that of eighteen, she proceeded to tell me tales, the telling of which necessitated her throwing all modesty to the winds.
I took the utmost delight in these scandalous narrations, and whenever I thought she had told the whole truth I gave her a few pieces of money; while whenever I had reason to suppose that she had suppressed some interesting circumstances I gave her nothing.
She confessed to me that she no longer possessed that which a maid can lose but once, that a friend of hers named Buonacorsi was in the same case, and finally she told me the name of the young man who had relieved them both of their maidenheads.
We had for neighbor a young Piedmontese abbe named Ceruti, on whom Margarita was obliged to wait when her mother was too busy. I jested with her about him, but she swore there was no lovemaking between them.