This abbe was a fine man, learned and witty, but he was overwhelmed with debt and in very bad odour at Rome on account of an extremely unpleasant story of which he was the hero.
They said that he had told an Englishman, who was in love with Princess Lanti, that she was in want of two hundred sequins, that the Englishman had handed over the money to the abbe, and that the latter had appropriated it.
This act of meanness had been brought to light by an explanation between the lady and the Englishman. On his saying to the princess that he was ready to do anything for her, and that the two hundred sequins he had given her were as nothing in comparison with what he was ready to do, she indignantly denied all knowledge of the transaction. Everything came out. The Englishman begged pardon, and the abbe was excluded from the princess's house and the Englishman's also.
This Abbe Ceruti was one of those journalists employed to write the weekly news of Rome by Bianconi; he and I had in a manner become friends since we were neighbours. I saw that he loved Margarita, and I was not in the least jealous, but as he was a handsome young fellow I could not believe that Margarita was cruel to him. Nevertheless, she assured me that she detested him, and that she was very sorry that her mother made her wait on him at all.
Ceruti had already laid himself under obligations to me. He had borrowed a score of crowns from me, promising to repay them in a week, and three weeks had gone by without my seeing the money. However, I did not ask for it, and would have lent him as much more if he had requested me. But I must tell the story as it happened.
Whenever I supped with the Duchess of Fiano I came in late, and Margarita waited up for me. Her mother would go to bed. For the sake of amusement I used to keep her for an hour or two without caring whether our pleasantries disturbed the abbe, who could hear everything we said.
One evening I came home at midnight and was surprised to find the mother waiting for me.
"Where is your daughter?" I enquired.
"She's asleep, and I really cannot allow you to pass the whole night with her any longer."
"But she only stays with me till I get into bed. This new whim wounds my feelings. I object to such unworthy suspicions. What has Margarita been telling you? If she has made any complaints of me, she has lied, and I shall leave your house to-morrow."
"You are wrong; Margarita has made no complaints; on the contrary she says that you have done nothing to her."
"Very good. Do you think there is any harm in a little joking?"
"No, but you might be better employed."
"And these are your grounds for a suspicion of which you should be ashamed, if you are a good Christian."
"God save me from thinking evil of my neighbour, but I have been informed that your laughter and your jests are of such a nature as to be offensive to people of morality."
"Then it is my neighbour the abbe who has been foolish enough to give you this information?"
"I cannot tell you how I heard it, but I have heard it."
"Very good. To-morrow I shall seek another lodging, so as to afford your tender conscience some relief."
"Can't I attend on you as well as my daughter?"
"No; your daughter makes me laugh, and laughing is beneficial to me, whereas you would not make me laugh at all. You have insulted me, and I leave your house to-morrow."
"I shall have to tell my husband the reason of your departure, and I do not want to do that."
"You can do as you like; that's no business of mine. Go away; I want to get into bed."
"Allow me to wait on you."
"Certainly not; if you want anybody to wait on me, send Margarita."
"Then wake her up."
The good woman went her way, and two minutes later, the girl came in with little on but her chemise. She had not had time to put in her false eye, and her expression was so amusing that I went off into a roar of laughter.
"I was sleeping soundly," she began, "and my mother woke me up all of a sudden, and told me to come and wait on you, or else you would leave, and my father would think we had been in mischief."
"I will stay, if you will continue to wait on me."
"I should like to come very much, but we mustn't laugh any more, as the abbe has complained of us."
"Oh! it is the abbe, is it?"
"Of course it is.