"I saw you at St. Peter's," said she, "at the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, but not daring to approach you because of the people with whom I was, I told a friend of mine to follow you and find out where you lived."
"How is it that I have tried to find you out in vain for the last three months?"
"My husband set up at Frascati eight years ago, and we have lived there very happily ever since."
"I am very glad to hear it. Have you any children?"
"Four; and the eldest, who is nine years old, is very like you."
"Do you love her?"
"I adore her, but I love the other three as well."
As I wanted to go to breakfast with Armelline I begged Margarita to keep Mariuccia company till my return.
Mariuccia dined with me, and we spent a pleasant day together without attempting to renew our more tender relationship. We had plenty to talk about, and she told me that Costa, my old servant, had come back to Rome in a splendid coach, three years after I had left, and that he had married one of Momolo's daughters.
"He's a rascal; he robbed me."
"I guessed as much; his theft did him no good. He left his wife two years after their marriage, and no one knows what has become of him."
"How about his wife?"
"She is living miserably in Rome. Her father is dead."
I did not care to go and see the poor woman, for I could not do anything for her, and I could not have helped saying that if I caught her husband I would do my best to have him hanged. Such was indeed my intention up to the year 1785, when I found this runagate at Vienna. He was then Count Erdich's man, and when we come to that period the reader shall hear what I did.
I promised Mariuccia to come and see her in the course of Lent.
The Princess Santa Croce and the worthy Cardinal Bernis pitied me for my hapless love; I often confided my sufferings to their sympathizing ears.
The cardinal told the princess that she could very well obtain permission from Cardinal Orsini to take Armelline to the theatre, and that if I cared to join the party I might find her less cruel.
"The cardinal will make no objection," said he, "as Armelline has taken no vows; but as you must know our friend's mistress before making your request, you have only to tell the cardinal that you would like to see the interior of the house."
"Do you think he will give me leave?"
"Certainly; the inmates are not cloistered nuns. We will go with you."
"You will come too? that will be a delightful party indeed."
"Ask for leave, and we will arrange the day."
This plan seemed to me a delicious dream. I guessed that the gallant cardinal was curious to see Armelline, but I was not afraid as I knew he was a constant lover. Besides I felt sure that if he took an interest in the fair recluse he would be certain to find her a husband.
In three or four days the princess summoned me to her box in the Alberti Theatre, and shewed me Cardinal Orsini's note, allowing her and her friends to see the interior of the house.
"To-morrow afternoon," said she, "we will fix the day and the hour for the visit."
Next day I paid my usual visit to the recluses, and the superioress came to tell me that the cardinal had told her that the Princess Santa Croce was coming to visit the house with some friends.
"I know it," said I; "I am coming with her."
"When is she coming?"
"I don't know yet, but I will inform you later on."
"This novelty has turned the house upside down. The devotees scarcely know whether they are awake or dreaming, for with the exception of a few priests, the doctor, and the surgeon, no one has ever entered the house since its foundation."
"All these restrictions are now removed, and you need not ask the cardinal's permission to receive visits from your friends."
"I know that, but I don't like to go so far."
The time for the visit was fixed for the afternoon of the next day, and I let the superioress know early the next morning. The Duchess of Fiano had asked to join us; the cardinal came, of course, dressed as a simple priest, with no indication of his exalted rank.