I told her that I considered it my duty to bring back her young charges in person. She thanked me, asked them if they had had a pleasant evening, and bade me good night, begging me to make as little noise as possible on my way downstairs.
I wished them all happy slumbers, and after giving a sequin to the servant who opened the door, and another to the coachman, I had myself set down at the door of my lodging. Margarita was asleep on a sofa and welcomed me with abuse, but she soon found out by the ardour of my caresses that I had not been guilty of infidelity.
I did not get up till noon, and at three o'clock I called on the princess and found the cardinal already there.
They expected to hear the story of my triumph, but the tale I told and my apparent indifference in the matter came as a surprise.
I may as well confess that my face was by no means the index of my mind. However, I did my best to give the thing a comic turn, saying that I did not care for Pamelas, and that I had made up my mind to give up the adventure.
"My dear fellow," said the cardinal, "I shall take two or three days before I congratulate you on your self-restraint."
His knowledge of the human heart was very extensive.
Armelline thought I must have slept till late as she did not see me in the morning as usual; but when the second day went by without my coming she sent her brother to ask if I were ill, for I had never let two days pass without paying her a visit.
Menicuccio came accordingly, and was delighted to find me in perfect health.
"Go and tell your sister," I said, "that I shall continue to interest the princess on her behalf, but that I shall see her no more."
"Because I wish to cure myself of an unhappy passion. Your sister does not love me: I am sure of it. I am no longer a young man, and I don't feel inclined to become a martyr to her virtue. Virtue goes rather too far when it prevents a girl giving the man who adores her a single kiss."
"Indeed, I would not have believed that of her."
"Nevertheless it is the fact, and I must make an end of it. Your sister cannot understand the danger she runs in treating a lover in this fashion. Tell her all that, my dear Menicuccio, but don't give her any advice of your own."
"You can't think how grieved I am to hear all this; perhaps it's Emilie's presence that makes her so cold."
"No; I have often pressed her when we have been alone together, but all in vain. I want to cure myself, for if she does not love me I do not wish to obtain her either by seduction or by any feeling of gratitude on her part. Tell me how your future bride treats you."
"Very well, ever since she has been sure of my marrying her."
I felt sorry then that I had given myself out as a married man, for in my state of irritation I could even have given her a promise of marriage without deliberately intending to deceive her.
Menicuccio went on his way distressed, and I went to the meeting of the "Arcadians," at the Capitol, to hear the Marchioness d'Aout recite her reception piece. This marchioness was a young Frenchwoman who had been at Rome for the last six months with her husband, a man of many talents, but inferior to her, for she was a genius. From this day I became her intimate friend, but without the slightest idea of an intrigue, leaving all that to a French priest who was hopelessly in love with her, and had thrown up his chances of preferment for her sake.
Every day the Princess Santa Croce told me that I could have the key to her box at the theatre whenever I liked to take Armelline and Emilie, but when a week passed by without my giving any sign she began to believe that I had really broken off the connection.
The cardinal, on the other hand, believed me to be still in love, and praised my conduct. He told me that I should have a letter from the superioress, and he was right; for at the end of the week she wrote me a polite note begging me to call on her, which I was obliged to obey.
I called on her, and she began by asking me plainly why my visits had ceased.