And yet I felt quite happy, in spite of the tenth lustrum so near at hand for me.
What a difference I found between my youth and my middle age! I could scarcely recognize myself. I was then happy, but now unhappy; then all the world was before me, and the future seemed a gorgeous dream, and now I was obliged to confess that my life had been all in vain. I might live twenty years more, but I felt that the happy time was passed away, and the future seemed all dreary.
I reckoned up my forty-seven years, and saw fortune fly away. This in itself was enough to sadden me, for without the favours of the fickle goddess life was not worth living, for me at all events.
My object, then, was to return to my country; it was as if I struggled to undo all that I had done. All I could hope for was to soften the hardships of the slow but certain passage to the grave.
These are the thoughts of declining years and not of youth. The young man looks only to the present, believes that the sky will always smile upon him, and laughs at philosophy as it vainly preaches of old age, misery, repentance, and, worst of all, abhorred death.
Such were my thoughts twenty-six years ago; what must they be now, when I am all alone, poor, despised, and impotent. They would kill me if I did not resolutely subdue them, for whether for good or ill my heart is still young. Of what use are desires when one can no longer satisfy them? I write to kill ennui, and I take a pleasure in writing. Whether I write sense or nonsense, what matters? I am amused, and that is enough.
'Malo scriptor delirus, inersque videri, Dum mea delectent mala me vel denique fallunt, Quam sapere.'
When I came back I found Mardocheus at supper with his numerous family, composed of eleven or twelve individuals, and including his mother--an old woman of ninety, who looked very well. I noticed another Jew of middle age; he was the husband of his eldest daughter, who did not strike me as pretty; but the younger daughter, who was destined for a Jew of Pesaro, whom she had never seen, engaged all my attention. I remarked to her that if she had not seen her future husband she could not be in love with him, whereupon she replied in a serious voice that it was not necessary to be in love before one married. The old woman praised the girl for this sentiment, and said she had not been in love with her husband till the first child was born.
I shall call the pretty Jewess Leah, as I have good reasons for not using her real name.
While they were enjoying their meal I sat down beside her and tried to make myself as agreeable as possible, but she would not even look at me.
My supper was excellent, and my bed very comfortable.
The next day my landlord told me that I could give my linen to the maid, and that Leah could get it up for me.
I told him I had relished my supper, but that I should like the foie gras every day as I had a dispensation.
"You shall have some to-morrow, but Leah is the only one of us who eats it."
"Then Leah must take it with me, and you can tell her that I shall give her some Cyprus wine which is perfectly pure."
I had no wine, but I went for it the same morning to the Venetian consul, giving him M. Dandolo's letter.
The consul was a Venetian of the old leaven. He had heard my name, and seemed delighted to make my acquaintance. He was a kind of clown without the paint, fond of a joke, a regular gourmand, and a man of great experience. He sold me some Scopolo and old Cyprus Muscat, but he began to exclaim when he heard where I was lodging, and how I had come there.
"He is rich," he said, "but he is also a great usurer, and if you borrow money of him he will make you repent it."
After informing the consul that I should not leave till the end of the month, I went home to dinner, which proved excellent.
The next day I gave out my linen to the maid, and Leah came to ask me how I liked my lace got up.
If Leah had examined me more closely she would have seen that the sight of her magnificent breast, unprotected by any kerchief, had had a remarkable effect on me.