One day as we were driving outside the Gate of Colorno, we met the duke and duchess who were returning to Parma. Immediately after their carriage another vehicle drove along, in which was Dubois with a nobleman unknown to us. Our carriage had only gone a few yards from theirs when one of our horses broke down. The companion of Dubois immediately ordered his coachman to stop in order to send to our assistance. Whilst the horse was raised again, he came politely to our carriage, and paid some civil compliment to Henriette. M. Dubois, always a shrewd courtier and anxious to shew off at the expense of others, lost no time in introducing him as M. Dutillot, the French ambassador. My sweetheart gave the conventional bow. The horse being all right again, we proceeded on our road after thanking the gentlemen for their courtesy. Such an every-day occurrence could not be expected to have any serious consequences, but alas! the most important events are often the result of very trifling circumstances!
The next day, Dubois breakfasted with us. He told us frankly that M. Dutillot had been delighted at the fortunate chance which had afforded him an opportunity of making our acquaintance, and that he had entreated him to ask our permission to call on us.
"On madam or on me?" I asked at once.
"Very well, but one at a time. Madam, as you know, has her own room and I have mine."
"Yes, but they are so near each other!"
"Granted, yet I must tell you that, as far as I am concerned, I should have much pleasure in waiting upon his excellency if he should ever wish to communicate with me, and you will oblige me by letting him know it. As for madam, she is here, speak to her, my dear M. Dubois, for I am only her very humble servant."
Henriette assumed an air of cheerful politeness, and said to him,
"Sir, I beg you will offer my thanks to M. Dutillot, and enquire from him whether he knows me."
"I am certain, madam," said the hunchback, "that he does not."
"You see he does not know me, and yet he wishes to call on me. You must agree with me that if I accepted his visits I should give him a singular opinion of my character. Be good enough to tell him that, although known to no one and knowing no one, I am not an adventuress, and therefore I must decline the honour of his visits."
Dubois felt that he had taken a false step, and remained silent. We never asked him how the ambassador had received our refusal.
Three weeks after the last occurrence, the ducal court residing then at Colorno, a great entertainment was given in the gardens which were to be illuminated all night. Everybody had permission to walk about the gardens. Dubois, the fatal hunchback appointed by destiny, spoke so much of that festival, that we took a fancy to see it. Always the same story of Adam's apple. Dubois accompanied us. We went to Colorno the day before the entertainment, and put up at an inn.
In the evening we walked through the gardens, in which we happened to meet the ducal family and suite. According to the etiquette of the French court, Madame de France was the first to curtsy to Henriette, without stopping. My eyes fell upon a gentleman walking by the side of Don Louis, who was looking at my friend very attentively. A few minutes after, as we were retracing our steps, we came across the same gentleman who, after bowing respectfully to us, took Dubois aside. They conversed together for a quarter of an hour, following us all the time, and we were passing out of the gardens, when the gentleman, coming forward, and politely apologizing to me, asked Henriette whether he had the honour to be known to her.
"I do not recollect having ever had the honour of seeing you before."
"That is enough, madam, and I entreat you to forgive me."
Dubois informed us that the gentleman was the intimate friend of the Infante Don Louis, and that, believing he knew madam, he had begged to be introduced. Dubois had answered that her name was D'Arci, and that, if he was known to the lady, he required no introduction. M. d'Antoine said that the name of D'Arci was unknown to him, and that he was afraid of making a mistake. "In that state of doubt," added Dubois, "and wishing to clear it, he introduced himself, but now he must see that he was mistaken."
After supper, Henriette appeared anxious. I asked her whether she had only pretended not to know M. d'Antoine.
"No, dearest, I can assure you. I know his name which belongs to an illustrious family of Provence, but I have never seen him before."
"Perhaps he may know you?"
"He might have seen me, but I am certain that he never spoke to me, or I would have recollected him."
"That meeting causes me great anxiety, and it seems to have troubled you."
"I confess it has disturbed my mind."
"Let us leave Parma at once and proceed to Genoa. We will go to Venice as soon as my affairs there are settled."
"Yes, my dear friend, we shall then feel more comfortable. But I do not think we need be in any hurry."
We returned to Parma, and two days afterwards my servant handed me a letter, saying that the footman who had brought it was waiting in the ante-room.
"This letter," I said to Henriette, "troubles me."
She took it, and after she had read it--she gave it back to me, saying,