While they were eating, I took a boiled capon and cut it up in a masterly manner.
"We have a waiter who knows his work," said the lady of my thoughts.
"Have you been long at this inn?"
"Only a few weeks, madam."
"You wait very well."
"Madam is very good."
I had tucked in my superb ruffles of English point lace, but my frilled shirt front of the same material protruded slightly through my vest, which I had not buttoned carefully. She saw it, and said, "Come here a moment."
"What does madam require?"
"Let me see it. What beautiful lace!"
"So I have been told, madam, but it is very old. An Italian gentleman who was staying here made me a present of it."
"You have ruffles of the same kind, I suppose?"
"Yes, madam;" and so saying I stretched out my hand, unbuttoning my waistcoat. She gently drew out the ruffle, and seemed to place herself in a position to intoxicate me with the sight of her charms, although she was tightly laced. What an ecstatic moment! I knew she had recognized me, and the thought that I could not carry the masquerade beyond a certain point was a veritable torment to me.
When she had looked a long time, one of the others said,
"You are certainly very curious, my dear, one would think you had never seen lace before."
At this she blushed.
When the supper was done, the three ugly ladies each went apart to undress, while I took away the dishes, and my heroine began to write. I confess that I was almost infatuated enough to think that she was writing to me; however, I had too high an opinion of her to entertain the idea.
As soon as I had taken away the dishes, I stood by the door in the respectful manner becoming the occasion.
"What are you waiting for?" she said.
"For your orders, madam."
"Thank you, I don't want anything."
"Your boots, madam, you will like them removed before you retire."
"True, but still I don't like to give you so much trouble."
"I am here to attend on you, madam."
So saying, I knelt on one knee before her, and slowly unplaced her boots while she continued writing. I went farther; I unbuckled her garters, delighting in the contemplation and still more in the touch of her delicately-shaped legs, but too soon for me she turned her head, and said,
"That will do, thank you. I did not notice that you were giving yourself so much trouble. We shall see you to-morrow evening."
"Then you will sup here, ladies?"
I took her boots away, and asked if I should lock the door.
"No, my good fellow," said she, in the voice of a syren, "leave the key inside."
Le Duc took the charmer's boots from me, and said, laughing,--
"She has caught you."
"I saw it all, sir, you played your part as well as any actor in Paris; and I am certain that she will give you a louis to-morrow, but if you don't hand it over to me I will blow on the whole thing."
"That's enough, you rascal; get me my supper as quickly as possible."
Such are the pleasures which old age no longer allows me to enjoy, except in my memory. There are monsters who preach repentance, and philosophers who treat all pleasures as vanity. Let them talk on. Repentance only befits crimes, and pleasures are realities, though all too fleeting.
A happy dream made me pass the night with the fair lady; doubtless it was a delusion, but a delusion full of bliss. What would I not give now for such dreams, which made my nights so sweet!
Next morning at day-break I was at her door with her boots in my hand just as their coachman came to call them. I asked them, as a matter of form, if they would have breakfast, and they replied merrily that they had made too good a supper to have any appetite at such an early hour. I went out of the room to give them time to dress, but the door was half open, and I saw reflected in the glass the snow-white bosom of my fair one; it was an intoxicating sight. When she had laced herself and put on her dress she called for her boots. I asked if I should put them on, to which she consented with a good grace, and as she had green velvet breeches, she seemed to consider herself as almost a man.