You will have to be ill, as I mean to keep to the conditions you made yourself, and to enjoy full liberty in all things, and I shall therefore deny myself the honour of taking you to the ball which the ambassador is to give in my hall."
I read her insolent letter and my reply to my housekeeper, who thought the answer just what she deserved. I then sent it to her.
I passed the next two days quietly and agreeably without going out or seeing any visitors, but the society of Madame Dubois was all- sufficient for me. Early on Sunday morning the ambassador's people came to make the necessary preparations for the ball and supper. Lebel came to pay me his respects while I was at table. I made him sit down, while I thanked him for procuring me a housekeeper who was all perfection.
Lebel was a fine man, middle-aged, witty, and an excellent steward, though perfectly honest.
"Which of you two," said he to me, "is the most taken in?"
"We are equally pleased with each other," answered my charming housekeeper.
To my great delight the first pair to appear were M.---- and Madame. She was extremely polite to Madame Dubois, and did not shew the slightest astonishment when I introduced her as my housekeeper. She told me that I must take her to see her lame friend, and to my great disgust I had to go. We were received with a show of great friendship, and she went out with us into the garden, taking M.----'s arm, while his wife leant amorously on mine.
When we had made a few turns of the garden, Madame begged me to take her to her nurse. As her husband was close by, I said,--
"Who is your nurse?"
"Your door-keeper's wife," said her husband, "we will wait for you in this lady's apartment."
"Tell me, sweetheart," said she on the way, "does not your pretty housekeeper sleep with you?"
"I swear she does not; I can only love you."
"I would like to believe you, but I find it hard to do so; however, if you are speaking the truth it is wrong of you to keep her in the house, as nobody will believe in your innocence."
"It is enough for me that you believe in it. I admire her, and at any other time I expect we could not sleep under the same roof without sleeping in the same bed; but now that you rule my heart I am not capable of a passion for her."
"I am delighted to hear it; but I think she is very pretty."
We went in to see her nurse, who called her "my child," and kissed her again and again, and then left us alone to prepare some lemonade for us. As soon as we found ourselves alone our mouths were glued together, and my hands touched a thousand beauties, covered only by a dress of light sarcenet; but I could not enjoy her charms without this cruel robe, which was all the worse because it did not conceal the loveliness beneath it. I am sure that the good nurse would have kept us waiting a long time if she had known how we longed to be left alone for a few moments longer; but, alas! the celerity with which she made those two glasses of lemonade was unexampled.
"It was made beforehand, was it?" said I, when I saw her coming in.
"Not at all, sir; but I am a quick hand."
"You are, indeed."
These words made my charmer go off into a peal of laughter, which she accompanied with a significant glance in my direction. As we were going away she said that as things seemed to be against us we must wait till her husband came to spend a few days with me.
My terrible enemy gave us some sweets, which she praised very highly, and above all some quince marmalade, which she insisted on our testing. We begged to be excused, and Madame pressed my foot with hers. When we had got away she told me I had been very wise not to touch anything, as the widow was suspected of having poisoned her husband.
The ball, the supper, the refreshments, and the guests were all of the most exquisite and agreeable kind. I only danced one minuet with Madame de Chauvelin, nearly all my evening being taken up with talking to her husband. I made him a present of my translation of his poem on the seven deadly sins, which he received with much pleasure.