I accepted his invitation.
One of the guests, a fine-looking man, on hearing my name announced, said gaily,--
"If you bear my name, you must be one of my father's bastards."
"No," said I, directly, "one of your mother's."
This repartee made everybody laugh, and the gentleman who had addressed me came and embraced me, not in the least offended. The joke was explained to me. His name was Casalnovo, not Casanova, and he was duke and lord of the fief of that name.
"Did you know," said the Duke de Matalone, "that I had a son?"
"I was told so, but did not believe it, but now I must do penance for my incredulity, for I see before me an angel capable of working this miracle."
The duchess blushed, but did not reward my compliment with so much as a glance; but all the company applauded what I had said, as it was notorious that the duke had been impotent before his marriage. The duke sent for his son, I admired him, and told the father that the likeness was perfect. A merry monk, who sat at the right hand of the duchess, said, more truthfully, that there was no likeness at all. He had scarcely uttered the words when the duchess coolly gave him a box on the ear, which the monk received with the best grace imaginable.
I talked away to the best of my ability, and in half an hour's time I had won everybody's good graces, with the exception of the duchess, who remained inflexible. I tried to make her talk for two days without success; so as I did not care much about her I left her to her pride.
As the duke was taking me to my room he noticed my Spaniard, and asked where my secretary was, and when he saw that it was the Abbe Alfani, who had taken the title so as to escape the notice of the Neapolitans, he said,--
"The abbe is very wise, for he has deceived so many people with his false antiques that he might have got into trouble."
He took me to his stables where he had some superb horses, Arabs, English, and Andalusians; and then to his gallery, a very fine one; to his large and choice library; and at last to his study, where he had a fine collection of prohibited books.
I was reading titles and turning over leaves, when the duke said,--
"Promise to keep the most absolute secrecy on what I am going to shew you."
I promised, without making any difficulty, but I expected a surprise of some sort. He then shewed me a satire which I could not understand, but which was meant to turn the whole Court into ridicule. Never was there a secret so easily kept.
"You must come to the St. Charles Theatre," said he, "and I will present you to the handsomest ladies in Naples, and afterwards you can go when you like, as my box is always open to my friends. I will also introduce you to my mistress, and she, I am sure, will always be glad to see you."
"What! you have a mistress, have you?"
"Yes, but only for form's sake, as I am very fond of my wife. All the same, I am supposed to be deeply in love with her, and even jealous, as I never introduce anyone to her, and do not allow her to receive any visitors."
"But does not your young and handsome duchess object to your keeping a mistress?"
"My wife could not possibly be jealous, as she knows that I am impotent--except, of course, with her."
"I see, but it sems strange; can one be said to have a mistress whom one does not love?"
"I did not say I loved her not; on the contrary, I am very fond of her; she has a keen and pleasant wit, but she interests my head rather than my heart."
"I see; but I suppose she is ugly?"
"Ugly? You shall see her to-night, and you can tell me what you think of her afterwards. She is a handsome and well-educated girl of seventeen."
"Can she speak French?"
"As well as a Frenchwoman."
"I am longing to see her."
When we got to the theatre I was introduced to several ladies, but none of them pleased me. The king, a mere boy, sat in his box in the middle of the theatre, surrounded by his courtiers, richly but tastefully dressed. The pit was full and the boxes also.