The poor abbe vexed me because he made himself agreeable to Clementine, with whom I was already in love without knowing it. I saw in him a rival, but far from endeavouring to offend me, he had done his best to please me; and I should have taken account of his good will. But under such circumstances I always gave way to ill humour, and now I am too old to begin curing myself. I don't think I need do so, for if I am ill tempered the company politely pass me over. My misfortune obliges me to submit.
Clementine had conquered me in the space of a few hours. True, I was an inflammable subject, but hitherto no beauty had committed such ravages upon me in so short a time. I did not doubt of success, and I confess that there was a certain amount of vanity in this assurance; but at the same time I was modest, for I knew that at the slightest slip the enterprise would miscarry. Thus I regarded the abbe as a wasp to be crushed as speedily as possible. I was also a victim to that most horrible of passions, jealousy; it seemed to me that if Clementine was not in love with this man- monkey, she was extremely indulgent to him; and with this idea I conceived a horrible plan of revenging my wrongs on her. Love is the god of nature, but this god is, after all, only a spoilt child. We know all his follies and frailties, but we still adore him.
My friend the count, who was surprised, I suppose, to see me contemplating the prospect for such a long time, came up to me and asked me if I wanted anything.
"I am thinking some matter over," said I, "and I must go and write one or two letters in my room till it is time for supper."
"You won't leave us surely?" said he.
"Clementine, help me to keep M. de Seingalt; you must make him postpone his letter-writing."
"But my dear brother," said the charming girl, "if M. de Seingalt has business to do, it would be rude of me to try and prevent his doing it."
Though what she said was perfectly reasonable, it stung me to the quick; when one is in an ill humour, everything is fuel for the fire. But the abbe said pleasantly that I had much better come and make a bank at faro, and as everything echoed this suggestion I had to give in.
The cards were brought in, and various coloured counters handed round, and I sat down putting thirty ducats before me. This was a very large sum for a company who only played for amusement's sake; fifteen counters were valued only at a sequin. Countess Ambrose sat at my right hand, and the abbe at my left. As if they had laid a plot to vex and annoy me, Clementine had made room for him. I took a mere accident for a studied impertinence, and told the poor man that I never dealt unless I had a lady on each side of me, and never by any chance with a priest beside me.
"Do you think it would bring you ill luck?"
"I don't like birds of ill omen."
At this he got up, and Clementine took his place.
At the end of three hours, supper was announced. Everybody had won from me except the abbe; the poor devil had lost counters to the extent of twenty sequins.
As a relation the abbe stayed to supper, but the lady and her children were asked in vain to do so.
The abbe looked wretched, which made me in a good temper, and inclined me to be pleasant. I proceeded to flirt with Clementine, and by making her reply to the numerous questions I asked, I gave her an opportunity of displaying her wit, and I could see that she was grateful. I was once more myself, and I took pity of the abbe, and spoke to him politely, asking him his opinion on some topic.
"I was not listening," said he, "but I hope you will give me my revenge after supper."
"After supper I shall be going to bed, but you shall have your revenge, and as much as you like of it, tomorrow, provided that our charming hostesses like playing. I hope the luck will be in your favour."
After supper the poor abbe went sadly away, and the count took me to my room, telling me that I could sleep securely in spite of the lack of keys for his sisters-in-law who were lodged close by were no better off.