"The whole night! Come and take your reward, for you are cleverer than any sorcerer. We must have the author to dinner, and I shall make him promise to write all my parts without the 'r', or the duke will not employ him. Indeed, I don't wonder the duke has made you his secretary. I never thought it would be possible to do what you have done; but I suppose it was very difficult?"
"Not at all. If I were a pretty woman with the like defect I should take care to avoid all words with an 'r; in them."
"Oh, that would be too much trouble."
"Let us bet again, for a box or a kiss, that you can spend a whole day without using an 'r'. Let us begin now."
"All in good time," said she, "but we won't have any stake, as I think you are too greedy."
The author came to dinner, and was duly attacked by Madame Vestri. She began by saying that it was an author's duty to be polite to actresses, and if any of them spoke with a lisp the least he could do was to write their parts without the fatal letter.
The young author laughed, and said it could not be done without spoiling the style. Thereupon Madame Vestri gave him my version of her part, telling him to read it, and to say on his conscience whether the style had suffered. He had to confess that my alterations were positive improvements, due to the great richness of the French language. And he was right, for there is no language in the world that can compare in copiousness of expression with the French.
This trifling subject kept us merry, but Madame Vestri expressed a devout wish that all authors would do for her what I had done. At Paris, where I heard her playing well and lisping terribly, she did not find the authors so obliging, but she pleased the people. She asked me if I would undertake to recompose Zaire, leaving out the r's.
"Ah!" said I, "considering that it would have to be in verse, and in Voltairean verse, I would rather not undertake the task."
With a view to pleasing the actress the young author asked me how I would tell her that she was charming without using an 'r'.
"I should say that she enchanted me, made me in an ecstasy, that she is unique."
She wrote me a letter, which I still keep, in which the 'r' does not appear. If I could have stayed at Stuttgart, this device of mine might have won me her favours; but after a week of feasting and triumph the courier came one morning at ten o'clock and announced that his highness, the duke, would arrive at four.
As soon as I heard the news I told Baletti with the utmost coolness that I thought it would be only polite to meet my lord, and swell his train on his entry into Louisburg; and as I wished to meet him at a distance of two stages I should have to go at once. He thought my idea an excellent one, and went to order post-horses immediately; but when he saw me packing up all my belongings into my trunk, he guessed the truth and applauded the jest. I embraced him and confessed my hardihood. He was sorry to lose me, but he laughed when he thought of the feelings of the duke and of the three officers when they found out the trick. He promised to write to me at Mannheim, where I had decided on spending a week to see my beloved Algardi, who was in the service of the Elector. I had also letters for M. de Sickirigen and Baron Becker, one of the Elector's ministers.
When the horses were put in I embraced Baletti, his little girl, and his pretty housekeeper, and ordered the postillion to drive to Mannheim.
When we reached Mannheim I heard that the Court was at Schwetzingen, and I bade the postillion drive on. I found everyone I had expected to see. Algardi had got married, M. de Sickingen was soliciting the position of ambassador to Paris, and Baron Becker introduced me to the Elector. Five or six days after my arrival died Prince Frederic des Deux Ponts, and I will here relate an anecdote I heard the day before he died.
Dr. Algardi had attended on the prince during his last illness. I was supping with Veraci, the poet-laureate, on the eve of the prince's death, and in the course of supper Algardi came in.