Thus goes the money. It comes from the pockets of the dupes--poor moths who burn their wings at Spa!
The Wells are a mere pretext for gaming, intriguing, and fortune-hunting. There are a few honest people who go for amusement, and a few for rest and relaxation after the toils of business.
Living is cheap enough at Spa. The table d'hote is excellent, and only costs a small French crown, and one can get good lodging for the like sum.
I came home at noon having won a score of louis. I went into the shop, intending to go to my room, but I was stopped short by seeing a handsome brunette, of nineteen or twenty, with great black eyes, voluptuous lips, and shining teeth, measuring out ribbon on the counter. This, then, was the niece, whom I had imagined as so ugly. I concealed my surprise and sat down in the shop to gaze at her and endeavour to make her acquaintance. But she hardly seemed to see me, and only acknowledged my presence by a slight inclination of the head. Her aunt came down to say that dinner was ready, and I went upstairs and found the table laid for four. The servant brought in the soup, and then asked me very plainly to give her some money if I wanted any wine, as her master and mistress only drank beer. I was delighted with her freedom, and gave her money to buy two bottles of Burgundy.
The master came up and shewed me a gold repeater with a chain also of gold by a well-known modern maker. He wanted to know how much it was worth.
"Forty louis at the least."
"A gentleman wants me to give him twenty louis for it, on the condition that I return it to-morrow if he brings me twenty-two."
"Then I advise you to accept his offer."
"I haven't got the money."
"I will lend it you with pleasure."
I gave him the twenty Louis, and placed the watch in my jewel-casket. At table the niece sat opposite to me, but I took care not to look at her, and she, like a modest girl, did not say a score of words all through the meal. The meal was an excellent one, consisting of soup, boiled beef, an entree, and a roast. The mistress of the house told me that the roast was in my honour, "for," she said, "we are not rich people, and we only allow ourselves this Luxury on a Sunday." I admired her delicacy, and the evident sincerity with which she spoke. I begged my entertainers to help me with my wine, and they accepted the offer, saying they only wished they were rich enough to be able to drink half a bottle a day.
"I thought trade was good with you."
"The stuff is not ours, and we have debts; besides, the expenses are very great. We have sold very little up to now."
"Do you only sell hats?"
"No, we have silk handkerchiefs, Paris stockings, and lace ruffs, but they say everything is too dear."
"I will buy some things for you, and will send all my friends here. Leave it to me; I will see what I can do for you."
"Mercy, fetch down one or two packets of those handkerchiefs and some stockings, large size, for the gentleman has a big leg."
Mercy, as the niece was called, obeyed. I pronounced the handkerchiefs superb and the stockings excellent. I bought a dozen, and I promised them that they should sell out their whole stock. They overwhelmed me with thanks, and promised to put themselves entirely in my hands.
After coffee, which, like the roast, was in my honour, the aunt told her niece to take care to awake me in the morning when she got up. She said she would not fail, but I begged her not to take too much trouble over me, as I was a very heavy sleeper.
In the afternoon I went to an armourer's to buy a brace of pistols, and asked the man if he knew the tradesman with whom I was staying.
"We are cousins-german," he replied.
"Is he rich?"
"Yes, in debts."
"Because he is unfortunate, like most honest people."
"How about his wife?"
"Her careful economy keeps him above water."
"Do you know the niece?"
"Yes; she's a good girl, but very pious. Her silly scruples keep customers away from the shop."
"What do you think she should do to attract customers?"
"She should be more polite, and not play the prude when anyone wants to give her a kiss."
"She is like that, is she?"
"Try her yourself and you will see.