You may count on my discretion, and I shall be delighted to see you whenever you care to call on me."
The gallant made me a bow, and took his departure in no good humour. Don Francisco was a young man of twenty-two, ugly and ill-made. I resolved to nip the intrigue in the bud, for my inclination for Donna Ignazia was of the lightest description; and I went to call on Madame Pichona, who had given me such a polite invitation to come and see her. I had made enquiries about her, and had found out that she was an actress and had been made rich by the Duke of Medina-Celi. The duke had paid her a visit in very cold weather, and finding her without a fire, as she was too poor to buy coals, had sent her the next day a silver stove, which he had filled with a hundred thousand pezzos duros in gold, amounting to three hundred thousand francs in French money. Since then Madame Pichona lived at her ease and received good company.
She gave me a warm reception when I called on her, but her looks were sad. I began by saying that as I had not found her in her box on the last ball night I had ventured to come to enquire after her health.
"I did not go," said she, "for on that day died my only friend the Duke of Medina-Celi. He was ill for three days."
"I sympathise with you. Was the duke an old man?"
"Hardly sixty. You have seen him; he did not look his age."
"Where have I seen him?"
"Did he not bring you to my box?"
"You don't say so! He did not tell me his name and I never saw him before."
I was grieved to hear of his death; it was in all probability a misfortune for me as well as Madame Pichona. All the duke's estate passed to a son of miserly disposition, who in his turn had a son who was beginning to evince the utmost extravagance.
I was told that the family of Medina-Celi enjoys thirty titles of nobility.
One day a young man called on me to offer me, as a foreigner, his services in a country which he knew thoroughly.
"I am Count Marazzini de Plaisance," he began, "I am not rich and I have come to Madrid to try and make my fortune. I hope to enter the bodyguard of his Catholic majesty. I have been indulging in the amusements of the town ever since I came. I saw you at the ball with an unknown beauty. I don't ask you to tell me her name, but if you are fond of novelty I can introduce you to all the handsomest girls in Madrid."
If my experience had taught me such wholesome lessons as I might have expected, I should have shown the impudent rascal the door. Alas! I began to be weary of my experience and the fruits of it; I began to feel the horrors of a great void; I had need of some slight passion to wile away the dreary hours. I therefore made this Mercury welcome, and told him I should be obliged by his presenting me to some beauties, neither too easy nor too difficult to access.
"Come with me to the ball," he rejoined, "and I will shew you some women worthy of your attention."
The ball was to take place the same evening, and I agreed; he asked me to give him some dinner, and I agreed to that also. After dinner he told me he had no money, and I was foolish enough to give him a doubloon. The fellow, who was ugly, blind of one eye, and full of impudence, shewed me a score of pretty women, whose histories he told me, and seeing me to be interested in one of them he promised to bring her to a procuress. He kept his word, but he cost me dear; for the girl only served for an evening's amusement.
Towards the end of the carnival the noble Don Diego, the father of Donna Ignazia, brought me my boots, and the thanks of his wife and himself for the pleasure I had given her at the ball.
"She is as good as she is beautiful," said I, "she deserves to prosper, and if I have not called on her it is only that I am anxious to do nothing which could injure her reputation."
"Her reputation, Senor Caballero, is above all reproach, and I shall be delighted to see you whenever you honour me with a call."
"The carnival draws near to its end," I replied, "and if Donna Ignazia would like to go to another ball I shall be happy to take her again."
"You must come and ask her yourself."
"I will not fail to do so."
I was anxious to see how the pious girl, who had tried to make me pay a hundred doubloons for the chance of having her after her marriage, would greet me, so I called the same day.