The marchioness was still handsome, though her beauty had begun to wane; but with her the sweetness, the grace, and the ease of manner supplied the lack of youth. She knew how to make a compliment of the slightest expression, and was totally devoid of any affection of superiority.
"Sit down," she began. "So you are going to stay a week, I see, from the dear abbe's letter. That's a short time for us, but perhaps it may be too long for you. I hope the abbe has not painted us in too rosy colours."
"He only told me that I was to spend a week here, and that I should find with you all the charms of intellect and sensibility."
"Stratico should have condemned you to a month without mercy."
"Why mercy? What hazard do I run?"
"Of being tired to death, or of leaving some small morsel of your heart at Sienna."
"All that might happen in a week, but I am ready to dare the danger, for Stratico has guarded me from the first by counting on you, and from the second by counting on myself. You will receive my pure and intelligent homage. My heart will go forth from Sienna as free as it came, for I have no hope of victory, and defeat would make me wretched."
"Is it possible that you are amongst the despairing?"
"Yes, and to that fact I owe my happiness."
"It would be a pity for you if you found yourself mistaken."
"Not such a pity as you may think, Madam. 'Carpe diem' is my motto. 'Tis likewise the motto of that finished voluptuary, Horace, but I only take it because it suits me. The pleasure which follows desires is the best, for it is the most acute.
"True, but it cannot be calculated on, and defies the philosopher. May God preserve you, madam, from finding out this painful truth by experience! The highest good lies in enjoyment; desire too often remains unsatisfied. If you have not yet found out the truth of Horace's maxim, I congratulate you."
The amiable marchioness smiled pleasantly and gave no positive answer.
Chiaccheri now opened his mouth for the first time, and said that the greatest happiness he could wish us was that we should never agree. The marchioness assented, rewarding Chiaccheri with a smile, but I could not do so.
"I had rather contradict you," I said, "than renounce all hopes of pleasing you. The abbe has thrown the apple of discord between us, but if we continue as we have begun I shall take up my abode at Sienna."
The marchioness was satisfied with the sample of her wit which she had given me, and began to talk commonplaces, asking me if I should like to see company and enjoy society of the fair sex. She promised to take me everywhere.
"Pray do not take the trouble," I replied. "I want to leave Sienna with the feeling that you are the only lady to whom I have done homage, and that the Abbe Chiaccheri has been my only guide."
The marchioness was flattered, and asked the abbe and myself to dine with her on the following day in a delightful house she had at a hundred paces from the town.
The older I grew the more I became attached to the intellectual charms of women. With the sensualist, the contrary takes place; he becomes more material in his old age: requires women well taught in Venus's shrines, and flies from all mention of philosophy.
As I was leaving her I told the abbe that if I stayed at Sienna I would see no other woman but her, come what might, and he agreed that I was very right.
The abbe shewed me all the objects of interest in Sienna, and introduced me to the literati, who in their turn visited me.
The same day Chiaccheri took me to a house where the learned society assembled. It was the residence of two sisters--the elder extremely ugly and the younger very pretty, but the elder sister was accounted, and very rightly, the Corinna of the place. She asked me to give her a specimen of my skill, promising to return the compliment. I recited the first thing that came into my head, and she replied with a few lines of exquisite beauty. I complimented her, but Chiaccheri (who had been her master) guessed that I did not believe her to be the author, and proposed that we should try bouts rimes.