The vetturino held the horse's bridle, and the pretended count did his best to snatch it away from him.
I guessed the bone of contention: the Frenchman had no money, and the vetturino asked in vain for his due. I knew that I should be drawn into the dispute, and was making up my mind to do my duty without mercy, when the Count de l'Etoile came in and said,--
"This blockhead does not understand what I say to him; but as he may have right on his side, I must ask you to give him two sequins. I will return you the money at Rome. By an odd chance I happen to have no money about me, but the fellow might trust me as he has got my trunk. However, he says he must be paid, so will you kindly oblige me? You shall hear more of me at Rome."
Without waiting for me to reply, the rascal went out and ran down the stairs. The vetturino remained in the room. I put my head out of the window, and saw him leap on horseback and gallop away.
I sat down on my bed, and turned the scene over in my mind, rubbing my hands gently. At last I went off into a mad roar of laughter; it struck me as so whimsical and original an adventure.
"Laugh too," said I to the lady, "laugh or I will never get up."
"I agree with you that it's laughable enough, but I have not the spirit to laugh."
"Well, sit down at all events."
I gave the poor devil of a vetturino two sequins, telling him that I should like some coffee and to start in a quarter of an hour.
I was grieved to see my companion's sadness.
"I understand your grief," said I, "but you must try to overcome it. I have only one favour to ask of you, and if you refuse to grant me that, I shall be as sad as you, so we shall be rather a melancholy couple."
"What can I do for you?"
"You can tell me on your word of honour whether that extraordinary character is your husband, or only your lover."
"I will tell you the simple truth; he is not my husband, but we are going to be married at Rome."
"I breathe again. He never shall be your husband, and so much the better for you. He has seduced you, and you love him, but you will soon get over that."
"Never, unless he deceives me."
"He has deceived you already. I am sure he has told you that he is rich, that he is a man of rank, and that he will make you happy; and all that is a lie."
"How can you know all this?"
"Experience--experience is my great teacher. Your lover is a young feather-brain, a man of no worth. He might possibly marry you, but it would be only to support himself by the sale of your charms."
"He loves me; I am sure of it."
"Yes, he loves you, but not with the love of a man of honour. Without knowing my name, or my character, or anything about me, he delivered you over to my tender mercies. A man of any delicacy would never abandon his loved one thus."
"He is not jealous. You know Frenchmen are not."
"A man of honour is the same in France, and England, and Italy, and all the world over. If he loved you, would he have left you penniless in this fashion? What would you do, if I were inclined to play the brutal lover? You may speak freely."
"I should defend myself."
"Very good; then I should abandon you here, and what would you do then? You are pretty, you are a woman of sensibility, but many men would take but little account of your virtue. Your lover has left you to me; for all he knew I might be the vilest wretch; but as it is, cheer up, you have nothing to fear.
"How can you think that adventurer loves you? He is a mere monster. I am sorry that what I say makes you weep, but it must be said. I even dare tell you that I have taken a great liking to you; but you may feel quite sure that I shall not ask you to give me so much as a kiss, and I will never abandon you. Before we get to Rome I shall convince you that the count, as he calls himself, not only does not love you, but is a common swindler as well as a deceiver."
"You will convince me of that?"
"Yes, on my word of honour! Dry your eyes, and let us try to make this day pass as pleasantly as yesterday.