For Betty's sake I said I would pay; but this was not all.
"The gentleman," added the man, "has beaten three of my postillions with his naked sword. One of them was wounded in the face, and he has followed his assailant, and will make him pay dearly for it. The reason of the assault was that they wanted to detain him till he had paid."
"You were wrong to allow violence to be used; he does not look like a thief, and you might have taken it for granted that I should pay."
"You are mistaken; I was not obliged to take anything of the sort for granted; I have been cheated in this sort many times before. Your dinner is ready if you want any."
Poor Betty was in despair. She observed a distressed silence; and I tried to raise her spirits, and to make her eat a good dinner, and to taste the excellent Muscat, of which the host had provided an enormous flask.
All my efforts were in vain, so I called the vetturino to tell him that I wanted to start directly after dinner. This order acted on Betty like magic.
"You mean to go as far as Centino, I suppose," said the man. "We had better wait there till the heat is over."
"No, we must push on, as the lady's husband may be in need of help. The wounded postillion has followed him; and as he speaks Italian very imperfectly, there's no knowing what may happen to him."
"Very good; we will go off."
Betty looked at me with the utmost gratitude; and by way of proving it, she pretended to have a good appetite. She had noticed that this was a certain way of pleasing me.
While we were at dinner I ordered up one of the beaten postillions, and heard his story. He was a frank rogue; he said he had received some blows with the flat of the sword, but he boasted of having sent a stone after the Frenchman which must have made an impression on him.
I gave him a Paul, and promised to make it a crown if he would go to Centino to bear witness against his comrade, and he immediately began to speak up for the count, much to Betty's amusement. He said the man's wound in the face was a mere scratch, and that he had brought it on himself, as he had no business to oppose a traveller as he had done. By way of comfort he told us that the Frenchman had only been hit by two or three stones. Betty did not find this very consoling, but I saw that the affair was more comic than tragic, and would end in nothing. The postillion went off, and we followed him in half an hour.
Betty was tranquil enough till we got there, and heard that the count had gone on to Acquapendente with the two postillions at his heels; she seemed quite vexed. I told her that all would be well; that the count knew how to defend himself; but she only answered me with a deep sigh.
I suspected that she was afraid we should have to pass the night together, and that I would demand some payment for all the trouble I had taken.
"Would you like us to go on to Acquapendente?" I asked her.
At this question her face beamed all over; she opened her arms, and I embraced her.
I called the vetturino, and told him. I wanted to go on to Acquapendente immediately.
The fellow replied that his horses were in the stable, and that he was not going to put them in; but that I could have post horses if I liked.
"Very good. Get me two horses immediately."
It is my belief that, if I had liked, Betty would have given me everything at that moment, for she let herself fall into my arms. I pressed her tenderly and kissed her, and that was all She seemed grateful for my self-restraint.
The horses were put in, and after I had paid the landlord for the supper, which he swore he had prepared for us, we started.
We reached Acquapendente in three quarters of an hour, and we found the madcap count in high spirits. He embraced his Dulcinea with transports, and Betty seemed delighted to find him safe and sound. He told us triumphantly that he had beaten the rascally postillions, and had warded their stones off.
"Where's the slashed postillion?" I asked.
"He is drinking to my health with his comrade; they have both begged my pardon."
"Yes," said Betty, "this gentleman gave him a crown."
"What a pity! You shouldn't have given them anything."
Before supper the Comte de l'Etoile skewed us the bruises on his thighs and side; the rascal was a fine well-made fellow.