« PreviousContinue »
THE SPANISH LADY
THE departure of La Corticelli took a weight off my mind. The first person I visited was the town councillor whom I had not written to since I left Florence, and he actually shed tears of pleasure at seeing me. He asked me to sup, and told me that Monsieur de Voltaire had sold his house, Les Délices, to the Due de Villars, and had gone to live at Ferney. When he had left me, I sat down to write some letters, amongst others one to Madame Lebel, my former housekeeper, to tell her I would go and see her at Lausanne if she was still there. H}! Writefi #0 I also wrote to Ascanio Pogomas, otherwise known as Giacomo lllljgtfigazflgel’ Parsano, a Genoese poet, whom I had known at Leghorn, and who was then at Berne. My evil genius inspired this act; it occurred to me I could present him to Madame d‘Urfé as an adept; he had an imposing face and figure. In the course of a day or two I received an express letter from Madame Lebel, begging me to go to Lausanne, where she and her husband would meet me at her rn9_ther’s_l1Q11se._ W,
have tenderly loved. As my wife she would have made me perfectly happy, had fate reserved that happiness for me; but perhaps, with a character like mine, I was right in not attaching myself irrevocably, although now, in my old age, my very independence constitutes a kind of slavery. If I had married a woman clever enough to direct me—to subjugate me—I
should have saved my money, I should have had children, and
I timed my journey at Lausanne so as to arrive about an He revisits an hour before Lebel and his wife would be there. The good £1:ui:‘];‘;:t mother Dubois was astonished to see me. After she had got ' over her surprise, I gave her two louis to get us a good supper. ‘
At seven the married couple appeared, bringing with them an infant of eighteen months, wvl_“1.2Awas, rny_li_ving image. I gave the child a superb gold watch with my port1‘ait,Nto be kept for him till he was grown up. I saw that child again at Fontainebleau when he was twenty-one. We remained two hours at table, during which I related to them in detail all that had occurred to me since I last saw them. As for their history, its lack of incident was the best guarantee of its peaceful character. Madame Lebel was beautiful still. I did not find any change in her; the change was in me. She thought me looking far less fresh and spirited than when we parted. She was right; La Renaud had blighted me, and the faithlessness of La Corticelli had caused me much wearing annoyance. After the tenderest protestations of affection, husband and wife went off to Soleure, and I returned to Geneva.
A few days later I returned to Lyons,ex pecting to find Madame d’Urfé there, but she had gone to Berne, where she had property. She had left a letter for me, in which she said she would be glad to see me as soon as possible, so I set off at once. She received me as she always did ; and I told her that I should be obliged to leave her shortly and go to Turin to meet Frederic Gualdo, who was then chief of the Rosicrucians. I added that he would come to Marseilles with me, and then she would be perfectly happy. These somewhat vague directions prevented her from returning to Paris, at any rate until she had seen us. The oracle also told her that she must await further instructions at Lyons.
I wanted fifty thousand francs, and Madame d’Urfé said she would require fifteen days in which to procure them. We
spent this time at Lyons, where I made the acquaintance of Madame Pernon, the wife of a rich merchant. I laid out a great deal of money at her husband’s shop, and supplied myself with a rich and elegant wardrobe.
When the money arrived, Madame d’Urfé handed it over to me, with three beautiful dresses which she had promised to Countess Lascaris; but which, I can assure you, La Corticelli never laid eyes on. One of these dresses was composed of very rare and perfect sables.
I left Lyons equipped like a prince, and started for Turin, having stayed one day at Chambéry to see M. M. number two. At Turin I found La Corticelli and her mother lodging with a respectable-looking woman named Pacienza. They were both as meek as lambs, but I was careful never to be alone with the daughter. Frederic Gualdo, alias Pogomas, whom I had destined to play the part of the Rosicrucian, had one of those singular faces which inspire, not respect, but a certain ill~defined uneasiness, which is neither more nor less than a natural presentiment. Sooner or later the owner of the face proves to be either a cunning scoundrel or a cold-hearted pedant.
The dancing academy of the celebrated Dupré 1 was then at the zenith of its reputation; and as I had promised to do something for La Corticelli, I gave her lessons. The idea pleased her, and I accompanied her to the school. All the dancers, male and female, of the opera were there, the latter accompanied by their mothers, who made a background of worthy women rolled up in shawls and muffs. Dupré told me that if La Corticelli would take pains, she might become a virtuoso, for she had wonderful natural gifts.
The god of dancing.
1 Dupré, who for his talents and his stature was surnamed the Great, was one of the most celebrated dancers of the eighteenth century. He was a superbly handsome man. A contemporary wrote of him—
‘ Ah! je vois Dupré qui s’avance ! Comme il développe ses bras 1 Que de graces dans tous ses pas ! C‘est ma foil le Dieu de la danse ! ‘ It is difficult to realise any masculine dancer exciting such world-wide admiration and enthusiasm as he did. On retiring from the stage (with a pension), he founded a school of dancing at Turin. It was evidently not a success, for after some time he disappeared, and the date and place of his death are unknown.
The quondam Countess Lascaris minced about, giving herself the airs of a favourite, and showing off before the other girls, who whispered and tittered when she laid her hand on my sleeve, saying she wanted ribbons for this and laces for that. I paid Dupré for three months’ lessons in advance; it was weak, I own; but I wanted to pose as a grand seigneur before all these young women. There was one among them A ba1l,at who interested me particularly. She was tall, with fine delicate Dupre 9I features, and was dancing with a man who, when he had occasion to find fault with her, spoke so grossly and harshly, that my blood boiled. I had noticed a woman among the parents whom I instinctively felt must be the mother of the girl I was watching. I was right. She told me she was from Lucca, and was a widow, and poor.
‘How is it you are poor, young and beautiful as you are, and with a daughter like that ? ’
She gave me a significant glance, and at that moment the girl, who was called Agatha, came up and asked her for a handkerchief to wipe her face.
‘ Allow me to offer you mine, signorita.’
Mine was white, and perfumed with essence of rose; and when she handed it back, I said, ‘You cannot return it without having had it washed, my pretty lady.’
She smiled. The ice was broken, and we made acquaintance.
I persuaded Dupré to give a ball at my expense. All the dancers were invited, and only professionals were to be allowed to dance; but tickets were issued at a ducat each, which admitted ladies and gentlemen to supper and as onlookers. Agatha had no dress to appear in, so I asked Madame Dupré to buy her one from me. It was a rich Lyons silk, trimmed with point d’Alen<;on. The innocent girl, and her equally innocent mother, had no idea of its real value. I had the
The earrings privilege of assisting at her toilette that day at Dupré’s, and
°f A5“th“’ I noticed that her earrings were sadly out of keeping with the rest of her toilette. So drawing the diamond pendants which Madame d’Urfé had meant for La Lascaris from my pocket, I fastened them in her ears.
‘ You‘d say they were diamonds,’ said La Dupré.
So they were, but I said they were paste. .
When I got to the ball I found her dancing with Lord Percy, the son of the Duchess of Northumberland, a wild young fellow who was spending immense sums on the most senseless excesses. I had great difliculty in getting Agatha away from him; he wanted her to dance with him all the evening.
We danced minuets and country dances, then the ladies partook of refreshments liberally. The popping corks of champagne bottles made a continuous rumble. It was magnifioently done. Madame Chauvelin sat down by Agatha and complimented her on her diamond earrings.
‘Not diamonds, only paste,’ said the candid Agatha; ‘and it was Monsieur here who lent them to me.’
Madame Chauvelin laughed out. ‘ M. de Seingalt is taking you in, my dear!’
Agatha blushed, for my silence confirmed Madame de Chauvelin’s assertion, and every one could tell that I was courting her.
/’ Next day the mother of Agatha came to see me, and took
‘chocolate with me. She wanted to know if the earrings were
/ real or not. I assured her that they were, and that I meant
to give them to Agatha. She kissed me, and promised to
! further my suit with her daughter. Thinking over it all
‘ when she had left me, I put her down as the most sensible of
l all the dancer’s mothers I had ever known, and I thought of l her almost as tenderly as I did of Agatha.
A few days after the ball Madame de Saint-Giles, who at
that time was the leader of society in Turin, and whose every
word was law, sent for me. After talking of indifferent