The memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt, by Giacomo Casanova

Chapter XXI

End of My Adventure with the Nun from Chamberi — My Flight from Aix

“Yesterday,” said the charming nun, “you left in my hands the two portraits of my Venetian sister. I want you to give them to me.”

“They are yours.”

“I thank you. My second favour is, that you will be good enough to take my portrait in exchange; you shall have it to-morrow.”

“I shall be delighted. It will be the most precious of all my jewels, but I wonder how you can ask me to take it as a favour, whereas you are doing me a favour I should never have dared to demand. How shall I make myself worthy of giving you my portrait?”

“Ah, dearest! it would be a dear possession, but God preserve me from having it at the convent!”

“I will get myself painted under the costume of St. Louis of Gonzaga, or St. Anthony of Padua.”

“I shall be damned eternally.”

“We will say no more about it.”

She had on a dimity corset, trimmed with red ribbon, and a cambric chemise. I was surprised, but politeness did not allow me to ask where they came from, so I contented myself with staring at them. She guessed my thoughts, and said, smilingly, that it was a present from the countrywoman.

“Seeing her fortune made, the worthy woman tries every possible way to convince her benefactor that she is grateful to him. Look at the bed; she was certainly thinking of you, and look at these fine materials. I confess I enjoy their softness extremely. I shall sleep better to-night if I am not plagued by those seductive dreams which tormented me last night.”

“Do you think that the bed and the fine linen will deliver you from the dreams you fear?”

“No doubt they will have a contrary effect, for softness irritates the passions. I shall leave everything with the good woman. I do not know what they would say if I took them with me to the convent.”

“You are not so comfortable there?”

“Oh, no! A straw bed, a couple of blankets, and sometimes, as a great favour, a thin mattress and two coarse sheets. But you seem sad; you were so happy yesterday.”

“How can I be happy when I can no longer toy with you without making you unhappy.”

“You should have said without giving me the greatest delight.”

“Then will you consent to receive pleasure in return for that which you give me?”

“But yours is innocent and mine is not.”

“What would you do, then, if mine and yours were the same?”

“You might have made me wretched yesterday, for I could not have refused you anything.”

“Why wretched? You would have had none of those dreams, but would have enjoyed a quiet night. I am very sorry the peasant woman has given you that corset, as otherwise I might at least have seen my little pets without fear of bad dreams.”

“But you must not be angry with the good woman, for she knows that a corset is easy to unlace. And I cannot bear to see you sad.”

With these words she turned her ardent gaze upon me, and I covered her with kisses which she returned with interest. The country-woman came up to lay the pretty new table, just as I was taking off her corset without her offering the least resistance.

This good omen put me in high spirits, but as I looked at her I saw a shadow passing across her face. I took care not to ask her the reason, for I guessed what was the matter, and I did not wish to discuss those vows which religion and honour should have made inviolable. To distract her mind from these thoughts, I made her eat by the example I set, and she drank the excellent claret with as much pleasure as I, not thinking that as she was not used to it it would put her in a frame of mind not favourable to continence. But she did not notice this, for her gaiety made her look prettier than before, and aroused her passions.

When we were alone I congratulated her on her high spirits, telling her that my sadness had fled before her gaiety, and that the hours I could spend with her would be all too short.

“I should be blithe,” said she, “if it were only to please you.”

“Then grant me the favour you accorded me yesterday evening.”

“I would rather incur all the excommunications in the world than run the risk of appearing unjust to you. Take me.”

“So saying, she took off her cap, and let down her beautiful hair. I unlaced her corset, and in the twinkling of an eye I had before me such a siren as one sees on the canvas of Correggio. I could not look upon her long without covering her with my burning kisses, and, communicating my ardour, before long she made a place for me beside herself. I felt that there was no time for thinking, that nature had spoken out, and that love bade me seize the opportunity offered by that delicious weakness. I threw myself on her, and with my lips glued to hers I pressed her between my amorous arms, pending the moment of supreme bliss.

But in the midst of these joys, she turned her head, closed her eyelids, and fell asleep. I moved away a little, the better to contemplate the treasures that love displayed before me. The nun slept, as I thought; but even if her sleep was feigned, should I be angry with her for the stratagem? Certainly not; true or feigned, the sleep of a loved one should always be respected by a delicate lover, although there are some pleasures he may allow himself. If the sleep is real there is no harm done, and if it is put on the lover only responds to the lady’s desires. All that is necessary is so to manage one’s caresses that they are pleasant to the beloved object. But M—— M—— was really asleep; the claret had numbed her senses, and she had yielded to its influence without any ulterior motives. While I gazed at her I saw that she was dreaming. Her lips uttered words of which I could not catch the meaning, but her voluptuous aspect told me of what she dreamt. I took off my clothes; and in two minutes I had clasped her fair body to mine, not caring much whether she slept on or whether I awoke her and brought our drama to a climax, which seemed inevitable.

I was not long uncertain, for the instinctive movements she made when she felt the minister that would fain accomplish the sacrifice at the door of the sanctuary, convinced me that her dream still lasted, and that I could not make her happier than by changing it into reality. I delicately moved away all obstacles, and gently and by degrees consummated this sweet robbery, and when at last I abandoned myself to all the force of passion, she awoke with a sigh of bliss, murmuring,

“Ah! it is true then.”

“Yes, my angel! are you happy?”

For all reply she drew me to her and fastened her lips on mine, and thus we awaited the dawn of day, exhausting all imaginable kinds of pleasure, exciting each other’s desires, and only wishing to prolong our enjoyment.

“Alas!” said she, “I am happy now, but you must leave me till the evening. Let us talk of our happiness, and enjoy it over again.”

“Then you do not repent having made me a happy man?”

“No; it is you who have made me happy. You are an angel from heaven. We loved, we crowned our love; I cannot have done aught to offend God. I am free from all my fears. We have obeyed nature and our destinies. Do you love me still?”

“Can you ask me? I will shew you to-night.”

I dressed myself as quickly as possible while we talked of our love, and I left her in bed, bidding her rest.

It was quite light when I got home. Le Duc had not gone to bed, and gave me a letter from the fair Zeroli, telling me that it had been delivered at eleven o’clock. I had not gone to her supper, and I had not escorted her to Chamberi; I had not had time to give her a moment’s thought. I was sorry, but I could not do anything. I opened her letter which consisted of only six lines, but they were pregnant ones. She advised me never to go to Turin, for if I went there she would find means to take vengeance on me for the dastardly affront I had put upon her. She reproached me with having put her to public shame, said I had dishonoured her, and vowed she would never forgive me. I did not distress myself to any great extent; I tore up the friendly missive, and after I had had my hair done I went to the fountain.

Everybody flew at me for not having been at Madame Zeroli’s supper. I defended myself as best I could, but my excuses were rather tame, about which I did not trouble myself. I was told that all was known, and this amused me as I was aware that nothing was known. The marquis’s mistress took hold of my arm, and told me, without any circumlocution, that I had the reputation of being inconstant, and by way of reply I observed politely that I was wrongfully accused, but that if there was any ground for the remark it was because I had never served so sweet a lady as herself. She was flattered by my compliment, and I bit my lip when I heard her ask in the most gracious manner why I did not breakfast sometimes with the marquis.

“I was afraid of disturbing him,” said I.

“How do you mean?”

“I should be interrupting him in his business.”

“He has no business, and he would be delighted to see you. Come to- morrow, he always breakfasts in my room”

This lady was the widow of a gentleman of quality; she was young, undoubtedly pretty, and possessing in perfection the jargon of good society; nevertheless, she did not attract me. After recently enjoying the fair Zeroli, and finding my suit with the fair nun at the height of its prosperity, I was naturally hard to please, and in plain words — I was perfectly contented with my situation. For all that, I had foolishly placed myself in such a position that I was obliged to give her to understand that she had delighted me by her preference.

She asked the marquis if she could return to the inn.

“Yes,” said he, “but I have some business in hand, and cannot come with you.”

“Would you be kind enough to escort me?” said she to me. I bowed in assent.

On the way she told me that if Madame Zeroli were still there she would not have dared to take my arm. I could only reply by equivocating, as I had no wish to embark in a fresh intrigue. However, I had no choice; I was obliged to accompany her to her room and sit down beside her; but as I had had no sleep the night before I felt tired and began to yawn, which was not flattering for the lady. I excused myself to the best of my ability, telling her that I was ill, and she believed me or pretended to believe me. But I felt sleep stealing upon me, and I should have infallibly dropped off if it had not been for my hellebore, which kept me awake by making me sneeze.

The marquis came in, and after a thousand compliments he proposed a game of quinze. I begged him to excuse me, and the lady backed me up, saying I could not possibly play in the midst of such a sneezing fit. We went down to dinner, and afterwards I easily consented to make a bank, as I was vexed at my loss of the day before. As usual I staked five hundred louis, and about seven o’clock, though two-thirds of the bank had gone, I announced the last deal. The marquis and two other heavy gamesters then endeavoured to break the bank, but fortune turned, and I not only got back my losses but won three hundred Louis besides. Thereupon I rose, promising the company to begin again next day. All the ladies had won, as Desarmoises had orders to let them play as they liked up to a certain limit.

I locked up my money, and warning my faithful Spaniard that I should not be coming back, I went to my idol, having got wet through on the way, and being obliged to undress as soon as I arrived. The good woman’ of the house took care to dry my clothes.

I found the fair nun dressed in her religious habit, and lying on the small bed.

“Why are you not in your own bed, dearest?”

“Because I feel quite well again, my darling, and I wished to sup with you at table. We will go to bed afterwards, if that will give you any pleasure.”

“It will give me pleasure if you share in my delight.”

“Alas! I am undone, and I shall doubtless die when I have to leave you.”

“Do not leave me, sweetheart; come with me to Rome; and leave the matter in my hands. I will make you my wife, and we will live happily together ever after.”

“That would be too great a bliss, but I could never make up my mind to it; say no more about it.”

I was sure of spending a delicious night — in the possession of all her charms, and we stayed an hour at table, seasoning the dishes with sweet converse. When we had done, the woman came up, gave her a packet, and went away again, wishing us good night.

“What does this packet contain, darling?”

“It is the present I have got for you-my portrait, but you must not see it till I am in bed.”

“I will indulge you in that fancy, although I am very curious to see the portrait.”

“You will say I am right afterwards.”

I wanted to undress her myself, and she submitted like a lamb. When she was in bed, she opened the packet, and shewed me her portrait, naked, and very like the naked portrait of M—— M——. I praised the painter for the excellence of the copy he had made; nothing was altered but the colour of the hair and eyes.

“It isn’t a copy,” she said, “there would not have been time. He only made the eyes and hair black, and the latter more abundant. Thus you have in it a portrait of the first and also of the second M—— M— — in whom you must forget the first. She has also vanished from the clothed portrait, for you see the nun has black eyes. I could shew this picture to anyone as my portrait.”

“You do not know how precious your present is to me! Tell me, dearest, how you succeeded in carrying out your plan so well.”

“I told the country-woman about it yesterday morning, and she said that she had a foster-son at Anneci, who was a miniature painter. Through him she sent the two miniatures to a more skilful painter at Geneva, who made the change you see for four or five Louis; he was probably able to do it in two or three hours. I entrusted the two portraits to him, and you see how well he did his work. The woman has no doubt just received them, and to-morrow she may be able to tell you more about it.”

“She is really a wonderful woman. I will indemnify her for the expense. But now tell me why you did not want me to see the portrait before you were in bed?”


“Because I can now see you in the same posture as that in which you are represented.”


“It is an excellent idea; only love can have given it you. But you must wait till I am in the same state.”

When we were both in a state of nature, exactly like Adam and Eve before they tasted the fatal apple, I placed her in the position of the portrait, and guessing my intention from my face she opened her arms for me to come to her; but I asked her to wait a moment, for I had a little packet too, which contained something she would like. I then drew from my pocket-book a little article of transparent skin, about eight inches long, with one opening, which was ornamented with a red rosette. I gave her this preventive sheath, and she looked, admired, and laughed loudly, asking me if I had used such articles with her Venetian sister. “I will put it on myself; you don’t know how I shall enjoy it. Why didn’t you use one last night? How could you have forgotten it? Well, I shall be very wretched if anything comes of it. What shall I do in four or five months, when my condition becomes past doubt?”

“Dearest, the only thing to do is not to think of it, for if the damage is done, there is no cure for it; but from my experience and knowledge of the laws of nature I expect that our sweet combats of last night will probably have no troublesome consequences. It has been stated that after child-birth a woman cannot conceive afresh without having seen something which I expect you have not seen.”

“No, God be thanked!”

“Good. Then let us not give any thought to the dismal future lest we lose our present bliss.”

“I am quite comforted; but I can’t understand why you are afraid to- day of what you were not afraid yesterday; my state is the same.”

“The event has sometimes given the lie to the most eminent physicians. Nature, wiser than they, has exceptions to her rules, let us not defy them for the future, but let us not trouble ourselves if we have defied there in the past.”

“I like to hear you talk so sagely. Yes, we will be prudent whatever it costs. There you are, hooded like a mother abbess, but in spite of the fineness of the sheath I like the little fellow better quite naked. I think that this covering degrades us both.”

“You are right, it does. But let us not dwell on these ideas which will only spoil our pleasure.”

“We will enjoy our pleasure directly; let me be reasonable now, for I have never thought of these matters before. Love must have invented these little sheaths, but it must first have listened to the voice of prudence, and I do not like to see love and prudence allied.”

“The correctness of your arguments surprises me, but we will philosophize another time.”

“Wait a minute. I have never seen a man before, and I have never wished to enjoy the sight as much as now. Ten months ago I should have called that article an invention of the devil; but now I look upon the inventor as a benefactor, for if my wretched hump-back had provided himself with such a sheath he would not have exposed me to the danger of losing my honour and my life. But, tell me, how is that the makers of these things remain unmolested; I wonder they are not found out, excommunicated, or heavily fined, or even punished corporeally, if they are Jews as I expect. Dear me, the maker of this one must have measured you badly! Look! it is too large here, and too small there; it makes you into a regular curve. What a stupid the fellow must be, he can’t know his own trade! But what is that?”

“You make me laugh; it’s all your fault. You have been feeling and fondling, and you see the natural consequence. I knew it would be so.”

“And you couldn’t keep it back a minute. It is going on now. I am so sorry; it is a dreadful pity.”

“There is not much harm done, so console yourself.”

“How can I? you are quite dead. How can you laugh?”

“At your charming simplicity. You shall see in a moment that your charms will give me new life which I shall not lose so easily.”

“Wonderful! I couldn’t have believed it!”

I took off the sheath, and gave her another, which pleased her better, as it seemed to fit me better, and she laughed for joy as she put it on. She knew nothing of these wonders. Her thoughts had been bound in chains, and she could not discover the truth before she knew me; but though she was scarcely out of Egypt she shewed all the eagerness of an enquiring and newly emancipated spirit. “But how if the rubbing makes the sheath fall off?” said she. I explained to her that such an accident could scarcely happen, and also told her of what material the English made these articles.

After all this talking, of which my ardour began to weary, we abandoned ourselves to love, then to sleep, then to love again, and so on alternately till day-break. As I was leaving, the woman of the house told us that the painter had asked four louis, and that she had give two louis to her foster-son. I gave her twelve, and went home, where I slept till morn, without thinking of breakfasting with the Marquis de Prie, but I think I should have given him some notice of my inability to come. His mistress sulked with me all dinner-time, but softened when I allowed myself to be persuaded into making a bank. However, I found she was playing for heavy stakes, and I had to check her once or twice, which made her so cross that she went to hide her ill-temper in a corner of the hall. However, the marquis won, and I was losing, when the taciturn Duke of Rosebury, his tutor Smith, and two of his fellow-countrymen, arrived from Geneva. He came up to me and said, “How do you do?” and without another word began to play, inviting his companions to follow his example.

Seeing my bank in the last agony I sent Le Duc to my room for the cash-box, whence I drew out five rolls of a hundred louis each. The Marquis de Prie said, coolly, that he wouldn’t mind being my partner, and in the same tone I begged to be excused. He continued punting without seeming to be offended at my refusal and when I put down the cards and rose from the table he had won two hundred louis; but all the others had lost, especially one of the Englishmen, so that I had made a profit of a thousand louis. The marquis asked me if I would give him chocolate in my room next morning, and I replied that I should be glad to see him. I replaced my cash-box in my room, and proceeded to the cottage, pleased with the day’s work and feeling inclined to crown it with love.

I found my fair friend looking somewhat sad, and on my enquiring the reason she told me that a nephew of the country-woman’s, who had come from Chamberi that morning, had told her that he had heard from a lay-sister of the same convent, whom he knew, that two sisters would start at day-break in two days’ time to fetch her; this sad news, she said, had made her tears flow fast.

“But the abbess said the sisters could not start before ten days had expired.”

“She must have changed her mind.”

“Sorrow intrudes into our happy state. Will you be my wife? Will you follow me to Rome and receive absolution from your vows. You may be sure that I shall have a care for your happiness.”

“Nay, I have lived long enough; let me return to my tomb.”

After supper I told the good woman that if she could rely on her nephew, she would do well to send him at once to Chamberi with orders to return directly the lay-sisters started, and to endeavour to reach Aix two hours before them. She told me that I might reckon on the young man’s silence, and on his carrying out my orders. I quieted in this way the charming nun’s alarm, and got into bed with her, feeling sad though amorous; and on the pretext that she required rest I left her at midnight, as I wanted to be at home in the morning since I had an engagement with the marquis. In due course he arrived with his mistress, two other ladies, and their husbands or lovers.

I did not limit myself to giving them chocolate; my breakfast consisted of all the luxuries the place afforded. When I had got rid of my troublesome company, I told Le Duc to shut my door, and to tell everybody that I was ill in bed and could not see any visitors. I also warned him that I should be away for two days, and that he must not leave my room a moment till I came back. Having made these arrangements, I slipped away unperceived and went to my mistress, resolved not to leave her till half an hour before the arrival of the lay-sisters.

When she saw me and heard that I was not going to leave her till she went away, she jumped for joy; and we conceived the idea of not having any dinner that we might enjoy our supper the better.

“We will go to bed after supper,” said she, “and will not get up till the messenger brings the fatal news that the lay-sisters have started.”

I thought the idea an excellent one, and I called the, woman of the house to tell her of our arrangements, and she promised to see that we were not disturbed.

We did not find the time long, for two passionate lovers find plenty to talk about since their talk is of themselves. And besides our caresses, renewed again and again, there was something so mysterious and solemn in our situation that our souls and our senses were engaged the whole time.

After a supper which would have pleased a Lucullus, we spent twelve hours in giving each other proofs, of our passionate love, sleeping after our amorous struggles, and waking only to renew the fight. The next day we rose to refresh ourselves, and after a good dinner, mashed down by some excellent Burgundy, we went to bed again; but at four the country-woman came to tell us that the lay-sisters would arrive about six. We had nothing now to look for in the future, the die was cast, and we began our farewell caresses. I sealed the last with my blood. My first M—— M—— had seen it, and my second rightly saw it also. She was frightened, but I calmed her fears. I then rose, and taking a roll containing fifty louis I begged her to keep them for me, promising to come for them in two years, and take them from her hands through the grating of her terrible prison. She spent the last quarter of an hour in tears, and mine were only restrained lest I should add to her grief. I cut off a piece of her fleece and a lock of her beautiful hair, promising her always to bear them next my heart.

I left her, telling the country-woman that she should see me again the next day, and I went to bed as soon as I got home. Next morning I was on the way to Chamberi. At a quarter of a league’s distance from Aix I saw my angel slowly walking along. As soon as the lay- sisters were near enough they asked an alms in the name of God. I gave them a Louis, but my saint did not look at me.

With a broken heart I went to the good countrywoman, who told me that M—— M—— had gone at day-break, bidding her to remind me of the convent grating. I kissed the Worthy woman, and I gave her nephew all the loose silver I had about me, and returning to the inn I had my luggage put on to the carriage, and would have started that moment if I had had any horses. But I had two hours to wait, and I went and bade the marquis farewell. He was out, but his mistress was in the room by herself. On my telling her of my departure, she said,

“Don’t go, stay with me a couple of days longer.”

“I feel the honour you are conferring on me, but business of the greatest importance obliges me to be gone forthwith.”

“Impossible,” said the lady, as she went to a glass the better to lace herself, shewing me a superb breast. I saw her design, but I determined to baulk her. She then put one foot upon a couch to retie her garter, and when she put up the other foot I saw beauties more enticing than Eve’s apple. It was nearly all up with me, when the marquis came in. He proposed a little game of quinze, and his mistress asked me to be her partner. I could not escape; she sat next to me, and I had lost forty Louis by dinner-time.

“I owe you twenty,” said the lady, as we were going down.

At dessert Le Duc came to tell me that my carriage was at the door, and I got up, but under the pretence of paying me the twenty louis the marquis’s mistress made me come with her to her room.

When we were there she addressed me in a serious and supplicating voice, telling me that if I went she would be dishonoured, as everybody knew that she had engaged to make me stay.

“Do I look worthy of contempt?” said she, making me sit down upon the sofa.

Then with a repetition of her tactics in the morning she contrived that I should see everything. Excited by her charms I praised her beauties, I kissed, I touched; she let herself fall on me, and looked radiant when her vagrant hand found palpable proof of her powers of attraction.

“I promise to be yours to-morrow, wait till then.”

Not knowing how to refuse, I said I would keep her to her word, and would have my horses taken out. Just then the marquis came in, saying he would give me my revenge and without answering I went downstairs as if to come back again, but I ran out of the inn, got into my carriage, and drove off, promising a good fee to the postillion if he would put his horses at a gallop.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52