My Carriage Broken — Mariuccia’s Wedding-Flight of Lord Lismore — My Return to Florence, and My Departure with the Corticelli
My Spainiard was going on before us on horseback, and I was sleeping profoundly beside Don Ciccio Alfani in my comfortable carriage, drawn by four horses, when a violent shock aroused me. The carriage had been overturned on the highway, at midnight, beyond Francolisa and four miles from St. Agatha.
Alfani was beneath me and uttered piercing shrieks, for he thought he had broken his left arm. Le Duc rode back and told me that the postillions had taken flight, possibly to give notice of our mishap to highwaymen, who are very common in the States of the Church and Naples.
I got out of the carriage easily enough, but poor old Alfani, who was unwieldly with fat, badly hurt, and half dead with fright, could not extricate himself without assistance. It took us a quarter of an hour to get him free. The poor wretch amused me by the blasphemies which he mingled with prayers to his patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi.
I was not without experience of such accidents and was not at all hurt, for one’s safety depends a good deal on the position one is in. Don Ciccio had probably hurt his arm by stretching it out just as the accident took place.
I took my sword, my musket, and my horse-pistols out of the carriage, and I made them and my pockets pistols ready so as to offer a stiff resistance to the brigands if they came; and I then told Le Duc to take some money and ride off and see if he could bring some peasants to our assistance.
Don Ciccio groaned over the accident, but I, resolving to sell my money and my life dearly, made a rampart of the carriage and four horses, and stood sentry, with my arms ready.
I then felt prepared for all hazards, and was quite calm, but my unfortunate companion continued to pour forth his groans, and prayers, and blasphemies, for all that goes together at Naples as at Rome. I could do nothing but compassionate him; but in spite of myself I could not help laughing, which seemed to vex the poor abbe, who looked for all the world like a dying dolphin as he rested motionless against the bank. His distress may be imagined, when the nearest horse yielded to the call of nature, and voided over the unfortunate man the contents of its bladder. There was nothing to be done, and I could not help roaring with laughter.
Nevertheless, a strong northerly wind rendered our situation an extremely unpleasant one. At the slightest noise I cried, “Who goes there?” threatening to fire on anyone who dared approach. I spent two hours in this tragic-comic position, until at last Le Duc rode up and told me that a band of peasants, all armed and provided with lanterns, were approaching to our assistance.
In less than an hour, the carriage, the horses, and Alfani were seen to. I kept two of the country-folk to serve as postillions, and I sent the others away well paid for the interruption of their sleep. I reached St. Agatha at day-break, and I made the devil’s own noise at the door of the postmaster, calling for an attorney to take down my statement, and threatening to have the postillions who had overturned and deserted me, hanged.
A wheelwright inspected my coach and pronounced the axle-tree broken, and told me I should have to remain for a day at least.
Don Ciccio, who stood in need of a surgeon’s aid, called on the Marquis Galliani without telling me anything about it. However, the marquis hastened to beg me to stay at his home till I could continue my journey. I accepted the invitation with great pleasure, and with this my ill humour, which was really only the result of my desire to make a great fuss like a great man, evaporated.
The marquis ordered my carriage to be taken to his coach-house, took me by the arm, and led me to his house. He was as learned as he was polite, and a perfect Neapolitan — i.e., devoid of all ceremony. He had not the brilliant wit of his brother, whom I had known at Paris as secretary of embassy under the Count Cantillana Montdragon, but he possessed a well-ordered judgment, founded on study and the perusal of ancient and modern classics. Above all, he was a great mathematician, and was then preparing an annotated edition of Vitruvius, which was afterwards published.
The marquis introduced me to his wife, whom I knew as the intimate friend of my dear Lucrezia. There was something saint-like in her expression, and to see her surrounded by her little children was like looking at a picture of the Holy Family.
Don Ciccio was put to bed directly, and a surgeon sent for, who consoled him by saying that it was only a simple luxation, and that he would be well again in a few days.
At noon a carriage stopped at the door, and Lucrezia got down. She embraced the marchioness, and said to me in the most natural manner, as we shook hands —
“What happy chance brings you hear, dear Don Giacomo?”
She told her friend that I was a friend of her late husband’s, and that she had recently seen me again with great pleasure at the Duke de Matalone’s.
After dinner, on finding myself alone with this charming woman, I asked her if it were not possible for us to pass a happy night together, but she shewed me that it was out of the question, and I had to yield. I renewed my offer to marry her.
“Buy a property,” said she, “in the kingdom of Naples, and I will spend the remainder of my days with you, without asking a priest to give us his blessing, unless we happen to have children.”
I could not deny that Lucrezia spoke very sensibly, and I could easily have bought land in Naples, and lived comfortably on it, but the idea of binding myself down to one place was so contrary to my feelings that I had the good sense to prefer my vagabond life to all the advantages which our union would have given me, and I do not think that Lucrezia altogether disapproved of my resolution.
After supper I took leave of everybody, and I set out at day-break in order to get to Rome by the next day. I had only fifteen stages to do, and the road was excellent.
As we were getting into Carillano, I saw one of the two-wheeled carriages, locally called mantice, two horses were being put into it, while my carriage required four. I got out, and on hearing myself called I turned round. I was not a little surprised to find that the occupants of the mantice were a young and pretty girl and Signora Diana, the Prince de Sassaro’s mistress, who owed me three hundred ounces. She told me that she was going to Rome, and that she would be glad if we could make the journey together.
“I suppose you don’t mind stopping for the night at Piperno?”
“No,” said I, “I am afraid that can’t be managed; I don’t intend to break my journey.”
“But you would get to Rome by to-morrow.”
“I know that, but I sleep better in my carriage than in the bad beds they give you in the inns.”
“I dare not travel by night.”
“Well, well, madam, I have no doubt we shall see each other at Rome.”
“You are a cruel man. You see I have only a stupid servant, and a maid who is as timid as I am, besides it is cold and my carriage is open. I will keep you company in yours.”
“I really can’t take you in, as all the available space is taken up by my old secretary, who broke his arm yesterday.”
“Shall we dine together at Terracino? We could have a little talk.”
We made good cheer at this small town, which is the frontier of the States of the Church. We should not reach Piperno till far on in the night, and the lady renewed and redoubled her efforts to keep me till daybreak; but though young and pretty she did not take my fancy; she was too fair and too fat. But her maid, who was a pretty brunette, with a delicious rounded form and a sparkling eye, excited all my feelings of desire. A vague hope of possessing the maid won me over, and I ended by promising the signora to sup with her, and not to continue my journey without giving notice to the landlord.
When we got to Piperno, I succeeded in telling the pretty maid that if she would let me have her quietly I would not go any further. She promised to wait for me, and allowed me to take such liberties as are usually the signs of perfect complaisance.
We had our supper, and I wished the ladies good night and escorted them to their room, where I took note of the relative positions of their beds so that there should be no mistake. I left them and came back in a quarter of an hour. Finding the door open I felt sure of success, and I got into bed; but as I found out, it was the signora and not the maid who received me. Evidently the little hussy had told her mistress the story, and the mistress had thought fit to take the maid’s place. There was no possibility of my being mistaken, for though I could not see I could feel.
For a moment I was undecided, should I remain in bed and make the best of what I had got, or go on my way to Rome immediately? The latter counsel prevailed. I called Le Duc, gave my orders, and started, enjoying the thought of the confusion of the two women, who must have been in a great rage at the failure of their plans. I saw Signora Diana three or four times at Rome, and we bowed without speaking; if I had thought it likely that she would pay me the four hundred louis she owed me I might have taken the trouble to call on her, but I know that your stage queens are the worst debtors in the world.
My brother, the Chevalier Mengs, and the Abbe Winckelmann were all in good health and spirits. Costa was delighted to see me again. I sent him off directly to His Holiness’s ‘scopatore maggiore’ to warn him that I was coming to take polenta with him, and all he need do was to get a good supper for twelve. I was sure of finding Mariuccia there, for I knew that Momolo had noticed her presence pleased me.
The carnival began the day after my arrival, and I hired a superb landau for the whole week. The Roman landaus seat four people and have a hood which may be lowered at pleasure. In these landaus one drives along the Corso with or without masks from nine to twelve o’clock during the carnival time.
From time immemorial the Corso at Rome has presented a strange and diverting spectacle during the carnival. The horses start from the Piazza del Popolo, and gallop along to the Column of Trajan, between two lines of carriages drawn up beside two narrow pavements which are crowded with maskers and people of all classes. All the windows are decorated. As soon as the horses have passed the carriages begin to move, and the maskers on foot and horseback occupy the middle of the street. The air is full of real and false sweetmeats, pamphlets, pasquinades, and puns. Throughout the mob, composed of the best and worst classes of Rome, liberty reigns supreme, and when twelve o’clock is announced by the third report of the cannon of St. Angelo the Corso begins to clear, and in five minutes you would look in vain for a carriage or a masker. The crowd disperses amongst the neighbouring streets, and fills the opera houses, the theatres, the rope-dancers’ exhibitions, and even the puppet-shows. The restaurants and taverns are not left desolate; everywhere you will find crowds of people, for during the carnival the Romans only think of eating, drinking, and enjoying themselves.
I banked my money with M. Belloni and got a letter of credit on Turin, where I expected to find the Abbe Gama and to receive a commission to represent the Portuguese Court at the Congress of Augsburg, to which all Europe was looking forward, and then I went to inspect my little room, where I hoped to meet Mariuccia the next day. I found everything in good order.
In the evening Momolo and his family received me with joyful exclamations. The eldest daughter said with a smile that she was sure she would please me by sending for Mariuccia.
“You are right,” said I, “I shall be delighted to see the fair Mariuccia.”
A few minutes after she entered with her puritanical mother, who told me I must not be surprised to see her daughter better dressed, as she was going to be married in a few days. I congratulated her, and Momolo’s daughters asked who was the happy man. Mariuccia blushed and said modestly, to one of them —
“It is somebody whom you know, So and so, he saw me here, and we are going to open a hair-dresser’s shop.”
“The marriage was arranged by good Father St. Barnabe,” added the mother. “He has in his keeping my daughter’s dower of four hundred Roman crowns.”
“He’s a good lad,” said Momolo. “I have a high opinion of him; he would have married one of my daughters if I could have given him such a dowry.”
At these words the girl in question blushed and lowered her eyes.
“Never mind, my dear,” said I, “your turn will come in time.”
She took my words as seriously meant, and her face lit up with joy. She thought I had guessed her love for Costa, and her idea was confirmed when I told him to get my landau the next day and take out all Momolo’s daughters, well masked, as it would not do for them to be recognized in a carriage I meant to make use of myself. I also bade him hire some handsome costumes from a Jew, and paid the hire-money myself. This put them all in a good humour.
“How about Signora Maria?” said the jealous sister.
“As Signora Maria is going to be married,” I replied, “she must not be present at any festivity without her future husband.”
The mother applauded this decision of mine, and sly Mariuccia pretended to feel mortified. I turned to Momolo and begged him to ask Mariuccia’s future husband to meet me at supper, by which I pleased her mother greatly.
I felt very tired, and having nothing to keep me after seeing Mariuccia, I begged the company to excuse me, and after wishing them a good appetite I left them.
I walked out next morning at an early hour. I had no need of going into the church, which I reached at seven o’clock, for Mariuccia saw me at some distance off and followed me, and we were soon alone together in the little room, which love and voluptuous pleasure had transmuted into a sumptuous place. We would gladly have talked to each other, but as we had only an hour before us, we set to without even taking off our clothes. After the last kiss which ended the third assault, she told me that she was to be married on the eve of Shrove Tuesday, and that all had been arranged by her confessor. She also thanked me for having asked Momolo to invite her intended.
“When shall we see each other again, my angel?”
“On Sunday, the eve of my wedding, we shall be able to spend four hours together.”
“Delightful! I promise you that when you leave me you will be in such a state that the caresses of your husband won’t hurt you.”
She smiled and departed, and I threw myself on the bed where I rested for a good hour.
As I was going home I met a carriage and four going at a great speed. A footman rode in front of the carriage, and within it I saw a young nobleman. My attention was arrested by the blue ribbon on his breast. I gazed at him, and he called out my name and had the carriage stopped. I was extremely surprised when I found it was Lord O’Callaghan, whom I had known at Paris at his mother’s, the Countess of Lismore, who was separated from her husband, and was the kept mistress of M. de St. Aubin, the unworthy successor of the good and virtuous Fenelon in the archbishopric of Cambrai. However, the archbishop owed his promotion to the fact that he was a bastard of the Duc d’Orleans, the French Regent.
Lord O’Callaghan was a fine-looking young man, with wit and talent, but the slave of his unbridled passions and of every species of vice. I knew that if he were lord in name he was not so in fortune, and I was astonished to see him driving such a handsome carriage, and still more so at his blue ribbon. In a few words he told me that he was going to dine with the Pretender, but that he would sup at home. He invited me to come to supper, and I accepted.
After dinner I took a short walk, and then went to enliven myself at the theatre, where I saw Momolo’s girls strutting about with Costa; afterwards I went to Lord O’Callaghan, and was pleasantly surprised to meet the poet Poinsinet. He was young, short, ugly, full of poetic fire, a wit, and dramatist. Five or six years later the poor fellow fell into the Guadalquivir and was drowned. He had gone to Madrid in the hope of making his fortune. As I had known him at Paris I addressed him as an old acquaintance.
“What are you doing at Rome? Where’s my Lord O’Callaghan?”
“He’s in the next room, but as his father is dead his title is now Earl of Lismore. You know he was an adherent of the Pretender’s. I left Paris with him, well enough pleased at being able to come to Rome without its costing me anything.”
“Then the earl is a rich man now?”
“Not exactly; but he will be, as he is his father’s heir, and the old earl left an immense fortune. It is true that it is all confiscated, but that is nothing, as his claims are irresistible.”
“In short, he is rich in claims and rich in the future; but how did he get himself made a knight of one of the French king’s orders?”
“You’re joking. That is the blue ribbon of the Order of St. Michael, of which the late Elector of Cologne was grand master. As you know, my lord plays exquisitely on the violin, and when he was at Bonn he played the Elector a concerto by Tartini. The prince could not find words in which to express the pleasure of my lord’s performance, and gave him the ribbon you have seen.”
“A fine present, doubtless.”
“You don’t know what pleasure it gave my lord, for when we go back to Paris everybody will take it for the Order of the Holy Ghost.”
We passed into a large room, where we found the earl with the party he had asked to supper. As soon as he saw me he embraced me, called me his dear friend, and named his guests. There were seven or eight girls, all of them pretty, three or four castrati who played women’s parts in the Roman theatre, and five or six abbes, the husband of every wife and the wives of every husband, who boasted of their wickedness, and challenged the girls to be more shameless than they. The girls were not common courtezans, but past mistresses of music, painting, and vice considered as a fine art. The kind of society may be imagined when I say that I found myself a perfect novice amongst them.
“Where are you going, prince?” said the earl to a respectable- looking man who was making for the door.
“I don’t feel well, my lord. I think I must go out.”
“What prince is that?” said I.
“The Prince de Chimai. He is a sub-deacon, and is endeavouring to gain permission to marry, lest his family should become extinct.”
“I admire his prudence or his delicacy, but I am afraid I should not imitate him.”
There were twenty-four of us at table, and it is no exaggeration to say that we emptied a hundred bottles of the choicest wines. Everybody was drunk, with the exception of myself and the poet Poinsinet, who had taken nothing but water. The company rose from table, and then began a foul orgy which I should never have conceived possible, and which no pen could describe, though possibly a seasoned profligate might get some idea of it.
A castrato and a girl of almost equal height proposed to strip in an adjoining room, and to lie on their backs, in the same bed with their faces covered. They challenged us all to guess which was which.
We all went in and nobody could pronounce from sight which was male and which was female, so I bet the earl fifty crowns that I would point out the woman.
He accepted the wager, and I guessed correctly, but payment was out of the question.
This first act of the orgy ended with the prostitution of the two individuals, who defied everybody to accomplish the great act. All, with the exception of Poinsinet and myself, made the attempt, but their efforts were in vain.
The second act displayed four or five couples reversed, and here the abbes shone, both in the active and passive parts of this lascivious spectacle. I was the only person respected.
All at once, the earl, who had hitherto remained perfectly motionless, attacked the wretched Poinsinet, who in vain attempted to defend himself. He had to strip like my lord, who was as naked as the others. We stood round in a circle. Suddenly the earl, taking his watch, promised it to the first who succeeded in giving them a sure mark of sensibility. The desire of gaining the prize excited the impure crowd immensely, and the castrati, the girls, and the abbes all did their utmost, each one striving to be the first. They had to draw lots. This part interested me most, for throughout this almost incredible scene of debauchery I did not experience the slightest sensation, although under other circumstances any of the girls would have claimed my homage, but all I did was to laugh, especially to see the poor poet in terror of experiencing the lust of the flesh, for the profligate nobleman swore that if he made him lose he would deliver him up to the brutal lust of all the abbes. He escaped, probably through fear of the consequences.
The orgy came to an end when nobody had any further hopes of getting the watch. The secret of the Lesbians was only employed, however, by the abbes and the castrata. The girls, wishing to be able to despise those who made use of it, refrained from doing so. I suspect they were actuated by pride rather than shame, as they might possibly have employed it without success.
This vile debauch disgusted me, and yet gave me a better knowledge of myself. I could not help confessing that my life had been endangered, for the only arm I had was my sword, but I should certainly have used it if the earl had tried to treat me like the others, and as he had treated poor Poinsinet. I never understood how it was that he respected me, for he was quite drunk, and in a kind of Bacchic fury.
As I left, I promised to come and see him as often as he pleased, but I promised myself never to set foot in his house again.
Next day, he came to see me in the afternoon, and asked me to walk with him to the Villa Medici.
I complimented him on the immense wealth he had inherited to enable him to live so splendidly, but he laughed and told me that he did not possess fifty piastres, that his father had left nothing but debts, and that he himself already owed three or four thousand crowns.
“I wonder people give you credit, then.”
“They give me credit because everybody knows that I have drawn a bill of exchange on Paris to the tune of two hundred thousand francs. But in four or five days the bill will be returned protested, and I am only waiting for that to happen to make my escape.”
“If you are certain of its being protested, I advise you to make your escape to-day; for as it is so large a sum it may be taken up before it is due.”
“No, I won’t do that; I have one hope left. I have written to tell my mother that I shall be undone if she does not furnish the banker, on whom I have drawn the bill, with sufficient funds and if she does that, the bill will be accepted. You know my mother is very fond of me.”
“Yes, but I also know that she is far from rich.”
“True, but M. de St. Aubin is rich enough, and between you and me I think he is my father. Meanwhile, my creditors are almost as quiet as I am. All those girls you saw yesterday would give me all they have if I asked them, as they are all expecting me to make them a handsome present in the course of the week, but I won’t abuse their trust in me. But I am afraid I shall be obliged to cheat the Jew, who wants me to give him three thousand sequins for this ring, as I know it is only worth one thousand.”
“He will send the police after you.”
“I defy him to do whatever he likes.”
The ring was set with a straw-coloured diamond of nine or ten carats. He begged me to keep his secret as we parted. I did not feel any sentiments of pity for this extravagant madman, as I only saw in him a man unfortunate by his own fault, whose fate would probably make him end his days in a prison unless he had the courage to blow his brains out.
I went to Momolo’s in the evening, and found the intended husband of my fair Mariuccia there, but not the lady herself. I heard she had sent word to the ‘scopatore santissimo’ that, as her father had come from Palestrina to be present at her wedding, she could not come to supper. I admired her subtlety. A young girl has no need of being instructed in diplomacy, nature and her own heart are her teachers, and she never blunders. At supper I studied the young man, and found him eminently suitable for Mariuccia; he was handsome, modest, and intelligent, and whatever he said was spoken frankly and to the point.
He told me before Momolo’s daughter, Tecla, that he would have married her if she had possessed means to enable him to open his shop, and that he had reason to thank God for having met Maria, whose confessor had been such a true spiritual father to her. I asked him where the wedding festivities were to take place, and he told me they were to be at his father’s house, on the other side of the Tiber. As his father, who kept a garden, was poor, he had furnished him with ten crowns to defray the expenses.
I wanted to give him the ten crowns, but how was I to do it? It would have betrayed me.
“Is your father’s garden a pretty one?” I asked.
“Not exactly pretty, but very well kept. As he owns the land, he has separated a plot which he wants to sell; it would bring in twenty crowns a year, and I should be as happy as a cardinal if I could buy it.”
“How much will it cost?”
“It’s a heavy price; two hundred crowns.”
“Why, that’s cheap! Listen to me. I have met your future bride at this house, and I have found her all worthy of happiness. She deserves an honest young fellow like you for a husband. Now what would you do supposing I were to make you a present of two hundred crowns to buy the garden?”
“I should put it to my wife’s dowry.”
“Then here are the two hundred crowns. I shall give them to Momolo, as I don’t know you well enough, though I think you are perfectly to be trusted. The garden is yours, as part of your wife’s dowry.”
Momolo took the money, and promised to buy the garden the following day, and the young man shedding tears of joy and gratitude fell on his knees and kissed my hand. All the girls wept, as I myself did, for there’s a contagion in such happy tears. Nevertheless, they did not all proceed from the same source; some were virtuous and some vicious, and the young man’s were the only ones whose source was pure and unalloyed. I lifted him from the ground, kissed him, and wished him a happy marriage. He made bold to ask me to his wedding, but I refused, thanking him kindly. I told him that if he wanted to please me, he must come and sup at Momolo’s on the eve of his wedding, and I begged the good scopatore to ask Mariuccia, her father and mother as well. I was sure of seeing her for the last time on the Sunday morning.
At seven o’clock on the Sunday morning we were in each other’s arms, with four hours before us. After the first burst of mutual ardour she told me that all arrangements had been made in her house the evening before, in the presence of her confessor and of Momolo; and that on the receipt for the two hundred crowns being handed in the notary had put the garden into the settlement, and that the good father had made her a present of twenty piastres towards defraying the notary’s fees and the wedding expenses.
“Everything is for the best, and I am sure I shall be happy. My intended adores you, but you did wisely not to accept his invitation, for you would have found everything so poor, and besides tongues might have been set wagging to my disadvantage.”
“You are quite right, dearest, but what do you intend to do if your husband finds that the door has been opened by someone else, for possibly he expects you to be a maid.”
“I expect he will know no more about it than I did the first time you knew me; besides, I do not feel that you have defiled me, and my clean conscience will not allow me to think of the matter; and I am sure that he will not think of it any more than I.”
“Yes, but if he does?”
“It would not be delicate on his part, but what should prevent me from replying that I don’t know what he means?”
“You are right; that’s the best way. But have you told your confessor of our mutual enjoyment?”
“No, for as I did not give myself up to you with any criminal intention, I do not think I have offended God.”
“You are an angel, and I admire the clearness of your reasoning. But listen to me; it’s possible that you are already with child, or that you may become so this morning; promise to name the child after me.”
“I will do so.”
The four hours sped rapidly away. After the sixth assault we were wearied though not satiated. We parted with tears, and swore to love each other as brother and sister ever after.
I went home, bathed, slept an hour, rose, dressed, and dined pleasantly with the family. In the evening I took the Mengs family for a drive in my landau, and we then went to the theatre, where the castrato who played the prima donna was a great attraction. He was the favourite pathic of Cardinal Borghese, and supped every evening with his eminence.
This castrato had a fine voice, but his chief attraction was his beauty. I had seen him in man’s clothes in the street, but though a fine-looking fellow, he had not made any impression on me, for one could see at once that he was only half a man, but on the stage in woman’s dress the illusion was complete; he was ravishing.
He was enclosed in a carefully-made corset and looked like a nymph; and incredible though it may seem, his breast was as beautiful as any woman’s; it was the monster’s chiefest charm. However well one knew the fellow’s neutral sex, as soon as one looked at his breast one felt all aglow and quite madly amorous of him. To feel nothing one would have to be as cold and impassive as a German. As he walked the boards, waiting for the refrain of the air he was singing, there was something grandly voluptuous about him; and as he glanced towards the boxes, his black eyes, at once tender and modest, ravished the heart. He evidently wished to fan the flame of those who loved him as a man, and probably would not have cared for him if he had been a woman.
Rome the holy, which thus strives to make all men pederasts, denies the fact, and will not believe in the effects of the glamour of her own devising.
I made these reflections aloud, and an ecclesiastic, wishing to blind me to the truth, spoke as follows:—
“You are quite right. Why should this castrato be allowed to shew his breast, of which the fairest Roman lady might be proud, and yet wish everyone to consider him as a man and not a woman? If the stage is forbidden to the fair sex lest they excite desires, why do they seek out men-monsters made in the form of women, who excite much more criminal desires? They keep on preaching that pederasty is comparatively unknown and entraps only a few, but many clever men endeavour to be entrapped, and end by thinking it so pleasant that they prefer these monsters to the most beautiful women.”
“The Pope would be sure of heaven if he put a stop to this scandalous practice.”
“I don’t agree with you. One could not have a pretty actress to supper without causing a scandal, but such an invitation to a castrato makes nobody talk. It is of course known perfectly well that after supper both heads rest on one pillow, but what everybody knows is ignored by all. One may sleep with a man out of mere friendship, it is not so with a woman.”
“True, monsignor, appearances are saved, and a sin concealed is half pardoned, as they say in Paris.”
“At Rome we say it is pardoned altogether. ‘Peccato nascosto non offende’.”
His jesuitical arguments interested me, for I knew that he was an avowed partisan of the forbidden fruit.
In one of the boxes I saw the Marchioness Passarini (whom I had known at Dresden) with Don Antonio Borghese, and I went to pay my addresses to them. The prince, whom I had known at Paris ten years before, recognized me, and asked me to dine with him on the following day. I went, but my lord was not at home. A page told me that my place was laid at table, and that I could dine just as if the prince was there, on which I turned my back on him and went away. On Ash Wednesday he sent his man to ask me to sup with him and the marchioness, who was his mistress, and I sent word that I would not fail to come; but he waited for me in vain. Pride is the daughter of folly, and always keeps its mother’s nature.
After the opera I went to Momolo’s, where I found Mariuccia, her father, her mother, and her future husband. They were anxiously expecting me. It is not difficult to make people happy when one selects for one’s bounty persons who really deserve happiness. I was amidst poor but honest people, and I can truly say that I had a delightful supper. It may be that some of my enjoyment proceeded from a feeling of vanity, for I knew that I was the author of the happiness depicted on the faces of the bride and bridegroom and of the father and mother of Mariuccia; but when vanity causes good deeds it is a virtue. Nevertheless, I owe it to myself to tell my readers that my pleasure was too pure to have in it any admixture of vice.
After supper I made a small bank at faro, making everybody play with counters, as nobody had a penny, and I was so fortunate as to make everyone win a few ducats.
After the game we danced in spite of the prohibition of the Pope, whom no Roman can believe to be infallible, for he forbids dancing and permits games of chance. His successor Ganganelli followed the opposite course, and was no better obeyed. To avoid suspicion I did not give the pair any present, but I gave up my landau to them that they might enjoy the carnival on the Corso, and I told Costa to get them a box at the Capranica Theatre. Momolo asked me to supper on Shrove Tuesday.
I wished to leave Rome on the second day of Lent, and I called on the Holy Father at a time when all Rome was on the Corso. His Holiness welcomed me most graciously, and said he was surprised that I had not gone to see the sights on the Corso like everybody else. I replied that as a lover of pleasure I had chosen the greatest pleasure of all for a Christian — namely, to kneel at the feet of the vicar of Christ on earth. He bowed with a kind of majestic humility, which shewed me how the compliment had pleased him. He kept me for more than an hour, talking about Venice, Padua, and Paris, which latter city the worthy man would not have been sorry to have visited. I again commended myself to his apostolic intercession to enable me to return to my native country, and he replied —
“Have recourse to God, dear son; His grace will be more efficacious than my prayers;” and then he blessed me and wished me a prosperous journey.
I saw that the Head of the Church had no great opinion of his own power.
On Shrove Tuesday I dressed myself richly in the costume of Polichinello, and rode along the Corso showering sweetmeats on all the pretty women I saw. Finally I emptied the basket on the daughters of the worthy ‘scopatore’, whom Costa was taking about in my landau with all the dignity of a pasha.
At night-time I took off my costume and went to Momolo’s, where I expected to see dear Mariuccia for the last time. Supper passed off in almost a similar manner to the supper of last Sunday; but there was an interesting novelty for me — namely, the sight of my beloved mistress in her character of bride. Her husband seemed to be much more reserved with respect to me than at our first meeting. I was puzzled by his behaviour, and sat down by Mariuccia and proceeded to question her. She told me all the circumstances which had passed on the first night, and she spoke highly of her husband’s good qualities. He was kind, amorous, good-tempered, and delicate. No doubt he must have noticed that the casket had been opened, but he had said nothing about it. As he had spoken about me, she had not been able to resist the pleasure of telling him that I was her sole benefactor, at which, so far from being offended, he seemed to trust in her more than ever.
“But has he not questioned you indirectly as to the connection between us?”
“Not at all. I told him that you went to my confessor after having spoken to me once only in the church, where I told you what a good chance I had of being married to him.”
“Do you think he believed you?”
“I am not sure; however, even if it were otherwise, it is enough that he pretends to, for I am determined to win his esteem.”
“You are right, and I think all the better of him for his suspicions, for it is better to marry a man with some sense in his head than to marry a fool.”
I was so pleased with what she told me that when I took leave of the company I embraced the hairdresser, and drawing a handsome gold watch from my fob I begged him to accept it as a souvenir of me. He received it with the utmost gratitude. From my pocket I took a ring, worth at least six hundred francs, and put it on his wife’s finger, wishing them a fair posterity and all manner of happiness, and I then went home to bed, telling Le Duc and Costa that we must begin to pack up next day.
I was just getting up when they brought me a note from Lord Lismore, begging me to come and speak to him at noon at the Villa Borghese.
I had some suspicion of what he might want, and kept the appointment. I felt in a mood to give him some good advice. Indeed, considering the friendship between his mother and myself, it was my duty to do so.
He came up to me and gave me a letter he had received the evening before from his mother. She told him that Paris de Monmartel had just informed her that he was in possession of a bill for two hundred thousand francs drawn by her son, and that he would honour it if she would furnish him with the funds. She had replied that she would let him know in two or three days if she could do so; but she warned her son that she had only asked for this delay to give him time to escape, as the bill would certainly be protested and returned, it being absolutely out of the question for her to get the money.
“You had better make yourself scarce as soon as you can,” said I, returning him the letter.
“Buy this ring, and so furnish me with the means for my escape. You would not know that it was not my property if I had not told you so in confidence.”
I made an appointment with him, and had the stone taken out and valued by one of the best jewellers in Rome.
“I know this stone,” said he, “it is worth two thousand Roman crowns.”
At four o’clock I took the earl five hundred crowns in gold and fifteen hundred crowns in paper, which he would have to take to a banker, who would give him a bill of exchange in Amsterdam.
“I will be off at nightfall,” said he, “and travel by myself to Amsterdam, only taking such effects as are absolutely necessary, and my beloved blue ribbon.”
“A pleasant journey to you,” said I, and left him. In ten days I had the stone mounted at Bologna.
I got a letter of introduction from Cardinal Albani for Onorati, the nuncio at Florence, and another letter from M. Mengs to Sir Mann, whom he begged to receive me in his house. I was going to Florence for the sake of the Corticelli and my dear Therese, and I reckoned on the auditor’s feigning to ignore my return, in spite of his unjust order, especially if I were residing at the English minister’s.
On the second day of Lent the disappearance of Lord Lismore was the talk of the town. The English tailor was ruined, the Jew who owned the ring was in despair, and all the silly fellow’s servants were turned out of the house in almost a state of nakedness, as the tailor had unceremoniously taken possession of everything in the way of clothes that he could lay his hands on.
Poor Poinsinet came to see me in a pitiable condition; he had only his shirt and overcoat. He had been despoiled of everything, and threatened with imprisonment. “I haven’t a farthing,” said the poor child of the muses, “I have only the shirt on my back. I know nobody here, and I think I shall go and throw myself into the Tiber.”
He was destined, not to be drowned in the Tiber but in the Guadalquivir. I calmed him by offering to take him to Florence with me, but I warned him that I must leave him there, as someone was expecting me at Florence. He immediately took up his abode with me, and wrote verses incessantly till it was time to go.
My brother Jean made me a present of an onyx of great beauty. It was a cameo, representing Venus bathing, and a genuine antique, as the name of the artist, Sostrates, was cut on the stone. Two years later I sold it to Dr. Masti, at London, for three hundred pounds, and it is possibly still in the British Museum.
I went my way with Poinsinet who amused me, in spite of his sadness, with his droll fancies. In two days I got down at Dr. Vannini’s, who tried to conceal his surprise at seeing me. I lost no time, but waited on Sir —— Mann immediately, and found him sitting at table. He gave me a very friendly reception, but he seemed alarmed when, in reply to his question, I told him that my dispute with the auditor had not been arranged. He told me plainly that he thought I had made a mistake in returning to Florence, and that he would be compromised by my staying with him. I pointed out that I was only passing through Florence.
“That’s all very well,” said he, “but you know you ought to call on the auditor.”
I promised to do so, and returned to my lodging. I had scarcely shut the door, when an agent of police came and told me that the auditor had something to say to me, and would be glad to see me at an early hour next morning.
I was enraged at this order, and determined to start forthwith rather than obey. Full of this idea I called on Therese and found she was at Pisa. I then went to see the Corticelli, who threw her arms round my neck, and made use of the Bolognese grimaces appropriate to the occasion. To speak the truth, although the girl was pretty, her chief merit in my eyes was that she made me laugh.
I gave some money to her mother to get us a good supper, and I took the girl out on pretence of going for a walk. I went with her to my lodging, and left her with Poinsinet, and going to another room I summoned Costa and Vannini. I told Costa in Vannini’s presence to go on with Le Duc and my luggage the following day, and to call for me at the “Pilgrim” at Bologna. I gave Vannini my instructions, and he left the room; and then I ordered Costa to leave Florence with Signora Laura and her son, and to tell them that I and the daughter were on in front. Le Duc received similar orders, and calling Poinsinet I gave him ten Louis, and begged him to look out for some other lodging that very evening. The worthy but unfortunate young man wept grateful tears, and told me that he would set out for Parma on foot next day, and that there M. Tillot would do some, thing for him.
I went back to the next room, and told the Corticelli to come with me. She did so under the impression that we were going back to her mother’s, but without taking the trouble to undeceive her I had a carriage and pair got ready, and told the postillion to drive to Uccellatoio, the first post on the Bologna road.
“Where in the world are we going?” said she.
“How about mamma?”
“She will come on to-morrow.”
“Does she know about it?”
“No, but she will to-morrow when Costa comes to tell her, and to fetch her and your brother”
She liked the joke, and got into the carriage laughing, and we drove away.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07