The End of the Story Stranger Than the Beginning
At eight o’clock the next morning Jarbe told me that the Charpillon wanted to see me, and that she had sent away her chairmen.
“Tell her that I can’t see her.”
But I had hardly spoken when she came in, and Jarbe went out. I addressed her with the utmost calmness, and begged her to give me back the two bills of exchange I had placed in her hands the night before.
“I haven’t got them about me; but why do you want me to return them to you?”
At this question I could contain myself no longer, and launched a storm of abuse at her. It was an explosion which relieved nature, and ended with an involuntary shower of tears. My infamous seductress stood as calmly as Innocence itself; and when I was so choked with sobs that I could not utter a word, she said she had only been cruel because her mother had made her swear an oath never to give herself to anyone in her own house, and that she had only come now to convince me of her love, to give herself to me without reserve, and never to leave me any more if I wished it.
The reader who imagines that at these words rage gave place to love, and that I hastened to obtain the prize, does not know the nature of the passion so well as the vile woman whose plaything I was. From hot love to hot anger is a short journey, but the return is slow and difficult. If there be only anger in a man’s breast it may be subdued by tenderness, by submission, and affection; but when to anger is added a feeling of indignation at having been shamefully deceived, it is impossible to pass suddenly to thoughts of love and voluptuous enjoyment. With me mere anger has never been of long duration, but when I am indignant the only cure is forgetfulness.
The Charpillon knew perfectly well that I would not take her at her word, and this kind of science was inborn in her. The instinct of women teaches them greater secrets than all the philosophy and the research of men.
In the evening this monster left me, feigning to be disappointed and disconsolate, and saying —
“I hope you will come and see me again when you are once more yourself.”
She had spent eight hours with me, during which time she had only spoken to deny my suppositions, which were perfectly true, but which she could not afford to let pass. I had not taken anything all day, in order that I might not be obliged to offer her anything or to eat with her.
After she had left me I took some soup and then enjoyed a quiet sleep, for which I felt all the better. When I came to consider what had passed the, day before I concluded that the Charpillon was repentant, but I seemed no longer to care anything about her.
Here I may as well confess, in all humility, what a change love worked on me in London, though I had attained the age of thirty- eight. Here closed the first act of my life; the second closed when I left Venice in 1783, and probably the third will close here, as I amuse myself by writing these memoirs. Thus, the three-act comedy will finish, and if it be hissed, as may possibly be the case, I shall not hear the sounds of disapproval. But as yet the reader has not seen the last and I think the most interesting scene of the first act.
I went for a walk in the Green Park and met Goudar. I was glad to see him, as the rogue was useful to me.
“I have just been at the Charpillons,” he began; “they were all in high spirits. I tried in vain to turn the conversation on you, but not a word would they utter.”
“I despise them entirely,” I rejoined, “I don’t want to have anything more to do with them.”
He told me I was quite right, and advised me to persevere in my plan. I made him dine with me, and then we went to see the well-known procuress, Mrs. Wells, and saw the celebrated courtezan, Kitty Fisher, who was waiting for the Duke of —— to take her to a ball. She was magnificently dressed, and it is no exaggeration to say that she had on diamonds worth five hundred thousand francs. Goudar told me that if I liked I might have her then and there for ten guineas. I did not care to do so, however, for, though charming, she could only speak English, and I liked to have all my senses, including that of hearing, gratified. When she had gone, Mrs. Wells told us that Kitty had eaten a bank-note for a thousand guineas, on a slice of bread and butter, that very day. The note was a present from Sir Akins, brother of the fair Mrs. Pitt. I do not know whether the bank thanked Kitty for the present she had made it.
I spent an hour with a girl named Kennedy, a fair Irishwoman, who could speak a sort of French, and behaved most extravagantly under the influence of champagne; but the image of the Charpillon was still before me, though I knew it not, and I could not enjoy anything. I went home feeling sad and ill pleased with myself. Common sense told me to drive all thoughts of that wretched woman out of my head, but something I called honour bade me not leave her the triumph of having won the two bills of exchange from me for nothing, and made me determine to get them back by fair means or foul.
M. Malingan, at whose house I had made the acquaintance of this creature, come and asked me to dinner. He had asked me to dine with him several times before, and I had always refused, and now I would not accept until I had heard what guests he had invited. The names were all strange to me, so I agreed to come.
When I arrived I found two young ladies from Liege, in one of whom I got interested directly. She introduced me to her husband, and to another young man who seemed to be the cavalier of the other lady, her cousin.
The company pleased me, and I was in hopes that I should spend a happy day, but my evil genius brought the Charpillon to mar the feast. She came into the room in high glee, and said to Malingan —
“I should not have come to beg you to give me a dinner if I had known that you would have so many guests, and if I am at all in the way I will go.”
Everybody welcomed her, myself excepted, for I was on the rack. To make matters worse, she was placed at my left hand. If she had come in before we sat down to dinner I should have made some excuse and gone away, but as we had begun the soup a sudden flight would have covered me with ridicule. I adopted the plan of not looking at her, reserving all my politeness for the lady on my right. When the meal was over Malingan took me apart, and swore to me that he had not invited the Charpillon, but I was not convinced, though I pretended to be for politeness’ sake.
The two ladies from Liege and their cavaliers were embarking for Ostend in a few days, and in speaking of their departure the one to whom I had taken a fancy said that she was sorry to be leaving England without having seen Richmond. I begged her to give me the pleasure of shewing it her, and without waiting for an answer I asked her husband and all the company to be present, excepting the Charpillon, whom I pretended not to see.
The invitation was accepted.
“Two carriages,” I said, “holding four each, shall be ready at eight o’clock, and we shall be exactly eight.”
“No, nine, for I am coming,” said the Charpillon, giving me an impudent stare, “and I hope you will not drive me away.”
“No, that would be impolite, I will ride in front on horseback.”
“Oh, not at all! Emilie shall sit on my lap.”
Emilie was Malingan’s daughter, and as everybody seemed to think the arrangement an extremely pleasant one I had not the courage to resist. A few moments after, I was obliged to leave the room for a few moments, and when I came back I met her on the landing. She told me I had insulted her grievously, and that unless I made amends I should feel her vengeance.
“You can begin your vengeance,” I said, “by returning my bills of exchange”
“You shall have them to-morrow, but you had better try and make me forget the insult you have put on me.”
I left the company in the evening, having arranged that we should all breakfast together the next day.
At eight o’clock the two carriages were ready, and Malingan, his wife, his daughter, and the two gentlemen got into the first vehicle, and I had to get into the second with the ladies from Liege and the Charpillon, who seemed to have become very intimate with them. This made me ill-tempered, and I sulked the whole way. We were an hour and a quarter on the journey, and when we arrived I ordered a good dinner, and then we proceeded to view the gardens; the day was a beautiful one, though it was autumn.
Whilst we were Walking the Charpillon came up to me and said she wanted to return the bills in the same place in which I had given her them. As we were at some distance from the others I pelted her with abuse, telling her of her perfidy and of her corruption at an age when she should have retained some vestiges of innocence calling her by the name she deserved, as I reminded her how often she had already prostituted herself; in short I threatened her with my vengeance if she pushed me to extremities. But she was as cold as ice, and opposed a calm front to the storm of invective I rained in her ears. However, as the other guests were at no great distance, she begged me to speak more softly, but they heard me and I was very glad of it.
At last we sat down to dinner, and the wretched woman contrived to get a place beside me, and behaved all the while as if I were her lover, or at any rate as if she loved me. She did not seem to care what people thought of my coldness, while I was in a rage, for the company must either have thought me a fool or else that she was making game of me.
After dinner we returned to the garden, and the Charpillon, determined to gain the victory, clung to my arm and after several turns led me towards the maze where she wished to try her power. She made me sit down on the grass beside her and attacked me with passionate words and tender caresses, and by displaying the most interesting of her charms she succeeded in seducing me, but still I do not know whether I were impelled by love or vengeance, and I am inclined to think that my feelings were a compound of both passions.
But at the moment she looked the picture of voluptuous abandon. Her ardent eyes, her fiery cheeks, her wanton kisses, her swelling breast, and her quick sighs, all made me think that she stood as much in need of defeat as I of victory; certainly I should not have judged that she was already calculating on resistance.
Thus I once more became tender and affectionate; I begged pardon for what I had said and done. Her fiery kisses replied to mine, and I thought her glance and the soft pressure of her body were inviting me to gather the delicious fruit; but just as my hand opened the door of the sanctuary, she gave a sudden movement, and the chance was lost.
“What! you would deceive me again.”
“No, no but we have done enough now. I promise to spend the night in your arms in your own house.”
For a moment I lost my senses. I only saw the deceitful wretch who had profited by my foolish credulity so many times, and I resolved to enjoy or take vengeance. I held her down with my left arm, and drawing a small knife from my pocket I opened it with my teeth and pricked her neck, threatening to kill her if she resisted me.
“Do as you like,” she said with perfect calm, “I only ask you to leave me my life, but after you have satisfied yourself I will not leave the spot; I will not enter your carriage unless you carry me by force, and everybody shall know the reason.”
This threat had no effect, for I had already got back my senses, and I pitied myself for being degraded by a creature for whom I had the greatest contempt, in spite of the almost magical influence she had over me, and the furious desires she knew how to kindle in my breast. I rose without a word, and taking my hat and cane I hastened to leave a place where unbridled passion had brought me to the brink of ruin.
My readers will scarcely believe me (but it is nevertheless the exact truth) when I say that the impudent creature hastened to rejoin me, and took my arm again as if nothing had happened. A girl of her age could not have played the part so well unless she had been already tried in a hundred battles. When we rejoined the company I was asked if I were ill, while nobody noticed the slightest alteration in her.
When we got back to London I excused myself under the plea of a bad headache, and returned home.
The adventure had made a terrible impression on me, and I saw that if I did not avoid all intercourse with this girl I should be brought to ruin. There was something about her I could not resist. I therefore resolved to see her no more, but feeling ashamed of my weakness in giving her the bills of exchange I wrote her mother a note requesting her to make her daughter return them, or else I should be compelled to take harsh measures.
In the afternoon I received the following reply:
“Sir — I am exceedingly surprised at your addressing yourself to me about the bills you handed to my daughter. She tells me she will give you them back in person when you shew more discretion, and have learnt to respect her.”
This impudent letter so enraged me that I forgot my vow of the morning. I put two pistols in my pocket and proceeded to the wretched woman’s abode to compel her to return me my bills if she did not wish to be soundly caned.
I only took the pistols to overawe the two male rascals who supped with them every evening. I was furious when I arrived, but I passed by the door when I saw a handsome young hairdresser, who did the Charpillon’s hair every Saturday evening, going into the house.
I did not want a stranger to be present at the scene I meant to make, so I waited at the corner of the street for the hairdresser to go. After I had waited half an hour Rostaing and Couman, the two supports of the house, came out and went away, much to my delight. I waited on; eleven struck, and the handsome barber had not yet gone. A little before midnight a servant came out with a lamp, I suppose to look for something that had fallen out of the window. I approached noiselessly, stepped in and opened the parlour-door, which was close to the street, and saw . . . the Charpillon and the barber stretched on the sofa and doing the beast with two backs, as Shakespeare calls it.
When the slut saw me she gave a shriek and unhorsed her gallant, whom I caned soundly until he escaped in the confusion consequent on the servants, mother, and aunts all rushing into the room. While this was going on the Charpillon, half-naked, remained crouched behind the sofa, trembling lest the blows should begin to descend on her. Then the three hags set upon me like furies; but their abuse only irritated me, and I broke the pier-‘glass, the china, and the furniture, and as they still howled and shrieked I roared out that if they did not cease I would break their heads. At this they began to calm.
I threw myself upon the fatal sofa, and bade the mother to return me the bills of exchange; but just then the watchman came in.
There is only one watchman to a district, which he perambulates all night with a lantern in one hand and a staff in the other. On these men the peace of the great city depends. I put three or four crowns into his hand and said “Go away,” and so saying shut the door upon him. Then I sat down once more and asked again for the bills of exchange:
“I have not got them; my daughter keeps them.”
The two maids said that whilst I was breaking the china she had escaped by the street door, and that they did not know what had become of her. Then the mother and aunts began to shriek, weep, and exclaim —
“My poor daughter alone in the streets of London at midnight! My dear niece, alas! alas! she is lost. Cursed be the hour when you came to England to make us all unhappy!”
My rage had evaporated, and I trembled at the thought of this young frightened girl running about the streets at such an hour.
“Go and look for her at the neighbours’ houses,” I said to the servants, “no doubt you will find her. When you tell me she is safe, you shall have a guinea apiece.”
When the three Gorgons saw I was interested, their tears, complaints, and invectives began again with renewed vigor, while I kept silence as much as to say that they were in the right. I awaited the return of the servants with impatience, and at last at one o’clock they came back with looks of despair.
“We have looked for her everywhere,” said they, “but we can’t find her.”
I gave them the two guineas as if they had succeeded, whilst I sat motionless reflecting on the terrible consequences of my anger. How foolish is man when he is in love!
I was idiot enough to express my repentance to the three old cheats. I begged them to seek for her everywhere when dawn appeared, and to let me know of her return that I might fall at her feet to beg pardon, and never see her face again. I also promised to pay for all the damage I had done, and to give them a full receipt for the bills of exchange. After these acts, done to the everlasting shame of my good sense, after this apology made to procuresses who laughed at me and my honour, I went home, promising two guineas to the servant who should bring me tidings that her young mistress had come home. On leaving the house I found the watchman at the door; he had been waiting to see me home. It was two o’clock. I threw myself on my bed, and the six hours of sleep I obtained, though troubled by fearful dreams, probably saved me from madness.
At eight o’clock I heard a knock at the door, and on opening the window found it was one of the servants from the house of my foes. I cried out to let her in, and I breathed again on hearing that Miss Charpillon had just arrived in a sedan-chair in a pitiable condition, and that she had been put to bed.
“I made haste to come and tell you,” said the cunning maid, “not for the sake of your two guineas, but because I saw you were so unhappy.” This duped me directly. I gave her the two guineas, and made her sit down on my bed, begging her to tell me all about her mistress’s return. I did not dream that she had been schooled by my enemies; but during the whole of this period I was deprived of the right use of my reason.
The slut began by saying that her young mistress loved me, and had only deceived me in accordance with her mother’s orders.
“I know that,” I said, “but where did she pass the night?”
“At a shop which she found open, and where she was known from having bought various articles there. She is in bed with a fever, and I am afraid it may have serious consequences as she is in her monthly period.”
“That’s impossible, for I caught her in the act with her hairdresser.”
“Oh, that proves nothing! the poor young man does not look into things very closely.”
“But she is in love with him.”
“I don’t think so, though she has spent several hours in his company.”
“And you say that she loves me!”
“Oh, that has nothing to do with it! It is only a whim of hers with the hairdresser.”
“Tell her that I am coming to pass the day beside her bed, and bring me her reply.”
“I will send the other girl if you like.”
“No, she only speaks English.”
She went away, and as she had not returned by three o’clock I decided on calling to hear how she was. I knocked at the door, and one of the aunts appeared and begged me not to enter as the two friends of the house were there in a fury against me, and her niece lay in a delirium, crying out “There’s Seingalt, there’s Seingalt! He’s going to kill me. Help! help!” “For God’s sake, sir, go away,”
I went home desperate, without the slightest suspicion that it was all a lie. I spent the whole day without eating anything; I could not swallow a mouthful. All night I kept awake, and though I took several glasses of strong waters I could obtain no rest.
At nine o’clock the next morning I knocked at the Charpillon’s door, and the old aunt came and held it half open as before. She forbade me to enter, saying that her niece was still delirious, continually calling on me in her transports, and that the doctor had declared that if the disease continued its course she had not twenty-four hours to live. “The fright you gave her has arrested her periods; she is in a terrible state.”
“O, fatal hairdresser!” I exclaimed.
“That was a mere youthful folly; you should have pretended not to have seen anything.”
“You think that possible, you old witch, do you? Do not let her lack for anything; take that.”
With these words I gave her a bank note for ten guineas and went away, like the fool I was. On my way back I met Goudar, who was quite frightened at my aspect. I begged him to go and see how the Charpillon really was, and then to come and pass the rest of the day with me. An hour after he came back and said he had found them all in tears and that the girl was in extremis.
“Did you see her?”
“No, they said she could see no one.”
“Do you think it is all true?”
“I don’t know what to think; but one of the maids, who tells me the truth as a rule, assured me that she had become mad through her courses being stopped, while she has also a fever and violent convulsions. It is all credible enough, for these are the usual results of a shock when a woman is in such a situation. The girl told me it was all your fault.”
I then told him the whole story. He could only pity me, but when he heard that I had neither eaten nor slept for the last forty-eight hours he said very wisely that if I did not take care I should lose my reason or my life. I knew it, but I could find no remedy. He spent the day with me and did me good. As I could not eat I drank a good deal, and not being able to sleep I spent the night in striding up and down my room like a man beside himself.
On the third day, having heard nothing positive about the Charpillon, I went out at seven o’clock in the morning to call on her. After I had waited a quarter of an hour in the street, the door was partly opened, and I saw the mother all in tears, but she would not let me come in. She said her daughter was in the last agony. At the same instant a pale and thin old man came out, telling the mother that we must resign ourselves to the will of God. I asked the infamous creature if it were the doctor.
“The doctor is no good now,” said the old hypocrite, weeping anew, “he is a minister of the Gospel, and there is another of them upstairs. My poor daughter! In another hour she will be no more.”
I felt as if an icy hand had closed upon my heart. I burst into tears and left the woman, saying —
“It is true that my hand dealt the blow, but her death lies at your door.”
As I walked away my knees seemed to bend under me, and I entered my house determined to commit suicide —
With this fearful idea, I gave orders that I was not at home to anyone. As soon as I got to my room I put my watches, rings, snuff- boxes, purse and pocket-book in my casket, and shut it up in my escritoire. I then wrote a letter to the Venetian ambassador, informing him that all my property was to go to M. de Bragadin after my death. I sealed the letter and put it with the casket, and took the key with me, and also silver to the amount of a few guineas. I took my pistols and went out with the firm intention of drowning myself in the Thames, near the Tower of London.
Pondering over my plan with the utmost coolness, I went and bought some balls of lead as large as my pockets would hold, and as heavy as I could bear, to carry to the Tower, where I intended to go on foot. On my way I was strengthened in my purpose by the reflection, that if I continued to live I should be tormented for the remainder of my days by the pale shade of the Charpillon reproaching me as her murderer. I even congratulated myself on being able to carry out my purpose without any effort, and I also felt a secret pride in my courage.
I walked slowly on account of the enormous weight I bore, which would assure me a speedy passage to the bottom of the river.
By Westminster Bridge my good fortune made me meet Sir Edgar, a rich young Englishman, who lived a careless and joyous life. I had made his acquaintance at Lord Pembroke’s, and he had dined with me several times. We suited one another, his conversation was agreeable, and we had passed many pleasant hours together. I tried to avoid him, but he saw me, and came up and took me by the arm in a friendly manner.
“Where are you going? Come with me, unless you are going to deliver some captive. Come along, we shall have a pleasant party.”
“I can’t come, my dear fellow, let me go.”
“What’s the matter? I hardly recognized you, you looked so solemn.”
“Nothing is the matter.”
“Nothing? You should look at your face in the glass. Now I feel quite sure that you are going to commit a foolish action.”
“Not at all.”
“It’s no good denying it.”
“I tell you there’s nothing the matter with me. Good bye, I shall see you again.”
“It’s no good, I won’t leave you. Come along, we will walk together.”
His eyes happening to fall on my breeches pocket, he noticed my pistol, and putting his hand on the other pocket he felt the other pistol, and said —
“You are going to fight a duel; I should like to see it. I won’t interfere with the affair, but neither will I leave you.”
I tried to put on a smile, and assured him that he was mistaken, and that I was only going for a walk to pass the time.
“Very good,” said Edgar, “then I hope my society is as pleasant to you as yours is to me; I won’t leave you. After we have taken a walk we will go and dine at the ‘Canon.’ I will get two girls to come and join us, and we shall have a gay little party of four.”
“My dear friend, you must excuse me; I am in a melancholy mood, and I want to be alone to get over it.”
“You can be alone to-morrow, if you like, but I am sure you will be all right in the next three hours, and if not, why I will share your madness. Where did you think of dining?”
“Nowhere; I have no appetite. I have been fasting for the last three days, and I can only drink.”
“Ah! I begin to see daylight. Something has crossed you, and you are going to let it kill you as it killed one of my brothers. I must see what can be done.”
Edgar argued, insisted, and joked till at last I said to myself, “A day longer will not matter, I can do the deed when he leaves me, and I shall only have to bear with life a few hours longer.”
When Edgar heard that I had no particular object in crossing the bridge he said that we had better turn back, and I let myself be persuaded; but in half an hour I begged him to take me somewhere where I could wait for him, as I could not bear the weight of the lead any longer. I gave him my word of honour that I would meet him at the “Canon.”
As soon as I was alone I emptied my pockets, and put the leaden balls into a cupboard. Then I lay down and began to consider whether the good-natured young man would prevent me committing suicide, as he had already made me postpone it.
I reasoned, not as one that hopes, but rather as one that foresaw that Edgar would hinder me from shortening my days. Thus I waited in the tavern for the young Englishman, doubtful whether he was doing me a service or an injury.
He came back before long, and was pleased to find me.
“I reckoned on your keeping your word,” said he.
“You did not think that I would break my word of honour.”
“That’s all right; I see you are on the way to recovery.”
The sensible and cheerful talk of the young man did me good, and I began to feel better, when the two young wantons, one of whom was a Frenchwoman, arrived in high spirits. They seemed intended for pleasure, and Nature had dowered them with great attractions. I appreciated their charms, but I could not welcome them in the manner to which they were accustomed. They began to think me some poor valetudinarian; but though I was in torments, a feeling of vanity made me endeavour to behave sensibly. I gave them some cold kisses and begged Edgar to tell his fellow-countrywoman that if I were not three parts dead I would prove how lovely and charming I thought her. They pitied me. A man who has spent three days without eating or sleeping is almost incapable of any voluptuous excitement, but mere words would not have convinced these priestesses of Venus if Edgar had not given them my name. I had a reputation, and I saw that when they heard who I was they were full of respect. They all hoped that Bacchus and Comus would plead the cause of Love, and I let them talk, knowing that their hopes were vain.
We had an English dinner; that is, a dinner without the essential course of soup, so I only took a few oysters and a draught of delicious wine, but I felt better, and was pleased to see Edgar amusing himself with the two nymphs.
The young madcap suddenly proposed that the girls should dance a hornpipe in the costume of Mother Eve, and they consented on the condition that we would adopt the dress of Father Adam, and that blind musicians were summoned. I told them that I would take off my clothes to oblige them, but that I had no hopes of being able to imitate the seductive serpent. I was allowed to retain my dress, on the condition that if I felt the prick of the flesh I should immediately undress. I agreed to do so, and the blind musicians were sent for, and while they tuned their instruments toilettes were made, and the orgy began.
It taught me same useful lessons. I learnt from it that amorous pleasures are the effect and not the cause of gaiety. I sat gazing at three naked bodies of perfect grace and beauty, the dance and the music were ravishing and seductive, but nothing made any impression on me. After the dance was over the male dancer treated the two females, one after the other, until he was forced to rest. The French girl came up to ascertain whether I skewed any signs of life, but feeling my hopeless condition she pronounced me useless.
When it was all over I begged Edgar to give the French girl four guineas, and to pay my share, as I had very little money about me.
What should I have said if I had been told in the morning that instead of drowning myself I should take part in so pleasant an entertainment?
The debt I had contracted with the young Englishman made me resolve to put off my suicide to another day. After the nymphs had gone I tried to get rid of Edgar, but in vain; he told me I was getting better, that the oysters I had taken skewed my stomach was improving, and that if I came with him to Ranelagh I should be able to make a good dinner the next day. I was weak and indifferent and let myself be persuaded, and got into a coach with Edgar in obedience to the Stoic maxim I had learnt in the happy days of my youth: ‘Sequere Deum’.
We entered the fine rotunda with our hats off, and began to walk round and round, our arms behind our backs — a common custom in England, at least in those days.
A minuet was being danced, and I was so attracted by a lady who danced extremely well that I waited for her to turn round. What made me notice her more particularly was that her dress and hat were exactly like those I had given to the Charpillon a few days before, but as I believed the poor wretch to be dead or dying the likeness did not inspire me with any suspicion. But the lady turned round, lifted her face, and I saw — the Charpillon herself!
Edgar told me afterwards that at that moment he thought to see me fall to the ground in an epileptic fit; I trembled and shuddered so terribly.
However, I felt so sure she was ill that I could not believe my own eyes, and the doubt brought me to my senses.
“She can’t be the Charpillon,” I said to myself, “she is some other girl like her, and my enfeebled senses have led me astray.” In the meanwhile the lady, intent on her dancing, did not glance in my direction, but I could afford to wait. At last she lifted her arms to make the curtsy at the end of the minuet, I went up instinctively as if I were about to dance with her; she looked me in the face, and fled.
I constrained myself; but now that there could be no doubt my shuddering fit returned, and I made haste to sit down. A cold sweat bedewed my face and my whole body. Edgar advised me to take a cup of tea but I begged him to leave me alone for a few moments.
I was afraid that I was on the point of death; I trembled all over, and my heart beat so rapidly that I could not have stood up had I wished.
At last, instead of dying, I got new life. What a wonderful change I experienced! Little by little my peace of mind returned, and I could enjoy the glitter of the multitudinous wax lights. By slow degrees I passed through all the shades of feeling between despair and an ecstasy of joy. My soul and mind were so astonished by the shock that I began to think I should never see Edgar again.
“This young man,” I said to myself, “is my good genius, my guardian angel, my familiar spirit, who has taken the form of Edgar to restore me to my senses again.”
I should certainly have persisted in this idea if my friend had not reappeared before very long.
Chance might have thrown him in the way of one of those seductive creatures who make one forget everything else; he might have left Ranelagh without having time to tell me he was going, and I should have gone back to London feeling perfectly certain that I had only seen his earthly shape. Should I have been disabused if I had seen him a few days after? Possibly; but I am not sure of it. I have always had a hankering after superstition, of which I do not boast; but I confess the fact, and leave the reader to judge me.
However, he came back in high spirits, but anxious about me. He was surprised to find me full of animation, and to hear me talking in a pleasant strain on the surrounding objects and persons.
“Why, you are laughing!” said he, “your sadness has departed, then?”
“Yes, good genius, but I am hungry, and I want you to do me a favour, if you have no other pressing engagements.”
“I am free till the day after to-morrow, and till then you can do what you like with me.”
“I owe my life to you, but to make your gift complete I want you to spend this night and the whole of the next day with me.”
“Then let us go home.”
“With all my heart; come along.”
I did not tell him anything as we were in the coach, and when we got home I found nothing fresh, except a note from Goudar, which I put in my pocket, intending to reserve all business for the next day.
It was an hour after midnight. A good supper was served to us, and we fell to; for my part I devoured my food like a wild beast. Edgar congratulated me, and we went to bed, and I slept profoundly till noon. When I awoke I breakfasted with Edgar, and told him the whole story, which would have ended with my life if he had not met me on Westminster Bridge, and he had not been keen enough to mark my condition. I took him to my room, and shewed him my escritoire, my casket, and my will. I then opened Goudar’s letter, and read:
“I am quite sure that the girl you know of is very far from dying, as she has gone to Ranelagh with Lord Grosvenor.”
Although Edgar was a profligate, he was a sensible man, and my story made him furious. He threw his arms around my neck, and told me he should always think the day on which he rescued me from death for so unworthy an object the happiest in his life. He could scarcely credit the infamy of the Charpillon and her mother. He told me I could have the mother arrested, though I had not got the bills of exchange, as her mother’s letter acknowledging her daughter’s possession of the bills was sufficient evidence.
Without informing him of my intention, I resolved that moment to have her arrested. Before we parted we swore eternal friendship, but the reader will see before long what a penance the kind Englishman had to do for befriending me.
The next day I went to the attorney I had employed against Count Schwerin. After hearing my story he said that I had an undoubted claim, and that I could arrest the mother and the two aunts.
Without losing time I went before a magistrate, who took my sworn information and granted me a warrant. The same official who had arrested Schwerin took charge of the affair; but as he did not know the women by sight it was necessary that someone who did should go with him, for though he was certain of surprising them there might be several other women present, and he might not arrest the right ones.
As Goudar would not have undertaken the delicate task of pointing them out, I resolved on accompanying him myself.
I made an appointment with him at an hour when I knew they would be all in the parlour. He was to enter directly the door was opened, and I would come in at the same instant and point out the women he had to arrest. In England all judicial proceedings are conducted with the utmost punctuality, and everything went off as I had arranged. The bailiff and his subaltern stepped into the parlour and I followed in their footsteps. I pointed out the mother and the two sisters and then made haste to escape, for the sight of the Charpillon, dressed in black, standing by the hearth, made me shudder. I felt cured, certainly; but the wounds she had given me were not yet healed, and I cannot say what might have happened if the Circe had had the presence of mind to throw her arms about my neck and beg for mercy.
As soon as I had seen these women in the hands of justice I fled, tasting the sweets of vengeance, which are very great, but yet a sign of unhappiness. The rage in which I had arrested the three procuresses, and my terror in seeing the woman who had well-nigh killed me, shewed that I was not really cured. To be so I must fly from them and forget them altogether.
The next morning Goudar came and congratulated me on the bold step I had taken, which proved, he said, that I was either cured or more in love than ever. “I have just come from Denmark Street,” he added, “and I only saw the grandmother, who was weeping bitterly, and an attorney, whom no doubt she was consulting.”
“Then you have heard what has happened?”
“Yes, I came up a minute after you had gone and I stayed till the three old sluts made up their minds to go with the constable. They resisted and said he ought to leave them till the next day, when they would be able to find someone to bail them. The two bravos drew their swords to resist the law, but the other constable disarmed them one after the other, and the three women were led off. The Charpillon wanted to accompany them, but it was judged best that she should remain at liberty, in order to try and set them free.”
Goudar concluded by saying that he should go and see them in prison, and if I felt disposed to come to an arrangement he would mediate between us. I told him that the only arrangement I would accept was the payment of the six thousand francs, and that they might think themselves very lucky that I did not insist on having my interest, and thus repaying myself in part for the sums they had cheated out of me.
A fortnight elapsed without my hearing any more of the matter. The Charpillon dined with them every day, and in fact, kept them. It must have cost her a good deal, for they had two rooms, and their landlord would not allow them to have their meals prepared outside the prison. Goudar told me that the Charpillon said she would never beg me to listen to her mother, though she knew she had only to call on me to obtain anything she wanted. She thought me the most abominable of men. If I feel obliged to maintain that she was equally abominable, I must confess that on this occasion she shewed more strength of mind than I; but whereas I had acted out of passion, her misdeeds were calculated, and tended solely to her own interests.
For the whole of this fortnight I had sought for Edgar in vain, but one morning he came to see me, looking in high spirits.
“Where have you been hiding all this time?” said I, “I have been looking for you everywhere.”
“Love has been keeping me a prisoner,” said he, “I have got some money for you.”
“For me? From what quarter?”
“On behalf of the Ansperghers. Give me a receipt and the necessary declaration, for I am going to restore them myself to the poor Charpillon, who has been weeping for the last fortnight.”
“I daresay she has, I have seen her weep myself; but I like the way in which she has chosen the being who delivered me from her chains as a protector. Does she know that I owe my life to you?”
“She only knew that I was with you at Ranelagh when you saw her dancing instead of dying, but I have told her the whole story since.”
“No doubt she wants you to plead with me in her favour.”
“By no means. She has just been telling me that you are a monster of ingratitude, for she loved you and gave you several proofs of her affection, but now she hates you.”
“Thank Heaven for that! The wretched woman! It’s curious she should have selected you as her lover by way of taking vengeance on me, but take care! she will punish you.”
“It may be so, but at all events it’s a pleasant kind of punishment.”
“I hope you may be happy, but look to yourself; she is a mistress in all sorts of deceit.”
Edgar counted me out two hundred and fifty guineas, for which I gave him a receipt and the declaration he required, and with these documents he went off in high spirits.
After this I might surely flatter myself that all was at an end between us, but I was mistaken.
Just about this time the Crown Prince of Brunswick, now the reigning duke, married the King of England’s sister. The Common Council presented him with the freedom of the City, and the Goldsmith’s Company admitted him into their society, and gave him a splendid box containing the documents which made him a London citizen. The prince was the first gentleman in Europe, and yet he did not disdain to add this new honour to a family illustrious for fourteen hundred years.
On this occasion Lady Harrington was the means of getting Madame Cornelis two hundred guineas. She lent her room in Soho Square to a confectioner who gave a ball and supper to a thousand persons at three guineas each. I paid my three guineas, and had the honour of standing up all the evening with six hundred others, for the table only seated four hundred, and there were several ladies who were unable to procure seats. That evening I saw Lady Grafton seated beside the Duke of Cumberland. She wore her hair without any powder, and all the other ladies were exclaiming about it, and saying how very unbecoming it was. They could not anathematize the innovator too much, but in less than six months Lady Grafton’s style of doing the hair became common, crossed the Channel, and spread all over Europe, though it has been given another name. It is still in fashion, and is the only method that can boast the age of thirty years, though it was so unmercifully ridiculed at first.
The supper for which the giver of the feast had received three thousand guineas, or sixty-five thousand francs, contained a most varied assortment of delicacies, but as I had not been dancing, and did not feel taken with any of the ladies present, I left at one in the morning. It was Sunday, a day on which all persons, save criminals, are exempt from arrest; but, nevertheless, the following adventure befell me:
I was dressed magnificently, and was driving home in my carriage, with my negro and another servant seated behind me; and just as we entered Pall Mall I heard a voice crying, “Good night, Seingalt.” I put my head out of the window to reply, and in an instant the carriage was surrounded by men armed with pistols, and one of them said —
“In the king’s name!”
My servant asked what they wanted, and they answered —
“To take him to Newgate, for Sunday makes no difference to criminals.”
“And what crime have I committed?”
“You will hear that in prison.”
“My master has a right to know his crime before he goes to prison,” said the negro.
“Yes, but the magistrate’s abed.”
The negro stuck to his position, however, and the people who had come up declared with one consent that he was in the right.
The head-constable gave in, and said he would take me to a house in the city.
“Then drive to that city,” said I, “and have done with it.”
We stopped before the house, and I was placed in a large room on the ground floor, furnished solely with benches and long tables. My servant sent back the carriage, and came to keep me company. The six constables said they could not leave me, and told me I should send out for some meat and drink for them. I told my negro to give them what they wanted, and to be as amicable with them as was possible.
As I had not committed any crime, I was quite at ease; I knew that my arrest must be the effect of a slander, and as I was aware that London justice was speedy and equitable, I thought I should soon be free. But I blamed myself for having transgressed the excellent maxim, never to answer anyone in the night time; for if I had not done so I should have been in my house, and not in prison. The mistake, however, had been committed, and there was nothing to be done but to wait patiently. I amused myself by reflecting on my rapid passage from a numerous and exalted assemblage to the vile place I now occupied, though I was still dressed like a prince.
At last the day dawned, and the keeper of the tavern came to see who the prisoner was. I could not helping laughing at him when he saw me, for he immediately began to abuse the constables for not awaking him when I came; he had lost the guinea I should have paid for a private room. At last news was brought that the magistrate was sitting, and that I must be brought up.
A coach was summoned, and I got into it, for if I had dared to walk along the streets in my magnificent attire the mob would have pelted me.
I went into the hall of justice, and all eyes were at once attracted towards me; my silks and satins appeared to them the height of impertinence.
At the end of the room I saw a gentleman sitting in an arm-chair, and concluded him to be my judge. I was right, and the judge was blind. He wore a broad band round his head, passing over his eyes. A man beside me, guessing I was a foreigner, said in French —
“Be of good courage, Mr. Fielding is a just and equitable magistrate.”
I thanked the kindly unknown, and was delighted to see before me this famous and estimable writer, whose works are an honour to the English nation.
When my turn came, the clerk of the court told Mr. Fielding my name, at least, so I presume.
“Signor Casanova,” said he, in excellent Italian, “be kind enough to step forward. I wish to speak to you.”
I was delighted to hear the accents of my native tongue, and making my way through the press I came up to the bar of the court, and said —
He continued to speak Italian, and said —
“Signor de Casanova, of Venice, you are condemned to perpetual confinement in the prisons of His Majesty the King of Great Britain.”
“I should like to know, sir, for what crime I am condemned. Would you be kind enough to inform me as to its nature?”
“Your demand is a reasonable one, for with us no one is condemned without knowing the cause of his condemnation. You must know, then, that the accusation (which is supported by two witnesses) charges you with intending to do grievous bodily harm to the person of a pretty girl; and as this pretty girl aforesaid goes in dread of you, the law decrees that you must be kept in prison for the rest of your days.”
“Sir, this accusation is a groundless calumny; to that I will take my oath! It is very possible indeed that the girl may fear my vengeance when she comes to consider her own conduct, but I can assure you that I have had no such designs hitherto, and I don’t think I ever shall.”
“She has two witnesses.”
“Then they are false ones. But may I ask your worship the name of my accuser?”
“I thought as much; but I have never given her aught but proofs of my affection.”
“Then you have no wish to do her any bodily harm?”
“Then I congratulate you. You can dine at home; but you must find two sureties. I must have an assurance from the mouths of two householders that you will never commit such a crime.”
“Whom shall I find to do so?”
“Two well-known Englishmen, whose friendship you have gained, and who know that you are incapable of such an action. Send for them, and if they arrive before I go to dinner I will set you at liberty.”
The constable took me back to prison, where I had passed the night, and I gave my servants the addresses of all the householders I recollected, bidding them explain my situation, and to be as quick as possible. They ought to have come before noon, but London is such a large place! They did not arrive, and the magistrate went to dinner. I comforted myself by the thought that he would sit in the afternoon, but I had to put up with a disagreeable experience.
The chief constable, accompanied by an interpreter, came to say that I must go to Newgate. This is a prison where the most wretched and abject criminals are kept.
I signified to him that I was awaiting bail, and that he could take me to Newgate in the evening if it did not come, but he only turned a deaf ear to my petition. The interpreter told me in a whisper that the fellow was certainly paid by the other side to put me to trouble, but that if I liked to bribe him I could stay where I was.
“How much will he want?”
The interpreter took the constable aside, and then told me that I could stay where I was for ten guineas.
“Then say that I should like to see Newgate.”
A coach was summoned, and I was taken away.
When I got to this abode of misery and despair, a hell, such as Dante might have conceived, a crowd of wretches, some of whom were to be hanged in the course of the week, greeted me by deriding my elegant attire. I did not answer them, and they began to get angry and to abuse me. The gaoler quieted them by saying that I was a foreigner and did not understand English, and then took me to a cell, informing me how much it would cost me, and of the prison rules, as if he felt certain that I should make a long stay. But in the course of half an hour, the constable who had tried to get ten guineas out of me told me that bail had arrived and that my carriage was at the door.
I thanked God from the bottom of my heart, and soon found myself in the presence of the blind magistrate. My bail consisted of Pegu, my tailor, and Maisonneuve, my wine merchant, who said they were happy to be able to render me this slight service. In another part of the court I noticed the infamous Charpillon, Rostaing, Goudar, and an attorney. They made no impression on me, and I contented myself with giving them a look of profound contempt.
My two sureties were informed of the amount in which they were to bail me, and signed with a light heart, and then the magistrate said, politely —
“Signor Casanova, please to sign your name for double the amount, and you will then be a free man again.”
I went towards the clerk’s table, and on asking the sum I was to answer for was informed that it was forty guineas, each of my sureties signing for twenty. I signed my name, telling Goudar that if the magistrate could have seen the Charpillon he would have valued her beauty at ten thousand guineas. I asked the names of the two witnesses, and was told that they were Rostaing and Bottarelli. I looked contemptuously at Rostaing, who was as pale as death, and averting my face from the Charpillon out of pity, I said —
“The witnesses are worthy of the charge.”
I saluted the judge with respect, although he could not see me, and asked the clerk if I had anything to pay. He replied in the negative, and a dispute ensued between him and the attorney of my fair enemy, who was disgusted on hearing that she could not leave the court without paying the costs of my arrest.
Just as I was going, five or six well-known Englishmen appeared to bail me out, and were mortified to hear that they had come too late. They begged me to forgive the laws of the land, which are only too often converted into a means for the annoyance of foreigners.
At last, after one of the most tedious days I have ever spent, I returned home and went to bed, laughing at the experience I had undergone.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52