My Imprudence — Passano — I Am Imprisoned — My Departure from Barcelona — Madame Castelbajac at Montpellier — Nimes — I Arrive at Aix
Although my Swiss landlord seemed an honest and trustworthy kind of man, I could not help thinking that Nina had acted very imprudently in commending me to him. She was the viceroy’s mistress; and though the viceroy might be a very agreeable man, he was a Spaniard, and not likely to be easy-going in his love affairs. Nina herself had told me that he was ardent, jealous, and suspicious. But the mischief was done, and there was no help for it.
When I got up my landlord brought me a valet de place, for whose character he said he could answer, and he then sent up an excellent dinner. I had slept till three o’clock in the afternoon.
After dinner I summoned my host, and asked him whether Nina had told him to get me a servant. He answered in the affirmative, and added that a carriage was awaiting my commands at the door; it had been taken by the week.
“I am astonished to hear it, for no one but myself can say what I can afford or not.”
“Sir, everything is paid for.”
“Paid for! I will not have it!”
“You can settle that with her, but I shall certainly take no payment.”
I saw dangers ahead, but as I have never cared to cherish forbodings I dismissed the idea.
I had a letter of introduction from the Marquis de las Moras to Don Miguel de Cevallos, and another from Colonel Royas to Don Diego de la Secada. I took my letters, and the next day Don Diego came to see me, and took me to the Comte de Peralda. The day after Don Miguel introduced me to the Comte de Ricla, Viceroy of Catalonia, and the lover of Nina.
The Comte de Peralada was a young man with a pleasant face but with an ill-proportioned body. He was a great debauchee and lover of bad company, an enemy of religion, morality, and law. He was directly descended from the Comte de Peralada, who served Philip II. so well that this king declared him “count by the grace of God.” The original patent of nobility was the first thing I saw in his antechamber, where it was framed and glazed so that all visitors might see it in the quarter of an hour they were kept waiting.
The count received me with an easy and cordiale manner, which seemed to say that he renounced all the dignities of his rank. He thanked Don Diego for introducing me, and talked a good deal about Colonel Royas. He asked me if I had seen the English girl he was keeping at Saragossa, and on my replying in the affirmative, he told me in a whisper that he had slept with her.
He took me to his stables, where he had some splendid horses, and then asked me to dine with him the next day.
The viceroy received me in a very different manner; he stood up so that he might not have to offer me a chair, and though I spoke Italian, with which language I knew him to be well acquainted, he answered me in Spanish, styling me ‘ussia’ (a contraction of ‘vuestra senoria’, your lordship, and used by everyone in Spain), while I gave him his proper title of excellence.
He talked a good deal about Madrid, and complained that M. de Mocenigo had gone to Paris by Bayonne instead of Barcelona, as he had promised him.
I tried to excuse my ambassador by saying that by taking the other route he had saved fifty leagues of his journey, but the viceroy replied that ‘tenir la palabra’ (keeping to one’s words) comes before all else.
He asked me if I thought of staying long at Barcelona, and seemed surprised when I told him that, with his leave, I hoped to make a long stay.
“I hope you will enjoy yourself,” he said, “but I must warn you that if you indulge in the pleasures which my nephew Peralada will doubtless offer you, you will not enjoy a very good reputation at Barcelona.”
As the Comte de Ricla made this observation in public, I thought myself justified in communicating it to Peralada himself. He was delighted, and told me, with evident vanity, that he had gone to Madrid three times, and had been ordered to return to Catalonia on each occasion.
I thought my best plan would be to follow the viceroy’s indirect advice, so I refused to join in any of the little parties of pleasure which Peralada proposed.
On the fifth day after my arrival, an officer came to ask me to dinner at the viceroy’s. I accepted the invitation with much pleasure, for I had been afraid of the viceroy’s having heard of my relations with Nina, and thought it possible that he might have taken a dislike to me. He was very pleasant to me at dinner, often addressing his observations to me, but always in a tone of great gravity.
I had been in Barcelona for a week, and was beginning to wonder why I had not heard from Nina; but one evening she wrote me a note, begging me to come on foot and alone to her house at ten o’clock the same night.
If I had been wise I should not have gone, for I was not in love with the woman, and should have remembered the respect due to the viceroy; but I was devoid of all wisdom and prudence. All the misfortunes I have experienced in my long life never taught me those two most necessary virtues.
At the hour she had named I called on her, wearing my great coat, and with a sword for my only weapon. I found Nina with her sister, a woman of thirty-six or thereabouts, who was married to an Italian dancer, nicknamed Schizza, because he had a flatter nose than any Tartar.
Nina had just been supping with her lover, who had left her at ten o’clock, according to his invariable custom.
She said she was delighted to hear I had been to dinner with him, as she had herself spoken to him in my praise, saying how admirably I had kept her company at Valentia.
“I am glad to hear it, but I do not think you are wise in inviting me to your house at such late hours.”
“I only do so to avoid scandal amongst my neighbours.”
“In my opinion my coming so late is only likely to increase the probability of scandal, and to make your viceroy jealous.”
“He will never hear of your coming.”
“I think you are mistaken.”
I went away at midnight, after a conversation of the most decent character. Her sister did not leave us for a moment, and Nina gave her no cause to suspect the intimacy of our relations.
I went to see her every evening, without encroaching on the count’s preserves. I thought myself secure, but the following warning should have made me desist if I had not been carried away by the forces of destiny and obstinacy in combination.
An officer in the Walloon Guards accosted me one day as I was walking by myself just outside the town. He begged me in the most polite manner to excuse him if he spoke on a matter which was indifferent to him but of great consequence to me.
“Speak, sir,” I replied, “I will take whatever you say in good part.”
“Very good. You are a stranger, sir, and may not be acquainted with our Spanish manners, consequently you are unaware of the great risk you run in going to see Nina every evening after the count has left her.”
“What risk do I run? I have no doubt that the count knows all about it and does not object.”
“I have no doubt as to his knowing it, and he may possibly pretend to know nothing before her, as he fears as well as loves her; but if she tells you that he does not object, she either deceives herself or you. He cannot love her without being jealous, and a jealous Spaniard . . .
“Follow my advice, sir, and forgive my freedom.”
“I am sincerely obliged to you for your kind interest in me, but I cannot follow your advice, as by doing so I should be wanting in politeness to Nina, who likes to see me and gives me a warm welcome. I shall continue to visit her till she orders me not to do so, or till the count signifies to me his displeasure at my visits to his mistress.”
“The count will never do such a thing; he is too careful of his dignity.”
The worthy officer then narrated to me all the acts of injustice which Ricla had committed since he had fallen in love with this woman. He had dismissed gentlemen from his service on the mere suspicion that they were in love with her; some had been exiled, and others imprisoned on one frivolous pretext or another. Before he had known Nina he had been a pattern of wisdom, justice, and virtue, and now he had become unjust, cruel, blindly passionate, and in every way a scandal to the high position he occupied.
All this should have influenced me, but it had not the slightest effect. I told him for politeness’ sake that I would endeavour to part from her by degrees, but I had no intention of doing so.
When I asked him how he knew that I visited Nina, he laughed and said it was a common topic of conversation all over the town.
The same evening I called on her without mentioning my conversation with the officer. There would have been some excuse for me if I had been in love with her, but as it was . . . I acted like a madman.
On the 14th of November I went to see her at the usual time. I found her with a man who was shewing her miniatures. I looked at him and found that he was the scoundrel Passano, or Pogomas.
My blood boiled; I took Nina’s hand and led her into a neighbouring room, and told her to dismiss the rogue at once, or I would go to return no more.
“He’s a painter.”
“I am well acquainted with his history, and will tell you all about it presently; but send him away, or I shall go.”
She called her sister, and told her to order the Genoese to leave the house and never to enter it again.
The thing was ‘done in a moment, but the sister told us that as he went out he had said —
“Se ne pentira” (“He shall be sorry for it”).
I occupied an hour in relating some of the injuries I had received from this scoundrelly fellow.
The next day (November 15th), I went to Nina at the usual time, and after spending two hours in pleasant converse with her and her sister I went out as the clocks were striking midnight.
The door of the house was under an arcade, which extended to the end of the street. It was a dark night; and I had scarcely gone twenty-five paces when two men suddenly rushed at me.
I stepped back, drawing my sword, and exclaiming, “Assassins!” and then with a rapid movement, I thrust my blade into the body of the nearest assailant. I then left the arcade, and began to run down the street. The second assassin fired a pistol at me, but it fortunately missed me. I fell down and dropped my hat in my rapid flight, and got up and continued my course without troubling to pick it up. I did not know whether I was wounded or not, but at last I got to my inn, and laid down the bloody sword on the counter, under the landlord’s nose. I was quite out of breath.
I told the landlord what had happened, and on taking off my great coat, I found it to be pierced in two places just below the armpit.
“I am going to bed,” I said to the landlord, “and I leave my great coat and the sword in your charge. Tomorrow morning I shall ask you to come with me before the magistrate to denounce this act of assassination, for if the man was killed it must be shewn that I only slew him to save my own life.”
“I think your best plan would be to fly Barcelona immediately.”
“Then you think I have not told you the strict truth?”
“I am sure you have; but I know whence the blow comes, and God knows what will befall you!”
“Nothing at all; but if I fly I shall be accounted guilty. Take care of the sword; they tried to assassinate me, but I think the assassins got the worst of it.”
I went to bed somewhat perturbed, but I had the consoling thought that if I had killed a man I had done so to self-defence; my conscience was quite clear.
At seven o’clock the next morning I heard a knocking at my door. I opened it, and saw my landlord, accompanied by an officer, who told me to give him all my papers, to dress, and to follow him, adding that he should be compelled to use force in case of resistance.
“I have no intention of resisting,” I replied. “By whose authority do you ask me for my papers?”
“By the authority of the governor. They will be returned to you if nothing suspicious is found amongst them.”
“Where are you going to take me?”
“To the citadel.”
I opened my trunk, took out my linen and my clothes, which I gave to my landlord, and I saw the officer’s astonishment at seeing my trunk half filled with papers.
“These are all the papers I have,” I said. I locked the box and gave the officer the key.
“I advise you, sir,” he said, “to put all necessary articles into a portmanteau.” He then ordered the landlord to send me a bed, and finally asked me if I had any papers in my pockets.
“Only my passports.”
“That’s exactly what we want,” he rejoined, with a grim smile.
“My passports are sacred; I will never give them to anyone but the governor-general. Reverence your king; here is his passport, here is that of the Count of Aranda, and here the passport of the Venetian ambassador. You will have to bind me hand and foot before you get them.”
“Be more moderate, sir. In giving them to me it is just as if you gave them to the viceroy. If you resist I will not bind you hand and foot, but I shall take you before the viceroy, and then you will be forced to give them up in public. Give them to me with a good grace, and you shall have an acknowledgement.”
The worthy landlord told me I should be wiser to give in, so I let myself be persuaded. The officer gave me a full quittance, which I put in my pocketbook (this he let me keep out of his kindness), and then I followed him. He had six constables with him, but they kept a good distance away. Comparing this with the circumstances of my arrest at Madrid, I thought myself well treated.
Before we left the inn the officer told me that I might order what meals I pleased, and I asked the landlord to let me have my dinner and supper as usual.
On the way I told him of my adventure of the night before; he listened attentively but made no comments.
When we reached the citadel I was delivered to the officer of the guard, who gave me a room on the first floor. It was bare of furniture, but the windows looked on to a square and had no iron bars.
I had scarcely been there ten minutes when my carpet bag and an excellent bed were brought in.
As soon as I was alone I began to think over the situation. I finished where I ought to have begun.
“What can this imprisonment have to do with my last night’s adventure?” I reflected.
I could not make out the connection.
“They are bent on examining my papers; they must think I have been tampering in some political or religious intrigue; but my mind is quite at ease on that score. I am well lodged at present, and no doubt shall be set free after my papers have been examined; they can find nothing against me there.
“The affair of my attempted assassination will, no doubt, be considered separately.
“Even if the rascal is dead, I do not see what they can do to me.
“On the other hand, my landlord’s advice to fly from Barcelona looks ominous; what if the assassins received their orders from some person high in authority?
“It is possible that Ricla may have vowed my ruin, but it does not seem probable to me.
“Would it have been wise to follow the landlord’s advice?
“Possibly, but I do not think so; my honour would have suffered, and I might have been caught and laid up in some horrid dungeon, whereas for a prison I am comfortable enough here.
“In three or four days the examination of my papers will have been completed, and as there is nothing in them likely to be offensive to the powers that be, they will be returned to me with my liberty, which will taste all the sweeter for this short deprivation.
“As for my passports they all speak in my favour.
“I cannot think that the all-powerful hand of the viceroy could have directed the assassin’s sword; it would be a dishonour to him, and if it were so, he would not be treating me so kindly now. If it were his doing, he must have heard directly that the blow had failed, and in that case I do not think he would have arrested me this morning.
“Shall I write to Nina? Will writing be allowed here?”
As I was puzzling my brains with these reflections, stretched on my bed (for I had no chair), I heard some disturbance, and on opening my window I saw, to my great astonishment, Passano being brought into the prison by a corporal and two soldiers. As he was going in, the rascal looked up and saw me, and began to laugh.
“Alas!” I said to myself, “here is fresh food for conjecture. The fellow told Nina’s sister that I should be sorry for what I had done. He must have directed some fearful calumny against me, and they are imprisoning him so as to be sure of his evidence.”
On reflection, I was well pleased at the turn affairs had taken.
An excellent dinner was set before me, but I had no chair or table. The deficiency was remedied by the soldier who was in charge of me for the consideration of a duro.
Prisoners were not allowed to have pen and ink without special permission; but paper and pencils were not included under this regulation, so my guard got them for me, together with candles and candlesticks, and I proceeded to kill time by making geometrical calculations. I made the obliging soldier sup with me, and he promised to commend me to one of his comrades who would serve me well. The guard was relieved at eleven.
On the fourth day the officer of the guard came to me with a distressed look, and told me that he had the disagreeable duty of giving me some very bad news.
“What is that, sir?”
“I have received orders to transfer you to the bottom of the tower.”
“To transfer me?”
“Then they must have discovered in me a criminal of the deepest dye! Let us go at once.”
I found myself in a kind of round cellar, paved with large flagstones, and lighted by five or six narrow slits in the walls. The officer told me I must order what food required to be brought once a day, as no one was allowed to come into the ‘calabozo’, or dungeon, by night.
“How about lights?”
“You may lave one lamp always burning, and that will be enough, as books are not allowed. When your dinner is brought, the officer on duty will open the pies and the poultry to see that they do not contain any documents; for here no letters are allowed to come in or go out.”
“Have these orders been given for my especial benefit?”
“No, sir; it is the ordinary rule. You will be able to converse with the sentinel.”
“The door will be open, then?”
“Not at all.”
“How about the cleanliness of my cell?”
“A soldier will accompany the officer in charge of your dinner, and he will attend to your wants for a trifle.”
“May I amuse myself by making architectural plans with the pencil?”
“As much as you like.”
“Then will you be good enough to order some paper to be bought for me?”
The officer seemed to pity me as he left me, and bolted and barred the heavy door behind which I saw a man standing sentry with his bayonet fixed. The door was fitted with a small iron grating.
When I got my paper and my dinner at noonday the officer cut open a fowl, and plunged a fork in the other dishes so as to make sure that there were no papers at the bottom.
My dinner would have sufficed for six people. I told the officer that I should be much honoured by his dining with me, but he replied that it was strictly forbidden. He gave me the same answer when I asked if I might have the newspapers.
It was a festival time for the sentinels, as I shared my meals and my good wine with them; and consequently these poor fellows were firmly attached to me.
I was curious to know who was paying for my good cheer, but there was no chance of my finding out, for the waiter from the inn was never allowed to approach my cell.
In this dungeon, where I was imprisoned for forty-two days, I wrote in pencil and without other reference than my memory, my refutation of Amelot de la Houssaye’s “History of the Venetian Government.”
I was most heartily amused during my imprisonment, and in the following manner:
While I was at Warsaw an Italian named Tadini came to Warsaw. He had an introduction to Tomatis who commended him to me. He called himself an oculist. Tomatis used to give him a dinner now and again, but not being well off in those days I could only give him good words and a cup of coffee when he chanced to come about my breakfast-time.
Tadini talked to everybody about the operations he had performed, and condemned an oculist who had been at Warsaw for twenty years, saying that he did not understand how to extract a cataract, while the other oculist said that Tadini was a charlatan who did not know how the eye was made.
Tadini begged me to speak in his favour to a lady who had had a cataract removed by the Warsaw oculist, only to return again a short time after the operation.
The lady was blind of the one eye, but she could see with the other, and I told Tadini that I did not care to meddle with such a delicate matter.
“I have spoken to the lady,” said Tadini, “and I have mentioned your name as a person who will answer for me.”
“You have done wrong; in such a matter I would not stand surety for the most learned of men, and I know nothing about your learning.”
“But you know I am an oculist.”
“I know you were introduced to me as such, but that’s all. As a professional man, you should not need anyone’s commendation, you should be able to say, ‘Operibus credite’. That should be your motto.”
Tadini was vexed with my incredulity, and shewed me a number of testimonials, which I might possibly have read, if the first which met my eye had not been from a lady who protested to all and singular that M. Tadini had cured her of amaurosis. At this I laughed in his face and told him to leave me alone.
A few days after I found myself dining with him at the house of the lady with the cataract. She had almost made up her mind to submit to the operation, but as the rascal had mentioned my name, she wanted me to be present at a dispute between Tadini and the other oculist who came in with the dessert.
I disposed myself to listen to the arguments of the two rival professors with considerable pleasure. The Warsaw oculist was a German, but spoke French very well; however, he attacked Tadini in Latin. The Italian checked him by saying that their discourse must be conducted in a language intelligible to the lady, and I agreed with him. It was plain that Tadini did not know a word of Latin.
The German oculist began by admitting that after the operation for cataract there was no chance of the disease returning, but that there was a considerable risk of the crystalline humour evaporating, and the patient being left in a state of total blindness.
Tadini, instead of denying this statement (which was inaccurate), had the folly to take a little box out of his pocket. It contained a number of minute round crystals.
“What’s that?” said the old professor.
“A substance which I can place in the cornea to supply the loss of the crystalline matter.”
The German went off into a roar of laughter so long and loud that the lady could not help laughing. I should have liked to join them, but I was ashamed to be thought the patron of this ignorant fellow, so I preserved a gloomy silence.
Tadini no doubt interpreted my silence as a mark of disapproval of the German’s laughter, and thought to better matters by asking me to give my opinion.
“As you want to hear it,” said I, “here it is.”
“There’s a great difference between a tooth and the crystalline humour; and though you may have succeeded in putting an artificial tooth into a gum, this treatment will not do with the eye.”
“Sir, I am not a dentist.”
“No, nor an oculist either.”
At this the ignorant rascal got up and left the room, and it was decidedly the best thing he could do.
We laughed over this new treatment, and the lady promised to have nothing more to do with him. The professor was not content to despise his opponent in silence. He had him cited before the Faculty of Medicine to be examined on his knowledge of the eye, and procured the insertion of a satiric article in the news on the new operation for replacing the crystalline humour, alluding to the wonderful artist then in Warsaw who could perform this operation as easily as a dentist could put in a false tooth.
This made Tadini furious, and he set upon the old professor in the street and forced him to the refuge in a house.
After this he no doubt left the town on foot, for he was seen no more. Now the reader is in a position to understand my surprise and amusement, when, one day as I peered through the grating in my dungeon, I saw the oculist Tadini standing over me with gun in hand. But he at all events evinced no amusement whatever, while I roared and roared again with laughter for the two hours his duty lasted.
I gave him a good meal and a sufficiency of my excellent wine, and at the end a crown, promising that he should have the same treatment every time he returned to the post. But I only saw him four times, as the guard at my cell was a position eagerly coveted and intrigued for by the other soldiers.
He amused me by the story of his misadventures since he had left Warsaw. He had travelled far and wide without making a fortune, and at last arrived in Barcelona, where he failed to meet with any courtesy or consideration. He had no introduction, no diploma; he had refused to submit to an examination in the Latin tongue, because (as he said) there was no connection between the learned languages and the diseases of the eye; and the result was that, instead of the common fate of being ordered to leave the country, he was made into a soldier. He told me in confidence that he intended to desert, but he said he should take care to avoid the galleys.
“What have you done with your crystals?”
“I have renounced them since I left Warsaw, though I am sure they would succeed.”
I never heard of him again.
On December 28th, six weeks after my arrest, the officer of the guard came to my cell and told me to dress and follow him.
“Where are we going?”
“I am about to deliver you to an officer of the viceroy, who is waiting.”
I dressed hastily, and after placing all my belongings in a portmanteau I followed him. We went to the guardroom, and there I was placed under the charge of the officer who had arrested me, who took me to the palace. There a Government official shewed me my trunk, telling me that I should find all my papers intact; and he then returned me my three passports, with the remark that they were genuine documents.
“I knew that all along.”
“I suppose so, but we had reasons for doubting their authenticity.”
“They must have been strange reasons, for, as you now confess, these reasons were devoid of reason.”
“You must be aware that I cannot reply to such an objection.”
“I don’t ask you to do so.”
“Your character is perfectly clear; all the same I must request you to leave Barcelona in three days, and Catalonia in a week.”
“Of course I will obey; but it strikes me that the Catalonian method of repairing injustice is somewhat peculiar.”
“If you think you have ground for complaint you are at liberty to go to Madrid and complain to the Court.”
“I have certainly grounds enough for complaint, sir, but I shall go to France, and not to Madrid; I have had enough of Spanish justice. Will you please give me the order to leave in writing?”
“That’s unnecessary; you may take it for granted. My name is Emmanuel Badillo; I am a secretary of state. That gentleman will escort you back to the room where you were arrested. You will find everything just as you have left it. You are a free man. To-morrow I will send you your passport, signed by the viceroy and myself. Good day, sir.”
Accompanied by the officer and a servant bearing my portmanteau, I proceeded to my old inn.
On my way I saw a theatrical poster, and decided to go to the opera. The good landlord was delighted to see me again, and hastened to light me a fire, for a bitterly cold north wind was blowing. He assured me that no one but himself had been in my room, and in the officer’s presence he gave me back my sword, my great coat, and, to my astonishment, the hat I had dropped in my flight from the assassins.
The officer asked me if I had any complaints to make, and I replied that I had none.
“I should like to hear you say that I had done nothing but my duty, and that personally I have not done you any injury.”
I shook his hand, and assured him of my esteem.
“Farewell, sir,” said he, “I hope you will have a pleasant journey.” I told my landlord that I would dine at noon, and that I trusted to him to celebrate my liberation in a fitting manner, and then I went to the post office to see if there were any letters for me. I found five or six letters, with the seals intact, much to my astonishment. What is one to make of a Government which deprives a man of his liberty on some trifling pretext, and, though seizing all his papers, respects the privacy of his letters? But Spain, as I have remarked, is peculiar in every way. These letters were from Paris, Venice, Warsaw, and Madrid, and I have never had any reason to believe that any other letters had come for me during my imprisonment.
I went back to my inn, and asked my landlord to bring the bill.
“You do not owe me anything, sir. Here is your bill for the period preceding your imprisonment, and, as you see, it has been settled. I also received orders from the same source to provide for you during your imprisonment, and as long as you stayed at Barcelona.”
“Did you know how long I should remain in prison?”
“No, I was paid by the week.”
“Who paid you?”
“You know very well.”
“Have you had any note for me?”
“Nothing at all.”
“What has become of the valet de place?”
“I paid him, and sent him away immediately after your arrest.”
“I should like to have him with me as far as Perpignan.”
“You are right, and I think the best thing you can do is to leave Spain altogether, for you will find no justice in it.”
“What do they say about my assassination?”
“Why, they say you fired the shot that people heard yourself, and that you made your own sword bloody, for no one was found there, either dead or wounded.”
“That’s an amusing theory. Where did my hat come from?”
“It was brought to me three days after.”
“What a confusion! But was it known that I was imprisoned in the tower?”
“Everybody knew it, and two good reasons were given, the one in public, and the other in private.”
“What are these reasons?”
“The public reason was that you had forged your passports; the private one, which was only whispered at the ear, was that you spent all your nights with Nina.”
“You might have sworn that I never slept out of your inn.”
“I told everyone as much, but no matter; you did go to her house, and for a certain nobleman that’s a crime. I am glad you did not fly as I advised you, for as it is your character is cleared before everybody.”
“I should like to go to the opera this evening; take me a box.”
“It shall be done; but do not have anything more to do with Nina, I entreat you.”
“No, my good friend, I have made up my mind to see her no more.”
Just as I was sitting down to dinner, a banker’s clerk brought me a letter which pleased me very much. It contained the bills of exchange I had drawn in Genoa, in favour of M. Augustin Grimaldi. He now sent them back, with these words:
“Passano has been vainly endeavouring to persuade me to send these bills to Barcelona, so that they may be protested, and you arrested. I now send them to you to convince you that I am not one of those who delight in trampling down the victims of bad fortune.
“— Genoa, November 30th, 1768.”
For the fourth time a Genoese had behaved most generously to me. I was almost persuaded that I ought to forgive the infamous Passano for the sake of his four excellent fellow-countrymen.
But this virtue was a little beyond me. I concluded that the best thing I could do would be to rid the Genoese name of the opprobrium which this rascal was always bringing on it, but I could never find an opportunity. Some years after I heard that the wretch died in miserable poverty in Genoa.
I was curious at the time to know what had become of him, as it was important for me to be on my guard. I confided my curiosity to my landlord, and he instructed one of the servants to make enquiries. I only heard the following circumstance:
Ascanio Pogomas, or Passano, had been released at the end of November, and had then been embarked on a felucca bound for Toulon.
The same day I wrote a long and grateful letter to M. Grimaldi. I had indeed reason to be grateful, for if he had listened to my enemy he might have reduced me to a state of dreadful misery.
My landlord had taken the box at the opera in my name, and two hours afterwards, to everyone’s great astonishment, the posters announcing the plays of the evening were covered by bills informing the public that two of the performers had been taken ill, that the play would not be given, and the theatre closed till the second day of the new year.
This order undoubtedly came from the viceroy, and everybody knew the reason.
I was sorry to have deprived the people of Barcelona of the only amusement they had in the evening, and resolved to stay indoors, thinking that would be the most dignified course I could adopt.
Petrarch says —
‘Amor che fa gentile un cor villano’.
If he had known the lover of Nina he would have changed the line into
‘Amor che fa villan un cor gentile’.
In four months I shall be able to throw some more light on this strange business.
I should have left Barcelona the same day, but a slight tinge of superstition made me desire to leave on the last day of the unhappy year I had spent in Spain. I therefore spent my three days of grace in writing letters to all my friends.
Don Miguel de Cevallos, Don Diego de la Secada, and the Comte de la Peralada came to see me, but separately. Don Diego de la Secada was the uncle of the Countess A—— B—— whom I had met at Milan. These gentlemen told me a tale as strange as any of the circumstances which had happened to me at Barcelona.
On the 26th of December the Abbe Marquisio, the envoy of the Duke of Modena, asked the viceroy, before a considerable number of people, if he could pay me a visit, to give me a letter which he could place in no hands but mine. If not he said he should be obliged to take the letter to Madrid, for which town he was obliged to set out the next day.
The count made no answer, to everyone’s astonishment, and the abbe left for Madrid the next day, the eve of my being set at liberty.
I wrote to the abbe, who was unknown to me, but I never succeeded in finding out the truth about this letter.
There could be no doubt that I had been arrested by the despotic viceroy, who had been persuaded by Nina that I was her favoured lover. The question of my passports must have been a mere pretext, for eight or ten days would have sufficed to send them to Madrid and have them back again if their authenticity had been doubted. Possibly Passano might have told the viceroy that any passports of mine were bound to be false, as I should have had to obtain the signature of my own ambassador. This, he might have said, was out of the question as I was in disgrace with the Venetian Government. As a matter of fact, he was mistaken if he really said so, but the mistake would have been an excusable one.
When I made up my mind at the end of August to leave Madrid, I asked the Count of Aranda for a passport. He replied that I must first obtain one from my ambassador, who, he added, could not refuse to do me this service.
Fortified with this opinion I called at the embassy. M. Querini was at San Ildefonso at the time, and I told the porter that I wanted to speak to the secretary of embassy.
The servant sent in my name, and the fop gave himself airs, and pretended that he could not receive me. In my indignation I wrote to him saying that I had not called to pay my court to the secretary, but to demand a passport which was my right. I gave my name and my degree (doctor of law), and begged him to leave the passport with the porter, as I should call for it on the following day.
I presented myself accordingly, and the porter told me that the ambassador had left verbal orders that I was not to have a passport.
I wrote immediately to the Marquis Grimaldi and to the Duke of Lossada, begging them to request the ambassador to send me a passport in the usual form, or else I should publish the shameful reasons for which his uncle Mocenigo had disgraced me.
I do not know whether these gentlemen shewed my letters to Querini, but I do know that the secretary Oliviera sent me my passport.
Thereupon the Count Aranda furnished me with a passport signed by the king.
On the last day of the year I left Barcelona with a servant who sat behind my chaise, and I agreed with my driver to take me to Perpignan by January 3rd, 1769.
The driver was a Piedmontese and a worthy man: The next day he came into the room of the wayside inn where I was dining, and in the presence of my man asked me whether I had any suspicion that I was being followed.
“Well, I may be,” I said, “but what makes you ask that question?”
“As you were leaving Barcelona yesterday, I noticed three ill-looking fellows watching us, armed to the teeth. Last night they slept in the stable with my mules. They dined here to-day, and they went on three quarters of an hour ago. They don’t speak to anyone, and I don’t like the looks of them.”
“What shall we do to avoid assassination, or the dread of it?”
“We must start late, and stop at an inn I know of, a league this side of the ordinary stage where they will be awaiting us. If they turn back, and sleep at the same inn as ourselves, we shall be certain.”
I thought the idea a sensible one, and we started, I going on foot nearly the whole way; and at five o’clock we halted at a wretched inn, but we saw no signs of the sinister trio.
At eight o’clock I was at supper, when my man came in and told me that the three fellows had come back, and were drinking with our driver in the stable.
My hair stood on end. There could be no more doubt about the matter.
At present, it was true, I had nothing to fear; but it would be getting dark when we arrived at the frontier, and then my peril would come.
I told my servant to shew no sign, but to ask the driver to come and speak with me when the assassins were asleep.
He came at ten o’clock, and told me plainly that we should be all murdered as we approached the French frontier.
“Then you have been drinking with them?”
“Yes, and after we had dispatched a bottle at my expense, one of them asked me why I had not gone on to the end of the stage, where you would be better lodged. I replied that it was late, and you were cold. I might have asked in my turn, why they had not stayed at the stage themselves, and where they were going, but I took care to do nothing of the kind. All I asked was whether the road to Perpignan was a good one, and they told me it was excellent all the way.”
“What are they doing now?”
“They are sleeping by my mules, covered with their cloaks.”
“What shall we do?”
“We will start at day-break after them, of course, and we shall dine at the usual stage; but after dinner, trust me, we will take a different road, and at midnight we shall be in France safe and sound.”
If I could have procured a good armed escort I would not have taken his advice, but in the situation I was in I had no choice.
We found the three scoundrels in the place where the driver had told me we should see them. I gave them a searching glance, and thought they looked like true Sicarii, ready to kill anyone for a little money.
They started in a quarter of an hour, and half an hour later we set out, with a peasant to guide us, and so struck into a cross road. The mules went at a sharp pace, and in seven hours we had done eleven leagues. At ten o’clock we stopped at an inn in a French village, and we had no more to fear. I gave our guide a doubloon, with which he was well pleased, and I enjoyed once more a peaceful night in a French bed, for nowhere will you find such soft beds or such delicious wines as in the good land of France.
The next day I arrived at the posting-inn at Perpignan in time for dinner. I endeavoured in vain to think who could have paid my assassins, but the reader will see the explanation when we get twenty days farther.
At Perpignan I dismissed my driver and my servant, rewarding them according to my ability. I wrote to my brother at Paris, telling him I had had a fortunate escape from the dagger of the assassin. I begged him to direct his answer to Aix, where I intended to spend a fortnight, in the hope of seeing the Marquis d’Argens. I left Perpignan the day after my arrival, and slept at Narbonne, and the day after at Beziers.
The distance from Narbonne to Beziers is only five leagues, and I had not intended to stop; but the good cheer which the kindest of landladies gave me at dinner made me stop with her to supper.
Beziers is a town which looks pleasant even at the worst time of the year. A philosopher who wished to renounce all the vanities of the world, and an Epicurean who would enjoy good cheer cheaply, could find no better retreat than Beziers.
Everybody at Beziers is intelligent, all the women are pretty, and the cooks are all artists; the wines are exquisite — what more could one desire! May its riches never prove its ruin!
When I reached Montpellier, I got down at the “White Horse,” with the intention of spending a week there. In the evening I supped at the table d’hote, where I found a numerous company, and I saw to my amusement that for every guest there was a separate dish brought to table.
Nowhere is there better fare than at Montpellier. ’Tis a veritable land of Cocagne!
The next day I breakfasted at the cafe (an institution peculiar to France, the only country where the science of living is really understood), and addressed the first gentleman I met, telling him that I was a stranger and that I would like to know some of the professors. He immediately offered to take me to one of the professors who enjoyed a great reputation.
Herein may be seen another of the good qualities of the French, who rank above other nations by so many titles. To a Frenchman a foreigner is a sacred being; he receives the best of hospitality, not merely in form, but in deed; and his welcome is given with that easy grace which so soon sets a stranger at his ease.
My new friend introduced me to the professor, who received me with all the polished courtesy of the French man of letters. He that loves letters should love all other lovers of letters, and in France that is the case, even more so than Italy. In Germany the literary man has an air of mysterious reserve. He thinks he is proclaiming to all the world that he at all events is a man of no pretension, whereas his pride peeps through every moment. Naturally the stranger is not encouraged by such a manner as this.
At the time of my visit there was an excellent company of actors at Montpellier, whom I went to see the same evening. My bosom swelled at finding myself in the blessed air of France after all the annoyances I had gone through in Spain. I seemed to have become young again; but I was altered, for several beautiful and clever actresses appeared on the stage without arousing any desires within me; and I would have it so.
I had a lively desire to find Madame Castelbajac, not with any wish to renew my old relations with her. I wished to congratulate her on her improved position, but I was afraid of compromising her by asking for her in the town.
I knew that her husband was an apothecary, so I resolved to make the acquaintance of all the apothecaries in the place. I pretended to be in want of some very rare drugs, and entered into conversation about the differences between the trade in France and in foreign countries. If I spoke to the master I hoped he would talk to his wife about the stranger who had visited the countries where she had been, and that that would make her curious to know me. If, on the other hand, I spoke to the man, I knew he would soon tell me all he knew about his master’s family.
On the third day my stratagem succeeded. My old friend wrote me a note, telling me that she had seen me speaking to her husband in his shop. She begged me to come again at a certain time, and to tell her husband that I had known her under the name of Mdlle. Blasin in England, Spa, Leipzig, and Vienna, as a seller of lace. She ended her note with these words:
“I have no doubt that my husband will finally introduce you to me as his wife.”
I followed her advice, and the good man asked me if I had ever known a young lace seller of the name of Mdlle. Blasin, of Montpellier.
“Yes, I remember her well enough — a delightful and most respectable young woman; but I did not know she came from Montpellier. She was very pretty and very sensible, and I expect she did a good business. I have seen her in several European cities, and the last time at Vienna, where I was able to be of some slight service to her. Her admirable behaviour won her the esteem of all the ladies with whom she came in contact. In England I met her at the house of a duchess.”
“Do you think you would recognize her if you saw her again?”
“By Jove! I should think so! But is she at Montpellier? If so, tell her that the Chevalier de Seingalt is here.”
“Sir, you shall speak to her yourself, if you will do me the honour to follow me.”
My heart leapt, but I restrained myself. The worthy apothecary went through the shop, climbed a stair, and, opening a door on the first floor, said to me —
“There she is.”
“What, mademoiselle! You here? I am delighted to see you.”
“This is not a young lady, sir, ’tis my dear wife; but I hope that will not hinder you from embracing her.”
“I have never had such an honour; but I will avail myself of your permission with pleasure. Then you have got married at Montpellier. I congratulate both of you, and wish you all health and happiness. Tell me, did you have a pleasant journey from Vienna to Lyons?”
Madame Blasin (for so I must continue to designate her) answered my question according to her fancy, and found me as good an actor as she was an actress.
We were very glad to see each other again, but the apothecary was delighted at the great respect with which I treated his wife.
For a whole hour we carried on a conversation of a perfectly imaginary character, and with all the simplicity of perfect truth.
She asked me if I thought of spending the carnival at Montpellier, and seemed quite mortified when I said that I thought of going on the next day.
Her husband hastened to say that that was quite out of the question.
“Oh, I hope you won’t go,” she added, “you must do my husband the honour of dining with us.”
After the husband had pressed me for some time I gave in, and accepted their invitation to dinner for the day after next.
Instead of stopping two days I stopped four. I was much pleased with the husband’s mother, who was advanced in years but extremely intelligent. She had evidently made a point of forgetting everything unpleasant in the past history of her son’s wife.
Madame Blasin told me in private that she was perfectly happy, and I had every reason to believe that she was speaking the truth. She had made a rule to be most precise in fulfilling her wifely duties, and rarely went out unless accompanied by her husband or her mother-in-law.
I spent these four days in the enjoyment of pure and innocent friendship without there being the slightest desire on either side to renew our guilty pleasures.
On the third day after I had dined with her and her husband, she told me, while we were alone for a moment, that if I wanted fifty louis she knew where to get them for me. I told her to keep them for another time, if I was so happy as to see her again, and so unhappy as to be in want.
I left Montpellier feeling certain that my visit had increased the esteem in which her husband and her mother-in-law held her, and I congratulated myself on my ability to be happy without committing any sins.
The day after I had bade them farewell, I slept at Nimes, where I spent three days in the company of a naturalist: M. de Seguier, the friend of the Marquis Maffei of Verona. In his cabinet of natural history I saw and admired the immensity and infinity of the Creator’s handiwork.
Nimes is a town well worthy of the stranger’s observation; it provides food for the mind, and the fair sex, which is really fair there, should give the heart the food it likes best.
I was asked to a ball, where, as a foreigner, I took first place — a privilege peculiar to France, for in England, and still more in Spain, a foreigner means an enemy.
On leaving Nimes I resolved to spend the carnival at Aix, where the nobility is of the most distinguished character. I believe I lodged at the “Three Dolphins,” where I found a Spanish cardinal on his way to Rome to elect a successor to Pope Rezzonico.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52