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|Casanova’s Alibi||(‘Premier Magazine’ September 1914. Reprinted in|
‘Turbulent Tales’ 1946. Reprinted as ‘The Alibi’ in ‘The Fortunes of Casanova and Other Stories’ 1994) The Augmentation of Mercury (‘Grand Magazine’ March 1918)
|The Priest of Mars||(‘Grand Magazine’ April 1918)|
|The Oracle||(‘Grand Magazine’ May 1918)|
|Under the Leads||(‘Grand Magazine’ June 1918)|
|The Night of Escape||(‘Premier Magazine’ June 1917. Reprinted in|
‘The Historical Night’s entertainment’, Series I, 1917)
|The Rooks and the Hawk||(‘Grand Magazine’ July 1918)|
|The Polish Duel||(‘Grand Magazine’ August 1918)|
|Casanova in Madrid||(‘Premier Magazine’ July 1921. Reprinted in|
‘The Fortunes of Casanova and Other Stories’ 1994 as ‘The Alabaster Hand’) Post–Scriptum
Giacomo di Casanova, the greatest of Italian — perhaps of all — adventurers, was born in Venice in April of 1725, the son of an actor of the San Samuele Theatre and the lovely daughter of a Venetian cobbler, who, as a result of her marriage, became herself an actress of some note. Clever, unscrupulous, and audacious, well-endowed by nature with a good exterior, a magnetic personality and a lively wit, he chose to make the world his oyster. By temperament something of a poet, something of a philosopher, something of a soldier, and entirely a gamester in every sense, he was a rogue by accident rather than design. A doctor of canon law, he knew Horace by heart, was familiar with natural science, richly stored with unusual knowledge, and as learned in the tricks of sharpers of all degrees. He accepted all adventures that came his way, rubbed shoulders with princes, and lay down with thieves, and was equally at home in palace and hovel.
There can be little doubt — although it is not explicitly so stated in his memoirs — that it was the sight of the mast of a fruit-boat before the window of his prison that first aroused the notion in his fertile brain.
But let us begin at the beginning of this story of one of the earliest exploits of that Giacomo di Casanova who has been so aptly called the Prince of Adventurers, and whom some have accounted the very Prince of Scoundrels.
He was at the time in the eighteenth year of his age, but with the appearance of at least some five-and-twenty, extremely tall and personable, and already equipped with that air of a man of the great world which later — and coupled with his amazing impudence and undoubted talents — was to stand him in such excellent stead in the exploitation of his fellow-man.
To Casanova this was perhaps the most critical stage of his life. The career of the priesthood for which he had been intended by his mother — and for which, surely, there never lived a man less suitable — had rejected him. The seminary at Padua, in which he had been qualifying for holy orders, outraged by the wildness of his almost pagan nature, had just expelled him. He had accepted that expulsion in the spirit of philosophy for which he is so remarkable, accounting all things for the best. In this instance no doubt he was justified. He had doffed his seminarist’s cassock, replacing it by a laced coat bought at second-hand, and the steel-hilted sword of the ruffler. Thus he had returned, in the summer of that year 1743, to Venice, the city of his birth, intent upon following his destiny —sequere deum, as he puts it himself.
There he had eked out, by gaming, the slender allowance which his mother made him out of her earnings on the trestles of a forain theatre at Warsaw; and we perceive already the beginnings of that extraordinary success of his at faro and kindred games of cards — a success so constant that, in spite of his emphatic and repeated assurances, we cannot avoid a suspicion on the score of the methods he employed.
But that is by the way. His trouble came to him through one Razetta, a Venetian of some substance and importance, of whom he has many evil things to say, some of which we are disposed to credit. In what Razetta first provoked his hostility we are not permitted to perceive. But we do know that such was his hatred of the man that, although Razetta must undoubtedly have been accounted an excellent match for Casanova’s sister, our young adventurer would have none of it.
His sister dwelt — as did Casanova himself in the early days of that sojourn of his in Venice — at the house of the Abbé Grimani, the kindly old tutor appointed to the pair of them by their absent mother. At this house Signor Razetta was a constant visitor, and our shrewd exseminarist was not long in perceiving the attraction that drew him thither and in deciding that the matter must end. He began with his sister, whom he addressed in that pseudo-philosophic strain peculiar to him — if his memoirs are a faithful mirror of his utterances — a habit of speech acquired, we suppose, in the course of his preparation for a pulpit which he was, fortunately, never destined to disgrace. He reduced her to tears, he tells us — which is not in the least surprising. Indeed, we marvel that anyone should ever have listened to him without weeping. That done, he flung out after her lover, who had just taken leave of Grimani. He overtook him on the Rialto as dusk was falling. Accompanied by a servant Signor Razetta was on his way to a café in the neighbourhood where it was his habit to spend an hour or two before going home to bed.
Casanova demanded two words in private with him. Razetta — a corpulent and uncomely gentleman of some thirty years of age, deeming it as well to use civility towards the brother — and such a brother! — of the lady to whose favour he aspired, bade his lackey draw off across the bridge out of earshot.
Casanova used, as was the fashion with him, many words, and but little tact.
“It afflicts me, Signor Razetta,” said he, “that a gentleman of my condition should be reduced to the necessity of discussing with an animal of yours, so delicate a matter as his own sister. But the fault, sir, is not mine. You have been wanting — as, after all, perhaps, was but to be expected — in that fine feeling which might have saved us both from the humiliations inseparable from this interview.”
“Sir!” roared Razetta, his great face aflame. “You insult me!”
“I congratulate you upon a susceptibility to insult which I should never have suspected in a man of your deplorable origin and neglected breeding,” said Casanova. “Since it is so, you afford me some hope that we may yet understand each other without the necessity being thrust upon me of proceeding to harsher measures.”
“Not another word, sir,” blazed the other, “I will not listen to you further!” And he swung on his heel.
But Casanova took him by the shoulder. I have said that he was tall. It remains to add that he was of a prodigious strength. Razetta’s soft flesh was mangled in that iron grip, his departure arrested.
Casanova turned him about again, and smiled balefully into his empurpled face.
“It is as I feared,” he said. “Indeed until you spoke of insult I had not conceived that words could be of the least avail with you. Nor indeed was I prepared to employ with you any argument whatsoever. My sole intent was to command you never again to show your face at the Abbé Grimani’s while my sister is in residence there, and to assure you that in the event of your disobedience — a folly to which I implore you not to commit yourself — I shall be put to the necessity of thrashing you until there is not a bone left whole in your body.”
Razetta shook with blending rage and fear.
“By the Madonna!” he swore. “I go straight to the Signoria to inform the Saggio of your threats and demand his protection. You shall be laid by the heels, my fine cockerel. There is law and order in Venice, and ——”
“Alas!” Casanova interrupted, “you precipitate the inevitable.”
He raised his cane, and fell to belabouring with it the unfortunate Razetta. Razetta struggled, struck out in self-defence as best he could, and yelled to his servant.
Over the kidney stones of the bridge the man came clattering to his master’s aid. Casanova, ever gripping his victim’s shoulder, pulled him back to the foot of the bridge, where there was a gap in the parapet. Through this he flung him into the canal.
When the servant came up, our exseminarist was straightening his cravat and smoothing his ruffles. He pointed quite unnecessarily to the water where Razetta was floundering and gurgling in danger of drowning.
“You’ll find your master down there,” said he. “No doubt you will wish to fish him out for the sake of what wages he may owe you. But you would be doing humanity a nobler service if you left him where he is.” And he went home to supper, conscious that he had borne himself with infinite credit.
The sequel was, of course, inevitable. Razetta, rescued from drowning, smarting with pain and choler, went to lay his plaint before the chief notary — the Saggio della Scrittura — who was responsible for the preservation of order in the city.
Next morning Casanova awakened to find his chamber invested by officers of justice. They hauled him into a great black gondola, and so to the palace of the Signoria and the presence of the magistrate. There he found Razetta, who poured out his denunciation with a volubility marred by frequent sneezings, and Razetta’s servant, who affirmed on oath the truth of his master’s statement.
“What have you to say?” demanded the scowling Saggio of Casanova.
Casanova’s swarthy, masterful face was a study in scorn; his full red lips curled contemptuously.
“I have to say, excellency, that these villains make a mock of your credulity and abuse your justice. Let me throw light upon their motives. That rogue Razetta, there, permits himself the effrontery of paying his addresses to my sister. I have signified to him my distaste of this, and my desire that he shall set a term to it. His retort, excellency, is this false accusation, and he has bribed and suborned his servant to confirm the lies with which he has insulted you.”
That was but the beginning. His volubility was never at fault, and whatever the Church may have gained when he was expelled the seminary, there can be little doubt that she lost a famous preacher. His was a fervour that carried conviction, and he might have carried it now but for the testimony of Razetta’s back and shoulders, which were black and blue from last night’s drubbing.
The end of it was that Casanova was taken back to the black gondola. This headed towards the Lido, and brought up a half-hour later at the steps of the fort of Sant’ Andrea, fronting the Adriatic on the very spot where, annually, on the Feast of the Ascension, the bucentaur comes to a halt when the Doge goes forth to wed the sea. A year’s sojourn in this prison was the heavy penalty imposed upon Casanova in expiation of his offence against the peace of Venice.
The place was garrisoned by Albanian soldiers, brought from that part of Epirus which belonged to the most serene republic. Its governor was a Major Pelodero, by whom Casanova was amiably received and given the freedom of the entire fortress. The major, it would seem, took a lenient view of the offence which the young man was sent to expiate, and he came, no doubt, under the influence of that singular charm and personal magnetism which was one of this rogue’s chief assets. He was given a fine room on the first floor with two windows, and it was from these that he first espied the masts of those fruit-sellers’ boats, and so — after a week’s residence in the fort — came to conceive the first notion of enlisting their service to help him effect his escape.
That, of course, was no more than the first, crude, germinal and somewhat obvious idea that leapt to his mind. Another in his place might have been content to act upon it. Not so Casanova. He considered that merely to escape could, after all, profit him but little. Perforce he must remain an outlaw, a fugitive from justice, unable to show his face again in Venice without the certainty of being sent to the galleys. A door was open to him, and he were a fool not to avail himself of it. Yet he were a greater fool to avail himself of it in the crude fashion that first suggested itself. He sat down to think, and at last he discovered a way by which he might bring about his honourable enlargement, the discomfiture of Razetta, and, perhaps, his own considerable profit as well.
The result of his consideration was that when, at dawn on the morrow, the gentle splash of an oar reached him from below, he slipped from his bed, and gained the window. The single mast of a fruit barge came level with it at that moment. He thrust his head between the bar and the sill, and called softly to one of the boatmen.
“Hola, my friend! Have you any peaches?”
“Peaches? Certainly, excellency. At once!” And whilst one of the men steadied the vessel against the wall of the fort, the other swarmed up the short, stout mast with a basket on the crook of his arm.
Casanova stretched out to reach it. He emptied out the peaches on to the floor of his room, put a gold coin in the basket and so returned it to the man, who broke into protestations of gratitude at such munificence, and summoned every saint in the calendar to watch over this princely consumer of peaches.
“That,” said Casanova, indicating the shining ducat, “is a fruit culled from the Tree of Wisdom. So that you are wise you may fill your basket with the like.”
“Show me but where the tree grows, excellency!” was the fruiterer’s prompt reply.
“What would you do for ten ducats?” enquired the prisoner, and in naming that amount he named almost all the money he had in his possession.
“Anything short of murder,” replied the other, dazzled by the mention of a sum which to one of his modest estate amounted to a fortune.
Casanova pondered him, smiled and nodded.
“Be here at ten tonight,” he said. “Now go.”
Protesting that he would not fail, the boatman slithered down his mast again, and the barge moved on past the fort towards the city, all gilded now by the sun new-risen from the Adriatic.
Casanova looked at his peaches, and his first notion was to send them as a present to the governor’s wife. But he thought better of it. They might afford a trace, however slender, to what he had planned should follow. So, one by one, he dropped them into the sea.
Later that morning, as he was taking the air with Major Pelodero’s aide-decamp, he happened to leap down from one of the bastions of the fortress. As his foot touched the ground he cried out, staggered, and fell in a heap, clapping his hand to his knee. Stefani, the aide, ran immediately to his assistance.
“It is nothing,” said Casanova, and sought to rise unaided, but found the thing impossible.
He availed himself, then, of the hand solicitously held out to him, and came to his feet; or rather, to his left foot, for he found it quite impossible to put his right to the ground. He must have wrenched his knee, he declared, clenching his teeth in his effort to master the pain from which Stefani perceived him very obviously to be suffering. Then leaning heavily upon his cane, and assisted on the other side by the aide’s arm, he hobbled painfully within doors and straight to his room, where presently he was attended by the surgeon of the fort. His knee was examined, and although no swelling was visible as yet, its sensitiveness was apparent from the manner in which the patient winced under the pressure exerted by the doctor on his knee cap.
“A slight strain of the muscles,” the latter concluded. “Not very serious, although undoubtedly painful. You have had a narrow escape, sir. As it is, a few days’ rest and bandages, according to a fashion of which I possess the secret and you will be yourself again.”
Thereafter the knee was tightly bound in bandages soaked in camphorated spirits of wine, and Casanova sat for the remainder of the day with the ailing limb stretched across a chair. Major Pelodero and some other officers of the garrison, taking pity upon his helpless plight, spent a portion of the evening at cards with him; and whatever the condition of his leg, his wits had clearly suffered no damage, for despite the modesty of the points, he contrived to win a matter of six ducats from them. When they left him, towards eight o’clock, he begged that his servant might be sent to him and permitted to spend the night in his room, lest in his present crippled state he should have need of assistance.
This servant was a new acquisition of Casanova’s. He was a temporary valet, one of the soldiers of the garrison whose services the prisoner was permitted to hire for a few coppers daily. The fellow’s chief recommendation to the exseminarist lay in the fact that he had been a hairdresser before enlisting, and Casanova’s hair — as he tells us himself — required rescuing from the effects of the neglect which it had naturally suffered in the seminary. It is obvious to any reader of his memoirs that he was at all times extremely vain of his personal appearance, and it is easy to imagine how highly he valued, and how assiduously he employed, the services of this fellow.
On the present occasion it would seem that the sometime hairdresser had another quality which recommended him to his temporary master. He was a famous drunkard. Casanova, in a more than ordinarily indulgent mood, now afforded him the means to gratify his inclinations on that score. He gave him money, and bade him procure three bottles of a full-bodied Falernian from the canteen. Further, he insisted that the fellow should drink them, although I confess that “insisted” is hardly the word in which to describe such mild persuasion as he found it necessary to employ.
By half-past nine the soldier-valet was snoring most unpleasantly, reduced to a stupor. By ten o’clock the whole fort was wrapped in slumber, for strict discipline prevailed, and early hours were kept. By five minutes past ten came the splash of an oar under Casanova’s window, and but for the darkness, a mast might have been seen to come to a halt before it.
Casanova slipped from his bed and into his clothes with a nimbleness that was miraculous, and still more miraculous was the cure that appeared to have been effected; for as he crossed to the window there was no slightest sign of lameness in his agile gait. A single bar was set horizontally across the window, but there was room for a man of ordinary proportions to pass above or below it; and Casanova, though tall and strong, was of slender — almost stripling — proportions at this time of his life. He tied a sheet to the bar, twisted it into a rope, slipped through, and a moment later he was standing amid the decaying vegetable matter in the barge. There he found but one man, the fruiterer with whom he had that morning come to an understanding. He pressed five ducats into the rogue’s hand.
“The other five when the thing is done,” said he. “Now push off!”
The boatman plied his single oar, gondolier-wise in the stern, and stood off from the fort.
“Whither now, excellency?” he enquired.
“Hoist your sail,” said Casanova — for the breeze was fresh —“and steer for Venice.”
They had words, of course. The boatman had conceived that here was a simple matter of assisting a gentleman to escape from prison, and that Casanova would desire him to make for the open sea beyond the Lido, and so head for the mainland. This going to Venice was fraught with danger, and he spoke of the risk he ran of being sent to the galleys if he were caught with an evaded prisoner.
Casanova took up a stout oak cudgel that he found in the bottom of the boat. He was ever a violent man, in words and in deeds. On this occasion his threats were sufficient, especially as they were seconded by a reminder that ten ducats was a sum worth some risk.
By his directions, then, the boat came to moor at the Schiavoni. He leapt ashore, bidding the fruiterer await him there. Thence he walked quickly to San Stefano, rousing a dozing gondolier, and had himself borne to the Rialto.
It was striking eleven when he stationed himself upon the bridge to wait. It was a little before the hour at which Razetta usually returned from that obscure café which he frequented and whither commonly he was wont to go upon leaving the Abbé Grimani’s. Leaning upon the parapet, Casanova waited patiently, smiling grimly down at the black, oily waters in pleasurable contemplation of the business they were to do.
He had not very long to wait. At about a quarter-past eleven he beheld his victim emerge from one of the narrow side-streets on the right of the bridge, accompanied, as on another similar occasion, by a lackey, who now bore a lantern. Casanova quitted his position and moved down to meet him.
They came face to face at the foot of the bridge, Casanova walking in the middle of the road and receiving the full glare of the lantern as he advanced. He halted, and Razetta stared at him, first in incredulity, and then in terror.
“Do you bar my passage?” Casanova thundered truculently, affecting to suppose the other to be the aggressor, and a whirling blow of his cudgel shivered the lantern into a thousand atoms.
“Seize him!” cried Razetta to his lackey. But his lackey was deaf to the command. His hand was still tingling from the blow that had swept the lantern from it. “Body of Satan! You have broken prison! You shall go to the galleys for this!”
“You mistake me, I think,” said Casanova.
“Mistake you? Not I! You are that villain Casanova! Seize him, I say!”
“If you will insist upon hindering me I must defend myself as best I can!” replied Casanova, and he plied his cudgel.
On the occasion of their last meeting he had been armed with a slender cane capable of comparatively light punishment. But the stout oaken club he wielded tonight went near to endangering the very life of Razetta. Its smashing blows fell upon his shoulders, upon his limbs, and finally upon his head. He screamed, and his servant roared for help, until the matter ended as it had ended on that other occasion. Razetta was knocked into the canal.
Casanova flung his cudgel after him, and in a voice of thunder ordered the servant to be silent.
“Instead of squalling there go and fish him out,” he said, “so that I may have the pleasure of throwing him in yet again some other evening.”
Steps were approaching down the street by which Razetta had come. Casanova waited for no more. He flung swiftly across the bridge and down a narrow by-lane. He made a detour that brought him out at a spot where his gondola was waiting. He jumped in, and was carried back to San Stefano — the pursuit, meantime, having been arrested by the more urgent need to rescue the drowning man.
So quickly had he acted that in less than ten minutes of flinging Razetta into the water he was once more aboard the fruit barge, speeding towards the Lido and the Fort of Sant’ Andrea. Five minutes before midnight he was climbing back through the window of his prison. Another three minutes and he was in bed, considering his soldier-servant still asleep in his chair. To rouse him, Casanova flung first one boot at his head, and then the other, cursing him volubly the while, and in his loudest tones.
The fellow awoke with a yell when the heel of the second boot caught him so shrewdly on the forehead that it drew blood.
“What is it, sir? What is it?” he babbled, still half-bewildered from sleep and wine.
“What is it, you drunken dog?” roared Casanova, in a mighty passion. “Do you think you were sent hither to spend the night asleep in a chair? I suffer. My knee burns. My head throbs. I have a fever! I cannot sleep! Go, fetch the surgeon. Tell him I am in agony!”
The soldier protested that it was midnight — through the stillness of the night came the boom of the hour from St Mark’s even as he spoke — and that the surgeon would be abed. But Casanova was so fierce and bloodthirsty in his reply that the man departed at a run. He was back in five minutes, accompanied now by the surgeon in nightcap and bed-gown.
Casanova lay back moaning, his eyes had closed. The haste he had made had drenched him in a perspiration which admirably answered his present purposes, whilst his general agitation set up an irregularity in his pulse sufficient to deceive the incompetent man of medicine of the fort.
“Do you suffer?” quoth the surgeon sympathetically.
“Like the damned!” groaned Casanova, through clenched teeth. “This bed is become a bed of pain. I burn, my knee throbs; I cannot sleep. If I could but sleep!”
The surgeon went to mix a drug. On the way he roused the governor with the news that Casanova was taken seriously ill. The governor cursed Casanova and the surgeon jointly and severally for disturbing his rest and went to sleep again most unsympathetically.
Casanova swallowed the drug when it was brought him. The surgeon sat with him until he announced that he felt easier, and that, if the light were extinguished, he thought he might now be able to sleep.
In the morning he was much better. Supported by his servant and leaning upon his cane, he hobbled to breakfast in Major Pelodero’s dining-room — for the genial governor had made him free of his table — and he congratulated the surgeon in very graceful and flattering terms upon his skill, and the efficacy of his drug. His fever had entirely abated, and his knee was much less painful. The surgeon recommended care and rest for a few days yet, when he was sure that all would be well.
But it would seem that there was to be no rest for Casanova just yet.
They were still at breakfast when a soldier came with the announcement that an officer sent by the Chief Notary of Venice had just arrived at the fort. The governor went instantly to receive that envoy.
“His excellency the Saggio, sir,” said the officer, “has sent me to receive your explanation of a circumstance by which he is greatly exercised. He desires to know how it happens that news of the evasion of your prisoner, Signor Giacomo di Casanova, should have been communicated to him in the first instance by others than yourself?”
The officer’s tone was extremely frosty. Major Pelodero’s reply was of the hottest.
“What the devil may be the meaning, sir, of this impertinence? I resent your manner, and as for your news, it is as foolish as is, apparently, its bearer!”
“Sir!” cried the officer, in a very big voice.
“Bah!” The major swung on his heel. “Desire Signor Casanova to attend us here,” he bade the orderly.
The officer’s eyes grew round; his mouth itself kept them some sort of company.
“Do I understand that Signor Casanova is still here? That the report which has reached his excellency the Saggio is false?”
“You shall see!” was the peppery governor’s curt answer.
Casanova came in, hobbling and assisted. Looking from one to the other of those present, he courteously announced himself their servant. The major sneered at the officer, and waited for him to speak. The officer stared from Casanova to the major, and said nothing. It was Casanova, himself, at last, who broke the silence.
“May I hope, sir, that your presence here, and the governor’s request for my presence signify that the truth of the matters with which I am charged has at last been brought to light, and that you are come to announce me my release? Since I am suffering in health, as you may see, such news were very welcome. Though, considering my crippled condition, and that I am unable to walk without assistance, I am less vexed at the moment by my incarceration than I might be at another time.”
“I— I don’t understand!” stammered the officer.
“So I had thought,” snapped the major testily.
“Perhaps — perhaps I had better explain,” said the officer.
“I confess it is not unnecessary,” agreed the major.
Forth came the explanation. Razetta and his servant had been before the Saggio that very morning to lay a second plaint against Casanova, the details of which the officer now expounded.
“But this is incredible,” said Casanova, his face blank.
“Not merely incredible, but impossible,” said the governor, still smarting under the memory of the tone the officer had taken at the outset of their interview.
“Would it not be best that I should go before the Saggio at once, sir?” said Casanova.
It was, of course, the only thing to do. The prisoner accompanied the officer back to Venice, and with them went the governor, the surgeon, and Casanova’s servant.
Casanova’s arrival in such company at the palace of the Signory surprised the Saggio as much as his appearance in the fort had surprised the Saggio’s envoy.
Casanova bowed as gracefully as his crippled condition would permit him, a twinge of pain crossing his features as he did so. The Saggio was solicitous, and ordered a chair to be set for him. He sank into it gently, assisted by the surgeon and the governor, his leg stretched stiffly in front of him. Then he made one of his famous speeches to the bewildered magistrate.
Somewhere in his voluminous memoirs he protests that a gentleman should never have recourse to anything but the truth save only when he deals with rogues, with whom it would be unavailing. It would seem to follow that he had a good many dealings with such rogues in his time, and that he took the liberty of placing the Saggio himself in that category.
“I understand, excellency,” he said, “that it is alleged by Signor Razetta and his servant that last night, near the bridge of the Rialto, at about midnight, I fell upon him with a cudgel, belaboured him, and flung him again into the canal — all, in fact, as precisely as before.”
The Saggio nodded without interrupting, and Casanova proceeded, his bold black eyes full upon the other’s countenance.
“When last before your excellency I had the honour to inform you that your credibility was being abused, and your high office mocked by those two villains. It is not for me to blame your excellency for having been their dupe. They were two, and I was but one; and the law — of which you are so exalted and worthy an administrator — runs that the testimony of two persons must outweigh that of one. But there is another justice more discerning and far-reaching than that human justice of which your excellency is so noble and shining a dispenser. That justice, it would appear, has led these villains to overreach themselves and betray their falsehood. If your excellency’s renowned perspicuity should ever plumb the depths of this infamy, it will, I have no doubt, be discovered that Signor Razetta, misled by some false rumour that I had broken prison, has come to you with this fresh lie that he might thus spur you on to my recapture.”
“And yet, sir,” the Saggio interrupted, “Messer Razetta’s condition and the testimony of several other witnesses prove beyond all doubt that he was most cruelly beaten and thrown into the canal.”
“Since that is so, I can but suppose that he is in error — an error quickened by his malice. I do not need to plead my case today. The facts plead for me more eloquently and irrefutably than would be possible to any words of mine. Not only — as your excellency sees — have I not broken prison, but I have been crippled these four-and-twenty hours, unable to walk without assistance. If more were necessary, this good fellow here, who tended me all night, can inform your excellency that precisely at the hour in which I am accused of having committed this offence on the Rialto I was in bed at Sant’ Andrea, in extreme pain and beset by fever. Further this learned doctor will tell you that, summoned by my servant, he came to ease my sufferings at that hour; and the governor here will add that he was informed of my condition at the time. Never in all the history of justice was an accused man furnished with so complete an alibi. I leave it to your excellency’s acute penetration to lay bare the truth of this affair.”
The Saggio heard the other three in turn, each and all of them emphatically bearing out Casanova’s statement.
“It is enough,” he said in the end. “It is but logical to assume that, whatever the motives that may have actuated him, since Messer Razetta was mistaken in his assailant last night, he must similarly have been mistaken before.”
“Mistaken!” quoth the rogue Casanova, with a wry smile.
The Saggio made him no reply. He took up a pen, and wrote rapidly.
“You will be restored to liberty at once, sir,” he announced, “and Signor Razetta shall be dealt with. You are free to return home.”
But Casanova had not yet quite reached the end of his rascally purpose.
“I go in such dread of the rancour of that villain Razetta,” said he, “that I will implore your excellency to afford me the State’s protection until I am restored to such vigour as will enable me to protect myself. I shall be eternally grateful for your permission to return with the major to Sant’ Andrea until my knee is completely mended — a matter of a week or so, as the doctor here informs me.”
His excellency graciously gave his consent to this, and would have thereupon have dismissed them but that still Casanova had not done.
“I most respectfully submit to your excellency that some amend is due to me for what I have suffered morally and physically: the indignity, extremely painful to a man of my sensitive honour; the duress in which I have been kept; and finally my present crippled condition, arising directly out of my imprisonment.”
The Saggio frowned.
“The State, sir ——” he was beginning coldly.
“Ah, sir, your indulgence!” Casanova interrupted him. “It is not from the State that I suggest any amend should come. It is not the fault of the State that these things have come to pass. The fault is entirely Razetta’s, and I submit — most respectfully and humbly — that it is from Razetta should proceed the adequate compensation which I solicit.”
The Saggio reflected.
“It is but just,” he agreed at last. “At what sum do you estimate your inconvenience?”
Casanova sighed reflectively.
“It is not in ducats and sequins, excellency,” said he, “that a gentleman of my condition can estimate the damage to his honour and his body. To do so were to affront the one and the other. Not then to compensate me, for that is impossible, but to punish Razetta do I suggest that he should be mulcted in my favour to the extent of — shall we say? — a hundred ducats.”
The magistrate pursed his lips. The sum was heavy.
“I should say,” he answered deliberately, “that fifty ducats were a just fine.”
“Your excellency is the best judge,” said Casanova, with angelic submission. “Fifty ducats be it then — to teach him the way of truth and honesty.”
Thus ended the matter, in spite of all that Razetta had to say, which was a deal, and all of it so offensive and profane that it confirmed the Saggio in his conviction that he was dealing justly.
With the fifty ducats Casanova set up a faro bank, and prospered so well that in the end Venice became dangerous for him, and he was compelled to seek fresh pastures for his splendid talents.
THE AUGMENTATION OF MERCURY
I warn you at the outset not to take him for a vulgar rogue. A rogue he was undoubtedly, but vulgar never. Himself, for all his frankness, he would not admit even so much. He discriminates finely. Indeed, as a splitter of hairs Casanova is unrivalled among all those who have made philosophy. “The honest ruse,” he says somewhere in the course of his voluminous memoirs, “may be taken to be the sign of a prudent spirit. It is a virtue, true, which resembles rascality. But he who cannot in case of need exercise it with dignity is a fool.”
Lest even after this warning you should be disposed to pass a harsh judgement upon the exploit I am about to relate, let me make clear the desperate position in which he found himself.
He had embarked at Venice for Ancona two days ago with fifty gold sequins in his pocket. And in a cellar at Chiozza — the first port of call — he had been so soundly drubbed at faro that he had lost not only that fifty, but a further thirty sequins yielded by the sale of his trunk of clothes.
Disconsolate, and very hungry — not having tasted food for four-and-twenty hours — he sat now upon a bale of cordage in the vessel’s waist, reckoning up his assets.
Besides the semi-clerical but becoming garments in which he stood, he was possessed of a handsome figure, an iron constitution, an effrontery that was proof against all things, a doctor’s degree in canon law, some very considerable learning for his eighteen years, a remarkable histrionic talent inherited from his parents, both of whom had achieved some renown upon the stage, and a letter of introduction to the Bishop of Martorano in Calabria, who was to advance him in the ecclesiastical career to which he was destined.
Casanova’s tastes, heaven knows, were far from ecclesiastical. He had wished to study medicine, having indeed a certain taste for chemistry, and a perception that of all professions medicine offers the greatest scope to empiricism. But his mother, now a considerable actress in Dresden, and those whom she had made responsible for his education, had insisted that he should study not merely law, but canon law, and that he should take holy orders. He submitted in obedience to the sequere deum of the Stoics, which he had taken for his own motto; and as you behold him now upon the threshold of his career, you shall judge how justified were the instincts that warned him that he was as little likely in the end to become a priest as a physician.
He sat there on his bale of cordage, lugubriously looking out across the sunlit waters to the receding coast of Istria. Despite the genial warmth of the day — for it was August, of 1743 — he was shivering with cold from lack of nourishment.
A shuffling step approached him. A voice deep and harsh, yet vaguely solicitous, enquired:
“Are you ill, sir?”
He turned slowly to survey a tall, vigorous young Franciscan with a coarsely pleasant countenance, whose tonsured head was fringed with tufts of coarse red hair. Small, dark, inquisitive eyes met Casanova’s bold magnetic glance.
“I am troubled,” he answered shortly.
“Troubled?” quoth the friar. “I have medicine here that will dispel trouble — a capon, sausages, a bottle of good wine, and my own company if you’ll suffer it.” And out of one of the amazing sack-like pockets of his habit he produced the articles he named.
Casanova frowned, considering him. The invitation came so pat upon his urgent need. Had the shaveling been spying upon him? And if so what profit did the fellow look to make? This misanthropical suspicion proceeded from a cynicism newly begotten of his Chiozza adventure. Still his need was urgent.
Rising, he accepted the invitation, but with condescension rather than gratitude. Already at that early age he had some of the lordly airs that were later to distinguish him, a gift of accepting favours with all the appearance of bestowing them.
Together they sat down to dine, and as they ate and drank, Casanova’s dignity lessening, he listened more and more affably to the garrulous confidences of the friar. Brother Stefano — as he was called — displayed with ostentation treasures of bread and wine, cheese, sausages and a ham which he had received as alms in Orsara, and with which the unfathomable pockets of his habit were now cumbered.
“Do you receive money as well?” quoth Casanova, genuinely interested.
“God forbid!” cried the friar. “It is against the rules of our glorious order. Besides,” he added slyly, “if I asked for money what should I receive? A few coppers, of which you behold here ten times the value. St Francis, believe me, was a shrewd fellow.”
To this he added an invitation, which Casanova was but too willing to accept, that for the two days remaining of the journey he should allow himself to be provided for by St Francis.
Not until they had landed at Ancona, and found themselves lodged in the lazaret with the prospect of twenty days of quarantine imposed upon all who came just then from Venice, did Casanova discover the motive he had been seeking of the friar’s spontaneous generosity. He was requesting for himself a room with a bed, table, and some chairs, agreeing to pay the hire on the expiry of the term, when Stefano sidled up to him.
“Sir,” he said, “if of your benevolence you would allow me to share your room, I should require only a truss of straw for my bed.”
Casanova agreed, and perceiving now how they might inter-aid each other he took the friar fully into his confidence, telling him that he was going to Rome, where a secretarial position awaited him, but that until he got there he would be in need of everything. He had expected acquiescence, but hardly the eager gladness with which Stefano received the news.
“Count on me,” he said. “Provided you will write some letters for me, I will see you safely as far as Rome at the expense of St Francis.”
“But why don’t you write your own letters?” wondered Casanova.
“Because I can write only my own name. True, I can write it with either hand, but what advantage is that?”
Casanova stared at him as at a portent. “You amaze me,” said he. “I thought you were a priest.”
“I’m not a priest; I’m a friar. I say Mass. Consequently I can read. St Francis, whose unworthy child I am, could not read, which is why he never said Mass. But since you can write, you shall write to the persons whose names I will give you, and I promise you we shall have enough to feast upon to the end of the quarantine.”
Here Casanova perceived the second chief reason why Stefano had befriended him — that he might act as his secretary during those twenty days in which the friar, being unable to leave the lazaret, must have gone hungry without somebody to discharge this office. Forthwith he wrote eight letters — eight because, according to the oral tradition of the order, when a Franciscan shall have knocked at seven doors and been refused he is to knock at the eighth with confidence of response. These letters, dictated by the friar, were interlarded with scraps of Latin, which he ordered Casanova to supply, and packed with foolish and unnecessary falsehoods. Thus, to the Superior of the Jesuits Stefano bade him say that he was not writing to the Capuchins because they were atheists, which was the reason why St Francis could not endure them.
“But that is nonsense,” cried Casanova. “For in the time of St Francis there were no Capuchins or friars of any kind.”
“How do you know that?” quoth Stefano.
“It’s a matter of history.”
“History!” snorted the friar. “What has history to do with religion? You’re very ignorant for a doctor. Did they teach you no better than that at Padua? Write as I tell you, and don’t argue with me.”
Casanova shrugged and wrote, persuaded that such letters would be ignored as those of a knave and a madman. But he was mistaken. They were deluged with hams and capons, sausages and eggs, fresh meat and wine, and thus those three weeks in the lazaret of Ancona were a time of plenty.
At the end of the quarantine Casanova repaired to a minorite convent, where the further funds for the journey to Rome were to be supplied to him. He received there, together with the Bishop of Martorano’s address, the sum of ten sequins. Out of these he paid for the hire of the room and furniture at the lazaret, bought himself a handsome long coat and a pair of strong shoes, and set out for Rome in Stefano’s company.
It was an eight days’ journey on foot, but not as the friar understood it. Stefano’s notion was to travel three miles a day, at which rate they would have been two months upon the road. Casanova being now sufficiently in funds to defray his travelling expenses, said frankly that this rate of travelling would not suit him, and proposed to leave the friar. But the friar would not be left.
“Carry my cloak,” said he, “and I will walk at least twice the distance daily. Thus St Francis shall defray us both.”
Our young doctor agreed, taking Stefano’s cloak, which was a mule’s load, its pockets stuffed as they were with victuals of all descriptions, sufficient for a fortnight.
Sweating and toiling along the dusty road under this burden, Casanova developed a natural curiosity.
“When travelling,” he asked, “why don’t you seek food and shelter in the convents of your order?”
Stefano looked at him owlishly, and winked.
“Because I am not a fool,” said he. “In the first place I shouldn’t be received because, being a fugitive, I have no written obedience card, such as they always insist upon seeing. I might even risk being sent to prison, for they are an evil lot of dogs. In the second place, it is never as comfortable in a convent as in the house of a benefactor.”
“Why are you a fugitive?” asked Casanova, and knew that the unintelligible, incoherent answer he received about imprisonment and escape was all compounded of falsehood.
He was growing a little weary of this harlequin of a Franciscan, and it is small wonder that in the end they quarrelled. The thing began on the following morning. Stefano led the way to a handsome house standing back from the high-road near Macerata. There was a small chapel attached to it, arguing piety on the part of the inhabitants, and acting as a beacon to the friar.
He strode boldly in, pronouncing a sonorous benediction, which brought the family clustering about him to kiss his unwashed hand. Then the mistress of the house invited him to say Mass, and hearing him consent, Casanova clutched his arm in horror.
“Have you forgotten that we have breakfasted?” he whispered.
“That’s none of your business,” growled the friar. “Be quiet.”
The Mass was said, and Casanova’s amazement and disgust were increased to perceive that Stefano was very indifferently acquainted with the ritual. But there was worse to follow. The friar went to the confessional, and summoned the family to confession. And there the evil fellow took it into his head to refuse absolution to the youngest daughter, a lovely child of thirteen, whose budding beauty was moving Casanova to tenderness.
From his earliest years he had been inordinately susceptible to the charms of the other sex, and that susceptibility, no doubt, was one of the chief factors in his eventual decision to abandon the ecclesiastical career.
Stefano scolded the child publicly, threatening her with hell-torment, until bewildered and agonized by shame she ran to shut herself up in her room.
The event threw a gloom over the repast that followed, spread expressly to regale this holy man, and it profoundly angered Casanova, the more because the victim of that loutish caprice was so sweet and lovely.
“You infamous, ignorant impostor!” he denounced the friar, to the horror and amazement of all present, his dark eyes blazing, the veins of his temples swollen. “You impudent lout! How dared you so treat that child?”
Stefano looked at him, his little eyes very evil. But he exercised sufficient self-control to render his voice meek and gentle.
“I forgive your heat, my son. I understand your feelings. They are a snare set for you by the devil. Beware of them.”
“Beware of me, rather,” roared Casanova, “for I propose to thrash you into a state of decency. On what grounds did you refuse that child absolution?”
Stefano cast his eyes to heaven in afflicted protest.
“Ignorant and heedless youth,” he answered sadly, “what are you saying? Are you bidding me betray the secret of the confessional? Are you?” His voice swelled up on a note of sudden wrath.
Casanova looked round, and everywhere met eyes that disapproved of a provocation so strange and so distressing. It was enough. He got up, and went out without another word.
A couple of hours later, as Stefano was slowly trudging along the road, Casanova surged suddenly out of a hedge before him.
“Ha! Ha!” laughed Stefano, full of the mirth that excess of wine engenders. “We meet again, as I expected.”
“We meet to part,” said Casanova, who had been nursing his anger.
“Why to part?” bubbled the friar.
“Because I’ll not travel further with a rogue, lest I be condemned with him to the galleys.”
Stefano’s round genial face grew sinister. He gripped his staff more firmly. “You say that to me?” he growled.
“I do. You are an unwashed scoundrel, ripe for gaol.”
“And what are you, my pretty gentleman? A needy beggar, who have been living upon me for a month.”
For answer Casanova soundly boxed the friar’s ears. The friar swung his heavy staff, and caught the young doctor a blow across the head that sent him reeling into the ditch.
When Casanova recovered consciousness it was approaching noon. He rose from the depths of the dry ditch into which he had rolled, the grasses of which had concealed him from the eyes of wayfarers, and collected his wits. His head was aching villainously, and under the lustrous chestnut hair which he wore clubbed, and in which he took great pride, he discovered a lump as large as a pigeon’s egg — the Franciscan’s parting gift.
He felt that he had not come as well out of the encounter as he intended. But he took comfort in the thought that he was well rid of an evil travelling companion, who had served his turn. After all, he had seven gold sequins in his pocket, enough to carry him with ease and dignity to his patron, the Bishop, who would place him beyond the reach of all anxiety.
The distance to Macerata was not far — a mile or so — and there he would dine well, and sleep between clean sheets, setting out refreshed upon the morrow. He picked up his hat, and stepped out whistling. Suddenly he checked in his stride. His whistling stopped. His hands were racing and fumbling through the pockets of his handsome coat. Conviction followed swiftly upon apprehension. His purse containing the seven sequins was gone.
Solemnly, terribly, and most uncanonically did the pale lips of our young doctor of canon law anathematize the scoundrelly Franciscan who had picked his pocket. Then he sat down on a mound of stones by the roadside to contemplate his case. It was desperate indeed. Save for a few pieces of silver and some copper paoli in his breeches pocket, which the friar had missed, he was utterly destitute. Regretfully he thought of the good dinner and the good bed he had promised himself. And then in rebellion against fate he decided that, come what might, dinner and bed should not be forgone. To pay for them he would, if necessary, pawn his handsome coat. An hour later he was striding across the threshold of Macerata’s best inn, mustering those almost unsuspected histrionic gifts of his to explain away his lack of luggage.
“I am the Bishop of Martorano’s secretary,” he announced, “travelling to Rome. Has my servant arrived?”
“Your servant, excellency?” quoth the landlord eagerly, impressed by the tall figure and boldly handsome face, the luxuriant well-coiffed hair, and the handsome coat — a compromise between clericalism and modishness.
“I sent him ahead of me in the chaise. I needed exercise, and preferred to walk the last two miles.”
The landlord understood. The gentleman’s dusty legs and shoes were at once explained. He shook his head.
“Not here,” he was beginning. Then he checked. “Would it be a yellow chaise?” he asked.
Guessing the drift of the question, Casanova decided that the chaise must have been a yellow one. It was a common enough colour after all.
“A yellow chaise drove through the town at a great rate a half-hour ago. The postilion, excellency, was in green.”
“In green — that’s it. And he drove on, do you say? He drove on?”
The landlord admitted it, and grew terrified before Casanova’s tempestuous anger. Roundly he cursed all valets, and all postilions. Had he not told them plainly enough that this was the inn he would honour with his patronage? He could forgive the valet for misunderstanding him, the valet being not merely a Frenchman, but an idiot as well. But the postilion was an Italian, of Ancona — that is, if the inhabitants of Ancona were Italian, a fact which he began seriously to doubt. Himself he was a Venetian, he announced in passing, secretary, he repeated, to the Bishop of Martorano. Explosively, he desired the host to tell him what he was to do.
“Your excellency will pardon the suggestion that you might have fared worse. This is a comfortable house, and my beds . . .”
“I know, I know,” Casanova broke in impatiently. “Give me a room, and if those sons of dogs come back with the chaise whilst my anger endures, I’ll crack their empty skulls one against the other.”
It was a piece of acting that earned him more than he had reckoned. His loud, angry voice had drawn people from the common room, and indeed from every part of the inn. Now among the guests there was a Greek trader, distinguished by his Oriental gabardine, who had pricked up his ears when our gentleman announced himself a Venetian. The citizens of the Republic were notoriously wealthy and lavish — which was precisely why Casanova had mentioned his origin — and the Greek made wealthy, lavish gentlemen his prey.
It would be an hour or so later, when Casanova, washed and brushed, showed himself once more below, that our Greek approached him.
“I think, sir,” he ventured, “that I heard you say you are a Venetian.”
Casanova flashed him a sidelong glance, and wondered.
“I certainly said so. What you may have heard is your own affair,” he answered dryly.
But a trader with business to do is not easily disconcerted.
“I am myself a subject of the Republic,” the Greek announced, “and so in some sort your excellency’s compatriot. I am from Zante. My name is Panagiottis, and if I can serve you in the inconvenience caused you by . . .”
Under Casanova’s cold stare the trader spread his hands, and left the offer there. But, persistent of purpose, he remained and chattered amiably awhile, Casanova compelling him at first to pursue a monologue. Little by little, however, the young doctor’s manner became less frosty. Panagiottis began by dilating upon the glories of Venice, passed on to deplore at length the inconvenience of travel, and then by way of manners and customs adroitly reached his objective, the comparative merits of Italian and foreign wines. Finding his listener interested, he touched at last the very bull’s eye of the matter.
“After all,” he said, “and with all due praise to Tuscan vintages, there are wines of the Levant that stand almost unrivalled. Now I have with me some Muscadine — some of which, by the way, I could sell you cheaply — which is of rare excellence.”
“I might buy some, if it is as good as you say,” said Casanova grandly. “I know something of wine.”
The Greek rubbed his hands. “So much the better. I have some excellent Cerigo, some wine of Samos, and some Cephalonian. If you will do me the honour to dine with me you shall have an opportunity of tasting them.”
“Fata viam inveniunt,” said Casanova to himself. Here had fate provided him with a dinner. But it was only when the Greek had used polite insistence that Casanova yielded, gracefully condescending.
It is inconceivable that he could have had any intention of exploiting the Greek beyond this matter of dinner. What followed was entirely unpremeditated. The repast served in the Greek’s private room proved excellent, and the Cerigo was quite the best that Casanova had ever tasted.
The Greek’s conversation was naturally of his trade. He mentioned that he had acquired a considerable quantity of minerals: vitriol, cinnabar, antimony, and a hundred quintals of mercury. At the mention of mercury Casanova bethought him of an amalgam of bismuth and lead, by which that mineral can be augmented by one quarter. I have said that he was interested in chemistry. It occurred to him that if the Greek were not acquainted with this mystery here was a chance of profit.
“These minerals are for sale?” he enquired.
“Of course; but they would hardly interest you.”
“On the contrary, I might buy some mercury.” He smiled darkly. “I do a curious trade in mercury myself,” he added.
Panagiottis became inquisitive, but Casanova was not disposed to gratify him. Address was necessary. The mere offer to sell the secret would lead to nothing. He must astonish Panagiottis by effecting the augmentation, laugh at the Greek’s amazement when manifested, and so lure him on to desire the secret for himself.
At the end of dinner Panagiottis invited him to inspect the wares displayed in an adjoining room. They made up a heterogeneous collection: flasks of Levantine wines, assorted Eastern fabrics and metal ware, minerals and dried fruits, and four large flagons containing each 10lb of mercury. Casanova purchased one of these flagons — on credit, of course, since he was without the means to pay for it — and took it to his room.
He went out to find the only druggist in Macerata, and laid out most of his slender stock of silver and copper on the purchase of two and a half pounds each of bismuth and lead. Returning to the inn, he procured himself two empty bottles, proceeded to make his amalgam, and decanted it into these.
That evening he invited Panagiottis to sup with him in his own room. Before sitting down he placed on the table the Greek’s mercury, divided into two bottles, and from these he now refilled the original flagon, observing with secret delight the merchant’s mystification at sight of 5lb of fine mercury remaining over.
Answering Panagiottis’ insistent questions with a laugh, Casanova called the inn boy, and handing him the quarter flagon of mercury bade him go and sell it to the druggist. The boy returned with fifteen carlini, which Casanova pocketed. In itself that sum would more than suffice to pay Casanova’s score at the inn. But he aimed much further.
The Greek begged for the return of his flagon, which was worth sixty carlini, and Casanova at once restored it to him, with laughingly-expressed thanks for having allowed him so easily to earn fifteen carlini.
Then he called for supper, sat down, and talked of other things. But Panagiottis was visibly preoccupied, and he betrayed alarm when his host announced that he would be leaving early on the morrow, travelling post if necessary until he overtook his chaise and servant.
“Why don’t you stay tomorrow, and earn a further forty carlini on the other three flagons?” he asked unsteadily.
Casanova shrugged. “I am in no need of money. I augmented one flagon merely to amuse and surprise you.”
Panagiottis’ glance was laden with envy and wonder.
“You must be very wealthy,” he said.
“I should be were it not that I am working at the augmentation of gold, which is a very costly operation.”
“But where is the need? The augmentation of mercury should suffice any man. Tell me, what does the augmentation cost?”
“One and a half per cent.”
“And would that which you have increased be susceptible of further increase?”
“Oh, no. If that were so, it would be an inexhaustible source of wealth.”
And thereupon, to play out his part, Casanova rose, called the landlord, paid for the supper, and ordered a carriage and a pair of horses for eight o’clock the next morning. Bidding good-night to the chagrined and reluctant Panagiottis, and promising to send him an order for a barrel of Muscadine later, Casanova went to bed, convinced that the Greek would not close his eyes all night.
He was in the act of dressing next morning when Panagiottis invaded his chamber, after due apology. Casanova received him cordially, and invited him to share his morning coffee, which stood steaming on the table.
Panagiottis came straight to business. “I have come to ask you if you could be induced to sell me your secret,” he announced.
“Why not?” was the genial answer. “When next we meet . . .”
“When next we meet?” cried the Greek in panic. “But when will that be?”
“Why, when you will. Should you come to Rome . . .”
Again Panagiottis interrupted. He was trembling with excitement.
“But why not now? Why not now?”
“Now?” Casanova stared. “My horses are harnessed. I am expected in Rome, and already I have delayed upon the journey.”
“But surely no great delay can be entailed in what I ask.”
He was in dread lest fortune should elude him after being brought within his reach.
Casanova became grave.
“That depends,” said he. “My secret is expensive and, after all, I do not really know you.”
Standing, he sipped his coffee calmly.
The Greek sat down. The truth is that his legs were yielding under him. Beads of perspiration gleamed on the arch of his heavy, pendulous nose — the brand of the acquisitive. He drew his gabardine about his slender shanks, and stroked his thinning black hair with an unsteady hand.
“But these are not reasons for delay,” he protested in distress. “I am sufficiently well-known here, and my credit is good. Do you need an earnest of it?”
A gesture of lofty deprecation was Casanova’s only answer.
“How much would you want for your secret?” Panagiottis asked point-blank.
Casanova’s answer was as prompt as it was calm.
“Two thousand gold ounces.”
At the mention of so vast a sum the Greek gasped like a fish. Casanova smiled and reached for his hat.
“You see,” he said. “Besides, it is striking eight, and my horses are waiting.”
Panagiottis swallowed audibly. “I will p-pay it,” he stammered, “provided that I, myself, augment the 30lb I have here with the ingredients you shall name, which I myself shall purchase.”
“The condition is natural,” Casanova agreed. “But a contract would be necessary.”
“You shall have it, sir. It is what I should myself desire.”
“But it will need time, and my horses ——”
“Put off the journey for an hour or two,” the Greek besought him.
Casanova took a turn as if considering.
“Sir, sir, your hesitation wounds me!” burst from his agonized companion. “Look!” He snatched up a pen and wrote swiftly. “Take this. The banker de Laura lives a hundred yards from here. Present it and ask him for information of my credit.”
Casanova took the note. It was draft running as follows:
Pay the bearer at sight fifty gold ounces for account of Panagiottis.
He smiled almost wistfully. “Really,” he was beginning, “so much is not necessary to ——”
“Take it, please — please. I insist.”
Casanova went, came back, and placed the fifty ounces on the table.
“Your banker’s account of you is quite satisfactory,” said he. “To oblige you — since you are so set on it — I have bidden the landlord put back the horses until noon, so that we may conclude the transaction.” And drawing up a chair, he sat down facing the Greek.
Panagiottis expressed his relief by a sigh, and insisted that as a preliminary Casanova should pocket the fifty ounces. Casanova did so, under protest, and they proceeded to draw up the contract. It ran as follows:
I agree to pay Messer Giacomo di Casanova the sum of two thousand gold ounces when he shall have taught me how and by what ingredients I may augment mercury by one quarter, without deterioration of its quality, equal to that which he sold at Macerata in my presence on the 25th of August, 1743.
Having signed it, Panagiottis delivered it to Casanova, together with a bill of exchange for two thousand ounces on a Roman banker, which, if necessary, he said, de Laura would discount at once upon a word from himself. So much being concluded, Casanova proceeded to impart the secret, naming the ingredients — lead and bismuth, the first which by its nature amalgamates with mercury, the second which restores its fluidity, impaired by the amalgamation.
The Greek went off to perform the operation, on the understanding that they should dine together, when he would report upon the results. He returned at noon, a pensive, saddened man, which was quite as Casanova had expected. Nevertheless he hailed his pupil heartily.
“Well?” he cried.
Panagiottis shook his head. “It is not well at all,” he said gloomily. “The augmentation is made, but the mercury is not perfect.”
Casanova’s tone and manner betrayed impatience. “It is equal to that which I sold yesterday at Macerata, as the contract stipulates.”
“Ah, but the contract also says that there must be no deterioration of quality. And you must confess that the quality has deteriorated. So true is this that no further augmentation is possible.”
“Did I not tell you so at the beginning?” Casanova reminded him. “I stand by the condition of equality to that which I sold yesterday. You will force me to go to law with you, and the case will go against you.” He displayed a nice blend of regret and indignation. “Should you happen to win, you may congratulate yourself upon having obtained my secret for nothing — though it will be worthless then to both of us, since it will be a secret no longer. I did not dream you capable of resorting to such trickery.”
Panagiottis rose, indignant. “Sir, I am incapable of trickery, or of taking an unfair advantage of any man.”
“Have you learnt my secret or have you not?” demanded Casanova. “And should I have imparted it to you without the contract? Sir, the world will laugh, and lawyers will make money out of us. I am distressed to think that I should so easily have been deluded. Meanwhile, here are your fifty ounces.”
And he smacked the money on the table bravely, though inwardly fainting from terror lest Panagiottis should take it.
But Panagiottis, shamed by the reproachful gesture, indignantly refused the money, and rose to leave the room. This was a declaration of war. But Casanova smiled, confident that peace would be easily concluded.
You are not to suppose that he ever dreamed of obtaining the two thousand ounces. He had foreseen precisely such a situation as had since arisen, and he was fully prepared to moderate his pretensions very considerably. He detained Panagiottis.
“It is necessary, sir, that you should take this money,” he insisted. “It belongs to you.”
Between misery and indignation Panagiottis again refused.
“You have placed me in an impossible situation,” he protested.
“Did I invite you to buy my secret? Or did you pester me into selling what you now refuse to pay for?”
“But you must confess that it is not worth two thousand ounces.”
“Yet that is the amount in the contract you have signed.”
They sat down to argue, the Greek as before insisting upon the condition that the mercury should present no deterioration of quality, Casanova urging the condition that it should be equal to the 15lb he had sold yesterday. Thus was half an hour consumed.
“We appear,” said Casanova at length, “to have reached a deadlock which only the lawyers can resolve, and you should be as reluctant as I am to appeal to them. I will make sacrifices rather than take that course. Have you any adjustment to propose?”
Panagiottis considered. “You shall retain the fifty ounces. I will pay you an additional fifty, and you shall surrender to me the contract and the bill of exchange.”
Casanova was more than satisfied, but his face remained grave, even sorrowful. Appearances demanded that he should yield reluctantly, and he did so only at the end of arguments which endured for another hour and a half. But when he did yield it was gracefully and graciously. Having pocketed the hundred ounces, he invited Panagiottis to dine with him, and they sat down together like the best of friends, despite the Greek’s uneasy feeling that he had taken a certain unfair advantage of a too confiding young cleric. To make amends he presented Casanova at parting with a case of beautiful razors and an order on his Naples warehouse for a barrel of the Muscadine the Venetian had praised. Thereupon they embraced and parted, thoroughly pleased each with the other.
Two days later, as Casanova, travelling now in state, was approaching Cesena, his carriage overtook a group that attracted his attention. Four papal guards were conducting a big, red-haired man in the habit of a brother of St Francis. The prisoner walked dejectedly, his head sunk upon his breast, his wrists pinioned behind him.
Looking more closely at that familiar figure, Casanova recognized his sometime travelling companion, Brother Stefano. He bade the postilions slacken to a walk.
“What’s this?” he asked the leader of the guards.
“A rascally bandit who goes about disguised as a monk to rob honest folk. We heard of him at Ancona, where he had a companion who has given us the slip. But we’ve got this one at least, and he’ll go to the hulks where he belongs.”
Casanova’s eyes met Stefano’s, and he saw recognition and amazement dawning in them. In the circumstances Casanova thought it best not to mention his seven sequins.
As he was whirled away in a cloud of dust, he reflected that dishonest practices must sooner or later bring a man to the galleys, congratulated himself upon the incident which had separated him from Stefano, and reclining luxuriously in his chaise considered how — as in his own case — rectitude of behaviour is properly rewarded sooner or later.
THE PRIEST OF MARS
It was in Bologna in the spring of the year 1744, that Casanova took the great resolve to exchange his abbé‘s dress and his prospect of Holy Orders for the military coat, and the only priesthood to which his adventurous spirit could conceivably be a credit — the priesthood of Mars.
He was in his twentieth year at the time, tall, vigorous, handsome and magnetic; and to the audacity that was natural to him he gathered additional assurance from the fact that he was well-equipped with funds, having left Rome with two hundred sequins in gold and a letter of credit on Ancona for five hundred more.
He sought a tailor, and issued presently from his hands in a handsome military coat of heavy white cloth with silver lace and gold and silver shoulder knot, and a pale blue silk waistcoat descending half-way to his knees; lacquered canon boots, a rakishly looped hat displaying a black cockade, a long rapier and a long cane completed his equipment, and in this guise he paraded the town and ruffled it in the cafés of Bologna, enjoying the sensation of drawing admiring, questioning glances such as he had never attracted in his modest clerical garments.
Thus arrayed, and carrying himself with the proper degree of insolence, he reappeared in his native Venice a week later, to the scandal of all those who had seen him depart thence for Rome, and were conceiving him by now to be well on the way to politico-ecclesiastical advancement. None was more scandalized than the old patrician abbé Grimani, who had acted in some sort as his guardian; yet seeing him well supplied with funds and coming to consider his unruly nature, he ended by confessing that perhaps this young doctor of canon law had chosen wisely, and presented him with a strong recommendation to the Venetian Secretary for War. This recommendation was supported by that of Casanova’s own bold martial bearing and intrepid air. Further still, Grimani had presented him to a lieutenant in the Venetian service, who was anxious from motives of ill-health to sell his commission and prepared to take a hundred sequins for it, and the Secretary for War being informed of all this and having talked a while with Casanova, agreed that he should enter the service, acquiring the lieutenant’s commission, but on condition that he served first as an ensign with however the promise that he should be promoted lieutenant within the year.
Thus the matter was settled, and Casanova embarked on the Europa, a fast frigate of seventy-two guns, which landed him eight days later at Corfu, to the garrison of which he was appointed.
He found it an agreeable place with no lack of society, whose head was the Proveditor–General of the Republic, an officer exercising a sovereign authority, and keeping splendid state, in which he was supported by three admirals of Venice, a dozen governors of galleys, as many chiefs of the army ashore and half that number of civil officers, all of whom were Venetian nobles, and most of whom had with them their wives and families.
The office of Proveditor–General was filled by General Dolfino, a well-preserved patrician of seventy-five, ignorant, vain, obstinate and choleric, who kept open house, holding a reception every evening, and at whose table twenty-four covers were always laid for chance guests.
There was a theatre at Corfu, which was intermittently supplied with a company of comedians, and no lack of gaming houses, for no restraints were placed upon gaming, and play was inclined to run high. The faro tables proved an immediate attraction to Casanova. Although what little past experience he had of them had been disastrous, yet the instincts of play were in his blood.
It took him three months to lose some six hundred sequins, yet whatever his losses he never lost his magnificent calm. Those inherited histrionic talents of his stood him in good stead, and even when staking his last sequins, despite the agony of apprehension in his soul, he preserved a careless smile, and when they were swept away he rose with an indifferent air and a stifled yawn. He had beggared himself of all but his jewels, worth some hundred sequins, but he had not done it quite in vain. The indifference with which he lost had earned him the reputation of a beau joueur and a man of wealth, since he allowed none to guess that he had ruined himself. Now the world loves wealth and it loves good losers; when, in addition, a man is young, handsome, and witty, he will find all doors opening before him. Thus it came about that Casanova found himself high in the esteem of Corfu society.
He was still wondering how to turn this circumstance to advantage when Major Maroli, a professional gamester at whose faro bank Casanova had lost most of his money, meeting him one day, reproached him with coming no more to play.
“I am tired of losing,” said Casanova.
“Why not come and win?”
“Because it is always the bank that wins.”
“Then why not join the bank?”
Casanova stared. Maroli explained himself. His explanation was a proposal of partnership. He saw in Casanova, with his reputation for wealth, his popularity, his easy, laughing ways, his magnificent insouciance as a player, the ideal partner of a bank which was beginning to excite suspicion. Casanova desired a little while in which to consider a proposal he had instantly determined to accept.
He pawned his jewels for a hundred sequins, and with this sum acquired a partnership in the major’s bank. Thus came about his association with Maroli. He acted as croupier when the major dealt, and when he dealt himself the major performed the like office by him. Now Maroli handled the cards in a fashion that inspired terror, whilst Casanova on the contrary was always easy and gay, winning without avidity and losing without regrets, a bearing always pleasing to punters. The consequence was that Casanova came to deal oftener than Maroli, and that the bank — as the latter had shrewdly expected — increased rapidly in popularity and prosperity.
We gather that Maroli initiated him into the secrets of success. But he does not betray those secrets; in fact he does little more than hint at their existence.
“Those addicted to games of chance,” he says, “will always lose unless they know how to captivate fortune by playing with real advantages dependent upon calculation or dexterity, but independent of luck. I believe that a wise and prudent player may avail himself of the one and the other without incurring blame or without rendering it possible to impugn his honour.”
Such a wise and prudent player it is evident that Casanova now became, for he grew wealthy rapidly — prodigally spending his money with almost equal rapidity — and acquired great fame as a gamester. He saw himself now the idol of the ladies, the envied of the men, once more upon the high road to fortune. In the following September he received the honour of being appointed adjutant to the Marquis Rinolfo, the Admiral-inChief of the Galeasses — those almost obsolescent vessels with the body of frigates and the benches of galleys, each rowed in calm weather by five hundred convicts. With the appointment he took up his abode at the residence of the Marquis.
But Fortune, into whose hands he had come to abandon himself with more than Oriental fatalism, was preparing him a fall even whilst exalting him.
From Camporese, his captain, Casanova had obtained as a valet a French soldier named La Valeur, a drunken, libertine rascal whose vices Casanova overlooked in consideration of his talent as a hairdresser. Towards the middle of November La Valeur caught a chill which resulted in congestion of the lungs. Casanova sent him to hospital, and informed his captain. Four days later, happening to meet Camporese, he learnt that La Valeur was dying.
“I am afraid you will not see him again,” said the captain. “He has already received the last sacrament.”
Casanova was therefore, if grieved, not at all surprised to receive from Camporese that evening the news that the man was dead. But he was very much surprised by what accompanied the announcement.
The captain handed him a letter, a baptismal certificate, and a copper seal bearing a coat-of-arms under a ducal coronet. The letter was in French, of which Camporese had no knowledge, and he came now to beg Casanova to translate it.
“I have received it,” he said, “from La Valeur’s confessor.”
Casanova took it, marvelling, for he knew that the rude Picardy peasant could hardly write. With a growing amazement he read the following document:
It is my will that this paper, written and signed by my own hand, shall be delivered to my captain only after my death. Until then my confessor can make no use of it, since he receives it from me under the seal of the confessional. I beg my captain so to bury me that my body may be exhumed should the Duke, my father, desire to remove it to France. I also beg him to send to the French Ambassador in Venice the enclosed baptismal certificate, the seal with the arms of my family, and a certificate of my death in proper form, so that all may be forwarded to my father, and that my rights of succession may pass to the prince, my brother. In witness whereof I append my signature. — François VI, Charles Philippe Louis Foucaud, Prince of La Rochefoucauld.
The baptismal certificate, dated from St Sulpice, bore the same name; that of the Duke, his father, was given as François V, and that of his mother as Gabrielle du Plessis.
Casanova read it through twice, once to himself, and once aloud to his captain, his amazement steadily increasing. He had in his time seen many forms of imposture, and at need practised one or two, but he could never have conceived any swindle at once so ridiculous and gratuitous as this, since the letter was not to be published until after the man’s death, and could therefore profit him nothing.
He smiled as he returned the letter to Camporese, but observing the captain’s awe-stricken gravity his smile incontinently became a burst of laughter.
“I see nothing to laugh at,” the captain rebuked him, scandalized.
“That is what I find so amusing,” said Casanova disconcertingly. “What are you going to do with the letter?”
“There is only one thing to do. Take it to his excellency at once.”
“You will probably succeed in amusing him also,” said Casanova, on which the captain departed, too dignified to ask for explanations.
A half-hour later, as Casanova at Maroli’s side was in the act of tearing the covers from a pack of cards with which to open the bank, Sanzonio, his fellow adjutant in the Admiral-inChief’s service, entered the café with the news of the real identity of La Valeur. He had just heard it at the residence of the Proveditor–General, who was even then issuing instructions for a funeral becoming the exalted rank of the deceased.
Casanova smiled quietly to himself, but said nothing. He had never held a great opinion of General Dolfino’s intelligence, but he had certainly never supposed it to be as limited as Captain Camporese’s. After all, it was none of his business; his business at present was to empty the pockets of the eager punters facing him across the green table, and to this he applied himself with a diligence and an amiability which left nothing to be desired.
But at the height of the game, an hour or so later, someone touched him on the shoulder. It was Lieutenant Minotto, the Proveditor’s aide-decamp, who announced that his excellency was asking for Casanova.
Casanova calmly finished the deal, then invited Maroli to take his place. The Major did so with an ill grace, cursing the dead lackey, to whom he attributed the interruption of a game running so smoothly in favour of the bank.
At the Proveditor’s Casanova found a considerable company, all pervaded by an air of excitement. It was soon made evident to him that they had swallowed La Valeur’s posthumous imposture at a gulp, and he was beginning to conclude that he was the only person in Corfu with a proper complement of wits.
Conscious that he was being stared at as the man who had committed the sacrilege of owning a prince for his hairdresser, he advanced through the throng towards the beckoning Proveditor.
“So,” his excellency greeted him, “your lackey was a prince.”
Casanova looked into the wrinkled, arrogant, rather vulturine old face under his heavily powdered wig. He smiled quietly.
“I should never have suspected it whilst he lived, and I don’t believe it now that he’s dead,” he answered.
It was an answer that sent a rustle through the company, and seemed to put his excellency out of countenance. The great man frowned.
“How? You don’t believe it, and the man’s dead! You have seen his coat of arms, and his birth certificate, as well as the letter written in his own hand, and you must know that the hour of death is not the time to turn comedian.”
“If your excellency believes all that to be so, then my duty is to say no more.”
His excellency was annoyed. He was not accustomed to contradiction, and here was a form of contradiction that wounded his vanity by an implied reflection upon his acumen.
“It can’t be other than true,” he insisted. “Your doubt amazes me.”
“It springs from the fact that I am well acquainted with the man.”
His excellency snorted. He permitted himself sarcasm.
“And you are, of course, a connoisseur in princes?”
“Thanks to my opportunities of consorting with men of your excellency’s quality.”
The old eyes looked sharply, but vainly, into the bold, handsome young face to see whether any glint of mockery lurked behind the suspicious smoothness of that courtly answer.
“Have you not seen his arms, under a ducal coronet? But perhaps you are not aware that M. de La Rochefoucauld is a duke and a peer of France?”
“On the contrary, excellency. I am fully aware of it. I even know that François VI was married to a demoiselle de Vivonne.”
“Bah! You know nothing.”
Before that rude utterance into which his excellency’s exasperation had betrayed him, Casanova contented himself with bowing, and, as if seeing in it his dismissal, he withdrew into the background.
He read in the eyes of some of the men about him satisfaction at what they accounted the discomfiture of a young man who was altogether too presumptuous.
Conversation broke out about him. He heard one praising the handsome looks and noble air of his late valet; another extolled the rascal’s wit, and marvelled at the talent with which he had played his part so that none had ever guessed his real identity. A lady exclaimed that had she known him she would have succeeded in unmasking him, another proclaimed him always gay, amiable, and obliging, without arrogance towards his fellows, in all things a great gentleman. And then Madame de Sagredo, the wife of one of the sea-lords of Venice, turned provokingly upon Casanova.
“You hear, sir, what is being said of him. Surely in all the time he was with you, you must have perceived something of this kind?”
But she was very far from putting Casanova out of countenance.
“I can only report him to you, madam, as I found him,” he answered, with a respectful inclination of his handsome head, “and I found him very gay, as has been said, often indeed to the point of idiocy. His only faults were that he was dirty, drunken, dissolute, obscene, quarrelsome, and a thief. I endured him because he dressed my hair as I like it.”
A resentful silence greeted that bold speech which so flatly contradicted the expressed opinion of the assembly, and then before anyone could answer him, Captain Camporese entered suddenly in a great state of excitement, and approached his excellency with the news that the prince still breathed; that the announcement of his death had been premature.
In a flash Casanova saw light. The imposture — how contrived he could not think, nor did he ever discover — was not so gratuitous as he had imagined. He saw indeed how shrewdly La Valeur had made sure of its succeeding. And then he met the eye of General Dolfino fixed grimly upon him.
“I shall hope,” said his excellency, with a malicious air of challenge, “that the prince may revive completely.”
“I do more than hope, excellency,” was the confident, smiling answer. “I am convinced he will.”
They stared at him, as if to plumb the exact depth of his meaning. His bold, dark eyes swept slowly over those almost hostile faces.
“Gentlemen,” he said slowly, “I offer you here a wager of one hundred sequins that this rascal will recover, and a further hundred that his imposture will be revealed, though perhaps not before he shall have made you the dupes of it.”
General Dolfino found that wager so offensive that he turned his back upon the speaker. But Sanzonio, his fellow adjutant, an ill-favoured, knock-kneed youngster, urged at once by his sycophancy and his jealousy of Casanova’s popularity and fame, immediately took up the challenge.
“I will accept both those wagers,” he cried, and as a result found himself noticed for the first time since his coming to Corfu a year ago.
Smiling, Casanova bowed to him, took out a pocket-book, and made a note of the bet. But as he left the Proveditor’s house he no longer smiled. He began to reflect that by his assumption of wisdom in the face of gullible ignorance he had given offence to many, including the Proveditor himself, upon whose favour he was dependent for the promotion that he awaited. He wondered whether he had not been imprudent in placing so heavy a strain upon his popularity. Positive, however, that time would prove him right, he was convinced that the winning of the wager would reestablish him more firmly than ever. He did not realize for all his precocious wisdom that this was precisely what would ruin him. Could they laugh at him in the end for having been mistaken they would forgive him. But that he should have the last laugh as well as the first would be more than their vanity could endure. And already he had made a mortal enemy of the Proveditor, who was of that unforgiving temper which goes with arrogance and vanity.
The recovery of the Prince de La Rochefoucauld was a very rapid one. Casanova heard on the morrow that he was out of danger, and on the next day that he had been conveyed to the house of General Dolfino, where he was lodged in a fine suite of rooms, with servants of his own, and otherwise treated as an honoured guest. No sooner was he pronounced convalescent than all the admirals, galley-commanders, and officers of the garrison, following the example set by the Proveditor–General, went with their ladies to pay their respects to him.
Soon Casanova heard that he was going about. He was dressed like a prince, served like a prince, and housed like a prince, and he was well supplied with money — all delightfully provided by his host, General Dolfino. Within a week it was whispered that he was making flagrant love to Madame Sagredo, and that Admiral Sagredo was beginning to display anxiety.
Casanova ceased to attend the Proveditor’s receptions, and at last he was taxed with it one day by Madame Sagredo herself.
“Having said what I have said of the man,” he made answer frankly, “I have neither the vileness nor the courage to contradict myself. Therefore it is better that I should not come face to face with him.”
Meanwhile he reminded Sanzonio that he owed him a hundred sequins — the amount of the first of the two wagers.
“You shall be paid by the loss of the second one,” Sanzonio assured him.
“At your pleasure, sir,” was the easy answer. “You are no doubt wise to be confident. It is reported to me that he gets drunk regularly twice a day, and falls asleep and snores in public every evening at his excellency’s receptions.”
“What of that?”
“Oh, a princely custom, no doubt. I also gather that his conversation is condescending to the point of lewdness, and that to put you all at your ease he is so free in his habits and table-manners that were he not a prince one must pronounce him a pig.”
“You may mock as you please, but you’ll pay in the end,” Sanzonio answered. “These things are nothing. If he were an impostor would he be awaiting the reply to the General’s communication to the French ambassador in Venice?”
“You will see that he will contrive to disappear the day before it arrives,” laughed Casanova.
“Of course you would say that. But do you know that the confessor who, he says, betrayed him, is in prison, and that the prince is appealing to the bishop to have him unfrocked?”
“Shrewd of him, that,” said Casanova, and went his way.
And then one day, going to visit Madame de Sagredo, he came face to face with his sometime hairdresser in that patrician lady’s salon. At first he scarcely knew him, so complete was the metamorphosis wrought by his great wig and splendid garments.
He smiled at Casanova, and advancing confidently, leaning upon a ribboned cane, reproached him with not having been to visit him.
Casanova laughed in his face.
“You would be well advised, you rogue,” he said uncompromisingly, “to disappear before the arrival of news about you that will compel the Proveditor–General to send you to the hulks.”
“You insult me,” said the prince, turning pale.
“On the contrary,” said Casanova, “I give you this advice because my nature is kind and my judgement sane.”
For answer the prince boxed his ears so soundly as to leave him half-stunned for a moment. Recovering, Casanova performed the miracle of retaining his dignity. He bowed profoundly to Madame Sagredo, and in the general silence — for there were at least a score of persons of quality present — he walked slowly out, his face very white and wicked. As the door closed behind him, he heard Admiral de Sagredo’s voice raised in anger.
“These manners in my house, sir . . .” The rest was lost to him.
He left the house, and for half an hour paced the esplanade in the autumn sunshine. At last he beheld his sometime servant leave Sagredo’s house to return home to the Proveditor’s, accompanied by two officers of the garrison. Casanova went after him with lengthening stride, caught him up, and hailed him, at the corner of the esplanade.
“A moment, sir.”
La Valeur turned. He was pale, but very haughty, depending no doubt on his companions to see that he suffered no violence. Casanova took a grandiloquent tone.
“No man shall live,” he said, “who can boast of having struck me. I rejoice to see that you wear a sword. If you will have the goodness to follow me, you shall have an opportunity of using it. These gentlemen will no doubt be good enough to act as witnesses.”
“Sir,” said La Valeur, in a voice that might have been steadier to match his general haughtiness. “I have no satisfaction to render you. I owe you none.”
“Let me then become the debtor in that respect,” replied Casanova, and struck him sharply with his cane.
The officers attempted to intervene. But Casanova with swinging cane waved them impatiently aside.
“Sirs, this is an affair between gentlemen. The prince will no doubt require your services.”
But the prince was reduced by now to a state of terror.
“I take you to witness, gentlemen . . .” he was beginning, when Casanova’s cane descending a second time swept off his hat and knocked his wig awry.
“Your highness is desired to fight, not to make speeches. But if you prefer to be caned, that is your own affair. Which shall it be?”
La Valeur appealed in terror to his companions. The officers remained contemptuously unresponsive. He proclaimed himself a prince, and wore a sword, yet did not draw it when struck by a cane. His bearing now did more to convince them that he was an impostor than any formal proofs that could have been urged. Far from intervening, they drew aside. The prince’s remedy lay in his sword. If he chose to draw it, they would see that he had fair play, but until he did so they did not consider that by the code of honour they had any right to interfere after what already had occurred.
And so it befell that La Valeur found himself entirely at the mercy of his aggressor, an aggressor who knew no mercy. The cane, smartly wielded, descended again and again with ever-increasing force. At first each blow was followed by an invitation to him to draw his sword. Then the invitations ceased, and the blows continued, until howling from pain and terror La Valeur went down under them, and lay moaning on the ground, half-stunned and smothered in blood.
Then at last Casanova paused, perhaps from sheer weariness. He readjusted his ruffles, doffed his hat to the two officers, and passing through the crowd of spectators that had meanwhile assembled, he went to the café and called for a glass of lemonade without sugar to precipitate the bitter saliva which his rage had excited.
He was very shortly followed by Lieutenant Minotto, the Proveditor’s adjutant, who brought him an order from his excellency to report himself immediately under arrest to Captain Foscari on board the Bastarda. Now the Bastarda was a galley where all under arrest were chained like convicts.
Casanova turned pale and stiffened at that command. It was an infamy on the part of General Dolfino, a vile, tyrannical abuse of power to satisfy a personal spite. The degradation of the Bastarda was not for officers in the service of the Republic, and certainly not for an officer who had committed no offence against the laws of honour, whether La Valeur were a hairdresser or a prince. He quivered with rage, and I doubt if there were enough lemons in Corfu to correct his present condition. Yet after a moment’s silence he controlled himself.
“Very well, sir,” he answered stiffly. Whereupon Minotto, who was himself ill at ease, made haste with withdraw.
Casanova went out a moment later, but at the end of the street, instead of turning towards the esplanade he made straight for the beach. Come what might, he would not submit to being chained like a convict, with all the accompanying degradation. In his rage he could not reason beyond that point.
Striding along the beach he came presently upon an empty boat. A mile or so out to sea a fishing vessel was lazily drifting. Casanova pushed the boat into the water, jumped in, took up the oars and rowed out to the vessel. Boarding it, and abandoning the boat, he bribed the skipper to hoist sail and take him away, anywhere. The result was that they landed him at midnight on the island of Casopo, twenty miles from Corfu.
It may be that his aim was to remain there for a few weeks, until he judged that the imposture of La Valeur should have been discovered, or it may be that he had no plan at all, and simply abandoned himself to the winds of chance, as was his custom when in difficulties. He is not clear on this point, and as for the ridiculous story of how he spent the time on Casopo, I do not believe a word of it. The real truth of the matter, as is established from another source, is that he spent the fortnight during which his visit lasted as the guest of the Greek priest, who was in a way the governor of that romantic island.
And then one day at the end of that fortnight, an armed sloop dropped anchor in the bay, that was overlooked by the priest’s house; a boat put off, and brought Lieutenant Minotto ashore. Casanova went to meet the visitor.
“I suppose you have come for me?” he said.
“That is so,” the lieutenant replied, “and I am glad to find you looking so fresh and well.”
“What exactly is your business with me?”
“In the first place to ask for your sword. You are under arrest as a deserter.”
“That is serious,” said Casanova. “So serious that I might decide to defend myself, yielding only to force.”
Minotto smiled in deprecation. “That would be foolish on two counts. In the first place, I have ample force with me to compel you. I refrained from bringing my men ashore, because I preferred to come as your friend. In the second place, you have really nothing to fear. Your arrest is a formal matter. General Dolfino will wish to avoid the publicity which proceedings against you would entail, as in view of all that has happened he would cover himself with ridicule.”
“What has happened?”
“Four days ago a frigate came from Venice with letters from the French Ambassador, as a consequence of which the prince, your hairdresser, was promptly placed under arrest on board a galley bound for home.”
Casanova was surprised.
“How came the rascal to wait for that to happen?”
“He couldn’t help himself. He was still in hospital as a consequence of the thrashing you gave him. You broke one of his arms. The General, of course, has divulged nothing of what was in the Ambassador’s dispatches. But Corfu has guessed the truth, and you will find yourself more esteemed than ever as the only man who had the wit not to be deceived by that impostor. So that in returning with me you have nothing to fear.”
Thus Casanova was persuaded, and the more readily since he was practically without means. His funds in Maroli’s faro bank amounted at the moment to some three thousand sequins. But in the haste of his departure he had neglected to obtain supplies from him, and of course from Casopo there had been no means of communicating with his partner. In this connection a desolating shock awaited him. One of the first pieces of news Minotto gave him of events at Corfu since his departure was that there had been a horrible fracas one evening at the faro table, one of the punters who had been losing heavily accusing Major Maroli of dishonest play, and threatening to bring the matter to the attention of the Proveditor–General. As a consequence the major had decamped from Corfu next day, leaving a mass of unpaid debts behind him.
The news was within an ace of turning Casanova physically sick. At a blow he had lost three thousand sequins, which in itself was a considerable fortune, and he could blame only himself for having left his funds so trustingly in the bank of a professional gamester. His resilient nature, however, did not long permit him to remain downcast. There was at least the wager of two hundred sequins which Sanzonio had lost to him; in his clever hands that sum should become the seed of a fresh fortune in which he would have no partners.
Immediately on landing he was conducted by Minotto to the Proveditor’s residence. General Dolfino received him with hostile coolness, being rendered the more resentful by the fact that he dare not now openly punish Casanova without overwhelming himself with a ridicule even greater than that under which he lay already on the score of the false prince.
“So,” the General welcomed him, “to the offence of disobedience you have now added the crime of desertion.”
“The circumstances, I respectfully submit to your excellency, are extenuating.”
“No circumstances, sir, can extenuate insubordination. I should be within my rights in sending you to the galleys. If out of several considerations I decline to do so, at least I cannot permit you to remain in Corfu. You disobeyed me once. You certainly shall have no chance of disobeying me again.”
“I do not think, excellency,” said Casanova coolly, feeling himself entirely master of the situation, “that you show a proper gratitude. In what case would you be now if I had obeyed you, if I had submitted to the unjust punishment to which through a misapprehension you condemned me?”
“Do you presume to question me?”
His excellency’s face turned purple.
“Hardly. But I venture to hope that when your excellency shall have considered further, you will decide to reward me with the lieutenancy that was promised me some time ago.”
“The lieutenancy?” said the General, and he laughed maliciously. “It fell vacant in your absence, and has been conferred upon your fellow ensign, Sanzonio, who understands better than yourself the duties of an officer. He left yesterday for Constantinople on an important mission.”
That was a blow that struck Casanova’s confidence dead. It was not so much the loss of the lieutenancy as that Sanzonio had gone without paying him the two hundred sequins — all that had stood between himself and destitution. Looking into the evilly smiling old eyes of Dolfino, Casanova knew that the General had deliberately done this vindictively to rob him. Instinctively, he realized too that the fracas which had resulted in Maroli’s flight was also of his excellency’s contriving to the same purpose, and almost his excellency’s next words confirmed it.
“Then there is this unsavoury business of a faro bank which you ran in partnership with Major Maroli.” Dolfino leered. “It has transpired that all was not conducted honestly at that bank, and Maroli has confirmed the charge by decamping.”
Casanova stiffened: his eyes blazed.
“If any man dare to impute dishonest practices to me I’ll ram the imputation down his dirty throat with my sword.”
“Well, well,” said his excellency coolly, “that is no affair of mine. But it is my affair to see discipline observed here, and one so careless of it as yourself cannot remain. You will therefore return to Venice at once, and report yourself there to the Secretary for War. In my own opinion,” he ended contemptuously, “the profession of arms is little suited to a man of your character.”
Casanova looked him steadily in the eye for a long moment. Then with a wicked smile, “Of course, your excellency,” he said, “is an unerring judge of character and of men, even of princes, as I shall assure them in Venice when I get there.”
It was all the vengeance that it lay within his power to take for so much harm suffered. But seeing the general white and trembling, mouthing and snarling like an infuriated but infirm old mountain cat, he departed satisfied for the moment.
He returned to Venice, a simple ensign, as he had left it nine months earlier, as a result of knowing some men too well and others not well enough. He was forced for the second time to sell his jewels to defray the expenses of the journey, and finding himself without funds soon after his arrival he was obliged to sell his commission for rather less than he had paid for it.
Thus ended his priesthood of Mars.
In April 1746, Casanova’s declining fortunes reached their nadir. After months of vicissitudes, in which he had snatched a precarious livelihood by lowly and often questionable means, he found himself reduced to scraping a fiddle in the orchestra of San Samuele. The fortuity which rescued him justified him of his unfaltering fatalism.
The orchestra of which he was an incompetent member — for his talents, great and varied as they were, did not lean towards fiddling — was engaged for a ball at the patrician house of Soranzo. He was departing thence alone an hour before daybreak, and chanced to descend the staircase in the wake of a gentleman wearing the scarlet robes and full-bottomed wig of the senator. A letter fluttered from the great man’s pocket. Casanova picked it up, and quickening his steps, restored it to its owner as he was on the point of entering a magnificent gondola, manned by liveried gondoliers.
The senator, a tall man of a noble, handsome countenance, turned kindly eyes upon the fiddler in his rusty, threadbare garments, thanked him as one thanks an equal, and having asked him where he lived, proposed to carry him home.
Gratefully Casanova stepped on board, and took the place to which the senator invited him on the cabin seat. Swiftly the swan-like boat glided from the radiance of the illuminated palace into the deep shadows of the Canal Regio. Awhile they sat in a silence broken only by the creak and swish of the great oars and the gurgle of the water at the prow. Then the patrician, stirring in the gloom, complained of a numbness in his left arm, and begged his companion to rub it. Scarcely had Casanova begun to comply when the senator hurtled heavily against him.
“The numbness,” he said, articulating indistinctly, “is spreading to the whole of my left side. Oh, my God!” he groaned. “I think I am dying.”
Alarmed, Casanova sprang up, swept aside the leather curtains, and snatched the lantern from the poop. Holding it aloft, he beheld the patrician huddled on the seat, ghastly of countenance, with twisted mouth and moribund eyes.
In the course of his considerable studies Casanova had dabbled in medicine, and had learnt enough to recognize here a case of apoplectic seizure.
He shouted to the gondoliers to land him and wait. He leapt ashore and almost dragged a reluctant surgeon from his bed, and drove him out into the chill air of dawn in night-cap, dressing-gown and slippers to the waiting gondola.
There he ordered him at once to bleed the stricken senator, whilst tearing his own shirt into strips to provide bandages. That done, he commanded the gondoliers to make for home at the double. Soon they skimmed alongside of a handsome palace at Santa Marina, and servants were roused to carry their almost lifeless master to bed, Casanova following and superintending, so authoritative in manner that none dared question his right.
The famous and popular Senator Bragadino, a bachelor, enjoying a reputation for wit and learning and a leaning towards abstract science, had no family. He lived alone with a retinue of servants becoming his rank, and these servants no doubt welcomed the orders of one who obviously assumed responsibility in this crisis.
The senator’s own physician, Doctor Terro, when fetched, prescribed at once a further blood-letting, thus approving what Casanova had already done. When Terro departed, Casanova remained on watch by the bedside, and there he was found an hour later by two patrician gentlemen, named Dandolo and Barbaro, who were Bragadino’s closest friends, and who had been hurriedly summoned.
Although no more aware than the servants of Casanova’s identity, and although his presence surprised them, and his appearance, rendered shabbier than ever by the sacrifice of his shirt, was hardly prepossessing, they hesitated to question him, so imposing was his manner, so bold and masterful his glance.
At noon he dined in the palace with the two patricians, and few were the words exchanged. But towards evening they came to him, and Messer Dandolo spoke for both.
“As no doubt, sir, you will have affairs of your own,” he said, “and as we shall spend the night in the patient’s room, you may depart when you please.”
Casanova considered them gravely. Fate had thrust him into this strange position, and he would not have Fate thwarted in her intentions concerning him, whatever they might be.
“Sirs,” he answered them, “I shall spend the night by the bedside. For if I depart the patient will die; and I know that he will live so long as I am here.”
They stared at him, and then at each other, in utter stupefaction; but there was no further talk of his departure. Later, he was to learn how calculated was his sententiousness to impress these two gentlemen who with Bragadino composed a trinity secretly devoted to the study of the occult.
That evening Doctor Terro prescribed applications of mercury for the almost lifeless senator stretched on that magnificent canopied bed. The immediate result of this violent treatment was a reanimation of the patient, which greatly delighted the two friends, whilst vaguely alarming Casanova. His uneasiness increased his watchfulness. By midnight, finding Bragadino all on fire, so exhausted that he scarcely breathed, his staring eyes dull and lack lustre, he roused the slumbering friends.
“Unless relieved of these infernal plasters he will die,” he pronounced, and at once uncovered the patient’s breast, removed the plasters, and bathed him gently with warm water. Relief followed immediately, Bragadino’s breathing became regular and free, and within a few minutes he had fallen into a peaceful sleep.
The delight of the patricians was as great as the anger of Terro next morning. Storming that this audacious interference with his treatment was enough to kill the senator, he demanded to know who was guilty of it. It was Bragadino himself who answered the angry question.
“Doctor,” he said gently, “I was delivered from your plasters, which were suffocating me, by a greater physician than yourself,” and he indicated Casanova, who stood by.
“In that case,” said Terro, “I had better relinquish my place to him,” and on that he departed livid with mortification.
Thus you behold Casanova physician to one of the most illustrious members of the Venetian Senate. His self-assurance did not suffer the responsibility to alarm him. He assumed it readily, assuring the patient that now that the best season of the year was approaching careful dieting was the only medicine he required. That he was right was proved by the rapidity of Bragadino’s recovery.
One day a cousin of the senator’s who came to see him professed amazement that Bragadino should have chosen a fiddler for a doctor. Bragadino, who had already exchanged his bed for an armchair, looked gravely at his cousin.
“If he is a fiddler, as you say, he is a fiddler who knows more medicine than all the physicians in Venice: a fiddler who has twice saved my life by the promptitude and soundness of his judgement — once in the gondola, when he had me bled, and again here when he relieved me of Terro’s plasters, which were killing me. Tell that in Venice, cousin.”
But when the cousin had departed, Bragadino turned to Casanova and invited him to explain himself. Briefly Casanova sketched his story to the senator and the two patricians, who were present. How at the age of sixteen he had taken a doctor’s degree in canon law; how it had been intended that he should enter the Church; how, discovering in himself no vocation, he had acquired a commission in the army of the Republic; how, fortune abandoning him, he had sold his commission and gone from bad to worse, until for all his talents and his learning he was obliged to scrape a fiddle for a livelihood. Of his humble origin — that he was the son of an actor and a cobbler’s daughter — he said no word, and from his appearance now none would have suspected it. The fiddler’s rags had given place to a handsome satin suit, provided him by order of his illustrious patient, which did justice to his fine, tall figure. His luxuriant chestnut hair was becomingly coiffed and clubbed, and his swarthy aquiline young face was of an ultra-patrician haughtiness. But his physical attractions were overshadowed by his mental gifts, and his ability in parading them. He was beginning to wonder how this rather extraordinary adventure would end for him when at last Chance pointed out the way. It is not every man would have been as quick to perceive the pointing finger, or to follow the road it indicated.
“Do you know,” said Dandolo, one day, “that for so young a man you are too learned. There is something unnatural in your knowledge.”
Barbaro nodded his head approvingly. But Bragadino went further; he smiled the smile of the man who knows.
“I have long since reached a conclusion,” he announced. “I am convinced that he owes it to supernatural agency.” He turned to Casanova. “Will you not be frank with us, my friend?”
I have said that Bragadino dabbled in abstract sciences. Yet this was the first hint of it that Casanova had received. The discovery coming so abruptly, conveyed in that direct question, left him for a moment speechless.
“You hesitate to answer me, I see,” said Bragadino.
Upon the instant the young adventurer took his resolve.
“Why should I, after all?” he said, and without further reflection embarked upon the most flagrant imposture he had ever perpetrated. “I possess the secret of a numerical calculation by which I can learn whatever I desire to know!”
“A numerical calculation?” echoed Bragadino. He seemed disappointed.
Casanova elaborated, inventing briskly. “By means of a question, which I write down and convert into numbers, I obtain, similarly in numbers, an answer which gives me whatever information I seek, information which no one in the world could supply me.”
“That,” said Bragadino, further revealing his vulnerability, “must be The Clavicula of Solomon, vulgarly termed the Cabala.”
“Where did you learn this science?” asked Barbaro.
“From an old hermit who lived on Mount Carpegna,” Casanova lied glibly.
“Ah!” cried Bragadino, after the fashion of one who suddenly sees light. “The hermit taught you the mode of calculation, but since simple numbers of themselves cannot reason, it is clear that he attached to you without your knowledge an invisible intelligence to be your real guide.”
Casanova’s fine eyes kindled as with sudden understanding.
“You may be right. The hermit spoke of one Paralis who would answer. It must be as you say. Paralis is the tutelary spirit, the invisible intelligence, of which you speak.”
He was excited by the discovery, and they shared his excitement, particularly the senator, who took visible pride in having made it.
“You possess,” he told Casanova, “a wonderful, inestimable treasure, and it is for you to turn it to account.”
“But how?” said Casanova, as indeed he was wondering. “On the few occasions when I have tried it, the replies have been often so obscure as to discourage me. And yet,” he added thoughtfully, “if I had not had recourse to it when last I did, I should never have had the good fortune to know and serve your Excellency.”
The three sat forward intrigued, begging him to explain.
“I asked my oracle whether at the Soranzo ball I should meet anyone who mattered to me. I obtained this answer. ‘Leave the ball at the tenth hour of night.’ I obeyed, and — you know the result.”
Those amiable, credulous gentlemen were petrified. Then Messer Dandolo stirred himself.
“Will you obtain me an answer to a question I shall set you on a matter known only to myself?” he asked.
Casanova was taken aback. But having rashly engaged himself, he must summon effrontery to carry the thing through.
“Why not, sir?”
He drew a gilded chair to the handsome ormolu-encrusted secretaire, sat down and took up a pen.
Messer Dandolo propounded a question so obscure that Casanova had no inkling of what was at issue. No matter. He wrote it down, translated it (quite arbitrarily) into numbers, and set down the answer also in numbers, pyramidically arranged. And now his general learning, and in particular his intimacy with the classic authors, served him well. He was familiar with the pronouncements of the Delphic oracle, and its machinery of ambiguity. Gradually he evolved an answer as cryptic as the question itself.
Messer Dandolo conned it slowly twice; then the meaning which only himself could read into it must have been revealed to him, for he cried that this was wonderful, divine, incredible.
Bragadino sagely nodded his handsome head.
“It is as I said,” he reminded them. “The numbers are a mere vehicle. The reply itself proceeds from an immortal intelligence.” And he added: “Let me ask a question.”
Casanova perceived that there is no more insidious form of self-delusion than the over-eagerness of the fervent student of occultism to discover occult manifestations, and so gathered courage. After Bragadino’s test came Barbaro’s, and so shrewdly ambiguous were Casanova’s answers that both were at least as convinced as Dandolo of the divine nature of Paralis.
And then Bragadino evinced a desire very natural in a student of abstract sciences whose studies had hitherto yielded him no practical return.
“How long,” he asked, “would it take you to teach me the calculation?”
“Not long. But —” and Casanova hung his head, “there is an obstacle. The hermit warned me that if I ever divulged the secret my death would follow within three days.” They stared at him in awe. “After all,” he added, “the threat may have been an idle one.”
“You are very wrong to assume that,” Bragadino gravely answered him, “and you would be mad to incur the risk.”
There was no further question of his teaching them the calculation. And he shrewdly foresaw that if they could not possess the secret they would seek at least to possess the holder of it. In Casanova they believed they had found the means of communicating with supernatural intelligences, celestial and infernal, and of mastering all the secrets of the world, and soon he found himself established as the hierophant of these three wealthy and potent gentlemen.
They made frequent demands upon Paralis now, and Casanova with practice became more and more skilled in answering after the Delphic manner.
One day of early summer, by when the senator’s recovery was so complete that he was able to resume his attendance at the senate, he set a hand upon Casanova’s shoulder, and affectionately addressed him.
“Whoever you may be, I owe you my life and more. Those who sought to make of you a doctor, a lawyer, a priest, a soldier, were fools who did not know you. Heaven ordained that you should come to me, who know and appreciate you. If you will become my adopted son you have but to recognize in me your father, and in my house your home. You shall have apartments, servants, and a gondola of your own, a place at my table, and ten sequins a month, which is more than my father allowed me at your age. The future need give you no concern.”
Casanova went down on his knees and kissed the hand of that noble, kindly gentleman, who thus raised him to the rank of a gentleman of the Serene Republic. I hope he felt ashamed of himself. But I doubt it.
And then as if to provide him with the means of affording a crowning proof of the omniscience of his oracle, he met the Countess Angela. He was taking the air one afternoon on the Square of St Mark, pleasantly conscious that his whaleboned coat became him, when he saw her alight from the Ferrara barge. She was dressed in a long blue travelling-cloak, her face lost in the shadows of a hood. He observed her hesitating, uncertain attitude as she stood there, a small valise in her hand, and he was utterly taken by surprise when suddenly she started towards him, and he heard her pronounce his name. The voice at least being pleasant, off came his laced hat, and he made her a leg very gracefully, whilst those fine eyes of his stabbed the depths of the concealing hood.
“Heaven,” she cried, “must surely have sent you to assist me.”
“Not a doubt of it,” he said promptly. Since his discovery of Paralis he was growing accustomed to being regarded as a celestial envoy. And then at last he knew her for a noble Roman child whom he had met once or twice at the receptions given by Cardinal Acquaviva when, a year or so ago, he had been one of that prelate’s secretaries. But this acquaintance had naturally been of the slightest; between him and the young women of the Roman aristocracy intimacies were not at all encouraged. It amazed him that he should remember her, but not at all that she should remember him. You see, he never suffered from any lack of self-esteem.
He desired her to command him, and tremulously she answered that she would be profoundly in his debt if he would escort her to the house of Messer Barbaro, her uncle.
Now it happened that Messer Barbaro was away in Padua, and not expected to return for a week or two. He told her so.
“In Padua? What then am I to do? I am in sorest trouble. Where can I go?”
She stood, white and faltering, and Casanova observed her lip to tremble. That and her soft young loveliness undid him.
“Would it help you to confide in me?” he gently invited.
“If I dared!”
He relieved her at once of her ridiculous valise.
“Come this way,” he said, “and keep your hood close.”
At the same time he covered his face with a mask, too common a Venetian custom with men of fashion, especially when escorting ladies, to provoke much notice.
He led her to an obscure wine-shop mid-way down a narrow street. There, across an isolated table, they faced each other and she told her story.
“Sir,” she said, by way of preface, “you’ll think me mad or abandoned to have thrust myself so shamelessly upon you. But I am at the point of despair, in a strange city where I know none but my uncle, Messer Barbaro, and even of his welcome I can be none too sure, considering the manner of my coming. In addressing you, I acted upon impulse, believing in my distraught condition that a miracle had brought you to my aid. Say, sir, that you forgive me.”
“I should find it harder to forgive you had neglected to obey an impulse that was so clearly an inspiration.”
“You might not have known me again,” she murmured, trembling.
“In that case I should not have deserved the honour of your confidence, which I am now awaiting.”
“Tell me first: do you know here in Venice a young patrician named Zanetto Steffani?”
“There is a young noble of that name who enjoys the reputation of being the most dissolute scoundrel in the Republic. I believe him to be absent from home just now. He is not, I hope, a friend of yours?”
Her answer staggered him. “He is my lover — my affianced husband.”
Then came her piteous story. She was to have made a marriage arranged for her by her father, Count Tagliavia; but heeding instead what she believed to be the call of love, she had secretly fled from Rome with the scoundrel Steffani, who was to bring her to Venice, and there make her his wife. But at Ferrara they encountered a young gentleman towards whose sister Steffani had already contracted a similar obligation, a young gentleman who had been seeking Steffani up and down Italy for months. Through a thin partition dividing her room from that in which this meeting took place, the Countess Angela overheard the young champion of his sister’s honour give Steffani to choose between death and marriage. A blow was struck, and Steffani fled the place, leaving the young man unconscious. (Casanova did not see what else Steffani could have done in the circumstances.) Thus the too confiding young Countess found herself alone in Ferrara, with her discovery of her lover’s perfidy.
“What was I do to?” she cried. “Return home to my father I dared not, as you will perhaps understand. So I came on to Venice, hoping for the protection of my uncle, until I can avenge myself upon the monster who has ruined my life.”
And she drew from her massed black hair a slender blade some eight inches long. Casanova shivered to discover such blood-thirst in so lovely a child. Then, as he watched her, the fierceness died out of her glance. It became troubled, and it was with fumbling, unsteady fingers that she resheathed the stiletto in her hair.
“But now you tell me that Messer Barbaro is away from Venice. What am I to do?”
The sympathetic Casanova addressed himself at once to the task of soothing her.
“But he will return — in a week perhaps. You must wait for him.”
“Where can I wait? Who will take me in?”
“I know a widow of unimpugnable respectability with lodgings to let not far from here.”
It was settled — what choice had she? — and he presented her to the widow as a niece of Messer Barbaro, who sought lodgings for a few days. At mention of that patrician name, and observing that this masked gentleman was richly dressed, and the lady of an air and carriage that bore out the tale of her high connections, the widow became at once solicitous.
Casanova left the Countess in her care, and departed thoughtful. He had protected the girl partly because she was Barbaro’s niece, and partly because her romantic air and delicate loveliness assured him that it would be pleasant to protect her. And as the days passed, and as each day he went to visit her and beguile for an hour or so the tedium of her waiting, he began to wish that Messer Barbaro’s return might be indefinitely postponed. She was in need, poor child, of consolation, and he began to see himself in the role of the consoler. Also because he found himself more gladly welcomed each day, and this friendship grew apace, he walked with his head in the clouds and began to dream dreams, until, confronted suddenly with brutal reality, he awakened from them, and came sharply down to earth again.
The brutal reality took the shape of her father. One day, a week after Angela’s coming, on returning home from his daily visit to her, he was summoned to the presence of his adoptive father, and found in his company a tall, stern-faced old gentleman whom he was startled to hear announced to him as Count Tagliavia.
“The Count,” said Messer Bragadino, “has sought me in the absence of his kinsman Barbaro to assist him in a very delicate matter. His daughter ran away from home three weeks ago, leaving a letter announcing that she was going to the man she loved. He has traced her to Venice, and discovered that on landing here she was met by a man who was presumably her lover. The Count desires to place the matter before the Council of Ten. But it has occurred to me that you, my son, might assist him first to track the fugitives. I have told him of your gift — under pledge of secrecy, of course.”
You conceive how taken aback he was, and what doubts he conceived on the score of his position. Let it be known that Angela was living, in a sense, under his protection, and would any explanation persuade this austere, fire-breathing parent that Casanova was not himself the guilty man? Was he not persuaded already that the man who met her was her lover? — And was not that man indeed Casanova himself? It was even possible that he had been seen and recognized. He perceived here two necessities equally urgent — to protect himself and to serve the young Countess.
Slowly, at last, he propounded a question.
“Will the Count tell me precisely what information he desires from Paralis, and how he proposes to use it when obtained?”
“In the first place,” said the Count, speaking haughtily and half-contemptuously, as if he did this thing but out of courtesy to humour Bragadino, “I desire to know the name of the villain who has abducted her, and where they are to be found. Then if he be of worthy rank either they shall be married at once, or I will kill the man and bury the girl in a convent for the remainder of her days.”
“And if his rank should not fit him for the amende?” quoth Casanova.
The Count’s face empurpled, the veins of his forehead stood out like strands of whipcord. His answer came in a roar of fury.
“It is impossible my daughter should have abased herself to that extent, but if it should prove so, then — God helping me — I will efface the dishonour by killing both.”
Here, thought Casanova, was an amiable gentleman with whose daughter to have made free. He sat down, took up a pen, and wrote down his double-question, converting it into numbers under their eyes — Bragadino’s eager, the Count’s scornfully sceptical. He built his numbers into a pyramid, and extracted the reply in numbers, which once more he converted into words.
For once Paralis discarded all Delphic obscurities. The answer ran thus:
“I will reply completely when the father is disposed to seek his daughter in a spirit of forgiveness, abandoning all intentions of wedding her to the patrician Zanetto Steffani who carried her off, but from whom she fled in time to save herself; nor need he trouble himself with vengeance, for Steffani is condemned to death by the will of Heaven.”
This last daring sentence Casanova was inspired to add by a sudden vision of a young champion of a sister’s honour, scouring Italy athirst for Steffani’s blood.
As Tagliavia read, the scorn and scepticism perished from his face. A blank amazement overspread it.
“Steffani!” he cried. “Zanetto Steffani! Why, how blind I have been! He was in Rome for a month before she disappeared. He saw her frequently, and he quitted Rome at the same time.”
Bragadino rubbed his hands. “You see, you see!” he purred delightedly. Affectionately he patted the shoulder of his adopted son. “Did I not say that Paralis is divine?”
“It transcends belief!” cried the stupefied Count. “But my daughter? Where is she?”
“Paralis promises to tell you when you abandon your present project.”
His face grew overcast, his mouth stern. “Paralis asks too much,” he answered. “The honour of my family demands the marriage, the world demands it.”
“A man may be too much concerned with worldly considerations,” the philosophical Bragadino reproved him gently. But no persuasion could alter the Count’s fixed intent. It was idle to remind him that here was a heavenly command. His feet were firmly planted upon earth, and so in the end he departed to seek worldly aid to recover his daughter.
“At least your oracle has shown me where to look,” he said at parting. “I will begin with the Palazo Steffani.”
He went his ways, leaving Bragadino saddened by this instance of obstinate obtuseness, and Casanova uneasy as to the results that might attend the Count’s enquiries, so uneasy indeed that on the morrow, for once, he denied himself the joy of visiting Angela, fearful lest he should be detected. But whilst he sat in his room a servant came to summon him to the senator. Tagliavia was come again, and with him now was his kinsman Barbaro, who had that day returned to Venice.
The Count turned to Casanova as he entered. “The mystery, sir,” he announced, “is deeper than your oracle would seem to imply. I have made further enquiries. Steffani is not in Venice, nor has been for the last two months.”
Casanova frowned as if puzzled. “Perhaps your daughter is not in Venice?”
“I have it positively from the master of the Ferrara barge that she landed here. It was he who told me that she was joined immediately on landing by a man who must have been her lover. He tells me now this man was tall; whilst Steffani is short.”
“You assume too much, I think,” said Casanova coldly. “Appearances can be deceptive; and whilst your information depends upon human perception, mine is derived from a supernatural intelligence which cannot err.”
The Count dismissed this interjection with a gesture of impatience.
“Four persons who saw them together claim to have recognized the man, although he wore a mask. Unhappily, each gives a different name. But I intend to denounce the names of all four to the Council of Ten. Here is the note.”
And he read out the names of the men alleged to have been seen with the Countess. The last name he pronounced was Casanova’s own.
Hearing it, Casanova threw back his head in a gesture of well-feigned indignant surprise, whilst peals of laughter broke from Barbaro and Bragadino. Amazed, the Count stared at them. “You find it amusing?” he said icily.
It was Bragadino who explained. “I did not tell you that this my son is so only by adoption. The last name on that paper is his own — Giacomo di Casanova. And what should he know of your daughter, who has not been in Rome for over a year, and who for the last three months has scarcely been out of my house, and certainly never out of Venice?”
Tagliavia was overwhelmed with confusion. Unreservedly he accepted the explanation, and as unreservedly tendered his apologies.
“Let it be a lesson to you, Count,” said Casanova, “of the error to which human perception is prone. Can you seriously oppose such testimony to my oracle’s infallible pronouncement?”
“Then I will not rest,” cried Tagliavia, “until I have found Steffani, and compelled him to confess and atone.”
“But if not dead already the man soon will be,” Bragadino said. “You remember the oracle’s pronouncement? Will you avenge yourself upon your daughter by compelling her to marry a notorious scoundrel doomed by the justice of heaven?”
The Count’s affection for his daughter struggled with his pride of family. And if affection did not yet carry the day, Casanova, assured that he must come to it in the end, confidently planned the issue. He whispered at parting to Barbaro to bring the Count again next day. Then, after they had left he went out in his turn and, changing gondolas three times so as to throw off any possible pursuit, reached the widow’s house.
He threw Angela into a panic by announcing her father’s presence in Venice. But he made haste to convince her that he was working diligently to obtain her pardon, and without divulging too much yet knew in his compelling way how to persuade her to be guided absolutely by his counsel.
“You will take a gondola at nightfall,” he instructed her, “and go straight to your kinsman Messer Barbaro, who has returned and who will gladly give you shelter.”
“But he will betray my presence to my father!”
Her lovely eyes dilated in alarm.
“He will not,” Casanova assured her confidently. “He knows your father’s frame of mind, and he will say no word of your presence until the Count’s humour has become entirely one of forgiveness, as I promise you that it shall.”
Thus he succeeded in persuading her.
“You will tell Messer Barbaro that you followed Steffani to Venice, that he had promised to marry you on your arrival, but that you have not seen him since you came. All this is true, remember. Say further that you awaited him in the house of a respectable widow. Avoid divulging her name, and above all make no slightest mention of me lest you ruin everything.”
“Ah, never that!” she cried. “You must remain my friend. My father shall thank you for all that you have done for me. What might I not have become if you had not come to my aid?”
“The thanks your father would render me might considerably discompose me,” said Casanova grimly. “You could do nothing so likely to make me regret befriending you as that. Promise me, then, that my name shall never cross your lips; that you will forget the insignificant part I have played in this.”
“How can I ever forget . . .” she began, and faltered. Her lids fluttered down over her eyes, a faint surge of colour showed itself in her cheeks, and with a sigh she ended by promising to do his will. He departed in a dangerous state of emotionalism, convinced that it was high time to set a term to his odd relations with the too tender daughter of the fire-eating Count.
Next day precisely at noon Barbaro came again to Bragadino’s with Tagliavia. Casanova observed in Barbaro a vague uneasiness, a furtiveness of glance, that told him all had fallen out as he had planned. The Count looked pale and harassed, and he had lost all the ferocity of manner that had earlier marked him.
“I have sought all day and almost all night in vain,” he announced brokenly. “My daughter!”
They comforted him, and gradually Bragadino suggested he should consult Paralis once more. He consented, and Casanova sat down to make his pyramid. He laboured awhile at his numbers, then threw down the pen.
“There is no answer,” he announced. “It must be because your intentions are not yet what Paralis demands.”
The Count protested that he was ready to pardon his daughter.
“But Paralis demands that your spirit shall be purely one of forgiveness.”
“I am but human,” said the Count impatiently, thereby confirming Casanova’s doubts.
For three days he was not seen again. And when at last he came his mood appeared so thoroughly chastened that Casanova produced from his oracle the following revelation:
“Angela, who was lured away by arts of magic, has for the past four days been safe in her kinsman’s house, where the father may embrace her when he will.”
The Count read it aloud, his eagerness changing to disappointment and contempt. “But this is nonsense,” he cried, and Bragadino looked alarmed.
“It is not nonsense,” answered Barbaro, in a voice that quivered with excitement. “It is the truth most wonderfully revealed. She has been at my house since Wednesday night, poor child.”
“And you never told me?”
The Count looked round. Then slowly his lips parted in a bitter smile.
“The oracle is explained,” he sneered.
But Barbaro and Bragadino pledged their honour that he was mistaken, that he wronged them grossly by this suggestion, that the oracle’s pronouncement was a pure miracle.
And then a miracle happened indeed. Came Messer Dandolo into the room in a breathless state, with dilating eyes.
“Did not Paralis foretell the speedy death of Steffani? Well, he is dead — I have just heard the news.”
“Dead!” they all echoed, awe-stricken, and none more deeply than Casanova himself.
“Dead to the world at least,” Dandolo explained. “He has become a monk!”
Then Bragadino gave vent to his wonder, seeing in this constructive death a greater mark of the divine wisdom of Paralis than if Steffani had actually perished in the flesh. “The actual words of Paralis were that he was sentenced by the will of Heaven! How true, how wonderfully true that was! And how slow we are to read the divine messages of our oracle.”
Casanova’s first shock of surprise gave way to self-complacency. His prophecy had been a shrewd inference of what must inevitably happen to a man in Steffani’s position, pursued by the avenging brother of one woman and the avenging father of another. Only in the cloister or the grave could he find refuge, and it was his own wit, thought Casanova, that had drawn from the oracle this culminating proof of its supernatural nature.
UNDER THE LEADS
An oft-told tale is that of Giacomo di Casanova’s escape from the Prison of the Piombi. Not so that of his first and frustrated attempt at evasion. And yet, of the two, this is in my opinion the more entertaining, not only because of the extraordinary resourcefulness with which he went about the task, but also for the ready wit which showed him a way out of the ghastly peril that attended its discovery.
His arrest took place in July of 1755. Early one morning the terrible Messer Grande and his tipstaves broke into Casanova’s lodging, aroused him from his slumbers, and bade him dress and go with them.
“In whose name do you command me?” quoth the startled Casanova.
“In the name of the Inquisitors of State.”
Casanova realized that it was not a season for argument. He rose, and what time the apparitors were ransacking his rooms, he dressed with care. He selected a suit of blue taffeta with silver lace, in which he had intended that day to visit and conquer a certain lady at Murano. He clubbed his luxuriant hair becomingly, and drew on a pair of white silk stockings. Lacquered red-heeled shoes with steel buckles, and an elegant new hat laced with point of Spain completed his toilet. He announced himself ready.
Messer Grande led him below, thrust into him a gondola, and carried him off to prison. He was accounted, it seems, a disturber of the public peace; he was notoriously a libertine, a gamester, and heavily in debt; also — and this was more serious, matter indeed for an auto de fé— he was accused of practising magic. To establish this grave charge, Messer Grande found in his lodging, and carried off thence, various forbidden works — copies of The Clavicula of Solomon, the Zecor-ben, a Picatrix, and a very full Instruction on the Planetary Hours, giving the necessary incantations for raising devils of all varieties.
These works were part of his adventurer’s stock in trade, the plinth upon which he erected his reputation for supernatural powers, whereby he exploited to his own profit the credulity of simpletons of all degrees. In all Europe there was no man with a greater contempt for those horn-books of chicanery, no man more convinced than Casanova that they were written by knaves for fools. He would have explained to the Inquisitors of State that he collected works of magic as curiosities of literature, as instances of pitiful human aberration. But the Inquisitors of State would not have believed him, for the Inquisitors were of those who took magic seriously. And anyhow they never asked him to explain. They had lodged him without any sort of trial in the Prison of the Piombi, the garret under the leads of the palace of the Doges of the Most Serene Republic.
There in the care of a villainous gaoler named Lorenzo, Casanova inhabited a miserable cell some twelve feet square by five and a half feet high — so low that a man of his fine height could not move upright in it. No table or toilet implement was allowed him beyond an ivory spoon bought at his own charges. The cell was lighted (very occasionally) by a window two feet square, criss-crossed by six iron bars each an inch thick, and even then the light was blocked by an exterior baulk of timber some eighteen inches wide that crossed the aperture at close quarters. During the summer months, when first he occupied that cell, there was light enough by which to read for some five hours daily. This period decreased as the year advanced, until when winter came and the mists from the lagoon hung over Venice, the daily hours of darkness numbered twenty-four, which is to say that he lived in perpetual night, that he was left in perpetual darkness to sit and think and go mad, for no lamp was permitted him.
The days passed, and grew into weeks; the weeks accumulated into months, and he abode there in that unspeakable cell under the leads, scorched — and devoured by insects — in summer; frozen almost to death when winter followed, without books — save two works of a religious character — without exercise of any kind, or any means of beguiling the endless tale of days. There, gaunt now and hollow-eyed, indescribably filthy, with matted beard and unkempt hair, lay the once elegant, flamboyant adventurer, forgotten, as it seemed to him, by God and man.
It was a cruel, subtle torture, calculated to break the health and destroy the sanity of any normal man. But Casanova’s constitution was of iron, his nerves of steel, and his sanity was kept whole by his faith in himself and his confidence that his wits must sooner or later discover him a way to escape. That he should even think of escaping from such a place reveals the high quality of his courage; that he should come to find the means, fashioning himself the implements out of nothing, as it were, proves how incomparable was his resource. Indeed, in none of the many adventures with which his life was filled did he ever display in so high a degree his audacity, inventiveness, and cunning. Be you the judge.
He was allowed for a few minutes daily, whilst his cell was being swept, to walk in the attic upon which his prison opened — a gallery of some twelve feet wide by thirty feet in length. Here one day he espied in a pile of rubbish in a corner a small slab of black marble. He picked it up, thinking that it might in some way prove useful. That was in the spring of 1756, by when he had been some six or eight months in prison. A few weeks later, in the same place, his eye was attracted by a discarded door-bolt — a stout bar of iron measuring a couple of feet in length. He appropriated it, with a vague sense that at last he had brought the possibility of escape within his reach.
His imagination had been busily at work, and he was well served by his knowledge of the ducal palace — for this prison of the Piombi is, as has been said, simply the extensive garret of the Palace of the Doges, deriving its name from the lead with which the roof immediately above is covered. His window faced the west, and from this and other observations and deductions he knew that his cell was immediately above the noble chamber in which the Council of Ten held its sittings.
Long ago he had come to the conclusion that the only possible way of escape lay through that chamber, and the only way into it through the floor of his cell. He had dreamt of cutting a hole in the floor, through which he might lower himself, but that was a dream that had been dismissed again and again by his despair of ever obtaining the tools to effect such an operation. Now, at last, he possessed the tools, or at least the material out of which he could fashion them.
He set about this task at once, and for days thereafter he laboured almost unremittingly to sharpen one end of the bolt, using the slab of marble as a whetstone. It was a test at once of patience and of endurance. Progress was almost imperceptibly slow, and meanwhile the palm of his right hand became a mass of sores from the ceaseless contact with, and the chafing of, the iron. In the end, however, he found himself armed with a sharp, octagon-pointed spontoon, which he concealed in the upholstery of the armchair that had been supplied him.
But it was one thing to have fashioned himself an implement with which to cut his way through the floor, and quite another to carry out undiscovered a task that must entail at least a couple of months’ work.
He was visited each morning by Lorenzo, who brought him food for the day. His gaoler came attended on these visits by a couple of archers, whose chief duty it was to sweep out the cell. It follows that any attempted excavation must immediately be revealed to them, and unless he could discover some good reason why this daily task of essential cleanliness should be permanently abandoned, it must remain impossible for him to put his project into execution. A reason might seem beyond discovery, yet his inventiveness and histrionic ability discovered it.
He began by peremptorily forbidding the archers to sweep, without advancing any reason. For a week he was obeyed without question, then at last Lorenzo made the enquiry that Casanova had been expecting into the reason for this strange order.
“They raise the dust,” said Casanova, “and the dust chokes me. I cough so violently that I fear serious — even fatal — consequences.”
Lorenzo wrinkled the ape-like features of his leathern face, and peered suspiciously at his prisoner.
“I will have the floor sprinkled with water,” he announced.
“That would be worse, Messer Lorenzo,” cried Casanova. “The damp might give me congestion of the lungs.”
The gaoler said no more. He withdrew in silence, and for another week there was no sweeping. But Casanova waited inactive, and on the eighth day Lorenzo came, attended again by his archers. He ordered them to sweep the cell, and that this might be done with thoroughness he lighted a couple of candles, and bade them carry the bed out into the gallery.
Casanova perceived quite plainly from this — as he had fully expected — that Lorenzo’s suspicions had been aroused, and he smiled to himself as he submitted without protest. But when the gaoler came to visit him next morning he found his prisoner abed in an exhausted condition, holding a blood-drenched handkerchief to his lips. (He had contrived to scratch his arm some hours earlier.)
“What’s this? What ails you?” he cried in alarm.
“You would sweep,” Casanova reproached him, fighting for breath. “Behold the consequences. I have had so violent a cough that I must have broken a blood-vessel.” A paroxysm of coughing interrupted him at the moment. He lay back gasping. “It is very likely I shall die of it,” he groaned.
In terror, Lorenzo ran to fetch a doctor, who when he came prescribed some medicine, and ordered a blood-letting. To him Casanova complained bitterly.
“It is this gaoler who is to blame for my condition,” he said. “I warned him of what would happen if he insisted upon sweeping my cell.”
He had expected sympathy from the doctor, but hardly that the fellow should reproach Lorenzo as he did, denouncing the gaoler’s obstinate ignorance, and relating a sad story of a young man who had died as a result of breathing dust when troubled in the chest.
Lorenzo defended himself by protesting that his sole intention had been to render service to the prisoner, and he ended by swearing that in view of what had happened the cell should be swept no more. When the doctor had departed Lorenzo humbled himself still further by begging Casanova to forgive him.
“How was I to know,” he ended, “that it would have such serious consequences for you?”
“I warned you,” Casanova answered feebly from his bed.
“But I sweep the cells of other prisoners, and they remain sound and healthy.”
“Perhaps their lungs are not as delicate as mine,” was the plaintive explanation, accepted without further question by the gaoler. And thus Casanova won immunity from the main danger of having his work discovered whilst in progress.
He had decided to make the excavation under his bed, moving this aside for the purpose, and then replacing it so as to conceal what was done. He commenced operations at once, but progress was slow because, as we have seen, he was in darkness for all but some five hours out of the twenty-four, and in darkness it was impossible to work. Unless he was to take a year over his labours, he must fashion himself a lamp. Courageously he addressed himself to the problem. For a vessel there was the little pan in which eggs were cooked for him; oil he procured by doing without it in the salad served him daily; a wick was easily fashioned out of strands taken from the bedclothes and the lamp was ready. But the lamp was nothing without light, and how was light to be obtained?
The crowning-piece of the inventiveness he displayed in this affair is afforded by the manner in which he went about the Promethean task of assembling the elements of light.
Luck helped him a little by providing him with one of the ingredients. Under each arm of the coat of that brave summer suit of taffeta in which, you will remember, he had gone to prison nearly a year ago, he had ordered his tailor to place a patch of amadou, so as to prevent the delicate material from being stained by perspiration. Thus he found himself supplied with tinder, or at least with that which would become tinder when sulphur was added to it. To obtain the sulphur he used his considerable medical knowledge. He feigned indisposition, and complained of an irritation of the skin, begging Lorenzo to ask the doctor for a prescription. Came next day a recipe, recommending a diet and — as he had reckoned — an unguent of flower of sulphur.
In common with all those confined by order of the Inquisitors, Casanova lived upon a daily allowance — graduated to the social position of the prisoner — spent for him by the gaoler in accordance with his own instructions.
“Go and buy me the unguent,” he bade Lorenzo, “or rather — go and buy me the sulphur. I’ll mix it with butter, and so make my own unguent.”
Lorenzo obeyed him, and thus he was provided with the sulphur with which to prepare the tinder. For steel he bethought him of the stout buckle of his belt, which would answer admirably. It but remained to obtain a flint. Again he feigned indisposition, and employed his wits to play upon the ignorance of Lorenzo. He complained of a raging toothache, and begged for some pumice-stone to soak in vinegar, which, applied to the tooth, he claimed, would immediately ease the pain.
“But if you haven’t any pumice-stone,” he added, cunningly, “a gun-flint would do as well.”
He knew, of course, that Lorenzo must carry flints in his pocket. If that was all the prisoner needed, his wants could soon be supplied. Lorenzo flung him three or four flints, and went out.
That night Casanova lighted his lamp. He was vain of the achievement. To use his own words, he had created light out of darkness.
It was a fortnight after Easter when he eventually got to work on the task of breaking through the floor, and he toiled thereafter slowly and assiduously with his improvized spontoon for only implement, covering the hole each day with his bed. Progress was at first dishearteningly slow, and the labours of the first few days were represented by a handful of grains of wood dug from the uppermost plank. Under that, when at last he had cut through it, he came upon a second plank, and under that again a third. Laboriously he cut through the three successive planks, to find himself confronted next by a layer of marble tiles, which for a moment caused him to despair. But he went on, and whilst the weeks were growing into months, he persistently dug at the cement in the interstices until he had extracted one of the marble squares. After that it was a simple matter to prize up the others, and at last he had cleared a space sufficient for the passage of his body, and laid bare yet another layer of planks. Persuaded that this formed the ceiling of the Council Chamber, he went to work with extremest care, excavating the timber of these last planks until no more remained than a mere film of wood, which half a dozen blows would smash away. He pierced a hole, and, applying his eye to it, verified with joy that his calculations were correct, and that the room immediately below was indeed the Council Chamber of the palace.
That was on the 23rd August, and having made all other preparations, he then determined to leave his prison on the 27th. He chose this date because he knew it for the eve of the feast of St Augustine, a day on which the rooms below were most likely to be utterly untenanted. His plan was to smash away the remaining film, and lower himself by means of a rope improvised from his bedclothes. He would choose an hour of early morning, and once in the Council Chamber he did not apprehend any serious obstacle to his escape.
Confidently then he waited, within sight now of the salvation for which he had laboured so strenuously and patiently, and then, with brutal suddenness, the thunderbolt fell from the clearest of skies.
Precisely at noon on the 25th he heard the sound of bolts being withdrawn, a thing so unusual at such an hour that at once it filled him with terror. He had just time to drag his bed into its normal position, so that it covered the gaping hole and the debris of the excavated floor, and to fling himself into his armchair, before the apish face of Lorenzo grinned at him through the Judas-hole in the door.
“I congratulate you, sir, upon the good news I bring you,” was the gaoler’s greeting, in accents of unusual joviality.
For an instant Casanova’s heart seemed to stop beating. He imagined at once that Lorenzo was the bearer of an order for his release; and release so ardently desired through so many months of horror was the last thing he could now wish to see effected in this manner. For it must inevitably entail the discovery of the way of escape he had prepared, and this in itself must suffice to cancel the boon.
Lorenzo came in. “You are to come with me,” he announced.
“Wait until I dress myself,” said Casanova weakly.
“That’s of no consequence,” he was answered. “You are to leave this filthy hole for a fine new chamber, lofty and airy, with two windows from which you will be able to see the half of Venice.”
Casanova sank limply back into the depths of his chair. He felt as if he would swoon.
“Fetch me some vinegar,” he begged faintly. “Then go tell his Excellency the Secretary that I am grateful to the Tribunal for this mercy, but that I beg their Excellencies to leave me where I am.”
Lorenzo stared at him in amazement a moment, then flung back his head and laughed aloud.
“Are you mad, sir?” he asked, not unreasonably. “I offer to transplant you from hell to heaven, and you refuse! Come, come! The Tribunal must be obeyed. Take my arm. I will have your things removed at once.”
Seeing that remonstrance would be futile, and resistance more futile still, Casanova rose heavily to his feet. The only ray of light in the darkness of his despair at that moment was afforded him by Lorenzo’s command to one of the archers to take up the prisoner’s armchair, and carry it ahead of them. For this meant that the precious spontoon, concealed in the upholstery, would accompany him. If only he could have taken with him that precious hole as well, the object of so much wasted labour and vain hopes, all would have been well.
He went, leaning on Lorenzo’s shoulder and leaving, as he says, his soul behind him in that place of horror. He was conducted to a room on the other side of the palace, certainly more airy and spacious than the kennel he had left, with a large barred window, through which he saw two other windows also barred, beyond a narrow corridor which they lighted. Through these there was a pleasant view extending to the Lido, and the air was clean and fresh. But these were matters which he scarcely noticed at the moment. He sank limply into the armchair, which the archer had set down, and, whilst Lorenzo went to see to the removal of his effects, he sat there waiting for the storm to burst.
He tells us that in that hour he was able to attach faith to the boast of the philosopher Zeno that he had discovered the secret of suppressing pallor, blushes, laughter, and tears. Casanova sat immovable as a statue, awaiting the storm, as I have said, but with a calm that amazed even himself.
Two of the archers entered carrying his bed, which they set down, and then went out again without a word, after which he was left alone for two whole hours or more. This delay in bringing the remainder of his effects was entirely unnatural, but not at all surprising. He knew, of course, what the removal of his bed must have revealed, and he sat there, all power of emotion numb, considering in a curiously detached and dispassionate manner what consequences must follow upon that discovery. He had no illusions on the score of those consequences. He knew that in the foundations of the ducal palace there were prisons even more horrible than the attics of the Piombi, prisons appropriately known as the Pozzi — the wells — foul, subterranean, and subaqueous dungeons, below the level of the canals, invaded by water at high tide, rat-infested oubliettes to which the light of day never pierced — prisons in which men died quickly, after first going mad.
He knew of these prisons, and knew that they were reserved for grave offenders, and for men guilty of his own offence of attempting to escape, and he saw that it must now be his fate to be flung into one of them, whence evasion would be impossible. He was irrevocably lost.
At last Lorenzo came. He entered quickly, followed by a couple of his men, his countenance — repulsive at its best — disfigured now by anger. He stood there foaming at the mouth, raging and blaspheming horribly, what time Casanova considered him with a detachment of spirit that almost permitted him to derive an onlooker’s amusement from this crisis.
When at last Lorenzo had sufficiently mastered his passion to become coherent ——
“You will,” he said, “deliver to me at once the axe and other implements with which you were breaking through the floor, and you will also give me the name of the archer who supplied you with them.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” was the answer, so calm that Lorenzo flung into a fresh passion, and ordered him to be searched.
Before that threat Casanova rose, and, with the imposing dignity of which he was master, he commanded the archers to wait whilst he stripped off his garments and flung them down.
“Do your duty,” he bade them, “but let none of your dirty hands touch me.”
They searched his clothes, tore open the mattress and pillow of his bed, and even the cushion of his armchair, but without success.
“If you will not answer my questions of your own free will,” stormed the furious Lorenzo, “we have the means at hand to loosen the most stubborn tongue.”
And then, at grips with the issue, face to face with that threat of torture, and worse to follow, Casanova’s incomparable resource rose admirably to the occasion.
Lorenzo himself may unconsciously have pointed the way out of this overwhelming peril when he demanded the name of the archer who had supplied the prisoner with the prison-breaking tools. Casanova knew exactly how hard it must have gone with such a man had he existed and been denounced. If he escaped hanging, which was improbable, he would at least be sent to the galleys, there to toil at an oar for the remainder of his days. And the punishment that would overtake an archer guilty of assisting a State prisoner to escape would overtake Lorenzo himself no less if he were the offender.
This reflection dictated Casanova’s answer.
“If it is true that I have made this hole you talk about, it must have been yourself who supplied me with the means. In fact, now that I come to think of it, that is what happened.”
Lorenzo stared at him for a moment with dilating eyes, whilst the colour receded from his face, leaving it deathly pale. In the background, behind him, the archers grinned and nudged one another.
“From me?” spluttered at last the stupefied gaoler. “You had the means from me?” Indignation succeeding panic, the blood flowed back into his face. His eyes blazed. “You had a lamp. I found it. How did you come by that?”
“Why, it was you who supplied it me.”
“Bah! Lies!” roared Lorenzo. “Tell me when — where?”
“You have forgotten, I see,” said Casanova quietly, smiling now.
“Forgotten! You impudent scoundrel ——!”
“A little calm, Messer Lorenzo, a little calm,” Casanova enjoined. “Bethink you now: the oil — from my salad; the sulphur — to make an unguent for a rash; the flints — to dissolve in vinegar for the toothache. Ah! I see that you remember. The other things necessary I already possessed.”
Lorenzo understood, and understanding he grew really afraid. He had been imprudent, and culpably negligent, and if these details should come to the knowledge of the Inquisitors of State it was likely to go very hard with him. He trembled now with very real apprehension. He drove out the archers, bidding them go fetch the remainder of the prisoner’s effects, and Casanova conceived that he had Lorenzo at his mercy, and that the danger of the dungeons was less imminent.
“But the axe, and what other tools you had?” the gaoler demanded, when they were alone. A perceptible change had come over his tone and bearing; it was as if he feared to learn that in some similarly unconscious manner he had himself purveyed the implements.
“I had them also from you,” was the stolid answer.
Lorenzo tore his hair, and stamped about the room in a state of frenzy. At length he made an effort to recover his calm.
“I admit that you were right about the lamp,” he said. “But can you convince me as easily that I supplied you with the tools you required to make that hole?”
“Assuredly. To begin with I swear to you solemnly that I received nothing from anyone but you.”
“Misericordia!” Lorenzo flung up his arms in a gesture of protest to Heaven. “But how — tell me how and when I supplied you with an axe.”
“You shall know everything — if you insist — the whole truth. But I will tell you only in the presence of the Secretary of the Inquisitors. Take me before him, if you please.”
For a moment Lorenzo stood white and shaking before him. Then, without another word, he turned on his heel and departed, locking the door after him. And he took with him a considerable part of the load of dread that had earlier oppressed Casanova.
For two days the gaoler sulked, and refused to open his lips when he paid his morning visit to the prisoner. But on the third day his manner had completely changed, and he stood before Casanova as a suppliant, imploring him at length to say nothing of what had passed.
“For myself,” said Lorenzo, “I am content to believe what you have told me, and I ask you no more questions as to how you obtained the means to excavate the floor. All I now beg of you to consider is that I am a poor devil with a wife and children, and that I should be ruined if the matter came to the knowledge of the Inquisitors.”
You conceive that it was not difficult for Casanova to yield to these intercessions. Graciously he gave the required promise, congratulating himself inwardly not only upon having escaped the imminent peril of the dungeons, where death must soon have followed, but also upon having obtained a dominion over the scoundrelly Lorenzo, which should ensure him better treatment in the future.
These considerations compensated him in some measure for the cruelty of fate which had foiled in the eleventh hour, and by the merest chance, his project of escape. And for further comfort he had the reflection that the spontoon was still safe in his chair, and that it was now for him to begin all over again, if he desired to regain his liberty.
How he did so, and how some months later he contrived to make good his escape from the Prison of the Piombi, is another story.
THE NIGHT OF ESCAPE
Patrician influence from without had procured Casanova’s removal, in August of that year, 1756, from the loathsome cell he had occupied for thirteen months in the Piombi — so called from the leaded roof immediately above those prisons which are simply the garrets of the Doge’s palace.
That cell had been no better than a kennel seldom reached by the light of day, and so shallow that it was impossible for a man of his fine height to stand upright in it. But his present prison was comparatively spacious, and it was airy and well-lighted by a barred window, whence he could see the Lido.
Yet he was desperately chagrined at the change, for he had almost completed his arrangements to break out of his former cell. The only ray of hope in his present despair came from the fact that the implement to which he trusted was still in his possession, safely concealed in the upholstery of the armchair that had been moved with him into his present quarters. That implement he had fashioned for himself with infinite pains out of a door-bolt some twenty inches long, which he had found discarded in a rubbish-heap in a corner of the attic where he had been allowed to take his brief daily exercise. Using as a whetstone a small slab of black marble, similarly acquired, he had shaped that bolt into a sharp, octagonal-pointed chisel or spontoon.
It remained in his possession, but he saw no chance of using it now, for the suspicions of Lorenzo, the gaoler, were aroused, and daily a couple of archers came to sound the floors and walls. True they did not sound the ceiling, which was low and within reach. But it was obviously impossible to cut through the ceiling in such a manner as to leave the progress of the work unseen.
Hence his despair of breaking out of a prison where he had spent over a year without trial or prospect of a trial, and where he seemed likely to spend the remainder of his days. He did not even know precisely why he had been arrested. All that Giacomo di Casanova knew was that he was accounted a disturber of the public peace. He was notoriously a libertine, a gamester, and heavily in debt; also — and this was more serious — he was accused of practising magic, as indeed he had done, as a means of exploiting to his own profit the credulity of simpletons of all degrees. He would have explained to the Inquisitors of State of the Most Serene Republic that the books of magic found by their apparitors in his possession —The Clavicula of Solomon, the Zecor-ben, and other kindred works — had been collected by him as curious instances of human aberrations. But the Inquisitors of State would not have believed him, for the Inquisitors were among those who took magic seriously. And, anyhow, they had never asked him to explain, but had left him as if forgotten in that abominable, verminous cell under the leads, until his patrician friend had obtained the mercy of this transfer to better quarters.
The same influence that had obtained him his change of cell had also gained him latterly the privilege — and he esteemed it beyond all else — of procuring himself books. Desiring the works of Maffai, he bade his gaoler purchase them out of the allowance made him by the Inquisitors in accordance with the Venetian custom. This allowance was graduated to the social status of each prisoner. But, the books being costly and any monthly surplus from his monthly expenditure being usually the gaoler’s perquisite, Lorenzo was reluctant to indulge him. He mentioned that there was a prisoner above who was well equipped with books, and who, no doubt, would be glad to lend in exchange.
Yielding to the suggestion, Casanova handed Lorenzo a copy of Peteau’s Rationarium, and received next morning in exchange, the first volume of Wolf. Within he found a sheet bearing in six verses a paraphrase of Seneca’s epigram, Calamitosus est animus futuri anxius. Immediately he perceived he had stumbled upon a means of corresponding with one who might be disposed to assist him to break prison.
In reply, being a scholarly rascal, he wrote six verses himself. Having no pen he cut the long nail of his little finger to a point, and, splitting it, supplied the want. For ink he used the juice of mulberries. In addition to the verses, he wrote a list of the books in his possession, which he placed at the disposal of his fellow captive. He concealed the written sheet in the spine of that vellum-bound volume; and on the title-page, in warning of this, he wrote the single Latin word Latet. Next morning he handed the book to Lorenzo, telling him that he had read it, and requesting the second volume.
That second volume came on the next day, and in the spine of it a long letter, some sheets of paper, pens, and a pencil. The writer announced himself as one Marino Balbi, a patrician and a monk, who had been four years in that prison, where he had since been given a companion in misfortune, Count Andrea Asquino.
Thus began a regular and very full correspondence between the prisoners, and soon Casanova — who had not lived on his wits for nothing — was able to form a shrewd estimate of Balbi’s character. The monk’s letters revealed it as compounded of sensuality, stupidity, ingratitude, and indiscretion.
“In the world,” says Casanova, “I should have had no commerce with a fellow of his nature. But in the Piombi I was obliged to make capital out of everything that came under my hands.”
The capital he desired to make in this instance was to ascertain whether Balbi would be disposed to do for him what he could not do for himself. He wrote, enquiring, and proposing flight.
Balbi replied that he and his companion would do anything possible to make their escape from that abominable prison, but his lack of resource made him add that he was convinced that nothing was possible.
“All that you have to do,” wrote Casanova in answer, “is to break through the ceiling of my cell and get me out of this, then trust to me to get you out of the Piombi. If you are disposed to make the attempt, I will supply you with the means, and show you the way.”
It was a characteristically bold reply, revealing to us the utter gamester that he was in all things.
He knew that Balbi’s cell was situated immediately under the leads, and he hoped that once in it he should be able readily to find a way through the roof. That cell of Balbi’s communicated with a narrow corridor, no more than a shaft for light and air, which was immediately above Casanova’s prison. And no sooner had Balbi written, consenting, than Casanova explained what was to do. Balbi must break through the wall of his cell into the little corridor, and there cut a round hole in the floor — precisely as Casanova had done in his former cell — until nothing but a shell of ceiling remained — a shell that could be broken down by half a dozen blows when the moment to escape should have arrived.
To begin with, he ordered Balbi to purchase himself two or three dozen pictures of saints, with which to paper his walls, using as many as might be necessary for a screen to hide the hole he would be cutting.
When Balbi wrote that his walls were hung with pictures of saints, it became a question of conveying the spontoon to him. This was difficult, and the monk’s fatuous suggestions merely served further to reveal his stupidity. Finally, Casanova’s wits found the way. He bade Lorenzo buy him an infolio edition of the Bible which had just been published, and it was into the spine of this enormous tome that he packed the precious spontoon, and thus conveyed it to Balbi, who immediately got to work.
This was at the commencement of October. On the eighth of that month Balbi wrote to Casanova that a whole night devoted to labour had resulted merely in the displacing of a single brick, which so discouraged the faint-hearted monk that he was for abandoning an attempt whose only result must be to increase in the future the rigour of their confinement.
Without hesitation, Casanova replied that he was assured of success — although he was far from having any grounds for any such assurance. He enjoined the monk to believe him, and to persevere, confident that as he advanced he would find progress easier. This proved, indeed, to be the case, for soon Balbi found the brickwork yielding so rapidly to his efforts that one morning, a week later, Casanova heard three light taps above his head — the preconcerted signal by which they were to assure themselves that their notions of the topography of the prison were correct.
All that day he heard Balbi at work immediately above him, and again on the morrow, when Balbi wrote that as the floor was of the thickness of only two boards, he counted upon completing the job on the next day, without piercing the ceiling.
But it would seem as if fortune were intent upon making a mock of Casanova, luring him to heights of hope, merely to cast him down again into the depths of despair. Just as upon the eve of breaking out of his former cell mischance had thwarted him, so now, when again he deemed himself upon the very threshold of liberty, came mischance again to thwart him.
Early in the afternoon the sound of bolts being drawn outside froze his very blood and checked his breathing. Yet he had the presence of mind to give the double knock that was the agreed alarm signal, whereupon Balbi instantly desisted from his labours overhead.
Came Lorenzo with two archers, leading an ugly, lean little man of between forty and fifty years of age, shabbily dressed and wearing a round, black wig, whom the tribunal had ordered should share Casanova’s prison for the present. With apologies for leaving such a scoundrel in Casanova’s company, Lorenzo departed, and the newcomer went down upon his knees, drew forth a chaplet, and began to tell his beads.
Casanova surveyed this intruder at once in disgust and in despair. Presently his disgust was increased when the fellow, whose name was Soradici, frankly avowed himself a spy in the service of the Council of Ten, a calling which he warmly defended from the contempt universally — but unjustly, according to himself — meted out to it. He had been imprisoned for having failed in his duty on one occasion through succumbing to a bribe.
Conceive Casanova’s frame of mind — his uncertainty as to how long this monster, as he calls him, might be left in his company, his curbed impatience to regain his liberty, and his consciousness of the horrible risk of discovery which delay entailed! He wrote to Balbi that night while the spy slept, and for the present their operations were suspended. But not for very long. Soon Casanova’s wits resolved how to turn to account the weakness which he discovered in Soradici.
The spy was devout to the point of bigoted, credulous superstition. He spent long hours in prayer, and he talked freely of his special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and his ardent faith in miracles.
Casanova — the arch-humbug who had worked magic to delude the credulous — determined there and then to work a miracle for Soradici. Assuming an inspired air, he solemnly informed the spy one morning that it had been revealed to him in a dream that Soradici’s devotion to the Rosary was about to be rewarded; that an angel was to be sent from heaven to deliver him from prison, and that Casanova himself would accompany him in his flight.
If Soradici doubted, conviction was soon to follow. For Casanova foretold the very hour at which the angel would come to break through the roof of the prison, and at that hour precisely — Casanova having warned Balbi — the noise made by the angel overhead flung Soradici into an ecstasy of terror.
But when, at the end of four hours, the angel desisted from his labours, Soradici was beset by doubts. Casanova explained to him that, since angels invariably put on the garb of human flesh when descending upon earth, they labour under human conditions. He added the prophecy at the angel would return on the last day of the month, the eve of All Saints — two days later — and that he would then conduct them out of captivity.
By this means Casanova ensured that no betrayal should be feared from the thoroughly duped Soradici, who now spent the time in praying, weeping, and talking of his sins and of the inexhaustibility of divine grace. To make doubly sure, Casanova added the most terrible oath that if, by a word to the gaoler, Soradici should presume to frustrate the divine intentions, he would immediately strangle him with his own hands.
On October 31 Lorenzo paid his usual daily visit early in the morning. After his departure they waited some hours, Soradici in expectant terror, Casanova in sheer impatience to be at work. Promptly at noon fell heavy blows overhead, and then, in a cloud of plaster and broken laths, the heavenly messenger descended clumsily into Casanova’s arms.
Soradici found this tall, gaunt, bearded figure, clad in a dirty shirt and a pair of leather breeches, of a singularly unangelic appearance; indeed, he looked far more like a devil.
When he produced a pair of scissors, so that the spy might cut Casanova’s beard, which, like the angel’s, had grown in captivity, Soradici ceased to have any illusions on the score of Balbi’s celestial nature. Although still intrigued — since he could not guess at the secret correspondence that had passed between Casanova and Balbi — he perceived quite clearly that he had been fooled.
Leaving Soradici in the monk’s care, Casanova hoisted himself through the broken ceiling and gained Balbi’s cell, where the sight of Count Asquino dismayed him. He found a middle-aged man of a corpulence which must render it impossible for him to face the athletic difficulties that lay before them; of this the count himself seemed already persuaded.
“If you think,” was his greeting, as he shook Casanova’s hand, “to break through the roof and find a way down from the leads, I don’t see how you are to succeed without wings. I have not the courage to accompany you,” he added. “I shall remain and pray for you.”
Attempting no persuasions where they must have been idle, Casanova passed out of the cell again, and approaching as nearly as possible to the edge of the attic, he sat down where he could touch the roof as it sloped immediately above his head. With his spontoon he tested the timbers, and found them so decayed that they almost crumbled at the touch. Assured thereby that the cutting of a hole would be an easy matter, he at once returned to his cell, and there he spent the ensuing four hours in preparing ropes. He cut up sheets, blankets, coverlets, and the very cover of his mattress, knotting the strips together with the utmost care. In the end he found himself equipped with some two hundred yards of rope, which should be ample for any purpose.
Having made a bundle of the fine taffeta suit in which he had been arrested, his gay cloak of floss silk, some stockings, shirts, and handkerchiefs, he and Balbi passed up to the other cell, compelling Soradici to go with them. Leaving the monk to make a parcel of his belongings, Casanova went to tackle the roof. By dusk he had made a hole twice as large as was necessary, and had laid bare the lead sheeting with which the roof was covered. Unable, single-handed, to raise one of the sheets, he called Balbi to his aid, and between them, assisted by the spontoon, which Casanova inserted between the edge of the sheet and the gutter, they at last succeeded in tearing away the rivets. Then by putting their shoulders to the lead they bent it upwards until there was room to emerge, and a view of the sky flooded by the vivid light of the crescent moon.
Not daring in that light to venture upon the roof, where they would be seen, they must wait with what patience they could until midnight, when the moon would be set. So they returned to the cell where they had left Soradici with Count Asquino.
From Balbi, Casanova had learnt that Asquino, though well-supplied with money, was of an avaricious nature. Nevertheless, since money would be necessary, Casanova asked the count for the loan of thirty gold sequins. Asquino answered him gently that, in the first place, they would not need money to escape; that, in the second, he had a numerous family; that, in the third, if Casanova perished the money would be lost; and that in the fourth he had no money.
“My reply,” writes Casanova, “lasted half an hour.”
“Let me remind you,” he said in concluding his exhortation, “of your promise to pray for us, and let me ask you what sense there can be in praying for the success of an enterprise to which you refuse to contribute the most necessary means.”
The old man was so far conquered by Casanova’s eloquence that he offered him two sequins, which Casanova accepted, since he was not in case to refuse anything.
Thereafter, as they sat waiting for the moon to set, Casanova found his earlier estimate of the monk’s character confirmed. Balbi now broke into abusive reproaches. He found that Casanova had acted in bad faith by assuring him that he had formed a complete plan of escape. Had he suspected that this was a mere gambler’s throw on Casanova’s part, he would never have laboured to get him out of his cell. The count added his advice that they should abandon an attempt foredoomed to failure, and, being concerned for the two sequins with which he had so reluctantly parted, he argued the case at great length. Stifling his disgust, Casanova assured them that, although it was impossible for him to afford them details of how he intended to proceed, he was perfectly confident of success.
At half-past ten he sent Soradici — who had remained silent throughout — to report upon the night. The spy brought word that in another hour or so the moon would have set, but that a thick mist was rising, which must render the leads very dangerous.
“So long as the mist isn’t made of oil, I am content,” said Casanova. “Come, make a bundle of your cloak. It is time we were moving.”
But at this Soradici fell on his knees in the dark, seized Casanova’s hands, and begged to be left behind to pray for their safety, since he would be sure to meet his death if he attempted to go with them.
Casanova assented readily, delighted to be rid of the fellow. Then in the dark he wrote as best he could a quite characteristic letter to the Inquisitors of State, in which he took his leave of them, telling them that since he had been fetched into the prison without his wishes being consulted, they could not complain that he had departed without consulting theirs.
The bundle containing Balbi’s clothes, and another made up of half the rope, he slung from the monk’s neck, thereafter doing the same in his own case. Then, in their shirtsleeves, their hats on their heads, the pair of them started on their perilous journey, leaving Count Asquino and Soradici to pray for them.
Casanova went first, on all fours, and thrusting the point of his spontoon between the joints of the lead sheeting so as to obtain a hold, he crawled slowly upwards. To follow, Balbi took a grip of Casanova’s belt with his right hand, so that in addition to making his own way, Casanova was compelled to drag the weight of his companion after him, and this up the sharp gradient of a roof rendered slippery by the mist.
Midway in that laborious ascent, the monk called to him to stop. He had dropped the bundle containing the clothes, and he hoped that it had not rolled beyond the gutter, though he did not mention which of them should retrieve it. After the unreasonableness already endured from this man, Casanova’s exasperation was such in that moment that, he confesses, he was tempted to kick him after his bundle. Controlling himself, however, he answered patiently that the matter could not now be helped, and kept steadily amain.
At last the apex of the roof was reached, and they got astride of it to breathe and to take a survey of their surroundings. They faced the several cupolas of the Church of St Mark, which is connected with the ducal palace, being, in fact, no more than the private chapel of the Doge.
They set down their bundles, and, of course, in the act of doing so the wretched Balbi must lose his hat, and send it rolling down the roof after the bundle he had already lost. He cried out that it was an evil omen.
“On the contrary,” Casanova assured him patiently, “it is a sign of divine protection; for if your bundle or your hat had happened to roll to the left instead of the right it would have fallen into the courtyard, where it would be seen by the guards, who must conclude that someone is moving on the roof, and so, no doubt, would have discovered us. As it is, your hat has followed your bundle into the canal, where it can do no harm.”
Thereupon, bidding the monk to await his return, Casanova set off alone on a voyage of discovery, keeping for the present astride of the roof in his progress. He spent a full hour wandering along the vast roof, going to right and to left in his quest, but failing completely to make any helpful discovery, or to find anything to which he could attach a rope. In the end it began to look as if, after all, he must choose between returning to prison and flinging himself from the roof into the canal. He was almost in despair when, in his wanderings, his attention was caught by a dormer window on the canal side, about two-thirds of the way down the slope of the roof. With infinite precaution he lowered himself down the steep, slippery incline until he was astride of the little dormer roof. Leaning well forward, he discovered that a slender grating barred the leaded panes of the window itself, and for a moment this grating gave him pause.
Midnight boomed just then from the Church of St Mark, like a reminder that but seven hours remained in which to conquer this and further difficulties that might confront him, and in which to win clear of that place, or else submit to a resumption of his imprisonment under conditions, no doubt, a hundredfold more rigorous.
Lying flat on his stomach, and hanging far over, so as to see what he was doing, he worked one point of his spontoon into the sash of the grating, and, levering outwards, he strained until at last it came away completely in his hands. After that it was an easy matter to shatter the little latticed window.
Having accomplished so much, he turned, and, using his spontoon as before, he crawled back to the summit of the roof, and made his way rapidly along this to the spot where he had left Balbi. The monk, reduced by now to a state of blending despair, terror, and rage, greeted Casanova in terms of the grossest abuse for having left him there so long.
“I was waiting only for daylight,” he concluded, “to return to prison.”
“What did you think had become of me?” asked Casanova.
“I imagined that you had tumbled off the roof.”
“And is this abuse the expression of your joy at finding yourself mistaken?”
“Where have you been all this time?” the monk counter-questioned sullenly.
“Come with me and you shall see.”
And taking up his bundle again, Casanova led his companion forward, until they were in line with the dormer. There Casanova showed him what he had done, and consulted him as to the means to be adopted to enter the attic. It would be too risky for them to allow themselves to drop from the sill, since the height of the window from the floor was unknown to them, and might be considerable. It would be easy for one of them to lower the other by means of the rope. But it was not apparent how, hereafter, the other was to follow. Thus reasoned Casanova.
“You had better lower me, anyhow,” said Balbi, without hesitation; for no doubt he was very tired of that slippery roof, on which a single false step might have sent him to his account. “Once I am inside you can consider ways of following me.”
That cold-blooded expression of the fellow’s egoism put Casanova in a rage for the second time since they had left their prison. But as before he conquered it, and without uttering a word he proceeded to unfasten the coil of rope. Making one end of it secure under Balbi’s arms, he bade the monk lie prone upon the roof, his feet pointing downwards, and then paying out rope, he lowered him to the dormer. He then bade him get through the window as far as the level of his waist, and wait thus, hanging over and supporting himself upon the sill. When he had obeyed, Casanova followed, sliding carefully down to the roof of the dormer. Planting himself firmly, and taking the rope once more, he bade Balbi to let himself go without fear, and so lowered him to the floor — a height from the window, as it proved, of some fifty feet. This extinguished all Casanova’s hopes of being able to follow by allowing himself to drop from the sill. He was dismayed. But the monk, happy to find himself at last off that accursed roof, and out of all danger of breaking his neck, called foolishly to Casanova to throw him the rope so that he might take care of it.
“As may be imagined,” says Casanova, “I was careful not to take this idiotic advice.”
Not knowing now what was to become of him unless he could discover some other means than those at his command, he climbed back again to the summit of the roof, and started off desperately upon another voyage of discovery. This time he succeeded better than before. He found about a cupola a terrace which he had not earlier noticed, and on this terrace a hod of plaster, a trowel, and a ladder some seventy feet long. He saw his difficulties solved. He passed an end of rope about one of the rungs, laid the ladder flat along the slope of the roof, and then, still astride of the apex, he worked his way back, dragging the ladder with him, until he was once more on a level with the dormer.
But now the difficulty was how to get the ladder through the window, and he had cause to repent having so hastily deprived himself of his companion’s assistance. He got the ladder into position, and lowered it until one of its ends rested upon the dormer, whilst the other projected some twenty feet beyond the edge of the roof. He slid down to the dormer, and placing the ladder beside him, drew it up so that he could reach the eighth rung. To this rung he made fast his rope, then lowered the ladder again until the upper end of it was in line with the window through which he sought to introduce it. But he found it impossible to do so beyond the fifth rung, for at this point the end of the ladder came in contact with the roof inside, and could be pushed no further until it was inclined downward. Now, the only possible way to accomplish this was by raising the other end.
It occurred to him that he might, by so attaching the rope as to bring the ladder across the window-frame, lower himself hand over hand to the floor of the attic. But in so doing he must have left the ladder there to show their pursuers in the morning not merely the way they had gone, but, for all he knew at this stage, the place where they might then be still in hiding. Having come so far, at so much risk and labour, he was determined to leave nothing to chance. To accomplish his object then, he made his way down to the very edge of the roof, sliding carefully on his stomach until his feet found support against the marble gutter, the ladder meanwhile remaining hooked by one of its rungs to the sill of the dormer.
In that perilous position he lifted his end of the ladder a few inches, and so contrived to thrust it another foot or so through the window, whereby its weight was considerably diminished. If he could but get it another couple of feet further in he was sure that by returning to the dormer he would have been able to complete the job. In his anxiety to do this and to obtain the necessary elevation, he raised himself upon his knees.
But in the very act of making the thrust he slipped, and clutching wildly as he went, he shot over the edge of the roof. He found himself hanging there, suspended above that terrific abyss by his hands and his elbows, which had convulsively hooked themselves on to the edge of the gutter, so that he had it on a level with his breast.
It was a moment of dread the like of which he was never likely to endure again in a life that was to know many perils and many hairbreadth escapes. He could not write of it nearly half a century later without shuddering and growing sick with horror.
A moment he hung there gasping, then, almost mechanically, guided by the sheer instinct of self-preservation, he not merely attempted but actually succeeded in raising himself so as to bring his side against the gutter. Then continuing gradually to raise himself until his waist was on a level with the edge, he threw the weight of his trunk forward upon the roof, and slowly brought his right leg up until he had obtained with his knee a further grip of the gutter. The rest was easy, and you may conceive him as he lay there on the roof’s edge, panting and shuddering for a moment to regain his breath and nerve.
Meanwhile, the ladder, driven forward by the thrust that had so nearly cost him his life, had penetrated another three feet through the window, and hung there immovable. Recovered, he took up his spontoon, which he had placed in the gutter, and, assisted by it, he climbed back to the dormer. Almost without further difficulty, he succeeded now in introducing the ladder until, of its own weight, it swung down into position.
A moment later he had joined Balbi in the attic, and together they groped about it in the dark, and finding presently a door, passed through into another chamber, where they discovered furniture by hurtling against it. Guided by a faint glimmer of light, Casanova made his way to one of the windows and opened it. He looked out upon a black abyss, and, having no knowledge of the locality, and no inclination to adventure himself into unknown regions, he immediately abandoned all idea of attempting to climb down. He closed the window again, and going back to the other room, he lay down on the floor, with the bundle of ropes for pillow, to wait for dawn.
And so exhausted was he, not only by the efforts of the past hours, and the terrible experience in which they had culminated, but also because in the past two days he had scarcely eaten or slept, that straightway, and greatly to Balbi’s indignation and disgust, he fell into a profound sleep.
He was aroused three and a half hours later by the clamours and shakings of the exasperated monk. Protesting that such a sleep at such a time was a thing inconceivable, Balbi informed him that it had just struck five.
It was still dark, but already there was a dim grey glimmer of dawn by which objects could be faintly discerned. Searching, Casanova found another door on the opposite to that of the chamber which they had entered earlier. It was locked, but the lock was a poor one that yielded to half a dozen blows of the spontoon, and they passed into a little room beyond which by an open door they came into a long gallery lined with pigeon-holes stuffed with parchments, which they conceived to be the archives. At the end of this gallery they found a short flight of stairs, and below that yet another, which brought them to a glass door. Opening this, they entered a room which Casanova immediately identified as the ducal chancellery. Descent from one of its windows would have been easy, but they would have found themselves in the labyrinth of courts and alleys behind St Mark’s, which would not have suited them at all.
On a table Casanova found a stout bodkin with a long wooden handle, the implement used by the secretaries for piercing parchments that were to be joined by a cord bearing the leaden seals of the Republic. He opened a desk, and rummaging in it, found a letter addressed to the Proveditor of Corfu, advising a remittance of 3,000 sequins for the repair of the fortress. He rummaged further, seeking the 3,000 sequins, which he would have appropriated without the least scruple. Unfortunately they were not there.
Quitting the desk, he crossed to the door, to find it not merely locked but to discover that it was not the kind of lock that would yield to blows. There was no way out but by battering away one of the panels, and to this he addressed himself without hesitation, assisted by Balbi, who had armed himself with the bodkin, but who trembled fearfully at the noise of Casanova’s blows. There was danger in this, but the danger must be braved, for the time was slipping away. In half an hour they had broken down all of the panel it was possible to remove without the help of a saw. The opening they had made was at a height of five feet from the ground, and the splintered woodwork armed it with a fearful array of jagged teeth.
They dragged a couple of stools to the door, and getting on to these, Casanova bade Balbi go first. The long, lean monk folded his arms, and thrust head and shoulders through the hole; then Casanova lifted him, first by the waist, then by the legs, and so helped him through into the room beyond. Casanova threw their bundles after him, and then placing a third stool on top of the other two, climbed on to it, and, being almost on a level with the opening, was able to get through as far as his waist, when Balbi took him in his arms and proceeded to drag him out. But it was done at the cost of torn breeches and lacerated legs, and when he stood up in the room beyond he was bleeding freely from the wounds which the jagged edges of the wood had dealt him.
After that they went down two staircases, and came out at last in the gallery leading to the great doors at the head of that magnificent flight of steps known as the Giant’s Staircase. But these doors — the main entrance of the palace — were locked, and, at a glance, Casanova saw that nothing short of a hatchet would serve to open them. There was no more to be done.
With a resignation that seemed to Balbi entirely cynical, Casanova sat down on the floor.
“My task is ended,” he announced. “It is now for heaven or chance to do the rest. I don’t know whether the palace cleaners will come here today as it is All Saints, or tomorrow, which will be All Souls. Should anyone come I shall run for it the moment the door is opened, and you had best follow me. If no one comes, I shall not move from here; and, if I die of hunger, so much the worse.”
It was a speech that flung the monk into a passion. In burning terms he reviled Casanova, calling him a madman, a seducer, a deceiver, a liar. Casanova let him rave. It was just striking six. Precisely an hour had elapsed since they had left the attic.
Balbi, in his red flannel waistcoat and his puce-coloured leather breeches, might have passed for a peasant; but Casanova, in torn garments that were soaked in blood, presented an appearance that was terrifying and suspicious. This he proceeded to repair. Tearing a handkerchief, he made shift to bandage his wounds, and then from his bundle he took his fine taffeta summer suit, which on a winter’s day must render him ridiculous.
He dressed his thick, dark brown hair as best he could, drew on a pair of white stockings, and donned three lace shirts one over another. His fine cloak of floss silk he gave to Balbi, who looked for all the world as if he had stolen it.
Thus dressed, his fine laced hat with point of Spain on his head, Casanova opened a window and looked out. At once he was seen by some idlers in the courtyard, who, amazed at his appearance there, and conceiving that he must have been locked in by mistake on the previous day, went off at once to advise the porter. Meanwhile, Casanova, vexed at having shown himself where he had not expected anyone, and little guessing how excellently this was to serve his ends, left the window and went to sit beside the angry friar, who greeted him with fresh revilings.
A sound of steps and a rattle of keys stemmed Balbi’s reproaches in full flow. The lock groaned.
“Not a word,” said Casanova to the monk, “but follow me.”
Holding his spontoon ready, but concealed under his coat, he stepped to the side of the door. It opened, and the porter, who had come alone and bareheaded, stared in stupefaction at the strange apparition of Casanova.
Casanova took advantage of that paralysing amazement. Without uttering a word, he stepped quickly across the threshold, and with Balbi close upon his heels, he went down the Giant’s Staircase in a flash, crossed the little square, reached the canal, bundled Balbi into the first gondola he found there, and jumped in after him.
“I want to go to Fusine, and quickly,” he announced. “Call another oarsman.”
All was ready, and in a moment the gondola was skimming the canal. Dressed in his unseasonable suit, and accompanied by the still more ridiculous figure of Balbi in his gaudy cloak and without a hat, he imagined he would be taken for a charlatan or an astrologer.
The gondola slipped past the custom-house, and took the canal of the Giudecca. Halfway down this, Casanova put his head out of the little cabin to address the gondolier in the poop.
“Do you think we shall reach Mestre in an hour?”
“Mestre?” quoth the gondolier. “But you said Fusine.”
“No, no, I said Mestre — at least, I intended to say Mestre.”
And so the gondola was headed for Mestre by a gondolier who professed himself ready to convey his excellency to England if he desired it.
The sun was rising and the water assumed an opalescent hue. It was a delicious morning, Casanova tells us, and I suspect that never had any morning seemed to that audacious, amiable rascal as delicious as this upon which he regained his liberty, which no man ever valued more highly.
In spirit he was already safely over the frontiers of the Most Serene Republic, impatient to transfer his body thither, as he shortly did, through vicissitudes that are a narrative in themselves, and no part of this story of his escape from the Piombi and the Venetian Inquisitors of State.
THE ROOKS AND THE HAWK
It was in March of 1760 that Casanova’s roving spirit and evil genius between them took him to Stuttgart in a well-appointed chaise of his own, attended by an efficient body-servant, as became a man of his importance. For now, in his thirty-fifth year, he found himself hoisted into wealth and fame. Taking advantage of an introduction to the French Minister of Finance, he had, without the least knowledge of the subject, undertaken to organize the State lotteries in France. So impressed was the Ministry by the result that he was sent to Holland to negotiate a State loan. Again thanks to his impudence and resourcefulness, he not only succeeded in this mission, but in the course of it amassed for himself a fortune of upwards of half a million francs. Another might have settled down to easy respectability. But that was never Giacomo di Casanova’s way. He set out again upon his travels, and came presently to Stuttgart, where he put up at “The Bear”.
Having dined, he dressed with care, and went forth to study the manners of the capital of Würtemberg. He began by going to the handsome playhouse built and managed by the Grand Duke, for the theatre was the chief hobby of this ridiculous prince, pursued at enormous cost. He imported the best comedians from France and Italy; his corps de ballet consisted of a score of the leading Italian dancers of the day, supported by at least a hundred coryphées; the famous Novers was his ballet-master; the composer Jumella was in his service; and some of the ablest painters available were employed as his scenographers. To pay for these and other kindred extravagances, this luxurious, debauched prince enjoyed not only the heavy revenues extracted from his long-suffering subjects, but a considerable subsidy paid him by the King of France for maintaining a force of ten thousand Würtembergers in the service of the French armies.
From his seat in a box in the first tier, Casanova considered with interest the ruler who wasted upon frivolous amusements the fruits of that unworthy traffic in the flesh and blood of his subjects. He beheld him standing before the orchestra surrounded by a knot of courtiers, a tall, florid man in a heavy wig, with the flabby, gross habit of body that results from excesses, hard blue eyes and a sneering, sensual mouth. Casanova, himself a libertine, thought him rather disgusting, and turned his attention to the music. His Italian enthusiasm being presently aroused by the performance of a singer, he broke suddenly into applause, and as suddenly checked upon perceiving that he was applauding alone, and that the Grand Duke was directing upon him a stare of haughty displeasure.
A moment later his box was invaded by an officer who, assuming him to be a stranger, informed him in French that the sovereign being in the theatre no one was permitted to applaud unless his highness applauded.
Casanova rose with dignity.
“In that case,” said he, “I shall come some other time, when the sovereign is absent, so that I may be at liberty to express my appreciation.”
And upon that he went out, his head in the hair, and called for his carriage. But as he was in the act of stepping into it, came the same officer to inform him that his highness desired to speak to him.
Entirely master of himself, Casanova reentered the theatre, and was presently bowing perfunctorily before the Grand Duke, whilst stared at from every quarter.
Expressionless hard blue eyes considered him.
“You are, I believe, Monsieur Casanova,” said a guttural voice.
“Is this your first visit to Stuttgart?”
“Do you intend to make a long stay?”
“Of a week or so, if your highness will permit me.”
“Readily. And I further permit you to applaud whenever you are so inclined.”
“I am grateful, your highness. I shall take advantage of the permission.”
Thick lips smiled faintly, sneeringly, as was their habit, a fat hand waved dismissal, and Casanova bowed and stepped back out of the circle of intimates.
He sat down at the end of a bench a little behind the court group, and the curtain rose upon the second act. Presently his highness quitted the orchestra, and went up to a box on the first tier to kiss the hand of a magnificent, bejewelled lady before leaving the theatre.
Casanova looked up. The lady’s shoulder was towards him, and he obtained no more than a fleeting glimpse of her profile, yet something familiar about it drew his attention and piqued his curiosity. He turned to an officer sitting on his right to enquire her identity. With unconcealed surprise at Casanova’s ignorance the Würtemberger answered that she was “Madame”.
“Madame!” said Casanova, staring. “Madame what?”
“Why, Madame — the prince’s maîtresse-entitre; that is the title by which the lady occupying that exalted position is always known. She was once a famous dancer, and for a time charmed us all from the stage. But the prince fell in love with her, and ——” The officer waved a hand towards the box. “It often happens,” he added, casually.
“What is her name?” quoth Casanova.
“In the theatre she was known as La Gradella. She was, I believe, a countrywoman of your own.”
Ten years ago Casanova had known a girl of that name who danced in the theatre of San Samuele in Venice. But she had been an indifferent dancer of notorious conduct and low extraction — the daughter of a gondolier named Gradello. It was inconceivable that she should be this “Madame” of the Grand Ducal court. But even as he gazed upwards with increasing intentness the languorous beauty turned her head, fully revealing her face to him, and he recognized indeed the boatman’s daughter.
“Since you have had the honour of being presented to the prince,” the officer was saying, “you may permit yourself the further honour of kissing Madame’s hand.”
Despite himself, Casanova burst out laughing. The officer frowned and stiffened. Our Venetian realized the ambiguity of his laughter, and hastened to explain it.
“I laugh, sir, because I perceive in Madame an old acquaintance.” The officer’s deepening frown warned Casanova that he had made matters worse. “A relation, I should say,” he corrected, too hastily, and could at once have bitten out his tongue.
The officer rose, bowed, smiling now, and withdrew to reappear in the box above. Presently Casanova saw Madame turn to stare in his direction. Then, smiling languidly, she beckoned him with her fan. He was relieved that she did not utterly disown him. He went up, and as the officer withdrew, bowed over the hand she graciously extended.
“Did you announce yourself as my cousin to his highness?” she asked him.
“I did not, Madame.”
“That is an omission that I shall repair,” she drawled, whilst he repressed an inclination to laugh at the lazily insolent air of this once free-and-easy ballet-girl of San Samuele. “Come and dine with me tomorrow, my cousin,” she invited him, and rose to leave.
When he had escorted her to her carriage he took his way to the stage, for Casanova, who enjoyed the freedom of the green-rooms of Europe, had recognized one or two of his acquaintances among the performers, La Toscani, the singer, La Binetti, the famous dancer, and young Baletti, who was later to become one of the greatest mimes of the Italian Comedy. He was joyously hailed, and carried off to a gay supper-party at Baletti’s, graced by the presence of Count von Schultz, the Austrian envoy.
Next day, Casanova, dressed with the splendour of a Versailles courtier, went to dine with the favourite. Here a setback awaited him. La Gradella had not yet seen his highness, who must meanwhile have heard from others of the relationship claimed with her by Casanova, and she expressed anxiety on the score of how he might take that little pleasantry.
“But, my dear,” said Casanova, undismayed by the state in which he found her and the airs she gave herself, “why admit that it was a pleasantry? Why not allow the belief that we are cousins to persist?”
“I would suffer it willingly to avoid unpleasantness,” was the answer. “But there is my mother to consider.”
“She lives with me. She will not hear of the relationship.”
And then the mother entered — a shapeless woman dressed in all the colours of the rainbow, with a coiffure half a yard high surmounted by a couple of nodding green plumes. Her reception of him was so frosty as to make it obvious to Casanova that the foolish head of this boatman’s widow had been turned by her daughter’s equivocal exaltation.
“We cannot admit relationship,” she told him, in answer to his question, “with one whose parents were comedians.”
He was more amazed than offended. “If the theatre is so dishonouring a profession, Madam, what of your own daughter here?”
“The question is indiscreet and insolent,” she answered, reddening under her rouge. “It was against my wishes that my daughter trod the stage.”
“Yet but for that, you will confess, she might have trodden barefoot all her life,” he answered brutally.
A scene might have ensued, but at that moment a couple of officers were announced, and dinner was served. Casanova was so angry and contemptuous that he could not eat. But he dissembled his temper until the elder La Gradella began to boast of the patrician state of her relations in Venice. Disgust mounted to his thin lips, his saturnine face became alight with wicked mockery.
“And your sister?” he asked suddenly. “Is she still alive?”
She quivered and stiffened, and her little eyes considered him malevolently. “I don’t know what sister you mean,” she answered him, since she must answer something.
“I mean the blind beggar of the little bridge behind St Mark’s.”
There was a deathly silence. The two officers stared at him, their eyebrows raised, and from him to La Gradella, whose bosom heaved tumultuously. Beads of perspiration broke upon the mother’s brow.
“It is a curious jest, sir,” she answered acidly.
“No jest at all,” he assured her. “Many a copper paolo have I dropped into her lap as I went that way in the old days.”
“If you do not jest, sir, then you are mistaken,” she said, and Casanova bowed his head with a sardonic smile, and left the subject there, satisfied that the whole town would hear of it before nightfall.
After that, you conceive, the meal proceeded with some constraint, and La Gradella was very chilly towards him when he took his leave. As he left the house a magnificent lackey informed him that in future he would not be admitted. He was not surprised. On his way home he came to the conclusion that Stuttgart was a very unattractive place and that he would resume his journey to Zürich on the morrow.
At nightfall, however, he was visited at his hotel by the two officers with whom he had dined at La Gradella’s — Captain von Reuss and Captain Stoffel — accompanied by a third, whom they presented to him as Lieutenant von Diesenheim. Casanova received them stiffly, conceiving they might be come to demand satisfaction for the affront he had put upon the favourite and her mother. Far from it, however; they were come to laugh with him over the affair, which did not seem to Casanova very noble on the part of men who habitually enjoyed the favourite’s hospitality; but he excused them on the ground that no doubt all Germans were disgusting, and that one cannot expect the habits of a beast to differ from those of the herd.
They proposed to show him some of the amusements of Stuttgart, and he yielded against his inclinations. As he says, it was written that in Stuttgart he was to commit blunder after blunder. They began — and, indeed, ended — by leading him to an evil-looking gaming-house in a back street, kept by an Italian named Peccini with the assistance of a couple of raddled daughters who, as Casanova surmised, performed the office of decoys.
A vile supper was served on an unclean cloth, which in itself was sufficient to turn the stomach of our fastidious Venetian. He was ill at ease, and not without his suspicions both of the Peccini family and of the Würtemberg officers. Already he repented having yielded to their invitation, and on no account would he consent to eat. But to avoid giving offence he drank one or two small glasses of Tokay.
Anon, the cloth being cleared, a game of faro was proposed, and half-a-dozen packs of cards were produced. Peccini took from a strong box five rouleaux, each of twenty louis, and made a bank with these. To a player of Casanova’s calibre such a game seemed puerile, but he began to punt in the hope that after an hour or so of this bagatelle, he might be permitted to depart. Within half-an-hour he had lost the fifty or sixty louis that his purse contained, and announcing himself cleaned out he rose to withdraw.
But the officers would not hear of it. They were distressed, particularly von Reuss — a lean, sinister-looking man of thirty — at his ill-fortune, and anxious to give him the opportunity of retrieving his loss. His word, they swore, was good for any amount with them. He yielded, sat down, and lost another hundred louis on credit within half that number of minutes. One of the Peccini girls had pressed upon him another glass of Tokay, insisting that he should drink her health. Again he would have withdrawn, but again he was persuaded to remain, and invited now to make a bank himself. The very manner in which he yielded shows that he was no longer master of his wits; proves, as he afterwards claimed, the Tokay to have been drugged. It was the invariable rule of his life that in whatever company he played he never made a bank without calling for a fresh pack at every deal, himself tearing off the envelope. Yet in this obviously disreputable company he was content to use these greasy cards that had been doing duty for over an hour already; and with a boastfulness entirely foreign to him he announced, merely to startle these players for crowns, that he would make a bank of a thousand louis.
How long the game went on he never knew. His intoxication increased until active consciousness faded out.
Next morning when his valet Le Duc awakened him he learnt that he had been brought home dead drunk at midnight in a sedan chair. Through gaps in the fog that clouded his memory of last night’s events, he saw flushed, leering, wicked faces confronting him about a table, heard the soft slither of cards, and his own voice laughing recklessly.
Le Duc informed him that his pockets had been picked, and that his gold snuff-box and both his watches were missing. That loss, though considerable, was trifling by comparison with another which was about to be disclosed to him. His three companions of yesternight were announced, and he received them in his dressing-gown.
They came full of condolence. They were beyond words distressed that his initiation into play in Stuttgart should have been so exceedingly costly. But he had certainly proved himself the formidable gamester which rumour named him, and they hoped it would not inconvenience him unduly to liquidate at once the debt incurred.
He listened with a growing sense of uneasiness.
“What is the sum total of my debt?” he asked.
“You lost last night, playing on your pledged word, a hundred thousand francs,” he was coolly informed by von Reuss, who showed him his note for that amount signed in a hand that he hardly recognized for his own.
A smaller sum might have angered him. But this amount by its very enormity merely amused him. His bold, dark eyes played over that scoundrelly trio with deadly derision. Did they really know him so little, he who for fifteen years and more had been a hawk among rooks, to think that he was to be plucked in this fashion? Did they really think he would disgorge a hundred thousand francs, or any part of that sum, to thieves of their low kind? He drew himself up, tall, lithe, and virile, despite his aching head.
“Sirs,” he answered them very coldly, “there are two ways in which you may obtain payment. One is by an appeal to the law, which I hardly think you will dare, the other is by an appeal to arms, in which case I shall be happy to pay you one at a time — not in gold, but in steel.”
“Sir,” cried von Reuss, “this is unworthy! We deemed you a gentleman, else ——”
“Oh no,” Casanova broke in, his brown, aquiline face infinitely mocking, “you deemed me a pigeon to be plucked by any dirty fingers. And so you lead me to an infamous gaming-den, where I am drugged, and cheated, and my pockets are picked. Between the fifty or sixty louis I had on me, and the valuable objects stolen from me, I have lost some three hundred louis. I am content to suffer that loss as the price a man must pay for his follies. But when you ask me to pay a single sou of this sum out of which you tell me that you have swindled me amongst you, why, sirs, you have knocked on the wrong door.”
There was a moment’s pause, then all together the three gentlemen of Würtemberg broke into menaces and insults. The storm was at its height when the door opened and in came Baletti and some half-dozen players from the Grand Ducal theatre, whom Casanova had invited to breakfast.
Still muttering threats the three officers withdrew. The players had heard enough to gather what was in the wind. At table, Casanova, who save for his headache was now serene and calm again, gave them what further enlightenment they craved. Some laughed, but Baletti thought the matter serious.
“My dear Baletti,” laughed Casanova, “do you think I have roamed the world these years without meeting their kind before, and knowing how to deal with them? I tell you the matter is at an end.”
“You may find yourself at fault,” Baletti answered. “Von Reuss is a friend of La Gradella’s, you know. He may induce her to exert her influence with the Grand Duke to your undoing.” Casanova became thoughtful. “If you will heed my advice,” Baletti continued, “you will not lose a moment in informing his highness of the event before they have time to tell their story.”
“I am not sure,” said Casanova, “that I made a very good impression on his highness.”
He was really thinking of what had occurred at La Gradella’s house, and wondering how much of this might have been reported to the Grand Duke; how far, indeed, La Gradella herself might have been responsible for what had happened.
“No matter,” replied Baletti. “His highness has a rough sense of justice. It was these officers who led you to this gaming-house, and engaged you to gamble in spite of the prince’s edict forbidding it, which they knew, and you did not; it was whilst in their company that your pockets were picked, and you were first drugged, then swindled. The prince must give you justice, otherwise he is himself dishonoured by an offence committed by officers in his service.”
Thus persuaded, Casanova, as soon as breakfast was done, dressed himself and set out for the Palace. He contrived without difficulty to penetrate as far as the last ante-chamber. Here a chamberlain listened deferentially to his request for an audience, and having heard his name and grounds of complaint, assured him that the Grand Duke would receive him presently.
But whilst he waited in that ante-chamber among a few other petitioners, in swaggers Captain von Reuss to engage the chamberlain in close and intimate talk. Casanova had not the least doubt that he had been spied upon and followed, and that he himself was the object of that intimate conversation. He was still meditating when von Reuss saluted lightly, and withdrew. Casanova continued to wait, but no longer sanguine. The chamberlain presently vanished into the prince’s room. He returned soon after, and crossed to Casanova.
“You may return home, sir,” he said. “His highness cannot see you now. But he is informed of the whole affair, and will see that justice is done you.”
Our Venetian was very angry. But as he was not the man to break his head against obstacles, he withdrew, determined to leave Stuttgart at once.
Instead of going straight back to “The Bear”, however, he bent his steps towards Baletti’s, to inform the actor of what had happened and to take his leave of him. Baletti kept him to dine. The actor was lodged in a house on the very walls of the city, and the window of his dining-room was some sixty or seventy feet above the old moat — now waterless — a circumstance which Casanova was to find singularly propitious later. Whilst they were at table Le Duc, who had been hunting up and down the town for his master for the last hour, brought the ominous news that an officer and two soldiers awaited Casanova at the inn. This could only mean his arrest. The affair began to look ugly.
“I have been a fool throughout,” Casanova confessed. “I have made enemies everywhere, and von Reuss has procured the interest of La Gradella against me.”
Baletti determined to invoke the aid of his friend the Austrian envoy, and carried Casanova off at once to the house of von Schultz. The Count received them cordially, and was indignant when he heard what was afoot.
“But you must do justice to his highness,” he said. “It is inconceivable that he should know the truth. Sit down, Monsieur Casanova, and write me a brief account of the affair. You may depend upon me to see that it reaches the prince’s hands tomorrow.”
Nor did the Austrian’s kindness end there. Since Casanova could not return to his inn without being arrested, or indeed show himself abroad without incurring that same danger, von Schultz insisted that he should remain in his house, where no officer of justice might seek him without violating ambassadorial privileges. On the morrow Casanova’s memoir was placed in the Grand Duke’s hands, and three days further Casanova remained the envoy’s guest, discharging the debt as best he could by entertaining the Count with tales of his adventures.
But on the fourth day the envoy received a letter from the Secretary of State requesting him in the name of the Grand Duke to order M. Casanova to leave his house at once, since his remaining there prevented the course of justice in an action invoked against him by three officers in the Grand Duke’s service. The letter concluded with the assurance that complete justice should be done M. Casanova.
Von Schultz placed the letter in the hands of his guest. “I am sorry, my friend,” he said. “But you will realize that I cannot keep you here against the wishes of the sovereign.”
Casanova understood, and with gratitude for all that the Count had already done for him he returned to his quarters at “The Bear”, where an officer and two soldiers awaited him.
The officer was courteous, but firm. Casanova must not be surprised to be placed under arrest in his own room, since his opponents in the action pending against him were within their rights in demanding precaution against his possible evasion. He ended by politely requesting Casanova’s sword, which the Venetian regretfully surrendered.
Forbidden now to leave his chamber, with a sentry on guard day and night in the ante-room, and another under his window, Casanova was nevertheless permitted to receive visitors, and of this permission his friends of the Italian Comedy availed themselves to the full.
He was visited also by the three officers. They came to persuade him to be reasonable and to pay the sum required, thus avoiding heavy legal charges and perhaps a heavy fine as well as imprisonment.
“You talk in vain,” Casanova told them. “I have not such a sum at hand. My wealth has been grossly exaggerated to you.”
“We should be willing, all things considered, to compromise with you,” von Reuss suggested. “We would accept your jewels, lace, travelling chaise, and other effects on a valuation, and for any balance remaining we would take bills from you of a reasonable term. We desire to assist you in this.”
“So I perceive,” was the tart answer. “I will say this in your favour — that you are the most impudent and shameless swindlers I have ever met — and I have met many. You may go to the devil!”
They promised him they would have the pleasure of killing him for his insolence after he had paid his debt to them.
“Quite so,” said he. “Business first; honour afterwards. That is the motto of your kind. And when the business is done the honour as a rule may go hang!”
“You realize what will happen when sentence is pronounced against you?” said von Reuss from the doorway. “Your effects will be sold, and the money realized will be applied towards the payment of this debt. For what may still be lacking you will have to contribute your person; you will be enrolled as a soldier in the army of his serene highness, and you will pass to the service of France for a yearly sum of six louis. You will continue to serve until the debt is entirely extinguished.”
On that von Reuss went out, having shattered at last Casanova’s composure. For awhile the Venetian stood there petrified by fear. Here was something he had left out of the reckoning. To be swindled by rooks, to have his pockets picked, to be embroiled in legal proceedings was bad enough. But to contemplate in addition the fate of becoming a soldier in the service of a princeling such as the Grand Duke of Würtemberg, who existed only by virtue of his horrible traffic in flesh and blood with France, was more than his fortitude could contemplate. He broke into a cold sweat, and then sat down to think of a way out, cursing himself for having remained so long inactive. Even if he could escape from the inn it would be impossible to leave the city now, since the guard at all the gates would have been warned.
Baletti came presently to visit him, and the sight of the actor was in itself an inspiration. Casanova spoke of his peril. Baletti was aghast with horror. Then Casanova invoked his aid, and Baletti unconditionally promised it, and departed almost at once to invite half the female members of the Italian Comedy to sup that evening with Casanova.
They were a jovial company, and the supper was of the best “The Bear” could yield. Towards the end of the repast Casanova informed them of the danger in which he stood.
“You must pay,” they cried.
“Not a copper,” said he, and snapped his lips. “I am determined that these Würtemberger swine shall not have a rag of mine. I have jewels here worth three-quarters of the total amount claimed, and laces worth at least fifty thousand francs at an honest valuation — such as I am persuaded they would not receive at the hands of these thieves. In any case I do not propose to wait for it. I intend to make my escape at the sacrifice of nothing more than my travelling chaise, which the host may keep in discharge of my debt here at ‘The Bear’. My jewels are easily portable, but it is in the matter of my laces that I implore, ladies, your assistance. If you will dispose of them under your hoops, and so carry them away from here, you will leave me eternally in your debt.”
He had chosen his moment well, after the wine had been circulated freely and produced that expansion which disposes us to take generous risks. When an hour later the ladies took their departure there was about their figures a matronliness which had not earlier been apparent, yet which went unperceived in the uncertain candlelight. They were to leave the laces, linen, silk stockings, and other fripperies — a whole wardrobe, in fact — with Baletti, who would know how to dispose of them.
Two days later — on the 1st of April, the eve of the trial — Casanova had another visit from von Reuss, who made a last appeal to him.
“Your persistence,” Casanova mocked him, “implies doubt of the issue of your action.”
“We shall see tomorrow,” snarled the Würtemberger as he stamped out.
“You shall,” laughed Casanova.
That night Casanova sat at supper alone, Le Duc behind his chair. The door of his room stood open to the ante-room, where the sentry himself was supping. Le Duc was pouring wine from a freshly uncorked bottle. Casanova stayed his hand.
“Desire the sentry to drink a glass with me since this is my last night in these quarters.”
Le Duc went out, and returned, his priestly face composed and solemn. The sentry thanked his excellency, and would be greatly honoured.
“Take him the bottle,” said Casanova grandly.
Half-an-hour later the sentry was snoring.
“He’s a noisy devil, Le Duc,” said Casanova. “But, you see, the gentlemen of Würtemberg are not the only men who can play tricks with wine. Let us be stirring, my lad. I’ll leave my travelling-chaise to pay the bill.”
He took up cloak and hat, thrust a brace of pistols into his pockets, and a hunting-knife into his belt. His jewels were already securely disposed about his person. He took a last look round at the empty travelling bags, and they went out softly, locking the door after them, and removing the key. They tiptoed across the ante-room, past the drugged sentry, and unperceived gained the staircase that led down to the side entrance. Three minutes later they were in the street, muffled to the eyes against the night air.
The sentry pacing under the window of Casanova’s room gave them good-night as they passed him. It was his business only to see that nobody escaped by the window. In less than a quarter of an hour they were in Baletti’s house on the walls. There they were received by La Binetti and Toscani, who trembled with excitement.
“All is ready,” said Toscani. “A travelling carriage is waiting on the Fürstenberg road, already laden with the valises containing your laces and effects.”
“And Baletti? Where is he?”
“In the moat, awaiting you.”
They stepped to the window which stood open. Seventy feet below, knee-deep in the mud, stood Baletti invisible. But a soft whistle announced his presence the moment Casanova’s head was thrust from the window.
A rope was ready, and by this first Casanova and then Le Duc were gently lowered by the women to the moat. Having clambered out to the far side at considerable damage to their garments, they set out, led by Baletti, across a stretch of waste land to the road where a carriage waited near a wayside tavern. Baletti halted.
“There lies your way,” he said. “I come no further. I was disguised when I hired the chaise in Fürstenberg, and I would not have the postilion see me, lest he should recognize me again, and thus dispel the mystery that must overhang your escape. He has his orders. He is to drive you over the frontier straight to Fürstenberg.”
They embraced each other, and Casanova profusely thanked the comedian, to whom and to the accidental situation of whose lodgings he owed it that his escape was possible.
Five minutes later they were driving briskly through the night, away from Stuttgart and its disgusting court. Next morning from Fürstenberg, safe beyond the reach of the Grand Duke of Würtemberg, Casanova wrote to the three scoundrelly rooks. He told them that persisting in his intention of paying them in steel, he would await them for seven days in Fürstenberg, where the ægis of their obscene prince would no longer shield them. Should they fail to come, he would publish them as cowards in every city of Europe.
They never came, of course; nor did he ever trouble to publish them, or to give them another thought.
Stuttgart was left gaping at the mystery of his escape, until it was remembered that he had dabbled at different times in magic, and it was concluded that he had employed the agency of the devil to pass unperceived through the barred gates of the city. Of those in the secret not one dared breathe a word of the truth, for Casanova had taken care to make each of them an accomplice.
THE POLISH DUEL
Casanova possessed in a preeminent degree the adventurer’s faculty of drawing fortune from misfortune, and sometimes, too, he was well served by his luck to the same end, but never so well as on the occasion of his brief but chequered sojourn in Warsaw in the winter of 1765.
You see him now a hard-bitten man of forty, already conscious that his best years lie behind him, yet of a verve as vigorous as his constitution. The fortune amassed in Holland some years before, which would have kept an ordinarily extravagant man in luxury for the remainder of his days, he had by now entirely dissipated. Already he was beginning to have recourse to the questionable shifts by which he had kept himself in funds in his early years. Outwardly, however, he still contrived to maintain the splendour of the great gentleman, and though his purse grew light and his creditors in Warsaw impatient, his air and manner were as haughty and imposing as in his most affluent days.
He had come to the Polish capital armed with those letters of introduction with which he was invariably able to provide himself. They led to his being presented to the witty, scholarly Stanislas–Auguste, and a happy quotation from Horace established him in the royal favour. Also, the king — like most monarchs of the day — was avid of news of the doings of Catherine of Russia, and Casanova, fresh from St Petersburg, where he had wintered, was not only able to gratify his curiosity, but did so with all the piquant humour in which he knew how to array his impudence. Stanislas–Auguste was very pleased with him, providing him with some work of a literary character, to which Casanova devoted himself with assiduity, being led to hope that it would lead to his being appointed the King’s private secretary. Thence he hoped that Fortune, following the royal example, would smile on him once more. And with that end in view he was as prudent now in his mode of life as it lay within his nature to be. He avoided gaming-tables, and strove to keep himself clear of intrigues. Yet in the end an intrigue of the vainest character caught him in its toils almost despite himself.
It happened early in February that the famous Italian dancer, La Binetti, with whom Casanova had been acquainted for some years, halted at the Polish capital on her way to Russia. Tomatis, the enterprising director of the Warsaw Opera House, engaged her for a week, and so well did she acquit herself that she was offered, and accepted, a year’s engagement, to the dismay not only of La Cataï, who had hitherto reigned unrivalled in the Warsaw theatre, but also of Tomatis himself, who was La Cataï‘s best friend, and who had been far from foreseeing such a consequence to his speculation.
Very soon La Binetti was the rage, languidly receiving the homage of a multitude of adorers. Yet since La Cataï continued still to have her partisans, it followed that the frequenters of the Warsaw theatre were divided now into two parties, so that the rivalry between the two dancers became more and more acute.
Considering that Casanova was an old acquaintance, it was natural that La Binetti should expect to find him in the ranks of her followers. But his new mood of prudence, and his resolve to avoid intrigues, kept him aloof from all partisanship. He tells us that La Binetti scolded him for his aloofness, and that she was almost as annoyed with him as with Tomatis. But I hesitate — for reasons that will presently become apparent — to accept that statement. Besides, there was no parallel between his friendly neutrality and Tomatis’s avowed hostility towards her. For Tomatis was by now bitterly repenting that he should himself have afforded La Binetti the opportunity of conquering rather more than the half of Warsaw. He made no secret of this, but worked quite openly in the interest of La Cataï, and missed no occasion to manifest how greatly superior he considered her to La Binetti. As a consequence it was not long before La Binetti came to hate Tomatis, and to look round for a weapon with which to avenge herself upon the luckless director. That weapon — and a very ready one — she found presently in Xavier Branicki, who, deeply enamoured of her unquestionable charms, was prepared to go any lengths to win her favour.
This Count Branicki was a handsome, vigorous man of thirty, newly returned from Berlin, where he had been as ambassador to the court of Frederick. He was Grand Chamberlain of the kingdom, a colonel of Uhlans, and a close friend of the king’s. A man therefore of some weight and consequence in Warsaw, as you can conceive, yet not above becoming a bully in the service of a dancer, as you shall see.
At her imperious behest, he addressed himself to the punishing of Tomatis for the latter’s preference of her rival. One night at the opera, during the performance of the second ballet, in which La Binetti was appearing, Branicki amazed the audience by entering the box occupied by Tomatis and La Cataï. It was the first time that either in public or in private he had paid the slightest attention to the rival dancer, and before the present homage of his words and bearing both La Cataï and her friend Tomatis could conclude only that he had quarrelled with La Binetti. He took a seat beside the lady, and was assiduous in his attentions throughout the remainder of the evening. At the end of the performance he begged to be permitted to conduct her to her carriage, which in reality was the carriage of Tomatis. Even then he did not take his leave of her; having handed her into the vehicle, he followed, and seated himself beside her. Tomatis, who under the eyes of the courtly throng that filled the vestibule had followed the pair between satisfaction and mistrust, stepped forward now to enter the carriage in his turn. But he found his way barred by the arm which Branicki suddenly shot forward.
“Take another carriage, and follow us,” the Grand Chamberlain commanded, much as he might have commanded a lackey.
Stung by the tone, Tomatis was so imprudent as to display a dignified insistence. “I am not accustomed, Count,” he said, “to travel in any carriage but my own.”
“Drive on!” shouted Branicki to the coachman.
“Stay where you are!” Tomatis commanded, and since Tomatis was the master it was Tomatis who was obeyed.
The scene promised to become interesting; it began to look as if the Grand Chamberlain were about to be made ridiculous. But Branicki played with loaded dice. The thing had gone as far as he had intended, and Tomatis had afforded him the pretext he required. Compelled by the director’s firmness to alight from the carriage, he did so with every appearance of anger, and called to an orderly who stood by to box the director’s ears. The orderly, with perfect, mechanical military obedience, dealt Tomatis a resounding buffet. The director reeled, half-stunned by the blow. Then, partly recovering himself, but lacking the wit or the courage to drive his sword through the body of his assailant, he plunged into the carriage, and was driven home to eat, as Casanova says, his soufflet for supper.
The unfortunate director was so crushed by the affair that for a time he hardly dared to show himself. He appealed to the king for justice; but Stanislas–Auguste was reluctant to take action against his friend and Grand Chamberlain. To Casanova, who had been a witness of the affair, and who was filled with indignation against the aggressor and sympathy for Tomatis, the director confided bitterly that vengeance on Branicki was too costly a luxury for him. It would entail his departure from Poland, and the loss of some 40,000 sequins which he had invested in the theatre.
Heaven knows I do not wish to add to the catalogue of rogueries to which Casanova confesses. Yet I suspect him of a certain lack of candour in his account of what followed. We know that he was extremely hard-pressed for money at this moment; that he was of a resolute courage, and a useful man of his hands; we know that Tomatis was tolerably rich, and burning to punish Branicki, if it were possible to do so without his own agency being revealed. Is it therefore unreasonable to suspect that more passed at his interview with Tomatis than Casanova reveals, and that the sequel did not fall out exactly as he would have us believe?
He says, for instance, that he had reason to suspect that La Binetti intended to have him similarly dealt with. But he can have had little grounds for this suspicion, considering how friendly had been his relations with the dancer until then. What is far more probable is that he now deliberately provoked her resentment by ostentatiously joining the party of her rival, in the hope that she would send Branicki to box his ears. He admits, indeed, that not having 40,000 sequins to lose like Tomatis, he had no occasion to fear her lover. He tells us, too, that she was radiant now, whilst hypocritically affecting regret for the misfortune of her “friend” Tomatis, and that her falseness disposed him against her. Is it too much to suppose that he deliberately expressed his feelings; and short of supposing this, how is one to account for what followed?
It happened that a little while later — on the feast of St Casimir, to be precise — Casanova was of the king’s party at the theatre. Stanislas–Auguste left after the second ballet, and Casanova went behind to congratulate a young Piedmontese dancer, named La Caracci, whose performance had greatly pleased his majesty. Passing La Binetti’s dressing-room, the door of which stood open, he paused to exchange a greeting with her, and had got no further when Count Branicki arrived. To Casanova this was the signal for departure. Frigid and distant, he bowed to the Polish nobleman, his chill and deadly politeness an insult in itself, and went his way to convey to La Caracci the pleasing news of the royal approbation. He was still delighting her with this, when to his amazement — as he says — the dressing-room was unceremoniously invaded by Branicki. Casanova’s bold dark eyes played over the Count with a glance that was haughty and challenging. Branicki laughed. He was a handsome fellow, tall and florid, with keen blue eyes, and a sneering mouth.
“Confess, M. Casanova,” he cried, “that I am inopportune.”
If Casanova did not confess it, neither did he deny it. He just stood there drawn to his full height — and, tall man though Branicki was, the Venetian stood an inch or so taller — and stared at the intruder as one stares at something curious, unusual, and not quite pleasant. His swarthy, aquiline face was disconcertingly contemptuous. The Count should have discerned that here was a man of a stamp very different from Tomatis, a man ready to go more than half-way to meet him if his purpose were a quarrel. Perhaps Branicki did discern it.
“Your silence admits it,” he cried. “I do not wonder. This lady is so amiable that — that, faith, I am deeply in love with her, and I intend to suffer no rival. You understand me?”
Casanova smiled, but it was a crooked smile. He looked at the bewildered little dancer, whose cheeks were flushed with dawning indignation, and then bowed too elaborately to Branicki.
“In that case,” he said, “I must renounce all pretensions.”
Branicki sneered. He does not appear to have possessed a keen ear for irony. “You are a prudent man, M. Casanova.”
“Who could be so ill-advised as to enter into rivalry with a man of your excellency’s quality?” quoted Casanova. But now the mockery of his voice was more pronounced, and his smile more wickedly sardonic.
“I account anyone a coward,” said Branicki, “who abandons his ground at the first threat of danger.”
Despite his iron self-control, Casanova quivered under the whiplash of those words. Mechanically, his hand was half-way to his sword before he recollected himself. Turning, he bowed profoundly to the scared and breathless girl, who stood leaning for support against her dressing-table. Then holding himself stiffly erect, he walked past the Count, so closely as almost to touch him. For an instant he paused face to face with the Pole, and looked deep into the man’s eyes, unpardonable contempt in his glance, in the curl of his lip, and in the slight shrug of his shoulders. There is no doubt that he intended to give Branicki ample rope; I suspect that he deliberately tempted the Count to slap his face, so that the affront might be complete. But as Branicki did not appear disposed to do so, Casanova passed out.
Instantly the Count sprang after him, and his voice hoarse with anger rang down the corridor.
“Venetian coward!” he shouted.
Casanova checked in his stride, and turned. Dressing-room doors stood open on either hand, and in the corridor loitered several officers of the court. There was no lack of witnesses that the Pole was the aggressor.
“Count Branicki,” said our adventurer, in a steady voice, “I will prove it on your body when you please and where you please that a Venetian coward does not fear a Polish nobleman.”
Thus was the quarrel engaged between these two men, one of whom had for only aim to salve the wounded vanity of an empty-headed dancer, the other to avenge the wrongs of a theatrical director. That at least is my own conclusion so far as Casanova is concerned. But even so, I am very far from wishing to impute that he descended on this occasion — or was even capable of descending — to the level of the hired bully. I am convinced that nothing would have induced him to espouse Tomatis’s quarrel had he not been deeply in sympathy with the director, and contemptuous of the nobleman who had so unworthily used him. I suggest then, no more than that he combined chivalry with profit, each acting as a spur to the other. Meanwhile, he went home to await developments.
Early next morning Prince Lubomirski, with whom he was on terms of friendship, went to visit him. Casanova was elegantly lodged in a small suite of rooms in the house of Campioni, the dancing master. There Prince Lubomirski found him still abed, but sitting up and writing busily. He laid down his pen, and gave the Prince a hearty welcome. Lubomirski sat down, and came straight to the matter on his mind.
“Branicki had been drinking last night,” he said. “I hope that a man of your experience is above being offended by the indiscretions of a gentleman in his cups.”
“To be sure I am,” said Casanova genially, “provided that being sober this morning the Count will have the discretion to apologize.”
“That is a great deal to expect of Branicki,” opined the prince.
“So I had imagined,” Casanova agreed, “for which reason I have just written him a letter. Let me read it to you.” And he read it:
Your excellency insulted me yesterday, and as I can discern no reason why you should have done so, I can only assume that you dislike me. In the circumstances I have the honour to place myself at your disposal. To settle the matter I am ready to meet you under conditions in which my death could not be considered an assassination, and in which I might kill your excellency without being guilty of the same offence against the law. This proposal should prove to your excellency the high regard in which I hold you. I have the honour to enclose the length of my sword, and venture to hope that you will appoint a meeting for tomorrow.
Aghast at the letter, Lubomirski broke into protestations calculated to dissuade Casanova from his purpose. Failing, he departed in despair, and Casanova at once dispatched a messenger with the letter. Within an hour it was answered by Count Branicki in person.
Admitted to Casanova’s bedchamber — for the Venetian was still abed engaged in correspondence — the Count locked the door, and came unceremoniously to seat himself upon the bed. Finding this proceeding not merely irregular in the circumstances, but a thought too intimate, and not knowing what might follow out of it, Casanova prudently reached for a pistol.
“I haven’t come to kill you in your bed,” Branicki assured him pleasantly, “but merely to tell you that I never postpone a duel to the morrow. Either we fight today or we do not fight at all.”
He spoke of it lightly, much as he might have discussed a visit to the opera.
“Today is impossible, Count,” Casanova answered. “I am at work as you see, and I must finish these letters — they are to go by a courier leaving Warsaw tonight.”
“You can finish them afterwards.”
“I might conceivably not be in case to do so.”
Branicki laughed. “That is unlikely. But if so — the dead need fear no reproaches on the score of unanswered letters.”
“But I don’t understand,” protested Casanova, “why your excellency should refuse to wait until tomorrow.”
“Don’t you see that if we wait you will miss the satisfaction you desire of me. His majesty is sure to hear of it, and will have us both placed under arrest.”
Branicki was today as charming and amiable as he had last night been insolent and overbearing. Then, too, in his florid, blond way, he was a handsome man, and a handsome face in either man or woman was ever an irresistible recommendation to Casanova. He says somewhere that a handsome face is a draft at sight, which all the world is prepared to honour. Thus it happened that he found himself liking Count Branicki, whose acquaintance he was really only just beginning to make. And there is little doubt that the feeling was reciprocated by the Pole. It is curious but undeniable that these two odd fellows were actually in course of becoming friends whilst arranging to cut each other’s throats.
“Very well,” said Casanova, at length. “I consent, since I cannot neglect anything that should afford me the privilege of a meeting with you. If therefore you will call for me after dinner I shall be ready.”
“You are very kind, sir. I hoped that you would accompany me at once.”
“Not that,” said the Venetian. “I must dine first.”
“Each to his taste,” was the reply. “Myself I prefer to fight fasting. But I will wait. Meanwhile, sir, why send me the length of your sword? I never consent to meet a stranger with any weapons but pistols.”
This was a shock to Casanova, who was confident of his swordsmanship.
“I do not fight with pistols,” he protested, “and in all the circumstances I have the right to the choice of weapons.”
“Perhaps; but you are, I am sure, too gallant a man not to accept the weapon I propose.”
Conquered by the fellow’s amiability and good looks, Casanova yielded the point.
“So be it,” he said. “You will bring a brace of pistols to be loaded in my presence, and I will choose my own. Should we miss each other, perhaps I shall have the honour of crossing swords with you, until one of us draws first blood — that is all.”
“Excellent.” Branicki rose to depart. “I shall call for you at three o’clock. Until then not a word to anyone. And now let us shake hands. It will be an honour to meet you.”
Entirely charmed by him, Casanova shook his hand effusively, and so they parted for the moment, completely pleased with each other.
Casanova, who, like your true man of the world, was a complete epicurean, prepared himself for the ordeal by ordering and sitting down to a succulent dinner and the choicest of wines. He sent for Campioni to keep him company, but found Campioni — who more than suspected what was in the wind — dull and preoccupied. Nevertheless, Casanova ate heartily, and drank as heartily, but with discretion.
Precisely at three o’clock Branicki arrived in a berline drawn by six horses, followed by two led horses in the charge of two orderlies and a couple of mounted hussars. Moreover, the Count was accompanied by his aide-decamp and a General in full dress uniform. He was conducting the affair in the grand manner, you see.
Casanova, dressed with care and wrapped in a valuable fur pelisse — for which I am sure that he had not paid — entered the carriage, and took the seat beside Branicki to which the latter invited him. Branicki suggested that he might wish to bring a friend of his own.
“I have made no such provision,” he answered, “nor do I now see the need, since we have witnesses enough, and I leave myself with confidence in your hands.”
The Count acknowledged the compliment by tightly pressing Casanova’s hand, and they drove off. For awhile there was silence. Then Casanova felt it necessary to make polite conversation.
“Do you expect to spend the summer in Warsaw, Count?” he asked.
“Yesterday that was my intention. But today — it is possible that you are about to prevent it.”
“I trust sincerely that our little affair may not disturb any of your plans.”
“I reciprocate the wish with regard to yourself. You have been a soldier, Monsieur Casanova?”
“I have. But why do you ask?”
“Oh, merely to keep the conversation going.” And Branicki laughed frankly and pleasantly.
The carriage rolled through the snow-clad suburbs, and came to a halt at the gates of a park. They alighted, and made their way through the trees to a clearing in which there were a seat and a table of stone. On this one of the hussars placed a brace of pistols, each a couple of feet in length, and set himself to load them.
When they were ready, and even as Branicki was inviting his opponent to make his choice, there occurred the first discordant note in an affair hitherto conducted, you will agree, in the sweetest harmony. This was precipitated by a well-meant, but ill-advised, attempt on the part of the General to compose the quarrel.
“After all, gentlemen,” said he, “would it not be wiser to appeal to the king to settle your dispute, rather than fight each other?”
“For my part,” said Casanova, “I should be charmed to have his majesty arbitrate between us, provided that his excellency here will express regret for having insulted me yesterday.”
Branicki flushed with sudden anger. “Have we come to fight or to talk?” he asked, and, proffering the pistols for the second time: “Choose, sir,” he cried.
“You will bear witness hereafter, sir,” said Casanova to the General, “that I have done all that my honour will permit to avoid the duel.” And, tossing back his fur-lined cloak, he seized one of the pistols. Momentarily he was angered.
“You will find it a good weapon,” said Branicki.
“I shall test it on your brain,” answered Casanova, and saw Branicki turn pale with anger. Without answering, the Count stepped back, and Casanova now did the same, until they stood some twelve paces apart. The trees on either side of the clearing prevented a wider distance. A moment they stood regarding each other, then Branicki raised his pistol slowly. He was deliberately covering Casanova, when the latter’s arm shot up with disconcerting suddenness — a shrewd trick this to disturb the other’s aim — and he fired so abruptly that the two shots made but one report.
Branicki staggered, reeled, and fell, whereupon Casanova, flinging away his weapon, sprang forward with real concern to the Count’s assistance. He assures us that he had fired without aiming, and that he was filled with dread lest he should inadvertently have killed the Count.
Suddenly he found his way blocked by Branicki’s hussars, their sabres gleaming lividly in the wintry sunshine, and murder in their eyes. He judged that his last hour had come, as undoubtedly would have been the case if Branicki had indeed been slain. As it was, the Count’s voice rang out hoarsely to arrest this murderous intent.
“Hold, dogs! Respect Monsieur Casanova — on your lives!”
They fell back at once, and Casanova went forward to assist his adversary to rise from the snow, which his blood was already flecking. It was only then that our Venetian discovered that he was wounded himself, and that the other’s bullet was lodged in his left hand.
Branicki was carried to an inn a hundred yards from the park, Casanova walking beside him, and the two looking at each other ever and anon, but no word passing between them. At the inn the Count was put to bed and his wound examined. The bullet had passed through him, from right to left below the ribs, and there was reason to fear that his intestines were perforated.
He looked up at Casanova, and a faint smile crossed his white face.
“You have killed me, my friend,” he said, without resentment. “Therefore make haste to save yourself. My purse is at your disposal if you have need of money.”
Overcome with grief, and deeply touched by the other’s gallantry and magnanimity, Casanova thanked him effusively, refused the purse, embraced him, and stumbled out of the inn blinded by tears. All Branicki’s people had gone off in quest of surgeons, priests, and friends, and Casanova now found himself alone, wounded, without weapons, on foot in a snow-clad country that was unknown to him. Fortunately, he met a peasant in a one-horse sleigh. Holding up his hand to stop him, he showed him a ducat, uttered the single word “Warsaw”, and thus was driven back to the city.
There, instead of going to his lodgings, he repaired to the Franciscan monastery, deeming it wise — in view of the sample the hussars had afforded him of Polish ways — to claim sanctuary until he should know, in the event of Branicki’s death, what might be intended against himself. He was kindly received by the aged Prior, who placed a room at his disposal, and sent at once for Campioni, a surgeon, and Casanova’s servant. The surgeon fetched was a clumsy performer, who miserably lacerated the patient’s hand in the course of extracting the bullet.
Casanova assigns it to vanity that while the operation was being performed he, dissembling his pain, related the details of the affair to those who were present. Headed by Prince Lubomirski, and attracted by the news which had gone through Warsaw like a ripple over water, they made already a considerable crowd. Others came on the morrow; indeed not an enemy of Branicki’s remained absent, and from the solicitude they displayed, and the readiness with which they offered him their purses, he was able to judge how detested the Count’s eminent position and arrogant ways had rendered him. Knowing how pressed he was for funds, I conceive him to have been very sorely tempted by their offers. But he set a high price upon his dignity, and perceiving that only by a sacrifice of this could he accept what was tendered out of hate for Branicki rather than of love for himself, he refused with the careless air of one who has inexhaustible resources at his command. He confesses that he regretted it later.
But if Branicki had enemies, he had friends as well, and these were moving vigorously to avenge the Count — whose life hung for days in the balance. The Grand–Marshal, acting upon orders from the king, who esteemed Casanova, had the convent guarded by a detachment of dragoons on the pretext of making sure that the Venetian did not escape, but in reality to protect him from any desperate attempts to seize his person. Then, too, the wound in Casanova’s hand producing considerable inflammation, three surgeons in consultation decided that it must be amputated to save his life. But Casanova, suspecting that they were the agents of Branicki’s avengers, and that their object was really to offer up his hand in sacrifice to their rancour, boldly played his life against his hand, and saved it by refusing to submit to the amputation.
He remained with the Franciscans until Easter, by when Branicki was pronounced out of all danger — and it was believed that the Count owed his life to having adhered to his practice of fighting on an empty stomach. However that might be, Casanova was really relieved and thankful not to have slain a man whom he had found so very estimable.
Nevertheless, there was still a good deal of feeling against him in certain sections of Warsaw society, and upon the advice of the Russian ambassador Casanova decided to absent himself from the Polish court for a couple of months. It was to be expected that by the end of that time this feeling would have died down, and that he might return and assume the office of secretary to his majesty, upon which his heart was set.
Accordingly he set out for Kieff, mysteriously supplied with two hundred ducats for the journey, and I find it difficult to believe that this sum was other than a mark of gratitude from Tomatis, whom he was constantly seeing at this time. And Tomatis had more reason to be grateful than he knew as yet. For in avenging him upon Branicki, Casanova had also avenged him upon La Binetti, who had been the unworthy cause of the whole affair. Her relations with Count Branicki were at an end. Perceiving into what unworthy courses her vanity had led him, and how near it had been to costing him his life, the Grand Chamberlain broke with her completely, and refused to see her again.
Realizing that as a consequence of this her reign in Warsaw was at an end, she took her departure while Casanova was absent in Kieff. But before she went she sowed a seed that should yield her a rich harvest of vengeance upon the Venetian, to whom she attributed her misfortune.
That harvest the unsuspecting Casanova returned to gather, after an absence of six weeks. He came back to find himself shunned on every hand, and since not only Branicki’s friends, but his very enemies — those who lately had been most assiduous in their attentions to himself — now received him with the most studied coldness, he came to conclude that some cause other than the duel was responsible for this.
Everywhere the same impolite phrase greeted him: “We did not expect to see you in Warsaw again. Why have you returned?”
“To pay my debts,” was the invariable answer with which he turned his back upon his questioners.
He went to court. The Russian ambassador, with whom he had been on very friendly terms, bowed frigidly and passed him. The king, from whom he had looked for so much, looked through him as if he were made of glass, whereupon he withdrew, dissembling his chagrin.
Branicki had left Warsaw, and Tomatis, too, was absent, but Lubomirski remained, and from Lubomirski, who had been his friend, Casanova sought an explanation. But even Lubomirski had changed, though not to the extent of the others.
“It is merely a manifestation of the national character,” the prince informed him in answer to his questions. “We are an inconstant people. Your fortune was made if you had known how to seize the opportunity. Now it is too late, and there is only one course open to you ——”
“To depart,” Casanova interrupted angrily. “Very well.”
But it was one thing to talk of going, and another thing to go. He had not the means. The two hundred ducats with which he had gone to Kieff he had spent with characteristic prodigality, assured that his purse would be amply replenished on his return to Warsaw. He went home to find an anonymous letter, which repeated Lubomirski’s advice, and gave him at last the explanation of the attitude towards him of Warsaw society. It informed him of certain things that the king had been told concerning him; that he was a sharper and a rogue; that he had been burnt in effigy in Paris on account of certain malpractices in connection with his organization of the State lotteries, with which he had laid the foundations of his sometime fortune — now notoriously dissipated in evil living; that he had been guilty of innumerable swindles in London, which had necessitated his abrupt departure from England; and that for similar reasons he dared not show his face in Italy, and much also beside of a like nature.
He suspected — no doubt with reason — that this letter was from La Binetti, and that it was she herself who had put about these calumnies. Calumnies they were, all the more deadly and insidious because in each statement made there was just a grain of truth; and of all lies none is so difficult to refute as a truth untruly told. He must go; there was no alternative. Yet how was he to go in the present state of his finances?
To aggravate his despair, he was visited next morning by Sulaskowski, the General who had acted as Branicki’s second, with a message from his majesty, ordering Casanova to leave Warsaw within eight days.
Stung by the order, Casanova angrily replied that he was not disposed to obey. “If the king should employ force to compel me, I shall protest against his violence before all the world. Pray tell him so.”
“Sir,” was the calm reply, “I am not instructed to convey any answer of yours to the king, but merely to acquaint you with his majesty’s order.” And upon that Sulaskowski ceremoniously took his leave.
When Casanova had mastered his rage he sat down and composed a letter to the king.
“My honour,” he wrote, “does not permit me to obey, as I should wish, your Majesty’s order to quit your capital, as I have had the misfortune to contract here some debts which must be satisfied before I leave, and I do not at present possess the necessary resources.”
This letter Casanova sent to the king by the hand of Prince Lubomirski. On the morrow Lubomirski brought him the royal answer.
“His Majesty wishes me to say that in sending you his order to quit Warsaw he was far from suspecting that you were short of money. I am to add that this order is given to you entirely in your own interest, and that his majesty is anxious to know you safely out of a capital where your enemies are multiplying daily, and where you are daily receiving provocations. His majesty commends the prudence with which you have ignored these provocations, but realizing that there must be a limit to your patience desires you to accept this slight recompense for the services you rendered him before your unfortunate affair with Count Branicki.” And he handed Casanova an order on the treasury for 1,000 ducats.
This was so liberal a sugar-coating to the pill that Casanova swallowed it now with gratitude. He wrote a letter of sincere thanks to Stanislas–Auguste, accepted the travelling-chaise which Lubomirski offered him as a parting gift, and set out in it next day, taking the road to Würtemberg.
Thus fortune came to him out of misfortune, and the world lay open to him once more.
CASANOVA IN MADRID
Of all the hazards into which Casanova was led by his insatiable addiction to gallantry and his gluttony of adventure none is more extravagant than that which befell him during his visit to Madrid in 1767. It presents features of unusual interest to students of his complex psychology. To begin with, he fell in love with a hand. It is true that he assures us that it was a hand of quite exceptional beauty. Let us suppose it — as no doubt it was — long and perfectly tapering and of an alabaster whiteness. Yet it remains a hand, and nothing more.
Virilely handsome, very tall, of a spare, athletic grace of figure, and magnificent ever in his dress — seeming here in Spain the more magnificent by contrast with the sober modes of this Inquisition-ridden country — he did not look his age by a dozen years. Yet the fact remains that he was forty, that he had lived harder, perhaps, than any man of his time, that he had known adversity in many shapes, and love in many more. Therefore it is the more surprising that this hard-bitten, flamboyant adventurer of ripe experience and jaded appetites should have been inflamed — and to such absurd lengths, as you shall see — by just four white fingers and a thumb.
Not even had there been the sense of touch to quicken his infatuation. He had not so much as enjoyed the satisfaction of beholding that hand at close quarters. Between him and it the whole width of a street intervened — the Calle de la Cruz, in which he had his lodging. The hand belonged to a lady of quality — at least, so he judged from its size and texture — dwelling in the house immediately opposite; and he was permitted to see it twice daily at that distance, in the act of adjusting a green, slatted shutter of the type known as “Venetian.”
That was all; and yet not quite all. There was, in addition, his own ardent imagination, which — working by processes akin to those of our modern naturalists, who will reconstruct you a saurian from a single tooth — constructed for that hand a body and soul. The only difference is that whereas the scientist works to reproduce the real, the poet — and no mean poet was Casanova — labours to create the ideal. It was, we must suppose, with the ideal here that he had fallen so madly in love.
This is, admittedly, but a clumsy endeavour to explain what otherwise must seem a lunacy. To an extent, of course, a lunacy it must remain; an obsessing madness that kept him a prisoner in his lodging, neglectful of the powerful letters of introduction he had brought, oblivious of all that he had meant to do and see in the Spanish capital.
Fearful of quitting his lodging for an hour, lest in that hour the owner of the hand might elect to give a fuller disclosure of herself, Casanova became a recluse, and, thus, an object of suspicion. For suspicions were easily aroused in Spain. The Holy Office was mistrustful of all strangers, most mistrustful of those who did not show themselves freely. And Casanova’s was by now an European reputation. Many — too many — of the facts of his wild life were widely known; and best known of all, perhaps, was the fact that once, upon a charge of magic, he had fallen into the clutches of the Inquisitors of State in Venice. It behoved him to be prudent; and to be prudent was his intention. He could not guess that it was an imprudence to bury himself in his lodging, which contained of his own nothing beyond some trunks of most elegant French clothes and a box of books, chiefly the Latin and Greek authors who were his inseparable companions.
Calchas, the Spanish valet he had hired in Madrid, an impudent rogue with a rare talent for hairdressing, recommended to him by Count Aranda, began to grow uneasy on his behalf. Perfectly aware of, and secretly amused by, the true facts of the case, Calchas sought to give his master a hint. Unfortunately he was clumsy in his method.
At work one morning upon Casanova’s luxuriant chestnut hair, in which as yet there was no single thread of silver to be detected, he opened fire.
“For what, I ask myself,” said he, in the detestable mixture of French and Spanish that he used with his foreign employer, “is all this combing and curling and pomading? Each morning I dress your head as if for a levee at Court, and each day you go no further than these four walls. It is to waste my labour, Excellency.”
“You are paid for your labour, scoundrel.”
“If you bought pictures from a painter or verses from a poet merely to put them into the fire, would he account it sufficient that you paid him?”
“You are neither a poet nor a painter,” said Casanova. “You are just a valet, probably a thief, and certainly a fool. It pleases me to have my hair well dressed. That is enough for you.”
“Ouf!” said Calchas, and turned aside to take the curling-tongs from the spirit flame. But he was irrepressible. “And then this bewildering consideration of apparel. Yesterday it was the pink and silver; today the blue taffetas; tomorrow it will be the black and gold; and the next day some other splendours. And why? Why? I ask myself, why? To keep your chamber, as you do, a dressing-gown and a head en papillote would do as well. The world will be talking, Excellency.”
“So will you, which is much more immediately irritating. Get on with my hair, Calchas. It is growing late.”
“But late for what, name of Heaven! Late for what?” And then, very slyly, he added, “Doña Dolores de la Fuente does not rise for another hour.”
Casanova’s full black eyes fixed the valet, intrigued.
“And who may be Doña Dolores de la Fuente?”
“But do you really not know?” The valet stood arrested, his tongs poised above the chestnut head. “It is the name of the lady in the palace opposite.”
There was a moment’s silence. Had Calchas troubled to look in the mirror he would have seen that his master’s swarthy, aquiline countenance had grown unusually forbidding. Presently Casanova spoke, very precise and coldly.
“It is only fair to warn you, Calchas, that I am a man easily provoked.”
“Oh, but that is all too evident. For that, it seems, that a mere hand suffices.”
“Ah! A hand!” said Casanova ominously.
“Had it been an ankle now ——”
The impudent Calchas got no further. Casanova rose suddenly to his great height, and soundly boxed the rascal’s ears. Calchas dropped the hot tongs, which in falling seared Casanova’s hand. If more had been wanting to inflame the passion of this man, so violent once he was aroused, that accident supplied it. First, he took the valet by the scruff of the neck and shook him until it seemed to Calchas that his teeth were rattling in his head. Next he ran him across the room, and flung wide the door.
“Out of this, you Spanish rat! And don’t let me see your face again, or I will break it into little pieces.”
He heaved him out, and sped him with a final kick. The stairs were immediate and precipitous. Calchas flung out hands to clutch the baluster, missed it, and went crashing down the flight.
Casanova stood at the stairhead to survey the damage. With a groan Calchas gathered himself up, and rose, feeling himself. He was unbroken, but very bruised and sore, and in a great rage. He stood there, in his shirtsleeves, furiously demanding his coat and his wages.
In a whirl of words, which reflected horribly, and I hope unjustly, upon the rascal’s pedigree, Casanova warned him that if he returned he would do so at the peril of his life.
Calchas did not return. He stood there a moment, gibbering with that singular fertility of morphological blasphemy in which a Spaniard has no rival. Then, at length, he departed, screaming threats of vengeance, which Casanova’s limited knowledge of Spanish did not permit him perfectly to understand. It was perhaps as well for Calchas.
After that, Casanova had to submit to the further annoyance of dressing his own hair, and performing unaided the remainder of his elaborate toilet. But fate had a compensation in store for him. That morning as he stood at his post at the window, intent upon the shutters across the narrow street, they opened wide at last, as if in answer to his mute and constant prayer, and he beheld the creature of his amorous dreams fully revealed for the first time — a pale and thoughtful Castilian beauty, to whom his ardent imaginings had done poor justice.
Although it was his first glimpse of her, yet it is inconceivable that she was not by now familiar with his own face and figure. Daily now, for a week or more, whilst revealing of herself no more than the white hand which had wrought the mischief, must she have been able to study him at her ease through the slats that so completely screened her. Studying him thus, she must have come to perceive his infatuation, whilst construing it as founded upon far more than was the actual case.
Arguing thus, he argued further that her self-disclosure proclaimed a measure of acceptance. That and the vision of this lovely woman, whose imagined simulacrum had for days obsessed him, ravished his senses utterly. Under the stress of his deep emotion, he carried a hand to his lips and then to his heart, and stood thus, in an attitude of ecstatic worship.
On her side, woman-like, she betrayed no consciousness of his existence. For a long moment she continued to stand revealed, but statuesque, unseeing, no trace of emotion, or even of perception, ruffling the virginal serenity of her proud pale face. Then, as abruptly as they had opened, the shutters closed again, leaving Casanova with a sense that the light had suddenly gone out. Darkness, desolation and longing encompassed his soul once more.
That is what comes of being endowed with a poetic temperament.
And now his case was become more hopeless than before. In the three or four days that followed he scarcely dared to leave his window. And yet his unremitting devotion went unrewarded until the evening of the fourth day. Then, at last, towards the hour of the Angelus, the shutters were again flung back, and again it was vouchsafed him to feast his eyes upon that vision of Castilian loveliness. And now, although there was still no sign of recognition in her wistful countenance, yet her eyes looked straight across and met his own.
He felt, he says, as if on the point of fainting from emotion. And then, with almost startled suddenness, she put forth that long white hand, and closed the shutters as abruptly as before. His consciousness, which had been all concentrated in his eyes, released thereby to diffuse itself again through his other senses, apprised him of a sound of steps beating upon the evening stillness. He looked out, and beheld a man close-wrapped in a brown cloak, his face concealed by a wide-brimmed hat, coming briskly down the street.
This man halted at a little side door of the mansion opposite, unlocked it and passed in, leaving Casanova in a passion of jealousy, through which vibrated the question whether the sudden closing of the shutters might not have been connected with this arrival.
He watched at his post all through the night — a starry, luminous summer night. And when, at last, the dawn drove him, dejected and exhausted, to his bed, the man in the brown cloak had not reemerged.
Again it would be towards the hour of the Angelus on the following evening when next he beheld her. Paler and more wistfully appealing than ever did she appear to him now. She leaned her elbow on the sill of her window and quite openly and intently regarded him, as if returning some of the passionate longing conveyed to her by his burning glance.
Again he pressed his hands — both hands this time — upon his aching heart.
And now, at last, his wildest hopes were fanned by an unmistakable response. She smiled — vaguely, tenderly, almost questioningly, as it seemed to him. Whereupon, entirely carried away, he flung out his arms in a gesture of invocation.
To restrain him, to enjoin discretion, she put her fingers to her lips. Next, leaning further forward, she held out a key and a letter, as if proffering them; then she drew back into the shadows of the room.
A practised gallant such as Casanova could not doubt her meaning for a moment. In the twinkling of an eye you behold him bareheaded in the quiet street under her window, his pulses drumming with expectancy. And almost at once the little package of key and letter thudded softly at his feet. He stooped to seize it, looked up to find the shutter already closed again, and fled back at once to his own lodgings to acquaint himself with the contents of that unsigned note.
“Are you a man of gentle birth?” she wrote. “Are you brave and discreet? Are you disposed to serve an unfortunate lady in her need? Because I believe you to be all this, I send you the key of the side-door. Come to me at midnight. I shall be waiting for you. Above all, be secret.”
You conceive his ecstasy. He pressed the faintly fragrant note to his lips, then from his window signified his acquiescence in pantomime addressed to the closed shutters. They opened wide enough to admit the passage of her white hand in token that he was understood.
Thereafter he summoned what patience he could to help him through the time of waiting. He tells us that he spent two hours that night upon his toilet — the lack of a valet, no doubt, complicated the intricate operation — and that he brought to it all the care and selection desirable in such circumstances. Nor did he overlook the risks with which this business might be fraught; for, after all, he was no callow lad of twenty plunging recklessly to his first assignation. Yet if the bitter voice of experience suggested perils, vanity and the spirit of adventure combined to remind him that he had sought and accepted the invitation, and that he could not draw back now save at the cost of being ridiculous and contemptible in her eyes.
He compromised in the matter. And when, with pulses throbbing, he went forth on the stroke of midnight to unlock the little door, he went armed under his lover’s finery.
As he stood in the complete darkness of the passage within, he caught the rustle of a gown, and instantly felt her at his side. His hand was taken in the grasp of slender little fingers whose coldness almost chilled his spirit. In silence he suffered himself to be conducted through an inner door, down a dimly lighted passage, then up a broad staircase, and finally into an ante-room, nobly proportioned and superbly finished.
In mid-chamber, upon a walnut table, whose surface was polished to the smoothness of glass, a dozen candles burned in a massive silver branch. Their light revealed her fully to him at last, and here at close quarters he found her even lovelier than he had already deemed her.
She was deathly pale, and the great eyes that now returned his ardent gaze were pools of wistfulness ineffable. Limp and trembling, she sank into a chair, whereupon he went down on his knees before her, and with no word spoken yet between them, he bore to his fevered lips the cold hand she yielded him. And then, transported by her white beauty and the oddness of the adventure, he loosed the bridle of his tempestuous gallantry.
“Lady, I love you!” he cried. “My heart, my life — all that I have, and am-are yours!”
She regarded him almost sadly; very faintly she smiled.
“You have never even spoken to me until this moment. And those are your first words to me! How can I believe you?”
“Put me to the test — to any test!” he cried impetuously.
“If I were to take you at your word?” said she, her smile growing in wistfulness and inscrutability.
“It is what I implore of you!”
“And if I first demand of you an oath of secrecy, an oath never to reveal what may pass here between us?”
“It is superfluous. I am a man of honour. None the less, I pledge you my word, since you demand it.”
She drew a fluttering breath.
“Be it so, then,” she said softly, and rose. “Come with me.”
His hand tight-clasped in hers, he came up from his knees, and obediently accompanied her across the room. There she opened a door and ushered him into another chamber, in the middle of which stood a great bed, with curtains of heavy gold brocade drawn tightly about it.
This room, like the other, was lighted by a cluster of candles in a branch that stood upon a richly carved console. In addition, at the foot of the bed, there were two tall gilded candlesticks with a single taper alight in each.
By the bed she came at last to a halt, and stood mutely gazing at him.
From bewildered that he had been, a sense of dread began now to pervade him as he regarded her. For never in his life had he looked into a face that expressed so much anguish and despair.
“What ails you?” he asked her, his voice hoarse. “You are trembling!”
“It is not from fear,” she said. “But you? You do not tremble. You are calm and master of yourself. Look, then!” Abruptly, violently, she swept aside the heavy curtains. “Look!”
He looked, and although he did not tremble even then, yet fear clutched his heart. For what he beheld was a man lying supine upon that splendid bed. He stepped back quickly, sucking in his breath, and his fingers instinctively sought the hilt of his hidden poniard.
Then he realized in horror why that figure continued supine and so indifferent, with eyes staring up at the canopy overhead. The man was dead.
Casanova observed that he was young and handsome, noted the disarray of his garments, and other signs that death had come upon him sudden and violently, and, finally, the two tapers at the bed’s foot, which assumed a new significance.
His horror grew. He looked at the woman, and found her watching him with glittering eyes.
“What does it mean?” he asked her fearfully.
“It means that justice has been done,” said she. “Though I must die for it, I could not have acted differently. I loved him, and he was false.”
Casanova shuddered, and there and then completely shed the unreasoning passion with which she had inspired him. Remembering that this was Spain, where jealousy is proverbially fierce and pitiless, he would strive to judge her mercifully. But it was not for a man of his temperament to desire a closer acquaintance with one who went to such lengths in punishing infidelity.
Not that he considered himself by temperament unfaithful. Somewhere in the course of his voluminous and frank confessions he defends himself vigorously against any possible imputations of that kind. He was, he assures us, merely inconstant, and at long and convincing length he draws an interesting distinction between inconstancy and infidelity. But understanding of his academic arguments cannot be expected of such women as Dolores. And made suddenly and grimly aware of this, his passion for her turned at once to ice.
He moved away, his face almost as ghastly as that of the corpse.
“My Heaven!” he groaned. “How horrible!”
Instantly she was beside him, clutching his arm, her siren voice plaintively beseeching.
“You are a man of honour! You promised secrecy! You swore to serve me!”
He bowed, stiff and formal.
“What do you ask of me, madame?” he demanded, ready to do, for the sake of his pledged word, the service to which there was no longer any spur of love.
“Deliver me of this,” she answered. “Take it away. The river flows beyond the wall of my garden. Carry it thither, and so rid me of it.”
She was on her knees to him, passionately interceding. In supplication she clasped his hands and embraced his knees. Tears flowed from her lovely eyes; despair rang in her voice. And he, the gallant who had come so hot-foot to her beckoning, stood stiffly there in his magnificent purple suit, frozen with horror. At last he spoke, dramatically, tragically, as the situation demanded.
“Madame, I pledged you my word. You are perhaps asking for my life. No matter, I give it to you!”
Convulsively she wrung his hands.
“You are noble! You are great!” she cried. “You know how to compel a woman’s love.”
But the love of Doña Dolores was the last thing that Casanova desired at the moment to compel. He desired, above all, to have done with this grisly business and be gone.
“Calm yourself, madame. Every moment increases the danger of discovery. Let us make haste.”
He shook off her detaining hands, stepped to the bed, and resolutely shouldered the ghastly burden.
“Your servants?” he enquired.
“I have but two. They are faithful, and they sleep. Go cautiously, lest you awaken them.”
And then, as he advanced a step, that body across his stalwart shoulder:
“No, no!” she whispered fiercely. “I cannot suffer it. If you are discovered thus, you are ruined!”
It was the first unselfish word she had uttered, and it awakened a response in him.
“And you, madame, are lost if this body remains here.”
With that he went forward towards the door, stepping firmly under his load, for he was strong and the dead man slim and light. Dolores followed him, lighting him with the candlebranch. Thus they went down the stairs to the door opening upon the garden. Beyond this she did not accompany him. She stood there under the lintel, perhaps awaiting his return, whilst he, staggering a little now, went through the garden, out by the gate, and down the lane that sloped to the river. He came at last to the water’s edge, and shot his burden into the stream, whereafter, without further thought for Doña Dolores, he went home.
He spent the remainder of the night devoured by uneasiness, considering means of quitting Madrid at the earliest moment.
Next morning he was arrested. An alcalde, accompanied by half a dozen alguaziles, invaded his lodging whilst he was still abed. They ransacked his room and placed his effects under seal, then ordered him to dress himself and go with them.
It required all his fortitude and all his considerable histrionic talent to dissemble his abject terror. But he contrived to appear calm and composed, if pale — which might be attributed to indignation — when he haughtily demanded of the alcalde an explanation of this outrage.
The alcalde leered contemptuously out of a sallow, blue-cheeked face.
“Of course, you play the comedy of injured innocence,” said he. “It is usual. It does not impress me.”
“It may impress you to know that I am a friend of Count Aranda, President of the Council of Castile.”
It was an overstatement, of course. He had seen the count but twice; once when he had presented his letter of introduction, and once again, later, when he had dined at his Excellency’s house. And although the count — out of regard for the foreign personage who had supplied Casanova with those credentials — had received him affably and treated him with consideration, yet this hardly justified him in counting Don Miguel de Aranda among his intimates. That, however, was no reason why he should not make use of this powerful name to intimidate the alcalde. Unfortunately the alcalde declined to be intimidated.
“I have my duty to perform!” he said, snapping his lips, and that was the end of the matter.
They carried off their prisoner to the foul gaol of Buen Retiro. There they deposited him in the mephitic atmosphere of a filthy chamber tenanted by some forty prisoners of the vilest kind. The first night that he spent there was something that he remembered to the end of his days. Huddled in a corner and devoured by fleas, not daring to close his eyes lest his infamous prison-mates should rob him whilst he slept, the splendid Giacomo di Casanova contemplated at leisure the miserable predicament into which his excessive appetite for philandering had landed him. He saw himself — he, the scholar, poet, soldier, philosopher and man of the world, who had ruffled it in courts and been the intimate of princes, whose name and whose fame were known throughout Europe — miserably ending his glorious, hazardous life like a common felon at the hands of a Spanish hangman.
I spare you a more detailed picture of his alternating rage and despair in the days that followed. His wide experience and knowledge of men helped him presently to mitigate his lot, but only by a very little. By bribing a young gaoler, whose countenance he rightly conjectured to belong to a thief, he was able with the little gold upon him to procure some food and wine that at least did not nauseate his fastidious palate.
Day followed day in that unspeakable confinement, and each day brought its dread of magisterial examination. Yet ten days passed, and still the authorities made no sign. Despair took possession of him completely. It happened often, he knew, that criminals were overlooked and left to rot, forgotten in the gaols to which they had been consigned. Such a fate — to spend the remainder of his days in these horrible surroundings — would be even worse than the gallows.
And then on the morning of the eleventh day of his imprisonment, the young gaoler, whose protection he had purchased, slipped a note into his hand. Wondering, he opened it in a corner with trembling fingers under cover of his hat; then stuffing it, spread out, into the crown, he read:
My Friend — By the time this reaches you I shall be out of Spain. You are relieved from your pledge of secrecy, and I exhort you to seek your own safety by a full and frank confession. I am afflicted by the thought of your situation. Forgive and forget
He put on the hat with the letter still inside it, and crushed it viciously down upon his brows. His haggard, unshaven face was white, and his lips twitched.
Forgive and forget! He would do neither the one nor the other as long as he lived — which, after all, might not be very long. He made a resolve that if ever he got safely out of this predicament, his relations with the other sex would be of the utmost circumspection.
The devil, you see, was very sick indeed. Almost he yearned for the womanless peace of monastic seclusion.
Towards noon that day he stirred himself to action. He did now what he might have done before but that fear and his pledged word between them had paralysed his will. He wrote a letter to Count Aranda. It was couched in characteristically impetuous terms:
My Lord — You cannot know that I am being assassinated in the most abominable gaol of your abominable country. In no civilized nation of the world would a man of my quality, whatever his offence, be cast among the cut-throats and pariahs that tenant this prison of Buen Retiro. I appeal to your Excellency’s sentiments of humanity to order me either to be set at liberty or put to death, so as to spare me the necessity of committing suicide. Giacomo di Casanova.
That intemperate letter he consigned to his friendly gaoler, who on this occasion needed no further spur than that supplied by the superscription to see that it reached its august destination.
Within twenty-four hours the sordid prison of Buen Retiro was visited by a resplendent officer, dispatched by Count Aranda to escort thence Monsieur Casanova. An hour later, the ravages in his toilet more or less repaired, Casanova stood in the presence of the most powerful man in Spain, the ugly little fellow who dared to dispute even the power of the fathers of the Inquisition, and who by a stroke of the pen had banished the Jesuits from Castile.
Without rising from his writing-table, the great Minister looked up to greet his visitor with something between a frown and a smile.
“Monsieur Casanova,” he said, “you have written me a very impertinent letter, in which you hardly show yourself the man of wit that you are reputed; for you should know that one seldom succeeds anywhere by impertinence.”
“I abase myself in apology, Excellency. It was written in the exasperation resulting from ten days in that horrible prison.”
The count’s face cleared.
“If I mentioned it,” he said more affably, “it was so that you may realize that my consenting to see you, notwithstanding, is a proof of the consideration in which I hold you. You were at least correct in your assumption that I had no knowledge of your position. I was beginning to wonder that you did not show yourself when I received your letter. I have since informed myself of your case, and I deplore profoundly the thing that has happened to you.”
Casanova gathered a rich harvest of hope from so much courtesy.
“Your Excellency cannot deplore it more profoundly than I do myself. I give you my word of honour that I am the helpless victim of circumstances. And I thank you more profoundly than I can say for allowing me to come before you and state my case as one man of honour to another, instead of as a felon to a magistrate. Absolved at last from the pledge of secrecy that bound me, I am fortunately able now to place all the facts before you without any reservation. They are these:”
And headlong, without giving the count time to interpose a single word, he plunged into a detailed account of the events at the house of Doña Dolores.
When he had done Count Aranda considered him in silence for a moment, his face utterly blank. Then he uttered a queer little laugh.
“But this is a very extraordinary tale, Monsieur Casanova.”
Casanova bristled instantly.
“Your Excellency does not imply a doubt of any particular?”
“Oh, far from it! Very far from it, indeed. It affords us the only logical explanation of the disappearance of Don Sebastian de Carbajal. Also it explains Doña Dolores de la Fuente’s sudden desire for foreign travel, a desire which she duped me into furthering. I was simpleton enough to assume that Don Sebastian had gone secretly abroad, and that it was her intention to follow and join him.” He smiled wryly. “You reveal to me, Monsieur Casanova, that we are both of us the dupes of that unscrupulously clever woman.”
“I reveal to your Excellency ——” Casanova checked, and with fallen jaw, dismay spreading on his swarthy face, he stared at the President of the Council. Then, a gleam of dreadful light breaking upon his dark bewilderment: “Does your Excellency mean,” he cried, “that I have disclosed something that was not known?”
“That, indeed, is what you have done.”
Uninvited, crushed by the weight of his sudden despair, Casanova sat down. In a small voice he asked:
“Will your Excellency tell me, then, in Heaven’s name why I was arrested?”
“For being in possession of forbidden books.”
The astounding answer made chaos of Casanova’s already distracted mind.
“Forbidden books?” he faltered. “I?”
The count explained briefly.
“Upon receiving your letter yesterday, I sent at once for the alcalde. He informed me that in arresting you he had acted on behalf of the Holy Office, upon a charge laid against you by a valet named Calchas, whom you dismissed with violence. Your recluse habits were already rendering you suspect, and upon proceeding to your lodging the alcalde found there corroboration of the accusation laid. He is a fool, of course, a devout man, very ardent in matters that come within the purview of the Inquisition — and in his ignorance he took your Greek Iliad, with its unknown characters, to be a work of magic. I have told him quite plainly what I think of him, and you need apprehend no further trouble on that score.”
“But on the score of this other matter?” cried Casanova in despair. “This far graver matter in which I have so rashly betrayed my part?”
Count Aranda sighed.
“There again you have hardly shown yourself the man of wit that you are reputed.”
“I have put a rope round my neck!”
Casanova rose in his agitation. He stood, stricken and pale, the last vestige of his assurance gone.
“That,” said Count Aranda softly, “is to pay me a poor compliment. Fortunately your statement was made as that of one man of honour to another, and not as that of an accused to a magistrate.”
“Your Excellency means?”
“Just that. It is fortunate that it was addressed to me, for you could not expect an examining magistrate to believe you as implicitly, or to take the view that your action in the matter was the only action possible in all the circumstances. The rest is a matter for the alcalde, and it is no part of my duties to assist him in his functions. I am not a policeman.”
“Your Excellency!” Casanova passed from terror to amazement. “How can I thank you?”
“You will be careful, sir, to do nothing of the kind,” said the Minister sharply. “Besides, I cannot altogether forgive the terms of this letter of yours. Amongst other things you speak of my country as abominable, and you imply that it is uncivilized. I cannot overlook so much. I must ask you to leave Madrid within twenty-four hours, and Spain within a week. I shall inform the alcalde of this, and instruct him to see that no obstacle is placed in the way of your departure.”
This time Casanova showed himself sufficiently a man of wit to submit in thankfulness to that decree of banishment.
The episodes which have formed the basis of the stories in this series are no more than a selection, treated objectively, from the voluminous memoirs of Casanova.
We take our leave of him here as he rolls out of Madrid in the Autumn of 1767 seeking fresh adventures. He found them in plenty and of varying kind until in 1774 he is back in Venice. There for the next nine years he abides, and you imagine that he has come to an anchorage at last. But now it is his too-ready pen that brings him fresh trouble, and he treads once more the path of exile, begins life anew at the age of sixty. At last at Töplitz he makes friends with Count Waldstein, who is addicted to magic. The Count carries our Venetian off to his Castle at Dux in Bohemia, where he — who in his time has been all things — settles down peacefully as a librarian and there finally departs this life in the year 1798 at the age of seventy-three.
This web edition published by:
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