"Not long after these events," continues Count O— — in his narrative, "I began to observe an extraordinary alteration in the disposition of the prince, which was partly the immediate consequence of the last event and partly produced by the concurrence of many adventitious circumstances. Hitherto he had avoided every severe trial of his faith, and contented himself with purifying the rude and abstract notions of religion, in which he had been educated, by those more rational ideas upon this subject which forced themselves upon his attention, or comparing the many discordant opinions with each other, without inquiring into the foundations of his faith. Religious subjects, he has many times confessed to me, always appeared to him like an enchanted castle, into which one does not set one's foot without horror, and that they act therefore much the wiser part who pass it in respectful silence, without exposing themselves to the danger of being bewildered in its labyrinths. A servile and bigoted education was the source of this dread; this had impressed frightful images upon his tender brain, which, during the remainder of his life, he was never able wholly to obliterate. Religious melancholy was an hereditary disorder in his family. The education which he and his brothers had received was calculated to produce it; and the men to whose care they were entrusted, selected with this object, were also either enthusiasts or hypocrites.
"To stifle all the sprightliness of the boy, by a gloomy restraint of his mental faculties, was the only method of securing to themselves the highest approbation of his royal parents. The whole of our prince's childhood wore a dark and gloomy aspect; mirth was banished even from his amusements. All his ideas of religion were accompanied by some frightful image; and the representations of terror and severity were those which first took hold of his lively imagination, and which the longest retained their empire over it. His God was an object of terror, a being whose occupation is to chastise; and the adoration he paid him was either slavish fear, or a blind submission which stifled all his energies. In all his youthful propensities, which a vigorous growth and a fine constitution naturally excited to break out with the greater violence, religion stood in his way; it opposed everything upon which his young heart was bent; he learned to consider it not as a friend, but as the scourge of his passions; so that a silent indignation was gradually kindled against it in his heart, which, together with a bigoted faith and a blind fear, produced an incongruous mixture of feelings, and an abhorrence of a ruler before whom he trembled.
"It is no wonder, therefore, that he took the first opportunity of escaping from so galling a yoke — but he fled from it as a bond-slave who, escaping from his rigorous master, drags along with him a sense of his servitude, even in the midst of freedom; for, as he did not renounce the faith of his earlier years from a deliberate conviction, and did not wait till the maturity and improvement of his reasoning had weaned him from it, but escaped from it like a fugitive, upon whose person the rights of his master are still in force, so was he obliged, even after his widest separation, to return to it at last. He had escaped with his chain, and for that reason must necessarily become the prey of any one who should discover it, and know how to make use of the discovery. That such a one presented himself, the sequel of this history will prove; most likely the reader has already surmised it.
"The confessions of the Sicilian left a deeper impression upon his mind than they ought, considering the circumstances; and the small victory which his reason had thence gained over this weak imposture, remarkably increased his reliance upon his own powers. The facility with which he had been able to unravel this deception appeared to have surprised him. Truth and error were not yet so accurately distinguished from each other in his mind but that he often mistook the arguments which were in favor of the one for those in favor of the other. Thence it arose that the same blow which destroyed his faith in wonders made the whole edifice of it totter. In this instance, he fell into the same error as an inexperienced man who has been deceived in love or friendship, because he happened to make a bad choice, and who denies the existence of these sensations, because he takes the occasional exceptions for distinguishing features. The unmasking of a deception made even truth suspicious to him, because he had unfortunately discovered truth by false reasoning.
"This imaginary triumph pleased him in proportion to the magnitude of the oppression from which it seemed to deliver him. From this instant there arose in his mind a scepticism which did not spare even the most sacred objects.
"Many circumstances concurred to encourage, and still more to confirm, him in this turn of mind. He now quitted the retirement in which he had hitherto lived, and gave way to a more dissipated mode of life. His rank was discovered; attentions which he was obliged to return, etiquettes for which he was indebted to his rank, drew him imperceptibly within the vortex of the great world. His rank, as well as his personal attractions, opened to him the circles of all the beaux esprits in Venice, and he soon found himself on terms of intimacy with the most enlightened persons in the republic, men of learning as well as politicians. This obliged him to en large the monotonous and limited circle to which his understanding had hitherto been confined. He began to perceive the poverty and feebleness of his ideas, and to feel the want of more elevated impressions. The old-fashioned turn of his understanding, in spite of the many advantages with which it was accompanied, formed an unpleasing contrast with the current ideas of society; his ignorance of the commonest things frequently exposed him to ridicule, than which he dreaded nothing more. The unfortunate prejudice which attached to his native country appeared to him a challenge to overcome it in his own person. Besides this, there was a peculiarity in his character; he was offended with every attention that he thought was paid him on account of his rank rather than his personal qualities. He felt this humiliation principally in the company of persons who shone by their abilities, and triumphed, as it were, over their birth by their merit. To perceive himself distinguished as a prince, in such a society, was always a deep humiliation to him, because he unfortunately fancied himself excluded by his rank from all competition. These circumstances convinced him of the necessity of cultivating his mind, in order to raise it to a level with the thinking part of the world, from which he had hitherto been so separated; and for that purpose he chose the most modern books, and applied himself to them with all the ardor with which he was accustomed to pursue every object to which he devoted himself. But the unskilful hand that directed his choice always prompted him to select such as were little calculated to improve either his heart or his reason; besides that, he was influenced by a propensity which rendered everything irresistible which was incomprehensible. He had neither attention nor memory for anything that was not of that character, and both his reason and his heart remained untouched, while he was filling the vacuities of his brain with confused ideas. The dazzling style of some writers captivated his imagination, while the subtlety of others ensnared his reason. Together, they easily took possession of a mind which became the prey of whatever was obtruded upon it with a certain degree of dogmatism. A course of reading, which had been continued with ardor for more than a year, had scarcely enriched him with one benevolent idea, but had filled his head with doubts, which, as a natural consequence with such a character, had almost found an unfortunate road to his heart. In a word, he had entered this labyrinth as a credulous enthusiast, had left it as a sceptic, and at length became a perfect free-thinker.
"Among the circles into which he had been introduced there was a private society called the Bucentauro, which, under the mask of a noble and rational liberality of sentiment, encouraged the most unbridled licentiousness of manners and opinion. As it enumerated many of the clergy among its members, and could even boast of some cardinals at its head, the prince was the more easily induced to join it. He thought that certain dangerous truths, which reason discovers, could be nowhere better preserved than in the hands of such persons, whose rank compelled them to moderation, and who had the advantage of hearing and examining the other side of the question. The prince did not recollect that licentiousness of sentiment and manners takes so much the stronger hold among persons of this rank, inasmuch as they for that reason feel one curb less; and this was the case with the Bucentauro, most of whose members, through an execrable philosophy, and manners worthy of such a guide, were not only a disgrace to their own rank, but even to human nature itself. The society had its secret degrees; and I will believe, for the credit of the prince, that they never thought him worthy of admission into the inmost sanctuary. Every one who entered this society was obliged, at least so long as he continued to be a member of it, to lay aside all distinctions arising from rank, nation, or religion, in short, every general mark or distinction whatever, and to submit himself to the condition of universal equality. To be elected a member was indeed a difficult matter, as superiority of understanding alone paved the way to it. The society boasted of the highest ton and the most cultivated taste, and such indeed was its fame throughout all Venice. This, as well as the appearance of equality which predominated in it, attracted the prince irresistibly. Sensible conversations, set off by the most admirable humor, instructive amusements, and the flower of the learned and political world, which were all attracted to this point as to their common centre, concealed from him for a long time the danger of this connection. As he by degrees discovered through its mask the spirit of the institution, as they grew tired of being any longer on their guard before him, to recede was dangerous, and false shame and anxiety for his safety obliged him to conceal the displeasure he felt. But he already began, merely from familiarity with men of this class and their sentiments, though they did not excite him to imitation, to lose the pure and charming simplicity of his character, and the delicacy of his moral feelings. His understanding, supported by real knowledge, could not without foreign assistance solve the fallacious sophisms with which he had been here ensnared; and this fatal poison had already destroyed all, or nearly all, the basis on which his morality rested. He surrendered the natural and indispensable safeguards of his happiness for sophisms which deserted him at the critical moment, and he was consequently left to the operation of any specious argument which came in his way.
"Perhaps the hand of a friend might yet have been in time to extricate him from this abyss; but, besides that I did not become acquainted with the real character of the Bucentauro till long after the evil had taken place, an urgent circumstance called me away from Venice just at the beginning of this period. Lord Seymour, too, a valuable acquaintance of the prince, whose cool understanding was proof against every species of deception, and who would have infallibly been a secure support to him, left us at this time in order to return to his native country. Those in whose hands I left the prince were indeed worthy men, but inexperienced, excessively narrow in their religious opinions, deficient in their perception of the evil, and wanting in credit with the prince. They had nothing to oppose to his captious sophisms except the maxims of a blind and uninquiring faith, which either irritated him or excited his ridicule. He saw through them too easily, and his superior reason soon silenced those weak defenders of the good cause, as will be clearly evinced from an instance which I shall introduce in the sequel. Those who, subsequent to this, possessed themselves of his confidence, were much more interested in plunging him deeper into error. When I returned to Venice in the following year how great a change had already taken place in everything!
"The influence of this new philosophy soon showed itself in the prince's conduct. The more openly he pursued pleasure, and acquired new friends, the more did he lose in the estimation of his old ones. He pleased me less and less every day; we saw each other more seldom, and indeed he was seldom accessible. He had launched out into the torrent of the great world. His threshold was eternally thronged when he was at home. Amusements, banquets, and galas followed each other in rapid succession. He was the idol whom every one courted, the great attraction of every circle. In proportion as he, in his secluded life, had fancied living in society to be difficult, did he to his astonishment find it easy. Everything met his wishes. Whatever he uttered was admirable, and when he remained silent it was like committing a robbery upon the company. They understood the art of drawing his thoughts insensibly from his soul, and then with a little delicate management to surprise him with them. This happiness, which accompanied him everywhere, and this universal success, raised him indeed too much in his own ideas, because it gave him too much confidence and too much reliance upon himself.
"The heightened opinion which he thus acquired of his own worth made him credit the excessive and almost idolatrous adoration that was paid to his understanding; which but for this increased self-complacency, must have necessarily recalled him from his aberrations. For the present, however, this universal voice was only a confirmation of what his complacent vanity whispered in his ear; a tribute which he felt entitled to by right. He would have infallibly disengaged himself from this snare had they allowed him to take breath; had they granted him a moment of uninterrupted leisure to compare his real merit with the picture that was exhibited to him in this seducing mirror; but his existence was a continued state of intoxication, a whirl of excitement. The higher he had been elevated the more difficulty had he to support himself in his elevation. This incessant exertion slowly undermined him; rest had forsaken even his slumbers. His weakness had been discovered, and the passion kindled in his breast turned to good account.
"His worthy attendants soon found to their cost that their lord had become a wit. That anxious sensibility, those glorious truths which his heart once embraced with the greatest enthusiasm, now began to be the objects of his ridicule. He revenged himself on the great truths of religion for the oppression which he had so long suffered from misconception. But, since from too true a voice his heart combated the intoxication of his head, there was more of acrimony than of humor in his jests. His disposition began to alter, and caprice to exhibit itself. The most beautiful ornament of his character, his modesty, vanished; parasites had poisoned his excellent heart. That tender delicacy of address which frequently made his attendants forget that he was their lord, now gave place to a decisive and despotic tone, which made the more sensible impression, because it was not founded upon distinction of rank, for the want of which they could have consoled themselves, but upon an arrogant estimation of his own superior merit. When at home he was attacked by reflections that seldom made their appearance in the bustle of company; his own people scarcely ever saw him otherwise than gloomy, peevish, and unhappy, whilst elsewhere a forced vivacity made him the soul of every circle. With the sincerest sorrow did we behold him treading this dangerous path, but in the vortex in which he was involved the feeble voice of friendship was no longer heard, and he was too much intoxicated to understand it.
"Just at the beginning of this epoch an affair of the greatest consequence required my presence in the court of my sovereign, which I dared not postpone even for the dearest interests of friendship. An invisible hand, the agency of which I did not discover till long afterwards, had contrived to derange my affairs, and to spread reports concerning me which I was obliged to contradict by my presence. The parting from the prince was painful to me, but did not affect him. The ties which united us had been severed for some time, but his fate had awakened all my anxiety. I, on that account, prevailed on Baron von F——— to inform me by letter of every event, which he has done in the most conscientious manner. As I was for a considerable time no longer an eye-witness of these events, it will be allowable for me to introduce the Baron von F——— in my stead, and to fill up the gap in my narrative by the contents of his letters. Notwithstanding that the representation of my friend F——— is not always what I should have given, I would not alter any of his expressions, so that the reader will be enabled to discover the truth with very little trouble."
I thank you, my most honored friend, for the permission you have given me to continue in your absence that confidential intercourse with you, which during your stay here formed my great pleasure. You must be aware that there is no one here with whom I can venture to open my heart on certain private matters. Whatever you may urge to the contrary, I detest the people here. Since the prince has become one of them, and since we have lost your society, I feel solitary in the midst of this populous city. Z——— takes it less to heart, and the fair ones of Venice manage to make him forget the mortifications he is compelled to share with me at home. And why should he make himself unhappy? He desires nothing more in the prince than a master, whom he could also find elsewhere. But I! — you know how deep an interest I feel in our prince's weal and woe, and how much cause I have for doing so; I have now lived with him sixteen years, and seem to exist only for his sake. As a boy of nine years old I first entered his service, and since that time we have never been separated. I have grown up under his eye — a long intercourse has insensibly attached me more and more to him — I have borne a part in all his adventures, great and small. Until this last unhappy year I had been accustomed to look upon him in the light of a friend, or of an elder brother — I have basked in his smile as in the sunshine of a summer's day — no cloud hung over my happiness! — and all this must now go to ruin in this unlucky Venice!
Since your departure several changes have taken place in our establishment. The Prince of — d —— arrived here last week, with a numerous and brilliant retinue, and has caused a new and tumultuous life in our circle. As he is so nearly related to our prince, and as they are moreover at present upon pretty good terms, they will be very little apart during his sojourn, which I hear is to last until after the feast of the Ascension. A good beginning has already been made; for the last ten days our prince has hardly had time to breathe. The Prince of — d —— has all along been living in a very expensive way, which was excusable in him, as he will soon take his departure; but the worst of the business is that he has inoculated our prince with his extravagance, because he could not well withdraw himself from his company, and, in the peculiar relation which exists between the two houses, thought it incumbent upon himself to assert the dignity of his own. We shall, moreover, depart from Venice in a few weeks, which will relieve the prince from the necessity of continuing for any length of time this extraordinary expenditure.
The Prince of — d — — it is reported, is here on business of the Order, in which he imagines that he plays an important part. That he has taken advantage of all the acquaintances of our prince you may readily imagine. He has been introduced with distinguished honor into the society of the Bucentauro, as he is pleased to consider himself a wit, and a man of great genius, and allows himself to be styled in his correspondences, which he keeps up throughout all parts of the world, the "prince philosophique." I do not know whether you have ever had the pleasure of meeting him. He displays a promising exterior, piercing eyes, a countenance full of expression, much show of reading, much acquired naturalness (if I may be allowed the expression), joined to a princely condescension towards the human race, a large amount of confidence in himself, and an eloquence which talks down all opposition. Who could refuse to pay homage to such splendid qualities in a "Royal Highness?" But to what advantage the quiet and sterling worth of our prince will appear, when contrasted with these dazzling accomplishments, the event must show.
In the arrangement of our establishment, various and important changes have taken place. We have rented a new and magnificent house opposite the new Procuracy, because the lodging at the Moor Hotel became too confined for the prince. Our suite has been augmented by twelve persons, pages, Moors, guards, etc. During your stay here you complained of unnecessary expense — you should see us now!
Our internal arrangements remain the same as of old, except that the prince, no longer held in check by your presence, is, if possible, more reserved and distant towards us than ever; we see very little of him, except while dressing or undressing him. Under the pretext that we speak the French language very badly, and the Italian not at all, he has found means to exclude us from most of his entertainments, which to me personally is not a very great grievance; but I believe I know the true reason of it — he is ashamed of us; and this hurts me, for we have not deserved it of him.
As you wish to know all our minor affairs, I must tell you, that of all his attendants, the prince almost exclusively employs Biondello, whom he took into his service, as you will recollect, on the disappearance of his huntsman, and who, in his new mode of life, has become quite indispensable to him. This man knows Venice thoroughly, and turns everything to some account. It is as though he had a thousand eyes, and could set a thousand hands in motion at once. This he accomplishes, as he says, by the help of the gondoliers. To the prince he renders himself very useful by making him acquainted with all the strange faces that present themselves at his assemblies, and the private information he gives his highness has always proved to be correct. Besides this, he speaks and writes both Italian and French excellently, and has in consequence already risen to be the prince's secretary. I must, however, relate to you an instance of fidelity in him which is rarely found among people of his station. The other day a merchant of good standing from Rimini requested an audience of the prince. The object of his visit was an extraordinary complaint concerning Biondello. The procurator, his former master, who must have been rather an odd fellow, had lived in irreconcilable enmity with his relations; this enmity he wished if possible to continue even after his death. Biondello possessed his entire confidence, and was the repository of all his secrets; while on his deathbed he obliged him to swear that he would keep them inviolably, and would never disclose them for the benefit of his relations; a handsome legacy was to be the reward of his silence. When the deceased procurator's will was opened and his papers inspected, many blanks and irregularities were found to which Biondello alone could furnish a key. He persisted in denying that he knew anything about it, gave up his very handsome legacy to the heirs, and kept his secrets to himself. Large offers were made to him by the relations, but all in vain; at length, in order to escape from their importunities and their threats of legally prosecuting him he entered the service of the prince. The merchant, who was the chief heir, now applied to the prince, and made larger offers than, before if Biondello would alter his determination. But even the persuasions of the prince were fruitless. He admitted that secrets of consequence had really been confided to him; he did not deny that the deceased had perhaps carried his enmity towards his relations too far; but, added he, he was my dear master and benefactor, and died with a firm belief in my integrity. I was the only friend he had left in the world, and will therefore never prove myself unworthy of his confidence. At the same time he hinted that the avowals they wished him to make would not tend to the honor of the deceased. Was not that acting nobly and delicately? You may easily imagine that the prince did not renew his endeavors to shake so praiseworthy a determination. The extraordinary fidelity which he has shown towards his deceased master has procured him the unlimited confidence of his present one!
Farewell, my dear friend. How I sigh for the quiet life we led when first you came amongst us, for the stillness of which your society so agreeably indemnified us. I fear my happy days in Venice are over, and shall be glad if the same remark does not also apply to the prince. The element in which he now lives is not calculated to render him permanently happy, or my sixteen years' experience has deceived me.
I should never have thought that our stay at Venice would have been productive of any good consequences. It has been the means of saving a man's life, and I am reconciled to it.
Some few evenings ago the prince was being carried home late at night from the Bucentauro; two domestics, of whom Biondello was one, accompanied him. By some accident it happened that the sedan, which had been hired in haste, broke down, and the prince was obliged to proceed the remainder of the way-on foot. Biondello walked in front; their course lay through several dark, retired streets, and, as daybreak was at hand, the lamps were either burning dimly or had gone out altogether. They had proceeded about a quarter of an hour when Biondello discovered that he had lost his way. The similarity of the bridges had deceived him, and, instead of crossing that of St. Mark, they found themselves in Sestiere di Castello. It was in a by-street, and not a soul was stirring; they were obliged to turn back in order to gain a main street by which to set themselves right. They had proceeded but a few paces when they heard cries of "murder" in a neighboring street. With his usual determined courage, the prince, unarmed as he was, snatched a stick from one of his attendants, and rushed forward in the direction whence the sound came. Three ruffianly-looking fellows were just about to assassinate a man, who with his companion was feebly defending himself; the prince appeared just in time to arrest the fatal blow. The voices of the prince and his followers alarmed the murderers, who did not expect any interruption in so lonely a place; after inflicting a few slight wounds with their daggers, they abandoned their victim and took to their heels. Exhausted with the unequal combat, the wounded man sunk half fainting into the arms of the prince; his companion informed my master that the man whose life he had saved was the Marquis Civitella, a nephew of the Cardinal A———. As the marquis' wounds bled freely, Biondello acted as surgeon to the best of his ability, and the prince took care to have him conveyed to the palace of his uncle, which was near at hand, and whither he himself accompanied him. This done, he left the house without revealing his name.
This, however, was discovered by a servant who had recognized Biondello. Already on the following morning the cardinal, an old acquaintance from the Bucentauro, waited upon the prince. The interview lasted an hour; the cardinal was much moved; tears stood in his eyes when they parted; the prince, too, was affected. The same evening a visit was paid to the sick man, of whose case the surgeon gives a very favorable report; the mantle in which he was wrapped had rendered the thrusts unsteady, and weakened their force. Since this event not a day has passed without the prince's paying a visit at the cardinal's, or receiving one from him, and a close intimacy has begun to exist between him and the cardinal's family.
The cardinal is a venerable man of sixty, with a majestic aspect, but full of gayety and good health. He is said to be the richest prelate throughout all the dominions of the republic. He is reported to manage his immense fortune in a very liberal manner, and, although prudently economical, to despise none of the joys of this life. This nephew, who is his sole heir, is not always on the best of terms with his uncle. For, although the cardinal is anything but an enemy to youthful pleasures, the conduct of the nephew must exhaust the utmost tolerance. His loose principles and dissipated manner of living, aided unhappily by all the attractions which can make vice tempting and excite sensuality, have rendered him the terror of all fathers and the bane of all husbands; this last attack also was said to have been caused by an intrigue he had begun with the wife of the ambassador, without speaking of other serious broils from which the power and the money of the cardinal could scarcely extricate him. But for this the cardinal would be the happiest man in Italy, for he possesses everything that can make life agreeable; but by this one domestic misfortune all the gifts of fortune are annulled, and the enjoyment of his wealth is embittered to the cardinal by the continual fear of finding nobody to inherit it.
The whole of this information I have obtained from Biondello. The prince has found in this man a real treasure. Every day he becomes more indispensable, and we are continually discovering in him some new talent. Some days ago the prince felt feverish and could not sleep; the night-lamp was extinguished, and all his ringing failed to arouse the valet-de-chambre, who had gone to sleep out of the house with an opera-dancer. At length the prince determined to rise himself, and to rouse one of his people. He had not proceeded far when a strain of delicious melody met his ear. Like one enchanted, he followed the sound, and found Biondello in his room playing upon the flute, with his fellow-servants assembled around him. The prince could hardly believe his senses, and commanded him to proceed. With a surprising degree of facility he began to vary a touching adagio air with some fine extempore variations, which he executed with all the taste of a virtuoso. The prince, who, as you know, is a judge of music, says that he might play with confidence in the finest choir in Italy.
"I must dismiss this man," said he to me next morning, "for I am unable to reward him according to his merits." Biondello, who had overheard these words, came forward, "If you dismiss me, gracious prince," said he, "you deprive me of my best reward."
"You are born to something better than to serve," answered my master. "I must not stand in the way of your fortune."
"Do not press upon me any better fortune, gracious sir, than that which I have chosen for myself."
"To neglect talent like yours — No! I can never permit it."
"Then permit me, gracious sir, sometimes to exercise it in your presence."
Preparations were immediately made for carrying this proposition into effect. Biondello had a room assigned to him next the apartment of the prince, so that he can lull him to sleep with his strains, and wake him in the same manner. The prince wished to double his salary, but Biondello declined, requesting that this intended boon should be retained in his master's hands as a capital of which he might some day wish to avail himself. The prince expects that he will soon come to ask a favor at his hands; and whatever it may be it is granted beforehand. Farewell, dearest friend. I am waiting with impatience for tidings from K——n.
The Marquis of Civitella, who is now entirely recovered from his wounds, was last week introduced to the prince by his uncle, the cardinal, and since then he has followed him like his shadow. Biondello cannot have told me the truth respecting this marquis, or at any rate his account must be greatly exaggerated. His mien is highly engaging, and his manners irresistibly winning.
It is impossible to be out of humor with him; the first sight of him has disarmed me. Imagine a man of the most enchanting figure, with corresponding grace and dignity, a countenance full of thought and genius, an expression frank and inviting; a persuasive tone of voice, the most flowing eloquence, and a glow of youthful beauty, joined to all the advantages of a most liberal education. He has none of that contemptuous pride, none of that solemn starchness, which we disliked so much in all the other nobles. His whole being is redolent of youthful joyousness, benevolence, and warmth of feeling. His excesses must have been much exaggerated; I never saw a more perfect picture of health. If he is really so wholly abandoned as Biondello represents him he is a syren whom none can resist.
Towards me he behaved with much frankness. He confessed with the most pleasing sincerity that he was by no means on the best of terms with his uncle, the cardinal, and that it was his own fault. But he was seriously resolved to amend his life, and the merit would be entirely the prince's. At the same time he hoped through his instrumentality to be reconciled to his uncle, as the prince's influence with the cardinal was unbounded. The only thing he had wanted till now was a friend and a guide, and he trusted he should find both in the person of the prince.
The prince has now assumed the authority of a preceptor towards him, and treats him with all the watchfulness fulness and strictness of a Mentor. But this intimacy also gives the marquis a certain degree of influence, of which he well knows how to avail himself. He hardly stirs from his side; he is present at all parties where the prince is one of the guests; for the Bucentauro alone he is fortunately as yet too young. Wherever be appears in public with the prince he manages to draw him away from the rest of the company by the pleasing manner in which he engages him in conversation and arrests his attention. Nobody, they say, has yet been able to reclaim him, and the prince will deserve to be immortalized in an epic should he accomplish such an Herculean task. I am much afraid, however, that the tables may be turned, and the guide be led away by the pupil, of which, in fact, there seems to be every prospect.
The Prince of — d ——— has taken his departure, much to the satisfaction of us all, my master not excepted. What I predicted, my dear O— — has come to pass. Two characters so widely opposed must inevitably clash together, and cannot maintain a good understanding for any length of time. The Prince of — d ——— had not been long in Venice before a terrible schism took place in the intellectual world, which threatened to deprive our prince of one-half of his admirers. Wherever he went he was crossed by this rival, who possessed exactly the requisite amount of small cunning to avail himself of every little advantage he gained. As he besides never scrupled to make use of any petty manoeuvres to increase his consequence, he in a short time drew all the weak-minded of the community on his side, and shone at the head of a company of parasites worthy of such a leader.
[The harsh judgment which Baron F—— (both here and in some passages of his first letter) pronounces upon this talented prince will be found exaggerated by every one who has the good fortune to be acquainted with him, and must be attributed to the prejudiced views of the young observer. — Note of the Count von O———.]
The wiser course would certainly have been not to enter into competition at all with an adversary of this description, and a few months back this is the part which the prince would have taken. But now he has launched too far into the stream easily to regain the shore. These trifles have, perhaps by the circumstances in which he is placed, acquired a certain degree of importance in his eyes, and had he even despised them his pride would not have allowed him to retire at a moment when his yielding would have been looked upon less as a voluntary act than as a confession of inferiority. Added to this, an unlucky revival of forgotten satirical speeches had taken place, and the spirit of rivalry which took possession of his followers had affected the prince himself. In order, therefore, to maintain that position in society which public opinion had now assigned him, he deemed it advisable to seize every possible opportunity of display, and of increasing the number of his admirers; but this could only be effected by the most princely expenditure; he was therefore eternally giving feasts, entertainments, and expensive concerts, making costly presents, and playing high. As this strange madness, moreover, had also infected the prince's retinue, who are generally much more punctilious in respect to what they deem "the honor of the family" than their masters, the prince was obliged to assist the zeal of his followers by his liberality. Here, then, is a whole catalogue of ills, all irremediable consequences of a sufficiently excusable weakness to which the prince in an unguarded moment gave way.
We have, it is true, got rid of our rival, but the harm he has done will not so soon be remedied. The finances of the prince are exhausted; all that he had saved by the wise economy of years is spent; and he must hasten from Venice if he would escape plunging into debt, which till now he has most scrupulously avoided. It is decisively settled that we leave as soon as fresh remittances arrive.
I should not have minded all this splendor if the prince had but reaped the least real satisfaction from it. But he was never less happy than at present. He feels that he is not what he formerly was; he seeks to regain his self-respect; he is dissatisfied with himself, and launches into fresh dissipation in order to drown the recollection of the last. One new acquaintance follows another, and each involves him more deeply. I know not where this will end. We must away — there is no other chance of safety — we must away from Venice.
But, my dear friend, I have not yet received a single line from you. How am I to interpret this long and obstinate silence?
I thank you, my dear friend, for the token of your remembrance which young B— hl brought me. But what is it you say about letters I ought to have received? I have received no letter from you; not a single one. What a circuitous route must they have taken. In future, dear O—— — when you honor me with an epistle despatch it via Trent, under cover to the prince, my master.
We have at length been compelled, my dear friend, to resort to a measure which till now we had so happily avoided. Our remittances have failed to arrive — failed, for the first time, in this pressing emergency, and we have been obliged to have recourse to a usurer, as the prince is willing to pay handsomely to keep the affair secret. The worst of this disagreeable occurrence is, that it retards our departure. On this affair the prince and I have had an explanation. The whole transaction had been arranged by Biondello, and the son of Israel was there before I had any suspicion of the fact. It grieved me to the heart to see the prince reduced to such an extremity, and revived all my recollections of the past, and fears for the future; and I suppose I may have looked rather sorrowful and gloomy when the usurer left the room. The prince, whom the foregoing scene had left in not the happiest frame of mind, was pacing angrily up and down the room; the rouleaus of gold were still lying on the table; I stood at the window, counting the panes of glass in the procurator's house opposite. There was a long pause. At length the prince broke silence. "F———!" he began, "I cannot bear to see dismal faces about me."
I remained silent.
"Why do you not answer me? Do I not perceive that your heart is almost bursting to vent some of its vexation? I insist on your speaking, otherwise you will begin to fancy that you are keeping some terribly momentous secret."
"If I am gloomy, gracious sir," replied I, "it is only because I do not see you cheerful."
"I know," continued he, "that you have been dissatisfied with me for some time past — that you disapprove of every step I take — that — what does Count O——— say in his letters?"
"Count O——— has not written to me."
"Not written? Why do you deny it? You keep up a confidential correspondence together, you and the count; I am quite aware of that. Come, you may confess it, for I have no wish to pry into your secrets."
"Count O—— — " replied I, "has not yet answered any of the three letters which I have written to him."
"I have done wrong," continued he; "don't you think so?" (taking up one of the rouleaus) "I should not have done this?"
"I see that it was necessary."
"I ought not to have reduced myself to such a necessity?"
I did not answer.
"Oh, of course! I ought never to have indulged my wishes, but have grown gray in the same dull manner in which I was brought up! Because I once venture a step beyond the drear monotony of my past life, and look around me to see whether there be not some new source of enjoyment in store for me — because I—"
"If it was but a trial, gracious sir, I have no more to say; for the experience you have gained would not be dearly bought at three times the price it has cost. It grieves me, I confess, to think that the opinion of the world should be concerned in determining the question — how are you to choose your own happiness."
"It is well for you that you can afford to despise the world's opinion," replied he, "I am its creature, I must be its slave. What are we princes but opinion? With us it is everything. Public opinion is our nurse and preceptor in infancy, our oracle and idol in riper years, our staff in old age. Take from us what we derive from the opinion of the world, and the poorest of the humblest class is in a better position than we, for his fate has taught him a lesson of philosophy which enables him to bear it. But a prince who laughs at the world's opinion destroys himself, like the priest who denies the existence of a God."
"And yet, gracious prince —"
"I see what you would say; I can break through the circle which my birth has drawn around me. But can I also eradicate from my memory all the false impressions which education and early habit have implanted, and which a hundred thousand fools have been continually laboring to impress more and more firmly? Everybody naturally wishes to be what he is in perfection; in short, the whole aim of a prince's existence is to appear happy. If we cannot be happy after your fashion, is that any reason why we should discard all other means of happiness, and not be happy at all? If we cannot drink of joy pure from the fountain-head, can there be any reason why we should not beguile ourselves with artificial pleasure — nay, even be content to accept a sorry substitute from the very hand that robs us of the higher boon?"
"You were wont to look for this compensation in your own heart."
"But if I no longer find it there? Oh, how came we to fall on this subject? Why did you revive these recollections in me? I had recourse to this tumult of the senses in order to stifle an inward voice which embitters my whole life; in order to lull to rest this inquisitive reason, which, like a sharp sickle, moves to and fro in my brain, at each new research lopping off another branch of my happiness."
"My dearest prince"— He had risen, and was pacing up and down the room in unusual agitation.
[I have endeavored, dearest O—— — to relate to you this remarkable conversation exactly as it occurred; but this I found impossible, although I sat down to write it the evening of the day it took place. In order to assist my memory I was obliged to transpose the observation of the prince, and thus this compound of a conversation and a philosophical lecture, which is in some respects better and in others worse than the source from which I took it, arose; but I assure you that I have rather omitted some of the prince's words than ascribed to him any of my own; all that is mine is the arrangement, and a few observations, whose ownership you will easily recognize by their stupidity. — Note of the Baron von F———]
"When everything gives way before me and behind me; when the past lies in the distance in dreary monotony, like a city of the dead; when the future offers me naught; when I see my whole being enclosed within the narrow circle of the present, who can blame me if I clasp this niggardly present of time in my arms with fiery eagerness, as though it were a friend whom I was embracing for the last time? Oh, I have learnt to value the present moment. The present moment is our mother; let us love it as such."
"Gracious sir, you were wont to believe in a more lasting good."
"Do but make the enchantment last and fervently will I embrace it. But what pleasure can it give to me to render beings happy who to-morrow will have passed away like myself? Is not everything passing away around me? Each one bustles and pushes his neighbor aside hastily to catch a few drops from the fountain of life, and then departs thirsting. At this very moment, while I am rejoicing in lily strength, some being is waiting to start into life at my dissolution. Show me one being who will endure, and I will become a virtuous man."
"But what, then, has become of those benevolent sentiments which used to be the joy and the rule of your life? To sow seeds for the future, to assist in carrying out the designs of a high and eternal Providence"—
"Future! Eternal Providence! If you take away from man all that he derives from his own heart, all that he associates with the idea of a godhead, and all that belongs to the law of nature, what, then, do you leave him?
"What has already happened to me, and what may still follow, I look upon as two black, impenetrable curtains hanging over the two extremities of human life, and which no mortal has ever yet drawn aside. Many hundred generations have stood before the second of these curtains, casting the light of their torches upon its folds, speculating and guessing as to what it may conceal. Many have beheld themselves, in the magnified image of their passions, reflected upon the curtain which hides futurity from their gaze, and have turned away shuddering from their own shadows. Poets, philosophers, and statesmen have painted their fancies on the curtain in brighter or more sombre colors, according as their own prospects were bright or gloomy. Many a juggler has also taken advantage of the universal curiosity, and by well-managed deceptions led astray the excited imagination. A deep silence reigns behind this curtain; no one who passes beyond it answers any questions; all the reply is an empty echo, like the sound yielded by a vault.
"Sooner or later all must go behind this curtain, and they approach it with fear and trembling, in doubt who may be waiting there behind to receive them; quid sit id, quod tanturn morituri vident. There have been infidels who asserted that this curtain only deluded mankind, and that we saw nothing behind it, because there was nothing there to see; but, to convince them, they were quickly sent behind it themselves."
"It was indeed a rash conclusion," said I, "if they had no better ground for it than that they saw nothing themselves."
"You see, my dear friend, I am modest enough not to wish to look behind this curtain, and the wisest course will doubtless be to abstain from all curiosity. But while I draw this impassable circle around me, and confine myself within the bounds of present existence, this small point of time, which I was in danger of neglecting in useless researches, becomes the more important to me. What you call the chief end and aim of my existence concerns me no longer. I cannot escape my destiny; I cannot promote its consummation; but I know, and firmly believe, that I am here to accomplish some end, and that I do accomplish it. But the means which nature has chosen to fulfil my destiny are so much the more sacred to me; to me it is everything; my morality, my happiness. All the rest I shall never learn. I am like a messenger who carries a sealed letter to its place of destination. What the letter contains is indifferent to him; his business is only to earn his fee for carrying it."
"Alas!" said I, "how poor a thing you would leave me!"
"But in what a labyrinth have we lost ourselves!" exclaimed the prince, looking with a smile at the table on which the rouleaus lay. "After all perhaps not far from the mark," continued he; "you will now no doubt understand my reasons for this new mode of life. I could not so suddenly tear myself away from my fancied wealth, could not so readily separate the props of my morality and happiness from the pleasing dream with which everything within me was so closely bound up. I longed for the frivolity which seems to render the existence of most of those about me endurable to themselves. Everything which precluded reflection was welcome to me. Shall I confess it to you? I wished to lower myself, in order to destroy this source of my griefs, by deadening the power of reflection."
Here we were interrupted by a visit. In my next I shall have to communicate to you a piece of news, which, from the tenor of a conversation like the one of to-day, you would scarcely have anticipated.
As the time of our departure from Venice is now approaching with rapid steps, this week was to be devoted to seeing everything worthy of notice in pictures and public edifices; a task which, when one intends making a long stay in a place, is always delayed till the last moment.
The "Marriage at Cana," by Paul Veronese, which is to be seen in a Benedictine convent in the Island of St. George, was in particular mentioned to us in high terms. Do not expect me to give you a description of this extraordinary work of art, which, on the whole, made a very surprising, but not equally pleasing, impression on me. We should have required as many hours as we had minutes to study a composition of one hundred and twenty figures, upon a ground thirty feet broad. What human eye is capable of grasping so complicated a whole, or at once to enjoy all the beauty which the artist has everywhere lavished, upon it! It is, however, to be lamented, that a work of so much merit, which if exhibited in some public place, would command the admiration of every one, should be destined merely to ornament the refectory of a few monks. The church of the monastery is no less worthy of admiration, being one of the finest in the whole city. Towards evening we went in a gondola to the Guidecca, in order to spend the pleasant hours of evening in its charming garden. Our party, which was not very numerous, soon dispersed in various directions; and Civitella, who had been waiting all day for an opportunity of speaking to me privately, took me aside into an arbor.
"You are a friend to the prince," he began, "from whom he is accustomed to keep no secrets, as I know from very good authority. As I entered his hotel to-day I met a man coming out whose occupation is well known to me, and when I entered the room the prince's brow was clouded." I wished to interrupt him — "You cannot deny it," continued he; "I knew the man, I looked at him well. And is it possible that the prince should have a friend in Venice — a friend who owes his life to him, and yet be reduced on an emergency to make use of such creatures?"
"Tell me frankly, Baron! Is the prince in difficulties? It is in vain you strive to conceal it from me. What! you refuse to tell me! I can easily learn from one who would sell any secret for gold."
"My good Marquis!"
"Pardon me! I must appear intrusive in order not to be ungrateful. To the prince I am indebted for life, and what is still more, for a reasonable use of it. Shall I stand idly by and see him take steps which, besides being inconvenient to him, are beneath his dignity? Shall I feel it in my power to assist him, and hesitate for a moment to step forward?"
"The prince," replied I, "is not in difficulties. Some remittances which we expected via Trent have not yet arrived, most likely either by accident, or because not feeling certain whether he had not already left Venice, they waited for a communication from him. This has now been done, and until their arrival"
Civitella shook his head. "Do not mistake my motive," said he; "in this there can be no question as to diminishing the extent of my obligations towards the prince, which all my uncle's wealth would be insufficient to cancel. My object is simply to spare him a few unpleasant moments. My uncle possesses a large fortune which I can command as freely as though it were my own. A fortunate circumstance occurs, which enables me to avail myself of the only means by which I can possibly be of the slightest use to your master. I know," continued he, "how much delicacy the prince possesses, but the feeling is mutual, and it would be noble on his part to afford me this slight gratification, were it only to make me appear to feel less heavily the load of obligation under which I labor."
He continued to urge his request, until I had pledged my word to assist him to the utmost of my ability. I knew the prince's character, and had but small hopes of success. The marquis promised to agree to any conditions the prince might impose, but added, that it would deeply wound him to be regarded in the light of a stranger.
In the heat of our conversation we had strayed far away from the rest of the company, and were returning, when Z———— came to meet us.
"I am in search of the prince," he cried; "is he not with you?"
"We were just going to him," was our reply. "We thought to find him with the rest of the party."
"The company is all together, but he is nowhere to be found. I cannot imagine how we lost sight of him."
It now occurred to Civitella that he might have gone to look at the adjoining church, which had a short time before attracted his attention. We immediately went to look for him there. As we approached, we found Biondello waiting in the porch. On coming nearer, we saw the prince emerge hastily from a side door; his countenance was flushed, and he looked anxiously round for Biondello, whom he called. He seemed to be giving him very particular instructions for the execution of some commission, while his eyes continued constantly fixed on the church door, which had remained open. Biondello hastened into the church. The prince, without perceiving us, passed through the crowd, and went back to his party, which he reached before us.
We resolved to sup in an open pavilion of the garden, where the marquis had, without our knowledge, arranged a little concert, which was quite first-rate. There was a young singer in particular, whose delicious voice and charming figure excited general admiration. Nothing, however, seemed to make an impression on the prince; he spoke little, and gave confused answers to our questions; his eyes were anxiously fixed in the direction whence he expected Biondello; and he seemed much agitated. Civitella asked him what he thought of the church; he was unable to give any description of it. Some beautiful pictures, which rendered the church remarkable, were spoken of; the prince had not noticed them. We perceived that our questions annoyed him, and therefore discontinued them. Hour after hour rolled on and still Biondello returned not. The prince could no longer conceal his impatience; he rose from the table, and paced alone, with rapid strides, up and down a retired walk. Nobody could imagine what had happened to him. I did not venture to ask him the reason of so remarkable a change in his demeanor; I have for some time past resigned my former place in his confidence. It was, therefore, with the utmost impatience that I awaited the return of Biondello to explain this riddle to me.
It was past ten o'clock when he made his appearance. The tidings he brought did not make the prince more communicative. He returned in an ill-humor to the company, the gondola was ordered, and we returned. home.
During the remainder of that evening I could find no opportunity of speaking to Biondello, and was, therefore, obliged to retire to my pillow with my curiosity unsatisfied. The prince had dismissed us early, but a thousand reflections flitted across my brain, and kept me awake. For a long time I could hear him pacing up and down his room; at length sleep overcame me. Late at midnight I was awakened by a voice, and I felt a hand passed across my face; I opened my eyes, and saw the prince standing at my bedside, with a lamp in his hand. He told me he was unable to sleep, and begged me to keep him company through the night. I was going to dress myself, but he told me to stay where I was, and seated himself at my bedside.
"Something has happened to me to-day," he began, "the impression of which will never be effaced from my soul. I left you, as you know, to see the church, respecting which Civitella had raised my curiosity, and which had already attracted my attention. As neither you nor he were at hand, I walked the short distance alone, and ordered Biondello to wait for me at the door. The church was quite empty; a dim and solemn light surrounded me as I entered from the blazing sultry day without. I stood alone in the spacious building, throughout which there reigned the stillness of the grave. I placed myself in the centre of the church, and gave myself up to the feelings which the sight was calculated to produce; by degrees the grand proportions of this majestic building expanded to my gaze, and I stood wrapt in deep and pleasing contemplation. Above me the evening bell was tolling; its tones died softly away in the aisles, and found an echo in my heart. Some altar-pieces at a distance attracted my attention. I approached to look at them; unconsciously I had wandered through one side of the church, and was now standing at the opposite end. Here a few steps, raised round a pillar, led into a little chapel, containing several small altars, with statues of saints in the niches above them. On entering the chapel on the right I heard a whispering, as though some one near was speaking in a low voice. I turned towards the spot whence the sound proceeded, and saw before me a female form. No! I cannot describe to you the beauty of this form. My first feeling was one of awe, which, however, soon gave place to ravishing surprise."
"But this figure, your highness? Are you certain that it was something living, something real, and not perhaps a picture, or an illusion of your fancy?"
"Hear me further. It was a lady. Surely, till that moment, I have never seen her sex in its full perfection! All around was sombre; the setting sun shone through a single window into the chapel, and its rays rested upon her figure. With inexpressible grace, half kneeling, half lying, she was stretched before an altar; one of the most striking, most lovely, and picturesque objects in all nature. Her dress was of black moreen, fitting tightly to her slender waist and beautifully-formed arms, the skirts spreading around her like a Spanish robe; her long light-colored hair was divided into two broad plaits, which, apparently from their own weight, had escaped from under her veil, and flowed in charming disorder down her back. One of her hands grasped the crucifix, and her head rested gracefully upon the other. But, where shall I find words to describe to you the angelic beauty of her countenance, in which the charms of a seraph seemed displayed. The setting sun shone full upon her face, and its golden beams seemed to surround it as with a glory. Can you recall to your mind the Madonna of our Florentine painter? She was here personified, even to those few deviations from the studied costume which so powerfully, so irresistibly attracted me in the picture."
With regard to the Madonna, of whom the prince spoke, the case is this: Shortly after your departure he made the acquaintance of a Florentine painter, who had been summoned to Venice to paint an altar-piece for some church, the name of which I do not recollect. He had brought with him three paintings, which had been intended for the gallery in the Cornari palace. They consisted of a Madonna, a Heloise, and a Venus, very lightly apparelled. All three were of great beauty; and, although the subjects were quite different, they were so intrinsically equal that it seemed almost impossible to determine which to prefer. The prince alone did not hesitate for a moment. As soon as the pictures were placed before him the Madonna absorbed his whole attention; in the two others he admired the painter's genius; but in this he forgot the artist and his art, his whole soul being absorbed in the contemplation of the work. He was quite moved, and could scarcely tear himself away from it. We could easily see by the artist's countenance that in his heart he coincided with the prince's judgment; he obstinately refused to separate the pictures, and demanded fifteen hundred zechins for the three. The prince offered him half that sum for the Madonna alone, but in vain. The artist insisted on his first demand, and who knows what might have been the result if a ready purchaser had not stepped forward.
Two hours afterwards all three pictures were sold, and we never saw them again. It was this Madonna which now recurred to the prince's mind.
"I stood," continued he, "gazing at her in silent admiration. She did not observe me; my arrival did not disturb her, so completely was she absorbed in her devotion. She prayed to her Deity, and I prayed to her — yes, I adored her! All the pictures of saints, all the altars and the burning tapers around me had failed to remind me of what now for the first time burst upon me, that I was in a sacred place. Shall I confess it to you? In that moment I believed firmly in Him whose image was clasped in her beautiful hand. I read in her eyes that he answered her prayers. Thanks be to her charming devotion, it had revealed him to me. I wandered with her through all the paradise of prayer.
"She rose, and I recollected myself. I stepped aside confused; but the noise I made in moving discovered me. I thought that the unexpected presence of a man might alarm, that my boldness would offend her; but neither of these feelings were expressed in the look with which she regarded me. Peace, benign peace, was portrayed in her countenance, and a cheerful smile played upon her lips. She was descending from her heaven; and I was the first happy mortal who met her benevolent look. Her mind was still wrapt in her concluding prayer; she had not yet come in contact with earth.
"I now heard something stir in the opposite corner of the chapel. It was an elderly lady, who rose from a cushion close behind me. Till now I had not observed her. She had been distant only a few steps from me. and must have seen my every motion. This confused me. I cast my eyes to the earth, and both the ladies passed by me."
On this last point I thought myself able to console the prince.
"Strange," continued he, after a long silence, "that there should be something which one has never known — never missed; and that yet on a sudden one should seem to live and breathe for that alone. Can one single moment so completely metamorphose a human being? It would now be as impossible for me to indulge in the wishes or enjoy the pleasures of yesterday as it would be to return to the toys of my childhood, and all this since I have seen this object which lives and rules in the inmost recesses of my soul. It seems to say that I can love nothing else, and that nothing else in this world can produce an impression on me."
"But consider, gracious prince," said I, "the excitable mood you were in when this apparition surprised you, and how all the circumstances conspired to inflame your imagination. Quitting the dazzling light of day and the busy throng of men, you were suddenly surrounded by twilight and repose. You confess that you had quite given yourself up to those solemn emotions which the majesty of the place was calculated to awaken; the contemplation of fine works of art had rendered you more susceptible to the impressions of beauty in any form. You supposed yourself alone — when you saw a maiden who, I will readily allow, may have been very beautiful, and whose charms were heightened by a favorable illumination of the setting sun, a graceful attitude, and an expression of fervent devotion — what is more natural than that your vivid fancy should look upon such a form as something supernaturally perfect?"
"Can the imagination give what it never received?" replied he. "In the whole range of my fancy there is nothing which I can compare with that image. It is impressed on my mind distinctly and vividly as in the moment when I beheld it. I can think of nothing but that picture; but you might offer me whole worlds for it in vain."
"My gracious prince, this is love."
"Must the sensation which makes me happy necessarily have a name? Love! Do not degrade my feeling by giving it a name which is so often misapplied by the weak-minded. Who ever felt before what I do now? Such a being never before existed; how then can the name be admitted before the emotion which it is meant to express? Mine is a novel and peculiar feeling, connected only with this being, and capable of being applied to her alone. Love! From love I am secure!"
"You sent away Biondello, no doubt, to follow in the steps of these strangers, and to make inquiries concerning them. What news did he bring you?"
"Biondello discovered nothing; or, at least, as good as nothing. An aged, respectably dressed man, who looked more like a citizen than a servant, came to conduct them to their gondola. A number of poor people placed themselves in a row, and quitted her, apparently well satisfied. Biondello said he saw one of her hands, which was ornamented with several precious stones. She spoke a few words, which Biondello could not comprehend, to her companion; he says it was Greek. As she had some distance to walk to the canal, the people began to throng together, attracted by the strangeness of her appearance. Nobody knew her — but beauty seems born to rule. All made way for her in a respectful manner. She let fall a black veil, that covered half of her person, over her face, and hastened into the gondola. Along the whole Giudecca Biondello managed to keep the boat in view, but the crowd prevented his following it further."
"But surely he took notice of the gondolier so as to be able to recognize him again."
"He has undertaken to find out the gondolier, but he is not one of those with whom he associates. The mendicants, whom he questioned, could give him no further information than that the signora had come to the church for the last few Saturdays, and had each time divided a gold-piece among them. It was a Dutch ducat, which Biondello changed for them, and brought to me."
"It appears, then, that she is a Greek — most likely of rank; at any rate, rich and charitable. That is as much as we dare venture to conclude at present, gracious sir; perhaps too much. But a Greek lady in a Catholic church?"
"Why not? She may have changed her religion. But there is certainly some mystery in the affair. Why should she go only once a week? Why always on Saturday, on which day, as Biondello tells me, the church is generally deserted. Next Saturday, at the latest, must decide this question. Till then, dearest friend, you must help me to while away the hours. But it is in vain. They will go their lingering pace, though my soul is burning with expectation!"
"And when this day at length arrives — what, then, gracious prince? What do you purpose doing?"
"What do I purpose doing? I shall see her. I will discover where she lives and who she is. But to what does all this tend? I hear you ask. What I saw made me happy; I therefore now know wherein my happiness consists!
"And our departure from Venice, which is fixed for next Monday?"
"How could I know that Venice still contained such a treasure for me? You ask me questions of my past life. I tell you that from this day forward I will begin a new existence."
"I thought that now was the opportunity to keep my word to the marquis. I explained to the prince that a protracted stay in Venice was altogether incompatible with the exhausted state of his finances, and that, if he extended his sojourn here beyond the appointed time, he could not reckon on receiving funds from his court. On this occasion, I learned what had hitherto been a secret to me, namely, that the prince had, without the knowledge of his other brothers, received from his sister, the reigning —— of ——— — considerable loans, which she would gladly double if his court left him in the lurch. This sister, who, as you know, is a pious enthusiast, thinks that the large savings which she makes at a very economical court cannot be deposited in better hands than in those of a brother whose wise benevolence she well knows, and whose character she warmly honors. I have, indeed, known for some time that a very close intercourse has been kept up between the two, and that many letters have been exchanged; but, as the prince's own resources have hitherto always been sufficient to cover his expenditure, I had never guessed at this hidden channel. It is clear, therefore, that the prince must have had some expenses which have been and still are unknown to me; but if I can judge of them by his general character, they will certainly not be of such a description as to tend to his disgrace. And yet I thought I understood him thoroughly. After this disclosure, I of course did not hesitate to make known to him the marquis' offer, which, to my no small surprise, he immediately accepted. He gave me the authority to transact the business with the marquis in whatever way I thought most advisable, and then immediately to settle the account with the usurer. To his sister he proposed to write without delay.
It was morning when we separated. However disagreeable this affair is to me for more than one reason, the worst of it is that it seems to threaten a longer residence in Venice. From the prince's passion I rather augur good than evil. It is, perhaps, the most powerful method of withdrawing him from his metaphysical dreams to the concerns and feelings of real life. It will have its crisis, and, like an illness produced by artificial means, will eradicate the natural disorder.
Farewell, my dear friend. I have written down these incidents immediately upon their occurrence. The post starts immediately; you will receive this letter on the same day as my last.
This Civitella is certainly one of the most obliging personages in the world. The prince had scarcely left me the other day before I received a note from the marquis enforcing his former offers with renewed earnestness. I instantly forwarded, in the prince's name, a bond for six thousand zechins; in less than half an hour it was returned, with double the sum required, in notes and gold. The prince at length assented to this increase, but insisted that the bond, which was drawn only for six weeks, should be accepted.
The whole of the present week has been consumed in inquiries after the mysterious Greek. Biondello set all his engines to work, but until now in vain. He certainly discovered the gondolier; but from him he could learn nothing, save that the ladies had disembarked on the island of Murano, where they entered two sedan chairs which were waiting for them. He supposed them to be English because they spoke a foreign language, and had paid him in gold. He did not even know their guide, but believed him to be a glass manufacturer from Murano. We were now, at least, certain that we must not look for her in the Giudecca, and that in all probability she lived in the island of Murano; but, unluckily, the description the prince gave of her was not such as to make her recognizable by a third party. The passionate interest with which he had regarded her had hindered him from observing her minutely; for all the minor details, which other people would not have failed to notice, had escaped his observation; from his description one would have sooner expected to find her prototype in the works of Ariosto or Tasso than on a Venetian island. Besides, our inquiries had to be conducted with the utmost caution, in order not to become prejudicial to the lady, or to excite undue attention. As Biondello was the only man besides the prince who had seen her, even through her veil, and could therefore recognize her, he strove to be as much as possible in all the places where she was likely to appear; the life of the poor man, during the whole week, was a continual race through all the streets of Venice. In the Greek church, particularly, every inquiry was made, but always with the same ill-success; and the prince, whose impatience increased with every successive failure, was at last obliged to wait till Saturday, with what patience he might. His restlessness was excessive. Nothing interested him, nothing could fix his attention. He was in constant feverish excitement; he fled from society, but the evil increased in solitude. He had never been so much besieged by visitors as in this week. His approaching departure had been announced, and everybody crowded to see him. It was necessary to occupy the attention of the people in order to lull their suspicions, and to amuse the prince with the view of diverting his mind from its all-engrossing object. In this emergency Civitella hit upon play; and, for the purpose of driving away most of the visitors, proposed that the stakes should be high. He hoped by awakening in the prince a transient liking for play, from which it would afterwards be easy to wean him, to destroy the romantic bent of his passion. "The cards," said Civitella, "have saved me from many a folly which I had intended to commit, and repaired many which I had already perpetrated. At the faro table I have often recovered my tranquillity of mind, of which a pair of bright eyes had robbed me, and women never had more power over me than when I had not money enough to play."
I will not enter into a discussion as to how far Civitella was right; but the remedy we had hit upon soon began to be worse than the disease it was intended to cure. The prince, who could only make the game at all interesting to himself by staking extremely high, soon overstepped all bounds. He was quite out of his element. Everything he did seemed to be done in a passion; all his actions betrayed the uneasiness of his mind. You know his general indifference to money; he seemed now to have become totally insensible to its value. Gold flowed through his hands like water. As he played without the slightest caution he lost almost invariably. He lost immense sums, for he staked like a desperate gamester. Dearest O—— — with an aching heart I write it, in four days he had lost above twelve thousand zechins.
Do not reproach me. I blame myself sufficiently. But how could I prevent it? Could I do more than warn him? I did all that was in my power, and cannot find myself guilty. Civitella, too, lost not a little; I won about six hundred zechins. The unprecedented ill-luck of the prince excited general attention, and therefore he would not leave off playing. Civitella, who is always ready to oblige him, immediately advanced him the required sum. The deficit is made up; but the prince owes the marquis twenty-four thousand zechins. Oh, how I long for the savings of his pious sister. Are all sovereigns so, my dear friend? The prince behaves as though he had done the marquis a great honor, and he, at any rate, plays his part well.
Civitella sought to quiet me by saying that this recklessness, this extraordinary ill-luck, would be most effectual in bringing the prince to his senses. The money, he said, was of no consequence. He himself would not feel the loss in the least, and would be happy to serve the prince, at any moment, with three times the amount. The cardinal also assured me that his nephew's intentions were honest, and that he should be ready to assist him in carrying them out.
The most unfortunate thing was that these tremendous sacrifices did not even effect their object. One would have thought that the prince would at least feel some interest in his play. But such was not the case. His thoughts were wandering far away, and the passion which we wished to stifle by his ill-luck in play seemed, on the contrary, only to gather strength. When, for instance, a decisive stroke was about to be played, and every one's eyes were fixed, full of expectation, on the board, his were searching for Biondello, in order to catch the news he might have brought him, from the expression of his countenance. Biondello brought no tidings, and his master's losses continued.
The gains, however, fell into very needy hands. A few "your excellencies," whom scandal reports to be in the habit of carrying home their frugal dinner from the market in their senatorial caps, entered our house as beggars, and left it with well-lined purses. Civitella pointed them out to me. "Look," said he, "how many poor devils make their fortunes by one great man taking a whim into his head. This is what I like to see. It is princely and royal. A great man must, even by his failings, make some one happy, like a river which by its overflowing fertilizes the neighboring fields."
Civitella has a noble and generous way of thinking, but the prince owes him twenty-four thousand zechins.
At length the long-wished-for Saturday arrived, and my master insisted upon going, directly after dinner, to the church. He stationed himself in the chapel where he had first seen the unknown, but in such a way as not to be immediately observed. Biondello had orders to keep watch at the church door, and to enter into conversation with the attendant of the ladies. I had taken upon myself to enter, like a chance passenger, into the same gondola with them on their return, in order to follow their track if the other schemes should fail. At the spot where the gondolier said he had landed them the last time two sedans were stationed; the chamberlain, Z—— — was ordered to follow in a separate gondola, in order to trace the retreat of the unknown, if all else should fail. The prince wished to give himself wholly up to the pleasure of seeing her, and, if possible, try to make her acquaintance in the church. Civitella was to keep out of the way altogether, as his reputation among the women of Venice was so bad that his presence could not have failed to excite the suspicions of the lady. You see, dear count, it was not through any want of precaution on our part that the fair unknown escaped us.
Never, perhaps, was there offered up in any church such ardent prayers for success, and never were hopes so cruelly disappointed. The prince waited till after sunset, starting in expectation at every sound which approached the chapel, and at every creaking of the church door. Seven full hours passed, and no Greek lady. I need not describe his state of mind. You know what hope deferred is, hope which one has nourished unceasingly for seven days and nights.
The mysterious unknown of the prince reminded Marquis Civitella of a romantic incident which happened to himself a short time since, and, to divert the prince, he offered to relate it. I will give it you in his own words; but the lively spirit which he infuses into all he tells will be lost in my narration.
(Here follows the subjoined fragment, which appeared in the eighth part of the Thalia, and was originally intended for the second volume of the Ghost-Seer. It found a place here after Schiller had given up the idea of completing the Ghost-Seer.)
"In the spring of last year," began Civitella, "I had the misfortune to embroil myself with the Spanish ambassador, a gentleman who, in his seventieth year, had been guilty of the folly of wishing to marry a Roman girl of eighteen. His vengeance pursued me, and my friends advised me to secure my safety by a timely flight, and to keep out of the way until the hand of nature, or an adjustment of differences, had secured me from the wrath of this formidable enemy. As I felt it too severe a punishment to quit Venice altogether, I took up my abode in a distant quarter of the town, where I lived in a lonely house, under a feigned name, keeping myself concealed by day, and devoting the night to the society of my friends and of pleasure.
"My windows looked upon a garden, the west side of which was bounded by the walls of a convent, while towards the east it jutted out into the Laguna in the form of a little peninsula. The garden was charmingly situated, but little frequented. It was my custom every morning, after my friends had left me, to spend a few moments at the window before retiring to rest, to see the sun rise over the Adriatic, and then to bid him goodnight. If you, my dear prince, have not yet enjoyed this pleasure, I recommend exactly this station, the only eligible one perhaps in all Venice to enjoy so splendid a prospect in perfection. A purple twilight hangs over the deep, and a golden mist on the Laguna announces the sun's approach. The heavens and the sea are wrapped in expectant silence. In two seconds the orb of day appears, casting a flood of fiery light on the waves. It is an enchanting sight.
"One morning, when I was, according to custom, enjoying the beauty of this prospect, I suddenly discovered that I was not the only spectator of the scene. I fancied I heard voices in the garden, and turning to the quarter whence the sound proceeded, I perceived a gondola steering for the land. In a few moments I saw figures walking at a slow pace up the avenue. They were a man and a woman, accompanied by a little negro. The female was clothed in white, and had a brilliant on her finger. It was not light enough to perceive more.
"My curiosity was raised. Doubtless a rendezvous of a pair of lovers — but in such a place, and at so unusual an hour! It was scarcely three o'clock, and everything was still veiled in dusky twilight. The incident seemed to me novel and proper for a romance, and I waited to see the end.
"I soon lost sight of them among the foliage of the garden, and some time elapsed before they again emerged to view. Meanwhile a delightful song was heard. It proceeded from the gondolier, who was in this manner shortening the time, and was answered by a comrade a short way off. They sang stanzas from Tasso; time and place were in unison, and the melody sounded sweetly, in the profound silence around.
"Day in the meantime had dawned, and objects were discerned more plainly. I sought my people, whom I found walking hand-in-hand up a broad walk, often standing still, but always with their backs turned towards me, and proceeding further from my residence. Their noble, easy carriage convinced me at once that they were people of rank, and the splendid figure of the lady made me augur as much of her beauty. They appeared to converse but little; the lady, however, more than her companion. In the spectacle of the rising sun, which now burst out in all its splendor, they seemed to take not the slightest interest.
"While I was employed in adjusting my glass, in order to bring them into view as closely as possible, they suddenly disappeared down a side path, and some time elapsed before I regained sight of them. The sun had now fully risen; they were approaching straight towards me, with their eyes fixed upon where I stood. What a heavenly form did I behold! Was it illusion, or the magic effect of the beautiful light? I thought I beheld a supernatural being, for my eyes quailed before the angelic brightness of her look. So much loveliness combined with so much dignity! — so much mind, and so much blooming youth! It is in vain I attempt to describe it. I had never seen true beauty till that moment.
"In the heat of conversation they lingered near me, and I had full opportunity to contemplate her. Scarcely, however, had I cast my eyes upon her companion, but even her beauty was not powerful enough to fix my attention. He appeared to be a man still in the prime of life, rather slight, and of a tall, noble figure. Never have I beheld so much mind, so much noble expression, in a human countenance. Though perfectly secured from observation, I was unable to meet the lightning glance that shot from beneath his dark eyebrows. There was a moving expression of sorrow about his eyes, but an expression of benevolence about the mouth which relieved the settled gravity spread over his whole countenance. A certain cast of features, not quite European, together with his dress, which appeared to have been chosen with inimitable good taste from the most varied costumes, gave him a peculiar air, which not a little heightened the impression produced by his appearance. A degree of wildness in his looks warranted the supposition that he was an enthusiast, but his deportment and carriage showed that his character had been formed by mixing in society."
Z——— — who you know must always give utterance to what he thinks, could contain himself no longer. "Our Armenian!" cried he. "Our very Armenian, and nobody else."
"What Armenian, if one may ask?" inquired Civitella.
"Has no one told you of the farce?" replied the prince. "But no interruption! I begin to feel interested in your hero. Pray continue your narrative."
"There was something inexplicable in his whole demeanor," continued Civitella. "His eyes were fixed upon his companion with an expression of anxiety and passion, but the moment they met hers he looked down abashed. 'Is the man beside himself!' thought I. I could stand for ages and gaze at nothing else but her.
"The foliage again concealed them from my sight. Long, long did I look for their reappearance, but in vain. At length I caught sight of them from another window.
"They were standing before the basin of a fountain at some distance apart, and both wrapped in deep silence. They had, probably, remained some time in the same position. Her clear and intelligent eyes were resting inquiringly on his, and seemed as if they would imbibe every thought from him as it revealed itself in his countenance. He, as if he wanted courage to look directly into her face, furtively sought its reflection in the watery mirror before him, or gazed steadfastly at the dolphin which bore the water to the basin. Who knows how long this silent scene might have continued could the lady have endured it? With the most bewitching grace the lovely girl advanced towards him, and passing her arm round his neck, raised his hand to her lips. Calmly and unmoved the strange being suffered her caresses, but did not return them.
"This scene moved me strangely. It was the man that chiefly excited my sympathy and interest. Some violent emotion seemed to struggle in his breast; it was as if some irresistible force drew him towards her, while an unseen arm held him back. Silent, but agonizing, was the struggle, and beautiful the temptation. 'No,' I thought, 'he attempts too much; he will, he must yield.'
"At his silent intimation the young negro disappeared. I now expected some touching scene — a prayer on bended knees, and a reconciliation sealed with glowing kisses. But no! nothing of the kind occurred. The incomprehensible being took from his pocketbook a sealed packet, and placed it in the hands of the lady. Sadness overcast her face as she she looked at it, and a tear bedewed her eye.
"After a short silence they separated. At this moment an elderly lady advanced from one of the sidewalks, who had remained at a distance, and whom I now first discovered. She and the fair girl slowly advanced along the path, and, while they were earnestly engaged in conversation, the stranger took the opportunity of remaining behind. With his eyes turned towards her, he stood irresolute, at one instant making a rapid step forward, and in the next retreating. In another moment he had disappeared in the copse.
"The women at length look round, seem uneasy at not finding him, and pause as if to await his coming. He comes not. Anxious glances are cast around, and steps are redoubled. My eyes aid in searching through the garden; he comes not, he is nowhere to be seen.
"Suddenly I see a plash in the canal, and see a gondola moving from the shore. It is he, and I scarcely can refrain from calling to him. Now the whole thing is clear — it was a parting.
"She appears to have a presentiment of what has happened. With a speed that her companion cannot use she hastens to the shore. Too late! Quick as the arrow in its flight the gondola bounds forward, and soon nothing is visible but a white handkerchief fluttering in the air from afar. Soon after this I saw the fair incognita and her companion cross the water.
"When I awoke from a short sleep I could not help smiling at my delusion. My fancy had incorporated these events in my dreams until truth itself seemed a dream. A maiden, fair as an houri, wandering beneath my windows at break of day with her lover — and a lover who did not know how to make a better use of such an hour. Surely these supplied materials for the composition of a picture which might well occupy the fancy of a dreamer! But the dream had been too lovely for me not to desire its renewal again and again; nay, even the garden had become more charming in my sight since my imagination had peopled it with such attractive forms. Several cheerless days that succeeded this eventful morning drove me from the window, but the first fine evening involuntarily drew me back to my post of observation. Judge of my surprise when after a short search I caught sight of the white dress of my incognita! Yes, it was she herself. I had not dreamed!
"Her former companion was with her, and led by the hand a little boy; but the fair girl herself walked apart, and seemed absorbed in thought. All spots were visited that had been rendered memorable by the presence of her friend. She paused for a long time before the basin, and her fixed gaze seemed to seek on its crystal mirror the reflection of one beloved form.
"Although her noble beauty had attracted me when I first saw her the impression produced was even stronger on this occasion, although perhaps at the same time more conducive to gentler emotions. I had now ample opportunity of considering this divine form; the surprise of the first impression gradually gave place to softer feelings. The glory that seemed to invest her had departed, and I saw before me the loveliest of women, and felt my senses inflamed. In a moment the resolution was formed that she must be mine.
"While I was deliberating whether I should descend and approach her, or whether before I ventured on such a step it would not be better to obtain information regarding her, a door opened in the convent wall, through which there advanced a Carmelite monk. The sound of his approach roused the lady, and I saw her advance with hurried steps towards him. He drew from his bosom a paper, which she eagerly grasped, while a vivid color instantaneously suffused her countenance.
"At this moment I was called from the window by the arrival of my usual evening visitor. I carefully avoided approaching the spot again as I had no desire to share my conquest with another. For a whole hour I was obliged to endure this painful constraint before I could succeed in freeing myself from my importunate guest, and when I hastened to the window all had disappeared.
"The garden was empty when I entered it; no vessel of any kind was visible in the canal; no trace of people on any side; I neither knew whence she had come nor whither she bad gone. While I was looking round me in all directions I observed something white upon the ground. On drawing near I found it was a piece of paper folded in the shape of a note. What could it be but the letter which the Carmelite had brought? 'Happy discovery!' I exclaimed; 'this will reveal the whole secret, and make me master of her fate.'
"The letter was sealed with a sphinx, had no superscription, and was written in cyphers; this, however, did not discourage me, for I have some knowledge of this mode of writing. I copied it hastily, as there was every reason to expect that she would soon miss it and return in search of it. If she should not find it she would regard its loss as an evidence that the garden was resorted to by different persons, and such a discovery might easily deter her from visiting it again. And what worse fortune could attend my hopes.
"That which I had conjectured actually took place, and I had scarcely ended my copy when she reappeared with her former companion, anxiously intent on the search. I attached the note to a tile which I had detached from the roof, and dropped it at a spot which she would pass. Her gracefully expressed joy at finding it rewarded me for my generosity. She examined it in every part with keen, searching glances, as if she were seeking to detect the unhallowed hands that might have touched it; but the contented look with which she hid it in her bosom showed that she was free from all suspicion. She went, and the parting glance she threw on the garden seemed expressive of gratitude to the guardian deities of the spot, who had so faithfully watched over the secret of her heart.
"I now hastened to decipher the letter. After trying several languages, I at length succeeded by the use of English. Its contents were so remarkable that my memory still retains a perfect recollection of them."
I am interrupted, and must give you the conclusion on a future occasion.
In truth, my dearest friend, you do the good Biondello injustice. The suspicion you entertain against him is unfounded, and while I allow you full liberty to condemn all Italians generally, I must maintain that this one at least is an honest man.
You think it singular that a person of such brilliant endowments and such exemplary conduct should debase himself to enter the service of another if he were not actuated by secret motives; and these, you further conclude, must necessarily be of a suspicious character. But where is the novelty of a man of talent and of merit endeavoring to win favor with a prince who has the power of establishing his fortune? Is there anything derogatory in serving the prince? and has not Biondello clearly shown that his devotion is purely personal by confessing that he earnestly desired to make a certain request of the prince? The whole mystery will, therefore, no doubt be revealed when he acquaints him of his wishes. He may certainly be actuated by secret motives, but why may these not be innocent in their nature?
You think it strange that this Biondello should have kept all his great talents concealed, and in no way have attracted attention during the early months of our acquaintance with him, when you were still with us. This I grant; but what opportunity had he then of distinguishing himself? The prince had not yet called his powers into requisition, and chance, therefore, could alone aid us in discovering his talents.
He very recently gave a proof of his devotion and honesty of purpose which must at once annihilate all your doubts. The prince was watched; measures were being taken to gain information regarding his mode of life, associates, and general habits. I know not with whom this inquisitiveness originated. Let me beg your attention, however, to what I am about to relate:—
There is a house in St. George's which Biondello is in the habit of frequenting. He probably finds some peculiar attractions there, but of this I know nothing. It happened a few days ago that he there met assembled together a party of civil and military officers in the service of the government, old acquaintances and jovial comrades of his own. Surprise and pleasure were expressed on all sides at this meeting. Their former good-fellowship was re-established; and after each in turn had related his own history up to the present time, Biondello was called upon to give an account of his life; this he did in a few words. He was congratulated on his new position; his companions had heard accounts of the splendid footing on which the Prince of ———'s establishment was maintained; of his liberality, especially to persons who showed discretion in keeping secrets; the prince's connection with the Cardinal A——— i was well known, he was said to be addicted to play, etc. Biondello's surprise at this is observed, and jokes are passed upon the mystery which he tries to keep up, although it is well known that he is the emissary of the Prince of ———. The two lawyers of the party make him sit down between them; their glasses are repeatedly emptied, he is urged to drink, but excuses himself on the grounds of inability to bear wine; at last, however, he yields to their wishes, in order that he may the better pretend intoxication.
"Yes!" cried one of the lawyers, "Biondello understands his business, but he has not yet learned all the tricks of the trade; he is but a novice."
"What have I still to learn?" ask Biondello.
"You understand the art of keeping a secret," remarked the other; "but you have still to learn that of parting with it to advantage."
"Am I likely to find a purchaser for any that I may have to dispose of?" asked Biondello.
On this the other guests withdrew from the apartment, and left him alone with his two neighbors, who continued the conversation in the same strain. The substance of the whole was, however, briefly as follows: Biondello was to procure them certain information regarding the intercourse of the prince with the cardinal and his nephew, acquaint them with the source from whence the prince derived his money, and to intercept all letters written to Count O———. Biondello put them off to a future occasion, but he was unsuccessful in his attempts to draw from them the name of the person by whom they were employed. From the splendid nature of the proposals made to him it was evident, however, that they emanated from some influential and extremely wealthy party.
Last night he related the whole occurrence to the prince, whose first impulse was without further ceremony to secure the maneuverers at once, but to this Biondello strongly objected. He urged that he would be obliged to set them at liberty again, and that, in this case, he should endanger not only his credit among this class of men, but even his life. All these men were connected together, and bound by one common interest, each one making the cause of the others his own; in fact, he would rather make enemies of the senate of Venice than be regarded by these men as a traitor — and, besides, he could no longer be useful to the prince if he lost the confidence of this class of people.
We have pondered and conjectured much as to the source of all this. Who is there in Venice that can care to know what money my master receives or pays out, what passess between Cardinal A——i and himself, and what I write to you? Can it be some scheme of the Prince of — d — — or is the Armenian again on the alert?
The prince is revelling in love and bliss. He has recovered his fair Greek. I must relate to you how this happened.
A traveller, who had crossed from Chiozza, gave the prince so animated an account of the beauty of this place, which is charmingly situated on the shores of the gulf, that he became very anxious to see it. Yesterday was fixed upon for the excursion; and, in order to avoid all restraint and display, no one was to accompany him but Z——— and myself, together with Biondello, as my master wished to remain unknown. We found a vessel ready to start, and engaged our passage at once. The company was very mixed but not numerous, and the passage was made without the occurrence of any circumstance worthy of notice.
Chiozza is built, like Venice, on a foundation of wooden piles, and is said to contain about forty thousand inhabitants. There are but few of the higher classes resident there, but one meets sailors and fishermen at every step. Whoever appears in a peruke, or a cloak, is regarded as an aristocrat — a rich man; the cap and overcoat are here the insignia of the poor. The situation is certainly very lovely, but it will not bear a comparison with Venice.
We did not remain long, for the captain, who had more passengers for the return voyage, was obliged to be in Venice at an early hour, and there was nothing at Chiozza to make the prince desirous of remaining. All the passengers were on board when we reached the vessel. As we had found it so difficult to place ourselves on a social footing with the company on the outward passage, we determined on this occasion to secure a cabin to ourselves. The prince inquired who the new-comers were, and was informed that they were a Dominican and some ladies, who were returning to Venice. My master evincing no curiosity to see them, we immediately betook ourselves to our cabin.
The Greek was the subject of our conversation throughout the whole passage, as she had been during our former transit. The prince dwelt with ardor on her appearance in the church; and whilst numerous plans were in turn devised and rejected, hours passed like a moment of time, and we were already in sight of Venice. Some of the passengers now disembarked, the Dominican amongst the number. The captain went to the ladies, who, as we now first learned, had been separated from us by only a thin wooden partition, and asked them where they wished to land. The island of Murano was named in reply to his inquiry, and the house indicated . "The island of Murano!" exclaimed the prince, who seemed suddenly struck by a startling presentiment. Before I could reply to his exclamation, Biondello rushed into the cabin. "Do you know," asked he eagerly, "who is on board with us?" The prince started to his feet, as Biondello continued, "She is here! she herself! I have just spoken to her companion!"
The prince hurried out. He felt as if he could not breathe in our narrow cabin, and I believe at that moment as if the whole world would have been too narrow for him. A thousand conflicting feelings struggled for the mastery in his heart; his knees trembled, and his countenance was alternately flushed and pallid. I sympathized and participated in his emotion, but I cannot by words convey to your mind any idea of the state in which he was.
When we stopped at Murano, the prince sprang on shore. She advanced from her cabin. I read in the face of the prince that it was indeed the Greek. One glance was sufficient to dispel all doubt on that point. A more lovely creature I have never seen. Even the prince's glowing descriptions fell far short of the reality. A radiant blush suffused her face when she saw my master. She must have heard all we said, and could not fail to know that she herself had been the subject of our conversation. She exchanged a significant glance with her companion, which seemed to say, "That is he;" and then cast her eyes to the ground with diffident confusion. On placing her foot on the narrow plank, which had been thrown from the vessel to the shore, she seemed anxiously to hesitate, less, as it seemed to me, from the fear of falling than from her inability to cross the board without assistance, which was proffered her by the outstretched arm of the prince. Necessity overcame her reluctance, and, accepting the aid of his hand, she stepped on shore. Excessive mental agitation had rendered the prince uncourteous, and he wholly forgot to offer his services to the other lady — but what was there that he would not have forgotten at this moment? My attention in atoning for the remissness of the prince prevented my hearing the commencement of a conversation which had begun between him and the young Greek, while I had been helping the other lady on shore.
He was still holding her hand in his, probably from absence of mind, and without being conscious of the fact.
"This is not the first time, Signora, that — that"— he stopped short, unable to finish the sentence.
"I think I remember" she faltered.
"We met in the church of ——— — " said he, quickly.
"Yes, it was in the church of ——— — " she rejoined.
"And could I have supposed that this day would have brought me —"
Here she gently withdrew her hand from his — he was evidently embarrassed; but Biondello, who had in the meantime been speaking to the servant, now came to his aid.
"Si-nor," said he, "the ladies had ordered sedans to be in readiness for them; they have not yet come, for we are here before the expected time. But there is a garden close by in which you may remain until the crowd has dispersed."
The proposal was accepted; you may conceive with what alacrity on the part of the prince! We remained in the garden till late in the evening; and, fortunately, Z———— and myself so effectually succeeded in occupying the attention of the elder lady that the prince was enabled, undisturbed, to carry on his conversation with the fair Greek. You will easily believe that he made good use of his time, when I tell you that he obtained permission to visit her. At the very moment that I am now writing he is with her; on his return I shall be able to give you further particulars regarding her.
When we got home yesterday we found that the long-expected remittances had arrived from our court; but at the same time the prince received a letter which excited his indignation to the highest pitch. He has been recalled, and that in a tone and manner to which he is wholly unaccustomed. He immediately wrote a reply in a similar spirit, and intends remaining. The remittances are only just sufficient to pay the interest on the capital which he owes. We are looking with impatience for a reply from his sister.
The prince has fallen out with his court, and all resources have consequently been cut off from home.
The term of six weeks, at the end of which my master was to pay the marquis, has already elapsed several days; but still no remittances have been forwarded, either from his cousin, of whom he had earnestly requested an additional allowance in advance, or from his sister. You may readily suppose that Civitella has not reminded him of his debt; the prince's memory is, however, all the more faithful. Yesterday morning at length brought an answer from the seat of government.
We had shortly before concluded a new arrangement with the master of our hotel, and the prince had publicly announced his intention to remain here sometime longer. Without uttering a word my master put the letter into my hand. His eyes sparkled, and I could read the contents in his face.
Can you believe it, dear O; all my master's proceedings here are known at and have been most calumniously misrepresented by an abominable tissue of lies? "Information has been received," says the letter, amongst other things, "to the effect that the prince has for some time past belied his former character, and adopted a node of conduct totally at variance with his former exemplary manner of acting and thinking." "It is known," the writer says, "that he has addicted himself with the greatest excess to women and play; that he is overwhelmed with debts; puts his confidence in visionaries and charlatans, who pretend to have power over spirits; maintains suspicious relations with Roman Catholic prelates, and keeps up a degree of state which exceeds both his rank and his means. Nay, it is even said, that he is about to bring this highly offensive conduct to a climax by apostacy to the Church of Rome! and in order to clear himself from this last charge he is required to return immediately. A banker at Venice, to whom he must make known the true amount of his debts, has received instructions to satisfy his creditors immediately after his departure; for, under existing circumstances, it does not appear expedient to remit the money directly into his hands."
What accusations, and what a mode of preferring them. I read the letter again and again, in the hope of discovering some expression that admitted of a milder construction, but in vain; it was wholly incomprehensible.
Z——— now reminded me of the secret inquiries which had been made some time before of Biondello. The true nature of the inquiries and circumstances all coincided. He had falsely ascribed them to the Armenian; but now the source from whence the came was very evident. Apostacy! But who can have any interest in calumniating my master so scandalously? I should fear it was some machination of the Prince of — d — — who is determined on driving him from Venice.
In the meantime the prince remained absorbed in thought, with his eyes fixed on the ground. His continued silence alarmed me. I threw myself at his feet. "For God's sake, your highness," I cried, "moderate your feelings — you will — nay, you shall have satisfaction. Leave the whole affair to me. Let me be your emissary. It is beneath your dignity to reply to such accusations; but you will not, I know, refuse me the privilege of doing so for you. The name of your calumniator must be given up, and ———'s eyes must be opened."
At this moment we were interrupted by the entrance of Civitella, who inquired with surprise into the cause of our agitation. Z——— and I did not answer; but the prince, who had long ceased to make any distinction between him and us, and who, besides, was too much excited to listen to the dictates of prudence, desired me to communicate the contents of the letter to him. On my hesitating to obey him, he snatched the letter from my hand and gave it to the marquis.
"I am in your debt, marquis," said he, as Civitella gave him back the letter, after perusing it, with evident astonishment, "but do not let that circumstance occasion you any uneasiness; grant me but a respite of twenty days, and you shall be fully satisfied."
"Do I deserve this at your hands, gracious prince?" exclaimed Civitella, with extreme emotion.
"You have refrained from pressing me, and I gratefully appreciate your delicacy. In twenty days, as I before said, you shall be fully satisfied."
"But how is this?" asked Civitella, with agitation and surprise. "What means all this? I cannot comprehend it."
We explained to him all that we knew, and his indignation was unbounded. The prince, he asserted, must insist upon full satisfaction; the insult was unparalleled.
In the meanwhile he implored him to make unlimited use of his fortune and his credit.
When the marquis left us the prince still continued silent. He paced the apartment with quick and determined steps, as if some strange and unusual emotion were agitating his frame. At length he paused, muttering between his teeth, "Congratulate yourself; he died at ten o'clock."
We looked at him in terror.
"Congratulate yourself," he repeated. "Did he not say that I should congratulate myself? What could he have meant?"
"What has reminded you of those words?" I asked; "and what have they to do with the present business?"
"I did not then understand what the man meant, but now I do. Oh, it is intolerable to be subject to a master."
"Who can make us feel our dependence. Ha! it must be sweet, indeed."
He again paused. His looks alarmed me, for I had never before seen him thus agitated.
"Whether a man be poorest of the poor," he continued, "or the next heir to the throne, it is all one and the same thing. There is but one difference between men — to obey or to command."
He again glanced over the letter.
"You know the man," he continued, "who has dared to write these words to me. Would you salute him in the street if fate had not made him your master? By Heaven, there is something great in a crown."
He went on in this strain, giving expression to many things which I dare not trust to paper. On this occasion the prince confided a circumstance to me which alike surprised and terrified me, and which may be followed by the most alarming consequences. We have hitherto been entirely deceived regarding the family relations of the court of ————.
He answered the letter on the spot, notwithstanding my earnest entreaty that he should postpone doing so; and the strain in which he wrote leaves no ground to hope for a favorable settlement of those differences.
You are no doubt impatient, dear O—— — to hear something definite with respect to the Greek; but in truth I have very little to tell you. From the prince I can learn nothing, as he has been admitted into her confidence, and is, I believe, bound to secrecy. The fact has, however, transpired that she is not a Greek, as we supposed, but a German of the highest descent. From a certain report that has reached me, it would appear that her mother is of the most exalted rank, and that she is the fruit of an unfortunate amour which was once talked of all over Europe. A course of secret persecution to which she had been exposed, in consequence of her origin, compelled her to seek protection in Venice, and to adopt that concealment which had rendered it impossible for the prince to discover her retreat. The respect with which the prince speaks of her, and a certain deferential deportment which he maintains towards her, appear to corroborate the truth of this report.
He is devoted to her with a fearful intensity of passion which increases day by day. In the earliest stage of their acquaintance but few interviews were granted; but after the first week the separations were of shorter duration, and now there is scarce a day on which the prince is not with her. Whole evenings pass without our even seeing him, and when he is not with her she appears to form the sole object of his thoughts. His whole being seems metamorphosed. He goes about as if wrapped in a dream, and nothing that formerly interested him has now power to arrest his attention even for a moment.
How will this end, my dear friend? I tremble for the future. The rupture with his court has placed my master in a state of humiliating dependence on one sole person — the Marquis Civitella. This man is now master of our secrets — of our whole fate. Will he always conduct himself as nobly as he does now? Are his good intentions to be relied upon; and is it expedient to confide so much weight and power to one person — even were he the best of men? The prince's sister has again been written to — the result of this fresh appeal you shall learn in my next letter.
This letter never reached me. Three months passed without my receiving any tidings from Venice — an interruption to our correspondence which the sequel but too clearly explained. All my friend's letters to me had been kept back and suppressed. My emotion may be conceived when, in the December of the same year, the following letter reached me by mere accident (as it afterwards appeared), owing to the sudden illness of Biondello, into whose hands it had been committed.
"You do not write; you do not answer me. Come, I entreat you, come on the wings of friendship! Our hopes are fled! Read the enclosed — all our hopes are at an end!
"The wounds of the marquis are reported mortal. The cardinal vows vengeance, and his bravos are in pursuit of the prince. My master — oh! my unhappy master! Has it come to this! Wretched, horrible fate! We are compelled to hide ourselves, like malefactors, from assassins and creditors.
"I am writing to you from the convent of ——— — where the prince has found an asylum. At this moment he is resting on his hard couch by my side, and is sleeping — but, alas! it is only the sleep of deadly exhaustion, that will but give him new strength for new trials. During the ten days that she was ill no sleep closed his eyes. I was present when the body was opened. Traces of poison were detected. To-day she is to be buried.
"Alas! dearest O—— — my heart is rent. I have lived through scenes that can never be effaced from my memory. I stood beside her deathbed. She departed like a saint, and her last strength was spent in trying with persuasive eloquence to lead her lover into the path that she was treading in her way to heaven. Our firmness was completely gone — the prince alone maintained his fortitude, and although he suffered a triple agony of death with her, he yet retained strength of mind sufficient to refuse the last prayer of the pious enthusiast."
This letter contained the following enclosure:TO THE PRINCE OF——— — FROM HIS SISTER.
"The one sole redeeming church which has made so glorious a conquest of the Prince of ———— will surely not refuse to supply him with means to pursue the mode of life to which she owes this conquest. I have tears and prayers for one that has gone astray, but nothing further to bestow on one so worthless! HENRIETTE."
I instantly threw myself into a carriage — travelled night and day, and in the third week I was in Venice. My speed availed nothing. I had come to bring comfort and help to an unhappy one, but I found a happy one who needed not my weak aid. F——— was ill when I arrived, and unable to see me, but the following note was brought to me from him.
"Return, dearest O— — to whence you came. The prince no longer needs you or me. His debts have been paid; the cardinal is reconciled to him, and the marquis has recovered. Do you remember the Armenian who perplexed us so much last year? In his arms you will find the prince, who five days since attended mass for the first time."
Notwithstanding all this I earnestly sought an interview with the prince, but was refused. By the bedside of my friend I learnt the particulars of this strange story.
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