THE FOOL ERRANT
BEING THE MEMOIRS OF
FRANCIS-ANTONY STRELLEY, ESQ.
CITIZEN OF LUCCA
EDITED BY MAURICE HEWLETT
AUTHOR OF "THE QUEEN'S QUAIR," "NEW CANTERBURY TALES," "RICHARD YEA-AND-NAY," "LITTLE NOVELS OF ITALY," ETC., ETC.
Published July, 1905.
J. M. BARRIE
I. MY EXORDIUM: A JUSTIFICATORY PIECE II. AURELIA AND THE DOCTOR III. MY DANGEROUS PROGRESS IV. FATAL AVOWAL V. DISASTER VI. I COMMENCE PILGRIM VII. I AM MISCONCEIVED AT THE HOSPITAL VIII. THE PEDLAR OF CRUCIFIXES IX. I AM HUMILIATED, LIFTED UP, AND LEFT CURIOUS X. I FALL IN AGAIN WITH FRA PALAMONE XI. I EXERCISE COMMON SENSE, IMAGINATION AND CHARITY XII. I SEEK—AND FIND XIII. HAVING EMPTIED MY POCKET, I OFFER MY HAND, BUT RESERVE MY HEART XIV. MY HAPPY DAYS; THEIR UNHAPPY END XV. I AM IN BONDAGE XVI. VIRGINIA AND I FALL OUT, BUT ARE RECONCILED XVII. ERCOLE AT THE FAIR XVIII. FRA PALAMONE BREAKS THE LAW, AND I MY CHAIN XIX. I AM AGAIN MISCONCEIVED XX. SURPRISING CHANGE IN MY FORTUNES XXI. MY DIVERSIONS: COUNT GIRALDI XXII. I WORK FOR AURELIA, AND HEAR OF HER XXIII. AURELIA FORGIVES XXIV. VIRGINIA VEXES XXV. I PREPARE FOR BLISS XXVI. I DISAPPOINT MY FRIENDS XXVII. I SLAY A MAN XXVIII. VIRGINIA ON HER METTLE XXIX. I TAKE SANCTUARY XXX. I MARRY AND GO TO LUCCA XXXI. MY ADVENTURES AT THE INN XXXII. WE LIVE HAPPILY IN LUCCA XXXIII. TREACHERY WORKS AGAINST US XXXIV. I FALL IN WITH THE PLAYERS XXXV. TEMPTED IN SIENA, BELVISO SAVES ME XXXVI. MY UNREHEARSED EFFECT AND ITS MIDNIGHT SEQUEL XXXVII. I COMMIT A DOUBLE MURDER XXXVIII. AN UNEXPECTED MESSENGER LIFTS ME UP XXXIX. VIRGINIA DECLINES THE HEIGHTS XL. I GET RID OF MY ENEMY AND PART FROM MY FRIEND XLI. I RETURN TO FLORENCE AND THE WORLD OF FASHION XLII. I STAND AT A CROSS-ROAD XLIII. AGITATIONS AT THE VILLA SAN GIORGIO XLIV. I CONFRONT MY ENEMIES XLV. THE MEETING XLVI. THE DISCOVERY XLVII. THE FINAL PROOF XLVIII. THE LAST
The top-heavy, four-horsed, yellow old coach from Vicenza, which arrived at Padua every night of the year, brought with it in particular on the night of October 13, 1721, a tall, personable young man, an Englishman, in a dark blue cloak, who swang briskly down from the coupe and asked in stilted Italian for "La sapienza del Signer Dottor' Lanfranchi." From out of a cloud of steam—for the weather was wet and the speaker violently hot—a husky voice replied, "Eccomi—eccomi, a servirla." The young man took off his hat and bowed.
"Have I the honour to salute so much learning?" he asked courteously. "Let me present myself to my preceptor as Mr. Francis Strelley of Upcote."
"His servant," said the voice from the cloud, "and servant of his illustrious father. Don Francis, be accommodated; let your mind be at ease. Your baggage? These fellows are here for it. Your valise? I carry it. Your hand? I take it. Follow me."
These words were accompanied by action of the most swift and singular kind. Mr. Strelley saw two porters scramble after his portmanteaux, had his valise reft from his hand, and that hand firmly grasped before he could frame his reply. The vehemence of this large perspiring sage caused the struggle between pride and civility to be short; such faint protests as he had at command passed unheeded in the bustle and could not be seen in the dark.
Vehement, indeed, in all that he did was Dr. Porfirio Lanfranchi, Professor of Civil Law: it was astonishing that a bulk so large and loosely packed could be propelled by the human will at so headlong a speed. Yet, spurred by that impetus alone, he pounded and splashed through the puddled, half-lit street of Padua at such a rate that Mr. Strelley, though longer in the leg, fully of his height, and one quarter his weight, found himself trotting beside his conductor like any schoolboy. The position was humiliating, but it did not seem possible to escape it. The doctor took everything for granted; and besides, he so groaned and grunted at his labours, his goaded flesh protested so loudly, the pitfalls were so many, and the pace so severe, that nothing in the world seemed of moment beyond preserving foothold. Along the winding way—between the half-discerned arcades, palace gateways, black entries, church portals—down the very middle of the street flew master and pupil without word spoken. They reached the Pra, skirted its right- hand boundary for some hundreds of yards, and came to the door of a tall, narrow, white house. Upon this door the doctor kicked furiously until it was opened; then, with a malediction upon the oaf who snored behind it, up he blundered, three stairs at a time, Strelley after him whether or no; and stayed not in his rush towards the stars until he had reached the fourth-floor landing, where again he kicked at a door; and then, releasing his victim's hand, took off hat and wig together and mopped his dripping pate, as he murmured, "Chaste Madonna, what a ramble! What a stroll for the evening, powerful Mother of us all!" Such a stroll had never yet been taken by Mr. Francis Strelley of Upcote in his one-and-twenty years' experience of legs; nor did he ever forget this manner of being haled into Italy, nor lose his feeling of extremely helpless youth in the presence of the doctor, his tutor and guardian. But to suppose the business done by calculation of that remarkable man is to misapprehend him altogether. Dr. Lanfranchi's head worked, as his body did, by flashes. He calculated nothing, but hit at everything; hit or miss, it might be—but "Let's to it and have done" was his battle- cry.
The lamp over the door of his apartment revealed him for the disorderly genius he was—a huge, blotch-faced, tumble-bellied man, bullet-headed, bull-necked, and with flashing eyes. Inordinate alike in appetite, mind and action, he was always suffering for his furies, and always making a fine recovery. Just now he was at the last gasp for a breath, or so you would have said to look at him. But not so; his exertions were really his stimulant. Presently he would eat and drink consumedly, drench himself with snuff, and then spend half the night with his books, preparing for to-morrow's lecture. Of this sort was Dr. Porfirio Lanfranchi, who had more authority over the wild students of Padua than the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and Senate put together.
The same lamp played upon the comely and ingenuous face, upon the striking presence of Mr. Strelley, and showed him a good-looking, good- tempered, sanguine young man of an appearance something less than his age. He was tall and supple, wore his own fair hair tied with a ribbon, was blue-eyed and bright-lipped, and had a notable chin—firm, square at the jaw, and coming sharply to a point. He looked you straight in the face—such was his habit—but by no means arrogantly or with defiance; seriously rather, gravely and courteously, as if to ask, "Do I take your precise meaning to be—?" Such a look was too earnest for mere good manners; he was serious; there was no laughter in him, though he was not of a melancholy sort. He pondered the world and its vagaries and examined them, as they presented themselves in each case, UPON THE MERITS. This, which was, I think, his strongest characteristic, should show that he lacked the humorous sense; and he did. He had no time to laugh; wondering engaged him. The life of the world on its round showed him miracles daily; he looked for them very often, but more frequently they thrust themselves upon him. Sunrise now—what an extraordinary thing! He never ceased to be amazed at that. The economy of the moon, too, so exquisitely adapted to the needs of mankind! Nations, tongues (hardly to be explained by the sublime folly of a Babel), the reverence paid to elders, to women; the sense of law and justice in our kind: in the leafy shades of Upcote in Oxfordshire, he had pondered these things during his lonely years of youth and adolescence—had pondered, and in some cases already decided them UPON THE MERITS. This was remarkably so in the matter of Betty Coy, as he will tell you for himself before long. Meantime, lest I keep Dr. Lanfranchi too long upon the threshold of his own house, all I shall add to my picture of his pupil now is that he was the eldest son and third child of Squire Antony Strelley of Upcote, a Catholic, non-juring, recusant, stout old gentleman of Oxfordshire, and of Dame Mary, born Arundell, his wife; and that he was come to study the moral and civil law at this famous University of Padua, like many an Englishman of his condition before him. He was twenty-one years of age, had as much money as was good for him and much more poetry than enough in his valise—to say nothing of the germ of those notes from which he afterwards (long afterwards) compiled the ensuing memoirs.
Dr. Lanfranchi had not said "Accidente!" more than twice, nor kicked his door more than half a dozen times, before it was opened by a young and pretty lady, who held a lamp above her head. She was, apparently, a very young and very pretty, rather little, lady, and was dressed with some care—but not more than her person deserved—in black and white. Her dark hair, which was high upon her head, was crowned with a large tortoiseshell comb. She held the lamp, as I say, above her as she curtseyed, smiling, in the way. "Be very welcome, sir," she said, "and be pleased to enter our house." It was charming to see how deftly she dipped without spilling the lamp-oil, charming to see her little white teeth as she smiled, her lustrous eyes shining in the light like large stars. It was charming to see her there at all, for she was charming altogether—in figure, in face and poise, in expression, which was that of a graceful child playing housewife; lastly, in the benevolence, curiosity and discretion which sat enthroned upon her smooth brow, like a bench of Lords Justices, or of Bishops, if you prefer it. This was none other than Dr. Porfirio's wife, as he then and there declared by grunts. "Mia moglie—a servirla," he was understood to say; and pushed his way into his house without ceremony, while Mr. Strelley, with much, kissed the hand of his hostess. The salute, received with composure, was rendered with a blush; for this, to be truthful, was the very first hand ever saluted by the young gentleman. The fact says much for his inexperience and right instinct at once.
Quite at her ease, as if she were the mistress of a well-kissed hand, was Signora Aurelia Lanfranchi, for that was her name, and had been so for rather more than two years—quite at her ease and most anxious to put Strelley there. Relieving him of his cloak and hat, of his sword, pistols and other travelling gear, in spite of all protestations on his part, she talked freely and on end about anything and nothing in a soft voice which rose and died down like a summer wind, and betrayed in its muffled tones—as if it came to him through silk—that she was not of the north, but of some mellower, more sun-ripened land. She was in fact of Siena, a Gualandi by birth, and extremely proud of it. Strelley was so informed before he had been four-and-twenty hours in her company. But now, having spoiled him of his defences, she invited him into the salone, wooed him thither, indeed, with that sidelong head and sort of sleek smile with which you coax a cat to come to your knee. Mr. Francis would have followed her singing to the bonfire on such terms.
At the table, which was liberal, was the learned doctor seated already, napkin to chin. Mr. Strelley was shown his place, and expected to take it while the fair housewife waited upon the two; and when he seemed timid, she raised a wail of pretty protest and dragged him by the arm towards the chair. It was absurd, it was preposterous, he was robbing her of her pride. She had eaten long ago—besides, it was the woman's place, and Nonna was in the kitchen, ashamed to appear in the state she was in. Signor Francesco must please her in this—she would be vexed— and surely he would not vex his hostess. To this wilful chant the doctor contributed his burden of "Che! che! S'accommodi!" and rapped with his knife-handle upon the table. Old Nonna, toothless, bearded and scared, popped her head beyond the kitchen door; to be short, insistence went to a point where good manners could not follow. Mr. Francis sat himself down, and Donna Aurelia, clapping her little hands, cried aloud that victory was hers. "Quick, quick, Nonna, these signori are at table!" She stormed into the kitchen, and speedily returned with a steaming and savoury dish. She dispensed the messes, she poured the wine, she hovered here and there—salt? pepper? cheese? yet a little bread? Madonna purissima, she had forgotten the mustard! No! it was here—it was here! There must have been more rejoicings over the recovery of the mustard than were made for the victory of Lepanto. Betweenwhiles she talked gaily or pathetically or intimately of things of which the guest had known nothing, but immediately felt that he now knew all; the moral lapses of this professor or that, the unparalleled slight offered to Signora Pappagallo by Donna Susanna Tron, the storm of rain and thunder on Tuesday week—no, it must have been Monday week; a scandal in the Senate, a duel in the Pra, how the Avvocato Minghini was picked up dead in Pedrocchi's—a meat-fly in his chocolate! Sparkling eyes, a delicate flush, quick breath, a shape at once pliant and audacious, flashing hands with which half her spells were woven—all these, and that wailing, dragging, comico-tragic voice, that fatal appeal of the child, trained by the wisdom of the wife, completed the rout of our youth. Before supper was over he was her loyal slave.
She insisted upon showing him his quarters. They were not, it seemed, upon this floor, nor the next below—no, but on the next below that. Signor Francesco must follow her as, lamp in hand, she went downstairs, her high heels clattering like Spanish castanets. She opened his door with a key which she then handed over to him: she showed him his bedroom, his saloon. "Your citadel, Don Francis," she said, "your refuge from my heedless tongue. Your chocolate shall be brought to you here, but we hope you will give yourself the trouble to dine with us. Generally my husband sups too late for your convenience. He is always at the cafe till nine o'clock. He sits there with his friends and hears the news, which he knows beforehand as well as they do. And when they have done, he tells it all over again to them. This is the way with men; and I sit at home and make my clothes. This also is the way with women, it seems. There is no other." She stayed a few more minutes, chattering, laughing and blushing; then with a sudden access of shyness wished him "felicissima notte," and held him out her hand. Mr. Francis stooped over it, and saluted it once more with profound respect.
He was long in going to bed. He wrote furiously in his diary after a space of restless contemplation, when he roamed across and across the room. But now I must leave his raptures and himself to his own pen, having got him inmate of a household where by ordinary he might have lived a blameless three years. If, however, he had done that, I don't suppose the singular memoirs which follow would ever have been written.
MY EXORDIUM: A JUSTIFICATORY PIECE
If we soberly reflect upon the part which the trappings and mantlings of men have played in their affairs, we shall not hesitate, I believe, to put into that category many things which have hitherto been considered far less occasional. What is honour but a garment? What money but a walking-stick? What are fine manners but a wig? If I professed, instead of abhorring, the Cynic school of philosophy, I might go on to ask what were love but an ointment, or religion but a tinted glass. I can thank my Redeemer, as I sit here in my green haven, with the stormy sea of my troubles afar off, beating in vain against the walls of contentment, that through all my vicissitudes I was never tempted to stray into such blasphemous imaginations. Fool as I have been, and fool as I have declared myself upon the forefront of this very book, I have never said in my heart, THERE IS NO GOD; but much and loudly have maintained the affirmative. And although I have been sadly, wickedly, detestably errant from His way, there is one divine precept which I have never failed to keep, and that is, LOVE ONE ANOTHER. All other affections, additions, accidents, accessories of men, however, from the lowest, which is Money, to the highest, which is Polite Education, I have been able to discard without concern or loss of self-respect. This fact alone should furnish good reason for my Memoirs, and commend them to the philosopher, the poet, the divine, and the man of feeling. For true it is that I have been bare to the shirt and yet proved my manhood, beaten like a thief and yet maintained myself honest, scorned by men and women and yet been ready to serve my fellows, held atheist by the godly and yet clung to my Saviour's cross. In situations calculated to excite the contemptuous ridicule of the meanest upon earth I have been satisfied that I was neither contemptible nor reasonably ridiculous, and that while I might herd with ruffians, and find in their society my most comfortable conversation, I was the richer, partly for that I had lost in choosing to consort with them, and partly for what I had gained. As having nothing, yet possessing all things; as poor, yet making many rich—the boast of St. Paul, the hope of St. Francis of Assisi! in those pithy antitheses is the summa of my experience.
Eldest son, but third child, of my parents, I was born upon the 4th of October, in the year 1700; and for that reason and another (to which I shall shortly allude) was named Francis, after the great Champion of our faith commemorated upon my birthday. The other reason was that, oddly enough, my mother, before my birth, had dreamed of him so persistently and with particulars so unvaried that she gave my father no option but to change the settled habits of our family and bestow upon me the name, which he despised, of a patriarch whom he underrated. Her dream, repeated, she told me, with exact fidelity and at regularly recurring periods, was that she could see St. Francis standing on a wide sea-shore between sand-dunes and the flood of waters—standing alone there with an apple in his hand, which he held lightly, as if weighing it. By and by, said my mother, she saw three women come slowly over the sandhills from different points, one from the south, one from the north, and one from the west; but they converged as they drew near to St. Francis, joined hands, and came directly to him. The midmost of the three was like a young queen; she on the side nearest the sea was bold and meagre; the third was lovely, but disfigured by a scar. When they were come before St. Francis, after reverences, they knelt down on his right hand and his left, and the queenly woman in front of him. To her, courteously, he first offered the apple, but she laughingly refused it. She of the scar, when it was held before her, covered her face with her hands and shrank away; but the hardy woman craned her head forward and bit into the apple while it was yet in the saint's hand. Then the young queen would have had it if she might, but was prevented by the biter, and the two clamoured for it, silently, by gestures of the hands and eyes, but with haste and passion. At this point, said my mother, her dream always ended, and she never knew who had the apple. She fretted greatly because of it, and was hardly recovered after I was born.
My father, who disliked all women except my mother, and, Catholic as he was, had scant respect for the mendicant orders, hated this dream, hated to be reminded of it, hated the name which he had been persuaded into giving me, and, as a consequence, I believe, never loved me. For unnumbered generations of our family we had been Antonys, Gerards, Ralphs, Martins; the name of Francis was unknown to the tree; he never ceased to inveigh against it, and foretold the time when it would stand out like a parasite upon its topmost shoot. "Your Italian ecstatic," he told my mother, "began life by running away from his father and only came back for the purpose of robbing him. He taught more people to live by singing hymns than ever were taught before, and preached the virtues of poverty, by which he intended the comfort it was for the blessed poor to be kept snugly idle by the accursed rich. It never occurred to him to reflect that, if everybody had been of his opinion, everybody would have starved, the world would have stood still, and neither St. Ferdinand of Spain, nor St. Edward the Confessor, nor Don John of Austria could have become famous. As for your women and apples, the conjunction is detestable. Cain was the result of one woman's desire for an apple, and the siege of Troy that of another's. I don't wish this boy to grow up either murderer or pretty Paris."
The like of this speech, often repeated—indeed, never omitted when so I happened to fall into some childish disgrace—may be imagined. It made an outcast of me, an exile from my nursery days. I grew up lonely, sullen, moody. I could not meet my father with any comfort to either of us; and though I loved my mother, and she me, that cold shadow of his prejudice seemed to be over my intercourse with her, to chill and check those emotions which should glow naturally when a son stands in the presence of his mother. To be brief, I was an unhappy, solitary lad, with sisters much older and brothers much younger than himself; cut off, too, by reason of religion, from the society of neighbours, from school and college. Such companions as I could have were far below me in station, and either so servile as to foster pride, or so insolent as to inflame it. There was Father Danvers, it's true, that excellent Jesuit and our chaplain; and there were books. I was by nature a strong, healthy, active boy, but was driven by sheer solitariness to be studious. If it had not turned out so, I know not what might have become of me, at what untimely age I might have been driven to violence, crime, God knows what. That there was danger of some such disaster Father Danvers was well aware. My faults, as he did not fail to remind me week by week, were obstinacy and pride of intellect; my weaknesses, lack of proportion and what he was pleased to call perversity, by which I suppose he meant a disposition to accept the consequences of my own acts. I freely admit a personal trait which will be obvious as I proceed. Trivial as it may seem, and does, at this time of writing, I must record an instance of it, the last I was to exhibit in England. Never vicious, I may sincerely say convinced, rather, that women are as far above our spiritual as they are fatally within our material reach, it was by my conduct to a woman that I fell into a way of life which nobody could have anticipated. In my twentieth year, in a moment of youthful ardour, I kissed Betty Coy, our dairymaid, over the cheese- press, and was as immediately and as utterly confounded as she was. I remember the moment, I remember her, a buxom, fresh-coloured young woman, rosy red, her sleeves above her elbows, her "La, Mr. Francis, what next?"—I remember all, even to my want of breath, suddenly cooled passion, perplexity and flight. It is a moot point whether that last was the act of a coward, but I can never allow it to be said that in what followed I showed a want of courage. I devoted a day and night to solitary meditation; no knight errant of old, watching his arms under the moon, prayed more earnestly than I; and when I had fully made up my mind to embrace what honour demanded of me, I sought out the girl, who was again in the dairy, and in solemn form, upon my knees, offered her my hand. Father Danvers, walking the terrace, was an accidental witness of my declaration, and very properly told my father. Betty Coy, unfortunate girl, was dismissed that evening; next day my father sent for me. [Footnote: I need only say further of Betty that she, shortly afterwards, married James Bunce, our second coachman at Upcote, and bore him a numerous progeny, of whose progress and settlement in the world I was able to assure the worthy parents.]
It would be idle to rehearse the interview between an angry father and an obdurate son. The more I said the angrier he got: the discrepancy between us made a reasonable conclusion hopeless from the first. When he cried, Did I mean to disgrace my name? and I replied, No, but on the contrary I had been wishful to redeem it—"How, you fool," said he, "by marrying a dairymaid?" "Sir," I answered, "by showing to the world that when a gentleman salutes a virtuous female it is not his intention to insult her." I was too old for the rod or I should have had it. As it was, I received all the disgrace he could put me to—dismissed from his presence, confined to my room, forbidden any society but that of Father Danvers and my own thoughts. My infatuation, however, persisted, and threatened to take the dangerous form of FRAUD. I could not for the life of me see what else I could do to recover the girl's fair fame, hopelessly compromised by me, than exhibit to the world at large the only conceivable motive of my salute. I knew, immediately I had done it, that I could not love Betty Coy, but I believed that I could prove the tender husband.
Correspondence to this effect—all on my side—with her parents decided mine to hasten my removal abroad. It had always been intended that I should study in Padua, rather than in Paris or Salamanca, if for no better reason than that that had been Father Danvers' University, and that he knew many of the professors there—among others, Dr. Porfirio Lanfranchi, who became my host and guardian, and had been class-mate and room-mate of our chaplain's. These things matter very little: I was not consulted in them, and had no objections, as I had no inclinations, for any particular residence in the world. Before my twenty-first birthday— I forget the exact date—the hour arrived when I received on my knees my mother's tearful blessing, embraced my brothers and sisters, kissed my father's hand, and departed for Oxford, where I caught the London mail; and, after a short sojourn in the capital, left England for ever.
I conceive that few further prolegomena are necessary to the understanding of the pages which follow. Before I touched the Italian soil I was, in the eyes of our law, a grown man, sufficiently robust and moderately well-read. I was able to converse adequately in French, tolerably in Italian, had a fair acquaintance with the literatures of those countries, some Latin, a poor stock of Greek. I believe that I looked younger than my age, stronger than my forces, better than my virtues warranted. Women have praised me for good looks, which never did me any good that I know of; I may say without vanity that I had the carriage and person of a gentleman. I was then, as I have ever been, truly religious, though I have sometimes found myself at variance with the professional exponents of it. In later years I became, I believe, something of a mystic, apt to find the face of God under veils whose quality did not always commend itself to persons of less curious research. On the other hand, I do not pretend to have kept the Decalogue of Moses in its integrity, but admit that I have varied it as my occasions seemed to demand. I have slain my fellow-man more than once, but never without deliberate intention so to do. If I have trespassed with King David of Israel, I feel sure that the circumstances of my particular offence are not discreditable to me; and it is possible that he had the same conviction. For the rest, I have purposely discarded many things which the world is agreed to think highly necessary to a gentleman, but which I have proved to be of no value at all. I will only add this one observation more. For my unparalleled misfortunes in every kind of character and dangerous circumstance I am willing to admit that I have nobody to thank but myself. And yet—but the reader must be judge—I do not see how, in any single case, I could have acted otherwise than as I did. What, then! we carry our fates with us from the cradle to the grave, even as the Spinning Women themselves wind that which was appointed them to wind, and ply the shears and make fruitless their toil when they must; and all that we acquire upon our journey does but make that burden more certainly ours. What was I but a predestined wanderer—and fool if you will—burdened with my inheritance of honourable blood, of religion, of candour, and of unprejudiced enquiry? How under the sun could I—-? But let the reader be judge.
I left England early in September, made a good passage to Genoa, and from thence proceeded by easy stages to Padua. Arriving there by the coach on the night of October 13, I was met by my host and tutor, Dr. Porfirio Lanfranchi, and by him taken to his lodgings on the Pra della Valle and introduced to the charitable ministrations of his young and beautiful wife—the fair, the too-fair Donna Aurelia, with whom, I shall not disguise from the reader, I fell romantically and ardently in love.
AURELIA AND THE DOCTOR
It was, I know very well, the aim and desire of this beautiful lady to approve herself mother to the exile thus cast upon her hands, and it was so as much by reason of her innate charity as of her pride in her husband's credit. To blame an ambition so laudable would be impossible, nor is blame intended to lie in recording the fact that she was a year my junior, though two years a wife. Such was the case, however, and it did not fit her for the position she wished to occupy. Nor indeed did her beauties of person and mind, unless a childish air and sprightly manner, cloudy-dark hair, a lovely mouth and bosom of snow, a caressing voice, and candour most surprising because most innocent, can be said to adapt a young lady to be mother to a young man. Be these things as they may—inflaming arrows full of danger, shafts of charity, pious artillery, as you will—they were turned full play upon me. From the first moment of my seeing her she set herself to put me at ease, to make me an intimate of her house, to make herself, I may say in no wrong sense, an inmate of my heart—and God knoweth, God knoweth how she succeeded.
Aurelia! Impossibly fair, inexpressibly tender and wise, with that untaught wisdom of the child; daughter of pure religion, as I saw thee at first and can see thee still, can that my first vision of thee ever be effaced? Nay, but it is scored too deeply in my heart, is too surely my glory and my shame. Still I can see that sweet stoop of thy humility, still thy hands crossed upon thy lovely bosom, still fall under the spell of thy shyly welcoming eyes, and be refreshed, while I am stung, by the gracious greeting of thy lips. "Sia il ben venuto, Signer Francesco," saidst thou? Alas, what did I prove to thee, unhappy one, but il mal venuto, the herald of an evil hour? What did I offer thee in exchange for thy bounty but shame and salt tears? What could be my portion but fruitless reproach and footsore pilgrimage from woe to woe? But I forget myself. I am not yet to disinter these unhappy days.
It is not to be supposed from this apostrophe that when I fell at once to love my master's wife I saw in her more than my lamp and my saint, the gracious presence which should "imparadise," in Dante's phrase, my mind. I was an honest lad, very serious and very simple. Perhaps I was a fool, but I was a pure fool: and he had been a very monster of depravity who could have cast unwholesome regard upon a welcome so generous and modest as hers. I declare that she was never anything to me but a holy emanation, not to be approached but on the knees, not to be looked upon but through a veil. So from this page until near the end of my long history she will appear to the reader. I never had an unworthy thought of her, never an unworthy desire. I never credited her with more than charity towards myself; and if I gloried in the fact that I was privileged to love so wondrous a being, the thought humiliated me at the same time. I was conscious of my nothingness before her worthiness, and desperate to fit myself for her high society. A noble rage for excellence possessed me; like any champion or knight of old I strove to approve my manhood, only that I might lay the spoils of it at her sacred feet.
By origin Aurelia was a Sienese, the daughter of the ancient, noble but reduced family of Gualandi, and had, without knowing it, caught the fancy of Dr. Lanfranchi when he was in her native city upon some political question or another. At the age of eighteen she had been made the subject of a marriage treaty between her mother and this learned man of fifty—a treaty conducted by correspondence and without any by-or- with-your-leave of hers. It may be doubted whether she had done much more than see and quiz her husband until she was brought to his house, to be mistress of that and slave of its master. Doing violence to the imaginations of a lover, I can look back upon her now with calmness, and yet see no flaw upon her extraordinary perfections. I can still see her lovely in every part, a bright, glancing, various creature, equally compounded of simplicity and common sense. Her greatest charm was precisely what we call charm—a sweetly willing, pliant disposition, an air of gay seriousness, such as a child has, and a mood which could run swiftly, at the touch on some secret spring, from the ripple of laughter to the urgency of tears. She was very devout, but not at all in our way, who must set our God very far off if we are to consider His awful nature; she carried her gaiety with her into church, and would laugh in the face of the Blessed Virgin or our Saviour just as freely as in that of the greatest sinner of us all. Her carriage and conversation with Heaven were, indeed, exactly those which she held towards the world, and were such that it was impossible not to love her, and yet, for an honest man who desired to remain one, equally impossible to do it. For although she was made in shape, line and feature to be a man's torment and delight, she carried her beauties so easily, valued them so staidly, and considered them so unaffectedly her husband's property, that he would have been a highway thief who had dared anything against her.
Here, indeed, was to be reckoned with that quality of strong common sense, without which she had been no Tuscan girl. She had it in a remarkable degree, as you may judge when I say that it reconciled her to her position of wife to a vast, disorderly, tyrannical man nearly old enough to be her grandfather. It enabled her to weigh the dignity, ease and comfort of the Casa Lanfranchi against any romantic picture which a more youthful lover could paint before her eyes. I am convinced—the conviction was, it will be seen, forced upon me—that not only was she a loyal, obedient and cheerful, but also a loving wife to this huge and blusterous person, of whom nevertheless she was a good deal afraid. For if he fondled her more than was becoming, he stormed at her also in a way not tolerable.
When Dr. Lanfranchi met me on my arrival, I remember that he took my hand in his own and never let go of it until he had me in his house. This made me feel like a schoolboy, and I never lost the feeling of extreme youth in his eyes. I believe now that his terrific silence, his explosive rages, mock ceremoniousness, and startling alternations were all parts of his method towards his pupils, for my experiences of them were not peculiar. I have seen him cow a whole class by a lift of his great square head, and most certainly, whatever scandalous acts may have disgraced the university in my time, they never occurred where Dr. Lanfranchi was engaged. Burly, bulky, blotched as he was, dirty in his person, and in his dress careless to the point of scandal, he had the respect of every student of the Bo. He was prodigiously learned and a great eater. The amount of liquid he could absorb would pass belief: it used to be said among us that he drank most comfortably, like a horse, out of a bucket. His lectures were extraordinary, crammed with erudition, which proceeded from him by gasps, jerks, and throttled cries for mercy on his failing breath, and illustrated by personalities of the most shocking description—he spared no deformity or defect of any one of us if it happened to engage his eye. Sometimes a whole hour's lecture would be consumed in a scandalous tale of Rome or Naples, sometimes indeed it would be a reminiscence of his own youthful days, which policy, if not propriety, should have counselled him to omit. Yet, as I say, he never lost the respect of the class, but was feared, served, and punctually obeyed.
It was much the same at home—that is, his methods and their efficacy were the same. In private life he was an easy, rough, facetious companion, excessively free in his talk, excessively candid in the expression of his desires, and with a reserve of stinging repartee which must have been more blessed to give than to receive. Terrible storms of rage possessed him at times, under which the house seemed to rock and roll, which sent his sweet wife cowering into a corner. But, though she feared him, she respected and loved the man—and I was to find that out to my cost before my first year was out.
Meantime that year of new experience, uplifting love and growth by inches must ever remain wonderful to me—with Aurelia's music in my ears and Love's wild music in my heart. Happy, happy days of my youth!
"Dichosa edad y siglos dichosos aquellos, a quien los antiguos pusieron nombre de dorados!" cried the knight of La Mancha; and I may call that Paduan year my age of song. It ran its course to the sound of flutes, harps, and all sweet music. I never knew, until I knew Aurelia, that such exulting tides of melody could pour from human throat.
When Aurelia rose in the morning and threw open her green shutters, if the sunlight was broad upon the Pra, flecked upon the trees, striking the domes and pinnacles of the Santo with fire, she sang full diapason with that careless fling of the voice, that happy rapture, that bravura which makes the listener's heart go near to burst with her joy. If rain made the leaves to droop, or scudded in sheets along the causeways, she sang plaintively, the wounded, aggrieved, hurt notes of the nightingale. Her song then would be some old-remembered sorrow of her land—of Ginevra degli Almieri, the wandering wife; of the Donna Lombarda, who poisoned her lover; or of the Countess Costanza's violated vow. So she shared confidences with the weather, and so unbosomed herself to nature and to God. Meantime she was as busy as a nesting-bird. She made her doctor's chocolate, and took it in to him with the gazette or the news- sheet; she would darn a hole in my stocking, on my leg, without pricking me at all, look me over, brush me, re-tie my hair, pat me into order with a critical eye, and send me off to my classes or study with a sage counsel to mind my books, and a friendly nod over her shoulder as we each went our ways. She would go to mass at the Santo, to market in the Piazza; she would cheapen a dress-length, chat with a priest, admonish old Nonna, the woman of the house—all before seven o'clock in the morning; and not before then would she so much as sip a glass of coffee or nibble a crust of bread. On Sundays and Festas she took her husband's arm and went to church as befitted, wearing her glazed gown of silver grey, her black lace zendado. She took a fan as well as a service-book— and happy was I to carry them for her; she had lace mittens on her hands and a fine three-cornered hat on her head. She looked then what she truly was, the thrifty young housewife, who, if she was as lovely as the summer's dawn, was so only by the way. And thrifty she proved herself. For when she had kneeled and crossed herself twice towards the altar, she pulled up the shining silk gown all about her middle and sat down upon her petticoat.
Exquisite, fragrant, piteous Aurelia! Is it wonderful that I loved her? And who was I—O heaven! What sort of lover was I to disturb her sweetly ordered life? To that I must next address myself, cost me what it may.
MY DANGEROUS PROGRESS
I was fairly diligent during my year of study at Padua, fairly punctual in attendance at my classes and lectures, fairly regular in my letter- writing home. I acquired no vices, though there were plenty to be got, was not a wine-bibber, a spendthrift, nor a rake. I was too snug in the Casa Lanfranchi to be tempted astray, and any truantry of mine from the round of my tasks led me back to Aurelia and love. To beat up the low quarters of the town, to ruffle in the taverns and chocolate houses with sham gentlemen, half frocked abbes and rips; to brawl and haggle with vile persons and their bullies, set cocks a-fighting or rattle the dice- box in the small hours—what were these pleasures to me, who had Aurelia to be with? From the first she had taken her duties to heart, to mother me, to keep me out of harm's way, to maintain her husband's credit by making sure of mine. These things she set herself to do with a generous zest which proved her undoing. Slowly, and from the purest of motives, her influence upon me, her intercourse with me grew and spread. Slowly the hours I spent with her extended—unperceived by her, exquisitely perceived by me—until, at the date to which I am now come, near a year after my entering the university, I may say there was not a spare moment of the day, from my rising to my going to bed, which was not passed with Aurelia.
To make the full import of this plain to the reader I must particularise to some extent. My own rooms, I have explained, were in the same house, two storeys below the Lanfranchi apartment. In them I was served with my chocolate by old Nonna the servant, and was understood to leave them at seven o'clock in the morning and not to return until midday, when I dined with my hosts. The afternoons were my own. I was at liberty to take horse exercise—and I kept two saddle-horses for the purpose—or to make parties of pleasure with such of my fellow-students as were agreeable to me. At six I supped with Aurelia alone, and at seven I was supposed to retire—either to my own room for study and bed, or into the town upon my private pleasures. These, I say, were the rules laid down by Aurelia and her husband at the beginning of my residence in Padua. By almost imperceptible degrees they were relaxed, by other degrees equally hard to measure they were almost wholly altered.
The first to go was the practice of taking my chocolate abed. One morning Nonna was late, and I rose without it. The same thing happened more than twice, so then I went upstairs to find out what had hindered her. There I found my Aurelia fresh from Mass and market, drinking her morning coffee. Explanations, apologies, what-not, ensued; she invited me to share her repast. From that time onwards I never broke my fast otherwise than with her. So was it with other rules of intercourse. The doctor was a machine in the ordering of his life. His chocolate at six, his clothes at eight; he left the house at nine and returned at noon. He left it again at two in the afternoon and returned at nine in the evening; he supped; he went to bed on the stroke of ten. Except on Sundays, high festivals, the first, the middle, and the last day of carnival, through all the time of my acquaintance with him, I never knew him break these habits but once, and that was when his mother died at Mestre and he had to attend the funeral. On that occasion he must rise at six, and miss his dinner at noon. He was furious, I never saw a man so angry.
I cannot tell how or when it was that I first spent the whole of my afternoons in Aurelia's society, nor how or when it was that, instead of leaving her house at seven in the evening, I stayed on with her till the stroke of nine, within a few minutes of the doctor's homecoming. It is a thing as remarkable as true that nothing is easier to form than a habit, and nothing more difficult to break. Formed and unbroken these habits were, unheeded by ourselves, but not altogether unperceived. There was one member of the household who perceived them, and never approved. I remember that old Nonna used to shake her finger at us as we sat reading, and how she used to call out the progress of the quarters from the kitchen, where she was busy with her master's supper. But my beloved mistress could not, and I would not, take any warning. It became a sort of joke between Aurelia and me to see whether Nonna would miss one of the quarters. She never did; and as often as not, when nine struck and I not gone, she would bundle me out of doors by the shoulders and scold her young mistress in shrill Venetian, loud enough for me to hear at my own chamber door. Aurelia used to tell me all she had said next morning. She had an excellent gift of mimicry; could do Nonna and (I grieve to say) the doctor to the life.
The end of this may be guessed. Privilege after privilege was carelessly accorded by Aurelia, and greedily possessed by me. At the end of six months' residence those three still evening hours existed, not for the blessedness of such intercourse alone, but to be crowned by the salutation of an adorable hand; and when I retired at last, it was not to my bed, but to my window; to the velvet spaces of the night, to the rustling trees, the eloquent congress of the stars; to sigh my secret abroad to those sympathetic witnesses, to whisper her name, to link it with my own; to tell, in a word, to the deep-bosomed dark all the daring fancies of a young man intoxicated with first love. And from privilege to privilege I strode, a fine conqueror. A very few months more, and not only was I for ever with Aurelia, but there was no doubt nor affectation of concealment on my part of how I stood or wished to stand before her. I postulated myself, in fine, as her servant in amours—cavalier I will not say, for that has an odious meaning in Italy, than which to describe my position nothing could be wider of the truth. I did but ask liberty to adore, sought nothing further, and got nothing else. This, upon my honour, was ever the sum of my offence—up to my last day of bliss.
You would have supposed that she could hardly have misunderstood the state of my affairs, had I said or done nothing. So quick-witted was she, it is inconceivable. But as time went on, and success with it, I quite got out of the way of concealment, and spoke of myself openly as her slave. She used to laugh at me, pretend to think me an absurd boy; and now and then threatened (and that half in jest) to tell her husband. I know very well that she never did. The padron, we used to call him to each other, having taken the name from old Nonna. It was one of our little foolish jokes to pretend the house an inn, he the landlord, and ourselves travellers met there by hazard. We had a many familiar, private sayings and nicknames of the sort, secret cues to look across the table when he was there, and smile at each other—as when he railed (as he was fond of doing) at Tuscan ways and speech, at the usage of Siena, her own country, or when (after his meal) he made a noise, sucking his teeth. Sweetly pleasant, dangerous days—were they as lovely to her as to me? How can I tell? There was no doubt but she knew me thoroughly. The little pleasant encroachments of mine, stolen upon her unawares, were now never checked—I am speaking of the end of my first year, when I could hold her hand unreproved, and kiss it as often as I pleased. I took and kept, and exhibited to her without embarrassment, little trifles of hers—a hair-ribbon, a garter, a little trodden Venice slipper; if she asked for them back, it only provoked me to keep them closer to my heart. She saw no harm in these foolish, sweet things: she felt herself to be my senior; by comparison with her position, mine was that of a child. To the very end she maintained the fiction that she was my foster-mother, responsible to my parents for my advancement in education and morals. Assuredly she taught me her tongue and kept me out of gross iniquity; but equally certain is it that I learned more than Italian.
I learned, however, to be very fluent in that, for, inspired by love of Aurelia, I attacked it with extraordinary passion. All Italy, and above all Tuscany, took sacred air from her; there grew to be an aureole about everything which owned kinship with her. I was a severe ritualist, as every lover is: it became a blasphemy in me to think of Aurelia in any form of words but those of her own honey tongue. And that was of the purest in the land. She had very little Venetian at any time, and kept what she had for her husband and household management. To me she employed her native speech, not the harsh staccato of Florence, a stringent compound of the throat and the teeth, but the silken caressing liquids of Siena, the speech of women to their lovers, of St. Catherine to her Spouse. So I became expert in Tuscan, and after the same fashion in Tuscany also. She was deeply and burningly proud of that land of art and letters; she knew something of its history, something (if not much) of its monuments. Such as it was it sufficed me. Inspired by her, I began the study of literature, and if at first I read disingenuously, I went on to read with profit. The "Vita Nova" of Dante enabled me, perhaps, to touch upon topics with her which I could not have dared to do without its moving text; but it won me to the heart of the great poet. I walked the dire circles of Hell, I scaled the Mount of Purgatory, I flew from ring to ring of the Heaven of pure light. Aurelia was my Beatrice; but the great Florentine and his lady were necessarily of the party. And then I began, as men will, to take the lead. Aurelia had exhausted her little store when she had named Giotto and Dante: I took her further afield. We read the Commentaries of Villani, Malavolti's History of Siena, the Triumphs of Petrarch, his Sonnets (fatal pap for young lovers), the Prince of Machiavelli, the Epics of Pulci and Bojardo, and Ariosto's dangerously honeyed pages. Here Aurelia was content to follow me, and I found teaching her to be as sweet in the mouth as learning of her had been. I took enormous pains and consumed half the night in preparation for the morrow's work. I abridged Guicciardini's intolerable History, I hacked sense out of Michael Angelo's granite verses, weeded Lorenzo of disgustfulness, Politian of pedantry. The last thing we read together was the Aminta of Tasso; the last thing I had of her was the "Little Flowers of St. Francis," a favourite book of her devotion. My Saint, she called St. Francis of Assisi—as in one sense no doubt he was; but, "Aurelia," I had replied, kissing both her hands, "you know very well who is my saint. I should have been named Aurelius." She had said, "It is a good name, Aurelio. There are many who have it in my country." "You shall call me nothing else, "said I then; but she shook her head, and hung it down as she whispered softly, "I like best Francesco," and then, so low as to be hardly audible, "Checho," the Sienese diminutive for my name of Francis. Old Nonna came in to hound me from the room. That night—it was my last but one—Aurelia came to the door with me, and let me kiss her two hands again.
I have come to the hour of my destruction—the 16th of June, 1722. The smouldering fires which had laboured in my breast for nine months burst into a flame which overwhelmed both Aurelia and me. I committed an unpardonable sin, I endeavoured to repair it with an act of well-nigh incredible temerity. What occurred on that night is, in fact, the origin of these Memoirs and their sole justification. The dawn of that momentous day found her a loving and honoured wife; and its close left her, innocent as she was, under the worst suspicion which can fall upon a good woman. It found me a hopeful gentleman of means and prospects; and I went out of it into the dark, a houseless wanderer, to consort with profligates, thieves and murderers.
I shall not deny that the overnight's tenderness may have wrought in me the dangerous ecstasy which was to prove so cruel a requital of it; for it is of the nature of love to be inflamed by the least hint of a neighbouring, answering fire. I believe that I could have been for ever Aurelia's mute, adoring, unasking slave, but for the fact that she had sighed, and whispered me "Checho," and twice suffered me to kiss her hands. Fatal benevolence that lifted suddenly the meek! Fatal wealth bestowed that made the pauper purse-proud! I had passed the night in a transport of triumphant joy; throughout the day succeeding it I felt my wings. "Nunc," I could exclaim with Propertius.
"Nunc mihi summa licet sidera contingere plantis." And that exalted strain, which was my perdition, alas, was hers also!
That which followed was a very hot still night, with thunder in the Euganean hills; and Aurelia may have been lax or languid, or in my miserable person some of the summer's fire may have throbbed. It was late, near nine o'clock; already old Nonna had given three warnings of the hour, and was only delaying the last while she stirred the ingredients of the doctor's minestrone over the fire. The knowledge that she must come in, and I go out, shortly, at any moment, fretted my quick senses to fever. I looked for ever at Aurelia with a wildly beating heart; she, on her side, was aware of my agitation, and breathed the shorter for the knowledge. She sat by the open window mending a pair of stays; at her side was her work table, upon that her three-wicked lamp. I leaned over a chair exactly in front of her, watching every slight tremor or movement, just as a dog watches a morsel which he longs for but is forbidden to touch. Thrice a dog that I was! I felt like a dog that night.
We had read little and spoken less; the airless night forbade it; for the last half hour no words had passed between us but a faint, "Ah, go now, go now, Checho," from her, and from me my prayer of "Not yet, not yet—let me stay with you." Aurelia was tired, and now and again put down her work with a sigh, to gaze out of the window into the soft deeps of the night, gemmed as it was with fireflies and wavering moths. How prone is youth to fatuous conceits! I imagined that she suffered with me; I identified her pains with mine; I thought that she loved me and had not the heart to bid me begone. That new wicked feeling of triumph, that new exultation in manly strength, that delirium, that poisonous frenzy, came flooding over me. Some gesture of hers more than commonly eloquent may have set me on fire; I may have seen her tremble, I may have guessed a tear. More insensate folly than mine can be lent by youth on less security than this. For there sat I quivering with love, and there before me, unlaced, in loose attire, in all the luxury of lassitude, breathed and sighed the loveliest of women. I cannot explain what I dare not extenuate: dowering her with my own madness, I forgot her honour, my own, the world, and God. I leaned forward towards her, took her languid hand, and, holding it in my own, said quietly—very quietly, "I love you—you are my soul."
She laughed gently, then sighed. "You must not say so to me, even if it is true," she said. I repeated the words, "I love you—you are my soul," and she was silent.
I said, after a pause, during which I could hear the furious beating of my heart, "I am at my prayers, in my church, before my altar. Your eyes are the candles, your heart is the altar stone. I kneel—" and I did kneel. Then she grew alarmed, and was for stopping me.
"Checho," she said, "this is foolish, and I must not listen. I beg you to get up; I know it is late. Please to ask Nonna what's o'clock. I am serious."
"And I," I said, "am serious. The time is full—the time is now. Oh, Aurelia," I said urgently, "my saint and my lamp—"
"Hush, hush," she said, and tried to regain her hand. "No, but you must be quiet. Listen!" But I could not now be stopped.
"Oh," I cried out, "I have been silent too long, and now I must speak. For six months I have been silent; but now there is death in silence. I shall die of love, and it will be you that will have killed me." I knelt again, and again said, "I love you."
"Oh, no, no," she said, but her protest was fainter. I repeated it, and now she made no protest. God help me, I thought her won. I flung myself violently near, and in my agitation knocked over my chair. As that fell backwards, so fell I forwards to her knees. I clasped them closely, studded kisses on her hands, I raised my face to hers, and saw her the lovelier for her pale terror. She was speechless.
"Listen to me, Aurelia, youngest of the angels," I began, and just then old Nonna burst in upon me crying "Ruin!" I sprang to my feet, and Aurelia away, her work table went down, the lamp with it; we were all three in darkness.
"Ruin!" said Nonna, "I tell you, ruin! That wretched boy—the padron is on the stair."
Aurelia shrieked that she was undone; Nonna, who had flown back into the kitchen, returned with a lamp. I saw my beautiful mistress distraught and ran forward to comfort her. She shrank from me with horror, as well she might. "Farewell, lady," I said, "I will go to meet what I deserve."
I took my cloak, hat and sword, and went to the door, but Nonna caught me by the skirt, and, "Is he mad then?" she cried; and, "What are you about, Don Francis? Will you meet the padron on the stair and let him up to see this wreckage? Madonna purissima, what is one to do with a boy of this sort?"
"Let me go," said I, "to my proper fate. I know very well what I have done." It may be that I did, and I hope that I did; but very certainly I did not know what to do next; nor did Aurelia. Sobbing and trembling she lay upon Nonna's breast, imploring her to save us both. I heard the professor clear his throat upon the floor below, and knew that I was too late. Nonna took the command.
She flung open the door of the clothes-press, and, "In with you," says she to me. "Little fool! a pretty state of things!" She turned to her mistress, "Mistress, go you down and meet him. Keep him at the door— hold him in talk—hug, kiss, throttle, what you will or what you can, while I set this to rights." Aurelia, drying her eyes, flew to the door; and Nonna then, taking me by the shoulders, fairly stuffed me into the clothes-press, among Aurelia's gowns, which hung there demurely in bags. "Keep you quiet in there, foolish, wicked young man," said she, "and when they've gone to bed maybe I'll let you out. If I do, let me tell you, it will be because you have done so much folly and wickedness as no one in his senses could have dared. That shows me that you are mad, and one must pity, not blame, the afflicted."
All this time she was working like a woolcarder at the disordered room, but could not refrain her tongue from caustic comments upon my behaviour. "Wicked, wicked Don Francis! Nay, complete and perfect fool rather, who, because a lady is kind to you, believes her to be dying for your love. Your love indeed! What is your precious love worth beside the doctor's? Have you a position the greatest in the university? Have you years, gravity, authority, money in the funds? Why, are you breeched yet? Have you tired of sugar-sticks? What next?" So she went on grumbling and scolding until the doctor came grunting to the open door with Aurelia upon his arm.
He was, as usual, out of breath and angry. He was also, I judged, embarrassed and fretted by the ministrations of Aurelia.
"My curse," I heard him say, "my undying curse upon the man who built this house. Twice a day am I to scale a mountain? Wife, wife, you strangle me!"
"Oh, dear friend! Oh, dear friend!" 'Twas the voice of Aurelia. "Are you come back to your poor girl?"
"Hey," cried he testily, "do I seem to be absent? I wish you would talk sense. These infernal stairs rob us all of our wits, it seems."
"I am very foolish," said Aurelia, and I heard her trouble in her tones. "I have been waiting so long—so very long."
"There, my child, there," said he, and kissed her. "Now be pleased to let me into my house." With a sigh, which I heard, she released him, and he came stamping into the room. I trembled in my shameful retreat.
The reflections of a young man of sensibility, ear-witness against his will of the chaste and sanctioned familiarities of a man and wife, must always be mingled of sweet and bitter; but when to the natural force of these is added horror of a crime and the shame arising from discovery of utter delusion, the reader may imagine the stormy sea of torment in which I laboured. In a word, I was to discover a new Aurelia—Aurelia the affectionate wife, the careful minister; not the adored mistress of a feverish boy, the heroine of a Vita Nuova, the Beatrice of a, I fear me, profane comedy, the beloved of Aminta and the Pastor Fido. I own that I was dismayed, wounded in my tenderest part, at the discovery. Aurelia had suddenly become a stranger to my heart. I was nothing, less than nothing, to her now that she was alone with her husband. Beside the care of his appetite for food, my labours upon Guicciardini—the toil of a month of nights—was as the work of an ant in the dust. Beside her interest in his gossip of the schools, the coffee-house, the street corner, my exposition of the Sonnets of Petrarca was as the babble of school children at play in the Pra; beside her attentions to his clumsy caresses, her tenderness to me hour after hour was but the benevolence of a kindly woman to a lad left on her hands. Oh, bitter tonic discovery! How bitter it was I leave my reader to determine. I do not feel equal to the task of relating all that I overheard; if I could have stopped my ears, I would have done it. She tempted him, beguiled him to eat, to praise her, to be at ease, to love her. With that liquid tongue of hers, which would have melted a flinty core, she talked of his and her affairs; she was interested in his commentary upon the Pandects, she was indignant at the jealousy of Dr. This, she made light of the malice of Professor That. With flying feet from table to kitchen and back, with dexterous hands at bottle, platter or napkin, she ministered to his slightest whims. She refused to allow Nonna to wait upon him; she must do everything for him for this once.
And when, amid his flung ejaculations and bolted mouthfuls, between his "Non c'e male," his "Buono, buono!" his "Ancora un po'," or "Dammi da here," he could find time to ask her what this new alacrity of hers meant on such a hot night of summer, with a touching falter of the voice I heard her reply, "It is because—it is because—I have not always been good to you, Porfirio. It is because—of late—this evening—I have much wished for you to be here. It is because—-"
"Cospetto!" I heard the doctor cry, "what is the meaning of this? Come here, my dear." And then, when she went to him and sat upon his knee, I heard him murmur his endearments—ah, and I heard her soft and broken replies! And I knew very well that in her heart she was reproaching herself for what I alone had done, and by her humble appeal for kindness was craving his forgiveness for offences for which I could never hope to be forgiven.
These terrible discoveries, far from making me cease to love Aurelia, increased incalculably while they changed and purged my love. Pity and terror, says Aristotle in his Poetics, are the soul's cathartics. Both of these I felt, and emerged the cleaner. By the tune Aurelia had coaxed her husband to come to bed, and had gone thither, with a kiss, herself, I was half way to a great resolve, which, though it resulted in untold misery of body, was actually, as I verily believe, the means of my soul's salvation. Without ceasing for a moment to love Aurelia, I now loved her honestly again. I could see her a wife, I could know her a loving wife, without one unworthy thought; I could gain glory from what was her glory, I could be enthusiastic upon those virtues in her which to a selfish lover would have been the destruction of his hopes. In a word, I loved her now because she loved another.
There is nothing remarkable in my possession of feelings which no honourable man should be without; nor can I see that what I was moved to do, in consequence of having those feelings, was any way out of the common. If the sweet subservience and careful ministry of Aurelia had moved her husband's admiration, how much the more must they have moved mine! And what is more natural to the ardent explorer than to announce his discoveries? I had learned that I had loved an angelic being; what wonder that I desired to inform the one person in the world who had a right to know it, that such was my extreme privilege? Of this I am content, reader, to be judged by thee. If my enthusiasm was extravagant, surely it was pardonable. Judge me then as thou wilt, and as thou canst, for the end of this chapter of my history is cardinal.
But there were these moving considerations also. If Aurelia had tacitly reproached herself to her husband with what were my crimes, and only mine—was it not my bounden duty to save her before it were too late? Must I not avow what, as it seemed, she was on the point of avowing? If she—pure innocent—believed herself guilty and needing forgiveness— whereas I and I only was that monster—in a few moments' time, when she should be with her husband in the innermost shrine of the Temple of Hymen, I might be sure she would take upon herself the guilt, and alone receive my punishment. Could I endure the thought of this, miserable that I was? Could I suffer such a sacrifice and wear the livery of man? I knew that I could not. "Out, therefore, of thy hiding-place, sinner," I bade myself, "and get the vice scourged out of thee."
These were a part of my reflections, this was my plain resolution. Generous, honourable, they seemed to me then—honourable alike to Aurelia and to her husband. The doctor had replenished his glass, and was leaning back in his chair. He had released some of the buttons of his vest, and they had flown to their repose. He was looking down at the table, where he twisted the glass about; he was thinking of his wife, of her sweet humour, innocence and purity—of everything which I so adored and had dared to tarnish. He was frowning and smiling at once at his thoughts. I heard him say to himself, "That's a good girl—that's a good girl of mine"—when I walked out of the cupboard and stood, pale but composed, before him at the opposite side of the table. Even then, so absorbed he was in his mellow humours he did not hear me. "Eh, la Madonna!" he mused—"as good as gold!" He stretched his legs out to the full and glanced with lazy luxury round about his room. Then he saw me.
"Light of Light!" he said in a horrible whisper—and again, "Very God—"
"Doctor Lanfranchi," said I seriously, for my passion lifted me up, "Doctor Lanfranchi, she is better than refined gold."
He did what I suppose he had not done for many years; he crossed himself over the face. "Bless my soul!" he said.
"Sir, sir," I admonished him, "you little know of what excellent substance that saint is compact. Sir—"
I might have continued I know not how long upon a theme so noble, but for his astonishment, which, though it kept him stupid, must have a vent. "Who the devil—" stammers he, "What the devil—" It amazed me, and vexed me greatly, that I could not make him understand whom I praised. I went close to him, I touched him on the shoulder.
"Hearken to me, doctor," said I, "Donna Aurelia, your lady, is as it were an angel of Heaven—and I"—I said it with sorrowful grimness—"and I have better reason to know it than you."
He felt my touch, and recoiled from it: he looked at me half askance, from under knitted brows and between blinking lids, as if he thought me a spirit. "Paradise of God," says he then, "who is this?" His glance lighted upon the cupboard doors set open; he frowned and said, with difference: "And who are you that speak of angels?"
"Sir," I replied, and my convictions were never more firmly in my words, "my name is Wretch, and I am unworthy to live. I am that vile thing once called Francis Strelley, now brought to confusion and conscious of his horrible offence. Sir! Sir!" I said wildly, "Donna Aurelia is the handmaid of high Heaven.—While I, while I—O God!" emotion poured its hot flood over me. I fell to my knees.
In the painful silence which ensued, and no doubt seemed longer than it actually was, I suppose that he collected some half of the truth, and in the manner of him who sees but half, distorted it to be greater than the whole. His manner towards me altered very materially; he resumed his authority.
"Get up," he said, croaking like a raven; and at first I thought that I dared not, and immediately after knew that I dared. I sprang to my feet, and faced him, livid as he was. "Doctor Lanfranchi," said I, "I have overheard you-by accident—as you praised her. I have heard you call her good. Ah, and in agreeing with you I can testify that you spoke more truth than you dreamed of. No saint in Heaven is so good as she, but it has been required of me that I should grope in Hell before I could see Heaven in her soul."
He held himself from me by doing violence to his own person—caught at his cravat and gripped it with both hands.
"What are you saying? Say that again. Of what do you accuse yourself?"
"Of sin," I said. He looked at the cupboard, then with chilly rage at me.
"What were you doing in there?" he asked; and that was a terrible question, since there I never ought to have been.
I asked him would he hear me? He nodded his head and sat grimly down by the table, at which of late he had so happily reclined. He covered his mouth and nose with his hand, but kept his piercing eyes upon me. Disconcerting! but even so, had he listened in silence I might have made him see the truth.
"Sir," I began, "it is true that I love, and have always loved, your wife; and it is true that I have been wicked enough to declare my passion. But it is also true that by her, and by her alone, I have been convinced of my presumption." Here he held up his hand.
"Stop there. You say you have been convinced. How were you convinced? Where were you convinced? Let me understand you. Was it in there?" He jerked his hand towards the fatal cupboard.
"Yes," I replied, "it was in there. I was forced to overhear your conversation with Donna Aurelia, which proved to me that I am less than nothing to her, and that you are all the world."
He snorted, scoffing at the thought. "We shall see soon enough," he said bitterly, "who and what I am."
I continued: "If you think that I have injured YOU—I say nothing of my lady or of myself—you are horribly deceived. On the contrary, I have done you a service. You have the proof to your hand that you are the husband of a pattern among ladies." Here, once more, he looked at the cupboard, and "Ma!" he said, and shrugged. After this, so long as I could speak to him, he tapped his foot.
"Punish me," I advised him; "use me as you will; kill me—I shall not defend myself. I have never yet refused to take the consequences of my acts. But over my dead body, if you are a true man, you will give thanks to God for the gift of such a wife as you have."
I was indignant, honestly, and, as I think, rightly so; but again he misunderstood me.
He got up and threatened me with his great forefinger. "Enough of your sermons, sir," he said. "Have I lived and taught sucklings all these years to be told my duty to God Almighty? Will you teach me, forsooth, for what I am to give thanks, and whom I am to correct or chastise? Wait you there, young gentleman—wait you there until I know more about you and my pattern lady." He turned his back upon me, and, wrenching open the chamber door, called harshly upon Aurelia. Immediately—and no doubt she had been quaking for the summons—my adored mistress came trembling out, her hair tumbled about her shoulders, her hands at her neck. Her feet were bare upon the flags, her great and mournful eyes loomed hollow in her face. They were my instant reproof, for now, and now to the full, I saw a fatal consequence of my enthusiastic action. Unhappy Francis, what hadst thou done? Thou hadst intended to abase thyself in her service—and betrayed her. Thou hadst intended to honour, and condemned her to dishonour! Alas, thou hadst gone near to ruining the purest and loveliest of women by revealing those very things which proved her so.
The doctor, at his pitch of most savage and relentless calm, pointed to me and the cupboard—to the criminal and his lurking den together. "Look at those, woman," he said ominously, deliberately, but she could not or would not; and, before she could collect her wits, what must need old Nonna do but make bad worse, and, running, thrust herself in between, and wag her hand under the doctor's nose.
"Eh, eh, eh, what a bother about nothing!" says this amiable old fool. "Let us pray all together to the Madonna that you be not sorry for this. She has done nothing, padron—nothing at all. He alone is wicked—by Diana the Mighty I swear it—and it was I who put him in the cupboard, and therefore know what I am saying. She—a lamb of our Saviour's flock! Madness! Are you jealous of a boy without a beard? Do you conceive that your lady could listen to a voice that sang among milk-teeth? Ah, do you listen, rather, padron, to me and the truth, for we are at one together, the truth and I." She stayed for breath.
"Hag," said the doctor, "you are lying. This fine young man has confessed to me the agreeable truth. Madam," he turned to Donna Aurelia, "here is a confessed lover of yours. Pray have you anything to say?"
"He is very foolish, he is very wicked; I have often told him so, often and often," says Aurelia, twisting her hands about. "To-night he has said what he should not—and I believe he knows that very well. I had intended to tell you, if you had come sooner, as I wished—ah, and as I asked you, Porfirio—you would have heard it all from me. That is all. I was frightened—Nonna popped him in the cupboard—how he got out, how you found him there, I know not. But he has done me no harm—nor you neither, Porfirio. That I swear before the saints in Heaven." The doctor glared at her—then took her by the wrist.
"Lies, lies, woman!" he said furiously. "He convicts you himself. He came out of the cupboard of his own act."
She stared in amazement, and forgot the pain he was giving her. "He— came—out? But——Is he mad?"
"No, madam," said I; and, "No, by Heaven!" cried the doctor, "for I have no doubt at all but that he intended to provoke me to anger and then to run me through the body with that sword of his."
I threw up my arms at such a monstrous suspicion. Aurelia, who had been gazing at me as if she feared for my reason, now looked down.
"Please to let go of my wrist," she said, "you are hurting me, Porfirio. I know no more than you do why he came out of the cupboard; but of course you do him a wrong. He did not mean anything of the sort—he is of a good heart—incapable of murder. And now, please, Porfirio, let go of my wrist."
But he did not; his rage, gathering in volume, bade fair to convulse him.
"I intend to have the truth from one of the three of you before I let you go," said he. "From you I require to know why you put him into the cupboard."
"It was very silly," said Aurelia, "since he had done no harm. Nonna, why did you put him into the cupboard?"
"Diana!" cried the old woman, "where else was I to put the boy?" The doctor's laughter was terrible to me. I took a step forward.
"I will tell you, sir, the reason of both your puzzlements," I said. "I was put into the cupboard because Donna Aurelia was rightly ashamed of me, and I came out because I was honestly ashamed of myself."
"Ha!" said he, "so now we have it."
"You shall have it now," I replied. "I was honestly ashamed of myself, and honestly glorious that I had been rebuked by so noble a lady. Sir, it is true that I love this lady." Aurelia gave a shocked little cry, but I went on. "It is true that I kiss her feet. Sir, I worship the ground she presses with them—it is holy ground."
He scoffed at me. I said, "My feelings overcame me—I sinned—I am utterly unworthy. Punish me for my sin as you will, I shall not defend myself. But do not, and do not you, madam, I entreat, punish me for the one thing I have done this night of which I may be rightly proud."
"Bah," said he, "you are a fool, I see. And now, madam—-"
"Yes, Porfirio," said she, poor soul.
"You, and that she-wolf over there—what have you to say?"
"I say," said Nonna, "that the young gentleman is out of his wits."
Aurelia said, "I am wretched. He was very foolish."
"You have deceived me," he thundered at her, "made a fool of me at your ease. You spoke your wheedling words, and he was in there to listen, and to laugh, by my soul! You coaxed, you stroked, you sidled, you whispered, and he was in there laughing, laughing, laughing! Oh, madam, you talk of his young foolishness, but you make your profit of my old foolishness."
"It is false," said Aurelia. "I never did it."
"By my soul," says he, "I'll not be contradicted. I say that you do. O Heaven, is this your duty, your gratitude, your thanks due to me? Why— why—why—what did I take you from? What did I make of you? Your wretched mother—-"
She looked up with flashing eyes. There was danger to be seen on its way. "She is not wretched."
"Then she should be, madam," he said. "She is parent of a wicked, false—"
Aurelia, crying, shook to get free. "No, no! Be silent. You shall not say such things." She stamped her foot. "It is absurd, I won't have it," she said. He gave a strangling cry of rage and despair, released her and rushed towards the cupboard. Dramatically, he flung his arms towards it as if he would shake off his two hands and leave them there. "Explain that, woman," he screamed. "Explain it if you dare—-"
She was now equally angry, with patches of fire in her cheeks. "I shall explain nothing more. You will not believe me when I do. My mother will understand me."
"Then she shall—if she can," says the doctor, "and as soon as you please." Aurelia peered at him. "What do you mean, sir?"
"Why, madam, that you shall go where you are best understood."
"What!" she cried, "you mean—? You cannot mean—Oh, preposterous!"
The doctor was looking at the cupboard. "Ay, and it is preposterous, and I do mean it."
She stared at him for a moment, perplexed, then flew into a towering and ungovernable rage. "Ah," she cried, and she shook in every member. "Ah, now you may mean what you please, for I have done. Do you dare to suspect me? Do you dare to treat me as an infamous woman? Oh, oh, do you dare? You shall have no need to repeat it. I will go to my mother's house—I will go now—now—now. Nonna, my cloak and shoes—at once. I have been good—I have always tried to be good—and do you faithful duty. I have known what I ought to do—I have been proud to be Dr. Lanfranchi's wife. I thought I would show to my people that a girl of Siena could be proud, even of a Venetian pig, if he were her husband. Ah, but no more, no more. No, I will work elsewhere, for better wages— you have seen the last of Aurelia." She was superbly beautiful as she turned, pointing to me. "This youth—this mad, incomprehensible youth— what harm has he done YOU compared to what he has now done to me? He loves me, he says—I don't understand his love—but why should he not? Am I to fall in love with everybody who says that? Do you think you are the only one? And—and—why!—you have never said that you loved me: no, you have not. You just took to me, and made me work—your servant or your doll—your plaything when you were done with the cafe—me, a Gualandi of Siena—and you, a pig of Padua. Good Heaven, for what do you take me, sir? Did you find me in the street? Is my family one of wretches? Oh, what a man you are; ungrateful, cruel, hard as the grave. Yes, yes, Nonna, fold me close in my cloak; it will keep me from such cold as this." She stood, cloaked and ready: we all stood—the doctor like a rock, I like a man dead at his prayers.
She looked from one of us to the other, to me second. "You told me that you loved me, Don Francis," she said. "I am going to my mother. Will you take me?"
I never loved her so well as at this moment when I said, "Madam, I dare not do it."
She blushed, I know she was mute with astonishment. I thought old Nonna would have torn my eyes out. "Dog!" she called me, "son of a dog."
"I dare not go with you, madam," I repeated. "I love you too well. I have done you so much wrong, meaning to do right, that I dare not now risk an act which I know to be wrong. Oh," I cried, as my distress grew, "oh, unsay those words, Aurelia! You could not mean them, they were not yours."
She tossed her head, and shrugged. "I will be careful not to say them again, at least," she said. "They evidently distressed you. Come, Nonna— we will leave these gentlemen." The doctor never moved—I followed her with my eyes. One more look from hers would have drawn us both to our destruction. I thank God at this hour that she never showed it me. She went out and shut the door behind her. Neither of us moved until we heard the street door bang. We had been waiting for that.
"Now, Dr. Lanfranchi," said I, with a glance at my sword, "I am ready for you how and when you please."
With a howl like that of a miserable maniac he leapt upon me, tripped and threw me flat upon the flags. I remember the stunning shock of my fall, but remember no more. I learned afterwards that he had pitched me out on to the stairs, and that I fell far.
I COMMENCE PILGRIM
I arose from bed, some two or three days after the terrible occurrence related—and how I had got into it, except for the charity of the doorkeeper, there's no telling. I arose, I say, to a new heaven and a new earth: a heaven impossibly remote, an earth of sickly horror, an earth of serpents and worms, upon which I crawled and groped, the loathliest of their spawn. I surveyed myself in the glass, faced myself as I was—I the wrecker of homes, the betrayer of ladies, love's atheist! Pale, hollow-cheeked, with eyes distraught, there was good ground for believing that when Dr. Lanfranchi threw me upon my worthless skull he had jogged out my wits.
The facts were otherwise, however. Resolution came back upon the crest, as it were, of the wave that brought me full knowledge; the more disastrously showed the ruin I had made, the more stoutly I determined to repair it.
The surgeon who attended me was perfectly discreet and told me nothing more than that Professor Lanfranchi had left Padua and was gone to Venice. Not so the custode of the house: it was from him I had the rest. Dr. Lanfranchi had taken his keys with him and had left no directions. Donna Aurelia had been twice to the house since her first departure from it, and had been unable to get access. The second time of failing, said the custode, she had "lashed into the street like a serpent from a cage. And nobody," he added, "nobody in this town, and nobody under heaven's great eye, can say where she has gone. Perhaps she is dead, sir; but I believe that she is not. Pretty and snug lady that she was, it's my belief she will fret after her comforts, and that if she get them not from one, she will have them from another." Old Nonna had also disappeared, he said, which was better than things might have been; but the strongest ray of comfort shed upon me from this worthy fellow's store was this, that Donna Aurelia had returned to her house. Plainly, if she had been thither twice, she could be induced thither a third time. It must then be my business to induce her, and to see to it, if possible, that she was properly received upon that occasion.
Here was a duty plainly set before me—my first and greatest reparation, which no other tie must hinder, to accomplish which I must shrink from no hardship however severe, no humiliation however bitter. Another lay closer to my heart, I'll allow, the words of pardon which I hoped to sue forth from the dearest lips in all the world—for I could never hope to be happy until the being whom, most loving, I had most offended could consent to assure me of my peace. This, however, I resolutely put by as a selfish pleasure which I must not expect to enjoy until I had earned it. However natural might be the impulse which urged me to find Aurelia, fall at her feet, anoint them with my tears, I must withstand it until I could be sure of her honour saved. Now, was that surety to be gained first from her or first from her wrathful husband?
I turned to the custode, who stood smiling and rubbing his chin in my doorway. I said, "Beppo, I am in great perplexity. It is idle to deny that I am the immediate cause of all this misery, for you know it as well as I do."
He said that he had guessed something of what I was so good as to tell him. "There was, as I understand, a little misadventure with a cupboard door," he said; "but who can contend with Fate?"
"It has been my fate," I said, "to bring ruin upon the lady whom I adore. My sin is worse than that of Hophni and Phineas, and I would that the requital might be as theirs was, save that I can make it more bitter yet."
"Why," says he, "what was done to those gentlemen?" I told him that they were slain with the sword; to which he replied that, so far as he had ever heard, the doctor was nothing of a swordsman, and that he knew I had some proficiency in fence. "I hope then," he added, "that your honour will succeed where those other gentlemen failed; but if you ask my advice, I say, leave the doctor alone, and comfort the little lady."
His gross misapprehension of every merit of the case nettled me: I saw it was useless to talk with a person of his condition, and that instant action was my only safety. I must go, on my knees if must be, to the feet of Donna Aurelia, I must put myself entirely at her service. Should that lie in spurning me with her heel I must endure it; should she bid me go and receive public chastisement from her dangerous husband, I would assuredly go. Tears, stripes, hunger, thirst, cold, heat, loneliness, nakedness, unjust accusation, ridicule, malicious persecution—all these I would cheerfully undergo; and if one or any of them could repair her misfortunes, then they would be repaired. The custode said that he believed they could not, but I bade him be silent and begone. "Wretched Venetian," I cried at him, "thou art incapable of comprehending anything but victuals. If I tell thee that I have lacerated an angel and deserve the sword, thou speakest of my skill in fence! I waste my breath upon thee. Comfort the lady, dost thou dare to say? What comfort can she have but in my repentance? What have I to offer but devotion?"
"It is just that which I advise your honour-" he began, but I was now embarked upon the waters of adventure, cheered with the prospect of action, impatient to begin my voyage. Astonishment cropped his period midway; he gaped as he saw what I did. I threw upon the floor my sword and finely laced coat; I threw my vest, ruffles, cravat, watch, rings, after them. I kicked into a corner with my foot my buckled shoes, my silk stockings, my fine gilt garters. Upon the top of the heap I cast my Paris hat, my gloves and brooch. "There lies," I said, "the sinful husk of Francis Strelley. Let the swine nozzle and rout in it for what they can find to their liking. And here," I cried, standing before him in shirt and breeches, barefooted, bareheaded, without a coat to my back, "here, good man, stands the naked soul of that same Francis, which shall go shivering forth to declare his shame, to meet his penance, to stand begging at the door of the Holy Place for the mercy which he has shown himself unworthy of."
About my disordered hair I tied Aurelia's ribbon, round my upper arm I placed her garter, to my neck, upon a silken cord, I hung her Venice slipper. In the bosom of my shirt I placed the little book of devotion which she had given me, and the "Aminta" of Tasso in which we had last read together. "Farewell, Beppo," said I; "you may not see Francis again."
"Where are you going, sir?" he asked me, wondering.
"To Siena—to Aurelia—to Heaven!" and he held up his hands.
"You are never going to Siena as you are," he cried; and I asked him how else he would have me go.
"Your honour will take cold in the chest," says he, "that's very plain; but long before that can declare itself your honour will be lodged in the madhouse. And what is Madam Aurelia to say, by your leave, to an undressed young gentleman which she declined to say to a dressed one? Let me tell you, young sir," he added with a sneer, "Siena's not the only city in Italy where there are madmen."
"Man," I said, "what is it to me, do you suppose, whether I am in a madhouse or a prison this night? I intend for Siena, and shall certainly get there in good time. Now I will ask you to leave me."
"Tis your honour is for leaving, not I," said he, "and though I shall be taking a liberty, it's in a case of bad-is-the-best I do believe." He took off his jacket and put it on the bed.
"What are you proposing, Beppo?" said I.
"A strait-waistcoat," said he, and came at me with determination.
I was his master in a very few minutes, for I was much stronger than he reckoned for. When I had him at my discretion, I let him get up and thus addressed him:
"I have every reason to be extremely offended with you," I said, "but I believe that you have acted honestly. Let me, however, recommend you not to interfere in the private and personal affairs of gentlemen until you have fitted yourself to understand them. I am going upon a journey in a manner which appears becoming to one who is responsible for these lamentable troubles. I shall leave my property here in your charge, but will ask you to accept such of those articles as are on the floor as may be of use to you. When you see me again it will be as your indulgent master; but he who now bids you farewell is unworthy to shake your hand."
He nevertheless took my hand and kissed it devotedly immediately afterwards he had fallen upon my discarded trifles.
"Excellency! Excellency!" he cried, gasping, "what bounty! what splendour of soul!" He fingered my watch, listened to it. "It goes yet— it is a famous watch!" He babbled like a happy child. "Mechlin stuff, every thread of it!" He smoothed out the lace ends of my cravat. So he ran through the silly things one after another—shoes which he could not wear, a sword which he could not use, a coat which must exhibit him a monkey—he grovelled before me and would have kissed my foot, but that I shrank from him in disgust. "Horrible, venal Venetian," I said, "thou hast shown me one more degraded than I." He was out of sight with his bundle of treasures before I could finish my reproof, and I busied myself with my last preparations.
I wrote two letters: the first was to Dr. Lanfranchi, the second to my father. To the doctor I said what was, I think, becoming, namely, that his wife was as spotless as the snow, and that the very blackness of my guilt did but show her whiteness more dazzling. I added an expression of my undying sorrow for having brought misfortune upon her whom I must always love, and him whom I had once respected, and assured him that I did not intend to rest until I had repaired it. This I addressed to the university.
I explained briefly to my father the reason of my temporary absence from Padua; and upon reconsideration of my plans, desiring to avoid any affectation of extravagance, added a cloak, a small bundle of clean linen, a staff and a few gold pieces to my thin equipment. At four o'clock in the afternoon I went out into the street and directed my steps towards the gate of San Zuan.
Leaving Padua, I turned and looked for the last time upon her domes and towers. "Farewell, once proud city, now brought low by my deed," I said. "Keep, if thou must, the accursed memory and name of Francis Antony Strelley, gentleman—Poisoner of Homes, Stabber-in-secret, Traitor in Love. I leave him behind me for the worst thou canst do. He that quits thee now is another than he: Francesco Ignoto, Pilgrim, in need of Grace."
Then I addressed myself stoutly to the hills; and it is a circumstance worthy of remark that the further I pushed the more certainly I recovered my spirits. I suppose there never was yet in this world a young man to whom the future did not appeal more urgently than the present, or who would not rather undertake an adventure without a shilling to his name than in his post-chaise and four. It is, I take it, of the essence of romance that the lady's castle-prison of enchantment lies beyond the forest, across the hills or over sea; and most assuredly that damsel who is to be won by means of a courier leading a spare horse is as little worth your pains as she whose price is half a guinea. I, in that commencement of my pilgrimage, then, was happy because I was doing something, and hopeful because I could not see my way!