Giacomo Casanova.

Memoirs of Casanova — Volume 04: Return to Venice online

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much agitation that I had to acknowledge the weakness of my heroism,
which I was very near turning into ridicule; yet I had the wonderful
strength to perform, at least by halves, the character of a Cato until
the seventh day.

I must explain how a certain suspicion of the young lady arose in my
mind. That doubt was heavy on my heart, for, if it had proved true, I
should have been a dupe, and the idea was humiliating. She had told me
that she was a musician; I had immediately sent her a harpsichord, and,
yet, although the instrument had been at her disposal for three days, she
had not opened it once, for the widow had told me so. It seemed to me
that the best way to thank me for my attentive kindness would have been
to give me a specimen of her musical talent. Had she deceived me? If so,
she would lose my esteem. But, unwilling to form a hasty judgment, I kept
on my guard, with a firm determination to make good use of the first
opportunity that might present itself to clear up my doubts.

I called upon her the next day after dinner, which was not my usual time,
having resolved on creating the opportunity myself. I caught her seated
before a toilet-glass, while the widow dressed the most beautiful auburn
hair I had ever seen. I tendered my apologies for my sudden appearance at
an unusual hour; she excused herself for not having completed her toilet,
and the widow went on with her work. It was the first time I had seen the
whole of her face, her neck, and half of her arms, which the graces
themselves had moulded. I remained in silent contemplation. I praised,
quite by chance, the perfume of the pomatum, and the widow took the
opportunity of telling her that she had spent in combs, powder, and
pomatum the three livres she had received from her. I recollected then
that she had told me the first day that she had left C - - with ten
paoli.

I blushed for very shame, for I ought to have thought of that.

As soon as the widow had dressed her hair, she left the room to prepare
some coffee for us. I took up a ring which had been laid by her on the
toilet-table, and I saw that it contained a portrait exactly like her; I
was amused at the singular fancy she had had of having her likeness taken
in a man's costume, with black hair. "You are mistaken," she said, "it is
a portrait of my brother. He is two years older than I, and is an officer
in the papal army."

I begged her permission to put the ring on her finger; she consented, and
when I tried, out of mere gallantry, to kiss her hand, she drew it back,
blushing. I feared she might be offended, and I assured her of my
respect.

"Ah, sir!" she answered, "in the situation in which I am placed, I must
think of defending myself against my own self much more than against
you."

The compliment struck me as so fine, and so complimentary to me, that I
thought it better not to take it up, but she could easily read in my eyes
that she would never find me ungrateful for whatever feelings she might
entertain in my favour. Yet I felt my love taking such proportions that I
did not know how to keep it a mystery any longer.

Soon after that, as she was again thanking me for the books - I had given
her, saying that I had guessed her taste exactly, because she did not
like novels, she added, "I owe you an apology for not having sung to you
yet, knowing that you are fond of music." These words made me breathe
freely; without waiting for any answer, she sat down before the
instrument and played several pieces with a facility, with a precision,
with an expression of which no words could convey any idea. I was in
ecstacy. I entreated her to sing; after some little ceremony, she took
one of the music books I had given her, and she sang at sight in a manner
which fairly ravished me. I begged that she would allow me to kiss her
hand, and she did not say yes, but when I took it and pressed my lips on
it, she did not oppose any resistance; I had the courage to smother my
ardent desires, and the kiss I imprinted on her lovely hand was a mixture
of tenderness, respect, and admiration.

I took leave of her, smitten, full of love, and almost determined on
declaring my passion. Reserve becomes silliness when we know that our
affection is returned by the woman we love, but as yet I was not quite
sure.

The disappearance of Steffani was the talk of Venice, but I did not
inform the charming countess of that circumstance. It was generally
supposed that his mother had refused to pay his debts, and that he had
run away to avoid his creditors. It was very possible. But, whether he
returned or not, I could not make up my mind to lose the precious
treasure I had in my hands. Yet I did not see in what manner, in what
quality, I could enjoy that treasure, and I found myself in a regular
maze. Sometimes I had an idea of consulting my kind father, but I would
soon abandon it with fear, for I had made a trial of his empiric
treatment in the Rinaldi affair, and still more in the case of l'Abbadie.
His remedies frightened me to that extent that I would rather remain ill
than be cured by their means.

One morning I was foolish enough to enquire from the widow whether the
lady had asked her who I was. What an egregious blunder! I saw it when
the good woman, instead of answering me, said,

"Does she not know who you are?"

"Answer me, and do not ask questions," I said, in order to hide my
confusion.

The worthy woman was right; through my stupidity she would now feel
curious; the tittle-tattle of the neighbourhood would of course take up
the affair and discuss it; and all through my thoughtlessness! It was an
unpardonable blunder. One ought never to be more careful than in
addressing questions to half-educated persons. During the fortnight that
she had passed under my protection, the countess had shewn me no
curiosity whatever to know anything about me, but it did not prove that
she was not curious on the subject. If I had been wise, I should have
told her the very first day who I was, but I made up for my mistake that
evening better than anybody else could have done it, and, after having
told her all about myself, I entreated her forgiveness for not having
done so sooner. Thanking me for my confidence, she confessed how curious
she had been to know me better, and she assured me that she would never
have been imprudent enough to ask any questions about me from her
landlady. Women have a more delicate, a surer tact than men, and her last
words were a home-thrust for me.

Our conversation having turned to the extraordinary absence of Steffani,
she said that her father must necessarily believe her to be hiding with
him somewhere. "He must have found out," she added, "that I was in the
habit of conversing with him every night from my window, and he must have
heard of my having embarked for Venice on board the Ferrara barge. I feel
certain that my father is now in Venice, making secretly every effort to
discover me. When he visits this city he always puts up at Boncousin;
will you ascertain whether he is there?"

She never pronounced Steffani's name without disgust and hatred, and she
said she would bury herself in a convent, far away from her native place,
where no one could be acquainted with her shameful history.

I intended to make some enquiries the next day, but it was not necessary
for me to do so, for in the evening, at supper-time, M. Barbaro said to
us,

"A nobleman, a subject of the Pope, has been recommended to me, and
wishes me to assist him with my influence in a rather delicate and
intricate matter. One of our citizens has, it appears, carried off his
daughter, and has been hiding somewhere with her for the last fortnight,
but nobody knows where. The affair ought to be brought before the Council
of Ten, but the mother of the ravisher claims to be a relative of mine,
and I do not intend to interfere."

I pretended to take no interest in M. Barbaro's words, and early the next
morning I went to the young countess to tell her the interesting news.
She was still asleep; but, being in a hurry, I sent the widow to say that
I wanted to see her only for two minutes in order to communicate
something of great importance. She received me, covering herself up to
the chin with the bed-clothes.

As soon as I had informed her of all I knew, she entreated me to enlist
M. Barbaro as a mediator between herself and her father, assuring me that
she would rather die than become the wife of the monster who had
dishonoured her. I undertook to do it, and she gave me the promise of
marriage used by the deceiver to seduce her, so that it could be shewn to
her father.

In order to obtain M. Barbaro's mediation in favour of the young
countess, it would have been necessary to tell him that she was under my
protection, and I felt it would injure my protegee. I took no
determination at first, and most likely one of the reasons for my
hesitation was that I saw myself on the point of losing her, which was
particularly repugnant to my feelings.

After dinner Count A - - S - - was announced as wishing to see M. Barbaro.
He came in with his son, the living portrait of his sister. M. Barbaro
took them to his study to talk the matter over, and within an hour they
had taken leave. As soon as they had gone, the excellent M. Barbaro asked
me, as I had expected, to consult my heavenly spirit, and to ascertain
whether he would be right in interfering in favour of Count A - -S - -. He
wrote the question himself, and I gave the following answer with the
utmost coolness:

"You ought to interfere, but only to advise the father to forgive his
daughter and to give up all idea of compelling her to marry her ravisher,
for Steffani has been sentenced to death by the will of God."

The answer seemed wonderful to the three friends, and I was myself
surprised at my boldness, but I had a foreboding that Steffani was to
meet his death at the hands of somebody; love might have given birth to
that presentiment. M. de Bragadin, who believed my oracle infallible,
observed that it had never given such a clear answer, and that Steffani
was certainly dead. He said to M. de Barbaro,

"You had better invite the count and his son to dinner hereto-morrow. You
must act slowly and prudently; it would be necessary to know where the
daughter is before you endeavour to make the father forgive her."

M. Barbaro very nearly made me drop my serious countenance by telling me
that if I would try my oracle I could let them know at once where the
girl was. I answered that I would certainly ask my spirit on the morrow,
thus gaining time in order to ascertain before hand the disposition of
the father and of his son. But I could not help laughing, for I had
placed myself under the necessity of sending Steffani to the next world,
if the reputation of my oracle was to be maintained.

I spent the evening with the young countess, who entertained no doubt
either of her father's indulgence or of the entire confidence she could
repose in me.

What delight the charming girl experienced when she heard that I would
dine the next day with her father and brother, and that I would tell her
every word that would be said about her! But what happiness it was for me
to see her convinced that she was right in loving me, and that, without
me, she would certainly have been lost in a town where the policy of the
government tolerates debauchery as a solitary species of individual
freedom. We congratulated each other upon our fortuitous meeting and upon
the conformity in our tastes, which we thought truly wonderful. We were
greatly pleased that her easy acceptance of my invitation, or my
promptness in persuading her to follow and to trust me, could not be
ascribed to the mutual attraction of our features, for I was masked, and
her hood was then as good as a mask. We entertained no doubt that
everything had been arranged by Heaven to get us acquainted, and to fire
us both, even unknown to ourselves, with love for each other.

"Confess," I said to her, in a moment of enthusiasm, and as I was
covering her hand with kisses, "confess that if you found me to be in
love with you you would fear me."

"Alas! my only fear is to lose you."

That confession, the truth of which was made evident by her voice and by
her looks, proved the electric spark which ignited the latent fire.
Folding her rapidly in my arms, pressing my mouth on her lips, reading in
her beautiful eyes neither a proud indignation nor the cold compliance
which might have been the result of a fear of losing me, I gave way
entirely to the sweet inclination of love, and swimming already in a sea
of delights I felt my enjoyment increased a hundredfold when I saw, on
the countenance of the beloved creature who shared it, the expression of
happiness, of love, of modesty, and of sensibility, which enhances the
charm of the greatest triumph.

She had scarcely recovered her composure when she cast her eyes down and
sighed deeply. Thinking that I knew the cause of it, I threw myself on my
knees before her, and speaking to her words of the warmest affection I
begged, I entreated her, to forgive me.

"What offence have I to forgive you for, dear friend? You have not
rightly interpreted my thoughts. Your love caused me to think of my
happiness, and in that moment a cruel recollection drew that sigh from
me. Pray rise from your knees."

Midnight had struck already; I told her that her good fame made it
necessary for me to go away; I put my mask on and left the house. I was
so surprised, so amazed at having obtained a felicity of which I did not
think myself worthy, that my departure must have appeared rather abrupt
to her. I could not sleep. I passed one of those disturbed nights during
which the imagination of an amorous young man is unceasingly running
after the shadows of reality. I had tasted, but not savoured, that happy
reality, and all my being was longing for her who alone could make my
enjoyment complete. In that nocturnal drama love and imagination were the
two principal actors; hope, in the background, performed only a dumb
part. People may say what they please on that subject but hope is in fact
nothing but a deceitful flatterer accepted by reason only because it is
often in need of palliatives. Happy are those men who, to enjoy life to
the fullest extent, require neither hope nor foresight.

In the morning, recollecting the sentence of death which I had passed on
Steffani, I felt somewhat embarrassed about it. I wished I could have
recalled it, as well for the honour of my oracle, which was seriously
implicated by it, as for the sake of Steffani himself, whom I did not
hate half so much since I was indebted to him for the treasure in my
possession.

The count and his son came to dinner. The father was simple, artless, and
unceremonious. It was easy to read on his countenance the grief he felt
at the unpleasant adventure of his daughter, and his anxiety to settle
the affair honourably, but no anger could be traced on his features or in
his manners. The son, as handsome as the god of love, had wit and great
nobility of manner. His easy, unaffected carriage pleased me, and wishing
to win his friendship I shewed him every attention.

After the dessert, M. Barbaro contrived to persuade the count that we
were four persons with but one head and one heart, and the worthy
nobleman spoke to us without any reserve. He praised his daughter very
highly. He assured us that Steffani had never entered his house, and
therefore he could not conceive by what spell, speaking to his daughter
only at night and from the street under the window, he had succeeded in
seducing her to such an extent as to make her leave her home alone, on
foot, two days after he had left himself in his post-chaise.

"Then," observed M. Barbaro, "it is impossible to be certain that he
actually seduced her, or to prove that she went off with him."

"Very true, sir, but although it cannot be proved, there is no doubt of
it, and now that no one knows where Steffani is, he can be nowhere but
with her. I only want him to marry her."

"It strikes me that it would be better not to insist upon a compulsory
marriage which would seal your daughter's misery, for Steffani is, in
every respect, one of the most worthless young men we have amongst our
government clerks."

"Were I in your place," said M. de Bragadin, "I would let my daughter's
repentance disarm my anger, and I would forgive her."

"Where is she? I am ready to fold her in my arms, but how can I believe
in her repentance when it is evident that she is still with him."

"Is it quite certain that in leaving C - - she proceeded to this city?"

"I have it from the master of the barge himself, and she landed within
twenty yards of the Roman gate. An individual wearing a mask was waiting
for her, joined her at once, and they both disappeared without leaving
any trace of their whereabouts."

"Very likely it was Steffani waiting there for her."

"No, for he is short, and the man with the mask was tall. Besides, I have
heard that Steffani had left Venice two days before the arrival of my
daughter. The man must have been some friend of Steffani, and he has
taken her to him."

"But, my dear count, all this is mere supposition."

"There are four persons who have seen the man with the mask, and pretend
to know him, only they do not agree. Here is a list of four names, and I
will accuse these four persons before the Council of Ten, if Steffani
should deny having my daughter in his possession."

The list, which he handed to M. Barbaro, gave not only the names of the
four accused persons, but likewise those of their accusers. The last
name, which M. Barbaro read, was mine. When I heard it, I shrugged my
shoulders in a manner which caused the three friends to laugh heartily.

M. de Bragadin, seeing the surprise of the count at such uncalled-for
mirth, said to him,

"This is Casanova my son, and I give you my word of honour that, if your
daughter is in his hands, she is perfectly safe, although he may not look
exactly the sort of man to whom young girls should be trusted."

The surprise, the amazement, and the perplexity of the count and his son
were an amusing picture. The loving father begged me to excuse him, with
tears in his eyes, telling me to place myself in his position. My only
answer was to embrace him most affectionately.

The man who had recognized me was a noted pimp whom I had thrashed some
time before for having deceived me. If I had not been there just in time
to take care of the young countess, she would not have escaped him, and
he would have ruined her for ever by taking her to some house of
ill-fame.

The result of the meeting was that the count agreed to postpone his
application to the Council of Ten until Steffani's place of refuge should
be discovered.

"I have not seen Steffani for six months, sir," I said to the count, "but
I promise you to kill him in a duel as soon as he returns."

"You shall not do it," answered the young count, very coolly, "unless he
kills me first."

"Gentlemen," exclaimed M. de Bragadin, "I can assure you that you will
neither of you fight a duel with him, for Steffani is dead."

"Dead!" said the count.

"We must not," observed the prudent Barbaro, "take that word in its
literal sense, but the wretched man is dead to all honour and
self-respect."

After that truly dramatic scene, during which I could guess that the
denouement of the play was near at hand, I went to my charming countess,
taking care to change my gondola three times - a necessary precaution to
baffle spies.

I gave my anxious mistress an exact account of all the conversation. She
was very impatient for my coming, and wept tears of joy when I repeated
her father's words of forgiveness; but when I told her that nobody knew
of Steffani having entered her chamber, she fell on her knees and thanked
God. I then repeated her brother's words, imitating his coolness: "You
shall not kill him, unless he kills me first." She kissed me tenderly,
calling me her guardian angel, her saviour, and weeping in my arms. I
promised to bring her brother on the following day, or the day after that
at the latest. We had our supper, but we did not talk of Steffani, or of
revenge, and after that pleasant meal we devoted two hours to the worship
of the god of love.

I left her at midnight, promising to return early in the morning - my
reason for not remaining all night with her was that the landlady might,
if necessary, swear without scruple that I had never spent a night with
the young girl. It proved a very lucky inspiration of mine, for, when I
arrived home, I found the three friends waiting impatiently for me in
order to impart to me wonderful news which M. de Bragadin had heard at
the sitting of the senate.

"Steffani," said M. de Bragadin to me, "is dead, as our angel Paralis
revealed it to us; he is dead to the world, for he has become a Capuchin
friar. The senate, as a matter of course, has been informed of it. We
alone are aware that it is a punishment which God has visited upon him.
Let us worship the Author of all things, and the heavenly hierarchy which
renders us worthy of knowing what remains a mystery to all men. Now we
must achieve our undertaking, and console the poor father. We must
enquire from Paralis where the girl is. She cannot now be with Steffani.
Of course, God has not condemned her to become a Capuchin nun."

"I need not consult my angel, dearest father, for it is by his express
orders that I have been compelled until now to make a mystery of the
refuge found by the young countess."

I related the whole story, except what they had no business to know, for,
in the opinion of the worthy men, who had paid heavy tribute to Love, all
intrigues were fearful crimes. M. Dandolo and M. Barbaro expressed their
surprise when they heard that the young girl had been under my protection
for a fortnight, but M. de Bragadin said that he was not astonished, that
it was according to cabalistic science, and that he knew it.

"We must only," he added, "keep up the mystery of his daughter's place of
refuge for the count, until we know for a certainty that he will forgive
her, and that he will take her with him to C - - , or to any other place
where he may wish to live hereafter."

"He cannot refuse to forgive her," I said, "when he finds that the
amiable girl would never have left C - - if her seducer had not given her
this promise of marriage in his own handwriting. She walked as far as the
barge, and she landed at the very moment I was passing the Roman gate. An
inspiration from above told me to accost her and to invite her to follow
me. She obeyed, as if she was fulfilling the decree of Heaven, I took her
to a refuge impossible to discover, and placed her under the care of a
God-fearing woman."

My three friends listened to me so attentively that they looked like
three statues. I advised them to invite the count to dinner for the day
after next, because I needed some time to consult 'Paralis de modo
tenendi'. I then told M. Barbaro to let the count know in what sense he
was to understand Steffani's death. He undertook to do it, and we retired
to rest.

I slept only four or five hours, and, dressing myself quickly, hurried to
my beloved mistress. I told the widow not to serve the coffee until we
called for it, because we wanted to remain quiet and undisturbed for some
hours, having several important letters to write.

I found the lovely countess in bed, but awake, and her eyes beaming with
happiness and contentment. For a fortnight I had only seen her sad,
melancholy, and thoughtful. Her pleased countenance, which I naturally
ascribed to my influence, filled me with joy. We commenced as all happy
lovers always do, and we were both unsparing of the mutual proofs of our
love, tenderness, and gratitude.

After our delightful amorous sport, I told her the news, but love had so
completely taken possession of her pure and sensitive soul, that what had
been important was now only an accessory. But the news of her seducer
having turned a Capuchin friar filled her with amazement, and, passing
very sensible remarks on the extraordinary event, she pitied Steffani.
When we can feel pity, we love no longer, but a feeling of pity
succeeding love is the characteristic only of a great and generous mind.
She was much pleased with me for having informed my three friends of her
being under my protection, and she left to my care all the necessary
arrangements for obtaining a reconciliation with her father.

Now and then we recollected that the time of our separation was near at


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