Giacomo Casanova.

Memoirs of Casanova — Volume 04: Return to Venice online

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hand, our grief was bitter, but we contrived to forget it in the ecstacy
of our amorous enjoyment.

"Ah! why can we not belong for ever to each other?" the charming girl
would exclaim. "It is not my acquaintance with Steffani, it is your loss
which will seal my eternal misery."

But it was necessary to bring our delightful interview to a close, for
the hours were flying with fearful rapidity. I left her happy, her eyes
wet with tears of intense felicity.

At the dinner-table M. Barbaro told me that he had paid a visit to his
relative, Steffani's mother, and that she had not appeared sorry at the
decision taken by her son, although he was her only child.

"He had the choice," she said, "between killing himself and turning
friar, and he took the wiser course."

The woman spoke like a good Christian, and she professed to be one; but
she spoke like an unfeeling mother, and she was truly one, for she was
wealthy, and if she had not been cruelly avaricious her son would not
have been reduced to the fearful alternative of committing suicide or of
becoming a Capuchin friar.

The last and most serious motive which caused the despair of Steffani,
who is still alive, remained a mystery for everybody. My Memoirs will
raise the veil when no one will care anything about it.

The count and his son were, of course, greatly surprised, and the event
made them still more desirous of discovering the young lady. In order to
obtain a clue to her place of refuge, the count had resolved on summoning
before the Council of Ten all the parties, accused and accusing, whose
names he had on his list, with the exception of myself. His determination
made it necessary for us to inform him that his daughter was in my hands,
and M. de Bragadin undertook to let him know the truth.

We were all invited to supper by the count, and we went to his hostelry,
with the exception of M. de Bragadin, who had declined the invitation. I
was thus prevented from seeing my divinity that evening, but early the
next morning I made up for lost time, and as it had been decided that her
father would on that very day be informed of her being under my care, we
remained together until noon. We had no hope of contriving another
meeting, for I had promised to bring her brother in the afternoon.

The count and his son dined with us, and after dinner M. de Bragadin
said,

"I have joyful news for you, count; your beloved daughter has been
found!"

What an agreeable surprise for the father and son! M. de Bragadin handed
them the promise of marriage written by Steffani, and said,

"This, gentlemen, evidently brought your lovely young lady to the verge
of madness when she found that he had gone from C - - without her. She
left your house alone on foot, and as she landed in Venice Providence
threw her in the way of this young man, who induced her to follow him,
and has placed her under the care of an honest woman, whom she has not
left since, whom she will leave only to fall in your arms as soon as she
is certain of your forgiveness for the folly she has committed."

"Oh! let her have no doubt of my forgiving her," exclaimed the father, in
the ecstacy of joy, and turning to me, "Dear sir, I beg of you not to
delay the fortunate moment on which the whole happiness of my life
depends."

I embraced him warmly, saying that his daughter would be restored to him
on the following day, and that I would let his son see her that very
afternoon, so as to give him an opportunity of preparing her by degrees
for that happy reconciliation. M. Barbaro desired to accompany us, and
the young man, approving all my arrangements, embraced me, swearing
everlasting friendship and gratitude.

We went out all three together, and a gondola carried us in a few minutes
to the place where I was guarding a treasure more precious than the
golden apples of the Hesperides. But, alas! I was on the point of losing
that treasure, the remembrance of which causes me, even now, a delicious
trembling.

I preceded my two companions in order to prepare my lovely young friend
for the visit, and when I told her that, according to my arrangements,
her father would not see her till on the following day:

"Ah!" she exclaimed with the accent of true happiness, "then we can spend
a few more hours together! Go, dearest, go and bring my brother."

I returned with my companions, but how can I paint that truly dramatic
situation? Oh! how inferior art must ever be to nature! The fraternal
love, the delight beaming upon those two beautiful faces, with a slight
shade of confusion on that of the sister, the pure joy shining in the
midst of their tender caresses, the most eloquent exclamations followed
by a still more eloquent silence, their loving looks which seem like
flashes of lightning in the midst of a dew of tears, a thought of
politeness which brings blushes on her countenance, when she recollects
that she has forgotten her duty towards a nobleman whom she sees for the
first time, and finally there was my part, not a speaking one, but yet
the most important of all. The whole formed a living picture to which the
most skilful painter could not have rendered full justice.

We sat down at last, the young countess between her brother and M.
Barbaro, on the sofa, I, opposite to her, on a low foot-stool.

"To whom, dear sister, are we indebted for the happiness of having found
you again?"

"To my guardian angel," she answered, giving me her hand, "to this
generous man who was waiting for me, as if Heaven had sent him with the
special mission of watching over your sister; it is he who has saved me,
who has prevented me from falling into the gulf which yawned under my
feet, who has rescued me from the shame threatening me, of which I had
then no conception; it is to him I am indebted for all, to him who, as
you see, kisses my hand now for the first time."

And she pressed her handkerchief to her beautiful eyes to dry her tears,
but ours were flowing at the same time.

Such is true virtue, which never loses its nobleness, even when modesty
compels it to utter some innocent falsehood. But the charming girl had no
idea of being guilty of an untruth. It was a pure, virtuous soul which
was then speaking through her lips, and she allowed it to speak. Her
virtue seemed to whisper to her that, in spite of her errors, it had
never deserted her. A young girl who gives way to a real feeling of love
cannot be guilty of a crime, or be exposed to remorse.

Towards the end of our friendly visit, she said that she longed to throw
herself at her father's feet, but that she wished to see him only in the
evening, so as not to give any opportunity to the gossips of the place,
and it was agreed that the meeting, which was to be the last scene of the
drama, should take place the next day towards the evening.

We returned to the count's hostelry for supper, and the excellent man,
fully persuaded that he was indebted to me for his honour as well as for
his daughter's, looked at me with admiration, and spoke to me with
gratitude. Yet he was not sorry to have ascertained himself, and before I
had said so, that I had been the first man who had spoken to her after
landing. Before parting in the evening, M. Barbaro invited them to dinner
for the next day.

I went to my charming mistress very early the following morning, and,
although there was some danger in protracting our interview, we did not
give it a thought, or, if we did, it only caused us to make good use of
the short time that we could still devote to love.

After having enjoyed, until our strength was almost expiring, the most
delightful, the most intense voluptuousness in which mutual ardour can
enfold two young, vigorous, and passionate lovers, the young countess
dressed herself, and, kissing her slippers, said she would never part
with them as long as she lived. I asked her to give me a lock of her
hair, which she did at once. I meant to have it made into a chain like
the one woven with the hair of Madame F - - , which I still wore round my
neck.

Towards dusk, the count and his son, M. Dandolo, M. Barbaro, and myself,
proceeded together to the abode of the young countess. The moment she saw
her father, she threw herself on her knees before him, but the count,
bursting into tears, took her in his arms, covered her with kisses, and
breathed over her words of forgiveness, of love and blessing. What a
scene for a man of sensibility! An hour later we escorted the family to
the inn, and, after wishing them a pleasant journey, I went back with my
two friends to M. de Bragadin, to whom I gave a faithful account of what
had taken place.

We thought that they had left Venice, but the next morning they called at
the place in a peotta with six rowers. The count said that they could not
leave the city without seeing us once more; without thanking us again,
and me particularly, for all we had done for them. M. de Bragadin, who
had not seen the young countess before, was struck by her extraordinary
likeness to her brother.

They partook of some refreshments, and embarked in their peotta, which
was to carry them, in twenty-four hours, to Ponte di Lago Oscuro, on the
River Po, near the frontiers of the papal states. It was only with my
eyes that I could express to the lovely girl all the feelings which
filled my heart, but she understood the language, and I had no difficulty
in interpreting the meaning of her looks.

Never did an introduction occur in better season than that of the count
to M. Barbaro. It saved the honour of a respectable family; and it saved
me from the unpleasant consequences of an interrogatory in the presence
of the Council of Ten, during which I should have been convicted of
having taken the young girl with me, and compelled to say what I had done
with her.

A few days afterwards we all proceeded to Padua to remain in that city
until the end of autumn. I was grieved not to find Doctor Gozzi in Padua;
he had been appointed to a benefice in the country, and he was living
there with Bettina; she had not been able to remain with the scoundrel
who had married her only for the sake of her small dowry, and had treated
her very ill.

I did not like the quiet life of Padua, and to avoid dying from ennui I
fell in love with a celebrated Venetian courtesan. Her name was Ancilla;
sometime after, the well-known dancer, Campioni, married her and took her
to London, where she caused the death of a very worthy Englishman. I
shall have to mention her again in four years; now I have only to speak
of a certain circumstance which brought my love adventure with her to a
close after three or four weeks.

Count Medini, a young, thoughtless fellow like myself, and with
inclinations of much the same cast, had introduced me to Ancilla. The
count was a confirmed gambler and a thorough enemy of fortune. There was
a good deal of gambling going on at Ancilla's, whose favourite lover he
was, and the fellow had presented me to his mistress only to give her the
opportunity of making a dupe of me at the card-table.

And, to tell the truth, I was a dupe at first; not thinking of any foul
play, I accepted ill luck without complaining; but one day I caught them
cheating. I took a pistol out of my pocket, and, aiming at Medini's
breast, I threatened to kill him on the spot unless he refunded at once
all the gold they had won from me. Ancilla fainted away, and the count,
after refunding the money, challenged me to follow him out and measure
swords. I placed my pistols on the table, and we went out. Reaching a
convenient spot, we fought by the bright light of the moon, and I was
fortunate enough to give him a gash across the shoulder. He could not
move his arm, and he had to cry for mercy.

After that meeting, I went to bed and slept quietly, but in the morning I
related the whole affair to my father, and he advised me to leave Padua
immediately, which I did.

Count Medini remained my enemy through all his life. I shall have
occasion to speak of him again when I reach Naples.

The remainder of the year 1746 passed off quietly, without any events of
importance. Fortune was now favourable to me and now adverse.

Towards the end of January, 1747, I received a letter from the young
countess A - - S - - , who had married the Marquis of - - . She entreated me
not to appear to know her, if by chance I visited the town in which she
resided, for she had the happiness of having linked her destiny to that
of a man who had won her heart after he had obtained her hand.

I had already heard from her brother that, after their return to C - - ,
her mother had taken her to the city from which her letter was written,
and there, in the house of a relative with whom she was residing, she had
made the acquaintance of the man who had taken upon himself the charge of
her future welfare and happiness. I saw her one year afterwards, and if
it had not been for her letter, I should certainly have solicited an
introduction to her husband. Yet, peace of mind has greater charms even
than love; but, when love is in the way, we do not think so.

For a fortnight I was the lover of a young Venetian girl, very handsome,
whom her father, a certain Ramon, exposed to public admiration as a
dancer at the theatre. I might have remained longer her captive, if
marriage had not forcibly broken my chains. Her protectress, Madame
Cecilia Valmarano, found her a very proper husband in the person of a
French dancer, called Binet, who had assumed the name of Binetti, and
thus his young wife had not to become a French woman; she soon won great
fame in more ways than one. She was strangely privileged; time with its
heavy hand seemed to have no power over her. She always appeared young,
even in the eyes of the best judges of faded, bygone female beauty. Men,
as a general rule, do not ask for anything more, and they are right in
not racking their brain for the sake of being convinced that they are the
dupes of external appearance. The last lover that the wonderful Binetti
killed by excess of amorous enjoyment was a certain Mosciuski, a Pole,
whom fate brought to Venice seven or eight years ago; she had then
reached her sixty-third year!

My life in Venice would have been pleasant and happy, if I could have
abstained from punting at basset. The ridotti were only open to noblemen
who had to appear without masks, in their patrician robes, and wearing
the immense wig which had become indispensable since the beginning of the
century. I would play, and I was wrong, for I had neither prudence enough
to leave off when fortune was adverse, nor sufficient control over myself
to stop when I had won. I was then gambling through a feeling of avarice.
I was extravagant by taste, and I always regretted the money I had spent,
unless it had been won at the gaming-table, for it was only in that case
that the money had, in my opinion, cost me nothing.

At the end of January, finding myself under the necessity of procuring
two hundred sequins, Madame Manzoni contrived to obtain for me from
another woman the loan of a diamond ring worth five hundred. I made up my
mind to go to Treviso, fifteen miles distant from Venice, to pawn the
ring at the Mont-de-piete, which there lends money upon valuables at the
rate of five per cent. That useful establishment does not exist in
Venice, where the Jews have always managed to keep the monopoly in their
hands.

I got up early one morning, and walked to the end of the canale regio,
intending to engage a gondola to take me as far as Mestra, where I could
take post horses, reach Treviso in less than two hours, pledge my diamond
ring, and return to Venice the same evening.

As I passed along St. Job's Quay, I saw in a two-oared gondola a country
girl beautifully dressed. I stopped to look at her; the gondoliers,
supposing that I wanted an opportunity of reaching Mestra at a cheap
rate, rowed back to the shore.

Observing the lovely face of the young girl, I do not hesitate, but jump
into the gondola, and pay double fare, on condition that no more
passengers are taken. An elderly priest was seated near the young girl,
he rises to let me take his place, but I politely insist upon his keeping
it.




CHAPTER XIX

I Fall in Love with Christine, and Find a Husband Worthy of
Her - Christine's Wedding

"Those gondoliers," said the elderly priest, ad dressing me in order to
begin the conversation, "are very fortunate. They took us up at the
Rialto for thirty soldi, on condition that they would be allowed to
embark other passengers, and here is one already; they will certainly
find more."

"When I am in a gondola, reverend sir, there is no room left for any more
passengers."

So saying, I give forty more soldi to the gondoliers, who, highly pleased
with my generosity, thank me and call me excellency. The good priest,
accepting that title as truly belonging to me, entreats my pardon for not
having addressed me as such.

"I am not a Venetian nobleman, reverend sir, and I have no right to the
title of Excellenza."

"Ah!" says the young lady, "I am very glad of it."

"Why so, signora?"

"Because when I find myself near a nobleman I am afraid. But I suppose
that you are an illustrissimo."

"Not even that, signora; I am only an advocate's clerk."

"So much the better, for I like to be in the company of persons who do
not think themselves above me. My father was a farmer, brother of my
uncle here, rector of P - - , where I was born and bred. As I am an only
daughter I inherited my father's property after his death, and I shall
likewise be heiress to my mother, who has been ill a long time and cannot
live much longer, which causes me a great deal of sorrow; but it is the
doctor who says it. Now, to return to my subject, I do not suppose that
there is much difference between an advocate's clerk and the daughter of
a rich farmer. I only say so for the sake of saying something, for I know
very well that, in travelling, one must accept all sorts of companions:
is it not so, uncle?"

"Yes, my dear Christine, and as a proof you see that this gentleman has
accepted our company without knowing who or what we are."

"But do you think I would have come if I had not been attracted by the
beauty of your lovely niece?"

At these words the good people burst out laughing. As I did not think
that there was anything very comic in what I had said, I judged that my
travelling companions were rather simple, and I was not sorry to find
them so.

"Why do you laugh so heartily, beautiful 'demigella'? Is it to shew me
your fine teeth? I confess that I have never seen such a splendid set in
Venice."

"Oh! it is not for that, sir, although everyone in Venice has paid me the
same compliment. I can assure you that in P - - all the 'girls have teeth
as fine as mine. Is it not a fact, uncle?"

"Yes, my dear niece."

"I was laughing, sir, at a thing which I will never tell you."

"Oh! tell me, I entreat you."

"Oh! certainly not, never."

"I will tell you myself," says the curate.

"You will not," she exclaims, knitting her beautiful eyebrows. "If you do
I will go away."

"I defy you to do it, my dear. Do you know what she said, sir, when she
saw you on the wharf? 'Here is a very handsome young man who is looking
at me, and would not be sorry to be with us.' And when she saw that the
gondoliers were putting back for you to embark she was delighted."

While the uncle was speaking to me, the indignant niece was slapping him
on the shoulder.

"Why are you angry, lovely Christine, at my hearing that you liked my
appearance, when I am so glad to let you know how truly charming I think
you?"

"You are glad for a moment. Oh! I know the Venetians thoroughly now. They
have all told me that they were charmed with me, and not one of those I
would have liked ever made a declaration to me."

"What sort of declaration did you want?"

"There's only one sort for me, sir; the declaration leading to a good
marriage in church, in the sight of all men. Yet we remained a fortnight
in Venice; did we not, uncle?"

"This girl," said the uncle, "is a good match, for she possesses three
thousand crowns. She has always said that she would marry only a
Venetian, and I have accompanied her to Venice to give her an opportunity
of being known. A worthy woman gave us hospitality for a fortnight, and
has presented my niece in several houses where she made the acquaintance
of marriageable young men, but those who pleased her would not hear of
marriage, and those who would have been glad to marry her did not take
her fancy."

"But do you imagine, reverend sir, that marriages can be made like
omelets? A fortnight in Venice, that is nothing; you ought to live there
at least six months. Now, for instance, I think your niece sweetly
pretty, and I should consider myself fortunate if the wife whom God
intends for me were like her, but, even if she offered me now a dowry of
fifty thousand crowns on condition that our wedding takes place
immediately, I would refuse her. A prudent young man wants to know the
character of a girl before he marries her, for it is neither money nor
beauty which can ensure happiness in married life."

"What do you mean by character?" asked Christine; "is it a beautiful
hand-writing?"

"No, my dear. I mean the qualities of the mind and the heart. I shall
most likely get married sometime, and I have been looking for a wife for
the last three years, but I am still looking in vain. I have known
several young girls almost as lovely as you are, and all with a good
marriage portion, but after an acquaintance of two or three months I
found out that they could not make me happy."

"In what were they deficient?"

"Well, I will tell you, because you are not acquainted with them, and
there can be no indiscretion on my part. One whom I certainly would have
married, for I loved her dearly, was extremely vain. She would have
ruined me in fashionable clothes and by her love for luxuries. Fancy! she
was in the habit of paying one sequin every month to the hair-dresser,
and as much at least for pomatum and perfumes."

"She was a giddy, foolish girl. Now, I spend only ten soldi in one year
on wax which I mix with goat's grease, and there I have an excellent
pomatum."

"Another, whom I would have married two years ago, laboured under a
disease which would have made me unhappy; as soon as I knew of it, I
ceased my visits."

"What disease was it?"

"A disease which would have prevented her from being a mother, and, if I
get married, I wish to have children."

"All that is in God's hands, but I know that my health is excellent. Is
it not, uncle?"

"Another was too devout, and that does not suit me. She was so
over-scrupulous that she was in the habit of going to her confessor twice
a week, and every time her confession lasted at least one hour. I want my
wife to be a good Christian, but not bigoted."

"She must have been a great sinner, or else she was very foolish. I
confess only once a month, and get through everything in two minutes. Is
it not true, uncle? and if you were to ask me any questions, uncle, I
should not know what more to say."

"One young lady thought herself more learned than I, although she would,
every minute, utter some absurdity. Another was always low-spirited, and
my wife must be cheerful."

"Hark to that, uncle! You and my mother are always chiding me for my
cheerfulness."

"Another, whom I did not court long, was always afraid of being alone
with me, and if I gave her a kiss she would run and tell her mother."

"How silly she must have been! I have never yet listened to a lover, for
we have only rude peasants in P - - , but I know very well that there are
some things which I would not tell my mother."

"One had a rank breath; another painted her face, and, indeed, almost
every young girl is guilty of that fault. I am afraid marriage is out of
the question for me, because I want, for instance, my wife to have black
eyes, and in our days almost every woman colours them by art; but I
cannot be deceived, for I am a good judge."

"Are mine black?"

"You are laughing?"

"I laugh because your eyes certainly appear to be black, but they are not
so in reality. Never mind, you are very charming in spite of that."

"Now, that is amusing. You pretend to be a good judge, yet you say that
my eyes are dyed black. My eyes, sir, whether beautiful or ugly, are now
the same as God made them. Is it not so, uncle?"

"I never had any doubt of it, my dear niece."

"And you do not believe me, sir?"

"No, they are too beautiful for me to believe them natural."

"Oh, dear me! I cannot bear it."


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