Giacomo Casanova.

Memoirs of Casanova — Volume 04: Return to Venice online

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"Excuse me, my lovely damigella, I am afraid I have been too sincere."

After that quarrel we remained silent. The good curate smiled now and
then, but his niece found it very hard to keep down her sorrow.

At intervals I stole a look at her face, and could see that she was very
near crying. I felt sorry, for she was a charming girl. In her hair,
dressed in the fashion of wealthy countrywomen, she had more than one
hundred sequins' worth of gold pins and arrows which fastened the plaits
of her long locks as dark as ebony. Heavy gold ear-rings, and a long
chain, which was wound twenty times round her snowy neck, made a fine
contrast to her complexion, on which the lilies and the roses were
admirably blended. It was the first time that I had seen a country beauty
in such splendid apparel. Six years before, Lucie at Pasean had
captivated me, but in a different manner.

Christine did not utter a single word, she was in despair, for her eyes
were truly of the greatest beauty, and I was cruel enough to attack them.
She evidently hated me, and her anger alone kept back her tears. Yet I
would not undeceive her, for I wanted her to bring matters to a climax.

When the gondola had entered the long canal of Marghera, I asked the
clergyman whether he had a carriage to go to Treviso, through which place
he had to pass to reach P - - .

"I intended to walk," said the worthy man, "for my parish is poor and I
am the same, but I will try to obtain a place for Christine in some
carriage travelling that way."

"You would confer a real kindness on me if you would both accept a seat
in my chaise; it holds four persons, and there is plenty of room."

"It is a good fortune which we were far from expecting"

"Not at all, uncle; I will not go with this gentleman."

"Why not, my dear niece?"

"Because I will not."

"Such is the way," I remarked, without looking at her, "that sincerity is
generally rewarded."

"Sincerity, sir! nothing of the sort," she exclaimed, angrily, "it is
sheer wickedness. There can be no true black eyes now for you in the
world, but, as you like them, I am very glad of it."

"You are mistaken, lovely Christine, for I have the means of ascertaining
the truth."

"What means?"

"Only to wash the eyes with a little lukewarm rose-water; or if the lady
cries, the artificial colour is certain to be washed off."

At those words, the scene changed as if by the wand of a conjuror. The
face of the charming girl, which had expressed nothing but indignation,
spite and disdain, took an air of contentment and of placidity delightful
to witness. She smiled at her uncle who was much pleased with the change
in her countenance, for the offer of the carriage had gone to his heart.

"Now you had better cry a little, my dear niece, and 'il signore' will
render full justice to your eyes."

Christine cried in reality, but it was immoderate laughter that made her
tears flow.

That species of natural originality pleased me greatly, and as we were
going up the steps at the landing-place, I offered her my full apologies;
she accepted the carriage. I ordered breakfast, and told a 'vetturino' to
get a very handsome chaise ready while we had our meal, but the curate
said that he must first of all go and say his mass.

"Very well, reverend sir, we will hear it, and you must say it for my
intention."

I put a silver ducat in his hand.

"It is what I am in the habit of giving," I observed.

My generosity surprised him so much that he wanted to kiss my hand. We
proceeded towards the church, and I offered my arm to the niece who, not
knowing whether she ought to accept it or not, said to me,

"Do you suppose that I cannot walk alone?"

"I have no such idea, but if I do not give you my arm, people will think
me wanting in politeness."

"Well, I will take it. But now that I have your arm, what will people
think?"

"Perhaps that we love each other and that we make a very nice couple."

"And if anyone should inform your mistress that we are in love with each
other, or even that you have given your arm to a young girl?"

"I have no mistress, and I shall have none in future, because I could not
find a girl as pretty as you in all Venice."

"I am very sorry for you, for we cannot go again to Venice; and even if
we could, how could we remain there six months? You said that six months
were necessary to know a girl well."

"I would willingly defray all your expenses."

"Indeed? Then say so to my uncle, and he will think it over, for I could
not go alone."

"In six months you would know me likewise."

"Oh! I know-you very well already."

"Could you accept a man like me?"

"Why not?"

"And will you love me?"

"Yes, very much, when you are my husband."

I looked at the young girl with astonishment. She seemed to me a princess
in the disguise of a peasant girl. Her dress, made of 'gros de Tours' and
all embroidered in gold, was very handsome, and cost certainly twice as
much as the finest dress of a Venetian lady. Her bracelets, matching the
neckchain, completed her rich toilet. She had the figure of a nymph, and
the new fashion of wearing a mantle not having yet reached her village, I
could see the most magnificent bosom, although her dress was fastened up
to the neck. The end of the richly-embroidered skirt did not go lower
than the ankles, which allowed me to admire the neatest little foot and
the lower part of an exquisitely moulded leg. Her firm and easy walk, the
natural freedom of all her movements, a charming look which seemed to
say, "I am very glad that you think me pretty," everything, in short,
caused the ardent fire of amorous desires to circulate through my veins.
I could not conceive how such a lovely girl could have spent a fortnight
in Venice without finding a man to marry or to deceive her. I was
particularly delighted with her simple, artless way of talking, which in
the city might have been taken for silliness.

Absorbed in my thoughts, and having resolved in my own mind on rendering
brilliant homage to her charms, I waited impatiently for the end of the
mass.

After breakfast I had great difficulty in convincing the curate that my
seat in the carriage was the last one, but I found it easier to persuade
him on our arrival in Treviso to remain for dinner and for supper at a
small, unfrequented inn, as I took all the expense upon myself. He
accepted very willingly when I added that immediately after supper a
carriage would be in readiness to convey him to P - - , where he would
arrive in an hour after a peasant journey by moonlight. He had nothing to
hurry him on, except his wish to say mass in his own church the next
morning.

I ordered a fire and a good dinner, and the idea struck me that the
curate himself might pledge the ring for me, and thus give me the
opportunity of a short interview with his niece. I proposed it to him,
saying that I could not very well go myself, as I did not wish to be
known. He undertook the commission at once, expressing his pleasure at
doing something to oblige me.

He left us, and I remained alone with Christine. I spent an hour with her
without trying to give her even a kiss, although I was dying to do so,
but I prepared her heart to burn with the same desires which were already
burning in me by those words which so easily inflame the imagination of a
young 'girl.

The curate came back and returned me the ring, saying that it could not
be pledged until the day after the morrow, in consequence of the Festival
of the Holy Virgin. He had spoken to the cashier, who had stated that if
I liked the bank would lend double the sum I had asked.

"My dear sir," I said, "you would greatly oblige me if you would come
back here from P - - to pledge the ring yourself. Now that it has been
offered once by you, it might look very strange if it were brought by
another person. Of course I will pay all your expenses."

"I promise you to come back."

I hoped he would bring his niece with him.

I was seated opposite to Christine during the dinner, and discovered
fresh charms in her every minute, but, fearing I might lose her
confidence if I tried to obtain some slight favour, I made up my mind not
to go to work too quickly, and to contrive that the curate should take
her again to Venice. I thought that there only I could manage to bring
love into play and to give it the food it requires.

"Reverend sir," I said, "let me advise you to take your niece again to
Venice. I undertake to defray all expenses, and to find an honest woman
with whom your Christine will be as safe as with her own mother. I want
to know her well in order to make her my wife, and if she comes to Venice
our marriage is certain."

"Sir, I will bring my niece myself to Venice as soon as you inform me
that you have found a worthy woman with whom I can leave her in safety."

While we were talking I kept looking at Christine, and I could see her
smile with contentment.

"My dear Christine," I said, "within a week I shall have arranged the
affair. In the meantime, I will write to you. I hope that you have no
objection to correspond with me."

"My uncle will write for me, for I have never been taught writing."

"What, my dear child! you wish to become the wife of a Venetian, and you
cannot write."

"Is it then necessary to know how to write in order to become a wife? I
can read well."

"That is not enough, and although a girl can be a wife and a mother
without knowing how to trace one letter, it is generally admitted that a
young girl ought to be able to write. I wonder you never learned."

"There is no wonder in that, for not one girl in our village can do it.
Ask my uncle."

"It is perfectly true, but there is not one who thinks of getting married
in Venice, and as you wish for a Venetian husband you must learn."

"Certainly," I said, "and before you come to Venice, for everybody would
laugh at you, if you could not write. I see that it makes you sad, my
dear, but it cannot be helped."

"I am sad, because I cannot learn writing in a week."

"I undertake," said her uncle, "to teach you in a fortnight, if you will
only practice diligently. You will then know enough to be able to improve
by your own exertions."

"It is a great undertaking, but I accept it; I promise you to work night
and day, and to begin to-morrow."

After dinner, I advised the priest not to leave that evening, to rest
during the night, and I observed that, by going away before day-break, he
would reach P - - in good time, and feel all the better for it. I made the
same proposal to him in the evening, and when he saw that his niece was
sleepy, he was easily persuaded to remain. I called for the innkeeper,
ordered a carriage for the clergyman, and desired that a fire might be
lit for me in the next room where I would sleep, but the good priest said
that it was unnecessary, because there were two large beds in our room,
that one would be for me and the other for him and his niece.

"We need not undress," he added, "as we mean to leave very early, but you
can take off your clothes, sir, because you are not going with us, and
you will like to remain in bed to-morrow morning."

"Oh!" remarked Christine, "I must undress myself, otherwise I could not
sleep, but I only want a few minutes to get ready in the morning."

I said nothing, but I was amazed. Christine then, lovely and charming
enough to wreck the chastity of a Xenocrates, would sleep naked with her
uncle! True, he was old, devout, and without any of the ideas which might
render such a position dangerous, yet the priest was a man, he had
evidently felt like all men, and he ought to have known the danger he was
exposing himself to. My carnal-mindedness could not realize such a state
of innocence. But it was truly innocent, so much so that he did it
openly, and did not suppose that anyone could see anything wrong in it. I
saw it all plainly, but I was not accustomed to such things, and felt
lost in wonderment. As I advanced in age and in experience, I have seen
the same custom established in many countries amongst honest people whose
good morals were in no way debased by it, but it was amongst good people,
and I do not pretend to belong to that worthy class.

We had had no meat for dinner, and my delicate palate was not
over-satisfied. I went down to the kitchen myself, and I told the
landlady that I wanted the best that could be procured in Treviso for
supper, particularly in wines.

"If you do not mind the expense, sir, trust to me, and I undertake to
please you. I will give you some Gatta wine."

"All right, but let us have supper early."

When I returned to our room, I found Christine caressing the cheeks of
her old uncle, who was laughing; the good man was seventy-five years old.

"Do you know what is the matter?" he said to me; "my niece is caressing
me because she wants me to leave her here until my return. She tells me
that you were like brother and sister during the hour you have spent
alone together this morning, and I believe it, but she does not consider
that she would be a great trouble to you."

"Not at all, quite the reverse, she will afford me great pleasure, for I
think her very charming. As to our mutual behaviour, I believe you can
trust us both to do our duty."

"I have no doubt of it. Well, I will leave her under your care until the
day after to-morrow. I will come back early in the morning so as to
attend to your business."

This extraordinary and unexpected arrangement caused the blood to rush to
my head with such violence that my nose bled profusely for a quarter of
an hour. It did not frighten me, because I was used to such accidents,
but the good priest was in a great fright, thinking that it was a serious
haemorrhage.

When I had allayed his anxiety, he left us on some business of his own,
saying that he would return at night-fall. I remained alone with the
charming, artless Christine, and lost no time in thanking her for the
confidence she placed in me.

"I can assure you," she said, "that I wish you to have a thorough
knowledge of me; you will see that I have none of the faults which have
displeased you so much in the young ladies you have known in Venice, and
I promise to learn writing immediately."

"You are charming and true; but you must be discreet in P - - , and
confide to no one that we have entered into an agreement with each other.
You must act according to your uncle's instructions, for it is to him
that I intend to write to make all arrangements."

"You may rely upon my discretion. I will not say anything even to my
mother, until you give me permission to do so."

I passed the afternoon, in denying myself even the slightest liberties
with my lovely companion, but falling every minute deeper in love with
her. I told her a few love stories which I veiled sufficiently not to
shock her modesty. She felt interested, and I could see that, although
she did not always understand, she pretended to do so, in order not to
appear ignorant.

When her uncle returned, I had arranged everything in my mind to make her
my wife, and I resolved on placing her, during her stay in Venice, in the
house of the same honest widow with whom I had found a lodging for my
beautiful Countess A - - S - - .

We had a delicious supper. I had to teach Christine how to eat oysters
and truffles, which she then saw for the first time. Gatta wine is like
champagne, it causes merriment without intoxicating, but it cannot be
kept for more than one year. We went to bed before midnight, and it was
broad daylight when I awoke. The curate had left the room so quietly that
I had not heard him.

I looked towards the other bed, Christine was asleep. I wished her good
morning, she opened her eyes, and leaning on her elbow, she smiled
sweetly.

"My uncle has gone. I did not hear him."

"Dearest Christine, you are as lovely as one of God's angels. I have a
great longing to give you a kiss."

"If you long for a kiss, my dear friend, come and give me one."

I jump out of my bed, decency makes her hide her face. It was cold, and I
was in love. I find myself in her arms by one of those spontaneous
movements which sentiment alone can cause, and we belong to each other
without having thought of it, she happy and rather confused, I delighted,
yet unable to realize the truth of a victory won without any contest.

An hour passed in the midst of happiness, during which we forgot the
whole world. Calm followed the stormy gusts of passionate love, and we
gazed at each other without speaking.

Christine was the first to break the silence

"What have we done?" she said, softly and lovingly.

"We have become husband and wife."

"What will my uncle say to-morrow?"

"He need not know anything about it until he gives us the nuptial
benediction in his own church."

"And when will he do so?"

"As soon as we have completed all the arrangements necessary for a
public marriage."

"How long will that be?"

"About a month."

"We cannot be married during Lent."

"I will obtain permission."

"You are not deceiving me?"

"No, for I adore you."

"Then, you no longer want to know me better?"

"No; I know you thoroughly now, and I feel certain that you will make me
happy."

"And will you make me happy, too?"

"I hope so."

"Let us get up and go to church. Who could have believed that, to get a
husband, it was necessary not to go to Venice, but to come back from that
city!"

We got up, and, after partaking of some breakfast, we went to hear mass.
The morning passed off quickly, but towards dinner-time I thought that
Christine looked different to what she did the day before, and I asked
her the reason of that change.

"It must be," she said, "the same reason which causes you to be
thoughtful."

"An air of thoughtfulness, my dear, is proper to love when it finds
itself in consultation with honour. This affair has become serious, and
love is now compelled to think and consider. We want to be married in the
church, and we cannot do it before Lent, now that we are in the last days
of carnival; yet we cannot wait until Easter, it would be too long. We
must therefore obtain a dispensation in order to be married. Have I not
reason to be thoughtful?"

Her only answer was to come and kiss me tenderly. I had spoken the truth,
yet I had not told her all my reasons for being so pensive. I found
myself drawn into an engagement which was not disagreeable to me, but I
wished it had not been so very pressing. I could not conceal from myself
that repentance was beginning to creep into my amorous and well-disposed
mind, and I was grieved at it. I felt certain, however, that the charming
girl would never have any cause to reproach me for her misery.

We had the whole evening before us, and as she had told me that she had
never gone to a theatre, I resolved on affording her that pleasure. I
sent for a Jew from whom I procured everything necessary to disguise her,
and we went to the theatre. A man in love enjoys no pleasure but that
which he gives to the woman he loves. After the performance was over, I
took her to the Casino, and her astonishment made me laugh when she saw
for the first time a faro bank. I had not money enough to play myself,
but I had more than enough to amuse her and to let her play a reasonable
game. I gave her ten sequins, and explained what she had to do. She did
not even know the cards, yet in less than an hour she had won one hundred
sequins. I made her leave off playing, and we returned to the inn. When
we were in our room, I told her to see how much money she had, and when I
assured her that all that gold belonged to her, she thought it was a
dream.

"Oh! what will my uncle say?" she exclaimed.

We had a light supper, and spent a delightful night, taking good care to
part by day-break, so as not to be caught in the same bed by the worthy
ecclesiastic. He arrived early and found us sleeping soundly in our
respective beds. He woke me, and I gave him the ring which he went to
pledge immediately. When he returned two hours later, he saw us dressed
and talking quietly near the fire. As soon as he came in, Christine
rushed to embrace him, and she shewed him all the gold she had in her
possession. What a pleasant surprise for the good old priest! He did not
know how to express his wonder! He thanked God for what he called a
miracle, and he concluded by saying that we were made to insure each
other's happiness.

The time to part had come. I promised to pay them a visit in the first
days of Lent, but on condition that on my arrival in P - - I would not
find anyone informed of my name or of my concerns. The curate gave me the
certificate of birth of his niece and the account of her possessions. As
soon as they had gone I took my departure for Venice, full of love for
the charming girl, and determined on keeping my engagement with her. I
knew how easy it would be for me to convince my three friends that my
marriage had been irrevocably written in the great book of fate.

My return caused the greatest joy to the three excellent men, because,
not being accustomed to see me three days absent, M. Dandolo and M.
Barbaro were afraid of some accident having befallen me; but M. de
Bragadin's faith was stronger, and he allayed their fears, saying to them
that, with Paralis watching over me, I could not be in any danger.

The very next day I resolved on insuring Christine's happiness without
making her my wife. I had thought of marrying her when I loved her better
than myself, but after obtaining possession the balance was so much on my
side that my self-love proved stronger than my love for Christine. I
could not make up my mind to renounce the advantages, the hopes which I
thought were attached to my happy independence. Yet I was the slave of
sentiment. To abandon the artless, innocent girl seemed to me an awful
crime of which I could not be guilty, and the mere idea of it made me
shudder. I was aware that she was, perhaps, bearing in her womb a living
token of our mutual love, and I shivered at the bare possibility that her
confidence in me might be repaid by shame and everlasting misery.

I bethought myself of finding her a husband in every way better than
myself; a husband so good that she would not only forgive me for the
insult I should thus be guilty of towards her, but also thank me at the
end, and like me all the better for my deceit.

To find such a husband could not be very difficult, for Christine was not
only blessed with wonderful beauty, and with a well-established
reputation for virtue, but she was also the possessor of a fortune
amounting to four thousand Venetian ducats.

Shut up in a room with the three worshippers of my oracle, I consulted
Paralis upon the affair which I had so much at heart. The answer was:

"Serenus must attend to it."

Serenus was the cabalistic name of M. de Bragadin, and the excellent man
immediately expressed himself ready to execute all the orders of Paralis.
It was my duty to inform him of those orders.

"You must," I said to him, "obtain from the Holy Father a dispensation
for a worthy and virtuous girl, so as to give her the privilege of
marrying during Lent in the church of her village; she is a young country
girl. Here is her certificate of birth. The husband is not yet known; but
it does not matter, Paralis undertakes to find one."

"Trust to me," said my father, "I will write at once to our ambassador in
Rome, and I will contrive to have my letter sent by special express. You
need not be anxious, leave it all to me, I will make it a business of
state, and I must obey Paralis all the more readily that I foresee that
the intended husband is one of us four. Indeed, we must prepare ourselves
to obey."

I had some trouble in keeping my laughter down, for it was in my power to
metamorphose Christine into a grand Venetian lady, the wife of a senator;
but that was not my intention. I again consulted the oracle in order to
ascertain who would be the husband of the young girl, and the answer was
that M. Dandolo was entrusted with the care of finding one, young,
handsome, virtuous, and able to serve the Republic, either at home or
abroad. M. Dandolo was to consult me before concluding any arrangements.
I gave him courage for his task by informing him that the girl had a
dowry of four thousand ducats, but I added that his choice was to be made
within a fortnight. M. de Bragadin, delighted at not being entrusted with
the commission, laughed heartily.

Those arrangements made me feel at peace with myself. I was certain that
the husband I wanted would be found, and I only thought of finishing the


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Online LibraryGiacomo CasanovaMemoirs of Casanova — Volume 04: Return to Venice → online text (page 7 of 9)