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moment she clung to me with passion. "Forget me not, my lord - pray for
me - let me see you again!" Such were her sobbed and broken prayers - cut
short by her unjust judges.



Father Carnesecchi, of the Society of Jesus, who had charge of the
penitents in the college of his Order, and to whom I was formally handed
over by my indurate captor, was a member of an old family of Fiesole
long settled in Florence, a thin, threadbare, humble old man, who kept
his eyes fixed to the earth - sharply piercing, intelligent eyes as they
could be - and did his best to keep his lips from speaking. He had a
trick of pinching the lower of them, in the hope, I suppose, that the
difficulty of using the upper one alone would hold him silent. But it
did not. He talked to himself continually, the habit was inveterate, and
as he never let go of his lower lip it was very difficult to catch what
he said. He was a tall man, but stooped at the shoulders, threw his head
forward like a long-necked bird, and nodded as he walked. Beside my
Dominican monolith he looked, what he was far from being, abject and
poor-witted. I thought that he bent his head, as if it weighed down to
the earth under the pitiless blows rained upon it by the inquisitor, as
without gesture or modulation of the voice, this monstrous man unwound
his tale of my iniquities, which he had taken the trouble to spin, like
a cocoon, all about my poor person. If he had twisted a halter of it to
hang me with, I suspect that he had done what he truly desired.

Father Carnesecchi listened to it all in the dejected, musing pose which
I have described, words of pity incessantly escaping from his partly
imprisoned mouth: "Dio mio!" "Dio buono!" "Che peccato!" and the like,
with fine shades of difference in expression according to the dark, the
denser dark, the lurid flashes of the Dominican's chiaroscuro. This
hireling shepherd piled up a hideous indictment, made up, as the reader
will perceive, out of his own wicked imagination. I was a runaway from
the Venetian galleys, an actor of execrable life. I had seduced a
Sienese nun in Padua, and brought her with me into Tuscany to sow
contempt of the sacraments, and rebellion against the reigning house. I
had openly advocated the worship of Priapus, had spurned the marriage
vow, had called one of the reigning house a tyrant, and was an apologist
of the Paterini. He concluded by saying that the Holy Office was
deliberating upon my case, and that he could not invite the Jesuits to
hope for my conversion, since I openly boasted of being a comedian, and
of my preference for that deplorable way of life. The Holy Office asked
that I might be kept apart from any whom my conversation might
contaminate, and that my punishment should be exemplary as well as
remedial. To all of which Father Carnesecchi replied, "Altto, altro,
caro fratello," and got rid of his monitor as soon as he could. I was
not conscious that he had given me a single glance of the eye, did not
suppose that he knew or cared whether I stood ashamed, sullen,
indifferent or indignant under my accuser's blows. Anger possessed me
altogether, and if I thought of my new gaoler at all it was to suppose
him seeing in me a subject, common in his experience, whose degrading
punishment of stocks, whip or pillory was to be stuccoed over with a
mockery of religion. Judge, therefore, of my surprise when, having bowed
the inquisitor out of the door, Father Carnesecchi returned to the room,
and putting his hand upon my shoulder, said in excellent English, and
the tone of a loving parent, "And now, my poor boy, let me have the
truth." The unexpected kindness, the charity, the unexpected, beloved
speech unnerved me. I flushed, stammered some foolish protest, burst
into tears. The good Jesuit let my emotion have its fling.

Kneeling then at his knees, with my hands folded in his, I told him the
whole of my story, hiding nothing at all, not even Virginia's ruse for
obtaining sight and speech with Aurelia, supposing her to be in the
Sienese convent. Having laid bare every recess of my recent life, and
not spared myself either in the recital, I went on to say that whatever
might come of it, I must never abandon my search for the lovely,
hapless, innocent Aurelia; for, as I assured him in conclusion, and
undoubtedly believed, unless I found Aurelia and received her pardon, I
should die; and there was no justice under Heaven if a man, sincerely
repentant, were suffered to expire unredeemed.

"My son," said Father Carnesecchi, who had nodded his way through an
harangue which I had (I can assure the reader) treated very summarily
indeed, "it was in a good hour that you were led to me; for I am in a
position to be of service to you. I am no stranger to your country, nor
indeed to your ancient house. Many times have I said Mass in that of
your mother's family - the noble house of Arundell. I shall be able,
therefore, to make a good case for you with your resident at this Court;
I can recommend you to a banker, I can extenuate (so far as truth will
allow) your follies to your parents, and I can give you absolution when
you have done a proper penance. All these things I will do, but on
conditions. My first is that you write respectfully and penitently to
your father; my next that you do the same duty to the outraged Professor
Lanfranchi, and my third that you leave your Donna Aurelia to me. Am I
clear?" "Father," I said, "you are as clear as the light of Heaven. I
agree to all your conditions, but shall beg of you one thing - and that
is, that you do not prevent my seeing her once more."

"I prevent nothing reasonable," replied the Jesuit; "but I will ask you
this question. Has it ever occurred to you that as this lady never
desired your ill-considered advances in the first place, so she may
prefer to be without a renewal of them? It is possible that she is not
greatly obliged to you for having turned her away from house and man."

I was surprised, I confess, at his lack of discernment. I had hoped, I
said, that I had made clear the one thing, above all, which I ardently
desired, namely, Aurelia's reconciliation with the doctor.

"And do you imagine," said he, "that your seeing her will hasten that

I said, "I cannot suppose that it will retard it. If a gentleman has
offended a lady, should he not beg her pardon?"

"You are pitching your pipe in a more reasonable key, my son," said the
Jesuit. "I am glad you have left your sophistries, for to tell you the
truth I have heard them so often that I have ceased to give them all the
attention which their utterers expect. The less you see of your pretty
lady the better, in my opinion. Have you given any consideration to what
may be Dr. Lanfranchi's opinions? He is likely to have strong ones, from
what you tell me of him."

I said that he had been monstrous unjust, to doubt Aurelia in the face
of my action.

"I think your Aurelia lost her little head," said he, "but no worse, I
hope. Now, my child, let us have no more talking of inspiration, and
wings, and healing fingers of ladies, and anointings. The Church is
chary of deputing these powers, which she undoubtedly possesses; and few
ladies are likely to receive them. At any rate, we may leave Donna
Aurelia's claims to them to the Sacred College, and turn to what is our
own immediate concern. Now, come to me and make your confiteor as you

I have always been more quickly moved to good or evil by kindness than
by severity, for by nature I am diffident to excess. Father Carnesecchi
had found out that trait in my character, and proved me plastic under
his delicate fingers. He did not refuse me the sacrament; he absolved me
and comforted me greatly. It did not become me to be obstinate to one
who gave me so much.

He undertook to accord the differences between Aurelia and her husband,
if I on my part would give my word that no act of mine should endanger
their future happiness. If I would bind myself here, he thought, there
would be no harm in my seeing her, but he insisted that this should not
be done without his express sanction. He said, "You are one of those
young men of your nation - one of many, I conceive - who come into this
country with your minds already made up as to what you will see. Because
you are romantic, you see us so; because you are mystically inclined,
you believe us to be a race of seers; because you are complex natures,
you complicate ours. Because our beauty is strange to you, you think us
strangely beautiful. Alas! my dear young friend, you have yet to learn
your Italians. There is no such Italy, least of all Tuscany, as you
profess to have read of in Donna Aurelia's simple soul. I don't know the
young lady, but I know her kind. She is undoubtedly a good-hearted,
shrewd little housewife, careful of her reputation and honestly proud of
it. She will make, I expect, a first-rate, if too fond, mother. You, of
course, try to make a Beatrice of her, quite regardless of the
possibility that you are not a Dante, or even a Diotima (which, thank
Heaven, she is not yet), not remembering how far you are from being a
Socrates. My dear young man, I shall not forbid you her society -
subject, of course, to her own and her husband's judgment, which, I
promise you, I shall obtain beforehand. Seek it then by all means, but
seek it with circumspection. Remember that she will not thrive upon the
fine poetry you will make of her - nor will you, indeed; but that is your
own affair. Seek her, therefore, with reasonable care for her future. In
two words, write to her husband, and for once deprive yourself of your
luxurious mysteries, and go to work in the light of day. As for your
Virginia - you have a fondness for female society, I fancy - don't trouble
your head further with that little parasite."

His injunctions were obeyed, though I could not agree with all his
conclusions. I wrote respectfully to my father, candidly to Dr.
Lanfranchi; I wrote on my knees to Aurelia - though, as I now know, Padre
Carnesecchi put the letter into his pocket. Expiatory rites of a
religious sort, wisely recommended and cheerfully performed, I omit from
this narrative. At their end I was set entirely at liberty; and there
seemed no limit to the benevolence of the Society of Jesus in my regard.
Money, clothes, a servant were found for me, a lodging in the Piazza
Santa Maria, introductions into the fashionable world. I took my own
rank once more, I had tutors, books, leisure, the respect of my equals.
I went to Court, was made a visiting member of the famous Delia Cruscan
Academy; I was offered a box at the opera, a villa in the hills, a
mistress. I made the acquaintance of Count Giraldi, a gentleman not only
in the immediate service of the sovereign but high in the confidence of
the heir-apparent, a man of the world, a traveller, affable, an abundant
linguist, no mean philosopher, possessor of a cabinet of antiquities, a
fine library, a band of musicians second to none in Florence. If ever a
young man was placed square upon his feet again after a damaging fall it
was I. For this much, at least, I render a solemn act of remembrance to
the Society of Jesus, who must not be held responsible for the series of
events which befell me next, and by which it came to pass that the cup
of my fortunes went again and again to the bitter fountain of shame.

I passed, I suppose, some six weeks without news, but not without hope,
of Donna Aurelia; and I am ashamed to add that the pleasures and
interests of the world obliterated in me those obligations of gratitude
and honour which I owed to the friend of my misfortunes. But so I have
always found it, that the more respect a man has from the world, the
less he has to give it in return. It is as if, knowing his own worth too
well, he was able to put a just estimate upon his tributary. I will only
say in my defence that I knew Virginia to be safe from positive danger.



My new friend, as I must call him, since so he professed himself a dozen
times a week, was Count Amadeo Giraldi, one of the three members of the
Secret Cabinet of the Grand Duke, and the most influential and
respectable of the three. He was a gentleman of some forty years,
distinguished in presence and address, of suave manners and a cynicism
past praying for. This tainted philosophic habit had permeated him to
the soul, so that, not only was he naturally a sceptic in matters of
received opinion, but found a perverse relish in his own misfortune,
until he was become, indeed, sceptical of scepticism, and found himself,
at times, in real danger of proving a sincere Christian.

So strange a result of philosophy, reacting upon itself, however, did
not disturb his serenity, but, on the contrary, added to his diversions;
for he confessed that his highest pleasure in this life was to discover
fresh follies of which he could be capable. He considered himself as an
inexhaustible quarry of humours, vanities, jealousies, whims, absurd
enthusiasms, absurd mortifications. He was able, as he said, to sit at
his ease in the side-scene and see himself jigging on the stage in
motley or the tragic sock - see himself as a lover, and cry aloud in
delight at the mad persistence of the fool he appeared; see himself
directing the affairs of the nation, and be ready to die of laughing at
himself for pretending to be serious, and at his countrymen for thinking
him so. He loved art and spent large sums upon his collection; yet, said
he, "I should grudge the money for other occasions did it not furnish me
with the entrancing spectacle of a middle-aged statesman panting after
masterpieces, fingering this or that painted board, and staking his
position in this world and the next upon the momentous question, Is this
ear in the manner of Fra Angelico? or, Could Mantegna have so
foreshortened a leg? I tell you, Don Francis, there is no more
outrageous comedy, no more fantastic extravaganza playing in Venice at
this hour than every moment of my own life can furnish me with. What! I
hold in my hand the destinies of a million of souls, and the iron enters
into mine - not because those others are in danger, not because those
others are enslaved - no! but because at Donna Violante's card-table the
Marchesa Serafina disregards my call for trumps! I rise up from my
escritoire, where lie papers of State - a threat from the King of Spain,
declaration of war from the Emperor, a petition of right from some poor
devil who has been shamefully used by one of my Ministers; I rise, I
say, and leave them lying - and for what? To dangle at some faded opera,
which I have heard a thousand times, behind the chair of some fine lady
whose person I could possess (if I wanted it) for the writing of a
billet. Is it not incredible? But there is more to come. My future
master, the Grand Prince, is more of a fool than I am, because he
doesn't know it. Yet I read more consequence out of some petulant freak
of his than from all the despair of a nation starving to death; and I
know very well which would disturb my department the more effectually -
whether it would be a revolution or his being late for Mass. Is not this
a humorous state of affairs? Does not this tickle your sense of the
ridiculous? I assure you I have never regretted for a moment my having
been involved in the business of the State. I can laugh at myself day in
and day out."

The whimsicality of this kind of talk robbed it of its sting; but what
is really curious about the count was that he was perfectly serious.

He gave the princes - both him who reigned and him who hoped to reign -
very bad characters, but said that for purposes of government he
preferred a vicious to a bigoted fool. The first, he said, will be ruled
by minions, who can be paid. This makes administration a simple matter
of finance. The second sort of princes are ruled by the frati, who pay
themselves. The distinction is material. "The Grand Duke Cosimo," he
said on another occasion, "is living of fright." "Do you not mean dying
of it?" I asked him. "No," said he, "he is living of it. The frati have
been at him for years; and now he is so terrified lest he may make a bad
death that he has forgotten to die at all. But, of course, his fears
will wear out in time, and then he will perish like any ordinary man of
sense. As for my future master, Don Gastone, he will live just so long
as his zest for iniquity endures. When, like some Alexander of the
stews, he has no more vices to conquer, he will die of ennui. It is
surprising how few are the changes you can ring upon the human appetite.
Gluttony, drunkenness - "

"Spare me the catalogue, count," I begged him.

"I was enumerating for my own convenience," he said, "as I frequently
do, to see if I cannot discover one new variety. Don Gastone has not yet
exhausted acquisition. He has become a numismatist, and ploughed up a
populous village the other day in the search for a penny of
Charlemagne's, supposed to have been dropped there in passing. Then
there is horticulture - which is one of my own vices; and, of course, I
do not forget piety; but things are not so bad as that just yet. It is
important that he should survive his father, because he is the last of
the line of Medici, and I foresee troubles ahead. We shall have an
Austrian prince who will make soldiers of us, or a revolution, when our
throats will be cut. An unpleasant alternative - to kill or be killed!"
With these and similar reflections he now dazzled and now depressed, but
always interested me.

Count Giraldi had three palaces in or near Florence, or rather, he had
four. He himself occupied the great house of his race, the Palazzo
Giraldi, a magnificent pile, built by Muchelozzo, on the Lung' Arno. The
Villa Felice, also, on the hillside below Fiesole was reserved for
himself and his friends. His wife, a frigid, devout, elderly lady, had
her own establishment, the splendid Palazzo Manfredi, in Oltr' Arno, and
received him with great ceremony once a week for an hour in the
afternoon. Never, so long as I had any familiarity with the count, did
she set foot in either of his houses; but he always spoke of her with
great respect as the only person of his acquaintance who had never
provided him with matter for amusement. The fourth, of which I have
spoken, was smaller than any, but the most elegant of all. That, too,
was over Arno, in a retired street near the Porta San Giorgio, but
within a garden of its own which withdrew it yet more from observation
or annoyance. I call it his, since he assured me of it at a later day;
but at this time I knew it as in the occupation of the Contessa Giulia
Galluzzo, a charming lady, charming hostess, centre and inspiration of a
charming circle. The count took me with him, very soon after we had
become intimate, to wait upon her; she received me with all possible
favour. I never failed of attending her assemblies, never found her
otherwise than amiable, nor her circle than varied and entertaining.
Without suspecting in the least how Count Giraldi really stood with
regard to her, I could see that he was free of the house. She called him
"Caro amico," and paid great deference to his opinions. He, on his side,
addressed her as "Madonna," was tender without being impresse, alert
without seeming to be so, and whether he intended to take her advice or
not, never failed to pay her the compliment of asking it. I am thus
particular in speaking of these things for reasons which will shortly

In the Villa San Giorgio, most of all in the society of its graceful
chatelaine, I had my fill of poetry and the other ornamental arts. Wit,
love, philosophy, literature, bric-a-brac, religion - each had its petit-
maitre, and each its sparkling Muse. It was before the day of Arcadia
and shepherdesses, those flowers of our more jaded years; women were
still called divine, but it was very possible, or we used to think it
so, to discuss matters which you did not understand, and express
sentiments which you did not feel without the prop of a crook, or
garters of blue ribbon. At my impressionable age, with my impressionable
habit, I took kindly to all this; I discussed love with Donna Giulia,
and puzzled her sadly; I expressed my feelings upon religion to the Abbe
Loisic, the count's bookbinder, and bored him to extinction. One day I
was presented to a tall cadaverous gentleman with red eyelashes and eyes
so pale as to seem almost white. I had a suspicion that I had seen him
in some former existence, and so soon as the name of the Marchese
Semifonte was mentioned, remembered Prato with horror. The marchese may
well have thought me reserved, for it is true that I could barely be
civil to him. He argued from that, as I learned afterwards from Donna
Giulia, that I was of a ducal family, and in proportion as I froze, so
did he thaw. As I receded, so did he advance. He pressed invitations
upon me, all of which I could not decline; it was proper that I should
offer him some hospitality in return - and I did. He supped with me once
or twice in my lodgings, lost money to me at cards and so had some
grounds for believing himself "my friend." Presuming upon this, he was
not long in discovering himself to me for the monomaniac he was, one of
those miserable men devoured by a passion which may lift us to the stars
or souse us in the deepest slime of the pit. He made proposals to me,
tentatively at first, then with increasing fervency, at last with
importunity which would have wearied me inexpressibly if it had not
disgusted me beyond endurance - proposals, I mean, to share his depraved
excursions. Outraged as I was, loathing the man (as I had good reason)
from the bottom of my heart, I was driven to confide in Count Giraldi
something of my knowledge of him. I had the good sense, it is true, to
withhold the fact that Virginia, his intended victim, was in Florence;
but that is the extent of my prudence. It might have served me, but for
the accident which I must relate in the next chapter.



It was to the sympathetic ears of Donna Giulia, first of all, that I
imparted the state of my feelings, my hopes, fears and prayers with
regard to Aurelia. There was that about Count Giraldi, a diamantine
brilliancy, a something hard and crystalline, a positiveness, an
incisiveness of view and reflection, which on first acquaintance decided
me not to take him into my confidence. When I came to know him better,
or to think that I did, I followed my natural bent and talked to him
unreservedly; but in the lady, from the beginning, I found a very
interested listener. She led me on from stage to stage of my story until
she had it all, and gave me the sum of her thoughts freely and with
candour. "I agree with you, Don Francis," she said, "that your lady will
be in Florence before long. A wounded bird makes straight for the nest,
and only puts into a thicket on the way to recover itself for the longer
flight. You will have to make the most of your time here, for I do not
believe that even your eloquence - and you are most eloquent - will hold
her from her mother's arms, as things are now. You will be sure to
follow her to Siena, and can there make your arrangements at ease."

"My arrangements, dear madam, are very simple," said I. "Pardon is all I
ask, and leave to serve her. She may give me these in Florence as well
as in Siena."

"Pardon you may be certain of," said Donna Giulia.

"What has she to pardon you but the fact that you admired her, and told
her so? I assure you we don't think that an irremediable sin in Italy.
Permission to serve her, in other words, permission to prove your
admiration by deeds (not words), is another affair. She will certainly
wish to consult her mother about that."

"Her husband too, madam," said I; "this is the real difficulty of the
case." She gave me a queer look.

"It is unusual to consult the husband," she said. "It puts him in a
difficult position."

"It is my fault," said I ruefully, "that he has been put there already."

"Undoubtedly it is," returned Donna Giulia. "You should have remained in
the cupboard. Why, the fact that she put you there is proof of that. She
has given you all possible encouragement."

I said no more on the subject just then, but a few days afterwards,
being out with the count on horseback, he himself spoke to me about my
business, frankly owning that it was none of his. "Donna Giulia
mentioned it to me in secrecy," he said, "in the charitable hope that I
might be of use to you. Need I say that all my abilities are at your

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Online LibraryMaurice HewlettThe Fool Errant → online text (page 12 of 25)