About midnight, as I was ready to go to bed, and just as I was opening my door to take the key from outside, an abbe rushed panting into my room and threw himself on a chair. It was Barbara; I guessed what had taken place, and, foreseeing all the evil consequences her visit might have for me, deeply annoyed and very anxious, I upbraided her for having taken refuge in my room, and entreated her to go away.
Fool that I was! Knowing that I was only ruining myself without any chance of saving her, I ought to have compelled her to leave my room, I ought to have called for the servants if she had refused to withdraw. But I had not courage enough, or rather I voluntarily obeyed the decrees of destiny.
When she heard my order to go away, she threw herself on her knees, and melting into tears, she begged, she entreated my pity!
Where is the heart of steel which is not softened by the tears, by the prayers of a pretty and unfortunate woman? I gave way, but I told her that it was ruin for both of us.
"No one," she replied, "has seen me, I am certain, when I entered the mansion and came up to your room, and I consider my visit here a week ago as most fortunate; otherwise, I never could have known which was your room."
"Alas! how much better if you had never come! But what has become of your lover?"
"The 'sbirri' have carried him off, as well as the servant. I will tell you all about it. My lover had informed me that a carriage would wait to-night at the foot of the flight of steps before the Church of Trinita del Monte, and that he would be there himself. I entered his room through the garret window an hour ago. There I put on this disguise, and, accompanied by the servant, proceeded to meet him. The servant walked a few yards before me, and carried a parcel of my things. At the corner of the street, one of the buckles of my shoes being unfastened, I stopped an instant, and the servant went on, thinking that I was following her. She reached the carriage, got into it, and, as I was getting nearer, the light from a lantern disclosed to me some thirty sbirri; at the same instant, one of them got on the driver's box and drove off at full speed, carrying off the servant, whom they must have mistaken for me, and my lover who was in the coach awaiting me. What could I do at such a fearful moment? I could not go back to my father's house, and I followed my first impulse which brought me here. And here I am! You tell me that my presence will cause your ruin; if it is so, tell me what to do; I feel I am dying; but find some expedient and I am ready to do anything, even to lay my life down, rather than be the cause of your ruin."
But she wept more bitterly than ever.
Her position was so sad that I thought it worse even than mine, although I could almost fancy I saw ruin before me despite my innocence.
"Let me," I said, "conduct you to your father; I feel sure of obtaining your pardon."
But my proposal only enhanced her fears.
"I am lost," she exclaimed; "I know my father. Ah! reverend sir, turn me out into the street, and abandon me to my miserable fate."
No doubt I ought to have done so, and I would have done it if the consciousness of what was due to my own interest had been stronger than my feeling of pity. But her tears! I have often said it, and those amongst my readers who have experienced it, must be of the same opinion; there is nothing on earth more irresistible than two beautiful eyes shedding tears, when the owner of those eyes is handsome, honest, and unhappy. I found myself physically unable to send her away.
"My poor girl," I said at last, "when daylight comes, and that will not be long, for it is past midnight, what do you intend to do?"
"I must leave the palace," she replied, sobbing. "In this disguise no one can recognize me; I will leave Rome, and I will walk straight before me until I fall on the ground, dying with grief and fatigue."
With these words she fell on the floor. She was choking; I could see her face turn blue; I was in the greatest distress.
I took off her neck-band, unlaced her stays under the abbe's dress, I threw cold water in her face, and I finally succeeded in bringing her back to consciousness.
The night was extremely cold, and there was no fire in my room. I advised her to get into my bed, promising to respect her.
"Alas! reverend sir, pity is the only feeling with which I can now inspire anyone."
And, to speak the truth I was too deeply moved, and, at the same time, too full of anxiety, to leave room in me for any desire. Having induced her to go to bed, and her extreme weakness preventing her from doing anything for herself, I undressed her and put her to bed, thus proving once more that compassion will silence the most imperious requirements of nature, in spite of all the charms which would, under other circumstances, excite to the highest degree the senses of a man. I lay down near her in my clothes, and woke her at day-break. Her strength was somewhat restored, she dressed herself alone, and I left my room, telling her to keep quiet until my return. I intended to proceed to her father's house, and to solicit her pardon, but, having perceived some suspicious-looking men loitering about the palace, I thought it wise to alter my mind, and went to a coffeehouse.
I soon ascertained that a spy was watching my movements at a distance; but I did not appear to notice him, and having taken some chocolate and stored a few biscuits in my pocket, I returned towards the palace, apparently without any anxiety or hurry, always followed by the same individual. I judged that the bargello, having failed in his project, was now reduced to guesswork, and I was strengthened in that view of the case when the gate-keeper of the palace told me, without my asking any question, as I came in, that an arrest had been attempted during the night, and had not succeeded. While he was speaking, one of the auditors of the Vicar-General called to enquire when he could see the Abby Gama. I saw that no time was to be lost, and went up to my room to decide upon what was to be done.
I began by making the poor girl eat a couple of biscuits soaked in some Canary wine, and I took her afterwards to the top story of the palace, where, leaving her in a not very decent closet which was not used by anyone, I told her to wait for me.
My servant came soon after, and I ordered him to lock the door of my room as soon as he finished cleaning it, and to bring me the key at the Abbe Gama's apartment, where I was going. I found Gama in conversation with the auditor sent by the Vicar-General. As soon as he had dismissed him, he came to me, and ordered his servant to serve the chocolate. When we were left alone he gave me an account of his interview with the auditor, who had come to entreat his eminence to give orders to turn out of his palace a person who was supposed to have taken refuge in it about midnight. "We must wait," said the abbe, "until the cardinal is visible, but I am quite certain that, if anyone has taken refuge here unknown to him, his eminence will compel that person to leave the palace." We then spoke of the weather and other trifles until my servant brought my key. Judging that I had at least an hour to spare, I bethought myself of a plan which alone could save Barbara from shame and misery.
Feeling certain that I was unobserved, I went up to my poor prisoner and made her write the following words in French:
"I am an honest girl, monsignor, though I am disguised in the dress of an abbe. I entreat your eminence to allow me to give my name only to you and in person. I hope that, prompted by the great goodness of your soul, your eminence will save me from dishonour." I gave her the necessary instructions, as to sending the note to the cardinal, assuring her that he would have her brought to him as soon as he read it.
"When you are in his presence," I added, "throw yourself on your knees, tell him everything without any concealment, except as regards your having passed the night in my room. You must be sure not to mention that circumstance, for the cardinal must remain in complete ignorance of my knowing anything whatever of this intrigue. Tell him that, seeing your lover carried off, you rushed to his palace and ran upstairs as far as you could go, and that after a most painful night Heaven inspired you with the idea of writing to him to entreat his pity. I feel certain that, one way or the other, his eminence will save you from dishonour, and it certainly is the only chance you have of being united to the man you love so dearly."
She promised to follow 'my instructions faithfully, and, coming down, I had my hair dressed and went to church, where the cardinal saw me. I then went out and returned only for dinner, during which the only subject of conversation was the adventure of the night. Gama alone said nothing, and I followed his example, but I understood from all the talk going on round the table that the cardinal had taken my poor Barbara under his protection. That was all I wanted, and thinking that I had nothing more to fear I congratulated myself, in petto, upon my stratagem, which had, I thought, proved a master-stroke. After dinner, finding myself alone with Gama, I asked him what was the meaning of it all, and this is what he told me:
"A father, whose name I do not know yet, had requested the assistance of the Vicar-General to prevent his son from carrying off a young girl, with whom he intended to leave the States of the Church; the pair had arranged to meet at midnight in this very square, and the Vicar, having previously obtained the consent of our cardinal, as I told you yesterday, gave orders to the bargello to dispose his men in such a way as to catch the young people in the very act of running away, and to arrest them. The orders were executed, but the 'sbirri' found out, when they returned to the bargello, that they had met with only a half success, the woman who got out of the carriage with the young man not belonging to that species likely to be carried off. Soon afterwards a spy informed the bargello that, at the very moment the arrest was executed, he had seen a young abbe run away very rapidly and take refuge in this palace, and the suspicion immediately arose that it might be the missing young lady in the disguise of an ecclesiastic. The bargello reported to the Vicar-General the failure of his men, as well as the account given by the spy, and the Prelate, sharing the suspicion of the police, sent to his eminence, our master, requesting him to have the person in question, man or woman, turned out of the palace, unless such persons should happen to be known to his excellency, and therefore above suspicion. Cardinal Acquaviva was made acquainted with these circumstances at nine this morning through the auditor you met in my room, and he promised to have the person sent away unless she belonged to his household.
"According to his promise, the cardinal ordered the palace to be searched, but, in less than a quarter of an hour, the major-domo received orders to stop, and the only reason for these new instructions must be this:
"I am told by the major-domo that at nine o'clock exactly a very handsome, young abbe, whom he immediately judged to be a girl in disguise, asked him to deliver a note to his eminence, and that the cardinal, after reading it, had desired the said abbe be brought to his apartment, which he has not left since. As the order to stop searching the palace was given immediately after the introduction of the abbe to the cardinal, it is easy enough to suppose that this ecclesiastic is no other than the young girl missed by the police, who took refuge in the palace in which she must have passed the whole night."
"I suppose," said I, "that his eminence will give her up to-day, if not to the bargello, at least to the Vicar-General."
"No, not even to the Pope himself," answered Gama. "You have not yet a right idea of the protection of our cardinal, and that protection is evidently granted to her, since the young person is not only in the palace of his eminence, but also in his own apartment and under his own guardianship."
The whole affair being in itself very interesting, my attention could not appear extraordinary to Gama, however suspicious he might be naturally, and I was certain that he would not have told me anything if he had guessed the share I had taken in the adventure, and the interest I must have felt in it.
The next day, Gama came to my room with a radiant countenance, and informed me that the Cardinal-Vicar was aware of the ravisher being my friend, and supposed that I was likewise the friend of the girl, as she was the daughter of my French teacher. "Everybody," he added, "is satisfied that you knew the whole affair, and it is natural to suspect that the poor girl spent the night in your room. I admire your prudent reserve during our conversation of yesterday. You kept so well on your guard that I would have sworn you knew nothing whatever of the affair."
"And it is the truth," I answered, very seriously; "I have only learned all the circumstances from you this moment. I know the girl, but I have not seen her for six weeks, since I gave up my French lessons; I am much better acquainted with the young man, but he never confided his project to me. However, people may believe whatever they please. You say that it is natural for the girl to have passed the night in my room, but you will not mind my laughing in the face of those who accept their own suppositions as realities."
"That, my dear friend," said the abbe, "is one of the vices of the Romans; happy those who can afford to laugh at it; but this slander may do you harm, even in the mind of our cardinal."
As there was no performance at the Opera that night, I went to the cardinal's reception; I found no difference towards me either in the cardinal's manners, or in those of any other person, and the marchioness was even more gracious than usual.
After dinner, on the following day, Gama informed me that the cardinal had sent the young girl to a convent in which she would be well treated at his eminence's expense, and that he was certain that she would leave it only to become the wife of the young doctor.
"I should be very happy if it should turn out so," I replied; "for they are both most estimable people."
Two days afterwards, I called upon Father Georgi, and he told me, with an air of sorrow, that the great news of the day in Rome was the failure of the attempt to carry off Dalacqua's daughter, and that all the honour of the intrigue was given to me, which displeased him much. I told him what I had already told Gama, and he appeared to believe me, but he added that in Rome people did not want to know things as they truly were, but only as they wished them to be.
"It is known, that you have been in the habit of going every morning to Dalacqua's house; it is known that the young man often called on you; that is quite enough. People do not care, to know the circumstances which might counteract the slander, but only those, likely to give it new force for slander is vastly relished in the Holy City. Your innocence will not prevent the whole adventure being booked to your account, if, in forty years time you were proposed as pope in the conclave."
During the following days the fatal adventure began to cause me more annoyance than I could express, for everyone mentioned it to me, and I could see clearly that people pretended to believe what I said only because they did not dare to do otherwise. The marchioness told me jeeringly that the Signora Dalacqua had contracted peculiar obligations towards me, but my sorrow was very great when, during the last days of the carnival, I remarked that Cardinal Acquaviva's manner had become constrained, although I was the only person who observed the change.
The noise made by the affair was, however, beginning to subside, when, in the first days of Lent, the cardinal desired me to come to his private room, and spoke as follows:
"The affair of the girl Dalacqua is now over; it is no longer spoken of, but the verdict of the public is that you and I have profited by the clumsiness of the young man who intended to carry her off. In reality I care little for such a verdict, for, under similar circumstances, I should always act in a similar manner, and I do not wish to know that which no one can compel you to confess, and which, as a man of honour, you must not admit. If you had no previous knowledge of the intrigue, and had actually turned the girl out of your room (supposing she did come to you), you would have been guilty of a wrong and cowardly action, because you would have sealed her misery for the remainder of her days, and it would not have caused you to escape the suspicion of being an accomplice, while at the same time it would have attached to you the odium of dastardly treachery. Notwithstanding all I have just said, you can easily imagine that, in spite of my utter contempt for all gossiping fools, I cannot openly defy them. I therefore feel myself compelled to ask you not only to quit my service, but even to leave Rome. I undertake to supply you with an honourable pretext for your departure, so as to insure you the continuation of the respect which you may have secured through the marks of esteem I have bestowed upon you. I promise you to whisper in the ear of any person you may choose, and even to inform everybody, that you are going on an important mission which I have entrusted to you. You have only to name the country where you want to go; I have friends everywhere, and can recommend you to such purpose that you will be sure to find employment. My letters of recommendation will be in my own handwriting, and nobody need know where you are going. Meet me to-morrow at the Villa Negroni, and let me know where my letters are to be addressed. You must be ready to start within a week. Believe me, I am sorry to lose you; but the sacrifice is forced upon me by the most absurd prejudice. Go now, and do not let me witness your grief."
He spoke the last words because he saw my eyes filling with tears, and he did not give me time to answer. Before leaving his room, I had the strength of mind to compose myself, and I put on such an air of cheerfulness that the Abbe Gama, who took me to his room to drink some coffee, complimented me upon my happy looks.
"I am sure," he said, "that they are caused by the conversation you have had with his eminence."
"You are right; but you do not know the sorrow at my heart which I try not to shew outwardly."
"I am afraid of failing in a difficult mission which the cardinal has entrusted me with this morning. I am compelled to conceal how little confidence I feel in myself in order not to lessen the good opinion his eminence is pleased to entertain of me."
"If my advice can be of any service to you, pray dispose of me; but you are quite right to chew yourself calm and cheerful. Is it any business to transact in Rome?"
"No; it is a journey I shall have to undertake in a week or ten days."
"Towards the west."
"Oh! I am not curious to know."
I went out alone and took a walk in the Villa Borghese, where I spent two hours wrapped in dark despair. I liked Rome, I was on the high road to fortune, and suddenly I found myself in the abyss, without knowing where to go, and with all my hopes scattered to the winds. I examined my conduct, I judged myself severely, I could not find myself guilty of any crime save of too much kindness, but I perceived how right the good Father Georgi had been. My duty was not only to take no part in the intrigue of the two love, but also to change my French teacher the moment I beard of it; but this was like calling in a doctor after death has struck the patient. Besides, young as I was, having no experience yet of misfortune, and still less of the wickedness of society, it was very difficult for me to have that prudence which a man gains only by long intercourse with the world.
"Where shall I go?" This was the question which seemed to me impossible of solution. I thought of it all through the night, and through the morning, but I thought in vain; after Rome, I was indifferent where I went to!
In the evening, not caring for any supper, I had gone to my room; the Abbe Gama came to me with a request from the cardinal not to accept any invitation to dinner for the next day, as he wanted to speak to me. I therefore waited upon his eminence the next day at the Villa Negroni; he was walking with his secretary, whom he dismissed the moment he saw me. As soon as we were alone, I gave him all the particulars of the intrigue of the two lovers, and I expressed in the most vivid manner the sorrow I felt at leaving his service.
"I have no hope of success," I added, "for I am certain that Fortune will smile upon me only as long as I am near your eminence."
For nearly an hour I told him all the grief with which my heart was bursting, weeping bitterly; yet I could not move him from his decision. Kindly, but firmly he pressed me to tell him to what part of Europe I wanted to go, and despair as much as vexation made me name Constantinople.
"Constantinople!" he exclaimed, moving back a step or two.
"Yes, monsignor, Constantinople," I repeated, wiping away my tears.
The prelate, a man of great wit, but a Spaniard to the very back-bone, after remaining silent a few minutes, said, with a smile,
"I am glad you have not chosen Ispahan, as I should have felt rather embarrassed. When do you wish to go?"
"This day week, as your eminence has ordered me."
"Do you intend to sail from Naples or from Venice?"
"I will give you such a passport as will be needed, for you will find two armies in winter-quarters in the Romagna. It strikes me that you may tell everybody that I sent you to Constantinople, for nobody will believe you."
This diplomatic suggestion nearly made me smile. The cardinal told me that I should dine with him, and he left me to join his secretary.
When I returned to the palace, thinking of the choice I had made, I said to myself, "Either I am mad, or I am obeying the impulse of a mysterious genius which sends me to Constantinople to work out my fate." I was only astonished that the cardinal had so readily accepted my choice. "Without any doubt," I thought, "he did not wish me to believe that he had boasted of more than he could achieve, in telling me that he had friends everywhere. But to whom can he recommend me in Constantinople? I have not the slightest idea, but to Constantinople I must go."
I dined alone with his eminence; he made a great show of peculiar kindness and I of great satisfaction, for my self-pride, stronger even than my sorrow, forbade me to let anyone guess that I was in disgrace. My deepest grief was, however, to leave the marchioness, with whom I was in love, and from whom I had not obtained any important favour.
Two days afterwards, the cardinal gave me a passport for Venice, and a sealed letter addressed to Osman Bonneval, Pacha of Caramania, in Constantinople. There was no need of my saying anything to anyone, but, as the cardinal had not forbidden me to do it, I shewed the address on the letter to all my acquaintances.
The Chevalier de Lezze, the Venetian Ambassador, gave me a letter for a wealthy Turk, a very worthy man who had been his friend; Don Gaspar and Father Georgi asked me to write to them, but the Abbe Gams, laughed, and said he was quite sure I was not going to Constantinople.
I went to take my farewell of Donna Cecilia, who had just received a letter from Lucrezia, imparting the news that she would soon be a mother. I also called upon Angelique and Don Francisco, who had lately been married and had not invited me to the wedding.
When I called to take Cardinal Acquaviva's final instructions he gave me a purse containing one hundred ounces, worth seven hundred sequins. I had three hundred more, so that my fortune amounted to one thousand sequins; I kept two hundred, and for the rest I took a letter of exchange upon a Ragusan who was established in Ancona. I left Rome in the coach with a lady going to Our Lady of Loretto, to fulfil a vow made during a severe illness of her daughter, who accompanied her. The young lady was ugly; my journey was a rather tedious one.