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Relying on that promise, he said, I set out on a long journey; but in my absence the usual arts were resorted to.
Our letters were intercepted; and false rumours were spread - first of my indifference, then of my inconstancy, then of my marriage with a rich heiress of SIENNA; and, when at length I returned to make her my own, I found her in a convent of Ursuline nuns. She had taken the veil; and I, said he with a sigh — what else remained for me? - I went into the church.
Yet many, he continued, as if to turn the conversation, very many have been happy though we were not; and, if I am not abusing an old man's privilege, let me tell you a story with a better catastrophe. It was told me when a boy; and you may not be unwilling to hear it, for it bears some resemblance to that of the Merchant of Venice.
We were now arrived at a pavilion that commanded one of the noblest prospects imaginable; the mountains, the
sea, and the islands illuminated by the last beams of day, and, sitting down there, he proceeded with his usual vivacity; for the sadness, that had come across him, was gone.
There lived, in the fourteenth century, near BOLOGNA, a Widow-lady of the Lambertini family, called MADONNA LUCREZIA, who in a revolution of the State had known the bitterness of poverty, and had even begged her bread; kneeling day after day like a statue at the gate of the Cathedral; her rosary in her left hand and her right held out for charity; her long black veil concealing a face that had once adorned a Court, and had received the homage of as many sonnets as PETRARCH has written on LAURA.
But Fortune had at last relented; a legacy from a distant relation had come to her relief; and she was now the mistress of a small inn at the foot of the Apennines; where she entertained as well as she could, and where those only stopped who were contented with a little. The house was still standing, when in my youth I passed that way; though the sign of the White Cross," the cross of the Hospitallers, was no longer to be seen over the door; a sign which she had taken, if we may believe the tradition there, in honour of a maternal uncle, a grand-master of that Order, whose achievements in PALESTINE she would sometimes relate. A mountain-stream ran through the garden; and at no great distance, where the road turned on its way to BOLOGNA, stood a little chapel, in which a lamp was always burning before a picture of the Virgin, a picture of great antiquity, the work of some Greek artist.
Here she was dwelling, respected by all who knew her; when an event took place, which threw her into the deepest affliction. It was at noon-day in September that three foot-travellers arrived, and, seating themselves on a bench under her vine-trellis, were supplied with a flagon of Aleatico by a lovely girl, her only child, the image of her former self. The eldest spoke like a Venetian, and his beard was short and pointed after the fashion of Venice. In his demeanour he affected great courtesy, but his look inspired little confidence; for when he smiled, which he did continually, it was with his lips only, and not with his eyes; and they were always turned from yours. His companions were bluff and frank in their manner, and on their tongues had many a soldier's oath. In their hats they wore a medal, such as at that age was often distributed in war; and they were evidently subalterns in one of those Free Bands which were always ready to serve in any quarrel, if a service it could be called, where a battle was little more than a mockery; and the slain, as on an opera-stage, were up and fighting to-morrow. Overcome with the heat, they threw aside their cloaks; and, with their gloves tucked under their belts, continued for some time in earnest conversation.
* La Croce Bianca.
At length they rose to go; and the Venetian thus addressed their Hostess. •Excellent Lady, may we leave under your roof, for a day or two, this bag of gold ?' • You may,' she replied gaily. “But remember, we fasten only with a latch. Bars and bolts we have none in our village; and if we had, where would be your security ?'
- In your word, Lady.' ‘But what if I die to-night? Where would it be then ?' said she, laughing. The money would go to the Church; for none could claim it.'
• Perhaps you will favour us with an acknowledgment.' If you will write it.'
An acknowledgment was written accordingly, and she signed it before Master Bartolo the Village-physician, who had just called on his mule to learn the news of the day; the gold to be delivered when applied for, but to be delivered (these were the words) not to one — nor to two — but to the three; words wisely introduced by those to whom it belonged, knowing what they knew of each other. The gold they had just released from a miser's chest in PERUGIA; and they were now on a scent that promised more.
They and their shadows were no sooner departed, than the Venetian returned, saying, “Give me leave to set my seal on the bag, as the others have done ;' and she placed it on a table before him. But in that moment she was called away to receive a Cavalier, who had just dismounted from his horse; and, when she came back, it was gone.
The temptation has proved irresistible; and the man and the money had vanished together.
• Wretched woman that I am ! she cried, as in an agony of grief she threw herself on her daughter's neck, • What will become of us ? Are we again to be cast out into the wide world?.. Unhappy child, would that thou hadst never been born! and all day long she lamented; but her tears availed her little. The others were not slow in returning to claim their due; and there were no tidings of the thief; he had fled far away with his plunder. A Process against her was instantly begun in BOLOGNA; and what defence could she make ? how release herself from the obligation of the bond? Wilfully or in negligence she had parted with the gold; she had parted with it to one, when she should have kept it for all; and inevitable ruin awaited her! "Go, GIANETTA,' said she to her daughter, take this veil, which your mother has worn and wept under so often, and implore the Counsellor Calderino to plead for us on the day of trial. He is generous, and will listen to the Unfortunate. But, if he will not, go from door to door ; Monaldi cannot refuse us. Make haste, my child; but remember the chapel as you pass by it. Nothing prospers without a prayer.'
Alas, she went, but in vain. These were retained against them; those demanded more than they had to
give; and all bad them despair. What was to be done? No advocate; and the cause to come on to-morrow!
Now GIANETTA had a lover; and he was a student of the law, a young man of great promise, LORENZO MARTELLI. He had studied long and diligently under that learned lawyer, GIOVANNI ANDREAS, who, though little of stature, was great in renown, and by his contemporaries was called the Arch-doctor, the Rabbi of Doctors, the Light of the World. Under him he had studied, sitting on the same bench with Petrarch; and also under his daughter NOVELLA, who would often lecture to the scholars, when her father was otherwise engaged, placing herself behind a small curtain, lest her beauty should divert their thoughts; a precaution in this instance at least unnecessary, LORENZO having lost his heart to another. *
To him she flies in her necessity; but of what assistance can he be? He has just taken his place at the bar, but he has never spoken; and how stand up alone, unpractised and unprepared as he is, against an array that would alarm the most experienced? — “Were I as mighty as I am weak,' said he, “my fears for you would make me as nothing. But I will be there, GIANETTA; and may the Friend of the Friendless give me strength in that hour! Even now my heart fails me; but, come what will, while I have a loaf to share, you and your Mother shall never want. I will beg through the world
*Ce pourroit être,' says Bayle, “la matière d'un joli problême; on pourroit éxaminer si cette fille avançoit, ou si elle retardoit le profit de ses auditeurs, en leur cachant son beau visage. Il y auroit cent choses à dire pour et contre là-dessus.'