« PreviousContinue »
And now—along the corridor it comes-
I dine very often with the good old Cardinal * * and, I should add, with his cats; for they always sit at his table and are much the gravest of the company. His beaming countenance makes us forget his age ; + nor did I ever see it clouded till yesterday, when, as
+ In a time of revolution he could not escape unhurt; but to the last he preserved his gaiety of mind through every change of fortune; living right hospitably when he had the means to do so, and, when he could not entertain, dining as he is here represented with his velvet friends—en famille.
we were contemplating the sun-set from his terrace, he happened, in the course of our conversation, to allude to an affecting circumstance in his early life.
He had just left the University of Palermo and was entering the army, when he became acquainted with a young lady of great beauty and merit, a Sicilian of a family as illustrious as his own. Living near each other, they were often together; and, at an age like theirs, friendship soon turns to love. But his father, for what reason I forget, refused his consent to their union; till, alarmed at the declining health of his son, he promised to oppose it no longer, if, after a separation of three years, they continued as much in love as ever.
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 to 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.