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She then introduced herself to me as La Signora Benini, a name well known all over Italy, as that of the first comic singer and actress of the day. She told me that she was going to set off for Germany in a few days, being engaged as prima buffa, for the autumn and carnival at Gratz, the capital of Styria. She had that morning received a letter from the manager, acquainting her that Signor Germoli, who was engaged as first tenor singer, had disappointed him, and eloped to Russia sans cérémonie ; at the same time authorising her to engage any person capable, in her opinion, of filling his place. “Now, Signor O'Kelly," (for, at Naples, Father Dolphin tacked an O to my name,) said the lady, “ I wish to offer you this engagement; come and take chocolate with us to-morrow morning, and we will talk the matter over."
Here was a change! ten minutes before, a beggar, in a strange country, plunged in despair ; now, first tenor of the Gratz theatre; at least it was as completely settled in my mind, as if the articles had been actually signed ; and with a bounding heart, I returned home to my late miserable bed, and slept-Oh, ye Gods, how I slept !
I was punctual the following morning ; exactly at ten I was set down by a gondola at the house of Signora Benini, on the Canale Maggiore. The Signora received me at her toilette ; where she was
braiding up a profusion of fine black hair. I thought her handsome at the play the night before, but the Italian women all contrive to look well by candlelight; nature gives them good features, and they take care to give themselves good complexions. But Signora Benini wanted not “ the foreign aid of ornament ;" her person was petite, and beautifully formed; her features were good, and she had a pair of brilliant expressive eyes. After breakfast, she requested me to sing. I sang my favourite rondo, “ Teco resti, anima mia." She appeared pleased, and said she had no doubt of my
The terms, she said, were to be two hundred zecchinos for the autumn and carnival, and to be lodged free of expense; at the same time, she offered me a seat in her carriage, and to pay my expenses to Gratz.
“ Hear this, ye Gods, and wonder how ye made her!" For fear of accidents, I signed the engagement before I left the house.
I passed a couple of hours with the Signora delightfully; she possessed all the Venetian vivacity and badinage, together with great good sense and much good nature. I related
I related my adventure with my knight of the long-tail, told her of the capon, the Cyprus wine, &c. ; which amused her greatly. It
eemed she knew his character well: in his younger days he had been by turns, an actor and a poet, and was at that time supposed to be a spy in the pay of
the police; one of those whom I had been specially advised most carefully to avoid ; indeed she counselled me to be cautious, but not to slight him ; he might be a negative friend, but if offended, a positively dangerous enemy. “Remember the proverb,” said the Signora, “ let sleeping dogs lie; they may rise and bite you.” While recounting the disbursements which I had made in the purchase of the repast, she observed that I was reduced to my last zecchino, and in the kindest manner advanced me some money on account.
I was now at the very summit of prosperity in my own opinion ; but one cannot enjoy happiness alone ; so when I left the Signora, I flew to the coffee-house, where I found the knight of the tail. I desired him to meet me at the Stella d'Oro tavern at three o'clock, where I would treat him with a capon. The innkeeper's poulterer was rather more punctual than my patron's, and we had an excellent dinner. I related my good fortune, and, in short, told him every thing that had occurred, except the advance which I had received ; for, barring the importance of his tail, I thought the knight had a borrowing countenance.
The Signora, with her husband, her lap-dog, servant, and myself, set off in a gondola for Mestra, where we found her travelling-carriage, in which we proceeded day and night, till we reached Gorizia, where we remained a day to repose ourselves. The part of the Venetian States through which we passed abounds in beauties; as Goldsmith says,
« Could Nature's beauties satisfy the breast,
The sons of Italy were surely blest.”
I suffered greatly from the cold, as we proceeded into Germany; the roads were hilly and heavy, the cattle miserable, and the post-boys incorrigible. But what was all this to me? I was in a comfortable carriage, in pleasant society, and seated opposite to a beautiful woman of six-and-twenty. At length,
. we arrived at Gratz; Signora Benini's house was elegantly fitted up The manager waited on her, and after dinner conducted me to the apartments which were taken for me. Before I quitted her, the Signora insisted on my accepting a cover at her table every day, and indeed evinced the greatest friendship and hospitality towards me.
A great number of nobility resided in this pleasant lively city, and many rich merchants; but which was far better for me, a great number of Irish officers, among whom were Generals Dillon, Dalton, and Kavanagh. General Dalton was commandant; and when I was introduced to him, I was delighted to find that he remembered my father, for whom he expressed the highest respect, and indeed said every thing that could gratify the feelings of a son; at the same time assuring me he
would be happy to see and serve me at all times. He kept his word amply, for I found in him a father when I wanted advice, and his acquaintance was of course an introduction to the best society.
He was an enthusiast about Ireland, and agreed with me that the Irish language was sweeter and better adapted for musical accompaniment than any other, the Italian excepted: and it is true that, when a child, I have heard my father sing many pathetic Irish airs, in which the words resembled Italian so closely, that if I did not know the impossibility, the impression on my memory would be that I had heard him sing in that language.
To return to Gratz: the time at length arrived for opening of the operatic campaign. The company was good, the first comic man, Guglielmi, excellent; La Signora Benini was a great favourite. The first opera was “ La vera Costanza,” the music by Anfossi. I had some good songs in it, and was in high spirits.
As it was the custom for the ladies, the first night of the opera, to go in grand gala, the boxes and parterre were a perfect blaze of diamonds, and every part of the house was crowded. I was supported by numbers of my countrymen, who were present; and, independently of them, the applause I received was beyond my expectations, and far beyond my merits.
The carnival at length arrived, with all its