Part 23 out of 70
bed carried out into the garret, and on pretence of having the
sweeping done with greater care, he lighted a candle. This let me
know that the rascal was suspicious of something; but I was crafty
enough to take no notice of him, and so far from giving up my plea, I
only thought how I could put it on good train. Next morning I
pricked my finger and covered my handkerchief with the blood, and
then awaited Lawrence in bed. As soon as he came I told him that I
had coughed so violently as to break a blood-vessel, which had made
me bring up all the blood he saw. "Get me a doctor." The doctor
came, ordered me to be bled, and wrote me a prescription. I told him
it was Lawrence's fault, as he had persisted in having the room
swept. The doctor blamed him for doing so, and just as if I had
asked him he told us of a young man who had died from the same cause,
and said that there was nothing more dangerous than breathing in
dust. Lawrence called all the gods to witness that he had only had
the room swept for my sake, and promised it should not happen again.
I laughed to myself, for the doctor could not have played his part
better if I had given him the word. The guards who were there were
delighted, and said they would take care only to sweep the cells of
those prisoners who had angered them.
When the doctor was gone, Lawrence begged my pardon, and assured me
that all the other prisoners were in good health although their cells
were swept out regularly.
"But what the doctor says is worth considering," said he, "and I
shall tell them all about it, for I look upon them as my children."
The blood-letting did me good, as it made me sleep, and relieved me
of the spasms with which I was sometimes troubled. I had regained my
appetite and was getting back my strength every day, but the time to
set about my work was not yet come; it was still too cold, and I
could not hold the bar for any length of time without my hand
becoming stiff. My scheme required much thought. I had to exercise
boldness and foresight to rid myself of troubles which chance might
bring to pass or which I could foresee. The situation of a man who
had to act as I had, is an unhappy one, but in risking all for all
half its bitterness vanishes.
The long nights of winter distressed me, for I had to pass nineteen
mortal hours in darkness; and on the cloudy days, which are common
enough at Venice, the light I had was not sufficient for me to be
able to read. Without any distractions I fell back on the idea of my
escape, and a man who always thinks on one subject is in danger of
becoming a monomaniac. A wretched kitchen-lamp would have made me
happy, but how am I to get such a thing? O blessed prerogative of
thought! how happy was I when I thought I had found a way to possess
myself of such a treasure! To make such a lamp I required a vase,
wicks, oil, a flint and steel, tinder, and matches. A porringer
would do for the vase, and I had one which was used for cooking eggs
in butter. Pretending that the common oil did not agree with me, I
got them to buy me Lucca oil for my salad, and my cotton counterpane
would furnish me with wicks. I then said I had the toothache, and
asked Lawrence to get me a pumice-stone, but as he did not know what
I meant I told him that a musket-flint would do as well if it were
soaked in vinegar for a day, and, then being applied to the tooth the
pain would be eased. Lawrence told me that the vinegar I had was
excellent, and that I could soak the stone myself, and he gave me
three or four flints he had in his pocket. All I had to do was to
get some sulphur and tinder, and the procuring of these two articles
set all my wits to work. At last fortune came to my assistance.
I had suffered from a kind of rash, which as it came off had left
some red spots on my arms, and occasionally caused me some
irritation. I told Lawrence to ask the doctor for a cure, and the
next day he brought me a piece of paper which the secretary had seen,
and on which the doctor had written, "Regulate the food for a day,
and the skin will be cured by four ounces of oil of sweet almonds or
an ointment of flour of sulphur, but this local application is
"Never mind the danger," said I to Lawrence; "buy me the ointment, or
rather get me the sulphur, as I have some butter by me, and I can
make it up myself. Have you any matches? Give me a few."
He found some in his pockets, and he gave me them.
What a small thing brings comfort in distress! But in my place these
matches were no small thing, but rather a great treasure.
I had puzzled my head for several hours as to what substitute I could
find for tinder--the only thing I still lacked, and which I could not
ask for under any pretense whatsoever--when I remembered that I had
told the tailor to put some under the armpits of my coat to prevent
the perspiration spoiling the stuff. The coat, quite new, was before
me, and my heart began to beat, but supposing the tailor had not put
it in! Thus I hung between hope and fear. I had only to take a step
to know all; but such a step would have been decisive, and I dared
not take it. At last I drew nigh, and feeling myself unworthy of
such mercies I fell on my knees and fervently prayed of God that the
tailor might not have forgotten the tinder. After this heartfelt
prayer I took my coat, unsewed it, and found-the tinder! My joy knew
no bounds. I naturally gave thanks to God, since it was with
confidence in Him that I took courage and searched my coat, and I
returned thanks to Him with all my heart.
I now had all the necessary materials, and I soon made myself a lamp.
Let the reader imagine my joy at having in a manner made light in the
midst of darkness, and it was no less sweet because against the
orders of my infamous oppressors. Now there was no more night for
me, and also no more salad, for though I was very fond of it the need
of keeping the oil to give light caused me to make this sacrifice
without it costing me many pangs. I fixed upon the first Monday in
Lent to begin the difficult work of breaking through the floor, for I
suspected that in the tumult of the carnival I might have some
visitors, and I was in the right.
At noon, on Quinquagesima Sunday, I heard the noise of the bolts, and
presently Lawrence entered, followed by a thick-set man whom I
recognized as the Jew, Gabriel Schalon, known for lending money to
We knew each other, so exchanged compliments. His company was by no
means agreeable to me, but my opinion was not asked. He began by
congratulating me on having the pleasure of his society; and by way
of answer I offered him to share my dinner, but he refused, saying he
would only take a little soup, and would keep his appetite for a
better supper at his own house.
"This evening. You heard when I asked for my bed he told me that we
would talk about that to-morrow. That means plainly that I shall
have no need of it. And do you think it likely that a man like me
would be left without anything to eat?"
"That was my experience."
"Possibly, but between ourselves our cases are somewhat different;
and without going any farther into that question, the Inquisitors
have made a mistake in arresting me, and they will be in some
trouble, I am certain, as to how to atone for doing so."
"They will possibly give you a pension. A man of your importance has
to be conciliated."
"True, there's not a broker on the exchange more useful than myself,
and the five sages have often profited by the advice I have given
them. My detention is a curious incident, which, perchance, will be
of service to you."
"Indeed. How, may I ask?"
"I will get you out of here in a month's time. I know to whom to
speak and what way to do it:"
"I reckon on you, then."
"You may do so."
This knave and fool together believed himself to be somebody. He
volunteered to inform me as to what was being said of me in the town,
but as he only related the idle tales of men as ignorant as himself,
he wearied me, and to escape listening to him I took up a book. The
fellow had the impudence to ask me not to read, as he was very fond
of talking, but henceforth he talked only to himself. I did not dare
to light my lamp before this creature, and as night drew on he
decided on accepting some bread and Cyprus wine, and he was
afterwards obliged to do as best he could with my mattress, which was
now the common bed of all new-comers.
In the morning he had a bed and some food from his own house. I was
burdened with this wretched fellow for two months, for before
condemning him to the Fours the secretary had several interviews with
him to bring to light his knaveries, and to oblige him to cancel a
goodly number of illegal agreements. He confessed to me himself that
he had bought of M. Domenico Micheli the right to moneys which could
not belong to the buyer till after the father of the seller was dead.
"It's true," said he, "that he agreed to give me fifty per cent., but
you must consider that if he died before his father I should lose
all." At last, seeing that my cursed fellow did not go, I determined
to light my lamp again after having made him promise to observe
secrecy. He only kept his promise while he was with me, as Lawrence
knew all about it, but luckily he attached no importance to the fact.
This unwelcome guest was a true burden to me, as he not only
prevented me from working for my escape but also from reading. He
was troublesome, ignorant, superstitious, a braggart, cowardly, and
sometimes like a madman. He would have had me cry, since fear made
him weep, and he said over and over again that this imprisonment
would ruin his reputation. On this count I reassured him with a
sarcasm he did not understand. I told him that his reputation was
too well known to suffer anything from this little misfortune, and he
took that for a compliment. He would not confess to being a miser,
but I made him admit that if the Inquisitors would give him a hundred
sequins for every day of his imprisonment he would gladly pass the
rest of his life under the Leads.
He was a Talmudist, like all modern Jews, and he tried to make me
believe that he was very devout; but I once extracted a smile of
approbation from him by telling him that he would forswear Moses if
the Pope would make him a cardinal. As the son of a rabbi he was
learned in all the ceremonies of his religion, but like most men he
considered the essence of a religion to lie in its discipline and
This Jew, who was extremely fat, passed three-quarters of his life in
bed; and though he often dozed in the daytime, he was annoyed at not
being able to sleep at night--all the more as he saw that I slept
excellently. He once took it into his head to wake me up as I was
enjoying my sleep.
"What do you want?" said I; "waking me up with a start like this."
"My dear fellow, I can't sleep a wink. Have compassion on me and let
us have a little talk."
"You scoundrel! You act thus and you dare to call yourself my friend!
I know your lack of sleep torments you, but if you again deprive me
of the only blessing I enjoy I will arise and strangle you."
I uttered these words in a kind of transport.
"Forgive me, for mercy's sake! and be sure that I will not trouble
It is possible that I should not have strangled him, but I was very
much tempted to do so. A prisoner who is happy enough to sleep
soundly, all the while he sleeps is no longer a captive, and feels no
more the weight of his chains. He ought to look upon the wretch who
awakens him as a guard who deprives him of his liberty, and makes him
feel his misery once more, since, awakening, he feels all his former
woes. Furthermore, the sleeping prisoner often dreams that he is
free again, in like manner as the wretch dying of hunger sees himself
in dreams seated at a sumptuous feast.
I congratulated myself on not having commenced my great work before
he came, especially as he required that the room should be swept out.
The first time he asked for it to be dote, the guards made me laugh
by saying that it would kill me. However, he insisted; and I had my
revenge by pretending to be ill, but from interested motives I made
no further opposition.
On the Wednesday in Holy Week Lawrence told us that the secretary
would make us the customary visit in the afternoon, the object being
to give peace to them that would receive the sacrament at Easter, and
also to know if they had anything to say against the gaoler. "So,
gentlemen," said Lawrence, "if you have any complaints to make of me
make them. Dress yourselves fully, as is customary." I told
Lawrence to get me a confessor for the day.
I put myself into full dress, and the Jew followed my example, taking
leave of me in advance, so sure was he that the secretary would set
him free on hearing what he had to say. "My presentiment," said he,
"is of the same kind as I have had before, and I have never been
"I congratulate you, but don't reckon without your host." He did not
understand what I meant.
In course of time the secretary came, and as soon as the cell-door
was opened the Jew ran out and threw himself at his feet on both
knees, I heard for five minutes nothing but his tears and complaints,
for the secretary said not one word. He came back, and Lawrence told
me to go out. With a beard of eight months' growth, and a dress made
for love-making in August, I must have presented a somewhat curious
appearance. Much to my disgust I shivered with cold, and was afraid
that the secretary would think I was trembling with fear. As I was
obliged to bend low to come out of my hole, my bow was ready made,
and drawing myself up, I looked at him calmly without affecting any
unseasonable hardihood, and waited for him to speak. The secretary
also kept silence, so that we stood facing each other like a pair of
statues. At the end of two minutes, the secretary, seeing that I
said nothing, gave me a slight bow, and went away. I re-entered my
cell, and taking off my clothes in haste, got into bed to get warm
again. The Jew was astonished at my not having spoken to the
secretary, although my silence had cried more loudly than his
cowardly complaints. A prisoner of my kind has no business to open
his mouth before his judge, except to answer questions. On Maundy
Thursday a Jesuit came to confess me, and on Holy Saturday a priest
of St. Mark's came to administer to me the Holy Communion. My
confession appearing rather too laconic to the sweet son of Ignatius
he thought good to remonstrate with me before giving me his
"Do you pray to God?" he said.
"From the morning unto the evening, and from the evening unto the
morning, for, placed as I am, all that I feel--my anxiety, my grief,
all the wanderings of my mind--can be but a prayer in the eyes of the
Divine Wisdom which alone sees my heart."
The Jesuit smiled slightly and replied by a discourse rather
metaphysical than moral, which did not at all tally with my views.
I should have confuted him on every point if he had not astonished me
by a prophecy he made. "Since it is from us," said he, "that you
learnt what you know of religion, practise it in our fashion, pray
like us, and know that you will only come out of this place on the
day of the saint whose name you bear." So saying he gave me
absolution, and left me. This man left the strongest possible
impression on my mind. I did my best, but I could not rid myself of
it. I proceeded to pass in review all the saints in the calendar.
The Jesuit was the director of M. Flaminio Corner, an old senator,
and then a State Inquisitor. This statesman was a famous man of
letters, a great politician, highly religious, and author of several
pious and ascetic works written in Latin. His reputation was
On being informed that I should be set free on the feast-day of my
patron saint, and thinking that my informant ought to know for
certain what he told me, I felt glad to have a patron-saint. "But
which is it?" I asked myself. "It cannot be St. James of
Compostella, whose name I bear, for it was on the feast-day of that
saint that Messer-Grande burst open my door." I took the almanac and
looking for the saints' days nearest at hand I found St. George--a
saint of some note, but of whom I had never thought. I then devoted
myself to St. Mark, whose feast fell on the twenty-fifth of the
month, and whose protection as a Venetian I might justly claim. To
him, then, I addressed my vows, but all in vain, for his feast came
round and still I was in prison. Then I took myself to St. James,
the brother of Christ, who comes before St. Philip, but again in the
wrong. I tried St. Anthony, who, if the tale told at Padua be true,
worked thirteen miracles a day. He worked none for me. Thus I
passed from one to the other, and by degrees I got to hope in the
protection of the saints just as one hopes for anything one desires,
but does not expect to come to pass; and I finished up by hoping only
in my Saint Bar, and in the strength of my arms. Nevertheless the
promise of the Jesuit came to pass, since I escaped from The Leads on
All Hallows Day; and it is certain that if I had a patron-saint, he
must be looked for in their number since they are all honoured on
A fortnight after Easter I was delivered from my troublesome
Israelite, and the poor devil instead of being sent back to his home
had to spend two years in The Fours, and on his gaining his freedom
he went and set up in Trieste, where he ended his days.
No sooner was I again alone than I set zealously about my work. I
had to make haste for fear of some new visitor, who, like the Jew,
might insist on the cell being swept. I began by drawing back my
bed, and after lighting my lamp I lay down on my belly, my pike in my
hand, with a napkin close by in which to gather the fragments of
board as I scooped them out. My task was to destroy the board by
dint of driving into it the point of my tool. At first the pieces I
got away were not much larger than grains of wheat, but they soon
increased in size.
The board was made of deal, and was sixteen inches broad. I began to
pierce it at its juncture with another board, and as there were no
nails or clamps my work was simple. After six hours' toil I tied up
the napkin, and put it on one side to empty it the following day
behind the pile of papers in the garret. The fragments were four or
five times larger in bulk than the hole from whence they came. I put
back my bed in its place, and on emptying the napkin the next morning
I took care so to dispose the fragments that they should not be seen.
Having broken through the first board, which I found to be two inches
thick, I was stopped by a second which I judged to be as thick as the
first. Tormented by the fear of new visitors I redoubled my efforts,
and in three weeks I had pierced the three boards of which the floor
was composed; and then I thought that all was lost, for I found I had
to pierce a bed of small pieces of marble known at Venice as terrazzo
marmorin. This forms the usual floor of venetian houses of all
kinds, except the cottages, for even the high nobility prefer the
terrazzo to the finest boarded floor. I was thunderstruck to find
that my bar made no impression on this composition; but,
nevertheless, I was not altogether discouraged and cast down. I
remembered Hannibal, who, according to Livy, opened up a passage
through the Alps by breaking the rocks with axes and other
instruments, having previously softened them with vinegar. I thought
that Hannibal had succeeded not by aceto, but aceta, which in the
Latin of Padua might well be the same as ascia; and who can guarantee
the text to be free from the blunders of the copyist? All the same,
I poured into the hole a bottle of strong vinegar I had by me, and in
the morning, either because of the vinegar or because I, refreshed
and rested, put more strength and patience into the work, I saw that
I should overcome this new difficulty; for I had not to break the
pieces of marble, but only to pulverize with the end of my bar the
cement which kept them together. I soon perceived that the greatest
difficulty was on the surface, and in four days the whole mosaic was
destroyed without the point of my pike being at all damaged.
Below the pavement I found another plank, but I had expected as much.
I concluded that this would be the last; that is the first to be put
down when the rooms below were being ceiled. I pierced it with some
difficulty, as, the hole being ten inches deep, it had become
troublesome to work the pike. A thousand times I commended myself to
the mercy of God. Those Free-thinkers who say that praying is no
good do not know what they are talking about; for I know by
experience that, having prayed to God, I always felt myself grow
stronger, which fact amply proves the usefulness of prayer, whether
the renewal of strength come straight from God, or whether it comes
only from the trust one has in Him.
On the 25th of June, on which day the Republic celebrates the
wonderful appearance of St. Mark under the form of a winged lion in
the ducal church, about three o'clock in the afternoon, as I was
labouring on my belly at the hole, stark naked, covered with sweat,
my lamp beside me. I heard with mortal fear the shriek of a bolt and
the noise of the door of the first passage. It was a fearful moment!
I blew out my lamp, and leaving my bar in the hole I threw into it
the napkin with the shavings it contained, and as swift as lightning
I replaced my bed as best I could, and threw myself on it just as the
door of my cell opened. If Lawrence had come in two seconds sooner
he would have caught me. He was about to walk over me, but crying
out dolefully I stopped him, and he fell back, saying,
"Truly, sir, I pity you, for the air here is as hot as a furnace.
Get up, and thank God for giving you such good company."
"Come in, my lord, come in," said he to the poor wretch who followed
him. Then, without heeding my nakedness, the fellow made the noble
gentleman enter, and he seeing me to be naked, sought to avoid me
while I vainly tried to find my shirt.
The new-comer thought he was in hell, and cried out,
"Where am I? My God! where have I been put? What heat! What a
stench! With whom am I?"
Lawrence made him go out, and asked me to put on my shirt to go into
the garret for a moment. Addressing himself to the new prisoner, he
said that, having to get a bed and other necessaries, he would leave
us in the garret till he came back, and that, in the mean time, the
cell would be freed from the bad smell, which was only oil. What a
start it gave me as I heard him utter the word "oil." In my hurry I
had forgotten to snuff the wick after blowing it out. As Lawrence
asked me no questions about it, I concluded that he knew all, and the
accursed Jew must have betrayed me. I thought myself lucky that he
was not able to tell him any more.
From that time the repulsion which I had felt for Lawrence
After putting on my shirt and dressing-gown, I went out and found my
new companion engaged in writing a list of what he wanted the gaoler
to get him. As soon as he saw me, he exclaimed, "Ah! it's Casanova."
I, too, recognised him as the Abbe and Count Fenarolo, a man of
fifty, amiable, rich, and a favourite in society. He embraced me,
and when I told him that I should have expected to see anybody in
that place rather than him, he could not keep back his tears, which
made me weep also.
When we were alone I told him that, as soon as his bed came, I should
offer him the recess, begging him at the same time not to accept it.
I asked him, also, not to ask to have the cell swept, saying that I
would tell him the reason another time. He promised to keep all
secrecy in the matter, and said he thought himself fortunate to be
placed with me. He said that as no one knew why I was imprisoned,
everyone was guessing at it. Some said that I was the heresiarch of
a new sect; others that Madame Memmo had persuaded the Inquisitors
that I had made her sons Atheists, and others that Antony Condulmer,
the State Inquisitor, had me imprisoned as a disturber of the peace,
because I hissed Abbe Chiari's plays, and had formed a design to go
to Padua for the express purpose of killing him.
All these accusations had a certain foundation in fact which gave
them an air of truth, but in reality they were all wholly false. I
cared too little for religion to trouble myself to found a new one.
The sons of Madame Memmo were full of wit, and more likely to seduce
than to be seduced; and Master Condulmer would have had too much on
his hands if he had imprisoned all those who hissed the Abbe Chiari;
and as for this abbe, once a Jesuit, I had forgiven him, as the
famous Father Origo, himself formerly a Jesuit, had taught me to take
my revenge by praising him everywhere, which incited the malicious to
vent their satire on the abbe; and thus I was avenged without any
trouble to myself.
In the evening they brought a good bed, fine linen, perfumes, an
excellent supper, and choice wines. The abbe ate nothing, but I
supped for two. When Lawrence had wished us good night and had shut
us up till the next day, I got out my lamp, which I found to be
empty, the napkin having sucked up all the oil. This made me laugh,
for as the napkin might very well have caught and set the room on
fire, the idea of the confusion which would have ensued excited my
hilarity. I imparted the cause of my mirth to my companion, who
laughed himself, and then, lighting the lamp, we spent the night in
pleasant talk. The history of his imprisonment was as follows:
"Yesterday, at three o'clock in the afternoon, Madame Alessandria,
Count Martinengo, and myself, got into a gondola. We went to Padua
to see the opera, intending to return to Venice afterwards. In the
second act my evil genius led me to the gaming-table, where I
unfortunately saw Count Rosenberg, the Austrian ambassador, without
his mask, and about ten paces from him was Madame Ruzzini, whose
husband is going to Vienna to represent the Republic. I greeted them
both, and was just going away, when the ambassador called out to me,
so as to be heard by everyone, 'You are very fortunate in being able
to pay your court to so sweet a lady. At present the personage I
represent makes the fairest land in the world no better for me than a
galley. Tell the lady, I beseech you, that the laws which now
prevent me speaking to her will be without force at Venice, where I
shall go next year, and then I shall declare war against her.'
Madame Ruzzini, who saw that she was being spoken of, asked me what
the count had said, and I told her, word for word. 'Tell him,' said
she, 'that I accept his declaration of war, and that we shall see who
will wage it best.' I did not think I had committed a crime in
reporting her reply, which was after all a mere compliment. After
the opera we set out, and got here at midnight. I was going to sleep
when a messenger brought me a note ordering me to go to the Bussola
at one o'clock, Signor Bussinello, Secretary of the Council of Ten,
having something to say to me. Astonished at such an order--always
of bad omen, and vexed at being obliged to obey, I went at the time
appointed, and my lord secretary, without giving me a word, ordered
me to be taken here."
Certainly no fault could be less criminal than that which Count
Fenarolo had committed, but one can break certain laws in all
innocence without being any the less punishable. I congratulated him
on knowing what his crime had been, and told him that he would be set
free in a week, and would be requested to spend six months in the
Bressian. "I can't think," said he, "that they will leave me here
for a week." I determined to keep him good company, and to soften
the bitterness of his imprisonment, and so well did I sympathize with
his position that I forgot all about my own.
The next morning at day-break, Lawrence brought coffee and a basket
filled with all the requisites for a good dinner. The abbe was
astonished, for he could not conceive how anyone could eat at such an
early hour. They let us walk for an hour in the garret and then shut
us up again, and we saw no more of them throughout the day. The
fleas which tormented us made the abbe ask why I did not have the
cell swept out. I could not let him think that dirt and untidiness
was agreeable to me, or that my skin was any harder than his own, so
I told him the whole story, and shewed him what I had done. He was
vexed at having as it were forced me to make him my confidant, but he
encouraged me to go on, and if possible to finish what I was about
that day, as he said he would help me to descend and then would draw
up the rope, not wishing to complicate his own difficulties by an
escape. I shewed him the model of a contrivance by means of which I
could certainly get possession of the sheets which were to be my
rope; it was a short stick attached by one end to a long piece of
thread. By this stick I intended to attach my rope to the bed, and
as the thread hung down to the floor of the room below, as soon as I
got there I should pull the thread and the rope would fall down. He
tried it, and congratulated me on my invention, as this was a
necessary part of my scheme, as otherwise the rope hanging down would
have immediately discovered me. My noble companion was convinced
that I ought to stop my work, for I might be surprised, having to do
several days' work before finishing the hole which would cost
Lawrence his life. Should the thought of gaining my liberty at the
expense of a fellow-creature have made me desist? I should have
still persisted if my escape had meant death to the whole body of
Venetian guards, and even to the Inquisitors themselves. Can the
love of country, all holy though it be, prevail in the heart of the
man whose country is oppressing him?
My good humour did not prevent my companion having some bad quarters
of an hour. He was in love with Madame Alessandria, who had been a
singer, and was either the mistress or the wife of his friend
Martinengo; and he should have deemed himself happy, but the happier
a lover is, so much the more his unhappiness when he is snatched from
the beloved object. He sighed, wept, and declared that he loved a
woman in whom all the noble virtues were contained. I compassionated
him, and took care not to comfort him by saying that love is a mere
trifle--a cold piece of comfort given to lovers by fools, and,
moreover, it is not true that love is a mere trifle.
The week I had mentioned as the probable term of his imprisonment
passed quickly enough, and I lost my friend, but did not waste my
time by mourning for him; he was set free, and I was content. I did
not beg him to be discreet, for the least doubt on that score would
have wounded his noble spirit. During the week he was with me he
only ate soup and fruit, taking a little Canary wine. It was I who
made good cheer in his stead and greatly to his delight. Before he
left we swore eternal friendship.
The next day Lawrence gave me an account of my money, and on finding
that I had a balance of four sequins I gave them to him, telling him
it was a present from me to his wife. I did not tell him that it was
for the rent of my lamp, but he was free to think so if he chose.
Again betaking myself to my work, and toiling without cessation, on
the 23rd of August I saw it finished. This delay was caused by an
inevitable accident. As I was hollowing out the last plank, I put my
eye to a little hole, through which I ought to have seen the hall of
the Inquisitors-in fact, I did see it, but I saw also at one side of
the hole a surface about eight inches thick. It was, as I had feared
all the time it would be, one of the beams which kept up the ceiling.
I was thus compelled to enlarge my hole on the other side, for the
beam would have made it so narrow that a man of my size could never
have got through. I increased the hole, therefore, by a fourth,
working--between fear and hope, for it was possible that the space
between two of the beams would not be large enough. After I had
finished, a second little hole assured me that God had blessed my
labour. I then carefully stopped up the two small holes to prevent
anything falling down into the hall, and also lest a ray from my lamp
should be perceived, for this would have discovered all and ruined
I fixed my escape for the eve of St. Augustine's Day, because I knew
that the Grand Council assembled on that feast, and there would
consequently be nobody near the room through which I must pass in
getting away. This would have been on the twenty-seventh of the
month, but a misfortune happened to me on the twenty-fifth which
makes me still shudder when I think of it, notwithstanding the years
which have passed since then.
Precisely at noon I heard the noise of bolts, and I thought I should
die; for a violent beating of the heart made me imagine my last hour
was come. I fell into my easy chair, and waited. Lawrence came into
the garret and put his head at the grating, and said, "I give you
joy, sir, for the good news I am bringing you." At first, not being
able to think of any other news which could be good to me, I fancied
I had been set at liberty, and I trembled, for I knew that the
discovery of the hole I had made would have caused my pardon to be
Lawrence came in and told me to follow him.
"Wait till I put on my clothes."
"It's of no consequence, as you only have to walk from this
abominable cell to another, well lighted and quite fresh, with two
windows whence you can see half Venice, and you can stand upright
too." -----I could bear no more, I felt that I was fainting.
"Give me the vinegar," said I, "and go and tell the secretary that I
thank the Court for this favour, and entreat it to leave me where I
"You make me laugh, sir. Have you gone mad? They would take you
from hell to put you in heaven, and you would refuse to stir? Come,
come, the Court must be obeyed, pray rise, sir. I will give you my
arm, and will have your clothes and your books brought for you."
Seeing that resistance was of no avail, I got up, and was much
comforted at hearing him give orders for my arm-chair to be brought,
for my pike was to follow me, and with it hope. I should have much
liked to have been able to take the hole--the object of so much
wasted trouble and hope--with me. I may say with truth that, as I
came forth from that horrible and doleful place, my spirit remained
Leaning on Lawrence's shoulder, while he, thinking to cheer me up,
cracked his foolish jokes, I passed through two narrow passages, and
going down three steps I found myself in a well-lighted hall, at the
end of which, on the left-hand side, was a door leading into another
passage two feet broad by about twelve long, and in the corner was my
new cell. It had a barred window which was opposite to two windows,
also barred, which lighted the passage, and thus one had a fine view
as far as Lido. At that trying moment I did not care much for the
view; but later on I found that a sweet and pleasant wind came
through the window when it was opened, and tempered the insufferable
heat; and this was a true blessing for the poor wretch who had to
breathe the sultry prison air, especially in the hot season.
As soon as I got into my new cell Lawrence had my arm-chair brought
in, and went away, saying that he would have the remainder of my
effects brought to me. I sat on my arm-chair as motionless as a
statue, waiting for the storm, but not fearing it. What overwhelmed
me was the distressing idea that all my pains and contrivances were
of no use, nevertheless I felt neither sorry nor repentant for what I
had done, and I made myself abstain from thinking of what was going
to happen, and thus kept myself calm.
Lifting up my soul to God I could not help thinking that this
misfortune was a Divine punishment for neglecting to escape when all
was ready. Nevertheless, though I could have escaped three days
sooner, I thought my punishment too severe, all the more as I had put
off my escape from motives of prudence, which seemed to me worthy of
reward, for if I had only consulted my own impatience to be gone I
should have risked everything. To controvert the reasons which made
me postpone my flight to the 27th of August, a special revelation
would have been requisite; and though I had read "Mary of Agrada" I
was not mad enough for that.
The Subterranean Prisons Known as the Wells--Lawrence's Vengeance--
I Enter into a Correspondence With Another Prisoner, Father Balbi:
His Character--I Plan With Him a Means of Escape--How I Contrived to
Let Him Have My Pike I Am Given a Scoundrelly Companion: His
I was thus anxious and despairing when two of the guards brought me
my bed. They went back to fetch the rest of my belongings, and for
two hours I saw no one, although the door of my cell remained open.
This unnatural delay engendered many thoughts, but I could not fix
exactly on the reason of it. I only knew that I had everything to
fear, and this knowledge made me brace up my mind so that I should be
able to meet calmly all possible misfortunes.
Besides The Leads and The Fours the State Inquisitors also possess
certain horrible subterranean cells beneath the ducal palace, where
are sent men whom they do not wish to put to death, though they be
thought worthy of it.
These subterranean prisons are precisely like tombs, but they call
them "wells," because they always contain two feet of water, which
penetrates from the sea by the same grating by which light is given,
this grating being only a square foot in size. If the unfortunates
condemned to live in these sewers do not wish to take a bath of
filthy water, they have to remain all day seated on a trestle, which
serves them both for bed and cupboard. In the morning they are given
a pitcher of water, some thin soup, and a ration of army bread which
they have to eat immediately, or it becomes the prey of the enormous
water rats who swarm in those dreadful abodes. Usually the wretches
condemned to The Wells are imprisoned there for life, and there have
been prisoners who have attained a great age. A villain who died
whilst I was under the Leads had passed thirty-seven years in The
Wells, and he was forty-four when sentenced. Knowing that he
deserved death, it is possible that he took his imprisonment as a
favour, for there are men who fear nought save death. His name was
Beguelin. A Frenchman by birth, he had served in the Venetian army
during the last war against the Turks in 1716, under the command of
Field-Marshal the Count of Schulenbourg, who made the Grand Vizier
raise the siege of Corfu. This Beguelin was the marshal's spy. He
disguised himself as a Turk, and penetrated into the Mussulman
quarters, but at the same time he was also in the service of the
Grand Vizier, and being detected in this course he certainly had
reason to be thankful for being allowed to die in The Wells. The
rest of his life must have been divided between weariness and hunger,
but no doubt he often said, 'Dum vita superest, bene est'.
I have seen at Spiegelberg, in Moravia, prisons fearful in another
way. There mercy sends the prisoners under sentence of death, and
not one of them ever survives a year of imprisonment. What mercy!
During the two mortal hours of suspense, full of sombre thoughts and
the most melancholy ideas, I could not help fancying that I was going
to be plunged in one of these horrible dens, where the wretched
inhabitants feed on idle hopes or become the prey of panic fears.
The Tribunal might well send him to hell who had endeavoured to
escape from purgatory.
At last I heard hurried steps, and I soon saw Lawrence standing
before me, transformed with rage, foaming at the mouth, and
blaspheming God and His saints. He began by ordering me to give him
the hatchet and the tools I had used to pierce the floor, and to tell
him from which of the guards I had got the tools. Without moving,
and quite calmly, I told him that I did not know what he was talking
about. At this reply he gave orders that I should be searched, but
rising with a determined air I shook my fist at the knaves, and
having taken off my clothes I said to them, "Do your duty, but let no
one touch me."
They searched my mattress, turned my bed inside out, felt the
cushions of my arm-chair, and found nothing.
"You won't tell me, then, where are the instruments with which you
made the hole. It's of no matter, as we shall find a way to make you
"If it be true that I have made a hole at all, I shall say that you
gave me the tools, and that I have returned them to you."
At this threat, which made his followers smile with glee, probably
because he had been abusing them, he stamped his feet, tore his hair,
and went out like one possessed. The guards returned and brought me
all my properties, the whetstone and lamp excepted. After locking up
my cell he shut the two windows which gave me a little air. I thus
found myself confined in a narrow space without the possibility of
receiving the least breath of air from any quarter. Nevertheless, my
situation did not disturb me to any great extent, as I must confess I
thought I had got off cheaply. In spite of his training, Lawrence
had not thought of turning the armchair over; and thus, finding
myself still possessor of the iron bar, I thanked Providence, and
thought myself still at liberty to regard the bar as means by which,
sooner or later, I should make my escape.
I passed a sleepless night, as much from the heat as the change in my
prospects. At day-break Lawrence came and brought some insufferable
wine, and some water I should not have cared to drink. All the rest
was of a piece; dry salad, putrid meat, and bread harder than English
biscuit. He cleaned nothing, and when I asked him to open the
windows he seemed not to hear me; but a guard armed with an iron bar
began to sound all over my room, against the wall, on the floor, and
above all under my bed. I looked on with an unmoved expression, but
it did not escape my notice that the guard did not sound the ceiling.
"That way," said I to myself, "will lead me out of this place of
torments." But for any such project to succeed I should have to
depend purely on chance, for all my operations would leave visible
traces. The cell was quite new, and the least scratch would have
attracted the notice of my keepers.
I passed a terrible day, for the heat was like that of a furnace, and
I was quite unable to make any use of the food with which I had been
provided. The perspiration and the lack of nourishment made me so
weak that I could neither walk nor read. Next day my dinner was the
same; the horrible smell of the veal the rascal brought me made me
draw back from it instantly. "Have you received orders," said I, "to
kill me with hunger and heat?"
He locked the door, and went out without a word. On the third day I
was treated in the same manner. I asked for a pencil and paper to
write to the secretary. Still no answer.
In despair, I eat my soup, and then soaking my bread in a little
Cyprus wine I resolved to get strength to avenge myself on Lawrence
by plunging my pike into his throat. My rage told me that I had no
other course, but I grew calmer in the night, and in the morning,
when the scoundrel appeared, I contented myself with saying that I
would kill him as soon as I was at liberty. He only laughed at my
threat, and again went out without opening his lips.
I began to think that he was acting under orders from the secretary,
to whom he must have told all. I knew not what to do. I strove
between patience and despair, and felt as if I were dying for want of
food. At last on the eighth day, with rage in my heart and in a
voice of thunder, I bade him, under the name of "hangman," and in the
presence of the archers, give me an account of my money. He answered
drily that I should have it the next day. Then as he was about to go
I took my bucket, and made as if I would go and empty it in the
passage. Foreseeing my design, he told a guard to take it, and
during the disgusting operation opened a window, which he shut as
soon as the affair was done, so that in spite of my remonstrances I
was left in the plague-stricken atmosphere. I determined to speak to
him still worse the next day; but as soon as he appeared my anger
cooled, for before giving me the account of my money he presented me
with a basket of lemons which M. de Bragadin had sent me, also a
large bottle of water, which seemed drinkable, and a nice roasted
fowl; and, besides this, one of the guards opened the two windows.
When he gave me the account I only looked at the sum total, and I
told him to give the balance to his wife with the exception of a
sequin, which I told him to give the guards who were with him. I
thus made friends with these fellows, who thanked me heartily.
Lawrence, who remained alone with me on purpose, spoke as follows:
"You have already told me, sir, that I myself furnished you with the
tools to make that enormous hole, and I will ask no more about it;
but would you kindly tell me where you got the materials to make a
"Well, for the moment, sir, I'm dashed, for I did not think that wit
"I am not telling you any lies. You it was who with your own hands
gave me all the requisites--oil, flint, and matches; the rest I had
"You are right; but can you shew me as simply that I gave you the
tools to make that hole?"
"Certainly, for you are the only person who has given me anything."
"Lord have mercy upon me! what do I hear? Tell me, then, how I gave
you a hatchet?"
"I will tell you the whole story and I will speak the truth, but only
in the presence of the secretary."
"I don't wish to know any more, and I believe everything you say. I
only ask you to say nothing about it, as I am a poor man with a
family to provide for." He went out with his head between his hands.
I congratulated myself heartily on having found a way to make the
rascal afraid of me; he thought that I knew enough to hang him. I
saw that his own interest would keep him from saying anything to his
superiors about the matter.
I had told Lawrence to bring me the works of Maffei, but the expense
displeased him though he did not dare to say so. He asked me what I
could want with books with so many to my hand.
"I have read them all," I said, "and want some fresh ones."
"I will get someone who is here to lend you his books, if you will
lend yours in return; thus you will save your money."
"Perhaps the books are romances, for which I do not care."
"They are scientific works; and if you think yours is the only long
head here, you are very much mistaken."
"Very good, we shall see. I will lend this book to the 'long head,'
and do you bring me one from him."
I had given him Petau's Rationarium, and in four minutes he brought
me the first volume of Wolff's works. Well pleased with it I told
him, much to his delight, that I would do without Maffei.
Less pleased with the learned reading than at the opportunity to
begin a correspondence with someone who might help me in my plan of
escape (which I had already sketched out in my head), I opened the
book as soon as Lawrence was gone, and was overjoyed to find on one
of the leaves the maxim of Seneca, 'Calamitosus est animus futuri
anxius', paraphrased in six elegant verses. I made another six on
the spot, and this is the way in which I contrived to write them, I
had let the nail of my little finger grow long to serve as an
earpick; I out it to a point, and made a pen of it. I had no ink,
and I was going to prick myself and write in my blood, when I
bethought me that the juice of some mulberries I had by me would be
an excellent substitute for ink. Besides the six verses I wrote out
a list of my books, and put it in the back of the same book. It must
be understood that Italian books are generally bound in parchment,
and in such a way that when the book is opened the back becomes a
kind of pocket. On the title page I wrote, 'latet'. I was anxious
to get an answer, so the next day I told Lawrence that I had read the
book and wanted another; and in a few minutes the second volume was
in my hands.
As soon as I was alone I opened the book, and found a loose leaf with
the following communication in Latin:
"Both of us are in the same prison, and to both of us it must be
pleasant to find how the ignorance of our gaoler procures us a
privilege before unknown to such a place. I, Marin Balbi, who write
to you, am a Venetian of high birth, and a regular cleric, and my
companion is Count Andre Asquin, of Udine, the capital of Friuli. He
begs me to inform you that all the books in his possession, of which
you will find a list at the back of this volume, are at your service;
but we warn you that we must use all possible care to prevent our
correspondence being discovered by Lawrence."
In our position there was nothing wonderful in our both pitching on
the idea of sending each other the catalogues of our small libraries,
or in our choosing the same hiding-place--the back of the books; all
this was plain common sense; but the advice to be careful contained
on the loose leaf struck me with some astonishment. It seemed next
to impossible that Lawrence should leave the book unopened, but if he
had opened it he would have seen the leaf, and not knowing how to
read he would have kept it in his pocket till he could get someone to
tell him the contents, and thus all would have been strangled at its
birth. This made me think that my correspondent was an arrant block-
After reading through the list, I wrote who I was, how I had been
arrested, my ignorance as to what crime I had committed, and my hope
of soon becoming free. Balbi then wrote me a letter of sixteen
pages, in which he gave me the history of all his misfortunes. He
had been four years in prison, and the reason was that he had enjoyed
the good graces of three girls, of whom he had three children, all of
whom he baptized under his own name.
The first time his superior had let him off with an admonition, the
second time he was threatened with punishment, and on the third and
last occasion he was imprisoned. The father-superior of his convent
brought him his dinner every day. He told me in his letter that both
the superior and the Tribunal were tyrants, since they had no lawful
authority over his conscience: that being sure that the three
children were his, he thought himself constrained as a man of honour
not to deprive them of the advantage of bearing his name. He
finished by telling me that he had found himself obliged to recognize
his children to prevent slander attributing them to others, which
would have injured the reputation of the three honest girls who bore
them; and besides he could not stifle the voice of nature, which
spoke so well on behalf of these little ones. His last words were,
"There is no danger of the superior falling into the same fault, as
he confines his attention to the boys."
This letter made me know my man. Eccentric, sensual, a bad logician,
vicious, a fool, indiscreet, and ungrateful, all this appeared in his
letter, for after telling me that he should be badly off without
Count Asquin who was seventy years old, and had books and money, he
devoted two pages to abusing him, telling me of his faults and
follies. In society I should have had nothing more to do with a man
of his character, but under the Leads I was obliged to put everything
to some use. I found in the back of the book a pencil, pens, and
paper, and I was thus enabled to write at my ease.
He told me also the history of the prisoners who were under the
Leads, and of those who had been there since his imprisonment. He
said that the guard who secretly brought him whatever he wanted was
called Nicolas, he also told me the names of the prisoners, and what
he knew about them, and to convince me he gave me the history of the
hole I had made. It seems I had been taken from my cell to make room
for the patrician Priuli, and that Lawrence had taken two hours to
repair the damage I had done, and that he had imparted the secret to
the carpenter, the blacksmith, and all the guards under pain of death
if they revealed it. "In another day," the guard had said, "Casanova
would have escaped, and Lawrence would have swung, for though he
pretended great astonishment when he saw the hole, there can be no
doubt that he and no other provided the tools." "Nicolas has told
me," added my correspondent, "that M. de Bragadin has promised him a
thousand sequins if he will aid you to make your escape but that
Lawrence, who knows of it, hopes to get the money without risking his
neck, his plan being to obtain your liberty by means of the influence
of his wife with M. Diedo. None of the guards dare to speak of what
happened for fear Lawrence might get himself out of the difficulty,
and take his revenge by having them dismissed." He begged me to tell
him all the details, and how I got the tools, and to count upon his
keeping the secret.
I had no doubts as to his curiosity, but many as to his discretion,
and this very request shewed him to be the most indiscreet of men.
Nevertheless, I concluded that I must make use of him, for he seemed
to me the kind of man to assist me in my escape. I began to write an
answer to him, but a sudden suspicion made me keep back what I had
written. I fancied that the correspondence might be a mere artifice
of Lawrence's to find out who had given me the tools, and what I had
done with them. To satisfy him without compromising myself I told
him that I had made the hole with a strong knife in my possession,
which I had placed on the window-ledge in the passage. In less than
three days this false confidence of mine made me feel secure, as
Lawrence did not go to the window, as he would certainly have done if
the letter had been intercepted. Furthermore, Father Balbi told me
that he could understand how I might have a knife, as Lawrence had
told him that I had not been searched previous to my imprisonment.
Lawrence himself had received no orders to search me, and this
circumstance might have stood him in good stead if I had succeeded in
escaping, as all prisoners handed over to him by the captain of the
guard were supposed to have been searched already. On the other
hand, Messer-Grande might have said that, having seen me get out of
my bed, he was sure that I had no weapons about me, and thus both of
them would have got out of trouble. The monk ended by begging me to
send him my knife by Nicolas, on whom I might rely.
The monk's thoughtlessness seemed to me almost incredible. I wrote
and told him that I was not at all inclined to put my trust in
Nicolas, and that my secret was one not to be imparted in writing.
However, I was amused by his letters. In one of them he told me why
Count Asquin was kept under the Leads, in spite of his helplessness,
for he was enormously fat, and as he had a broken leg which had been
badly set he could hardly put one foot before another. It seems that
the count, not being a very wealthy man, followed the profession of
a barrister at Udine, and in that capacity defended the country-folk
against the nobility, who wished to deprive the peasants of their
vote in the assembly of the province. The claims of the farmers
disturbed the public peace, and by way of bringing them to reason the
nobles had recourse to the State Inquisitors, who ordered the count-
barrister to abandon his clients. The count replied that the
municipal law authorized him to defend the constitution, and would
not give in; whereon the Inquisitors arrested him, law or no law, and
for the last five years he had breathed the invigorating air of The
Leads. Like myself he had fifty sous a day, but he could do what he
liked with the money. The monk, who was always penniless, told me a
good deal to the disadvantage of the count, whom he represented as
very miserly. He informed me that in the cell on the other side of
the hall there were two gentlemen of the "Seven Townships," who were
likewise imprisoned for disobedience, but one of them had become mad,
and was in chains; in another cell, he said, there were two lawyers.
My suspicions quieted, I reasoned as follows:
I wish to regain my liberty at all hazards. My pike is an admirable
instrument, but I can make no use of it as my cell is sounded all
over (except the ceiling) every day. If I would escape, it is by the
ceiling, therefore, that way I must go, but to do that I must make a
hole through it, and that I cannot do from my side, for it would not
be the work of a day. I must have someone to help me; and not having
much choice I had to pick out the monk. He was thirty-eight, and
though not rich in common sense I judged that the love of liberty--
the first need of man--would give him sufficient courage to carry out
any orders I might give. I must begin by telling him my plan in its
entirety, and then I shall have to find a way to give him the bar. I
had, then, two difficult problems before me.
My first step was to ask him if he wished to be free, and if he were
disposed to hazard all in attempting his escape in my company. He
replied that his mate and he would do anything to break their chains,
but, added he, "it is of no use to break one's head against a stone
wall." He filled four pages with the impossibilities which presented
themselves to his feeble intellect, for the fellow saw no chance of
success on any quarter. I replied that I did not trouble myself with
general difficulties, and that in forming my plan I had only thought
of special difficulties, which I would find means to overcome, and I
finished by giving him my word of honour to set him free, if he would
promise to carry out exactly whatever orders I might give.
He gave me his promise to do so. I told him that I had a pike twenty
inches long, and with this tool he must pierce the ceiling of his
cell next the wall which separated us, and he would then be above my
head; his next step would be to make a hole in the ceiling of my cell
and aid me to escape by it. "Here your task will end and mine will
begin, and I will undertake to set both you and Count Asquin at
He answered that when I had got out of my cell I should be still in
prison, and our position would be the same as now, as we should only
be in the garrets which were secured by three strong doors.
"I know that, reverend father," I replied, "but we are not going to
escape by the doors. My plan is complete, and I will guarantee its
success. All I ask of you is to carry out my directions, and to make
no difficulties. Do you busy yourself to find out some way of
getting my bar without the knowledge of the gaoler. In the
meanwhile, make him get you about forty pictures of saints, large
enough to cover all the walls of your cell. Lawrence will suspect
nothing, and they will do to conceal the opening you are to make in
the ceiling. To do this will be the work of some days, and of
mornings Lawrence will not see what you have done the day before, as
you will have covered it up with one of the pictures. If you ask me
why I do not undertake the work myself, I can only say that the
gaoler suspects me, and the objection will doubtless seem to you a
Although I had told him to think of a plan to get hold of the pike, I
thought of nothing else myself, and had a happy thought which I
hastened to put into execution. I told Lawrence to buy me a folio
Bible, which had been published recently; it was the Vulgate with the
Septuagint. I hoped to be able to put the pike in the back of the
binding of this large volume, and thus to convey it to the monk, but
when I saw the book I found the tool to be two inches longer.
My correspondent had written to tell me that his cell was covered
with pictures, and I had communicated him my idea about the Bible and
the difficulty presented by its want of length. Happy at being able
to display his genius, he rallied me on the poverty of my
imagination, telling me that I had only to send him the pike wrapped
up in my fox-skin cloak.
"Lawrence," said he, "had often talked about your cloak, and Count
Asquin would arouse no suspicion by asking to see it in order to buy
one of the same kind. All you have to do is to send it folded up.
Lawrence would never dream of unfolding it."
I, on the other hand, was sure that he would. In the first place,
because a cloak folded up is more troublesome to carry than when it
is unfolded. However, not to rebuff him and at the same time to shew
him that I was the wiser, I wrote that he had only to send for the
cloak. The next day Lawrence asked me for it, and I gave it folded
up, but without the bar, and in a quarter of an hour he brought it
back to me, saying that the gentleman had admired it very much.
The monk wrote me a doleful letter, in which he confessed he had
given me a piece of bad advice, adding that I was wrong to follow it.
According to him the pike was lost, as Lawrence had brought in the
cloak all unfolded. After this, all hope was gone. I undeceived
him, and begged him for the future to be a little more sparing of his
advice. It was necessary to bring the matter to a head, and I
determined to send him the bar under cover of my Bible, taking
measures to prevent the gaoler from seeing the ends of the great
volume. My scheme was as follows:
I told Lawrence that I wanted to celebrate St. Michael's Day with a
macaroni cheese; but wishing to shew my gratitude to the person who
had kindly lent me his books, I should like to make him a large dish
of it, and to prepare it with my own hands. Lawrence told me (as had
been arranged between the monk and myself) that the gentleman in
question wished to read the large book which cost three sequins.
"Very good," said I, "I will send it him with the macaroni; but get
me the largest dish you have, as I wish to do the thing on a grand
He promised to do what I asked him. I wrapped up the pike in paper
and put it in the back of the Bible, taking care that it projected an
equal distance at each end. Now, if I placed on the Bible a great
dish of macaroni full of melted butter I was quite sure that Lawrence
would not examine the ends. All his gaze would be concentrated upon
the plate, to avoid spilling the grease on the book. I told Father
Balbi of my plan, charging him to take care how he took the dish, and
above all to take dish and Bible together, and not one by one.
On the day appointed Lawrence came earlier than usual, carrying a
saucepan full of boiling macaroni, and all the necessary ingredients
for seasoning the dish. I melted a quantity of butter, and after
putting the macaroni into the dish I poured the butter over it till
it was full to the brim. The dish was a huge one, and was much
larger than the book on which I placed it. I did all this at the
door of my cell, Lawrence being outside.
When all was ready I carefully took up the Bible and dish, placing
the back of the book next to the bearer, and told Lawrence to stretch
out his arms and take it, to be careful not to spill the grease over
the book, and to carry the whole to its destination immediately. As
I gave him this weighty load I kept my eyes fixed on his, and I saw
to my joy that he did not take his gaze off the butter, which he was
afraid of spilling. He said it would be better to take the dish
first, and then to come back for the book; but I told him that this
would spoil the present, and that both must go together. He then
complained that I had put in too much butter, and said, jokingly,
that if it were spilt he would not be responsible for the loss.
As soon as I saw the Bible in the lout's arms I was certain of
success, as he could not see the ends of the pike without twisting
his head, and I saw no reason why he should divert his gaze from the
plate, which he had enough to do to carry evenly. I followed him
with my eyes till he disappeared into the ante-chamber of the monk's
cell, and he, blowing his nose three times, gave me the pre-arranged
signal that all was right, which was confirmed by the appearance of
Lawrence in a few moments afterwards.
Father Balbi lost no time in setting about the work, and in eight
days he succeeded in making a large enough opening in the ceiling,
which he covered with a picture pasted to the ceiling with
breadcrumbs. On the 8th of October he wrote to say that he had
passed the whole night in working at the partition wall, and had only
succeeded in loosening one brick. He told me the difficulty of
separating the bricks joined to one another by a strong cement was
enormous, but he promised to persevere, "though," he said, "we shall
only make our position worse than it is now." I told him that I was
certain of success; that he must believe in me and persevere.
Alas! I was certain of nothing, but I had to speak thus or to give
up all. I was fain to escape from this hell on earth, where I was
imprisoned by a most detestable tyranny, and I thought only of
forwarding this end, with the resolve to succeed, or at all events
not to stop before I came to a difficulty which was insurmountable.
I had read in the great book of experience that in important schemes
action is the grand requisite, and that the rest must be left to
fortune. If I had entrusted Father Balbi with these deep mysteries
of moral philosophy he would have pronounced me a madman.
His work was only toilsome on the first night, for the more he worked
the easier it became, and when he had finished he found he had taken
out thirty-six bricks.
On the 16th of October, as I was engaged in translating an ode of
Horace, I heard a trampling noise above my head, and then three light
blows were struck. This was the signal agreed upon to assure us that
our calculations were correct. He worked till the evening, and the
next day he wrote that if the roof of my cell was only two boards
thick his work would be finished that day. He assured me that he was
carefully making the hole round as I had charged him, and that he
would not pierce the ceiling. This was a vital point, as the
slightest mark would have led to discovery. "The final touch," he
said, "will only take a quarter of an hour." I had fixed on the day
after the next to escape from my cell at night-time to enter no more,
for with a mate I was quite sure that I could make in two or three
hours a hole in the roof of the ducal palace, and once on the outside
of the roof I would trust to chance for the means of getting to the
I had not yet got so far as this, for my bad luck had more than one
obstacle in store for me. On the same day (it was a Monday) at two
o'clock in the afternoon, whilst Father Balbi was at work, I heard
the door of the hall being opened. My blood ran cold, but I had
sufficient presence of mind to knock twice-the signal of alarm--at
which it had been agreed that Father Balbi was to make haste back to
his cell and set all in order. In less than a minute afterwards
Lawrence opened the door, and begged my pardon for giving me a very
unpleasant companion. This was a man between forty and fifty, short,
thin, ugly, and badly dressed, wearing a black wig; while I was
looking at him he was unbound by two guards. I had no reason to
doubt that he was a knave, since Lawrence told me so before his face
without his displaying the slightest emotion. "The Court," I said,
"can do what seems good to it." After Lawrence had brought him a bed
he told him that the Court allowed him ten sous a day, and then
locked us up together.
Overwhelmed by this disaster, I glanced at the fellow, whom his every
feature proclaimed rogue. I was about to speak to him when he began
by thanking me for having got him a bed. Wishing to gain him over, I
invited him to take his meals with me. He kissed my hand, and asked
me if he would still be able to claim the ten sous which the Court
had allowed him. On my answering in the affirmative he fell on his
knees, and drawing an enormous rosary from his pocket he cast his
gaze all round the cell.
"What do you want?"
"You will pardon me, sir, but I am looking for some statue of the
Holy Virgin, for I am a Christian; if there were even a small
crucifix it would be something, for I have never been in so much need
of the protection of St. Francis d'Assisi, whose name I bear, though
I could scarcely help laughing, not at his Christian piety, since
faith and conscience are beyond control, but at the curious turn he
gave his remonstrance. I concluded he took me for a Jew; and to
disabuse him of this notion I made haste to give him the "Hours of
the Holy Virgin," whose picture he kissed, and then gave me the book
back, telling me in a modest voice that his father--a, galley
officer--had neglected to have him taught to read. "I am," said he,
"a devotee of the Holy Rosary," and he told me a host of miracles, to
which I listened with the patience of an angel. When he had come to
an end I asked him if he had had his dinner, and he replied that he
was dying of hunger. I gave him everything I had, which he devoured
rather than ate; drinking all my wine, and then becoming maudlin he
began to weep, and finally to talk without rhyme or reason. I asked
him how he got into trouble, and he told me the following story:
"My aim and my only aim has always been the glory of God, and of the
holy Republic of Venice, and that its laws may be exactly obeyed.
Always lending an attentive ear to the plots of the wicked, whose end
is to deceive, to deprive their prince of his just dues, and to
conspire secretly, I have over and again unveiled their secret plans,
and have not failed to report to Messer-Grande all I know. It is
true that I am always paid, but the money has never given me so much
pleasure as the thought that I have been able to serve the blessed
St. Mark. I have always despised those who think there is something
dishonourable in the business of a spy. The word sounds ill only to
the ill-affected; for a spy is a lover of the state, the scourge of
the guilty, and faithful subject of his prince. When I have been put
to the test, the feeling of friendship, which might count for
something with other men, has never had the slightest influence over
me, and still less the sentiment which is called gratitude. I have
often, in order to worm out a secret, sworn to be as silent as the
grave, and have never failed to reveal it. Indeed, I am able to do
so with full confidence, as my director who is a good Jesuit has told
me that I may lawfully reveal such secrets, not only because my
intention was to do so, but because, when the safety of the state is
at stake, there is no such thing as a binding oath. I must confess
that in my zeal I have betrayed my own father, and that in me the
promptings of our weak nature have been quite mortified. Three weeks
ago I observed that there was a kind of cabal between four or five
notables of the town of Isola, where I live. I knew them to be
disaffected to the Government on account of certain contraband
articles which had been confiscated. The first chaplain--a subject
of Austria by birth--was in the plot. They gathered together of
evenings in an inn, in a room where there was a bed; there they drank
and talked, and afterwards went their ways. As I was determined to
discover the conspiracy, I was brave enough to hide under the bed on
a day on which I was sure I would not be seen. Towards the evening
my gentlemen came, and began to talk; amongst other things, they said
that the town of Isola was not within the jurisdiction of St. Mark,
but rather in the principality of Trieste, as it could not possibly
be considered to form part of the Venetian territory. The chaplain
said to the chief of the plot, a man named Pietro Paolo, that if he
and the others would sign a document to that effect, he himself would
go to the imperial ambassador, and that the Empress would not only
take possession of the island, but would reward them for what they
had done. They all professed themselves ready to go on, and the
chaplain promised to bring the document the next day, and afterwards
to take it to the ambassadors.
"I determined to frustrate this detestable project, although one of
the conspirators was my gossip--a spiritual relationship which gave
him a greater claim on me than if he had been my own brother.
"After they were gone, I came out of my hiding-place and did not
think it necessary to expose myself to danger by hiding again as I
had found out sufficient for my purpose. I set out the same night in
a boat, and reached here the next day before noon. I had the names
of the six rebels written down, and I took the paper to the secretary
of the Tribunal, telling him all I had heard. He ordered me to
appear, the day following, at the palace, and an agent of the
Government should go back with me to Isola that I might point the
chaplain out to him, as he had probably not yet gone to the Austrian
ambassador's. 'That done,' said the lord secretary, 'you will no
longer meddle in the matter.' I executed his orders, and after
having shewn the chaplain to the agent, I was at leisure for my own
"After dinner my gossip called me in to shave him (for I am a barber
by profession), and after I had done so he gave me a capital glass of
refosco with some slices of sausages, and we ate together in all good
fellowship. My love for him had still possession of my soul, so I
took his hand, and, shedding some heartfelt tears, I advised him to
have no more to do with the canon, and above all, not to sign the
document he knew of. He protested that he was no particular friend
of the chaplain's, and swore he did not know what document I was
talking about. I burst into a laugh, telling him it was only my
joke, and went forth very sorry at having yielded to a sentiment of
affection which had made me commit so grievous a fault. The next day
I saw neither the man nor the chaplain. A week after, having paid a
visit to the palace, I was promptly imprisoned, and here I am with
you, my dear sir. I thank St. Francis for having given me the
company of a good Christian, who is here for reasons of which I
desire to know nothing, for I am not curious. My name is Soradaci,
and my wife is a Legrenzi, daughter of a secretary to the Council of
Ten, who, in spite of all prejudice to the contrary, determined to
marry me. She will be in despair at not knowing what has become of
me, but I hope to be here only for a few days, since the only reason
of my imprisonment is that the secretary wishes to be able to examine
me more conveniently."
I shuddered to think of the monster who was with me, but feeling that
the situation was a risky one, And that I should have to make use of
him, I compassionated him, praised his patriotism, and predicted that
he would be set at liberty in a few days. A few moments after he
fell asleep, and I took the opportunity of telling the whole story to
Father Balbi, shewing him that we should be obliged to put off our
work to a more convenient season. Next day I told Lawrence to buy me
a wooden crucifix, a statue of Our Lady, a portrait of St. Francis,
and two bottles of holy water. Soradaci asked for his ten sous, and
Lawrence, with an air of contempt, gave him twenty. I asked Lawrence
to buy me four times the usual amount of garlic, wine, and salt--a
diet in which my hateful companion delighted. After the gaoler was
gone I deftly drew out the letter Balbi had written me, and in which
he drew a vivid picture of his alarm. He thought all was lost, and
over and over again thanked Heaven that Lawrence had put Soradaci in
my cell, "for," said he, "if he had come into mine, he would not have
found me there, and we should possibly have shared a cell in The
Wells as a reward for our endeavours."
Soradaci's tale had satisfied me that he was only imprisoned to be
examined, as it seemed plain that the secretary had arrested him on
suspicion of bearing false witness. I thereupon resolved to entrust
him with two letters which would do me neither good nor harm if they
were delivered at their addresses, but which would be beneficial to
me if the traitor gave them to the secretary as a proof of his
loyalty, as I had not the slightest doubt he would do.
I spent two hours in writing these two letters in pencil. Next day
Lawrence brought me the crucifix, the two pictures, and the holy
water, and having worked the rascal well up to the point, I said,
"I reckon upon your friendship and your courage. Here are two
letters I want you to deliver when you recover your liberty. My
happiness depends on your loyality, but you must hide the letters, as
they were found upon you we should both of us be undone. You must
swear by the crucifix and these holy pictures not to betray me."
"I am ready, dear master, to swear to anything you like, and I owe
you too much to betray you."
This speech was followed by much weeping and lamentation. He called
himself unhappy wretch at being suspected of treason towards a man
for whom he would have given his life. I knew my man, but I played
out the comedy. Having given him a shirt and a cap, I stood up bare-
headed, and then having sprinkled the cell with holy water, and
plentifully bedewed him with the same liquid, I made him swear a
dreadful oath, stuffed with senseless imprecations, which for that
very reason were the better fitted to strike terror to his soul.
After his having sworn the oath to deliver my letters to their
addresses, I gave him them, and he himself proposed to sew them up at
the back of his waistcoat, between the stuff and the lining, to which
proceedings I assented.
I was morally sure that he would deliver my letters to the secretary
in the first opportunity, so I took the utmost care that my style of
writing should not discover the trick. They could only gain me the
esteem of the Court, and possibly its mercy. One of the letters was
addressed to M. de Bragadin and the other to the Abbe Grimani, and I
told them not to be anxious about me as I was in good hopes of soon
being set at liberty, that they would find when I came out that my
imprisonment had done me more good than harm, as there was no one in
Venice who stood in need of reform more than I.
I begged M. de Bragadin to be kind enough to send me a pair of fur
boots for the winter, as my cell was high enough for me to stand
upright and to walk up and down.
I took care that Soradaci should not suspect the innocent nature of
these letters, as he might then have been seized with the temptation
to do an honest thing for me, and have delivered them, which was not
what I was aiming at. You will see, dear reader, in the following
chapter, the power of oaths over the vile soul of my odious
companion, and also if I have not verified the saying 'In vino
veritas', for in the story he told me the wretch had shewn himself in
his true colours.
Treason of Soradaci--How I Get the Best of Him--Father Balbi Ends His
Work--I Escape from My Cell--Unseasonable Observations of Count
Asquin The Critical Moment
Soradaci had had my letters for two or three days when Lawrence came
one afternoon to take him to the secretary. As he was several hours
away, I hoped to see his face no more; but to my great astonishment
he was brought back in the evening. As soon as Lawrence had gone, he
told me that the secretary suspected him of having warned the
chaplain, since that individual had never been near the ambassador's
and no document of any kind was found upon him. He added that after
a long examination he had been confined in a very small cell, and was
then bound and brought again before the secretary, who wanted him to
confess that he told someone at Isola that the priest would never
return, but that he had not done so as he had said no such thing. At
last the secretary got tired, called the guards, and had him brought
back to my cell.
I was distressed to hear his account, as I saw that the wretch would
probably remain a long time in my company. Having to inform Father
Balbi of this fatal misadventure, I wrote to him during the night,
and being obliged to do so more than once, I got accustomed to write
correctly enough in the dark.
On the next day, to assure myself that my suspicions were well
founded, I told the spy to give me the letter I had written to M. de
Bragadin as I wanted to add something to it. "You can sew it up
afterwards," said I.
"It would be dangerous," he replied, "as the gaoler might come in in
the mean time, and then we should be both ruined."
"No matter. Give me my letters:"
Thereupon the hound threw himself at my feet, and swore that on his
appearing for a second time before the dreaded secretary, he had been
seized with a severe trembling; and that he had felt in his back,
especially in the place where the letters were, so intolerable an
oppression, that the secretary had asked him the cause, and that he
had not been able to conceal the truth. Then the secretary rang his
bell, and Lawrence came in, unbound him, and took off his waist-coat
and unsewed the lining. The secretary then read the letters and put
them in a drawer of his bureau, telling him that if he had taken the
letters he would have been discovered and have lost his life.
I pretended to be overwhelmed, and covering my face with my hands I
knelt down at the bedside before the picture of the Virgin, and
asked, her to avenge me on the wretch who had broken the most sacred
oaths. I afterwards lay down on the bed, my face to the wall, and
remained there the whole day without moving, without speaking a word,
and pretending not to hear the tears, cries, and protestations of
repentance uttered by the villain. I played my part in the comedy I
had sketched out to perfection. In the night I wrote to Father Balbi
to come at two o'clock in the afternoon, not a minute sooner or
later, to work for four hours, and not a minute more. "On this
precision," I wrote, "our liberty depends and if you observe it all
will be well."
It was the 25th of October, and the time for me to carry out my
design or to give it up for ever drew near. The State Inquisitors
and their secretary went every year to a village on the mainland, and
passed there the first three days of November. Lawrence, taking
advantage of his masters' absence, did not fail to get drunk every
evening, and did not appear at The Leads in the morning till a late
Advised of these circumstances, I chose this time to make my escape,
as I was certain that my flight would not be noticed till late in the
morning. Another reason for my determination to hurry my escape,
when I could no longer doubt the villainy of my detestable companion,
seems to me to be worthy of record.
The greatest relief of a man in the midst of misfortune is the hope
of escaping from it. He sighs for the hour when his sorrows are to
end; he thinks he can hasten it by his prayers; he will do anything
to know when his torments shall cease. The sufferer, impatient and
enfeebled, is mostly inclined to superstition. "God," says he,
"knows the time, and God may reveal it to me, it matters not how."
Whilst he is in this state he is ready to trust in divination in any
manner his fancy leads him, and is more or less disposed to believe
in the oracle of which he makes choice.
I then was in this state of mind; but not knowing how to make use of
the Bible to inform me of the moment in which I should recover my
liberty, I determined to consult the divine Orlando Furioso, which I
had read a hundred times, which I knew by heart, and which was my
delight under the Leads. I idolized the genius of Ariosto, and
considered him a far better fortune-teller than Virgil.
With this idea I wrote a question addressed to the supposed
Intelligence, in which I ask in what canto of Ariosto I should find
the day of my deliverance. I then made a reversed pyramid composed
of the number formed from the words of the question, and by
subtracting the number nine I obtained, finally, nine. This told me
that I should find my fate in the ninth canto. I followed the same
method to find out the exact stanza and verse, and got seven for the
stanza and one for the verse.
I took up the poem, and my heart beating as if I trusted wholly in
the oracle, I opened it, turned down the leaf, and read;
'Fra il fin d'ottobre, a il capo di novembre'.
The precision of the line and its appropriateness to my circumstances
appeared so wonderful to me, that I will not confess that I placed my
faith entirely in it; but the reader will pardon me if I say that I
did all in my power to make the prediction a correct one. The most
singular circumstance is that between the end of October and the
beginning of November, there is only the instant midnight, and it was
just as the clock was striking midnight on the 3ist of October that I
escaped from my cell, as the reader will soon see.
The following is the manner in which I passed the morning to strike
awe into the soul of that vicious brute, to confound his feeble
intellect, and to render him harmless to me.
As soon as Lawrence had left us I told Soradaci to come and take some
soup. The scoundrel was in bed, and he had told Lawrence that he was
ill. He would not have dared to approach me if I had not called him.
However, he rose from his bed, and threw himself flat upon the ground
at my feet, and said, weeping violently, that if I would not forgive
him he would die before the day was done, as he already felt the
curse and the vengeance of the Holy Virgin which I had denounced
against him. He felt devouring pains in his bowels, and his mouth
was covered with sores. He shewed it me, and I saw it was full of
ulcers, but I cannot say whether it was thus the night before. I did
not much care to examine him to see if he were telling me the truth.
My cue was to pretend to believe him, and to make him hope for mercy.
I began by making him eat and drink. The traitor most likely intended
to deceive me, but as I was myself determined to deceive him it
remained to be seen which was the a cuter. I had planned an attack
against which it was improbable that he could defend himself.
Assuming an inspired air, I said, "Be seated and take this soup, and
afterwards I will tell you of your good fortune, for know that the
Virgin of the Rosary appeared to me at day-break, and bids me pardon
you. Thou shalt not die but live, and shalt come out of this place
with me." In great wonderment, and kneeling on the ground for want
of a chair, he ate the soup with me, and afterwards seated himself on
the bed to hear what I had to say. Thus I spoke to him:
"The grief I experienced at your dreadful treason made me pass a
sleepless night, as the letters might condemn me to spend here the
remnant of my days. My only consolation, I confess, was the
certainty that you would die here also before my eyes within three
days. Full of this thought not worthy of a Christian (for God bids
us forgive our enemies) my weariness made me sleep, and in my sleep I
had a vision. I saw that Holy Virgin, Mother of God, whose likeness
you behold--I saw her before me, and opening her lips she spoke thus:
"'Soradaci is a devotee of my Holy Rosary. I protect him, and I will
that you forgive him, and then the curse he has drawn on himself will
cease. In return for your generosity, I will order one of my angels
to take the form of man, to come down from heaven, to break open the
roof of your prison, and set you free within five or six days. The
angel will begin his task this day at two o'clock precisely, and he
will work till half an hour before sunset, since he must ascend again
into heaven while the daylight lasts. When you come out of this
place, take Soradaci with you, and have a care for him if he will
renounce his business of spying. Tell him all.'
"With these words the Holy Virgin vanished out of my sight, and I
I spoke all the while with a serious face and the air of one
inspired, and I saw that the traitor was petrified. I then took my
Book of Hours, sprinkled the cell with holy water, and pretended to
pray, kissing from time to time the picture of the Virgin. An hour
afterwards the brute, who so far had not opened his mouth, asked me
bluntly at what time the angel would come down from heaven, and if we
should hear him breaking in the cell.
"I am certain that he will begin at two o'clock, that we shall hear
him at his work, and that he will depart at the hour named by the
"You may have dreamt it all."
"Nay, not so. Will you swear to me to spy no more?"
Instead of answering he went off to sleep, and did not awake for two
hours after, when he asked if he could put off taking the oath. I
asked of him,
"You can put off taking it," I said, "till the angel enters to set me
free; but if you do not then renounce by an oath the infamous trade
which has brought you here, and which will end by bringing you to the
gallows, I shall leave you in the cell, for so the Mother of God
commands, and if you do not obey you will lose her protection."
As I had expected, I saw an expression of satisfaction on his hideous
features, for he was quite certain that the angel would not come. He
looked at me with a pitying air. I longed to hear the hour strike.
The play amused me intensely, for I was persuaded that the approach
of the angel would set his miserable wits a-reeling. I was sure,
also, that the plan would succeed if Lawrence had not forgotten to
give the monk the books, and this was not likely.
An hour before the time appointed I was fain to dine. I only drank
water, and Soradaci drank all the wine and consumed all the garlic I
had, and thus made himself worse.
As soon as I heard the first stroke of two I fell on my knees,
ordering him, in an awful voice, to do the like. He obeyed, looking
at me in a dazed way. When I heard the first slight noise I
examined, "Lo! the angel cometh!" and fell down on my face, and with
a hearty fisticuff forced him into the same position. The noise of
breaking was plainly heard, and for a quarter of an hour I kept in
that troublesome position, and if the circumstances had been
different I should have laughed to see how motionless the creature
was; but I restrained myself, remembering my design of completely
turning the fellow's head, or at least of obsessing him for a time.
As soon as I got up I knelt and allowed him to imitate me, and I
spent three hours in saying the rosary to him. From time to time he
dozed off, wearied rather by his position than by the monotony of the
prayer, but during the whole time he never interrupted me. Now and
again he dared to raise a furtive glance towards the ceiling. With a
sort of stupor on his face, he turned his head in the direction of
the Virgin, and the whole of his behaviour was for me the highest
comedy. When I heard the clock strike the hour for the work to
cease, I said to him,
"Prostrate thyself, for the angel departeth."
Balbi returned to his cell, and we heard him no more. As I rose to
my feet, fixing my gaze on the wretched fellow, I read fright on
every feature, and was delighted. I addressed a few words to him
that I might see in what state of mind he was. He shed tears in
abundance, and what he said was mostly extravagant, his ideas having
no sequence or connection. He spoke of his sins, of his acts of
devotion, of his zeal in the service of St. Mark, and of the work he
had done for the Commonwealth, and to this attributed the special
favours Mary had shewn him. I had to put up with a long story about
the miracles of the Rosary which his wife, whose confessor was a
young Dominican, had told him. He said that he did not know what use
I could make of an ignorant fellow like him.
"I will take you into my service, and you shall have all that you
need without being obliged to pursue the hazardous trade of a spy."
"Shall we not be able to remain at Venice?"
"Certainly not. The angel will take us to a land which does not
belong to St. Mark. Will you swear to me that you will spy no more?
And if you swear, will you become a perjurer a second time?"
"If I take the oath, I will surely keep it, of that there can be no
doubt; but you must confess that if I had not perjured myself you
would never have received such favour at the hands of the Virgin. My
broken faith is the cause of your bliss. You ought, therefore, to
love me and to be content with my treason."
"Dost love Judas who betrayed Jesus Christ?"
"You perceive, then, that one detests the traitor and at the same
time adores the Divine Providence, which knows how to bring good out
of evil. Up to the present time you have done wickedly. You have
offended God and the Virgin His Mother, and I will not receive your
oath till you have expiated your sins."
"What sin have I done?"
"You have sinned by pride, Soradaci, in thinking that I was under an
obligation to you for betraying me and giving my letters to the
"How shall I expiate this sin?"
"Thus. To-morrow, when Lawrence comes, you must lie on your bed,
your face towards the wall, and without the slightest motion or a
single glance at Lawrence. If he address you, you must answer,
without looking at him, that you could not sleep, and need rest. Do
you promise me entirely to do this thing?"
"I will do whatsoever you tell me."
"Quick, then, take your oath before this holy picture."
"I promise, Holy Mother of God, that when Lawrence comes I will not
look at him, nor stir from my bed."
"And I, Most Holy Virgin, swear by the bowels of your Divine Son that
if I see Soradici move in the least or look towards Lawrence, I will
throw myself straightway upon him and strangle him without mercy, to
your honour and glory."
I counted on my threat having at least as much effect upon him as his
oath. Nevertheless, as I was anxious to make sure, I asked him if he
had anything to say against the oath, and after thinking for a moment
he answered that he was quite content with it. Well pleased myself,
I gave him something to eat, and told him to go to bed as I needed
As soon as he was asleep I began to write, and wrote on for two
hours. I told Balbi all that had happened, and said that if the work
was far enough advanced he need only come above my cell to put the
final stroke to it and break through. I made him note that we should
set out on the night of the 31st of October, and that we should be
four in all, counting his companion and mine. It was now the twenty-
eighth of the month.
In the morning the monk wrote me that the passage was made, and that
he should only require to work at the ceiling of my cell to break
through the last board and this would be done in four minutes.
Soradaci observed his oath, pretending to sleep, and Lawrence said
nothing to him. I kept my eyes upon him the whole time, and I verily
believe I should have strangled him if he had made the slightest
motion towards Lawrence, for a wink would have been enough to betray
The rest of the day was devoted to high discourses and exalted
expressions, which I uttered as solemnly as I could, and I enjoyed
the sight of seeing him become more and more fanatical. To heighten
the effect of my mystic exhortation I dosed him heavily with wine,
and did not let him go till he had fallen into a drunken sleep.
Though a stranger to all metaphysical speculations, and a man who had
never exercised his reasoning faculties except in devising some piece
of spy-craft, the fellow confused me for a moment by saying that he
could not conceive how an angel should have to take so much trouble
to break open our cell. But after lifting my eyes to heaven, or
rather to the roof of my dungeon-cell, I said,
"The ways of God are inscrutable; and since the messenger of Heaven
works not as an angel (for then a slight single blow would be
enough), he works like a man, whose form he has doubtless taken, as
we are not worthy to look upon his celestial body. And,
furthermore," said I, like a true Jesuit, who knows how to draw
advantage from everything, "I foresee that the angel, to punish us
for your evil thought, which has offended the Holy Virgin, will not
come to-day. Wretch, your thoughts are not those of an honest,
pious, and religious man, but those of a sinner who thinks he has to
do with Messer-Grande and his myrmidons."
I wanted to drive him to despair, and I had succeeded. He began to
weep bitterly, and his sobs almost choked him, when two o'clock
struck and not sign of the angel was heard. Instead of calming him I
endeavoured to augment his misery by my complaints. The next morning
he was obedient to my orders, for when Lawrence asked him how he was,
he replied without moving his head. He behaved in the same manner on
the day following, and until I saw Lawrence for the last time on the
morning of the 31st October. I gave him the book for Barbi, and told
the monk to come at noon to break through the ceiling. I feared
nothing, as Lawrence had told me that the Inquisitors and the
secretary had already set out for the country. I had no reason to
dread the arrival of a new companion, and all I had to do was to
manage my knave.
After Lawrence was gone I told Soradaci that the angel would come and
make an opening in the ceiling about noon.
"He will bring a pair of scissors with him," I said, "and you will
have to cut the angel's beard and mine."
"Has the angel a beard?"
"Yes, you shall see it for yourself. Afterwards we will get out of
the cell and proceed to break the roof of the palace, whence we shall
descend into St. Mark's Place and set out for Germany."
He answered nothing. He had to eat by himself, for my mind was too
much occupied to think about dinner--indeed, I had been unable to
The appointed hour struck--and the angel came, Soradaci was going to
fall down on his face, but I told him it was not necessary. In three
minutes the passage was completed, the piece of board fell at my
feet, and Father Balbi into my arms. "Your work is ended and mine
begun," said I to him. We embraced each other, and he gave me the
pike and a pair of scissors. I told Soradaci to cut our beards, but
I could not help laughing to see the creature--his mouth all agape-
staring at the angel, who was more like a devil. However, though
quite beside himself, he cut our beards admirably.
Anxious to see how the land lay, I told the monk to stay with
Soradaci, as I did not care to leave him alone, and I went out. I
found the hole in the wall narrow, but I succeeded in getting through
it. I was above the count's cell, and I came in and greeted the
worthy old man. The man before me was not fitted to encounter such
diffiulties as would be involved in an escape by a steep roof covered
with plates of lead. He asked me what my plan was, and told me that
he thought I had acted rather inconsiderately. "I only ask to go
forward," said I, "till I find death or freedom." "If you intend,"
he answered, "to pierce the roof and to descend from thence, I see no
prospect of success, unless you have wings; and I at all events have
not the courage to accompany you. I will remain here, and pray to
God on your behalf."
I went out again to look at the roof, getting as close as I could to
the sides of the loft. Touching the lower part of the roof, I took
up a position between the beams, and feeling the wood with the end of
the bar I luckily found them to be half rotten. At every blow of the
bar they fell to dust, so feeling certain of my ability to make a
large enough hole in less than a hour I returned to my cell, and for
four hours employed myself in cutting up sheets, coverlets, and
bedding, to make ropes. I took care to make the knots myself and to
be assured of their strength, for a single weak knot might cost us
our lives. At last I had ready a hundred fathoms of rope.
In great undertakings there are certain critical points which the
leader who deserves to succeed trusts to no one but himself. When
the rope was ready I made a parcel of my suit, my cloak, a few
shirts, stockings, and handkerchiefs, and the three of us went into
the count's cell. The first thing the count did was to congratulate
Soradaci on having been placed in the same cell as myself, and on
being so soon about to regain his liberty. His air of speechless
confusion made me want to laugh. I took no more trouble about him,
for I had thrown off the mask of Tartuffe which I had found terribly
inconvenient all the time I had worn it for the rascal's sake. He
knew, I could see, that he had been deceived, but he understood
nothing else, as he could not make out how I could have arranged with
the supposed angel to come and go at certain fixed times. He
listened attentively to the count, who told us we were going to our
destruction, and like the coward that he was, he began to plan how to
escape from the dangerous journey. I told the monk to put his bundle
together while I was making the hole in the roof by the side of the
At eight o'clock, without needing any help, my opening was made. I
had broken up the beams, and the space was twice the size required.
I got the plate of lead off in one piece. I could not do it by
myself, because it was riveted. The monk came to my aid, and by dint
of driving the bar between the gutter and the lead I succeeded in
loosening it, and then, heaving at it with our shoulders, we beat it
up till the opening was wide enough. On putting my head out through
the hole I was distressed to see the brilliant light of the crescent
moon then entering in its first quarter. This was a piece of bad
luck which must be borne patiently, and we should have to wait till
midnight, when the moon would have gone to light up the Antipodes.
On such a fine night as this everybody would be walking in St.
Mark's Place, and I dared not shew myself on the roof as the
moonlight would have thrown a huge shadow of me on the place, and
have drawn towards me all eyes, especially those of Messer-Grande and
his myrmidons, and our fine scheme would have been brought to nothing
by their detestable activity. I immediately decided that we could
not escape till after the moon set; in the mean time I prayed for the
help of God, but did not ask Him to work any miracles for me. I was
at the mercy of Fortune, and I had to take care not to give her any
advantages; and if my scheme ended in failure I should be consoled by
the thought that I had not made a single mistake. The moon would set
at eleven and sunrise was at six, so we had seven hours of perfect
darkness at our service; and though we had a hard task, I considered
that in seven hours it would be accomplished.
I told Father Balbi that we could pass the three hours in talking to
Count Asquin. I requested him to go first and ask the count to lend
me thirty sequins, which would be as necessary to me as my pike had
been hitherto. He carried my message, and a few minutes after came
and asked me to go myself, as the count wished to talk to me alone.
The poor old man began by saying with great politeness that I really
stood in no need of money to escape, that he had none, that he had a
large family, that if I was killed the money would be lost, with a
thousand other futilities of the same kind to disguise his avarice,
or the dislike he felt to parting with his money. My reply lasted
for half an hour, and contained some excellent arguments, which never
have had and never will have any force, as the finest weapons of
oratory are blunted when used against one of the strongest of the
passions. It was a matter of a 'nolenti baculus'; not that I was
cruel enough to use force towards an unhappy old man like the count.
I ended my speech by saying that if he would flee with us I would
carry him upon my back like AEneas carried Anchises; but if he was
going to stay in prison to offer up prayers for our success, his
prayers would be observed, as it would be a case of praying God to
give success when he himself had refused to contribute the most
He replied by a flood of tears, which affected me. He then asked if
two sequins would be enough, and I answered in the affirmative. He
then gave them to me begging me to return them to him if after
getting on the roof I saw my wisest course would be to come back. I
promised to do so, feeling somewhat astonished that he should deem me
capable of a retreat. He little knew me, for I would have preferred
death to an imprisonment which would have been life-long.
I called my companions, and we set all our baggage near the hole. I
divided the hundred fathoms of rope into two packets, and we spent
two hours in talking over the chances of our undertaking. The first
proof which Father Balbi gave me of his fine character was to tell
me, ten times over, that I had broken my word with him, since I had
assured him that my scheme was complete and certain, while it was
really nothing of the kind. He went so far as to tell me that if he
had known as much he would not have taken me from my cell. The count
also, with all the weight of his seventy years, told me that I should
do well to give up so hazardous an undertaking, in which success was
impossible and death probable. As he was a barrister he made me a
speech as follows, and I had not much difficulty in guessing that he
was inspired by the thought of the two sequins which I should have
had to give him back, if he had succeeded in persuading me to stay
where I was:
"The incline of the roof covered with lead plates," said he, "will
render it impossible for you to walk, indeed you will scarcely be
able to stand on your feet. It is true that the roof has seven or
eight windows, but they are all barred with iron, and you could not
keep your footing near them since they are far from the sides. Your
ropes are useless, as you will find nothing whereon to fasten them;
and even if you did, a man descending from such a height cannot reach
the ground by himself. One of you will therefore have to lower the
two others one at a time as one lowers a bucket or a bundle of wood,
and he who does so will have to stay behind and go back to his cell.
Which of you three has a vocation for this dangerous work of charity?
And supposing that one of you is heroic enough to do so, can you tell
me on which side you are going to descend? Not by the side towards
the palace, for you would be seen; not by the church, as you would
find yourselves still shut up, and as to the court side you surely
would not think of it, for you would fall into the hands of the
'arsenalotti' who are always going their rounds there. You have only
the canal side left, and where is your gondola to take you off? Not
having any such thing, you will be obliged to throw yourself in and
escape by swimming towards St. Appollonia, which you will reach in a
wretched condition, not knowing where to turn to next. You must
remember that the leads are slippery, and that if you were to fall
into the canal, considering the height of the fall and the
shallowness of the water, you would most certainly be killed if you
could swim like sharks. You would be crushed to death, for three or
four feet of water are not sufficient to counteract the effect of a
fall from such a height. In short, the best fate you can expect is
to find yourselves on the ground with broken arms and legs."
The effect of this discourse--a very unseasonable one, under the
circumstances--was to make my blood boil, but I listened with a
patience wholly foreign to my nature. The rough reproaches of the
monk enraged me, and inclined me to answer him in his own way; but I
felt that my position was a difficult one, and that unless I was
careful I might ruin all, for I had to do with a coward quite capable
of saying that he was not going to risk his life, and by myself I
could not hope to succeed. I constrained myself, therefore, and as
politely as I could I told them that I was sure of success, though I
could not as yet communicate the details of my plan. "I shall profit
by your wise counsels," said I to Count Asquin, "and be very prudent,
but my trust in God and in my own strength will carry me through all
From time to time I stretched out my hand to assure myself that
Soradaci was there, for he did not speak a word. I laughed to myself
to think what he might be turning in his head now that he was
convinced that I had deceived him. At half-past ten I told him to go
and see what was the position of the moon. He obeyed and returned,
saying that in an hour and a-half it would have disappeared, and that
there was a thick fog which would make the leads very dangerous.
"All I ask," I said, "is that the fog be not made of oil. Put your
cloak in a packet with some of the rope which must be divided equally
At this I was astonished to find him at my knees kissing my hands,
and entreating me not to kill him. "I should be sure," said he, "to
fall over into the canal, and I should not be of any use to you. Ah!
leave me here, and all the night I will pray to St. Francis for you.
You can kill me or save me alive; but of this I am determined, never
to follow you."
The fool never thought how he had responded to my prayers.
"You are right," I said, "you may stop here on the condition that you
will pray to St. Francis; and that you go forthwith and fetch my
books, which I wish to leave to the count."
He did so without answering me, doubtless with much joy. My books
were worth at least a hundred crowns. The count told me that he
would give them back on my return.
"You may be sure," I said, "that you will never see me here again.
The books will cover your expenditure of two sequins. As to this
rascal, I am delighted, as he cannot muster sufficient courage to
come with me. He would be in the way, and the fellow is not worthy
of sharing with Father Balbi and myself the honours of so brave a
"That's true," said the count, "provided that he does not
congratulate himself to-morrow."
I asked the count to give me pens, ink, and paper, which he possessed
in spite of the regulations to the contrary, for such prohibitions
were nothing to Lawrence, who would have sold St. Mark himself for a
crown. I then wrote the following letter, which I gave to Soradaci,
not being able to read it over, as I had written it in the dark. I
began by a fine heading, which I wrote in Latin, and which in English
would run thus:
"'I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord.'"
"Our lords of state are bound to do all in their power to keep a
prisoner under the Leads, and on the other hand the prisoner, who is
fortunately not on parole, is bound also to make his escape. Their
right to act thus is founded on justice, while the prisoner follows
the voice of nature; and since they have not asked him whether he
will be put in prison, so he ought not to ask them leave to escape.