Part 2 out of 3
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.
"Jacques Casanova, writing in the bitterness of his heart, knows that
he may have the ill luck to be recaptured before he succeeds in
leaving the Venetian territory and escaping to a friendly state; but
if so, he appeals to the humanity of the judges not to add to the
misery of the condition from which, yielding to the voice of nature,
he is endeavouring to escape. He begs them, if he be taken, to
return him whatever may be in his cell, but if he succeed he gives
the whole to Francis Soradaci, who is still a captive for want of
courage to escape, not like me preferring liberty to life. Casanova
entreats their excellencies not to refuse the poor wretch this gift.
Dated an hour before midnight, in the cell of Count Asquin, on
October 31st, 1756."
I warned Soradaci not to give this letter to Lawrence, but to the
secretary in person, who, no doubt, would interrogate him if he did
not go himself to the cell, which was the more likely course. The
count said my letter was perfect, but that he would give me back all
my books if I returned. The fool said he wished to see me again to
prove that he would return everything gladly.
But our time was come. The moon had set. I hung the half of the
ropes by Father Balbi's neck on one side and his clothes on the
other. I did the same to myself, and with our hats on and our coats
off we went to the opening.
E quindi uscimmo a rimirar le stelle.--DANTE.
The Escape I Nearly Lose My Life on the Roof I Get out of the Ducal
Palace, Take a Boat, and Reach the Mainland--Danger to Which I Am
Exposed by Father Balbi--My Scheme for Ridding Myself of Him
I got out the first, and Father Balbi followed me. Soradaci who had
come as far as the opening, had orders to put the plate of lead back
in its place, and then to go and pray to St. Francis for us. Keeping
on my hands and knees, and grasping my pike firmly I pushed it
obliquely between the joining of the plates of lead, and then holding
the side of the plate which I had lifted I succeeded in drawing
myself up to the summit of the roof. The monk had taken hold of my
waistband to follow me, and thus I was like a beast of burden who has
to carry and draw along at the same time; and this on a steep and
When we were half-way up the monk asked me to stop, as one of his
packets had slipped off, and he hoped it had not gone further than
the gutter. My first thought was to give him a kick and to send him
after his packet, but, praised be to God! I had sufficient self-
control not to yield to it, and indeed the punishment would have been
too heavy for both of us, as I should have had no chance of escaping
by myself. I asked him if it were the bundle of rope, and on his
replying that it was a small packet of his own containing manuscript
he had found in one of the garrets under the Leads, I told him he
must bear it patiently, as a single step might be our destruction.
The poor monk gave a sigh, and he still clinging to my waist we
After having surmounted with the greatest difficulty fifteen or
sixteen plates we got to the top, on which I sat astride, Father
Balbi imitating my example. Our backs were towards the little island
of St. George the Greater, and about two hundred paces in front of us
were the numerous cupolas of St. Mark's Church, which forms part of
the ducal palace, for St. Mark's is really the Doge's private chapel,
and no monarch in the world can boast of having a finer. My first
step was to take off my bundle, and I told my companion to do the
same. He put the rope as best he could upon his thighs, but wishing
to take off his hat, which was in his way, he took hold of it
awkwardly, and it was soon dancing from plate to plate to join the
packet of linen in the gutter. My poor companion was in despair.
"A bad omen," he exclaimed; "our task is but begun and here am I
deprived of shirt, hat, and a precious manuscript, containing a
curious account of the festivals of the palace."
I felt calmer now that I was no longer crawling on hands and knees,
and I told him quietly that the two accidents which had happened to
him had nothing extraordinary in them, and that not even a
superstitious person would call them omens, that I did not consider
them in that light, and that they were far from damping my spirits.
"They ought rather," said I, "to warn you to be prudent, and to
remind you that God is certainly watching over us, for if your hat
had fallen to the left instead of to the right, we should have been
undone; as in that case it would have fallen into the palace court,
where it would have caught the attention of the guards, and have let
them know that there was someone on the roof; and in a few minutes we
should have been retaken."
After looking about me for some time I told the monk to stay still
till I came back, and I set out, my pike in my hand, sitting astride
the roof and moving along without any difficulty. For nearly an hour
I went to this side and that, keeping a sharp look-out, but in vain;
for I could see nothing to which the rope could be fastened, and I
was in the greatest perplexity as to what was to be done. It was of
no use thinking of getting down on the canal side or by the court of
the palace, and the church offered only precipices which led to
nothing. To get to the other side of the church towards the
Canonica, I should have had to climb roofs so steep that I saw no
prospect of success. The situation called for hardihood, but not the
smallest piece of rashness.
It was necessary, however, either to escape, or to reenter the
prison, perhaps never again to leave it, or to throw myself into the
canal. In such a dilemma it was necessary to leave a good deal to
chance, and to make a start of some kind. My eye caught a window on
the canal sides, and two-thirds of the distance from the gutter to
the summit of the roof. It was a good distance from the spot I had
set out from, so I concluded that the garret lighted by it did not
form part of the prison I had just broken. It could only light a
loft, inhabited or uninhabited, above some rooms in the palace, the
doors of which would probably be opened by day-break. I was morally
sure that if the palace servants saw us they would help us to escape,
and not deliver us over to the Inquisitors, even if they recognized
us as criminals of the deepest dye; so heartily was the State
Inquisition hated by everyone.
It was thus necessary for me to get in front of the window, and
letting myself slide softly down in a straight line I soon found
myself astride on top of the dormer-roof. Then grasping the sides I
stretched my head over, and succeeded in seeing and touching a small
grating, behind which was a window of square panes of glass joined
with thin strips of lead. I did not trouble myself about the window,
but the grating, small as it was, appeared an insurmountable
difficulty, failing a file, and I had only my pike.
I was thoroughly perplexed, and was beginning to lose courage, when
an incident of the simplest and most natural kind came to my aid and
fortified my resolution.
Philosophic reader, if you will place yourself for a moment in my
position, if you will share the sufferings which for fifteen months
had been my lot, if you think of my danger on the top of a roof,
where the slightest step in a wrong direction would have cost me my
life, if you consider the few hours at my disposal to overcome
difficulties which might spring up at any moment, the candid
confession I am about to make will not lower me in your esteem; at
any rate, if you do not forget that a man in an anxious and dangerous
position is in reality only half himself.
It was the clock of St. Mark's striking midnight, which, by a
violent shock, drew me out of the state of perplexity I had fallen
into. The clock reminded me that the day just beginning was All
Saints' Day--the day of my patron saint (at least if I had one)--and
the prophecy of my confessor came into my mind. But I confess that
what chiefly strengthened me, both bodily and mentally, was the
profane oracle of my beloved Ariosto: 'Fra il fin d'ottobre, a il
capo di novembre'.
The chime seemed to me a speaking talisman, commanding me to be up
and doing,--and--promising me the victory. Lying on my belly I
stretched my head down towards the grating, and pushing my pike into
the sash which held it I resolved to take it out in a piece. In a
quarter of an hour I succeeded, and held the whole grate in my hands,
--and putting it on one side I easily broke the glass window, though
wounding my left hand.
With the aid of my pike, using it as I had done before, I regained
the ridge of the roof, and went back to the spot where I had left
Balbi. I found him enraged and despairing, and he abused me heartily
for having left him for so long. He assured me that he was only
waiting for it to get light to return to the prison.
"What did you think had become of me?"
"I thought you must have fallen over."
"And you can find no better way than abuse to express the joy you
ought to feel at seeing me again?"
"What have you been doing all this time?"
"Follow me, and you shall see."
I took up my packets again and made my way towards the window. As
soon as were opposite to it I told Balbi what I had done, and asked
him if he could think of any way of getting into the loft. For one
it was easy enough, for the other could lower him by the rope; but I
could not discover how the second of us was to get down afterwards,
as there was nothing to which the rope could be fastened. If I let
myself fall I might break my arms and legs, for I did not know the
distance between the window and the floor of the room. To this chain
of reasoning uttered in the friendliest possible tone, the brute
"You let me down, and when I have got to the bottom you will have
plenty of time to think how you are going to follow me."
I confess that my first indignant impulse was to drive my pike into
his throat. My good genius stayed my arm, and I uttered not a word
in reproach of his base selfishness. On the contrary, I straightway
untied my bundle of rope and bound him strongly under the elbows, and
making him lie flat down I lowered him feet foremost on to the roof
of the dormer-window. When he got there I told him to lower himself
into the window as far as his hips, supporting himself by holding his
elbows against the sides of the window. As soon as he had done so, I
slid down the roof as before, and lying down on the dormer-roof with
a firm grasp of the rope I told the monk not to be afraid but to let
himself go. When he reached the floor of the loft he untied himself,
and on drawing the rope back I found the fall was one of fifty feet-
too dangerous a jump to be risked. The monk who for two hours had
been a prey to terror; seated in a position which I confess was not a
very reassuring one, was not quite cool, and called out to me to
throw him the ropes for him to take care of--a piece of advice you
may be sure I took care not to follow.
Not knowing what to do next, and waiting for some fortunate idea, I
made my way back to the ridge of the roof, and from there spied out a
corner near a cupola; which I had not visited. I went towards it and
found a flat roof, with a large window closed with two shutters. At
hand was a tubful of plaster, a trowel, and ladder which I thought
long enough for my purpose. This was enough, and tying my rope to
the first round I dragged this troublesome burden after me to the
window. My next task was to get the end of the ladder (which was
twelve fathoms long) into the opening, and the difficulties I
encountered made me sorry that I had deprived myself of the aid of
the monk. [The unit of measure:'fathoms' describing the ladder and
earlier the 100 fathoms of rope, is likely a translation error:
Casanova might have manufactured 100 feet of rope and might have
dragged a 12 foot ladder up the steep roof, but not a longer. D.W.]
I had set the ladder in such a way that one end touched the window,
and the other went below the gutter. I next slid down to the roof of
the window, and drawing the ladder towards me I fastened the end of
my rope to the eighth round, and then let it go again till it was
parallel with the window. I then strove to get it in, but I could
not insert it farther than the fifth round, for the end of the ladder
being stopped by the inside roof of the window no force on earth
could have pushed it any further without breaking either the ladder
or the ceiling. There was nothing to be done but to lift it by the
other end; it would then slip down by its own weight. I might, it is
true, have placed the ladder across the window, and have fastened the
rope to it, in which manner I might have let myself down into the
loft without any risk; but the ladder would have been left outside to
shew Lawrence and the guards where to look for us and possibly to
find us in the morning.
I did not care to risk by a piece of imprudence the fruit of so much
toil and danger, and to destroy all traces of our whereabouts the
ladder must be drawn in. Having no one to give me a helping hand, I
resolved to go myself to the parapet to lift the ladder and attain
the end I had in view. I did so, but at such a hazard as had almost
cost me my life. I could let go the ladder while I slackened the
rope without any fear of its falling over, as it had caught to the
parapet by the third rung. Then, my pike in my hand, I slid down
beside the ladder to the parapet, which held up the points of my
feet, as I was lying on my belly. In this position I pushed the
ladder forward, and was able to get it into the window to the length
of a foot, and that diminished by a good deal its weight. I now only
had to push it in another two feet, as I was sure that I could get it
in altogether by means of the rope from the roof of the window. To
impel the ladder to the extent required I got on my knees, but the
effort I had to use made me slip, and in an instant I was over the
parapet as far as my chest, sustained by my elbows.
I shudder still when I think of this awful moment, which cannot be
conceived in all its horror. My natural instinct made me almost
unconsciously strain every nerve to regain the parapet, and--I had
nearly said miraculously--I succeeded. Taking care not to let myself
slip back an inch I struggled upwards with my hands and arms, while
my belly was resting on the edge of the parapet. Fortunately the
ladder was safe, for with that unlucky effort which had nearly cost
me so dearly I had pushed it in more than three feet, and there it
Finding myself resting on my groin on the parapet, I saw that I had
only to lift up my right leg and to put up first one knee and then
the other to be absolutely out of danger; but I had not yet got to
the end of my trouble. The effort I made gave me so severe a spasm
that I became cramped and unable to use my limbs. However, I did not
lose my head, but kept quiet till the pain had gone off, knowing by
experience that keeping still is the best cure for the false cramp.
It was a dreadful moment! In two minutes I made another effort, and
had the good fortune to get my two knees on to the parapet, and as
soon as I had taken breath I cautiously hoisted the ladder and pushed
it half-way through the window. I then took my pike, and crawling up
as I had done before I reached the window, where my knowledge of the
laws of equilibrium and leverage aided me to insert the ladder to its
full length, my companion receiving the end of it. I then threw into
the loft the bundles and the fragments that I had broken off the
window, and I stepped down to the monk, who welcomed me heartily and
drew in the ladder. Arm in arm, we proceeded to inspect the gloomy
retreat in which we found ourselves, and judged it to be about thirty
paces long by twenty wide.
At one end were folding-doors barred with iron. This looked bad, but
putting my hand to the latch in the middle it yielded to the
pressure, and the door opened. The first thing we did was to make
the tour of the room, and crossing it we stumbled against a large
table surrounded by stools and armchairs. Returning to the part
where we had seen windows, we opened the shutters of one of them, and
the light of the stars only shewed us: the cupolas and the depths
beneath them. I did not think for a moment of lowering myself down,
as I wished to know where I was going, and I did not recognize our
surroundings. I shut the window up, and we returned to the place
where we had left our packages. Quite exhausted I let myself fall on
the floor, and placing a bundle of rope under my head a sweet sleep
came to my, relief. I abandoned myself to it without resistance, and
indeed, I believe if death were to have been the result, I should
have slept all the same, and I still remember how I enjoyed that
It lasted for three and a half hours, and I was awakened by the
monk's calling out and shaking me. He told me that it had just
struck five. He said it was inconceivable to him how I could sleep
in the situation we were in. But that which was inconceivable to him
was not so to me. I had not fallen asleep on purpose, but had only
yielded to the demands of exhausted nature, and, if I may say so, to
the extremity of my need. In my exhaustion there was nothing to
wonder at, since I had neither eaten nor slept for two days, and the
efforts I had made--efforts almost beyond the limits of mortal
endurance--might well have exhausted any man. In my sleep my
activity had come back to me, and I was delighted to see the darkness
disappearing, so that we should be able to proceed with more
certainty and quickness.
Casting a rapid glance around, I said to myself, "This is not a
prison, there ought, therefore, be some easy exit from it." We
addressed ourselves to the end opposite to the folding-doors, and in
a narrow recess I thought I made out a doorway. I felt it over and
touched a lock, into which I thrust my pike, and opened it with three
or four heaves. We then found ourselves in a small room, and I
discovered a key on a table, which I tried on a door opposite to us,
which, however, proved to be unlocked. I told the monk to go for our
bundles, and replacing the key we passed out and came into a gallery
containing presses full of papers. They were the state archives. I
came across a short flight of stone stairs, which I descended, then
another, which I descended also, and found a glass door at the end,
on opening which I entered a hall well known to me: we were in the
ducal chancery. I opened a window and could have got down easily,
but the result would have been that we should have been trapped in
the maze of little courts around St. Mark's Church. I saw on a desk
an iron instrument, of which I took possession; it had a rounded
point and a wooden handle, being used by the clerks of the chancery
to pierce parchments for the purpose of affixing the leaden seals.
On opening the desk I saw the copy of a letter advising the
Proveditore of Corfu of a grant of three thousand sequins for the
restoration of the old fortress. I searched for the sequins but they
were not there. God knows how gladly I would have taken them, and
how I would have laughed the monk to scorn if he had accused me of
theft! I should have received the money as a gift from Heaven, and
should have regarded myself as its master by conquest.
Going to the door of the chancery, I put my bar in the keyhole, but
finding immediately that I could not break it open, I resolved on
making a hole in the door. I took care to choose the side where the
wood had fewest knots, and working with all speed I struck as hard
and as cleaving strokes as I was able. The monk, who helped me as
well as he could with the punch I had taken from the desk, trembled
at the echoing clamour of my pike which must have been audible at
some distance. I felt the danger myself, but it had to be risked.
In half an hour the hole was large enough--a fortunate circumstance,
for I should have had much trouble in making it any larger without
the aid of a saw. I was afraid when I looked at the edges of the
hole, for they bristled with jagged pieces of wood which seemed made
for tearing clothes and flesh together. The hole was at a height of
five feet from the ground. We placed beneath it two stools, one
beside the other, and when we had stepped upon them the monk with
arms crossed and head foremost began to make his way through the
hole, and taking him by the thighs, and afterwards by the legs, I
succeeded in pushing him through, and though it was dark I felt quite
secure, as I knew the surroundings. As soon as my companion had
reached the other side I threw him my belongings, with the exception
of the ropes, which I left behind, and placing a third stool on the
two others, I climbed up, and got through as far as my middle, though
with much difficulty, owing to the extreme narrowness of the hole.
Then, having nothing to grasp with my hands, nor anyone to push me as
I had pushed the monk, I asked him to take me, and draw me gently and
by slow degrees towards him. He did so, and I endured silently the
fearful torture I had to undergo, as my thighs and legs were torn by
the splinters of wood.
As soon as I got through I made haste to pick up my bundle of linen,
and going down two flights of stairs I opened without difficulty the
door leading into the passage whence opens the chief door to the
grand staircase, and in another the door of the closet of the 'Savio
alla scrittura'. The chief door was locked, and I saw at once that,
failing a catapult or a mine of gunpowder, I could not possibly get
through. The bar I still held seemed to say, "Hic fines posuit. My
use is ended and you can lay me down." It was dear to me as the
instrument of freedom, and was worthy of being hung as an 'ex voto'
on the altar of liberty.
I sat down with the utmost tranquillity, and told the monk to do the
"My work is done," I said, "the rest must be left to God and fortune.
"Abbia chi regge il ciel cura del resto,
O la fortuna se non tocca a lui.
"I do not know whether those who sweep out the palace will come here
to-day, which is All Saints' Day, or tomorrow, All Souls' Day. If
anyone comes, I shall run out as soon as the door opens, and do you
follow after me; but if nobody comes, I do not budge a step, and if I
die of hunger so much the worse for me."
At this speech of mine he became beside himself. He called me a
madman, seducer, deceiver, and a liar. I let him talk, and took no
notice. It struck six; only an hour had passed since I had my
awakening in the loft.
My first task was to change my clothes. Father Balbi looked like a
peasant, but he was in better condition than I, his clothes were not
torn to shreds or covered with blood, his red flannel waistcoat and
purple breeches were intact, while my figure could only inspire pity
or terror, so bloodstained and tattered was I. I took off my
stockings, and the blood gushed out of two wounds I had given myself
on the parapet, while the splinters in the hole in the door had torn
my waistcoat, shirt, breeches, legs and thighs. I was dreadfully
wounded all over my body. I made bandages of handkerchiefs, and
dressed my wounds as best I could, and then put on my fine suit,
which on a winter's day would look odd enough. Having tied up my
hair, I put on white stockings, a laced shirt, failing any other, and
two others over it, and then stowing away some stockings and
handkerchiefs in my pockets, I threw everything else into a corner of
the room. I flung my fine cloak over the monk, and the fellow looked
as if he had stolen it. I must have looked like a man who has been
to a dance and has spent the rest of the night in a disorderly house,
though the only foil to my reasonable elegance of attire was the
bandages round my knees.
In this guise, with my exquisite hat trimmed with Spanish lace and
adorned with a white feather on my head, I opened a window. I was
immediately remarked by some lounger in the palace court, who, not
understanding what anyone of my appearance was doing there at such an
early hour, went to tell the door-keeper of the circumstance. He,
thinking he must have locked somebody in the night before, went for
his keys and came towards us. I was sorry to have let myself be seen
at the window, not knowing that therein chance was working for our
escape, and was sitting down listening to the idle talk of the monk,
when I heard the jingling of keys. Much perturbed I got up and put
my eye to a chink in the door, and saw a man with a great bunch of
keys in his hand mounting leisurely up the stairs. I told the monk
not to open his mouth, to keep well behind me, and to follow my
steps. I took my pike, and concealing it in my right sleeve I got
into a corner by the door, whence I could get out as soon as it was
opened and run down the stairs. I prayed that the man might make no
resistance, as if he did I should be obliged to fell him to the
earth, and I determined to do so.
The door opened; and the poor man as soon as he saw me seemed turned
to a stone. Without an instant's delay and in dead silence, I made
haste to descend the stairs, the monk following me. Avoiding the
appearance of a fugitive, but walking fast, I went by the giants'
Stairs, taking no notice of Father Balbi, who kept cabling: out "To
the church! to the church!"
The church door was only about twenty paces from the stairs, but the
churches were no longer sanctuaries in Venice; and no one ever took
refuge in them. The monk knew this, but fright had deprived him of
his faculties. He told me afterwards that the motive which impelled
him to go to the church was the voice of religion bidding him seek
the horns of the altar.
"Why didn't you go by yourself?" said I.
"I did not, like to abandon you," but he should rather have said, "I
did not like to lose the comfort of your company."
The safety I sought was beyond the borders of the Republic, and
thitherward I began to bend my steps. Already there in spirit, I
must needs be there in body also. I went straight towards the chief
door of the palace, and looking at no one that might be tempted to
look at me I got to the canal and entered the first gondola that I
came across, shouting to the boatman on the poop,
"I want to go to Fusina; be quick and, call another gondolier."
This was soon done, and while the gondola was being got off I sat
down on the seat in the middle, and Balbi at the side. The odd
appearance of the monk, without a hat and with a fine cloak on his
shoulders, with my unseasonable attire, was enough to make people
take us for an astrologer and his man.
As soon as we had passed the custom-house, the gondoliers began to
row with a will along the Giudecca Canal, by which we must pass to go
to Fusina or to Mestre, which latter place was really our
destination. When we had traversed half the length of the canal I
put my head out, and said to the waterman on the poop,
"When do you think we shall get to Mestre?"
"But you told me to go to Fusina."
"You must be mad; I said Mestre."
The other boatman said that I was mistaken, and the fool of a monk,
in his capacity of zealous Christian and friend of truth, took care
to tell me that I was wrong. I wanted to give him a hearty kick as a
punishment for his stupidity, but reflecting that common sense comes
not by wishing for it I burst into a peal of laughter, and agreed
that I might have made a mistake, but that my real intention was to
go to Mestre. To that they answered nothing, but a minute after the
master boatman said he was ready to take me to England if I liked.
"Bravely spoken," said I, "and now for Mestre, ho!" "We shall be
there in three quarters of an hour, as the wind and tide are in our
Well pleased I looked at the canal behind us, and thought it had
never seemed so fair, especially as there was not a single boat
coming our way. It was a glorious morning, the air was clear and
glowing with the first rays of the sun, and my two young watermen
rowed easily and well; and as I thought over the night of sorrow, the
dangers I had escaped, the abode where I had been fast bound the day
before, all the chances which had been in my favour, and the liberty
of which I now began to taste the sweets, I was so moved in my heart
and grateful to my God that, well nigh choked with emotion, I burst
My nice companion who had hitherto only spoken to back up the
gondoliers, thought himself bound to offer me his consolations. He
did not understand why I was weeping, and the tone he took made me
pass from sweet affliction to a strange mirthfulness which made him
go astray once more, as he thought I had got mad. The poor monk, as
I have said, was a fool, and whatever was bad about him was the
result of his folly. I had been under the sad necessity of turning
him to account, but though without intending to do so he had almost
been my ruin. It was no use trying to make him believe that I had
told the gondoliers to go to Fusina whilst I intended to go to
Mestre; he said I could not have thought of that till I got on to the
In due course we reached Mestre. There were no horses to ride post,
but I found men with coaches who did as well, and I agreed with one
of them to take me to Trevisa in an hour and a quarter. The horses
were put in in three minutes, and with the idea that Father Balbi was
behind me I turned round to say "Get up," but lie was not there. I
told an ostler to go and look for him, with the intention of
reprimanding him sharply, even if he had gone for a necessary
occasion, for we had no time to waste, not even thus. The man came
back saying he could not find' him, to my great rage and indignation.
I was tempted to abandon him, but a feeling of humanity restrained
me. I made enquiries all round; everybody had seen him, but not a
soul knew where he was. I walked along the High Street, and some
instinct prompting me to put my head in at the window of a cafe.
I saw the wretched man standing at the bar drinking chocolate and
making love to the girl. Catching sight of me, he pointed to the
girl and said--
"She's charming," and then invited me to take a cup of chocolate,
saying that I must pay, as he hadn't a penny. I kept back my wrath
"I don't want any, and do you make haste!" and caught hold of his arm
in such sort that he turned white with pain. I paid the money and we
went out. I trembled with anger. We got into our coach, but we had
scarcely gone ten paces before I recognised: an inhabitant, of Mestre
named Balbi Tommasi, a good sort of man; but reported to be one of
the familiars of the Holy Office. He knew me, too, and coming up
"I am delighted to see you here. I suppose you have just escaped.
How did you do it?"
"I have not escaped, but have been set at liberty."
"No, no, that's not possible, as I was at M. Grimani's yesterday
evening, and I should have heard of it."
It will be easier for the reader to imagine my state of mind than for
me to describe it. I was discovered by a man whom I believed to be a
hired agent of the Government, who only had to give a glance to one
of the sbirri with whom Mestre swarmed to have me arrested. I told
him to speak softly, and getting down I asked him to come to one
side. I took him behind a house, and seeing that there was nobody in
sight, a ditch in front, beyond which the open country extended, I
grasped my pike and took him by the neck. At this: he gave a
struggle, slipped out of my hands, leapt over the ditch, and without
turning round set off to run at, full speed. As soon as he was some
way off he slackened his course, turned round and kissed his hand to
me, in token of wishing me a prosperous journey. And as soon; as he
was out of my sight I gave thanks to God that, this man by his
quickness had preserved me from the commission of a crime, for I
would have killed him; and he, as it turned out, bore me no ill will.
I was in a terrible position. In open war with all the powers of-
the Republic, everything had to give way to my safety, which made me
neglect no means of attaining my ends.
With the gloom of a man who has passed through a great peril, I gave
a glance of contempt towards the monk, who now saw to what danger he
had exposed us, and then got up again into the carriage. We reached
Trevisa without further adventure, and I told the posting-master to
get me a carriage and two horses ready by ten o'clock; though I had
no intention of continuing my journey along the highway, both
because. I lacked means; and because I feared pursuit. The inn-
keeper asked me, if I would take any breakfast, of which I stood in
great need, for I was dying with hunger, but I did not dare to,
accept his offer, as a quarter of an hour's delay might, prove fatal.
I was afraid of being retaken, and of being ashamed of it for the
rest of my life; for a man of sense ought to be able to snap his
fingers at four hundred thousand men in the open country, and if he
cannot escape capture he must be a fool.
I went out by St. Thomas's Gate as if I was going for a short walk,
and after walking for a mile on the highway I struck into the fields,
resolving not to leave them as long as I should be within the borders
of the Republic. The shortest way was by Bassano, but I took the
longer path, thinking I might possibly be expected on the more direct
road, while they would never think of my leaving the Venetian
territory by way of Feltre, which is the longest way of getting into
the state subject to the Bishop of Trent.
After walking for three hours I let myself drop to the ground, for I
could not move a step further. I must either take some food or die
there, so I told the monk to leave the cloak with me and go to a farm
I saw, there to buy something to eat. I gave him the money, and he
set off, telling me that he thought I had more courage. The
miserable man did not know what courage was, but he was more robust
than myself, and he had, doubtless, taken in provisions before
leaving the prison. Besides he had had some chocolate; he was thin
and wiry, and a monk, and mental anxieties were unknown to him.
Although the house was not an inn, the good farmer's wife sent me a
sufficient meal which only cost me thirty Venetian sous. After
satisfying my appetite, feeling that sleep was creeping on me, I set
out again on the tramp, well braced up. In four hours' time I
stopped at a hamlet, and found that I was twenty-four miles from
Trevisa. I was done up, my ankles were swollen, and my shoes were in
holes. There was only another hour of day-light before us.
Stretching myself out beneath a grove of trees I made Father Balbi
sit by me, and discoursed to him in the manner following:
"We must make for Borgo di Valsugano, it is the first town beyond the
borders of the Republic. We shall be as safe there as if we were in
London, and we can take our ease for awhile; but to get there we must
go carefully to work, and the first thing we must do is to separate.
You must go by Mantello Woods, and I by the mountains; you by the
easiest and shortest way, and I by the longest and most difficult;
you with money and I without a penny. I will make you a present of
my cloak, which you must exchange for a great coat and a hat, and
everybody will take you for a countryman, as you are luckily rather
like one in the face. Take these seventeen livres, which is all that
remains to me of the two sequins Count Asquin gave me. You will
reach Borgo by the day after to-morrow, and I shall be twenty-four
hours later. Wait for me in the first inn on the left-hand side of
the street, and be sure I shall come in due season. I require a good
night's rest in a good bed; and Providence will get me one somewhere,
but I must sleep without fear of being disturbed, and in your company
that would be out of the question. I am certain that we are being
sought for on all sides, and that our descriptions have been so
correctly given that if we went into any inn together we should be
certain to be arrested. You see the state I am in, and my urgent
necessity for a ten hours' rest. Farewell, then, do you go that way
and I will take this, and I will find somewhere near here a rest for
the sole of my foot."
"I have been expecting you to say as much," said Father Balbi, "and
for answer I will remind you of the promise you gave me when I let
myself be persuaded to break into your cell. You promised me that we
should always keep company; and so don't flatter yourself that I
shall leave you, your fate and mine are linked together. We shall be
able to get a good refuge for our money, we won't go to the inns, and
no one will arrest us."
"You are determined, are you, not to follow the good advice I have
"We shall see about that."
I rose to my feet, though with some difficulty, and taking the
measure of his height I marked it out upon the ground, then drawing
my pike from my pocket, I proceeded with the utmost coolness to
excavate the earth, taking no notice of the questions the monk asked
me. After working: for a quarter of an hour I set myself to gaze
sadly upon him, and I told him that I felt obliged as a Christian to
warn him to commend his soul to God, "since I am about to bury you
here, alive or dead; and if you prove the stronger, you will bury me.
You can escape if you wish to, as I shall not pursue you."
He made no reply, and I betook myself to my work again, but I confess
that I began to be afraid of being rushed to extremities by this
brute, of whom I was determined to rid myself.
At last, whether convinced by my arguments or afraid Of my pike, he
came towards me. Not guessing. What he was about, I presented the
point of my pike towards him, but I had nothing to fear.
"I will do what you want," said he.
I straightway gave him all the money I had, and promising to rejoin
him at Borgo I bade him farewell. Although I had not a penny in my
pocket and had two rivers to cross over, I congratulated myself on
having got rid of a man of his character, for by myself I felt
confident of being able to cross the bounds of the Republic.
I Find a Lodging in the House of the Chief of the Sbirri--I Pass a
Good Night There and Recover My Strength--I Go to Mass--
A Disagreeable Meeting I Am Obliged to Take Six Sequins by Force--
Out of Danger--Arrived at Munich--Balbi I Set Out for Paris--
My Arrival--Attempt on the Life of Louis XV
As soon as I saw Father Balbi far enough off I got up, and seeing at
a little distance a shepherd keeping his flock on the hill-side, I
made my way-towards him to obtain such information as I needed.
"What is the name of this village, my friend?" said I.
"Valde Piadene, signor," he answered, to my surprise, for I found I
was much farther on my way that I thought. I next asked him the
owners of five or six houses which I saw scattered around, and the
persons he mentioned chanced to be all known to me, but were not the
kind of men I should have cared to trouble with my presence. On my
asking him the name of a palace before me, he said it belonged to the
Grimanis, the chief of whom was a State Inquisitor, and then resident
at the palace, so I had to take care not to let him see me. Finally,
an my enquiring the owner of a red house in the distance, he told me,
much to my surprise, that it belonged to the chief of the sbirri.
Bidding farewell to the kindly shepherd I began to go down the hill
mechanically, and I am still puzzled to know what instinct directed
my steps towards that house, which common sense and fear also should
have made me shun. I steered my course for it in a straight line,
and I can say with truth that I did so quite unwittingly. If it be
true that we have all of us an invisible intelligence--a beneficent
genius who guides our steps aright--as was the case with Socrates, to
that alone I should attribute the irresistible attraction which drew
me towards the house where I had most to dread. However that may be,
it was the boldest stroke I have played in my whole life.
I entered with an easy and unconstrained air, and asked a child who
was playing at top in the court-yard where his father was. Instead
of replying, the child went to call his mother, and directly
afterwards appeared a pretty woman in the family way, who politely
asked me my business with her husband, apologizing for his absence.
"I am sorry," I said, "to hear that my gossip is not in, though at
the same time I am delighted to make the acquaintance of his charming
"Your gossip? You will be M. Vetturi, then? My husband told me that
you had kindly promised to be the god-father of our next child. I am
delighted to know you, but my husband will be very vexed to have been
"I hope he will soon return, as I wanted to ask him for a night's
lodging. I dare not go anywhere in the state you see me."
"You shall have the best bed in the house, and I will get you a good
supper. My husband when he comes back will thank your excellence for
doing us so much honour. He went away with all his people an hour
ago, and I don't expect him back for three or four days."
"Why is he away for such a long time, my dear madam?"
"You have not heard, then, that two prisoners have escaped from The
Leads? One is a noble and the other a private individual named
Casanova. My husband has received a letter from Messer-Grande
ordering him to make a search for them; if he find them he will take
them back to Venice, and if not he will return here, but he will be
on the look-out for three days at least."
"I am sorry for this accident, my dear madam, but I should not like
to put you out, and indeed I should be glad to lie down immediately."
"You shall do so, and my mother shall attend to your wants. But what
is the matter with your knees?"
"I fell down whilst hunting on the mountains, and gave myself some
severe wounds, and am much weakened by loss of blood."
"Oh! my poor gentleman, my poor gentleman! But my mother will cure
She called her mother, and having told her of my necessities she went
out. This pretty sbirress had not the wit of her profession, for the
story I had told her sounded like a fairy-tale. On horseback with
white silk stockings! Hunting in sarcenet, without cloak and without
a man! Her husband would make fine game of her when he came back;
but God bless her for her kind heart and benevolent stupidity. Her
mother tended me with all the politeness I should have met with in
the best families. The worthy woman treated me like a mother, and
called me "son" as she attended to my wounds. The name sounded
pleasantly in my ears, and did no little towards my cure by the
sentiments it awoke in my breast. If I had been less taken up with
the position I was in I should have repaid her care with some evident