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Don Tarquinio
A Kataleptic Phantasmatic

Chapter VI


That secret chamber, o Prospero, was circular and very large. The walls and the vaulted roof were covered with a veneer of ivory iij barley-corns in thickness, smoothly gleaming. Ivory images of fauns and nymphs as large as life, xj of the one, x of the other, stood on ivory pedestals round the walls supporting the cornice. The said cornice also was of ivory carved with a dance of satyrs in basso rilievo. Wax torches burned on tall gold candlesticks placed on the floor between the images, except in the spaces occupied by the ivory door and the window. The last was furnished with a balcony over Tiber; and shewed a view of the City in darkening twilight. The floor was covered by a very thick black carpet from Byzantion.

Having washed our fingers at the gold


lavabo by the door, we composed ourselves on massive black velvet cushions, which were heaped up here and there upon the floor. Ippolito drew up a low ivory table; and offered sweetmeats to us from a gold box, cursing meanwhile by cause that the pile of napkins for the night was lacking. In the midst of his objurgations, a servitor hurried in with an armful, depositing the same by the lavabo. Ippolito resumed his normal grave smile.

The men of letters swaggered in, bent on improving our minds. The first read the histories of Solon and Publius Valerius Poplicola with Parallel, from the βίοι παραλλήλοι of Messer Ploytarchos: the second read a page of Messer Cicero’s Oration for Caecina: the third declaimed the eighteenth canto of Messer Alighieri’s Paradiso: the fourth intoned a lection from the Evangel of Saint John the Divine (whose Greek, o Prospero, is purer than that of the other Apostles, especially Saint Paul), and he used the second volume of that


fine Bible which cost Duke Borso d’Este mccclxxv sequins.1

Prince Gioffredo became uneasy in his body: for he had not expected this kind of entertainment. Wherefore Ippolito conversed with him apart, while I became obedient to the mages who were my masters for the nonce: it being at all times my will, as it should be thine, o my mercurial son, to give as much care to the acquisition of mental superiority as to the acquisition of physical. I translated aloud into Tuscan a folio of the Phaidôn of Plato, that absolute work, and a breve of Messer Plinius from the new edition which Messer Pomponius Laetus had given to Ippolito.2 Anon I meekly tolerated an adverse judgment of my weekly thesis, the absurd subject of which was The Irreducible Surd: nor did I even wince when Messer Pierettore denounced it by the epithet Childish, for now I was beyond concern for

1. About £7,500, or $37,500.

2. No doubt this was the edition issued in 1491.


these lesser matters, pondering the unmitigable calamity in which I stood.

Anon it was Ippolito’s turn to do his lessons; and mine to amuse the guest. That one, by no means satisfied with the grave conversation of the cardinal, looked upon me as being a more suitable companion; and he instantly proposed that we should ride through the City to see the sights of the night. I was by no means loath to oblige him: indeed the peril of such an adventure recommended itself to me as a means of escape from my melancholy.

While my decurion and the prince’s were being collected, I chose my mail-shirt from a trayful. Ippolito had obtained a few minutes’ interval in which to speed our departure; and he praised my caution to Prince Gioffredo, saying that foolhardiness was not courage, and that vanity (however just) should not breed rashness. The Paparch’s son watched me glittering in the pliant steel, while I was buckling on my sword-belt; and he said that I was as comely in the mail falling in escallops


round mine haunches as I was in silk or velvet. Thus he spoke; and, finding on the tray another mail-shirt so fine that his two hands plump, juicy with heat, completely covered it, he let my pages do it on him. Certainly he made a gallant show; and a mirror taught him that veiling the splendour of the body (in such a gleaming web) enhances the splendour of the limbs: which gave him great content.

We mounted in the first court; and gave the word to our ij decurions. The great gate yawned before us; and clanged behind us. With a pomp of xx torches, we clattered over Tiber by the double-bridge and the Island. The night was young. The City was still: for the Keltic army chiefly lay outside the Flaminian Gate and in the Region of Campo Marzo. We rode quietly, bidding our guards to follow us: for so the light of their torches made clear the way, and our eyes were not dazzled with the glare.

The Prince of Squillace said that he was going to amuse himself. I, desperate with the


oppression of my misery, declared that I also would amuse myself, Great Ban or no Great Ban, safely or unsafely. I had my sword and my x men with their lieutenant; and I would risk something for the sake of a little amusement.

Gioffredo said that Rome was a dull city, not to be compared for gaiety with little cities like Naples or Ferrara, seeing that Colonna and Orsini had eaten all the baronage save Cesarini, which last house alone remained leal to our Lord the Paparch. One might cultivate the arts, quoth he: or plague the rebellious barons and their Keltic friends: or sit in the Apostolic Palace making and unmaking kings and continents. But these were dismal sports, quoth he.

Little vulgar boys might go and throw stones on Campo Vaccino,1 in defiance of the Cardinal-Vicar’s edict, quoth I.

Degenerates, quoth he, might go and gamble

1. The waste land which occupied the side of the then unexcavated Forum.


with the white-faced cardinal, who certainly was the pink of fashion, but whose luck was too infernally good for younger sons.

We agreed that princes were much to be commiserated.

Formerly, quoth Gioffredo, much diversion had been gained by hunting Jews or Bargelli,1 slicing off their noses, or other ways afflicting them: but now the Paparch prohibited these exercitations, using Himself very kindly to the accursed race which so feloniously had slaughtered our Divine Redeemer, and being determined to keep order in the City by means of the said Bargelli. Wherefore, quoth he, these things being so, and the Paparch’s Sanctity being not only so good but also so loving and so dear that no one but a devil wilfully would offend Him, it behoved respectable princes to be at some pains in obeying Him.

I loved the boy for those words, o Prospero: for they showed that a good heart accompanied his handsome person and his lightly merry

1. Alexander the Sixth’s police.


temper. But I found no word to say; and mine unhappiness overwhelmed me. We both were silent. Anon we halted on the Square of Santangelo.

Gioffredo leaned across to me, slyly saying that we ought to seek legitimate adventures. I took fire at his words; and we rode on, through and through the Street of the Bear, peeping in the inns where foreigners lay: but we savoured no spice of adventure in the public resorts. At Saint John’s of the Florentines, we agreed to prowl separately; and, taking each our decurion, we chose different roads. Gioffredo went by Banchi Vecchi. I tried Giulia Street.

All the shops of the archers and armourers were shut on Campo de’ Fiore; and the eyes of the houses twinkled with no light. I avoided the Square of Catinari: for I could not bear to see the razed palace of our house there; and I halted under the Capitol at the foot of Toasted Beans Lane. I was drowning in the cold waters of unhappiness. I also was molested by the pangs of hunger: for study doth augment


the carnal appetite most wonderfully, and, at that time, it was necessary also that I continually should heap fuel on the furnace of the prime of mine adolescence. I diverged at a right angle, proceeding through a series of narrow streets, and by the black bulk of Rotondo1 in the Region of Pigna, to the Square of Saint Eustace: where I dismounted at the new Falcon Inn. Ippolito had spoken of this place, as being already famous for its grotesque chambers and its antic viands; and I wished to see for myself, and to taste food similar to that which had gratified mine illustrious forefathers: for it seemed that such a diversion would enable me to overcome the malignance of my stars.

The chamber, which I chose, was shaped like an isoskelene triangle couped at the apex by a circular alcove about iij braccie2 in diameter. The door was in the base of the triangle. The walls and roof and tiled floor were porphyry-colour. The last was strewn with lemon verbena, a most delicious odour, invigorating,

1. The Pantheon.                 2. 7 feet 8 inches.


passion-inspiring. The alcove was a couch of cushions. The shuttered windows concealed their blindness behind white and porphyry-coloured curtains. A rush-seated settle waited by a bronze table in the middle; and a lamp of vij wicks smiled from overhead. While I demanded supper of the innkeeper, I dismissed my cap and cloak into the alcove, giving my sword leave to rest by the bench, washing mine hands and combing mine hair as though there was no such thing as wretchedness on this orb of earth.

He named a boiled owl farced with assa-foetida, a roasted wild-boar with sweet sauce and pine-kernels, a bear’s hams, and a baked porpentine. I chose the boar and the porpentine for my proper repast, with a measure of the black wine of Marino; and I sent the bear’s hams and xj measures of wine to my decurion, paying two double giulj1 for the entertainment.

A sturdy Roman hob, in snowy linen with black hosen and leathern bellyband, brought

1. The double giulio was worth (say) a florin, but had about four times the latter’s purchasing value.


napery and the apparatus of the table. He came again with a dish on each hand, and the wine-flask’s loose rush cover gripped in his strong white teeth. This time, a clean-limbed youngster accompanied him, precociously and grandly formed, having a wonderful freshness of complexion, short curly brown hair, and an expression of disgust in his frank eyes.

The eye is the mirror of the soul, o Prospero, and it is of ij kinds, videlicet the open eye and the shut eye. The open eye denoteth a soul which is ready, willing, able, to enter into unreserved communion with its peer: not abnegating its proper rights, but sharing the same, according to the precepts of nobility. The shut eye is that eye wherein a veil is drawn continually, or at will, before the true image of the soul. It appertaineth to those unfortunate persons who, either from poorness of spirit or from vileness, wish to conceal their souls in selfish solitude. Note this, o Prospero. My proper preference (like that of all White Men) is for the open eye; and,


having seen this youngster, I knew that some benignant star had deigned to send me one with whom I was in sympathy; and I addressed myself to wait for further manifestations.

The boy appeared to be clothed on his arms and his sides and the outsides of his legs: but he really was covered from throat to wrist and foot with a single garment of knitted wool, resembling a skin, myrtle-green with a wide central stripe of flesh-colour, very ingenious. He did table-service inaccurately and disdainfully. It was plain that he never had served, and that he was accustomed to be served. Not a word was said while I satiated mine hunger.

When I had performed the last lavation, I lay back on the bench, stretching out my legs at length; and I formed a totally erroneous idea of the avocation of mine attendant. I did not speak: but only looked at him. He furiously blushed; and his eyes flamed… .

The events of the next quarter-hour will be set forth in another history, which thou, o Prospero, wilt read when thou shalt have come to the age of xv years… .


Anon, having summoned my lieutenant, I declared my will to him. I would rescue these ij children, taking the lad behind my saddle: but he would take the girl behind his. The decurion was to close our rear; and all was to be swiftly done.

So it was done. There were protests and outcries at the door, a fine affray, hard blows; and I stung more than one with my sword. But, when we were free of the crowd, I changed pursuers into scramblers, by scattering the contents of my purse on the cobble-stones; and so I escaped with my spoils.

We galloped through the Square of Navona in the Region of Parione;1 and, by the tortuous lanes of the Region of Ponte to Saint John’s of the Florentines.

Straightly behind me balanced, hands on his haunches, the lad rode. Strange was that fierce spell of riding through the darkness of night.

1. The fourteen districts of Rome were called “Regions.”