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Don Tarquinio
A Kataleptic Phantasmatic

Chapter XX


Having made shift to get as far as the threshold of my proper antechamber, my limbs failed me there; and I sank to the ground.

The way through the palace was long and devious. All the family was in the audience-chamber; and I encountered no assistant on my painful passage.

I was so utterly exhausted that I ceased to care for anything at all; and the mind in my breast advised me to lie still, until such time when my servitors should come to me. For, it being known that I had returned to the palace, I did not doubt but that search would be made for me.

That antechamber, o Prospero, was a very long room panelled with slabs of lapis-lazuli and malachite. The ceiling of it was painted with the images of the Divine Hylas struggling


with the nymphs. I deliberated that my maid was fairer than any of these; and I wondered what she might be doing at that moment.

The sunlight streamed in through the row of windows which abutted on the court, brightening the gilding of the cornice. On the other side all the outer doors of my divers chambers stood open; but I continued to lie where I was on the very threshold of the antechamber, happy, drowsy, not anxious to go further.

Anon, a posse of my familiars came running up the stairs behind me, moaning and shouting commiseration for my condition: who, having carried me into the bathing-chamber, stripped me, and began to perform their office. And now indeed my mind devised new schemes; and I became most anxious for instant restoration of my normal aspect. Wherefore, I condemned them for a parcel of fools and lazy oaves; and I issued divers peremptory commandments.

Pages galloped hither and thither to and


from the wardrobe, bringing towels, ewers of various waters, and all the apparatus of washing, with numerous ceremonial garments, trays of jewels, flasks of the quintessence of southernwood, and the paraphernalia of mine estate.

While my flesh was being scrubbed, I selected a certain very singular new habit, which, by the benignance of my stars, I had caused to be made, when I first entered the City, for just such an occasion as the present appeared likely to be. For now my mind was persuaded that but one more turn of Divine Fortune’s wheel would bring me to the top. But here my meditations were interrupted.

Ippolito with the Tyrant Lucrezia, and Gioffredo with the Princess Sancia, and mine own maid with all the company, came bounding up the stair inquiring for me.

A gesture from the chamberlains at my door kept them in the antechamber. The said door was not quite shut; and, having put


my wet hair away from mine eyes, I was able (through the crevice) to see Gioffredo and his wife going to the embrasure of one of the windows. There they sat down, billing and cooing: but the others, unseen by me, began to bombard me with questions.

Ippolito vociferated, saying:

“Gioffredo saith that thou hast done that which thou didst set out to do. Tell us of the same, o Sideynes.”

To whom I briefly responded (for, at the moment, the page on the stool was deluging me with hot water), saying:

“Pietrogorio hath received both messages and he desireth nothing better than to die for the Cardinal of Valencia, o Hebe.”

But, when I had said this, I noted that my servitors were wearing a rather desperate aspect: nor durst they give more than deprecating gestures and sad imploring glances to my prompt interrogations. Wherefore, having commanded them to bring mirrors, I placed myself between the same in order that I might


examine my person. What I saw on the flesh of my back caused me to utter certain very fervent objurgations.

The people in the antechamber with one voice instantly demanded the cause of mine anger.

To whom I indignantly responded, saying that the cyphers evidently were indelible: for vigorous scrubbing with hot water and lupin-meal only rendered my white flesh whiter, but the diagram itself remained clearly grey. It was a terrific predicament.

A certain page suggested an application of pumice: but I indignantly denied him, not being willing to have my smooth flesh roughened and ruined.

Those friends of mine in the antechamber cackled with laughter at my discomfiture; and Madonna Lucrezia implored me to exhibit the accursed inscription. Ippolito also placed a similar request: to whose voice all the others added theirs.

My pages having swathed me in dry sheets


(covering me from head to foot like a shrouded cadaver but exposing my back), I placed myself for a few moments in the open doorway. Everybody giggled; and came near. I heard their snuffling gasps of exclamation; and felt the warm breath of the heads which stooped to gaze. No one was able to read the cyphers. These be they, o Prospero.

Secret Message


The Tyrant Lucrezia instantly averred that this was a lovely device for embroidering in gold on the front of a bodice, and that such a work would drive the plain Marchioness of Mantua mad with envy.

Ippolito, having traced the grey lines slowly with the tip of a loving finger (for so I felt it to be), stated an opinion that this was the kabbalistic character invented by Messer Honorios, formerly of Thebes, which Cesare was known to have taken from that erudite Gothic boy called Enrico Cornelio Agrippa von Nettesheim, who now is a councillor of the Emperor. In this case, he said, no one could read it save Cesare only and his proper familiars. As for the defilement of my flesh, he said, it no doubt would wear off in time.

And then I rejoiced very greatly: for I heard the dear little voice of my maid, saying:

“We will offer most fervent prayers that


the lord cardinal’s prediction may not lack fulfilment.”

At which words Madonna Lucrezia suddenly turned to examine the last speaker, instantly becoming agog for match-making. In her opinion, so she said, so beautiful a gentleman was fit to be anybody’s husband.

Ippolito put in a salient word about the Great Ban.

That, she said, could not be permitted to run longer in despite of such an one as I had shown myself to be. For which cause, she said, the beautiful and blameless gentleman in the doorway instantly must hasten to the Castle of Santangelo with the present company, in order to tell all the tale to our Lord the Paparch Himself.

I howled with delight; and, having leaped forward into my secret chambers, I commanded the pages to indue me with mine habits using extreme celerity.

Ippolito cried out, inquiring whether Pietrogorio had read the cypher message to me,


demanding also what the said noble was going to do.

To whom I responded, saying that His Nobility had read the inscription as signifying: “Statim adveniunt Gallicani, cum iis ego, obses retentus: fac ut exquiras, et auxilium praestes – The Gallicans are upon thee, with me as their hostage; find me, and lend succour:” and the autograph, “C. Caral de Valencia.” Also I said that I was ignorant of Pietrogorio’s plans, knowing only that he had sent me to buy up all the horses at the posthouse of Cinthyanum in Cesare’s name. And I added that the said adolescent, in my judgment, was not only a very Odysseys for deep-scheming, but also a gentleman with whom it would be safe to play odd-and-even in the dark.

Having pondered these words, Ippolito began to have an inkling of Pietrogorio’s plan. So he said. For there are but ij leagues between Velletri and Cinthyanum, which last city doth belong to Rome; and,


if Cesare could get there and find himself master of all means of transit, he would have no difficulty in effecting a speedy return. But those ij leagues were the crux of the affair. Such was Ippolito’s sentence.

The Tyrant Lucrezia delivered herself of another opinion. She said that Cesare was a beast, a fine beast, an admirable beast, an irresistible beast, and just now a necessary (nay) an indispensable beast. And she was quite certain that he would contrive to cover those ij leagues.

But, at the moment of speaking, at length I escaped from my pages, radiant, delicate, princely, in a habit of state.