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Don Tarquinio
A Kataleptic Phantasmatic
Romance

Chapter XXIII

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A company of paparchal familiars entered. Some brought a table sustaining the apparatus for dining. Others brought another table covered with a fair linen cloth. On the last, the cook placed a covered dish: the butler, a dish of raisins and a basket of bread: the cellarer, a glass flask of wine and another of water. I never have seen a service so extremely plain.

Being now fulfilled with vigour and thankfulness, I longed to do something dynamic. Wherefore, I violently hustled three pages, robbing them of the basin and the ewer and the towel; and, on my knees, I did boy’s service, while our Lord the Paparch first washed His hands.

He smiled at mine ardour: but knowing (in His enormous wisdom) that I was excited


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beyond measure, He addressed His words to Ippolito, saying:

“Most of thy colleagues, o Cardinal of Ferrara, are either in prison or in rebellion; and the orators1 and the barons are unwilling to dine with Us, by cause that We so far abstain from carnal lusts in that a single dish sufficeth for our table. Consequently, when We find in Our hand, at dinner time, a cardinal-prince and a Roman patrician, it is but natural that they should become Our guests. What is enough for one is enough for ij, and what is enough for ij is enough for iij. Let then stools be set for the cardinal and for this white flame of adolescence.”

So this Sanctity deigned to give order.

The table, being an high one, was wheeled to our Lord the Paparch where He sat on His elevated chair. But our stools were heightened

1. The ambassadors of the Powers, who, at this epoch, did most of their ambassadorial business in flowery rhetoric.


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by cushions. Very strange ceremonial was observed at this meal.

A chamberlain presented a bundle of napkins, from which we each selected ij. With the first, we scrupulously rubbed our platters and knives and forks and moss-agate cups, before using the same. With the second, we protected our garments from slops, or wiped our mouths before drinking. All this being strange to me, I carefully imitated the example of Ippolito, perceiving him to be acquainted with the practice. But I wondered greatly what might be the significance of such elaborate functions. And anon it was given to me to understand.

For the cook, having uncovered the dish, genuflected; and presented beef and olives to Our Lord the Paparch: Who Himself deigned to cut off a mouthful at random, putting the same on a fork with an olive similarly selected; and watched the said cook eating both morsels. This having been done, His Sanctity took His portion of the viands;


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and the dish was brought to us others in turn. In like manner, the butler proffered the bread-basket; and ate crust and crumb of the Paparch’s choosing, before any bread was so much as touched by us iij. The same ceremony having been kept with the raisins, the dish and the basket were established on the table under our eyes. The cellarer brought also the wine and water; and, having drunk a cupful of both, which the Paparch deigned to pour for him, he filled for us, and placed the flasks by side of the dish of raisins.

By this time, I had become conscious that these practices merely were a substitute for the customary venom-taster; and, all incontinent, I said, by way of comment, that life would not be worth my while, if I were compelled to take so many meticulous precautions against venom every time when I desired to satiate mine hunger.

Our Lord the Paparch retorted on me, saying:


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“The life of Him who is God’s Vicegerent is not worth any man’s while.”

And He began to speak to Ippolito, as soon as the servitors had left us alone, questioning him very acutely concerning the events of the night and morning. It was very strange to hear Him talking of the Cardinal of Valencia:1 for He by no means spoke of that splendid purpled person, tawny, tiger-like, as a father speaketh of the son of his loins, nor did He speak of the said adolescent as a slave speaketh of his tyrant or as a victim speaketh of his persecutor, in despite of those who very vainly have alleged that Cesare dominated the indomitable Alexander: but it seemed to me that He spoke of him rather as one would speak of a servant of hyperexcellent parts, whom one employeth for

1. This piece of the holograph, although not exactly germane to the thread of the story (except in so far as it is the reflections of Don Tarquinio while a guest at the paparchal dinner-table), is extremely interesting as history, especially to all sorts of silly daws who would like to pretend to think otherwise.


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the sake of another who is served by such employment of such a servant. And this indeed is true: for we now know that Madonna Giovannozza bore Cesare to Giuliano1 before she bore Juan Francisco2 and Lucrezia and Gioffredo to Rodrigo3; and, that Alexander should have deigned to advance the fortunes of Cesare, as well for that splendid prince’s own utility as for the love which He bore for the mother of the same, is only natural. But, while I was excogitating the matter, I did not omit to devour as much food as decorum permitted, I being most terrifically hungry, and the attention of the other ij being diverted from me during nearly all the time.

And anon, at the end, our Lord the

1. Cardinal Dellarovere (who afterward became Julius the Second) was named Giuliano.

2. The young Duke of Gandia who was murdered.

3. Cardinal Borja y Borja (who became Alexander the Sixth) was named Rodrigo. And here we seem to have gotten to the bottom of one of the many Borgia mysteries – viz., the real parentage and status of Cesare (called) Borgia.


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Paparch thus addressed me by the same appellation as before; and He used the Roman tongue in a very archaic manner, saying:

“Dear lovely child, what wouldst thou have and what canst thou do?”

But, before that I was able to utter a syllable, Ippolito interrupted, reciting a category of my numerous peculiar excellencies, which I will not include in this history, seeing that they are known to every man. But, after many words concerning my bravery, he ended with the assertion of Messer Pierettore that I could write Greek and speak it like Saint Gabriel Archangel.

This seemed to be intended as an advice to me: for which cause, seeing that the Paparch’s grand eyes still dwelled on me as though expecting mine own response, I began to orate in the crisp and dulcet syllabification of Hellas, saying:

“Wisdom, as I suppose, is a different thing from courage.”1

1. χωρὶς δήπου σοφία ἐστὶν ἀνδρείας (Platôn) [chôris dêpou sophia estin andreias, Laches, 195a].


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But there our Lord the Paparch stopped me, saying again:

“Dear lovely child, thou shalt know that an old man like Ourself, Who hath been worried by recalcitrant kings and by other naughty men, hath forgotten all the Greek which He ever knew, save the wail of that scribe who wrote, Would that We could grow young again.”1

But the saying was a pathetic one, tear-bringing, love-inspiring; and, at that moment, I could not think of anything better to say than that I was in all things obedient to His sovereign will.

He was listening very intently: for, having afforded me so much time for recollection, I think that He expected me to make an elaborate discourse. But I, being mindful of His supremacy not less than of His generosity, preferred to shew an equal generosity and confidence on mine own part: for which cause,

1. ἀνηβητηρίαν ῥώμην ἐπαινῶ λαμβάνειν (Eyripides) [anêbêtêrian rômên epainô lambanein (sic), Andromache, 552f.].


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I responded as aforesaid. He urged me then to make a formal definite petition: but, being indeed very pleased with the form of words which I had used, I continued to respond to all His urging, saying only:

“I am in all things obedient to my sovereign’s will.”

At this the paparchal pages returned, bringing the rosewater for our last hand-washing. This duty having been performed and the psalm ended, they removed the tables and retired.

Ippolito stood up, stretching his gigantic limbs and combing his hair: but our Lord the Paparch was observing me all the time. As the servitors were going away, He shot a sudden commandment after them to bring a skin of parchment, with ink and pens and pounce.

This having been done, and we iij being alone again, He ordained that I should bring my stool near to Him, having thrown the cushions aside, and having placed the writing


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materials on it; and also that I should kneel there, ready to write.

Thus, He Himself dictated to me the petition, which thou, o Prospero, knowest to be the most precious document in thy father’s archives. But, although thou hast seen the same so often that its contents are impressed indelibly on thy memory, nevertheless I will not omit to transcribe it here, in order that this history may be perfect and complete, videlicet:

The petition of the Roman patrician named Tarquinio Giorgio Drakontoletes Poplicola di Hagiostayros
is
that he may be delivered from the Great Ban,
that he may be relieved from all disabilities,
that he may be absolved from all canonical censures and excommunications,
in his own person,
and
in the persons of all of his house:


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also
that he himself may be named among the Advocates of the Sacred Consistory, where he may use his mind:
also
that he himself may be named among Our knights of Saint George for the Defence of Christendom, where he may use his body against the foes of our Most Holy Faith.

Thus He spoke and thus I had written: but when I conned it over, as I threw the golden pounce upon the wet ink, a kind of terror seized me; and I began again to shake like one in a palsy. And suddenly a new diversion occurred.

Numerous footsteps and voices approached the door of the turret, wafting a delicate odour as of women and love.