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My Grandmother Comes to Padua, and Takes Me to Dr. Gozzi's
School—My First Love Affair
As soon as I was left alone with the Sclavonian woman, she took me up to
the garret, where she pointed out my bed in a row with four others, three
of which belonged to three young boys of my age, who at that moment were
at school, and the fourth to a servant girl whose province it was to watch
us and to prevent the many peccadilloes in which school-boys are wont to
indulge. After this visit we came downstairs, and I was taken to the
garden with permission to walk about until dinner-time.
I felt neither happy nor unhappy; I had nothing to say. I had neither fear
nor hope, nor even a feeling of curiosity; I was neither cheerful nor sad.
The only thing which grated upon me was the face of the mistress of the
house. Although I had not the faintest idea either of beauty or of
ugliness, her face, her countenance, her tone of voice, her language,
everything in that woman was repulsive to me. Her masculine features
repelled me every time I lifted my eyes towards her face to listen to what
she said to me. She was tall and coarse like a trooper; her complexion was
yellow, her hair black, her eyebrows long and thick, and her chin gloried
in a respectable bristly beard: to complete the picture, her hideous,
half-naked bosom was hanging half-way down her long chest; she may have
been about fifty. The servant was a stout country girl, who did all the
work of the house; the garden was a square of some thirty feet, which had
no other beauty than its green appearance.
Towards noon my three companions came back from school, and they at once
spoke to me as if we had been old acquaintances, naturally giving me
credit for such intelligence as belonged to my age, but which I did not
possess. I did not answer them, but they were not baffled, and they at
last prevailed upon me to share their innocent pleasures. I had to run, to
carry and be carried, to turn head over heels, and I allowed myself to be
initiated into those arts with a pretty good grace until we were summoned
to dinner. I sat down to the table; but seeing before me a wooden spoon, I
pushed it back, asking for my silver spoon and fork to which I was much
attached, because they were a gift from my good old granny. The servant
answered that the mistress wished to maintain equality between the boys,
and I had to submit, much to my disgust. Having thus learned that equality
in everything was the rule of the house, I went to work like the others
and began to eat the soup out of the common dish, and if I did not
complain of the rapidity with which my companions made it disappear, I
could not help wondering at such inequality being allowed. To follow this
very poor soup, we had a small portion of dried cod and one apple each,
and dinner was over: it was in Lent. We had neither glasses nor cups, and
we all helped ourselves out of the same earthen pitcher to a miserable
drink called graspia, which is made by boiling in water the stems of
grapes stripped of their fruit. From the following day I drank nothing but
water. This way of living surprised me, for I did not know whether I had a
right to complain of it. After dinner the servant took me to the school,
kept by a young priest, Doctor Gozzi, with whom the Sclavonian woman had
bargained for my schooling at the rate of forty sous a month, or the
eleventh part of a sequin.
The first thing to do was to teach me writing, and I was placed amongst
children of five and six years, who did not fail to turn me into ridicule
on account of my age.
On my return to the boarding-house I had my supper, which, as a matter of
course, was worse than the dinner, and I could not make out why the right
of complaint should be denied me. I was then put to bed, but there three
well-known species of vermin kept me awake all night, besides the rats,
which, running all over the garret, jumped on my bed and fairly made my
blood run cold with fright. This is the way in which I began to feel
misery, and to learn how to suffer it patiently. The vermin, which feasted
upon me, lessened my fear of the rats, and by a very lucky system of
compensation, the dread of the rats made me less sensitive to the bites of
the vermin. My mind was reaping benefit from the very struggle fought
between the evils which surrounded me. The servant was perfectly deaf to
As soon as it was daylight I ran out of the wretched garret, and, after
complaining to the girl of all I had endured during the night, I asked her
to give me a Clean shirt, the one I had on being disgusting to look at,
but she answered that I could only change my linen on a Sunday, and
laughed at me when I threatened to complain to the mistress. For the first
time in my life I shed tears of sorrow and of anger, when I heard my
companions scoffing at me. The poor wretches shared my unhappy condition,
but they were used to it, and that makes all the difference.
Sorely depressed, I went to school, but only to sleep soundly through the
morning. One of my comrades, in the hope of turning the affair into
ridicule at my expense, told the doctor the reason of my being so sleepy.
The good priest, however, to whom without doubt Providence had guided me,
called me into his private room, listened to all I had to say, saw with
his own eyes the proofs of my misery, and moved by the sight of the
blisters which disfigured my innocent skin, he took up his cloak, went
with me to my boarding-house, and shewed the woman the state I was in. She
put on a look of great astonishment, and threw all the blame upon the
servant. The doctor being curious to see my bed, I was, as much as he was,
surprised at the filthy state of the sheets in which I had passed the
night. The accursed woman went on blaming the servant, and said that she
would discharge her; but the girl, happening to be close by, and not
relishing the accusation, told her boldly that the fault was her own, and
she then threw open the beds of my companions to shew us that they did not
experience any better treatment. The mistress, raving, slapped her on the
face, and the servant, to be even with her, returned the compliment and
ran away. The doctor left me there, saying that I could not enter his
school unless I was sent to him as clean as the other boys. The result for
me was a very sharp rebuke, with the threat, as a finishing stroke, that
if I ever caused such a broil again, I would be ignominiously turned out
of the house.
I could not make it out; I had just entered life, and I had no knowledge
of any other place but the house in which I had been born, in which I had
been brought up, and in which I had always seen cleanliness and honest
comfort. Here I found myself ill-treated, scolded, although it did not
seem possible that any blame could be attached to me. At last the old
shrew tossed a shirt in my face, and an hour later I saw a new servant
changing the sheets, after which we had our dinner.
My schoolmaster took particular care in instructing me. He gave me a seat
at his own desk, and in order to shew my proper appreciation of such a
favour, I gave myself up to my studies; at the end of the first month I
could write so well that I was promoted to the grammar class.
The new life I was leading, the half-starvation system to which I was
condemned, and most likely more than everything else, the air of Padua,
brought me health such as I had never enjoyed before, but that very state
of blooming health made it still more difficult for me to bear the hunger
which I was compelled to endure; it became unbearable. I was growing
rapidly; I enjoyed nine hours of deep sleep, unbroken by any dreams, save
that I always fancied myself sitting at a well-spread table, and
gratifying my cruel appetite, but every morning I could realize in full
the vanity and the unpleasant disappointment of flattering dreams! This
ravenous appetite would at last have weakened me to death, had I not made
up my mind to pounce upon, and to swallow, every kind of eatables I could
find, whenever I was certain of not being seen.
Necessity begets ingenuity. I had spied in a cupboard of the kitchen some
fifty red herrings; I devoured them all one after the other, as well as
all the sausages which were hanging in the chimney to be smoked; and in
order to accomplish those feats without being detected, I was in the habit
of getting up at night and of undertaking my foraging expeditions under
the friendly veil of darkness. Every new-laid egg I could discover in the
poultry-yard, quite warm and scarcely dropped by the hen, was a most
delicious treat. I would even go as far as the kitchen of the schoolmaster
in the hope of pilfering something to eat.
The Sclavonian woman, in despair at being unable to catch the thieves,
turned away servant after servant. But, in spite of all my expeditions, as
I could not always find something to steal, I was as thin as a walking
My progress at school was so rapid during four or five months that the
master promoted me to the rank of dux. My province was to examine the
lessons of my thirty school-fellows, to correct their mistakes and report
to the master with whatever note of blame or of approval I thought they
deserved; but my strictness did not last long, for idle boys soon found
out the way to enlist my sympathy. When their Latin lesson was full of
mistakes, they would buy me off with cutlets and roast chickens; they even
gave me money. These proceedings excited my covetousness, or, rather, my
gluttony, and, not satisfied with levying a tax upon the ignorant, I
became a tyrant, and I refused well-merited approbation to all those who
declined paying the contribution I demanded. At last, unable to bear my
injustice any longer, the boys accused me, and the master, seeing me
convicted of extortion, removed me from my exalted position. I would very
likely have fared badly after my dismissal, had not Fate decided to put an
end to my cruel apprenticeship.
Doctor Gozzi, who was attached to me, called me privately one day into his
study, and asked me whether I would feel disposed to carry out the advice
he would give me in order to bring about my removal from the house of the
Sclavonian woman, and my admission in his own family. Finding me delighted
at such an offer, he caused me to copy three letters which I sent, one to
the Abbe Grimani, another to my friend Baffo, and the last to my excellent
grandam. The half-year was nearly out, and my mother not being in Venice
at that period there was no time to lose.
In my letters I gave a description of all my sufferings, and I
prognosticated my death were I not immediately removed from my
boarding-house and placed under the care of my school-master, who was
disposed to receive me; but he wanted two sequins a month.
M. Grimani did not answer me, and commissioned his friend Ottaviani to
scold me for allowing myself to be ensnared by the doctor; but M. Baffo
went to consult with my grandmother, who could not write, and in a letter
which he addressed to me he informed me that I would soon find myself in a
happier situation. And, truly, within a week the excellent old woman, who
loved me until her death, made her appearance as I was sitting down to my
dinner. She came in with the mistress of the house, and the moment I saw
her I threw my arms around her neck, crying bitterly, in which luxury the
old lady soon joined me. She sat down and took me on her knees; my courage
rose again. In the presence of the Sclavonian woman I enumerated all my
grievances, and after calling her attention to the food, fit only for
beggars, which I was compelled to swallow, I took her upstairs to shew her
my bed. I begged her to take me out and give me a good dinner after six
months of such starvation. The boarding-house keeper boldly asserted that
she could not afford better for the amount she had received, and there was
truth in that, but she had no business to keep house and to become the
tormentor of poor children who were thrown on her hands by stinginess, and
who required to be properly fed.
My grandmother very quietly intimated her intention to take me away
forthwith, and asked her to put all my things in my trunk. I cannot
express my joy during these preparations. For the first time I felt that
kind of happiness which makes forgiveness compulsory upon the being who
enjoys it, and causes him to forget all previous unpleasantness. My
grandmother took me to the inn, and dinner was served, but she could
hardly eat anything in her astonishment at the voracity with which I was
swallowing my food. In the meantime Doctor Gozzi, to whom she had sent
notice of her arrival, came in, and his appearance soon prepossessed her
in his favour. He was then a fine-looking priest, twenty-six years of age,
chubby, modest, and respectful. In less than a quarter of an hour
everything was satisfactorily arranged between them. The good old lady
counted out twenty-four sequins for one year of my schooling, and took a
receipt for the same, but she kept me with her for three days in order to
have me clothed like a priest, and to get me a wig, as the filthy state of
my hair made it necessary to have it all cut off.
At the end of the three days she took me to the doctor's house, so as to
see herself to my installation and to recommend me to the doctor's mother,
who desired her to send or to buy in Padua a bedstead and bedding; but the
doctor having remarked that, his own bed being very wide, I might sleep
with him, my grandmother expressed her gratitude for all his kindness, and
we accompanied her as far as the burchiello she had engaged to return to
The family of Doctor Gozzi was composed of his mother, who had great
reverence for him, because, a peasant by birth, she did not think herself
worthy of having a son who was a priest, and still more a doctor in
divinity; she was plain, old, and cross; and of his father, a shoemaker by
trade, working all day long and never addressing a word to anyone, not
even during the meals. He only became a sociable being on holidays, on
which occasions he would spend his time with his friends in some tavern,
coming home at midnight as drunk as a lord and singing verses from Tasso.
When in this blissful state the good man could not make up his mind to go
to bed, and became violent if anyone attempted to compel him to lie down.
Wine alone gave him sense and spirit, for when sober he was incapable of
attending to the simplest family matter, and his wife often said that he
never would have married her had not his friends taken care to give him a
good breakfast before he went to the church.
But Doctor Gozzi had also a sister, called Bettina, who at the age of
thirteen was pretty, lively, and a great reader of romances. Her father
and mother scolded her constantly because she was too often looking out of
the window, and the doctor did the same on account of her love for
reading. This girl took at once my fancy without my knowing why, and
little by little she kindled in my heart the first spark of a passion
which, afterwards became in me the ruling one.
Six months after I had been an inmate in the house, the doctor found
himself without scholars; they all went away because I had become the sole
object of his affection. He then determined to establish a college, and to
receive young boys as boarders; but two years passed before he met with
any success. During that period he taught me everything he knew; true, it
was not much; yet it was enough to open to me the high road to all
sciences. He likewise taught me the violin, an accomplishment which proved
very useful to me in a peculiar circumstance, the particulars of which I
will give in good time. The excellent doctor, who was in no way a
philosopher, made me study the logic of the Peripatetics, and the
cosmography of the ancient system of Ptolemy, at which I would laugh,
teasing the poor doctor with theorems to which he could find no answer.
His habits, moreover, were irreproachable, and in all things connected
with religion, although no bigot, he was of the greatest strictness, and,
admitting everything as an article of faith, nothing appeared difficult to
his conception. He believed the deluge to have been universal, and he
thought that, before that great cataclysm, men lived a thousand years and
conversed with God, that Noah took one hundred years to build the ark, and
that the earth, suspended in the air, is firmly held in the very centre of
the universe which God had created from nothing. When I would say and
prove that it was absurd to believe in the existence of nothingness, he
would stop me short and call me a fool.
He could enjoy a good bed, a glass of wine, and cheerfulness at home. He
did not admire fine wits, good jests or criticism, because it easily turns
to slander, and he would laugh at the folly of men reading newspapers
which, in his opinion, always lied and constantly repeated the same
things. He asserted that nothing was more troublesome than incertitude,
and therefore he condemned thought because it gives birth to doubt.
His ruling passion was preaching, for which his face and his voice
qualified him; his congregation was almost entirely composed of women of
whom, however, he was the sworn enemy; so much so, that he would not look
them in the face even when he spoke to them. Weakness of the flesh and
fornication appeared to him the most monstrous of sins, and he would be
very angry if I dared to assert that, in my estimation, they were the most
venial of faults. His sermons were crammed with passages from the Greek
authors, which he translated into Latin. One day I ventured to remark that
those passages ought to be translated into Italian because women did not
understand Latin any more than Greek, but he took offence, and I never had
afterwards the courage to allude any more to the matter. Moreover he
praised me to his friends as a wonder, because I had learned to read Greek
alone, without any assistance but a grammar.
During Lent, in the year 1736, my mother, wrote to the doctor; and, as she
was on the point of her departure for St. Petersburg, she wished to see
me, and requested him to accompany me to Venice for three or four days.
This invitation set him thinking, for he had never seen Venice, never
frequented good company, and yet he did not wish to appear a novice in
anything. We were soon ready to leave Padua, and all the family escorted
us to the 'burchiello'.
My mother received the doctor with a most friendly welcome; but she was
strikingly beautiful, and my poor master felt very uncomfortable, not
daring to look her in the face, and yet called upon to converse with her.
She saw the dilemma he was in, and thought she would have some amusing
sport about it should opportunity present itself. I, in the meantime, drew
the attention of everyone in her circle; everybody had known me as a fool,
and was amazed at my improvement in the short space of two years. The
doctor was overjoyed, because he saw that the full credit of my
transformation was given to him.
The first thing which struck my mother unpleasantly was my light-coloured
wig, which was not in harmony with my dark complexion, and contrasted most
woefully with my black eyes and eyebrows. She inquired from the doctor why
I did not wear my own hair, and he answered that, with a wig, it was
easier for his sister to keep me clean. Everyone smiled at the simplicity
of the answer, but the merriment increased when, to the question made by
my mother whether his sister was married, I took the answer upon myself,
and said that Bettina was the prettiest girl of Padua, and was only
fourteen years of age. My mother promised the doctor a splendid present
for his sister on condition that she would let me wear my own hair, and he
promised that her wishes would be complied with. The peruke-maker was then
called, and I had a wig which matched my complexion.
Soon afterwards all the guests began to play cards, with the exception of
my master, and I went to see my brothers in my grandmother's room.
Francois shewed me some architectural designs which I pretended to admire;
Jean had nothing to skew me, and I thought him a rather insignificant boy.
The others were still very young.
At the supper-table, the doctor, seated next to my mother, was very
awkward. He would very likely not have said one word, had not an
Englishman, a writer of talent, addressed him in Latin; but the doctor,
being unable to make him out, modestly answered that he did not understand
English, which caused much hilarity. M. Baffo, however, explained the
puzzle by telling us that Englishmen read and pronounced Latin in the same
way that they read and spoke their own language, and I remarked that
Englishmen were wrong as much as we would be, if we pretended to read and
to pronounce their language according to Latin rules. The Englishman,
pleased with my reasoning, wrote down the following old couplet, and gave
it to me to read:
'Dicite, grammatici, cur mascula nomina cunnus,
Et cur femineum mentula nomen habet.'
After reading it aloud, I exclaimed, "This is Latin indeed."
"We know that," said my mother, "but can you explain it?"
"To explain it is not enough," I answered; "it is a question which is
worthy of an answer." And after considering for a moment, I wrote the
'Disce quod a domino nomina servus habet.'
This was my first literary exploit, and I may say that in that very
instant the seed of my love for literary fame was sown in my breast, for
the applause lavished upon me exalted me to the very pinnacle of
happiness. The Englishman, quite amazed at my answer, said that no boy of
eleven years had ever accomplished such a feat, embraced me repeatedly,
and presented me with his watch. My mother, inquisitive like a woman,
asked M. Grimani to tell her the meaning of the lines, but as the abbe was
not any wiser than she was M. Baffo translated it in a whisper. Surprised
at my knowledge, she rose from her chair to get a valuable gold watch and
presented to my master, who, not knowing how to express his deep
gratitude, treated us to the most comic scene. My mother, in order to save
him from the difficulty of paying her a compliment, offered him her cheek.
He had only to give her a couple of kisses, the easiest and the most
innocent thing in good company; but the poor man was on burning coals, and
so completely out of countenance that he would, I truly believe, rather
have died than give the kisses. He drew back with his head down, and he
was allowed to remain in peace until we retired for the night.
When we found ourselves alone in our room, he poured out his heart, and
exclaimed that it was a pity he could not publish in Padua the distich and
"And why not?" I said.
"Because both are obscene."
"But they are sublime."
"Let us go to bed and speak no more on the subject. Your answer was
wonderful, because you cannot possibly know anything of the subject in
question, or of the manner in which verses ought to be written."
As far as the subject was concerned, I knew it by theory; for, unknown to
the doctor, and because he had forbidden it, I had read Meursius, but it
was natural that he should be amazed at my being able to write verses,
when he, who had taught me prosody, never could compose a single line.
'Nemo dat quod non habet' is a false axiom when applied to mental
Four days afterwards, as we were preparing for our departure, my mother
gave me a parcel for Bettina, and M. Grimani presented me with four
sequins to buy books. A week later my mother left for St. Petersburg.
After our return to Padua, my good master for three or four months never
ceased to speak of my mother, and Bettina, having found in the parcel five
yards of black silk and twelve pairs of gloves, became singularly attached
to me, and took such good care of my hair that in less than six months I
was able to give up wearing the wig. She used to comb my hair every
morning, often before I was out of bed, saying that she had not time to
wait until I was dressed. She washed my face, my neck, my chest; lavished
on me childish caresses which I thought innocent, but which caused me to,
be angry with myself, because I felt that they excited me. Three years
younger than she was, it seemed to me that she could not love me with any
idea of mischief, and the consciousness of my own vicious excitement put
me out of temper with myself. When, seated on my bed, she would say that I
was getting stouter, and would have the proof of it with her own hands,
she caused me the most intense emotion; but I said nothing, for fear she
would remark my sensitiveness, and when she would go on saying that my
skin was soft, the tickling sensation made me draw back, angry with myself
that I did not dare to do the same to her, but delighted at her not
guessing how I longed to do it. When I was dressed, she often gave me the
sweetest kisses, calling me her darling child, but whatever wish I had to
follow her example, I was not yet bold enough. After some time, however,
Bettina laughing at my timidity, I became more daring and returned her
kisses with interest, but I always gave way the moment I felt a wish to go
further; I then would turn my head, pretending to look for something, and
she would go away. She was scarcely out of the room before I was in
despair at not having followed the inclination of my nature, and,
astonished at the fact that Bettina could do to me all she was in the
habit of doing without feeling any excitement from it, while I could
hardly refrain from pushing my attacks further, I would every day
determine to change my way of acting.
In the early part of autumn, the doctor received three new boarders; and
one of them, who was fifteen years old, appeared to me in less than a
month on very friendly terms with Bettina.
This circumstance caused me a feeling of which until then I had no idea,
and which I only analyzed a few years afterwards. It was neither jealousy
nor indignation, but a noble contempt which I thought ought not to be
repressed, because Cordiani, an ignorant, coarse boy, without talent or
polite education, the son of a simple farmer, and incapable of competing
with me in anything, having over me but the advantage of dawning manhood,
did not appear to me a fit person to be preferred to me; my young
self-esteem whispered that I was above him. I began to nurse a feeling of
pride mixed with contempt which told against Bettina, whom I loved unknown
to myself. She soon guessed it from the way I would receive her caresses,
when she came to comb my hair while I was in bed; I would repulse her
hands, and no longer return her kisses. One day, vexed at my answering her
question as to the reason of my change towards her by stating that I had
no cause for it, she, told me in a tone of commiseration that I was
jealous of Cordiani. This reproach sounded to me like a debasing slander.
I answered that Cordiani was, in my estimation, as worthy of her as she
was worthy of him. She went away smiling, but, revolving in her mind the
only way by which she could be revenged, she thought herself bound to
render me jealous. However, as she could not attain such an end without
making me fall in love with her, this is the policy she adopted.
One morning she came to me as I was in bed and brought me a pair of white
stockings of her own knitting. After dressing my hair, she asked my
permission to try the stockings on herself, in order to correct any
deficiency in the other pairs she intended to knit for me. The doctor had
gone out to say his mass. As she was putting on the stocking, she remarked
that my legs were not clean, and without any more ado she immediately
began to wash them. I would have been ashamed to let her see my
bashfulness; I let her do as she liked, not foreseeing what would happen.
Bettina, seated on my bed, carried too far her love for cleanliness, and
her curiosity caused me such intense voluptuousness that the feeling did
not stop until it could be carried no further. Having recovered my calm, I
bethought myself that I was guilty and begged her forgiveness. She did not
expect this, and, after considering for a few moments, she told me kindly
that the fault was entirely her own, but that she never would again be
guilty of it. And she went out of the room, leaving me to my own thoughts.
They were of a cruel character. It seemed to me that I had brought
dishonour upon Bettina, that I had betrayed the confidence of her family,
offended against the sacred laws of hospitality, that I was guilty of a
most wicked crime, which I could only atone for by marrying her, in case
Bettina could make up her mind to accept for her husband a wretch unworthy
These thoughts led to a deep melancholy which went on increasing from day
to day, Bettina having entirely ceased her morning visits by my bedside.
During the first week, I could easily account for the girl's reserve, and
my sadness would soon have taken the character of the warmest love, had
not her manner towards Cordiani inoculated in my veins the poison of
jealousy, although I never dreamed of accusing her of the same crime
towards him that she had committed upon me.
I felt convinced, after due consideration, that the act she had been
guilty of with me had been deliberately done, and that her feelings of
repentance kept her away from me. This conviction was rather flattering to
my vanity, as it gave me the hope of being loved, and the end of all my
communings was that I made up my mind to write to her, and thus to give
I composed a letter, short but calculated to restore peace to her mind,
whether she thought herself guilty, or suspected me of feelings contrary
to those which her dignity might expect from me. My letter was, in my own
estimation, a perfect masterpiece, and just the kind of epistle by which I
was certain to conquer her very adoration, and to sink for ever the sun of
Cordiani, whom I could not accept as the sort of being likely to make her
hesitate for one instant in her choice between him and me. Half-an-hour
after the receipt of my letter, she told me herself that the next morning
she would pay me her usual visit, but I waited in vain. This conduct
provoked me almost to madness, but my surprise was indeed great when, at
the breakfast table, she asked me whether I would let her dress me up as a
girl to accompany her five or six days later to a ball for which a
neighbour of ours, Doctor Olivo, had sent letters of invitation. Everybody
having seconded the motion, I gave my consent. I thought this arrangement
would afford a favourable opportunity for an explanation, for mutual
vindication, and would open a door for the most complete reconciliation,
without fear of any surprise arising from the proverbial weakness of the
flesh. But a most unexpected circumstance prevented our attending the
ball, and brought forth a comedy with a truly tragic turn.
Doctor Gozzi's godfather, a man advanced in age, and in easy
circumstances, residing in the country, thought himself, after a severe
illness, very near his end, and sent to the doctor a carriage with a
request to come to him at once with his father, as he wished them to be
present at his death, and to pray for his departing soul. The old
shoemaker drained a bottle, donned his Sunday clothes, and went off with
I thought this a favourable opportunity and determined to improve it,
considering that the night of the ball was too remote to suit my
impatience. I therefore managed to tell Bettina that I would leave ajar
the door of my room, and that I would wait for her as soon as everyone in
the house had gone to bed. She promised to come. She slept on the ground
floor in a small closet divided only by a partition from her father's
chamber; the doctor being away, I was alone in the large room. The three
boarders had their apartment in a different part of the house, and I had
therefore no mishap to fear. I was delighted at the idea that I had at
last reached the moment so ardently desired.
The instant I was in my room I bolted my door and opened the one leading
to the passage, so that Bettina should have only to push it in order to
come in; I then put my light out, but did not undress. When we read of
such situations in a romance we think they are exaggerated; they are not
so, and the passage in which Ariosto represents Roger waiting for Alcine
is a beautiful picture painted from nature.
Until midnight I waited without feeling much anxiety; but I heard the
clock strike two, three, four o'clock in the morning without seeing
Bettina; my blood began to boil, and I was soon in a state of furious
rage. It was snowing hard, but I shook from passion more than from cold.
One hour before day-break, unable to master any longer my impatience, I
made up my mind to go downstairs with bare feet, so as not to wake the
dog, and to place myself at the bottom of the stairs within a yard of
Bettina's door, which ought to have been opened if she had gone out of her
room. I reached the door; it was closed, and as it could be locked only
from inside I imagined that Bettina had fallen asleep. I was on the point
of knocking at the door, but was prevented by fear of rousing the dog, as
from that door to that of her closet there was a distance of three or four
yards. Overwhelmed with grief, and unable to take a decision, I sat down
on the last step of the stairs; but at day-break, chilled, benumbed,
shivering with cold, afraid that the servant would see me and would think
I was mad, I determined to go back to my room. I arise, but at that very
moment I hear some noise in Bettina's room. Certain that I am going to see
her, and hope lending me new strength, I draw nearer to the door. It
opens; but instead of Bettina coming out I see Cordiani, who gives me such
a furious kick in the stomach that I am thrown at a distance deep in the
snow. Without stopping a single instant Cordiani is off, and locks himself
up in the room which he shared with the brothers Feltrini.
I pick myself up quickly with the intention of taking my revenge upon
Bettina, whom nothing could have saved from the effects of my rage at that
moment. But I find her door locked; I kick vigorously against it, the dog
starts a loud barking, and I make a hurried retreat to my room, in which I
lock myself up, throwing myself in bed to compose and heal up my mind and
body, for I was half dead.
Deceived, humbled, ill-treated, an object of contempt to the happy and
triumphant Cordiani, I spent three hours ruminating the darkest schemes of
revenge. To poison them both seemed to me but a trifle in that terrible
moment of bitter misery. This project gave way to another as extravagant,
as cowardly-namely, to go at once to her brother and disclose everything
to him. I was twelve years of age, and my mind had not yet acquired
sufficient coolness to mature schemes of heroic revenge, which are
produced by false feelings of honour; this was only my apprenticeship in
I was in that state of mind when suddenly I heard outside of my door the
gruff voice of Bettina's mother, who begged me to come down, adding that
her daughter was dying. As I would have been very sorry if she had
departed this life before she could feel the effects of my revenge, I got
up hurriedly and went downstairs. I found Bettina lying in her father's
bed writhing with fearful convulsions, and surrounded by the whole family.
Half dressed, nearly bent in two, she was throwing her body now to the
right, now to the left, striking at random with her feet and with her
fists, and extricating herself by violent shaking from the hands of those
who endeavoured to keep her down.
With this sight before me, and the night's adventure still in my mind, I
hardly knew what to think. I had no knowledge of human nature, no
knowledge of artifice and tricks, and I could not understand how I found
myself coolly witnessing such a scene, and composedly calm in the presence
of two beings, one of whom I intended to kill and the other to dishonour.
At the end of an hour Bettina fell asleep.
A nurse and Doctor Olivo came soon after. The first said that the
convulsions were caused by hysterics, but the doctor said no, and
prescribed rest and cold baths. I said nothing, but I could not refrain
from laughing at them, for I knew, or rather guessed, that Bettina's
sickness was the result of her nocturnal employment, or of the fright
which she must have felt at my meeting with Cordiani. At all events, I
determined to postpone my revenge until the return of her brother,
although I had not the slightest suspicion that her illness was all sham,
for I did not give her credit for so much cleverness.
To return to my room I had to pass through Bettina's closet, and seeing
her dress handy on the bed I took it into my head to search her pockets. I
found a small note, and recognizing Cordiani's handwriting, I took
possession of it to read it in my room. I marvelled at the girl's
imprudence, for her mother might have discovered it, and being unable to
read would very likely have given it to the doctor, her son. I thought she
must have taken leave of her senses, but my feelings may be appreciated
when I read the following words: "As your father is away it is not
necessary to leave your door ajar as usual. When we leave the supper-table
I will go to your closet; you will find me there."
When I recovered from my stupor I gave way to an irresistible fit of
laughter, and seeing how completely I had been duped I thought I was cured
of my love. Cordiani appeared to me deserving of forgiveness, and Bettina
of contempt. I congratulated myself upon having received a lesson of such
importance for the remainder of my life. I even went so far as to
acknowledge to myself that Bettina had been quite right in giving the
preference to Cordiani, who was fifteen years old, while I was only a
child. Yet, in spite of my good disposition to forgiveness, the kick
administered by Cordiani was still heavy upon my memory, and I could not
help keeping a grudge against him.
At noon, as we were at dinner in the kitchen, where we took our meals on
account of the cold weather, Bettina began again to raise piercing
screams. Everybody rushed to her room, but I quietly kept my seat and
finished my dinner, after which I went to my studies. In the evening when
I came down to supper I found that Bettina's bed had been brought to the
kitchen close by her mother's; but it was no concern of mine, and I
remained likewise perfectly indifferent to the noise made during the
night, and to the confusion which took place in the morning, when she had
a fresh fit of convulsions.
Doctor Gozzi and his father returned in the evening. Cordiani, who felt
uneasy, came to inquire from me what my intentions were, but I rushed
towards him with an open penknife in my hand, and he beat a hasty retreat.
I had entirely abandoned the idea of relating the night's scandalous
adventure to the doctor, for such a project I could only entertain in a
moment of excitement and rage. The next day the mother came in while we
were at our lesson, and told the doctor, after a lengthened preamble, that
she had discovered the character of her daughter's illness; that it was
caused by a spell thrown over her by a witch, and that she knew the witch
"It may be, my dear mother, but we must be careful not to make a mistake.
Who is the witch?"
"Our old servant, and I have just had a proof of it."
"I have barred the door of my room with two broomsticks placed in the
shape of a cross, which she must have undone to go in; but when she saw
them she drew back, and she went round by the other door. It is evident
that, were she not a witch, she would not be afraid of touching them."
"It is not complete evidence, dear mother; send the woman to me."
The servant made her appearance.
"Why," said the doctor, "did you not enter my mother's room this morning
through the usual door?"
"I do not know what you mean."
"Did you not see the St. Andrew's cross on the door?"
"What cross is that?"
"It is useless to plead ignorance," said the mother; "where did you sleep
last Thursday night?"
"At my niece's, who had just been confined."
"Nothing of the sort. You were at the witches' Sabbath; you are a witch,
and have bewitched my daughter."
The poor woman, indignant at such an accusation, spits at her mistress's
face; the mistress, enraged, gets hold of a stick to give the servant a
drubbing; the doctor endeavours to keep his mother back, but he is
compelled to let her loose and to run after the servant, who was hurrying
down the stairs, screaming and howling in order to rouse the neighbours;
he catches her, and finally succeeds in pacifying her with some money.
After this comical but rather scandalous exhibition, the doctor donned his
vestments for the purpose of exorcising his sister and of ascertaining
whether she was truly possessed of an unclean spirit. The novelty of this
mystery attracted the whole of my attention. All the inmates of the house
appeared to me either mad or stupid, for I could not, for the life of me,
imagine that diabolical spirits were dwelling in Bettina's body. When we
drew near her bed, her breathing had, to all appearance, stopped, and the
exorcisms of her brother did not restore it. Doctor Olivo happened to come
in at that moment, and inquired whether he would be in the way; he was
answered in the negative, provided he had faith.
Upon which he left, saying that he had no faith in any miracles except in
those of the Gospel.
Soon after Doctor Gozzi went to his room, and finding myself alone with
Bettina I bent down over her bed and whispered in her ear.
"Take courage, get well again, and rely upon my discretion."
She turned her head towards the wall and did not answer me, but the day
passed off without any more convulsions. I thought I had cured her, but on
the following day the frenzy went up to the brain, and in her delirium she
pronounced at random Greek and Latin words without any meaning, and then
no doubt whatever was entertained of her being possessed of the evil
spirit. Her mother went out and returned soon, accompanied by the most
renowned exorcist of Padua, a very ill-featured Capuchin, called Friar
Prospero da Bovolenta.
The moment Bettina saw the exorcist, she burst into loud laughter, and
addressed to him the most offensive insults, which fairly delighted
everybody, as the devil alone could be bold enough to address a Capuchin
in such a manner; but the holy man, hearing himself called an obtrusive
ignoramus and a stinkard, went on striking Bettina with a heavy crucifix,
saying that he was beating the devil. He stopped only when he saw her on
the point of hurling at him the chamber utensil which she had just seized.
"If it is the devil who has offended thee with his words," she said,
"resent the insult with words likewise, jackass that thou art, but if I
have offended thee myself, learn, stupid booby, that thou must respect me,
and be off at once."
I could see poor Doctor Gozzi blushing; the friar, however, held his
ground, and, armed at all points, began to read a terrible exorcism, at
the end of which he commanded the devil to state his name.
"My name is Bettina."
"It cannot be, for it is the name of a baptized girl."
"Then thou art of opinion that a devil must rejoice in a masculine name?
Learn, ignorant friar, that a devil is a spirit, and does not belong to
either sex. But as thou believest that a devil is speaking to thee through
my lips, promise to answer me with truth, and I will engage to give way
before thy incantations."
"Very well, I agree to this."
"Tell me, then, art thou thinking that thy knowledge is greater than
"No, but I believe myself more powerful in the name of the holy Trinity,
and by my sacred character."
"If thou art more powerful than I, then prevent me from telling thee
unpalatable truths. Thou art very vain of thy beard, thou art combing and
dressing it ten times a day, and thou would'st not shave half of it to get
me out of this body. Cut off thy beard, and I promise to come out."
"Father of lies, I will increase thy punishment a hundred fold."
"I dare thee to do it."
After saying these words, Bettina broke into such a loud peal of laughter,
that I could not refrain from joining in it. The Capuchin, turning towards
Doctor Gozzi, told him that I was wanting in faith, and that I ought to
leave the room; which I did, remarking that he had guessed rightly. I was
not yet out of the room when the friar offered his hand to Bettina for her
to kiss, and I had the pleasure of seeing her spit upon it.
This strange girl, full of extraordinary talent, made rare sport of the
friar, without causing any surprise to anyone, as all her answers were
attributed to the devil. I could not conceive what her purpose was in
playing such a part.
The Capuchin dined with us, and during the meal he uttered a good deal of
nonsense. After dinner, he returned to Bettina's chamber, with the
intention of blessing her, but as soon as she caught sight of him, she
took up a glass full of some black mixture sent from the apothecary, and
threw it at his head. Cordiani, being close by the friar, came in for a
good share of the liquid-an accident which afforded me the greatest
delight. Bettina was quite right to improve her opportunity, as everything
she did was, of course, put to the account of the unfortunate devil. Not
overmuch pleased, Friar Prospero, as he left the house, told the doctor
that there was no doubt of the girl being possessed, but that another
exorcist must be sent for, since he had not, himself, obtained God's grace
to eject the evil spirit.
After he had gone, Bettina kept very calm for six hours, and in the
evening, to our great surprise, she joined us at the supper table. She
told her parents that she felt quite well, spoke to her brother, and then,
addressing me, she remarked that, the ball taking place on the morrow, she
would come to my room in the morning to dress my hair like a girl's. I
thanked her, and said that, as she had been so ill, she ought to nurse
herself. She soon retired to bed, and we remained at the table, talking of
When I was undressing for the night, I took up my night-cap, and found in
it a small note with these words: "You must accompany me to the ball,
disguised as a girl, or I will give you a sight which will cause you to
I waited until the doctor was asleep, and I wrote the following answer: "I
cannot go to the ball, because I have fully made up my mind to avoid every
opportunity of being alone with you. As for the painful sight with which
you threaten to entertain me, I believe you capable of keeping your word,
but I entreat you to spare my heart, for I love you as if you were my
sister. I have forgiven you, dear Bettina, and I wish to forget
everything. I enclose a note which you must be delighted to have again in
your possession. You see what risk you were running when you left it in
your pocket. This restitution must convince you of my friendship."