My Short But Rather Too Gay Visit To Ancona--Cecilia, Marina, Bellino--the Greek Slave of the Lazzaretto--Bellino Discovers Himself
I arrived in Ancona on the 25th of February, 1744, and put up at the best inn. Pleased with my room, I told mine host to prepare for me a good meat dinner; but he answered that during Lent all good Catholics eat nothing but fish.
"The Holy Father has granted me permission to eat meat."
"Let me see your permission."
"He gave it to me by word of mouth."
"Reverend sir, I am not obliged to believe you."
"You are a fool."
"I am master in my own house, and I beg you will go to some other inn."
Such an answer, coupled to a most unexpected notice to quit, threw me into a violent passion. I was swearing, raving, screaming, when suddenly a grave-looking individual made his appearance in my room, and said to me:
"Sir, you are wrong in calling for meat, when in Ancona fish is much better; you are wrong in expecting the landlord to believe you on your bare word; and if you have obtained the permission from the Pope, you have been wrong in soliciting it at your age; you have been wrong in not asking for such permission in writing; you are wrong in calling the host a fool, because it is a compliment that no man is likely to accept in his own house; and, finally, you are wrong in making such an uproar."
Far from increasing my bad temper, this individual, who had entered my room only to treat me to a sermon, made me laugh.
"I willingly plead guilty, sir," I answered, "to all the counts which you allege against me; but it is raining, it is getting late, I am tired and hungry, and therefore you will easily understand that I do not feel disposed to change my quarters. Will you give me some supper, as the landlord refuses to do so?"
"No," he replied, with great composure, "because I am a good Catholic and fast. But I will undertake to make it all right for you with the landlord, who will give you a good supper."
Thereupon he went downstairs, and I, comparing my hastiness to his calm, acknowledged the man worthy of teaching me some lessons. He soon came up again, informed me that peace was signed, and that I would be served immediately.
"Will you not take supper with me?"
"No, but I will keep you company."
I accepted his offer, and to learn who he was, I told him my name, giving myself the title of secretary to Cardinal Acquaviva.
"My name is Sancio Pico," he said; "I am a Castilian, and the 'proveditore' of the army of H. C. M., which is commanded by Count de Gages under the orders of the generalissimo, the Duke of Modem."
My excellent appetite astonished him, and he enquired whether I had dined. "No," said I; and I saw his countenance assume an air of satisfaction.
"Are you not afraid such a supper will hurt you?" he said.
"On the contrary, I hope it will do me a great deal of good."
"Then you have deceived the Pope?"
"No, for I did not tell him that I had no appetite, but only that I liked meat better than fish."
"If you feel disposed to hear some good music," he said a moment after, "follow me to the next room; the prima donna of Ancona lives there."
The words prima donna interested me at once, and I followed him. I saw, sitting before a table, a woman already somewhat advanced in age, with two young girls and two boys, but I looked in vain for the actress, whom Don Sancio Pico at last presented to me in the shape of one of the two boys, who was remarkably handsome and might have been seventeen. I thought he was a 'castrato' who, as is the custom in Rome, performed all the parts of a prima donna. The mother presented to, me her other son, likewise very good-looking, but more manly than the 'castrato', although younger. His name was Petronio, and, keeping up the transformations of the family, he was the first female dancer at the opera. The eldest girl, who was also introduced to me, was named Cecilia, and studied music; she was twelve years old; the youngest, called Marina, was only eleven, and like her brother Petronio was consecrated to the worship of Terpsichore. Both the girls were very pretty.
The family came from Bologna and lived upon the talent of its members; cheerfulness and amiability replaced wealth with them. Bellino, such was the name of the castrato, yielding to the entreaties of Don Sancio, rose from the table, went to the harpiscord, and sang with the voice of an angel and with delightful grace. The Castilian listened with his eyes closed in an ecstasy of enjoyment, but I, far from closing my eyes, gazed into Bellino's, which seemed to dart amorous lightnings upon me. I could discover in him some of the features of Lucrezia and the graceful manner of the marchioness, and everything betrayed a beautiful woman, for his dress concealed but imperfectly the most splendid bosom. The consequence was that, in spite of his having been introduced as a man, I fancied that the so-called Bellino was a disguised beauty, and, my imagination taking at once the highest flight, I became thoroughly enamoured.
We spent two very pleasant hours, and I returned to my room accompanied by the Castilian. "I intend to leave very early to- morrow morning," he said, "for Sinigaglia, with the Abbe Vilmarcati, but I expect to return for supper the day after to-morrow." I wished him a happy journey, saying that we would most 'likely meet on the road, as I should probably leave Ancona myself on the same day, after paying a visit to my banker.