I went to bed thinking of Bellino and of the impression he had made upon me; I was sorry to go away without having proved to him that I was not the dupe of his disguise. Accordingly, I was well pleased to see him enter my room in the morning as soon as I had opened my door. He came to offer me the services of his young brother Petronio during my stay in Ancona, instead of my engaging a valet de place. I willingly agreed to the proposal, and sent Petronio to get coffee for all the family.
I asked Bellino to sit on my bed with the intention of making love to him, and of treating him like a girl, but the two young sisters ran into my room and disturbed my plans. Yet the trio formed before me a very pleasing sight; they represented natural beauty and artless cheerfulness of three different kinds; unobtrusive familiarity, theatrical wit, pleasing playfulness, and pretty Bolognese manners which I witnessed for the first time; all this would have sufficed to cheer me if I had been downcast. Cecilia and Marina were two sweet rosebuds, which, to bloom in all their beauty, required only the inspiration of love, and they would certainly have had the preference over Bellino if I had seen in him only the miserable outcast of mankind, or rather the pitiful victim of sacerdotal cruelty, for, in spite of their youth, the two amiable girls offered on their dawning bosom the precious image of womanhood.
Petronio came with the coffee which he poured out, and I sent some to the mother, who never left her room. Petronio was a true male harlot by taste and by profession. The species is not scare in Italy, where the offence is not regarded with the wild and ferocious intolerance of England and Spain. I had given him one sequin to pay for the coffee, and told him to keep the change, and, to chew me his gratitude, he gave me a voluptuous kiss with half-open lips, supposing in me a taste which I was very far from entertaining. I disabused him, but he did not seem the least ashamed. I told him to order dinner for six persons, but he remarked that he would order it only for four, as he had to keep his dear mother company; she always took her dinner in bed. Everyone to his taste, I thought, and I let him do as he pleased.
Two minutes after he had gone, the landlord came to my room and said, "Reverend sir, the persons you have invited here have each the appetite of two men at least; I give you notice of it, because I must charge accordingly." "All right," I replied, "but let us have a good dinner."
When I was dressed, I thought I ought to pay my compliments to the compliant mother. I went to her room, and congratulated her upon her children. She thanked me for the present I had given to Petronio, and began to make me the confidant of her distress. "The manager of the theatre," she said, "is a miser who has given us only fifty Roman crowns for the whole carnival. We have spent them for our living, and, to return to Bologna, we shall have to walk and beg our way." Her confidence moved my pity, so I took a gold quadruple from my purse and offered it to her; she wept for joy and gratitude.
"I promise you another gold quadruple, madam," I said, "if you will confide in me entirely. Confess that Bellino is a pretty woman in disguise."
"I can assure you it is not so, although he has the appearance of a woman."
"Not only the appearance, madam, but the tone, the manners; I am a good judge."
"Nevertheless, he is a boy, for he has had to be examined before he could sing on the stage here."
"And who examined him?"
"My lord bishop's chaplain."
"Yes, and you may satisfy yourself by enquiring from him."
"The only way to clear my doubts would be to examine him myself."
"You may, if he has no objection, but truly I cannot interfere, as I do not know what your intentions are."
"They are quite natural."
I returned to my room and sent Petronio for a bottle of Cyprus wine. He brought the wine and seven sequins, the change for the doubloon I had given him. I divided them between Bellino, Cecilia and Marina, and begged the two young girls to leave me alone with their brother.
"Bellino, I am certain that your natural conformation is different from mine; my dear, you are a girl."
"I am a man, but a castrato; I have been examined."
"Allow me to examine you likewise, and I will give you a doubloon."
"I cannot, for it is evident that you love me, and such love is condemned by religion."
"You did not raise these objections with the bishop's chaplain."
"He was an elderly priest, and besides, he only just glanced at me."
"I will know the truth," said I, extending my hand boldly.
But he repulsed me and rose from his chair. His obstinacy vexed me, for I had already spent fifteen or sixteen sequins to satisfy my curiosity.
I began my dinner with a very bad humour, but the excellent appetite of my pretty guests brought me round, and I soon thought that, after all, cheerfulness was better than sulking, and I resolved to make up for my disappointment with the two charming sisters, who seemed well disposed to enjoy a frolic.