The Convent of the Vierges is within the jurisdiction of the Doge, whom the nuns style "Most Serene Father." They all belong to the first families in Venice.
While I was praising the beauty of Mother M---- E----- to Dr. Righelini, he whispered to me that he could get her me for a money payment, if I were curious in the matter. A hundred sequins for her and ten sequins for the go-between was the price fixed on. He assured me that Murray had had her, and could have her again. Seeing my surprise, he added that there was not a nun whom one could not have by paying for her: that Murray had the courage to disburse five hundred sequins for a nun of Muran--a rare beauty, who was afterwards the mistress of the French ambassador.
Though my passion for M---- M---- was on the wane, I felt my heart gripped as by a hand of ice, and it was with the greatest difficulty that I made no sign. Notwithstanding, I took the story for an atrocious calumny, but yet the matter was too near my heart for me to delay in bringing it to light at the earliest opportunity. I therefore replied to Righelini in the calmest manner possible, that one or two nuns might be had for money, but that it could happen very rarely on account of the difficulties in most convents.
"As for the nun of Muran, justly famous for her beauty, if she be M---- M----, nun of the convent..., I not only disbelieve that Murray ever had her, but I am sure she was never the French ambassador's mistress. If he knew her it could only have been at the grating, where I really cannot say what happens."
Righelini, who was an honourable and spirited man, answered me coldly that the English ambassador was a man of his word, and that he had the story from his own lips.
"If Mr. Murray," he continued, "had not told it me under the seal of secrecy I would make him tell it you himself. I shall be obliged if you will take care that he never knows I told you of it."
"You may rely on my discretion."
The same evening, supping at Murray's casino with Righelini, having the matter at heart, and seeing before me the two men who could clear up everything to my satisfaction, I began to speak with enthusiasm of the beauty of M---- E----, whom I had seen at the Vierges.
Here the ambassador struck in, taking the ball on the hop:
"Between friends," said he, "you can get yourself the enjoyment of those charms, if you are willing to sacrifice a sum of money--not too much, either, but you must have the key."
"Do you think you have it?"
"No, I am sure; and had less trouble than you might suppose."
"If you are sure; I congratulate you, and doubt no more. I envy your fortune, for I don't believe a more perfect beauty could be found in all the convents of Venice."
"There you are wrong. Mother M---- M----, at ---- in Muran, is certainly handsomer."
"I have heard her talked of and I have seen her once, but I do not think it possible that she can be procured for money."
"I think so," said he, laughing, "and when I think I mostly have good reasons."
"You surprise me; but all the same I don't mind betting you are deceived."
"You would lose. As you have only seen her once, I suppose you would not recognize her portrait?"
"I should, indeed, as her face left a strong impression on my mind."
"Wait a minute."
He got up from the table, went out, and returned a minute after with a box containing eight or ten miniatures, all in the same style, namely, with hair in disorder and bare necks.
"These," said I, "are rare charms, with which you have doubtless a near acquaintance?"
"Yes, and if you recognize any of them be discreet."
"You need not be afraid. Here are three I recognize, and this looks like M---- M----; but confess that you may have been deceived--at least, that you did not have her in the convent or here, for there are women like her."
"Why do you think I have been deceived? I have had her here in her religious habit, and I have spent a whole night with her; and it was to her individually that I sent a purse containing five hundred sequins. I gave fifty to the good procurer."
"You have, I suppose, visited her in the parlour, after having her here?"
"No, never, as she was afraid her titular lover might hear of it. You know that was the French ambassador."
"But she only saw him in the parlour;"
"She used to go to his house in secular dress whenever he wanted her. I was told that by the man who brought her here."
"Have you had her several times?"
"Only once and that was enough, but I can have her whenever I like for a hundred sequins."
"All that may be the truth, but I would wager five hundred sequins that you have been deceived."
"You shall have your answer in three days."