I do not know whether these gentlemen shewed my letters to Querini, but I do know that the secretary Oliviera sent me my passport.
Thereupon the Count Aranda furnished me with a passport signed by the king.
On the last day of the year I left Barcelona with a servant who sat behind my chaise, and I agreed with my driver to take me to Perpignan by January 3rd, 1769.
The driver was a Piedmontese and a worthy man: The next day he came into the room of the wayside inn where I was dining, and in the presence of my man asked me whether I had any suspicion that I was being followed.
"Well, I may be," I said, "but what makes you ask that question?"
"As you were leaving Barcelona yesterday, I noticed three ill-looking fellows watching us, armed to the teeth. Last night they slept in the stable with my mules. They dined here to-day, and they went on three quarters of an hour ago. They don't speak to anyone, and I don't like the looks of them."
"What shall we do to avoid assassination, or the dread of it?"
"We must start late, and stop at an inn I know of, a league this side of the ordinary stage where they will be awaiting us. If they turn back, and sleep at the same inn as ourselves, we shall be certain."
I thought the idea a sensible one, and we started, I going on foot nearly the whole way; and at five o'clock we halted at a wretched inn, but we saw no signs of the sinister trio.
At eight o'clock I was at supper, when my man came in and told me that the three fellows had come back, and were drinking with our driver in the stable.
My hair stood on end. There could be no more doubt about the matter.
At present, it was true, I had nothing to fear; but it would be getting dark when we arrived at the frontier, and then my peril would come.
I told my servant to shew no sign, but to ask the driver to come and speak with me when the assassins were asleep.
He came at ten o'clock, and told me plainly that we should be all murdered as we approached the French frontier.
"Then you have been drinking with them?"
"Yes, and after we had dispatched a bottle at my expense, one of them asked me why I had not gone on to the end of the stage, where you would be better lodged. I replied that it was late, and you were cold. I might have asked in my turn, why they had not stayed at the stage themselves, and where they were going, but I took care to do nothing of the kind. All I asked was whether the road to Perpignan was a good one, and they told me it was excellent all the way."
"What are they doing now?"
"They are sleeping by my mules, covered with their cloaks."
"What shall we do?"
"We will start at day-break after them, of course, and we shall dine at the usual stage; but after dinner, trust me, we will take a different road, and at midnight we shall be in France safe and sound."
If I could have procured a good armed escort I would not have taken his advice, but in the situation I was in I had no choice.
We found the three scoundrels in the place where the driver had told me we should see them. I gave them a searching glance, and thought they looked like true Sicarii, ready to kill anyone for a little money.
They started in a quarter of an hour, and half an hour later we set out, with a peasant to guide us, and so struck into a cross road. The mules went at a sharp pace, and in seven hours we had done eleven leagues. At ten o'clock we stopped at an inn in a French village, and we had no more to fear. I gave our guide a doubloon, with which he was well pleased, and I enjoyed once more a peaceful night in a French bed, for nowhere will you find such soft beds or such delicious wines as in the good land of France.
The next day I arrived at the posting-inn at Perpignan in time for dinner. I endeavoured in vain to think who could have paid my assassins, but the reader will see the explanation when we get twenty days farther.
At Perpignan I dismissed my driver and my servant, rewarding them according to my ability. I wrote to m