She was the eldest of the five Hanoverians, the same that had fled with the Marquis dells Petina.
I told her to come in, and ordered dinner to be brought up.
"If you are alone," she said, "I should be glad to share your repast."
"Certainly; I will order dinner for two."
Her story was soon told. She had come to Naples with her husband, whom her mother refused to recognize. The poor wretch had sold all he possessed, and two or three months after he had been arrested on several charges of forgery. His poor mate had supported him in prison for seven years. She had heard that I was at Naples, and wanted me to help her, not as the Marquis della Petina wished, by lending him money, but by employing my influence with the Duchess of Kingston to make that lady take her to England with her in her service.
"Are you married to the marquis?"
"Then how could you keep him for seven years?"
"Alas . . . . You can think of a hundred ways, and they would all be true."
"Can you procure me an interview with the duchess?"
"I will try, but I warn you that I shall tell her the simple truth."
"Come again to-morrow."
At six o'clock I went to ask Hamilton how I could exchange the English notes I had won, and he gave me the money himself.
Before supper I spoke to the duchess about the poor Hanoverian. My lady said she remembered seeing her, and that she would like to have a talk with her before coming to any decision. I brought the poor creature to her the next day, and left them alone. The result of the interview was that the duchess took her into her service in the place of a Roman girl, and the Hanoverian went to England with her. I never heard of her again, but a few days after Petina sent to beg me to come and see him in prison, and I could not refuse. I found him with a young man whom I recognized as his brother, though he was very handsome and the marquis very ugly; but the distinction between beauty and ugliness is often hard to point out.
This visit proved a very tedious one, for I had to listen to a long story which did not interest me in the least.
As I was going out I was met by an official, who said another prisoner wanted to speak to me.
"What's his name?"
"His name is Gaetano, and he says he is a relation of yours."
My relation and Gaetano! I thought it might be the abbe.
I went up to the first floor, and found a score of wretched prisoners sitting on the ground roaring an obscene song in chorus.
Such gaiety is the last resource of men condemned to imprisonment on the galleys; it is nature giving her children some relief.
One of the prisoners came up to me and greeted me as "gossip." He would have embraced me, but I stepped back. He told me his name, and I recognized in him that Gaetano who had married a pretty woman under my auspices as her godfather. The reader may remember that I afterwards helped her to escape from him.
"I am sorry to see you here, but what can I do for you?"
"You can pay me the hundred crowns you owe me, for the goods supplied to you at Paris by me."
This was a lie, so I turned my back on him, saying I supposed imprisonment had driven him mad.
As I went away I asked an official why he had been imprisoned, and was told it was for forgery, and that he would have been hanged if it had not been for a legal flaw. He was sentenced to imprisonment for life.
I dismissed him from my mind, but in the afternoon I had a visit from an advocate who demanded a hundred crowns on Gaetano's behalf, supporting his claim by the production of an immense ledger, where my name appeared as debtor on several pages.
"Sir," said I, "the man is mad; I don't owe him anything, and the evidence of this book is utterly worthless.
"You make a mistake, sir," he replied; "this ledger is good evidence, and our laws deal very favorably with imprisoned creditors. I am retained for them, and if you do not settle the matter by to-morrow I shall serve you with a summons."
I restrained my indignation and asked him politely for his name and address.