I asked the landlord why he did not go bail, as he had these persons and their effects as security.
"The whole lot," he answered, "won't pay the vetturino, and the sooner they are out of my house the better I shall be pleased."
I was astonished, and could not understand how the bill could amount to more than the value of all the clothes I saw on the floor, so I asked the vetturino to tell me the extent of the debt.
He gave me a paper with Medini's signature; the amount was two hundred and forty crowns.
"How in the world," I exclaimed, "could he contract this enormous debt?"
I wondered no longer when the vetturino told me that he had served them for the last six weeks, having conducted the count and the three women from Rome to Leghorn, and from Leghorn to Pisa, and from Pisa to Florence, paying for their board all the way.
"The vetturino will never take me as bail for such an amount," I said to Medini, "and even if he would I should never be so foolish as to contract such a debt."
"Let me have a word with you in the next room," said he; "I will put the matter clearly before you."
Two of the police would have prevented his going into the next room, on the plea that he might escape through the window, but I said I would be answerable for him.
Just then the poor vetturino came in and kissed my hand, saying that if I would go bail for the count he would let me have three months wherein to find the money.
As it happened it was the same man who had taken me to Rome with the Englishwoman who had been seduced by the actor l'Etoile. I told him to wait a moment.
Medini who was a great talker and a dreadful liar thought to persuade me by shewing me a number of open letters, commending him in pompous terms to the best houses in Florence. I read the letters, but I found no mention of money in them, and I told him as much.
"I know," said he, "but there is play going on in these houses, and I am sure of gaining immense sums."
"You may be aware that I have no confidence in your good luck."
"Then I have another resource."
"What is that?"
He shewed me a bundle of manuscript, which I found to be an excellent translation of Voltaire's "Henriade" into Italian verse. Tasso himself could not have done it better. He said he hoped to finish the poem at Florence, and to present it to the grand duke, who would be sure to make him a magnificent present, and to constitute him his favourite.
I would not undeceive him, but I laughed to myself, knowing that the grand duke only made a pretence of loving literature. A certain Abbe Fontaine, a clever man, amused him with a little natural history, the only science in which he took any interest. He preferred the worst prose to the best verse, not having sufficient intellect to enjoy the subtle charms of poetry. In reality he had only two passions--women and money.
After spending two wearisome hours with Medini, whose wit was great and his judgment small, after heartily repenting of having yielded to my curiosity and having paid him a visit, I said shortly that I could do nothing for him. Despair drives men crazy; as I was making for the door, he seized me by the collar.
He did not reflect in his dire extremity that he had no arms, that I was stronger than he, that I had twice drawn his blood, and that the police, the landlord, the vetturirco, and the servants, were in the next room. I was not coward enough to call for help; I caught hold of his neck with both hands and squeezed him till he was nearly choked. He had to let go at last, and then I took hold of his collar and asked him if he had gone mad.
I sent him against the wall, and opened the door and the police came in.
I told the vetturino that I would on no account be Medini's surety, or be answerable for him in any way.
Just as I was going out, he leapt forward crying that I must not abandon him.
I had opened the door, and the police, fearing he would escape, ran forward to get hold of him. Then began an interesting battle.