He acknowledged my letter, and told me how delighted he had been to receive it, after hearing the dreadful news that I had been assassinated on the borders of Catalonia at the beginning of January.
"The person who gave me the news," my brother added, "was one of your best friends, Count Manucci, an attache at the Venetian embassy. He said there could be no doubt as to the truth of the report."
This letter was like a flash of lightning to me. This friend of mine had pushed his vengeance so far as to pay assassins to deprive me of my life.
Manucci had gone a little too far.
He must have been pretty well qualified to prophesy, as he was so certain of my death. He might have known that in thus proclaiming in advance the manner of my death, he was also proclaiming himself as my murderer.
I met him at Rome, two years later, and when I would have made him confess his guilt, he denied everything, saying he had received the news from Barcelona; however, we will speak of this in its proper place.
I dined and supped every day at the table d'hote, and one day I heard the company talking of a male and female pilgrim who had recently arrived. They were Italians, and were returning from St. James of Compostella. They were said to be high-born folks, as they had distributed large alms on their entry into the town.
It was said that the female pilgrim, who had gone to bed on her arrival, was charming. They were staying at the same inn as I was, and we all got very curious about them.
As an Italian, I put myself at the head of the band who proceeded to call on the pilgrims, who, in my opinion, must either be fanatics or rogues.
We found the lady sitting in an arm-chair, looking very tired. She was young, beautiful, and melancholy-looking, and in her hands she held a brass crucifix some six inches long. She laid it down when we came in, and got up and received us most graciously. Her companion, who was arranging cockle-shells on his black mantle, did not stir; he seemed to say, by glancing at his wife, that we must confine our attentions to her. He seemed a man of twenty-four or twenty-five years of age. He was short and badly hung, and his face bore all the indications of daring, impudence, scarcasm, and imposture. His wife, on the other hand, was all meekness and simplicity, and had that modesty which adds so much to the charm of feminine beauty. They only spoke just enough French to make themselves understood on their journey, and when they heard me addressing them in Italian they seemed much relieved.
The lady told me she was a Roman, but I could have guessed as much from her accent. I judged the man to be a Neapolitan or Sicilian. Their passport, dated Rome, called him Balsamo, while she bore the names of Serafina Feliciani, which she still retains. Ten years later we shall hear more of this couple under the name of Cagliostro.
"We are going back to Rome," said she, "well pleased with our devotions to St. James of Compostella and to Our Lady del Pilar. We have walked the whole way on foot, living on alms, so as to more surely win the mercy of the God whom I have offended so grievously. We have had silver, and even gold money given us, and in every town we came to we gave what remained to the poor, so as not to offend God by lack of faith.
"My husband is strong, and has not suffered much, but I have found so much walking very fatiguing. We have slept on straw or bad beds, always with our clothes on, to avoid contracting diseases it would be hard to rid one's self of."
It seemed to me that this last circumstance was added to make us wish to find out whether the rest of her body could compare with her hands and arms in whiteness.
"Do you think of making any stay?"
"My weariness will oblige us to stay here for three days; then we shall go to Rome by the way of Turin, where we shall pay our devotion to the Holy Sudary."
"You know, of course, that there are several of them in Europe."
"So we have heard, but we are assured that the Sudary of Turin is the true one.