These arguments did not satisfy him, and in his rage he dared to tell me that I was a scurvy coward not to know that it was my duty to defend a friend to the death.
In spite of these offensive remarks I merely replied with a glance of contempt, which he doubtless understood.
Before long the whole village had heard what had happened, and the joy was universal, for the count had the singular privilege of being feared by all and loved by none. The two rebellious peasants had taken to their heels. But when it became known that his lordship had announced his resolution to carry pistols with him in all future visits, everybody was alarmed, and two spokesmen were sent to the count informing him that all his tenants would quit the estate in a week's time unless he gave them a promise to leave them in peace in their humble abodes.
The rude eloquence of the two peasants struck me as sublime, but the count pronounced them to be impertinent and ridiculous.
"We have as good a right to taste the vines which we have watered with the sweat of our brow," said they, "as your cook has to taste the dishes before they are served on your table."
The threat of deserting just at the vintage season frightened the count, and he had to give in, and the embassy went its way in high glee at its success.
Next Sunday we went to the chapel to hear mass, and when we came in the priest was at the altar finishing the Credo. The count looked furious, and after mass he took me with him to the sacristy, and begun to abuse and beat the poor priest, in spite of the surplice which he was still wearing. It was really a shocking sight.
The priest spat in his face and cried help, that being the only revenge in his power.
Several persons ran in, so we left the sacristy. I was scandalised, and I told the count that the priest would be certain to go to Udine, and that it might turn out a very awkward business.
"Try to prevent his doing so," I added, "even by violence, but in the first place endeavour to pacify him."
No doubt the count was afraid, for he called out to his servants and ordered them to fetch the priest, whether he could come or no. His order was executed, and the priest was led in, foaming with rage, cursing the count, calling him excommunicated wretch, whose very breath was poisonous; swearing that never another mass should be sung in the chapel that had been polluted with sacrilege, and finally promising that the archbishop should avenge him.
The count let him say on, and then forced him into a chair, and the unworthy ecclesiastic not only ate but got drunk. Thus peace was concluded, and the abbe forgot all his wrongs.
A few days later two Capuchins came to visit him at noon. They did not go, and as he did not care to dismiss them, dinner was served without any place being laid for the friars. Thereupon the bolder of the two informed the count that he had had no dinner. Without replying, the count had him acommodated with a plateful of rice. The Capuchin refused it, saying that he was worthy to sit, not only at his table, but at a monarch's. The count, who happened to be in a good humour, replied that they called themselves "unworthy brethren," and that they were consequently not worthy of any of this world's good things.
The Capuchin made but a poor answer, and as I thought the count to be in the right I procceded to back him up, telling the friar he ought to be ashamed at having committed the sin of pride, so strictly condemned by the rules of his order.
The Capuchin answered me with a torrent of abuse, so the count ordered a pair of scissors to be brought, that the beards of the filthy rogues might be cut off. At this awful threat the two friars made their escape, and we laughed heartily over the incident.
If all the count's eccentricities had been of this comparatively harmless and amusing nature, I should not have minded, but such was far from being the case.
Instead of chyle his organs must have distilled some virulent poison; he was always at his worst in his after dinner hours.