Ger. Yes, Martuccia is right. I sometimes allow my temper to get the better of me. But I must treat my niece with the gentleness she deserves.
Ger. Come closer, niece.
Ang. (advancing timidly). Sir ——
Ger. How do you expect me to hear you if you remain three miles away?
Ang. (comes nearer, trembling). Sir — I beg your pardon — I ——
Ger. Well, what have you to say?
Ang. Has Martuccia told you nothing?
Ger. Yes, she spoke of you, and then of your brother — that erratic fellow — that idiot, who is letting a harebrained woman lead him by the nose, who has ruined himself, who is done for, for whom I have lost all respect! (ANGELICA turns to go.)
Ger. (excitedly). Where are you going?
Ang. Sir, you seem to be angry ——
Ger. Well, what business is that of yours? If I get angry with a fool, how can that affect you? Come here, and speak to me. Never mind my being put out.
Ang. My dear uncle, I shall never dare to speak until you are in a calmer frame of mind.56
Ger. (aside). This is unendurable! Well, I am calm now. Speak.
Ang. Martuccia may have told you ——
Ger. I don’t care a straw what Martuccia told me. I want to hear it from yourself.
Ang. (timorously). My brother ——
Ger. (mocking her). Your brother ——
Ang. Wants to shut me up in a convent.
Ger. Do you want to go to a convent?
Ang. Why, sir ——
Ger. Answer at once!
Ang. It is not for me to decide.
Ger. I never asked you to decide! (Furiously.) I want to know what you think about it!
Ang. Oh, sir, you frighten me!
Ger. (aside). I am dying with rage! (Restraining himself.) Come here; I am listening. So the convent does not suit you?
Ger. What would you prefer to do?
Ang. Sir, I——
Ger. Don’t be afraid. I am perfectly calm. Speak freely.
Ang. Oh, I have not the courage!
Ger. Come here! Do you want to marry?
Ang. Sir ——
Ger. Yes or no.
Ang. If you would only ——
Ger. Yes or no.
Ang. Why, yes, I ——
Ger. Yes, do you say? You want to marry? You want to throw away your liberty, your peace of mind? Very well, so much the worse for you. Yes, you shall marry.57
Ang. (aside). He is really very kind in spite of his bad temper.
Ger. Have you any particular choice?
Ang. (aside). Oh! If I only had the courage to tell him about Valerio!
Ger. What! Do you mean to say you already have some lover?
Ang. (aside). I am sure this is not the right moment. I shall ask Martuccia to interview him.
Ger. Now, this is enough. Let us settle the question. The house where you live, the people you see, may perhaps have led you to form some attachment? Out with the truth! (Angrily.) Yes, I am going to do something for you, but only on condition that you deserve it. Do you hear?
Ang. (very much frightened). Ye-e-s.
Ger. Now, then, answer me openly, frankly: Is it the case that you have any preference?
Ang. Oh, no, sir — I — I have none.
Ger. So much the better. I will engage to find a husband for you.
Ang. Oh — sir — uncle — I had not ——
Ger. What’s the matter now?
Ang. You know how timid I am.
Ger. Yes, yes, I know all about your timidity. I know what women are. You are a turtle-dove now, but after you are married you will be a dragon.
Ang. Well, then, my dear uncle, as you are so kind ——
Ger. Yes, too kind ——
Ang. Let me confess to you ——
Ger. Confound it, that fellow Dorval is not here yet!
Ang. Listen, my dear uncle ——58
Ger. Leave me alone! (Turns to a chess-board with pieces standing on it.)
Ang. Only a word!
Ger. No, that’s enough!
Ang. (aside). Heavens! Here I am, unhappier than ever! But my dear Martuccia will not forsake me. (Exit.)
* * * * * *
Ger. Let us finish our game of chess, and say no more about that affair.
Dor. But it is about your nephew ——
Ger. About an idiot, a miserable creature who is the slave of his wife and the victim of his vanity!
Dor. Not so excited, my dear friend — not so excited!
Ger. Oh, you with your coolness, you drive me mad!
Dor. I am speaking to you with the best of intentions.
Ger. Sit down.
Dor. (aside). I am sorry for his poor nephew.
Ger. Now, let us see about this game we left off yesterday ——
Dor. You will lose ——
Ger. Perhaps not. Let us see.
Dor. I repeat, you will lose ——
Ger. No, I feel quite sure ——
Dor. If you do not come to his assistance, you will lose him altogether.
Ger. Lose what?
Dor. Your nephew.
Ger. Confound it! I was talking about the game. Sit down, I tell you!59
Dor. I shall be very glad to play, only I want you to listen to me first.
Ger. Are you going to talk about that young Dalancour?
Dor. Perhaps I may.
Ger. Then I will not listen.
Dor. So you hate him?
Ger. No, sir, I hate no one.
Dor. But, if you will not ——
Ger. That’s enough. Play! If the game is not to be continued I shall go away.
Dor. Only a word, and I shall have done.
Ger. Heavens, how patient I am!
Dor. You have a considerable fortune.
Ger. Yes, the Lord be praised!
Dor. More than enough for your own wants ——
Ger. Yes, enough to help my friends if necessary.
Dor. And still you decline to give anything to your nephew?
Ger. Not a farthing shall he have!
Dor. Consequently ——
Dor. You hate him.
Ger. Consequently, you don’t know what you are talking about. I detest, I loathe his way of thinking, his abominable conduct. To give him money would simply be to encourage his vanity, his extravagance, and his folly. Let him change his system, and I will change as soon as he does. I want to see beneficence deserved through repentance, and not repentance hindered by beneficence.
Dor. Very well, then. Let us go on with the game.
Ger. Yes, let us play.60
Dor. (makes a move). I am very sorry for him ——
Ger. (makes a move). Check to your king.
Dor. (makes a move). And that poor girl ——
Ger. What girl?
Dor. Your niece, Angelica.
Ger. Oh! as for her — that is another question. Tell me about her.
Dor. She must be suffering a great deal.
Ger. Yes, I have thought of that. I am going to see about that. I am going to find her a husband.
Dor. Well done! She certainly deserves one.
Ger. She is a charming young woman — is she not?
Ger. Lucky the man who gets her. (After a moment’s reflection). By the way, Dorval ——
Dor. Well, my friend?
Dor. What have you to say?
Ger. You are my friend?
Dor. Do you doubt it?
Ger. If you want her, I will give her to you.
Dor. Whom do you mean?
Ger. Why, my niece.
Ger. You ask what? Are you deaf? Don’t you understand? Surely I am plain enough. If you want her, I will give her to you.
Dor. Goodness gracious!
Ger. If you take her, besides her marriage portion she shall have a hundred thousand out of my pocket. Well, what do you say to that?
Dor. My dear friend, you honor me highly ——61
Ger. I know who and what you are, and I am certain that by this means I shall insure my niece’s happiness.
Dor. But ——
Dor. Her brother might object.
Ger. Her brother? Her brother has nothing to do with it. It is my affair to dispose of her hand. I am master here. Come, make haste; decide at once!
Dor. What you propose is not a matter upon which a man can make up his mind in a moment. You are too impetuous.
Ger. I see no difficulty about it. If you like her, if you respect her, if she suits you, then it’s all settled.
Dor. But ——
Ger. But! But! What is this but of yours?
Dor. Do you see no disproportion in our ages — sixteen and forty-five?
Ger. None at all. You are still young, and I know Angelica; she is not a silly, frivolous creature.
Dor. Supposing, however, that she had a preference for some one else?
Ger. She has none.
Dor. Are you quite sure?
Ger. Quite sure. So let us come to an agreement at once. I will go to my notary’s, I will make him draw up the settlements, and she is yours.
Dor. Gently, my dear friend, gently!
Ger. (very angrily). Eh? What do you say? Do you intend to worry me any longer with your dilatoriness, your beastly indifference?
Dor. So, then, you want to ——
Ger. Yes, of course — give you a good, virtuous, careful 62 wife, with a hundred thousand as marriage portion and another hundred thousand for a wedding present. Do you consider that an offense, by any chance?
Dor. By no means. You do me an honor which I scarcely deserve.
Ger. (in a fury). Your confounded diffidence is just about enough to make me want to give her to the devil!
Dor. Do not be so angry. Do you really wish me to accept?
Dor. Very well, then; I accept ——
Ger. (delighted). Do you?
Dor. But only provided ——
Dor. That Angelica herself consents.
Ger. Is that the only difficulty?
Dor. That is all.
Ger. Then I am satisfied. I will answer for her.
Dor. All the better, if you are sure.
Ger. Quite certain, quite sure! Embrace me, my dear nephew-in-law!
Dor. Yes, let us embrace, my dear uncle-in-law!
THE advocates at Venice are by regulation obliged to live in the district called Della Roba, where I accordingly engaged apartments, my mother and aunt remaining with me. I dressed up in my professional gown, the same as that worn 63 by the patricians, pulled on an enormous wig, and anxiously waited for the day of my induction at court. This induction does not take place without ceremony. The novice must have two supporters, whom he selects from among the old advocates he knows best.
I chose two of my neighbors, both trusted friends, and we went together. I had to stand between them at the foot of the great staircase in the hall of the courts. For half an hour I was compelled to make so many bows and contortions that my back felt as if it was broken, and my wig had become as shaggy as a lion’s mane. Every one who passed found some remark to make about me. Some observed that I was a boy whose face looked as if he might possibly have a little sense; others said I was a newly appointed sweeper of the courts; some kissed me, others jeered at me. At last I ascended, and sent my servant in quest of a gondola, not daring to make my appearance in the street in this costume. I ordered him to meet me in the hall of the great council, where I took a seat on a bench, and where I saw everybody pass, without being noticed by anybody.
I began to reflect on the profession I had chosen. There are generally two hundred and forty advocates on the list at Venice. Of these, ten or twelve are of the first rank, about twenty belong to the second, and all the rest are obliged to hunt for clients, the pettifogging attorneys being quite willing to play hound for the sake of a share in the quarry. I had vivid fears, as I was last on the list, and I regretted the chanceries I had left. But, on the other hand, no pursuit looked so honorable and lucrative as the advocate’s. A noble Venetian, a patrician, a member of the republic, who would never condescend to be a merchant, banker, physician, or professor at a university, has no hesitation in embracing the 64 calling of an advocate, which he follows in the courts, greeting the other advocates as his “brothers.” Everything depended on good fortune, and why should I be less lucky than any one else? The attempt had to be made, and it was incumbent upon me to plunge into the chaos of the bar, where perseverance and integrity are supposed to be crowned with success.
While thus engaged in musing and building castles in the air, I observed a fair, plump woman of about thirty, with a tolerable figure, flat nose, and roguish eyes, advancing in my direction. She wore a profusion of jewelry, about her neck, arms, hands, and ears, and a dress which proclaimed her one of the lower orders, though in easy circumstances. She first saluted, and then accosted me.
“Good day, sir,” she said.
“Good day, madam,” I replied.
The conversation being thus opened, the rest of it ran as follows:
“Will you allow me to pay you my compliments”
“Why, on your admission to the courts. I could not help seeing you as you made your obeisances. Upon my word, you look handsome.”
“Ah, you admire my costume? Do you think I look well in it?”
“The dress does not count at all. Signor Goldoni looks handsome in anything.”
“Then you know me, madam?”
“Well, did I not see you four years ago in the land of litigation, in a long wig and a short robe?”
“Yes, you are right; I was then an attorney.”
“With Signor Indric.”65
“Do you know my uncle, then?”
“I? I know every soul in the place, from the doge himself down to the messengers of the courts.”
“Are you married?”
“Are you a widow?”
“Have you any employment?”
“But from your appearance you seem a respectable woman.”
“So I am, sir.”
“Ah, then you have some private means?”
“Oh, no; none at all.”
“But,madam, you are well dressed; how do you manage to live?”
“I am a court-girl, and make my living by the courts.”
“How very curious! You belong to the courts, you say?”
“Yes, sir; my father was employed there.”
“What did he do?”
“He listened at the doors, and carried good news to those expecting pardons or favorable sentences. He had good legs, so he was always first. My mother and I spent most of our time there too. She was not proud; she took commissions, and accepted money for them. I was born and brought up in those gilded halls; you see, I have gems all over me.”
“Your story is quite remarkable. So you follow in the footsteps of your mother?”
“No, sir; I do something else.”
“And what may that be?”66
“I solicit lawsuits.”
“Solicit lawsuits? I do not understand.”
“I am as well known as Barabbas. It is generally understood that I am on friendly terms with all the advocates and attorneys, so that numbers of people come to me and ask me to recommend them barristers or counsel. Those who have recourse to me are not rich, as a rule, and therefore I apply to the new lawyers without briefs, who are glad of any opportunity to make their names public. Are you aware, sir, that, such as you see me, I have made the fortune of at least a dozen of the most famous advocates at this bar? You ought to feel encouraged, for, with your permission, I shall be the making of you too.”
“Very well, madam, we will see. Have you any promising affair in hand at present?”
“Oh, yes, several — some of them superb. For instance, I have a widow suspecting of receiving stolen goods; I have another woman who wants the validity of the fictitious date on her marriage certificate sustained; I have girls wanting marriage portions allotted to them; I have wives trying to secure a divorce; I have people of rank threatened with suit by their creditors — in fact, as you see, you have only to choose!”