I WAS living in the house of my ancestors, in the Regina lane at San Cassiano. The house was very large, and I was its sole inhabitant; for my two brothers, Francesco and Almoro, had both married and settled in Friuli, leaving me this mansion as part of my inheritance. During the summer months, when people quit the city for the country, I used also to visit Friuli. I was in the habit of leaving the keys of my house with a corn merchant, my neighbor, a very honest man.
It chanced, one autumn, through one of the tricks which my evil fortune never ceased to play me, that rains and inundations kept me in Friuli longer than usual, far, indeed, into November. Snow upon the mountains, and the winds which brought fine weather, caused an intense cold. I traveled toward Venice, well enveloped in furs, traversing deep bogs, floundering through pitfalls in the road, and crossing streams in flood. At last, an hour after nightfall, I arrived, half dead with the discomforts of the journey, frozen, fatigued, and craving for sleep. I left my boat at the post-house near San Cassiano, made a porter shoulder my valise, and a servant take my hat-box under his arm. Then I set off home, wrapped in my cape, all anxiety to crawl into a snug, warm bed.
When we reached the Regina lane we found it so crowded with people in masks and folk of both sexes, that it was 71 quite impossible for my two attendants with their burdens to push a way to my house door.
“What the devil is the meaning of this crowd?” I asked a bystander.
“The patrician Bragadino has been made Patriarch of Venice to-day,” was the man’s reply. “They are illuminating, and keeping open house; bread, wine, and money are being distributed to the people for three days. That is the reason of the enormous crowd.”
On reflecting that the door of my house was close to the bridge by which one passes to the square of Santa Maria, I thought that by making a turn round by the Ravano lane I might be able to get out into the square, then cross the bridge, and effect an entrance into my abode. I accomplished this long détour together with the bearers of my luggage, but when I reached the square I was struck dumb with astonishment at the sight of my windows thrown wide open, and my whole house ablaze with lighted candles, burning like the palace of the sun. After standing ten minutes agaze, with my mouth open in contemplation of this prodigy, I shook myself together, took heart of courage, crossed the bridge, and knocked loudly at my door. It opened, and two of the city guards presented themselves, pointing their spontoons at my breast, and crying, with fierceness written on their faces:
“There is no road this way!”
“How?” exclaimed I, still more dumfounded, and adding in a gentle voice, “Why can I not get in here?”
“No, sir,” the terrible fellows answered, “there is no approach by this door. Be good enough to put on a mask, and seek entrance by the great gate which you see there on the right hand, the gate of the Bragadino Palace. As the 72 wearer of a mask you will be permitted to pass in by that door to the feast.”
“But supposing I were the master of this house, and had come home tired from a journey, half frozen, and dropping with fatigue, could I not get into my own house, and lie down in my own bed?” This I said with all possible placidity.
“Ah! the master?” replied those truculent sentinels. “Please to wait, and you will receive an answer.” With these words, they slammed the door in my face.
I stared like a man out of his senses, at my porter and my servant. The porter and the servant looked at me as though they were bewitched. At last the door opened again, and a majordomo, all laced with gold, appeared upon the threshold. With many bows and inclinations of the body, he invited me to enter. I did so, and, while passing up the staircase, asked that weighty personage what was the enchantment which had fallen on my dwelling.
“So you do not know, then!” he exclaimed. “My master, the patrician Gasparo Bragadino, foreseeing that his brother would be elected patriarch, and wanting room for the usual public festival, was desirous of uniting this house to his own by a little bridge of communication thrown across the windows. The plan was executed with your consent. It is here that a part of the feast is being celebrated, and bread and money thrown from the windows to the people. All the same, you need not fear that the room in which you sleep has not been carefully reserved, and kept scrupulously closed. Come with me, and you shall soon see for yourself.”
I remained still more astonished by this news of a permission which no one had ever asked, and which I had never given. However, I did not care to bandy words with a majordomo 73 about that. When I came into the hall I was dazzled by the huge wax candles burning, and stunned by the servants and the masks hurrying to and fro and making a mighty tumult. The noise in the kitchen attracted me to that part of the house, and I saw a huge fire, at which pots, kettles, and pipkins were boiling, while a long spit, loaded with turkeys, joints of veal, and other meats, was turning round. The majordomo meanwhile kept ceremoniously entreating me to visit my bedroom, which had been so carefully reserved and locked for me.
“Please tell me, sir,” I inquired, “how late into the night this din will last?”
“To speak the truth,” he answered, “it will be kept up till daybreak for three consecutive nights.”
“It is a great pleasure to me,” said I, “to possess anything in the world which could be of service to the Bragadino family. This circumstance has conferred an honor upon me. Pray pay my compliments to their excellencies. I shall go at once to find a lodging for the three days and three consecutive nights, being terribly in need of rest and quiet.”
“Oh!” replied the majordomo, “let me entreat you to stay here, and take repose in your own house, in the room reserved for you with such great care.”
“No, certainly not,” I said. “I thank you for your courteous pains in my behalf. But how do you think I could sleep in the midst of all this uproar? I am unfortunately one of the lightest of sleepers.”
Whereupon, bidding porter and servant follow me, I went to spend the three days and three consecutive nights in patience in an inn.