Chapter 99

A cloister - Half English - New acquaintance - Mixed liquors - Turning Papist - Purposes of charity - Foreign religion - Melancholy - Elbowing and pushing - Outlandish sight - The figure - I don’t care for you - Merry-andrews - One good - Religion of my country - Fellow of spirit - A dispute - The next morning - Female doll - Proper dignity - Fetish country.

‘THE day after our arrival,’ continued the postilion, ‘I was sent, under the guidance of a lackey of the place, with a letter, which the priest, when he left, had given us for a friend of his in the Eternal City. We went to a large house, and on ringing were admitted by a porter into a cloister, where I saw some ill-looking, shabby young fellows walking about, who spoke English to one another. To one of these the porter delivered the letter, and the young fellow, going away, presently returned and told me to follow him; he led me into a large room where, behind a table on which were various papers and a thing which they call, in that country, a crucifix, sat a man in a kind of priestly dress. The lad having opened the door for me, shut it behind me, and went away. The man behind the table was so engaged in reading the letter which I had brought, that at first he took no notice of me; he had red hair, a kind of half-English countenance, and was seemingly about five-and- thirty. After a little time he laid the letter down, appeared to consider a moment, and then opened his mouth with a strange laugh, not a loud laugh, for I heard nothing but a kind of hissing deep down the throat; all of a sudden, however, perceiving me, he gave a slight start, but, instantly recovering himself, he inquired in English concerning the health of the family, and where we lived: on my delivering him a card, he bade me inform my master and the ladies that in the course of the day he would do himself the honour of waiting upon them. He then arose and opened the door for me to depart. The man was perfectly civil and courteous, but I did not like that strange laugh of his after having read the letter. He was as good as his word, and that same day paid us a visit. It was now arranged that we should pass the winter in Rome - to my great annoyance, for I wished to return to my native land, being heartily tired of everything connected with Italy. I was not, however, without hope that our young master would shortly arrive, when I trusted that matters, as far as the family were concerned, would be put on a better footing. In a few days our new acquaintance, who, it seems, was a mongrel Englishman, had procured a house for our accommodation; it was large enough, but not near so pleasant as that we had at Naples, which was light and airy, with a large garden. This was a dark gloomy structure in a narrow street, with a frowning church beside it; it was not far from the place where our new friend lived, and its being so was probably the reason why he selected it. It was furnished partly with articles which we bought, and partly with those which we hired. We lived something in the same way as at Naples; but though I did not much like Naples, I yet liked it better than this place, which was so gloomy. Our new acquaintance made himself as agreeable as he could, conducting the ladies to churches and convents, and frequently passing the afternoon drinking with the governor, who was fond of a glass of brandy and water and a cigar, as the new acquaintance also was - no, I remember, he was fond of gin and water, and did not smoke. I don’t think he had so much influence over the young ladies as the other priest, which was, perhaps, owing to his not being so good-looking; but I am sure he had more influence with the governor, owing, doubtless, to his bearing him company in drinking mixed liquors, which the other priest did not do.

‘He was a strange fellow, that same new acquaintance of ours, and unlike all the priests I saw in that country, and I saw plenty of various nations; they were always upon their guard, and had their features and voice modulated; but this man was subject to fits of absence, during which he would frequently mutter to himself, then, though he was perfectly civil to everybody, as far as words went, I observed that he entertained a thorough contempt for most people, especially for those whom he was making dupes. I have observed him whilst drinking with our governor, when the old man’s head was turned, look at him with an air which seemed to say, "What a thundering old fool you are"; and at our young ladies, when their backs were turned, with a glance which said distinctly enough, "You precious pair of ninnyhammers"; and then his laugh - he had two kinds of laughs - one which you could hear, and another which you could only see. I have seen him laugh at our governor and the young ladies, when their heads were turned away, but I heard no sound. My mother had a sandy cat, which sometimes used to open its mouth wide with a mew which nobody could hear, and the silent laugh of that red-haired priest used to put me wonderfully in mind of the silent mew of my mother’s sandy-red cat. And then the other laugh, which you could hear; what a strange laugh that was, never loud, yes, I have heard it tolerably loud. He once passed near me, after

  By PanEris using Melati.

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