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Longitudinum Optata Scientia



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Longitudinum Optata Scientia


it wasat last a firm date—the evening of the znd of De­cember, 1642. They were leaving a theater, where Roberto spent every evening in the role of an ardent wooer. Lilia, on coming outside, furtively pressed his hand, whispering, “Monsieur de la Grive, you were not shy that evening. Until tomorrow then, again, on the same stage.”

He left in mad turmoil, bidden to such a tryst at a place he could not know, urged to repeat what he had never dared say. And yet she could not have mistaken him for another, because she had called him by his name.

Oh—he writes of having said to himself—today the streams flow back to their source, white chargers scale the towers of Our Lady of Paris, a fire smiles glowing in the ice, for it has truly happened that she has invited me. Or perhaps not, today blood flows from the rock, a grass snake couples with a bear, the sun has turned black, because my beloved has offered me a cup that I will never be able to drain, for I do not know where we are to meet....

Just a. step short of happiness, he ran home in despair. The one place where he was sure she could not be.

Lilia’s words can be interpreted in a far less mysterious fashion: she was simply reminding him of his remote discourse on the Powder of Sympathy, was urging him to say more, in that same salon of Arthenice where he had already spoken. Since then she had seen him silent and adoring, and this did not correspond to the rules of the game of seduction, so se­verely regulated. She was recalling him, we would say today, to his social duty. “Come,” she was saying to him. “That eve­ning you were not shy, tread again that same stage, I am waiting to see you there.” Nor could we expect any other challenge from a precieuse.

But Roberto, on the contrary, had understood: “You are shy, and yet a few evenings ago you were not, and with me you were—” (I suspect that jealousy forbade and at the same time encouraged Roberto to imagine the rest of that sentence). “So tomorrow, again, on that same stage, in that same secret place.”

It is natural that—his fancy having taken the most thorny path—he should immediately conceive a case of mistaken identity, of someone who had passed himself off as Roberto and in such guise received from Lilia that for which Roberto would have bartered his life. So, then, Ferrante had reappeared, and all the threads of the past were knotted once more. Ma­leficent alter ego, Ferrante had thrust himself into this story, playing on Roberto’s absences, his delays, his early departures, and at the right moment had garnered the reward for Ro­berto’s speech on the Powder of Sympathy.

And in his distress, Roberto heard a knocking at the door. Ah, Hope! dream of wakeful men! He rushed to open, con­vinced he would see her on the threshold: it was instead an officer of the Cardinal’s guards, with two men as escort.

“Monsieur de la Grive, I presume,” he said. Then, identi­fying himself as Captain de Bar, he went on: “I am sorry to have to do what I am now obliged to do. But you, sir, are under arrest, and I must beg you to give me your sword. If you come with me now in a mannerly fashion, we will board the carriage awaiting us, like two friends, and you will have no cause for embarrassment.” He indicated that he did not know the reason for the arrest, and hoped it was all a mis­understanding. Roberto followed him in silence, formulating the same wish, and at the end of the journey, consigned with many apologies to a sleepy guard, he found himself in a cell of the Bastille.

He spent two very cold nights there, visited only by a few rats (a provident preparation for his voyage on the Amaryllis) and by a guard who to every question replied only that this place had housed so many illustrious guests that he had long since given up wondering why they had fetched up here; and considering that a great gentleman like Bassompierre had been here for seven years, it was not Roberto’s place to start com­plaining after a few hours.

Having left Roberto for those two days to anticipate the worst, on the third evening de Bar returned, arranged for him to wash, and announced that he was to appear before the Cardinal. Roberto understood at least that he was a prisoner of State.
They reached the palace late in the evening, and already from the stir at the door it was evident that this evening was exceptional. The stairs were crowded with people of every con­dition scurrying in opposite directions; gentlemen and eccle­siastics came into the antechamber, breathless, and politely expectorated against the frescoed walls, assuming a doleful ex­pression, then entered another hall, from which members of the household emerged, in loud voices calling servants who could not be found and motioning all the others to be silent.

Roberto was also led into that hall, where he saw only people’s backs, while all peered in at the door of yet another room, on tiptoe, making not a sound, as if to witness some sad spectacle. De Bar looked around, apparently seeking some­one; finally he motioned Roberto to remain in a corner, and went off.

Another guard was trying to make many of those present leave the room, his courtesy varying according to their rank; he saw Roberto unshaven, his clothing disheveled after his detention. When the guard asked him roughly what he was doing there, Roberto answered that the Cardinal was expecting him, to which the guard replied that the Cardinal, to every­one’s misfortune, was himself expected by Someone of far greater importance.

In any case, the man left Roberto where he was, and little by little, when de Bar (by now the only friendly face he knew) did not return, Roberto moved closer to the gathering, and after waiting a bit and then pushing a bit, he reached the threshold of the inner room.

There he saw and recognized, in a bed at the far end, resting on a snowbank of pillows, the shadow of the man that all France feared and very few loved. The great Cardinal was surrounded by doctors in black robes, who seemed to be in­terested chiefly in their own debate; an acolyte wiped the prel­ate’s lips as weak fits of coughing formed a reddish spume; under the covers you could see the painful respiration of a now exhausted body, one hand emerged from a nightshirt, clutching a crucifix. Suddenly a sob escaped the acolyte. Ri­chelieu with effort turned his head, tried to smile, murmuring, “Did you believe I was immortal?”

As Roberto was asking himself who could possibly have summoned him to the bed of this dying man, there was a great confusion behind him. Some whispered the name of the pastor of Saint-Eustache, and as all stood aside, a priest entered with his suite, bearing the holy oil.

Roberto felt someone touch his shoulder; it was de Bar. “Come,” he said, “the Cardinal is awaiting you.” Bewildered, Roberto followed him along a corridor. De Bar led him into a room, signaling him again to wait, then withdrew.

The room was spacious, with a great globe in the center and a clock on a little table in one corner against red drapery. To the left of the drapery, under a full-length portrait of Ri­chelieu, Roberto finally saw a man with his back to him, in cardinal’s robes, standing at a lectern and writing. The Cardinal moved his head slightly, motioning Roberto to approach, but as Roberto did so, the older man bent over the inclined board, placing his left hand as a screen along the margin of the page even though, at the respectful distance where Roberto still stood, he could have read nothing.

Then the personage turned, in an unfolding of purple, and stood for a few seconds erect, as if to reproduce the pose of the great portrait behind him, his right hand resting on the lectern, the left at his breast, affectedly, the palm held up­wards. At last he sat on a stool beside the clock, coyly stroked his moustache and goatee, and asked, “Monsieur de la Grive?”

Monsieur de la Grive until this moment had been con­vinced he was dreaming, in a nightmare of this same Cardinal’s dying a dozen yards away, but now he saw him rejuvenated, with features less sharp, as if on the pale aristocratic face of the portrait someone had shadowed the complexion and re­drawn the lip with more defined and sinuous lines. Then that voice with the foreign accent wakened in him the long-forgotten memory of the captain who twelve years before had galloped between the opposing forces at Casale.

Roberto was facing Cardinal Mazarin, and he realized that slowly, during the death-agony of his protector, this man had been assuming his functions. Already the guard referred to “the” Cardinal, as if there were no longer any other.

Roberto was about to answer the question, but he soon became aware that the Cardinal only made a show of inter­rogating: actually he was asserting, and his interlocutor could only agree.

“Monsieur de la Grive,” the Cardinal, in fact, affirmed, “Lord Pozzo di San Patrizio. We know the castle, as we know the Monferrato region well. So fertile, it could even be France. Your father, in the days at Casale, fought with honor and was more loyal to us than others of your compatriots.” He said ms as if at that time he was already the creature of the King of France. “You also acted bravely on that occasion, we are told. Will you believe, then, that we are all the more, and paternally, sorry that as a guest in this country you have not observed the rules of hospitality? Did you not know that in this king­dom laws are applied equally to citizens and to guests? Natu­rally, naturally we will not forget that a gentleman is always a gentleman, whatever crime he may have committed: you will enjoy the same advantages granted Cinq-Mars, whose memory you apparently do not execrate as you should. You will also die by the axe and not by the rope.”

Roberto could not be ignorant of a question that had all France talking. The Marquis de Cinq-Mars had tried to con­vince the King to dismiss Richelieu, and Richelieu had con­vinced the King that Cinq-Mars was conspiring against the throne. In Lyons the condemned man attempted to behave with bold dignity before the executioner, but the latter made such an appalling mess of the victim’s neck that the indignant crowd had then massacred him.

As Roberto, aghast, was about to speak, the Cardinal fore­stalled him with a gesture. “Come now, San Patrizio,” he said, and Roberto inferred that this name was being used to remind him he was a foreigner; though the Cardinal was speaking to him in French when he could have spoken in Italian. “You have succumbed to the vices of this city and this country. As His Eminence the Cardinal is accustomed to saying, the innate frivolity of the French brings them to desire change because of the tedium caused by the present. Some of these light-minded gentlemen, whom the King has taken care to make still lighter by relieving them of their head, seduced you with their subversive propositions. Your case is not the sort that need disturb any tribunal. The States, whose preservation is of necessity extremely dear to us, would quickly be ruined if in matters of crime that tend to their subversion we demanded proofs of the sort required in common law. Two evenings ago you were seen in the company of friends of Cinq-Mars, who uttered yet again sentiments highly treasonable. The witness who saw you in their midst is worthy of trust, for he was there under our orders. And that is enough. No,” he again anticipated, bored, “we did not have you brought here to make us listen to protests of innocence, so remain calm and listen yourself.”

Roberto was not calm, but he had arrived at some conclu­sions: at the very moment Lilia was touching his hand, he was seen elsewhere conspiring against the State. Mazarin was so convinced of this that the thought had become fact. It was everywhere murmured that the wrath of Richelieu was not yet sated, and many feared being chosen as further examples. However he may have been chosen, Roberto was in any case doomed.

He could have reflected that, not only two nights previ­ously but often, he had participated in some conversation on leaving the Rambouillet salon; that it was not impossible that among those interlocutors there had been an intimate of Cinq-Mars; that if Mazarin, for reasons of his own, wanted to ruin him, he needed only to interpret maliciously any phrase reported by a spy.... But naturally Roberto’s reflections were different, and they confirmed his fears: someone had taken part in a seditious gathering, boastfully assuming his name and his face.

All the more reason to attempt no defense. What remained inexplicable to him was why—if he was already condemned —the Cardinal was taking the trouble to inform him of his fate. Roberto had not been the recipient of any message but was himself the cipher, the riddle that others, still dubious of the king’s decisiveness, would have to solve. In silence he awaited an explanation.

“You see, San Patrizio, if we were not honored by the ecclesiastical dignity with which the pope, and the King’s wish, invested us a year ago, we would say that Providence was guiding your imprudence. For some time you have been under surveillance, while we wondered how we could ask you to render us a service which you were in no way obliged to perform. We receive your misstep of three evenings ago as a singular gift of Heaven. Now you could be in our debt, and our position changes, to say nothing of yours.” “In your debt?”

“For your life. Naturally it is not in our power to pardon you, but we have the power to intercede. Let us suppose you manage to avoid the rigor of the law through escape. After a year, or even more, the memory of the witness would no doubt be clouded, and he could swear, with no blot on his honor, that the man of three evenings ago was not you; and it could be verified that at that hour you were elsewhere playing tric-trac with Captain de Bar. Then—we do not decide, mind you, we presume, and the opposite could also happen, but we are confident that we are correct—you

would be accorded full vindication and unconditional freedom. Be seated, please,” he said. “I have a mission to propose to you.”

Roberto sat down. “A mission?”

“And a delicate one. In the course of which—we will not shirk the fact—you might risk losing your life. But this is a transaction: you are saved from the certitude of the execu­tioner, and are allowed many chances of returning safe and sound, if you are alert. A year of hardship, shall we say, in exchange for a whole life.”

“Your Eminence,” Roberto said, seeing the image of the executioner at least fading, “from what I gather, it is pointless for me to swear, on my honor or on the Cross, that—”

“We would be lacking in Christian charity if we absolutely denied the possibility of your innocence or of our being victim of a misunderstanding. But the misunderstanding so coincides with our plans that we see no reason to examine it. For that matter, you would not wish to insinuate that we are proposing to you a dishonest exchange, as if to say either you are in­nocent and to the block with you, or self-confessed guilty and, by perjury, in our service....”

“Far be it from me to make any such disrespectful sug­gestion, Your Eminence.”

“Very well, then. We offer you some possible danger, but certain glory. And we will tell you how we happened to have our eye on you, even before your presence in Paris was known. The city, you see, talks much of what happens in the salons, and all Paris has gossiped about an evening not long ago during which you shone in the eyes of many ladies. Yes, all Paris: do not blush. We refer to that evening when you passionately expounded the virtues of a so-called Powder of Sympathy, and when in discoursing (as is said in those places, am I not right?), your ironies gave that subject spice, as your paronomasias lent it grace; your assertions, solemnity; hyperbole, richness; and comparisons, perspicuity....”

“Ah, Your Eminence, I was merely repeating things I had learned...”

“I admire modesty, but it seems to me that you revealed a thorough knowledge of certain natural secrets. Now I need a man of such learning, who is not French and who, without compromising the crown, can discreetly board a ship sailing from Amsterdam with the intention of discovering a new se­cret, connected in a way with the use of that powder.”

He forestalled another objection from Roberto: “Never fear, we require you to know well what we are seeking, so that you can interpret even the vaguest signs. We would have you thoroughly instructed in the subject, as we see you now so disposed to satisfy us. You will be assigned a gifted master, and do not be deceived by his youth.” He reached out and pulled a rope. No sound was heard, but the act must have made a bell ring somewhere or given some other signal—or so Roberto deduced, in those days when great lords still yelled for their servants in loud voices.

In fact, a short time later, a young man deferentially en­tered; he looked to be slightly over twenty.

“Welcome, Colbert, this is the person of whom we were speaking today,” Mazarin said to him, then turned to Roberto. “Colbert, who is being initiated in a promising fashion into the secrets of the administration of the State, has for some time been considering a problem that means much to Cardinal de Richelieu, and consequently to me. You may know, San Pa-trizio, that before the Cardinal took the helm of this great vessel of which Louis XIII is captain, the French navy was nothing compared to the navies of our enemies, in war as in peace. Now we can be justly proud of our ship-builders, of our eastern fleet and of the western, and you will recall with what success, no more than six months past, the marquis de Breze commanded off Barcelona forty-four galleons, fourteen galleys, and I do not recall how many other vessels. We have consol­idated our conquests in New France, we have won dominion over Martinique and Guadeloupe, and many of those Islands of Peru, as the Cardinal likes to say. We have begun establishing commercial companies, though not yet with complete success. While in the United Provinces, in England, Portugal, and Spain, there is no noble family that does not have one son off at sea making his fortune, in France, alas, this is not so. The proof is that whereas we know enough perhaps of the New World, we know little of the Very New. Colbert, show our friend how empty of lands the other part of that globe still appears.”

The young man turned the globe, and Mazarin smiled sadly: “This expanse of waters is not empty because of a grudg­ing Nature; it is empty because we know all too little of Nature’s generosity. And yet, after the discovery of a western passage to the Moluccas, this whole vast unexplored zone is at hazard, extending from the western shores of the American continent to the last eastern outcrops of Asia. I refer to the ocean called the Pacific, as the Portuguese have named it, in which surely lies the Austral Terra Incognita, of which only a few islands are known, a few hazy coasts, but still enough for us to assume that it conceals fabulous riches. And now, for some time, too many adventurers who do not speak our lan­guage have been swarming over those waters. Our friend Col­bert, with something I consider more than just youthful caprice, cherishes the idea of a French representation in those seas. The more plausible, as we presume that the first to set foot on an Austral land was a Frenchman, Monsieur de Gon-neville, sixteen years before the voyage of Magellan. And yet that worthy gentleman, or ecclesiastic as he might be, ne­glected to record on maps the place where he landed. Can we imagine a good Frenchman being so imprudent? No, surely not. The fact is that in those remote days there was one prob­lem he did not know how to solve completely. And this problem—you will be amazed to learn what it is—remains a mystery even for us.”

He paused, and Roberto understood that since both the Cardinal and Colbert knew, if not the solution, at least the name of the mystery, the pause was solely for his benefit. He thought it wise to play the part of fascinated listener, and he said: “And what is this mystery, if I may ask?”

Mazarin exchanged a knowing look with Colbert and said: “It is the mystery of longitude.” Colbert gravely nodded his assent.

“For the solution of this problem of the Punto Fijo,” the Cardinal continued, “seventy years ago Philip II of Spain of­fered a fortune, and later Philip III promised six thousand duc­ats of perpetual income and an annuity of another two thousand, while the Estates General of Holland offered thirty thousand florins... By the way, Colbert, we’ve been keeping that Dr. Morin waiting for eight years....”

“Your Eminence, you yourself have expressed your con­viction that this business of the lunar parallax is a chimera....” “Yes, but to sustain his quite dubious hypothesis the man has effectively studied and criticized the others. Let us allow him to take part in this new project; he could enlighten Mon­sieur de San Patrizio. Offer him a pension; there is nothing like money to stimulate good inclinations. If his idea contains a seed of truth, we will be enabled better to ensure it for ourselves and at the same time we will avoid his feeling aban­doned by his own country, and hence succumbing to the lures of the Dutch. It seems to me that it is indeed the Dutch who, seeing the hesitation of the Spaniards, have started negotiating with that Galilei, and we would be wise not to remain outside the matter....”

“Your Eminence,” Colbert said hesitantly, “you will be pleased to recall that Galilei died at the beginning of this year....”

“Really? Let us pray God he is happy, more so than he was in life.”

“And in any case his solution seemed for a long time de­finitive, but it is not....”

“You have felicitously anticipated us, Colbert. But let us assume that Morin’s solution, too, is worthless. Nevertheless, we will support it, cause it to rekindle the debate around his ideas, stimulate the curiosity of the Dutch, see that he allows himself to be tempted, and thus we will have set our adver­saries on the wrong track for a while. It will be money well spent in any case. But we have talked enough of this. Con­tinue, please; as San Patrizio learns I will learn with him.”

“Your Eminence taught me everything I know,” Colbert said, blushing, “but your kindness encourages me to speak.” With this, he must now have felt he was on friendly terrain: he raised his head, which he had kept bowed, and moved nonchalantly to the globe. “Gentlemen, on the ocean—where even if you encounter land, you do not know what it is, and if you go towards a known land, you must proceed for days and days amid an expanse of water—the navigator has no points of reference save the stars. With instruments that made the ancient astronomers illustrious, the altitude of a star above the horizon is established, its distance from the zenith is de­duced; and knowing its declination, and since zenith distance plus or minus declination determines latitude, you know im­mediately on which parallel you are, that is, how much you are north or south of a known point. That is clear, I think.”

“A child could understand it,” Mazarin said.

“We must believe,” Colbert went on, “that in similar fash­ion it can be established also how far to the east or to the west of the same point you are, in short, at what longitude, or on what meridian. As Sacrobosco says, the meridian is a circle that passes through the poles of our world and through the zenith directly above our head. And it is called meridian be­cause wherever a man is and at whatever time of the year, when the sun reaches his meridian, for that man in that place it is noon. Alas, through a mystery of nature, every means conceived to establish longitude has always proved faulty. How much does it matter, the profane might ask? It matters a great deal.”

Gaining confidence, he turned the globe, pointing to the outline of Europe. “Fifteen degrees of meridian, approximately, separate Paris from Prague, a little more than twenty separate Paris from the Canaries. What would you say to the com­mander of a land army who thought he was fighting at the White Mountain, and instead of killing Protestants he slaugh­tered the doctors of the Sorbonne at Mont-Sainte-Genevieve?” Ma/arin smiled, holding out his hands, as if to convey the expectation that such things would happen only on the cor­rect meridian.

“The tragedy,” Colbert continued, “is that errors of such dimensions are made with the means used to determine lon­gitude. And thus dreadful things happen: almost a century ago, that Spaniard Mendana discovered the Islands of Solomon, lands blessed by Heaven with fruits of the soil and gold beneath the soil. This Mendana fixed the position of the land he had discovered, came home to announce the event, and in less than twenty years ships had been fitted out for him four times to return to the islands and definitively assert the rights of Their Most Catholic Majesties, as they are called in their coun­try, and what happened? Mendana was never able to find those islands again. The Dutch did not remain idle: at the beginning of this century they set up their Dutch East India Company, they created in Asia the city of Batavia as point of departure for many expeditions to the east, and they reached a New Holland; while other lands probably to the east of the Solomon Islands were discovered by English pirates, to whom the court of Saint James’s quickly granted charters of nobility. But of the Solomon Islands no one was to find a trace, and it is understandable that some are now inclined to consider them a legend. Legendary or not as they may be, Mendana actually found them, but, while he fixed their latitude properly, he mistook their longitude. And even if, through celestial help, he had established it correctly, other navigators seeking that longitude (and he himself, on his second voyage) did not know clearly what their own longitude was. And even if we knew where Paris was but could not establish whether we were in Spain or among the Persians, you see well, sir, that we would be proceeding like blind men leading the blind.”

“Truly,” Roberto ventured, “I can scarcely believe, with all I have heard about the advancement of learning in this century of ours, that we still know so little.”

“I will not give you a list of the methods proposed, sir, from the one based on lunar eclipses to the one considering the variations of the magnetic needle, on which our Le Tellier labored even recently, not to mention the loch method, which our Champlain guaranteed with many promises.... But all proved insufficient, and they will continue to be so until France has an observatory where all these many hypotheses can be tested. There is of course one sure method: keep on board a clock that always tells the time of the Paris meridian, then determine the local time at sea, and from the difference in times deduce the difference of longitude. This is the globe on which we live, and you can see how the wisdom of the ancients divided it into three hundred sixty degrees of longi­tude, usually starting from the meridian that crosses the Isla de Hierro in the Canaries. In its celestial course, the sun (and whether it is the sun that moves or, as they have it nowadays, the earth, is a question of little consequence in this instance) covers fifteen degrees of longitude in one hour, so when in Paris it is midnight, as it is at this moment, then at one hun­dred eighty degrees of meridian from Paris it is noon. So if you know for sure that in Paris the clocks say, for example, noon, and you can determine that in the place where you are now it is six in the morning, you calculate the difference in time, translate every hour into fifteen degrees, and you will learn that you are ninety degrees from Paris, and hence more or less here....” He turned the globe and indicated a point on the American continent. “But while it is not hard to determine the time in the place where you are making your calculation, it is quite difficult to keep a clock that will continue to tell the correct time after months of navigation on board a ship tossed by the winds, such movement causing error even in the most ingenious of modern instruments, not to mention hour­glasses and water clocks, which to function properly must rest on an immobile plane.”



The Cardinal interrupted him: “We do not believe that Signer di San Patrizio need know any more for the present, Colbert. You will see to it that he is given further enlighten­ment during the journey to Amsterdam. After which it will no longer be we who teach him, but he, we trust, who teaches us. In fact, my dear San Patrizio, the Cardinal, whose eye has seen and will see—for a long time, let us hope—farther than ours, provided in the past for a network of trusted informants, who would journey to other countries, frequent the ports, question captains setting out on a voyage or just returning from one, to learn what the other governments were doing and what they knew that we did not, for—and this seems to me obvious—the State that discovers the secret of longitude, and manages to prevent word of it from spreading, will obtain a great advantage over the others. Now...” And here Mazarin paused again, once more smoothing his moustache, then folded his hands as if to concentrate and at the same time implore the support of Heaven. “Now we have learned that an English physician, one Dr. Byrd, has devised a new and prodigious means to determine the meridian, based on the use of the Powder of Sympathy. How, dear San Patrizio, do not ask us, for I barely know the name of this deviltry. We are certain that this powder is employed, but we know nothing of the method Byrd plans to adopt, and our informant is most surely not versed in natural magic. However, it is certain that the English admiralty has agreed to fit out a ship to brave the seas of the Pacific. The matter is of such moment that the English have chosen not to have the ship appear as one of their own. It belongs to a Dutchman, who pretends to be eccentric and claims that he wants to repeat the course of his compatriots who, about twenty-five years ago, discovered a new passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific, beyond the straits of Magellan. But since the cost of the venture could prompt suspicion of secret financing, the Dutchman is overtly loading cargo and seeking passengers, as if he were concerned with meeting expenses. Seemingly by chance, Dr. Byrd will also be on board, with three assistants, to collect exotic flora, they say. In fact they will be in complete charge of the expe­dition. And among the passengers there will be you, San Pa­trizio: our agent in Amsterdam will take care of everything. You will be a Savoyard gentleman who, pursued by a warrant in every land, feels it is wise to disappear for a long period at sea. Obviously, you will not even have to lie. Your health will be delicate—and the fact that you have an eye affliction, as we have heard, is a touch that perfects our plan. You will be a passenger who spends almost all his time indoors, with some poultice or other on his face, and for the rest you will not see beyond your nose. But, vague vagabond, you will seem to divagate, while in reality you will keep both eyes open and your ears pricked. We know you understand English, but you will pretend not to, so the enemies will speak freely in your presence. If someone on board understands Italian or French, you will ask questions and remember what you are told. Do not disdain to engage common men in conversation, who for a few coins will disclose anything. But let the sum be small, and it must appear a gift, not a bribe, else they will grow suspicious. You will never ask anything directly, and after questioning someone one day, you will ask the same questions on the morrow in different terms, so that if the man at first lied, he will be led to contradict himself: foolish men forget the tales they tell, and the next day they invent an opposite story. You will recognize liars: when they laugh, they have dimples in their cheeks, and they keep their fingernails closely trimmed; similarly, beware of men of short stature, who utter falsehoods out of vainglory. In any case keep your dialogues with them brief, and do not appear content: the person with whom you must speak is Dr. Byrd, and it will be natural for you to crave the company of the only passenger who is your equal in education. He is a man of learning, he will speak French, perhaps Italian, certainly Latin. You are ill, and you will seek advice and solace from him. You will not behave like those who eat berries or red earth and pretend to spit blood, but you will have your pulse taken after supper, for always at that hour one seems to have a fever, and you will tell him you never close your eyes at night; thus you will have an excuse if you are surprised somewhere, wide awake, which is bound to happen if their experiments involve the stars. This Byrd must be a man possessed, as for that matter are all men of science: invent some fancies and talk to him about them, as if you were confiding a secret, thus he will be led to talk about the obsession that is his secret. Show interest, but pre­tending to understand little or nothing, so he will tell it to you better a second time. Repeat what he says, as if you have understood, and make some mistakes, so that out of vanity he is prompted to correct you, explaining in detail what he should remain silent about. Never affirm, always allude: allusions are made to test the spirit and probe the heart. You must inspire trust in him: if he laughs often, laugh with him, if he is bilious, be bilious also, but always admire his knowledge. If he is cho­leric and insults you, tolerate the insult, knowing you began punishing him even before the insult was uttered. At sea the days are long and the nights endless, and there is nothing that consoles an Englishman in his boredom better than many beakers of that cervisia, or beer, as they call it, of which the Dutch always carry a supply in their hold. You will pretend to be a devotee of that beverage, and you will encourage your new friend to partake of it more than you do. One day he might become suspicious and have your cabin searched: for this reason you will put no observation in writing, but you may keep a diary in which you complain of your ill-luck, or implore the Virgin and the Saints, and pour out your despair of seeing your Beloved again; and in this diary there must appear notes on the doctor’s virtues, praising him as the one friend you have found on board. You will not quote any of his words pertinent to our object, but only pompous pro­nouncements, no matter how trite they may be: if he uttered them, he did not consider them so and will be grateful to you for having recorded them. In short, we are not here to offer you a breviary of the good secret informant: a man of the church is not versed in such matters. Trust your talent, be keenly on guard and guardedly keen, let the penetration of your gaze be the opposite of its reputation and in proportion to your alacrity.”

Mazarin stood, to indicate to his guest that their conver­sation had ended, and to stand over him for a moment before he also rose. “You will follow Colbert. He will give you in­structions and entrust you to the persons who will accompany you to Amsterdam for your embarkation. Go now and good fortune attend you.”

They were about to leave the room when the Cardinal called them back: “Ah, I had almost forgotten, San Patrizio. You must have realized that from now until you sail you will be followed at every step, but you may ask yourself why we do not fear that later, at the first port of call, you will be tempted to escape and hide. We do not fear this because it would not be in your best interest. You could not return here, where you would remain an outlaw, or go into exile in some land down there, with the constant menace of being found by our agents. We do not for a moment entertain the suspicion that a man of your qualities would sell himself to the English. What would you sell, after all? Your being a spy is a secret that, in order to sell, you would first have to reveal, and once revealed, it would be of no further worth, unless it was worth a stab in the back. Whereas, returning, with even modest in­formation, you will have earned our gratitude. We would be wrong to dismiss a man who has proved capable of carrying out such a difficult mission well. The rest, then, depends on you. The favor of the great, once won, must be jealously guarded if it is not to be lost, and nourished with services if it is to be perpetuated. You will decide at that point if your loyalty to France is such as to counsel you to devote your future to her king. It is said that other men, born elsewhere, have succeeded in making their fortune in Paris.”

The Cardinal was proposing himself as a model of loyalty rewarded. But for Roberto surely at that point it was not a question of rewards. The Cardinal had given him a glimpse of adventure, new horizons, and had infused him with a wisdom of living he had not known before, an ignorance that may have lowered him in the esteem of others. Perhaps it was best to accept the invitation of destiny, which would carry him away from his sufferings. As for the other invitation, that of three evenings before, everything had become clear as the Car­dinal was beginning his discourse. If an Other had taken part in a conspiracy, and all believed it was he, then an Other had surely conspired to inspire in Her the words that had tor­mented him with joy and enamored him of jealousy. Too many Others between him and reality. And so, all the better to be isolated on the seas, where he could possess his Beloved in the only way permitted him. After all, the perfection of love is not being loved, but being Lover.

He bent one knee, and said: “Eminence, I am yours.”

Or at least that is what I would have liked to happen, for it does not seem to me civil to give him a safe-conduct that says, “C’est par mon ordre et pour le bien de 1’etat que le porteur du present a fait ce qu’il a fait.”


CHAPTER 18




Unheard-of Curiosities


if the daphne, like the Amaryllis, had been sent out to seek the Punto Fijo, then the Intruder was dangerous. By now Ro­berto knew of the relentless struggle among the nations of Europe to gain that secret. He had to prepare himself carefully and play his cards with skill. Obviously the Intruder had acted at night first, then had come out into the open during the day, when Roberto remained awake in his cabin. Should he now revise his plans, giving the impression of sleeping in the daytime and staying awake at night? Why? The other would simply alter his strategy. No, Roberto should instead be un­predictable, make the other unsure, pretend to be asleep when he was awake and awake while he was asleep....

He had to try to imagine what the other thought he thought, or what the other thought he thought the other thought he thought.... Thus far the Intruder had been his shadow; now Roberto would become the shadow of the In­truder, learn to follow the trail of the man walking behind his. But that reciprocal ambush could not continue to infinity, one man scrambling up a ladder while the other descended the opposite side, one in the hold while the other was active on deck, one rushing below while the other was perhaps climbing up the flank of the ship.

Any sensible person would have immediately decided to proceed in the exploration of the rest of the ship, but we must bear in mind that Roberto was not sensible. He had succumbed again to aqua vitae, and had convinced himself he was doing so to gain strength. For a man in whom love had always inspired delay, that nepenthe could not inspire decision. So he moved slowly, believing himself a thunderbolt. He thought he was making a leap, when he crawled. Especially since he still did not dare go out during the day, and he felt strong at night. But at night he drank, and dragged his feet. Which was what his enemy wanted, he told himself in the morning. And to muster courage, he clung to the keg.

In any case, towards the evening of the fifth day, he de­cided to venture into that part of the hold that he still had not visited, below the hatchway of the storeroom. He realized that on the Daphne all space had been exploited to the utmost, and between the second deck and the hold partitions and false bottoms had been installed, in order to create closets reached by rickety ladders. He first entered the hawser locker, stum­bling over coils of ropes of every kind, soaked in salt water. Then he descended still farther and found himself in the se-cunda carina, among chests and cases of various description.

He found more food and more barrels of fresh water. He should have rejoiced, and he did, but only because he could now carry on his hunt forever, with the pleasure of delaying it. Which is the pleasure of fear.

Behind the kegs of water he found four others of aqua vitae. He climbed back to the larder and once more examined the kegs there. All contained water, a sign that the keg of aqua vitae he had found the day before had been carried up from below deliberately, to tempt him.

Rather than worry about ambush, he went back down into the hold, brought up another keg of liquor, and drank some.

Then he returned below, we can imagine in what condi­tion; but he stopped, catching the rotten smell of bilge. He could go no lower.

So he went aft, towards the poop, but his lamp was failing and he stumbled on something, realized he was moving through the ballast, at the very point where on the Amaryllis Dr. Byrd had devised the cabin for the dog. But here in the hold, among puddles of water and scraps of stored food, he discovered the print of a foot.

He was now so sure an Intruder was on board that his first thought was this: Finally he had proof he was not drunk. Which is, after all, the proof drunks constantly seek. In any case, the evidence was incontrovertible, clear as day, if that is the appropriate phrase to describe his progress between the darkness and the glimmer of his lantern. Convinced now that the Intruder existed, Roberto did not think that in all this coming and going he could have left the print himself. He climbed up again, determined to fight.

It was sunset. It was the first sunset he had seen, after five days of nights, twilights, and dawns. A few black clouds, almost parallel, flanked the more distant island, condensing along the peak, from whence they diminished into arrows aimed south­wards. The shore stood dark against the sea now the color of pale ink, while the rest of the sky was a wan and weary cam­omile, as if the sun were not behind the scene, celebrating his sacrifice, but, rather, dozing off slowly while asking sky and sea to accompany his repose with a murmur.

Roberto, on the contrary, experienced a return of the fighting spirit. He decided to confound the enemy. He went to the clock room and carried as many clocks as he could up on deck, arranging them like the pins in a game of billiards, one by the mainmast, three on the quarterdeck, one against the capstan, still others around the foremast, and one at each hatch and port, so that anyone trying to pass in the dark would trip.

Then he wound the mechanical ones (not considering that in so doing he made them audible to the enemy he wished to surprise) and turned over the hourglasses. He gazed at the deck covered with machines of Time, proud of their noise, sure that it would overwhelm the Other and retard his progress.

Having set out those innocuous snares, he was their first victim. As night fell over a calm sea, he went from one to another of those metal mosquitoes, to listen to their buzz of lifeless essence, to watch those drops of eternity suffer one by one, and fear those terminal termites toothless but gluttonous (these are the very words he wrote), those cogged wheels that shredded the day into bits of instants and consumed life in a music of death.

He remembered some words of Padre Emanuele: “What a jocund Spectacle it would be if through a Crystal at the Breast the motions of the Heart could be seen like the movement of a Clock!” He followed by starlight the slow rosary of those grains of sand muttered by a glass, and he philosophized on those little bundles of moments, those successive anatomies of time, those fissures through which the hours trickled in a fine line.

The cadence of passing time carried a presage of his own demise, which was nearing, one movement after another. He looked close with his myopic eye to decipher that puzzle of fugues, with trepid trope he transformed a water machine into a fluid coffin, and in the end he inveighed against those char­latan astrologers capable of heralding to him only the hours that had passed.

And who knows what else he would have written if he had not felt the need to abandon his poetic mirabilia, as before he had abandoned his chronometric mirabilia—and not of his own volition but because, having in his veins more liquor than ichor, he had allowed that tick-tock gradually to become a toxical lullaby.
On the morning of the sixth day, wakened by the last machines still gasping, he saw among the clocks, all of them shifted, two little cranes scratching (were they cranes?). Pecking nervously, the birds upset and shattered one of the most beau­tiful of the hourglasses.

The Intruder, not in the least frightened (and why should he be, knowing perfectly well who was on board?), playing absurd trick for absurd trick, had freed the two animals from below. To create havoc on my ship—Roberto was in tears— to show he is more powerful than I...

But why those cranes, he wondered, accustomed to seeing every event as a sign and every sign as a Device. What did he intend them to mean? Roberto tried to recall the symbolic meaning of cranes, what he remembered from Picinelli or Va-leriano, but he could find no answer. Now we know very well that there was neither a purpose nor a concept in that Ser-raglio of Stupefactions: the Intruder was now losing his mind as Roberto had. But Roberto could not know this, and he tried to read sense into something that was no more than a petulant scrawl.

I will catch you! I will catch you, damn you! he cried. And, still sleepy, he seized his sword and flung himself once more towards the hold, falling down the ladders and ending in a still unexplored area, among piles of fagots and newly hewn logs. But, falling, he struck the logs and, rolling with them, found himself with his face on a grating, again breathing the foul stink of the bilge. And at eye-level he saw scorpions crawling.

It was likely that, along with the wood, some insects also had been stored in the hold, and I am not sure they were actually scorpions, but that is how Roberto saw them—intro­duced by the Intruder, naturally, so that they would poison him. To escape this danger, Roberto began to scramble up the ladder; but, running on those moving logs, he remained where he was, or, rather, he lost his balance and had to cling to the rungs. Finally he climbed up and discovered a cut on his arm.

No doubt he had wounded himself with his own sword. Instead of thinking of the wound, he went back to the wood­pile and searched breathlessly among the logs for his weapon, which was stained with blood. He carried it to the aftercastle and poured aqua vitae on the blade. But finding no improve­ment, he abjured all the principles of his science and poured the liquor directly on his arm. He invoked some saints with excessive familiarity, ran outside where a great downpour was beginning, at which the cranes flew off and vanished. The downpour brought him to; he became worried about his clocks, ran here and there to carry them to shelter. He caught his foot in a hatchway, sprained it, hopped back inside on one leg, crane-like, undressed and—his response to all these mean­ingless events—set to writing while the rain first grew heavier, then abated. Some hours of sunshine returned, and finally night fell.

And it is good for us that he did write, for we are thus able to learn what happened to him on the Amaryllis and what he discovered in the course of that voyage.

CHAPTER 19






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