for two days Roberto again fled the light of day. In his sleep he saw only the dead. His mouth and gums were irritated. From his viscera the pain spread to his chest, then to his back, and he vomited acid substances, though he had taken no food. The black bile, gnawing and undermining his whole body, fermented and erupted in bubbles such as those water expels when subjected to intense heat.
He had surely fallen victim (and it is inconceivable that he realized this only then) to what is generally called Erotic Melancholy. Had he not been led to explain, that evening at Arthenice’s, how the image of the beloved awakes love, insinuating itself as simulacrum through the meatus of the eyes, those doorkeepers and spies of the soul? But afterwards the amorous impression allows itself to glide slowly through the veins until it reaches the liver, stimulating concupiscence, which moves the whole body to sedition, leads straight to the conquest of the citadel of the heart, whence it attacks the more noble powers of the brain and enslaves them.
Which is to say that its victims virtually lose their reason, the senses stray, the intellect is beclouded, the imagination is depraved, and the poor lover grows thin, wan, his eyes become hollow, he sighs, and is steeped in jealousy.
How is it to be cured? Roberto thought he knew the remedy above all remedies, which, however, was denied him: to possess the beloved person. He did not know that this is not enough, for melancholies do not become such through love; rather, they fall in love to express their melancholy—preferring desolate places for spiritual converse with the absent beloved, thinking only of how to arrive in her presence; although, arriving there, they become all the more afflicted, and would like still to attain some other goal.
Roberto tried to recall what he had heard from men of science who had studied Erotic Melancholy. Apparently it was caused by idleness, by sleeping supine, and by an excessive retention of seed. For too many days he had lived in enforced idleness, but as far as retention of seed was concerned, he shunned any enquiry into its causes or any thought of remedy.
He had heard talk about hunting parties as a stimulus of oblivion, and decided he would intensify his natatory endeavors, and would not sleep on his back; but among the substances that excite the senses is salt, and in swimming one swallows a fair amount of salt.... Further, he remembered having heard that the Africans, exposed to the sun, were more addicted to vice than the Hyperboreans.
Was it perhaps food that had unleashed his saturnalian propensities? Doctors forbade game, goose liver, pistachios, truffles, and ginger, but they did not say which fish were not advisable. They warned against overly comfortable clothing, such as sable and velvet, and also against music, amber, nutmeg, and Cyprus Powder. But what could he know of the unknown power of the hundred perfumes released from the greenhouse below, or of those borne by the winds from the Island?
He could have warded off many of these unfortunate influences with camphor, borage, wood sorrel; with enemas, with a vomitory of salt of vitriol dissolved in broth, and finally with leeching of the median vein of the arm or that of the brow; and then by eating only chicory, endive, lettuce, and melons, grapes, cherries, plums, and pears and, above all, fresh mint.... But none of these were at hand on the Daphne.
He resumed moving among the waves, trying not to swallow too much salt, and resting as seldom as possible.
Certainly he did not cease thinking about the story he had summoned up, but his irritation with Ferrante was now translated into fits of arrogance, and he measured himself against the sea as if, subjecting it to his will, he were making his enemy his subject.
After a few days, one afternoon he remarked for the first time the amber color of the hair on his chest and—as he notes with various rhetorical contortions—his groin. He realized that his whole body had become tanned, also strengthened, for on his arms he saw a rippling of muscles he had never noticed before. He considered himself a Hercules at this point, and he lost all sense of prudence. The next day he descended into the water without the rope.
He would abandon the ladder, moving along the hull to the right as far as the rudder, then he would round the stern, and swim back along the other side, passing beneath the bowsprit. And he put his arms and legs to work.
The sea was not calm, and wavelets flung him against the ship’s side, forcing him to redouble his efforts, whether to stay close to the ship or to move away from it. He was breathing heavily, but he advanced without fear. Until he reached his halfway point, the stern.
He realized that he had expended all his strength. He was now too weak to swim the length of the ship, but he could not turn back either. He tried clinging to the rudder, which offered him only a dubious hold, covered as it was with mucilage, while it slowly creaked under the alternating slaps of the waves.
Above his head he could see the gallery, imagining beyond its windows the safe haven of his quarters. He told himself that if by misadventure the ladder at the prow had come loose, he might spend hours and hours before his death yearning for that deck he had so often wished to leave.
The sun was covered by a patch of clouds, and he was already growing numb. He stretched his head back, as if to sleep. After a moment he opened his eyes, turned, and realized that what he had feared was happening: the waves were pulling him away from the ship.
He made an effort and swam back to the side, touching it as if to derive strength. Above his head he glimpsed a cannon that protruded from a gun-port. If he had his rope, he thought, he could make a noose, throw it up, and catch by the throat that mouth of fire, then hoist himself, holding the rope with his arms and pressing his feet against the hull.... But the rope was absent, and worse still, he lacked the spirit and the strength to scale such a height...”. It made no sense to die like this, beside his refuge.
He came to a decision. Now, doubling the stern, whether he turned back along the right side or continued along the left, the distance between him and the ladder was the same. As if casting lots, he resolved to swim to the left, taking care that the current did not separate him from the Daphne.
He swam, clenching his teeth, his muscles strained, not daring to let himself relax, fiercely determined to survive, even—he said—if he died in the attempt.
With a jubilant cry he reached the bowsprit, clung to the prow, then came to the Jacob’s ladder—praise Jacob, and may all the holy patriarchs of the Sacred Scriptures be blessed by the Lord God of Hosts.
His strength was gone. He remained clinging to the ladder for perhaps half an hour. But in the end he managed to pull himself up to the deck, where he tried to add up the sum of his experience.
First, he could swim, enough to go from one end of the ship to the other and back; second, an exploit of this kind took him to the extreme limit of his physical possibilities; third, since the distance between ship and shore, even at low tide, was many, many times greater than the entire perimeter of the Daphne, he could not hope to swim long enough to be able finally to grasp something solid; fourth, the low tide did indeed bring terra firma closer, but with its reflux it made his progress more difficult; fifth, if by chance he reached the halfway point and lacked the strength to go forward, he would not be able to return either.
Therefore he had to continue with the rope, and for a much longer time. He would go east as far as his strength allowed, and then he would tow himself back. Only exercising like this, day after day, would he be able to venture farther on his own.
He chose a calm afternoon, when the sun was behind him. He fitted himself out with a very long rope, one end fixed tightly to the mainmast; it lay on the deck in many coils, ready to play out gradually. He swam calmly, not tiring himself too much, resting often. He looked at the beach and the two promontories. Only now, from below, did he realize how far he was from that ideal line which extended from one cape to the other, from south to north, beyond which he would enter the day before.
Having failed to understand Father Caspar properly, he was convinced that the coral barrier began only at the point where little white waves marked the first reefs. Whereas obviously the coral began earlier. Otherwise the Daphne would have anchored closer to land.
So his bare legs scraped against something below the surface. Almost at the same time his eye caught an underwater movement of colored forms, and he felt an unbearable stinging at his thigh and shin. It was as if he had been bitten or clawed. To get away from that reef he pushed with a heel, wounding a foot also in this act.
He seized the rope, tugging on it so hard that when he was back on board, he saw his hands were excoriated; but he was more concerned about the condition of his leg and foot. There were clusters of painful pustules. He bathed them with fresh water, which soothed the stinging a bit. But towards evening, and through the night, the burning was accompanied by an acute itching, and in his sleep he probably scratched himself, so the next morning the pustules oozed blood and white matter.
He then had recourse to Father Caspar’s preparations (Spir-itus, Olea, Flores) which calmed the infection to some degree, but for a whole day he still felt the instinctive impulse to claw at those buboes.
Once again he calculated the sum of his experience, and came to four conclusions: the reef was closer than the reflux suggested, which encouraged him to try the venture again; some creatures living on it, crabs, fish, perhaps the corals, or some sharp stones, had the power to infect him with some kind of pestilence; if he wanted to return to those stones, he had to be shod and clothed, which would make his movements more awkward. In any case, since he could not shield his whole body, he had to be able to see underwater.
This last conclusion made him recall that Persona Vitrea or mask for seeing underwater that Father Caspar had shown him. He tried fastening it at his nape, and discovered that it enclosed his face, allowing him to look out as if through a window. He tried breathing, and realized that a bit of air came in. If air entered, then water would enter as well. So while using it, he would have to hold his breath—the more air remained in it, the less water would enter—and he would return to the surface as soon as the mask had filled.
It would not be an easy operation, and Roberto spent three days testing all its phases in the water, but close to the Daphne. Near the sailors’ paillasses he found a pair of canvas hose that protected his feet without weighting him too much, and a pair of trousers to be tied at the calf. It took him half a day to relearn those movements that had now become so easy for him when he was naked.
Then he swam with the mask. In deep water he could not see much, though he did glimpse a school of gilded fish passing many ells below him, as if they were navigating in a tub.
Three days, we said. In the course of those days Roberto first learned to look below him while holding his breath, then to move as he looked, then to remove the mask while he was in the water. In this enterprise, instinctively, he also learned a new position, which consisted of filling and swelling his chest, kicking as if he were walking in haste, while he thrust his chin upwards. But it was more difficult, maintaining the same equilibrium, to put the mask back on and fasten it at his nape. He promptly reminded himself, further, that once at the reef, if he assumed that vertical position, he would strike the rocks; if on the other hand he kept his face out of the water, he would not see what he was kicking. Hence he considered it would be better not to fasten the mask but instead press it with both hands and hold it over his face. Which, however, obliged him to proceed moving only his legs, while keeping them outstretched horizontally to avoid striking anything below: an action he had never tried, and which required long practice before he could execute it confidently.
In the course of these experiments he transformed every fit of rage into a new chapter of his Romance of Ferrante.
And he caused his story to take a more spiteful turn, as Ferrante was duly punished.
A Breviary for Politicals
in any case he could not delay resuming his story. It is true that Poets, after having spoken of a memorable event, neglect it for a while in order to keep the reader in suspense—and in this skill we recognize also the well-planned novel. But the theme must not be abandoned for too long, so the reader should not become lost among too many other, parallel actions. So it was time to return to Ferrante.
Stealing Lilia from Roberto was only one of the goals Ferrante had set for himself. The other was to cause Roberto to fall into disfavor with the Cardinal. Not easy to achieve: the Cardinal did not even know of Roberto’s existence.
But Ferrante knew how to make the most of opportunities. One day Richelieu was reading a letter in his presence, and said to him: “Cardinal Mazarin tells me a story about the English and a certain Powder of Sympathy they have. Did you hear any talk of it in London?”
“What is it, Your Eminence?”
“Signor Pozzo, or whatever your name is, learn that you must never answer a question with another question, especially if it is asked by someone of a station higher than your own. If I knew what it was, I would not ask you about it. In any event, if you know nothing of this powder, have you heard any mention of a new secret method for determining longitudes?”
“I confess I know nothing on this subject. If Your Eminence would enlighten me, perhaps I—”
“Signor Pozzo, you would be amusing if you were not insolent. I would not be the master of this country if I were to enlighten others about things they do not know—unless those others were the king of France, which does not seem to be your case. So do only what you know how to do: keep your ears open and learn things of which before you knew nothing. Then you will come and report them to me, and afterwards you will take care to forget them.”
“That is what I have always done, Your Eminence. Or at least I think so, for I have forgotten doing it.”
“Now that is to my liking. You may go.”
Some time later came that memorable evening when Ferrante heard Roberto expound the theory of the powder. He could hardly believe his luck, able to draw to Richelieu’s attention an Italian gentleman who consorted with the Englishman d’lgby (notoriously connected, some time ago, with the Due de Bouquinquant) and who seemed to know a great deal about the powder.
At the moment when he began casting discredit on Roberto, Ferrante still had to arrange how to take his place. So he revealed to the Cardinal that he, Ferrante, passed himself off as Signor del Pozzo because his job as informer obliged him to remain incognito, but in reality he was the true Roberto de la Grive, a valorous fighter with the French during the siege of Casale. The other man, who so slyly talked about the English powder, was a rascal adventurer. Exploiting a vague physical resemblance, under the name of Mahmut the Arab, he had recently served as a spy in London taking orders from the Turks.
Thus Ferrante prepared for the moment when, having ruined his brother, he could assume his identity, becoming the one and true Roberto not only to the relatives still left at La Griva but in the eyes of all Paris—as if the other had never existed.
In the meantime, as he masked himself with Roberto’s face to conquer Lilia, Ferrante learned, like everyone else, of the misfortune of Cinq-Mars; and risking a great deal surely, but ready to give his life to consummate his revenge, again in the guise of Roberto he made a show of belonging to the company of that conspirator’s friends.
Then he whispered to the Cardinal that the false Roberto de la Grive, who knew so much about a secret dear to the English, was clearly conspiring, and Ferrante promptly produced witnesses who could declare they had seen Roberto with this or that man.
As is clear, a castle of lies and travesties lay behind the trap into which Roberto had fallen. But Roberto had fallen for reasons and in ways unknown to Ferrante himself, whose plans were then upset by the death of Richelieu.
What, in fact, had happened? Richelieu, highly suspicious, was using Ferrante without mentioning him to anyone, not even to Mazarin, whom he obviously distrusted, seeing him by now poised like a vulture over an ailing body. Still, as his disease progressed, Richelieu did pass some information to Mazarin, without revealing its source: “By the way, my good Jules....”
“Yes, Eminence and my beloved father...”
“Keep an eye on one Roberto de la Grive. He goes in the evening to Madame de Rambouillet. It seems he knows a great deal about your Powder of Sympathy.... And, further, according to an informer of mine, the young man also frequents a circle of conspirators....”
“You must not tire yourself, Eminence. I will deal with everything.”
And so Mazarin initiated, on his own, an enquiry into Roberto, until he had learned the little he made a great show of knowing on the night of the arrest. But in all of this he knew nothing of Ferrante.
Meanwhile Richelieu was dying. What would happen to Ferrante?
Richelieu dead, Ferrante was without protection. He had to establish some contact with Mazarin, for a scoundrel is an evil heliotrope turning always in the direction of the most powerful. But he cannot go to the new minister without bringing some evidence of his worth. He finds no further trace of Roberto. Can Roberto be ill? Has he set off on a journey? Ferrante thinks of everything save the possibility that his slanders have had their effect and Roberto has been arrested.
Ferrante does not dare show himself publicly in the guise of Roberto, for fear of arousing the suspicions of those who know that La Grive is far away. Whatever may have happened between him and Lilia, Ferrante ceases all communication with her, impassive as a man aware that every victory costs much time. He knows, also, he should make use of distance; the finest qualities lose their glow if displayed too often, and fancy travels farther than sight; even the phoenix resorts to distant habitats to keep its legend alive.
But time is pressing. On Roberto’s return, Mazarin must already suspect him and want him dead. Ferrante consults his peers at court, and discovers that Mazarin can be approached through the young Colbert, to whom he sends a letter hinting at an English threat and the matter of longitudes (knowing nothing about them, and having heard them mentioned only once, by Richelieu). In exchange for his revelations he asks for a considerable sum, and is granted a meeting, at which he appears dressed as an elderly abbe, with a black eye-patch.
Colbert is not ingenuous. This abbe’s voice sounds familiar, the few things he says have a dubious ring. Colbert summons two guards, goes to the visitor, tears off the patch and the beard, and whom does he find before him? The same Roberto de la Grive he himself consigned to his agents, charging them to put this Italian on board Dr. Byrd’s ship.
In telling himself this story, Roberto exults. Ferrante has walked straight into the trap, all on his own. “You? San Pa-trizio?” Colbert promptly cried. Then, seeing Ferrante start and remain silent, he ordered the man flung into a dungeon.
It was a great joke for Roberto to imagine the colloquy between Mazarin and Colbert, who immediately informed the Cardinal.
“The man must be mad, Your Eminence. To dare evade his mission, I can understand, but to try to come here to sell us what we had already given him can only be evidence of madness.”
“Colbert, no one could be so mad as to take me for a fool. So our man is playing a game, convinced that he holds winning cards.”
“In what sense?”
“For example, suppose he boarded that ship and immediately discovered what he was to have learned, so he no longer needed to stay there.”
“But if he had wanted to betray us, he would have gone to the Spanish or to the Dutch. He would not have come here to challenge us. And to ask what of us, after all? Money? He knew quite well that if he acted loyally, he could have had even a place at court.”
“Obviously he is convinced he has discovered a secret worth more than a place at court. Believe me, he knows men. We can only lead him on. I will see him this evening.”
Mazarin received Ferrante while with his own hands he was putting the final touches to a table he had laid for his guests, a triumph of things that seemed to be other things. On the board, wicks glowed, protruding from goblets of ice, and bottles in which the wine was of unexpected colors stood among baskets of lettuces garlanded with artificial flowers and fruits artificially aromatic.
Mazarin, who believed that Roberto, that is to say Ferrante, was in possession of a secret from which he wanted to derive great profit, had determined to make a show of knowing everything (everything, in short, that he did not know) to induce the rogue to let some hint escape him.
On the other hand, Ferrante—when he found himself in the Cardinal’s presence—had already guessed that Roberto was in possession of a secret from which great profit could be derived, and he had determined to make a show of knowing everything (everything, in short, that he did not know) to induce the Cardinal to let some hint escape him.
Thus we have on stage two men, each of whom knows nothing of what he believes the other knows, and to deceive each other reciprocally both speak in allusions, each of the two hoping (in vain) that the other holds the key to this puzzle. What a beautiful story, Roberto said to himself as he sought the thread of the skein that he had twisted.
“Signer di San Patrizio,” Mazarin said as he moved a dish of live crayfish that seemed cooked closer to another dish of cooked crayfish that seemed alive, “a week ago we put you on board the Amaryllis in Amsterdam. You cannot have abandoned your mission: you were well aware you would pay for that with your life. Therefore you must have already discovered what you were sent to discover.”
Ferrante, confronted with this dilemma, saw that it was not in his interest to confess having abandoned the mission. So there was only one course open to him. “If it please Your Eminence,” he said, “in a sense I have learned what Your Eminence wanted me to learn,” and he added to himself: “And meanwhile I have learned that the secret is on board a ship named the Amaryllis, and that it sailed from Amsterdam a week ago....”
“Come, sir, do not be modest. I know very well that you now know more than I was expecting. After your departure I received other information, for you surely do not imagine you are the only agent I have. Thus I know that what you have found is of great value, and I am not here to haggle. I cannot help wondering, however, why you chose to come back to me in such a tortuous way.” And at the same time he indicated to the servants where they should set some meats in wooden forms shaped like fish, on which he had them pour not broth but julep.
Ferrante was more and more convinced that the secret was priceless, but he told himself it is easy to kill a bird in flight if it flies in a straight line, but not if it constantly changes direction. Therefore he took his time, sounding out the adversary: “Your Eminence knows the prize at stake required tortuous means.”
“Ah, you rascal,” Mazarin said to himself, “you are not sure what your discovery is worth and you are waiting for me to set the price. But you must be the one to speak first.” To the center of the table he shifted some sorbets so confected that they seemed peaches still clinging to their bough, then he spoke: “I know what you have. You know that you can
bring it only to me. Do you think it a good idea to pass white off as black and black as white?”
“Ah, you damned fox,” Ferrante muttered under his breath, “you do not in the least know what I should know, and the trouble is that I do not know it either.” Then he also spoke: “Your Eminence knows well that sometimes the truth can have the essence of bitterness.”
“Knowledge never harms.”
“But sometimes it hurts.”
“Hurt me, then. I will not be more hurt than when I learned you had stained your honor with treason. I should have left you in the hands of the executioner.”
Ferrante finally realized that in playing the part of Roberto, he risked ending on the gallows. Better to reveal himself for what he was, and risk at most a beating from a lackey.
“Your Eminence,” he said, “I have made the mistake of not telling you the truth at once. Monsieur Colbert took me for Roberto de la Grive, and his error has perhaps also misled even a gaze as acute as that of Your Eminence. But I am not Roberto, I am only his natural brother, Ferrante. I presented myself to offer some information I thought would interest Your Eminence, since Your Eminence was the first to mention to the late and never to be forgotten Cardinal the plot of the English, as Your Eminence knows... the Powder of Sympathy and the problem of longitude....”
At these words Mazarin made a gesture of pique, almost knocking over a tureen of fake gold decorated with jewels exquisitely simulated in glass. He blamed a servant, then murmured to Colbert: “Put this man back where he was.”
It is quite true that the gods blind those they wish to destroy. Ferrante thought to arouse interest by revealing that he knew the most private secrets of the late Cardinal, and exaggerating in his sycophantic pride, he tried to show himself better informed than his deceased master. But no one had yet told Mazarin (and it would have been difficult to prove it to him) that there had been commerce between Ferrante and Richelieu. Mazarin found himself facing someone, whether Roberto or another, who not only knew what he had said to Roberto but also what he had written to Richelieu. From whom had he learned this?
When Ferrante was led away, Colbert said, “Does Your Eminence believe what that man said? If he were a twin, all would be explained. Roberto would still be at sea, and—”
“No, if this man is Roberto’s brother, the case is even more inexplicable. How has he come to know what was known first only to me, you, and our English informer, and then to Roberto de la Grive?”
“His brother must have told him.”
“No, his brother learned everything from us only that evening, and afterwards he was never out of someone’s sight, until the ship set sail. No, no, this man knows too many things he should not know.”
“What shall we do with him?”
“Interesting question, Colbert. If he is Roberto, he knows what he has seen on that ship and he must speak. If he is not, we must absolutely discover where he obtained his information. In either case, excluding the very thought of haling him before a judge, where he would say too much and in the presence of too many people, we cannot simply make him disappear with a few inches of steel in his back: he still has much to tell us. If he is not Roberto but, as he says, Ferrand or Fernand...”
“Ferrante, I believe.”
“No matter. If he is not Roberto, who is behind him? Not even the Bastille is a secure place. People are known to have sent messages from there and received them. We must wait till he speaks, and find the way to open his mouth, but in the meantime we should shut him up somewhere unknown to all, and make sure no one finds out who he is.”
And it was at this point that Colbert had a darkly luminous idea.
A few days before, a French vessel had captured a pirate ship off the coast of Brittany. It was, by strange coincidence, a Dutch fluyt with the name, naturally unpronounceable, of Tweede Daphne, that is to say, Daphne the Second, a sign—Mazarin remarked—that somewhere there must be a Daphne the First, which showed how those Protestants lacked not only faith but also imagination. The crew was made up of people of every race. The only thing to do was hang them all, but it was worth investigating whether or not they were in the hire of England and from whom they had seized the ship, which might then be advantageously bartered with its legitimate owners.
So it was decided to moor the ship not far from the Seine estuary, in a little half-hidden bay that escaped the notice even of the pilgrims for Santiago who, coming from Flanders, passed a short distance away. On a tongue of land that enclosed the bay there was an old fortress which had once served as a prison but was now more or less abandoned. And there the pirates were cast into dungeons, guarded by only three men.
“Enough,” Mazarin said. “Take ten of my guards, put them under the command of a good captain not without prudence....”
“Biscarat. He has always done things well, from the days when he duelled with the musketeers over the Cardinal’s honor....”
“Perfect. Have the prisoner taken to the fort and put him in the guard room. Biscarat will eat his meals with the prisoner in that room and accompany him if he is taken out for air. A guard at the door of the room also, at night. Time in confinement weakens even the most stubborn spirit; our obstinate spy will have only Biscarat to speak to, and he may let some confidence slip. And, above all, no one must recognize him, either during the trip or at the fort....”
“If he goes out for air...”
“Come, Colbert... where’s your inventive spirit? Cover his face.”
“Might I suggest ... an iron mask closed with a lock, the key thrown into the sea?”
“Come now, Colbert, are we in the Land of Romances? Last night we saw those Italian players wearing leather masks with long noses that alter their features yet leave the mouth free. Find one of those, put it on him in such a way that he cannot remove it, and give him a mirror in his cell, so he can die of shame day by day. He chose to mask himself as his brother, did he not? Then let him be masked as Polichinelle! And remember: from here to the fort, a closed carriage, stopping only at night and in open country, no showing himself at the post-stations. If anyone asks questions, a lady high degree is being escorted to the frontier, a conspirator against the Cardinal.”
Ferrante, embarrassed by his burlesque disguise, now had been staring for days (through a grating that allowed scant light into his room) at a gray amphitheater surrounded by bleak dunes, with the Tweede Daphne riding at anchor in the bay.
He controlled himself when he was in Biscarat’s presence, letting the captain believe sometimes he was Roberto, sometimes Ferrante, so that the reports sent to Mazarin were always puzzling. He managed to overhear, in passing, some conversation among the guards, and had learned that in the dungeons of the fort a band of pirates lay in chains.
Wanting to take revenge on Roberto for a wrong he had not inflicted, Ferrante racked his brain for a way to encourage a revolt, to free those rogues, seize the ship, and set out on Roberto’s trail. He knew where to begin: in Amsterdam he would find spies who could tell him something of the destination of the Amaryllis. He would overtake it, would discover Roberto’s secret, rid himself of that tedious double in the sea, and then he would be able to sell something to the Cardinal at a high price.
Or perhaps not. Once he discovered the secret, he might decide to sell it to others. But why sell it, indeed? For all he knew, Roberto’s secret could involve the map of a treasure island, or else the secret of the Alumbrados and the Rosy-Cross, of which people had been talking for twenty years. He would exploit the revelation to his own advantage, would no longer have to spy for a master, would have spies in his own service. Wealth and power gained, not only would he possess the ancient name of his family, but the Lady would be his as well.
To be sure, Ferrante, steeped in rancor, was not capable of true love, but—Roberto told himself—there are people who would never have fallen in love if they had not heard love talked about. Perhaps, in his cell, Ferrante finds a love story, reads it, and convinces himself he is in love as a way of feeling himself elsewhere.
Perhaps She, in the course of that first encounter, gave Ferrante her comb as a pledge of love. Now Ferrante is kissing it, and as he kisses it, he is wrecked, oblivious, in the gulf whose waves the ivory prow had fended.
Perhaps—who knows?—even such a scoundrel could succumb to the memory of that face.... Roberto now saw Ferrante seated in the darkness at the mirror that reflected
only the candle set before it. Contemplating two little flames, one aping the other, the eye stares, the mind is infatuated, visions rise. Shifting his head slightly, Ferrante sees Lilia, her face of virgin wax, so bathed in light that it absorbs every other ray and causes her blond hair to flow like a dark mass wound in a spindle behind her back, her bosom just visible beneath a delicate dress, its neck cut low....
Then Ferrante (at last! Roberto exulted) sought to gain too much from the vanity of a dream, and set himself, insatiable, before the mirror, and saw behind the reflected candle only the disfiguring black snout.
An animal unable to bear the loss of an undeserved gift, he resumed touching her comb; but now, in the smoking of the candle-end, that object (which for Roberto would have been the most adorable of relics) seemed to Ferrante a toothy mouth ready to bite his dejection.
A Garden of Delights
at the idea of Ferrante shut up on that island looking at a Tweede Daphne he would never reach, separated from the Lady, Roberto felt, and we must allow it, a reprehensible but comprehensible satisfaction, not unconnected with a certain satisfaction as narrator, since—with fine antimetabole—he had managed to seal up also his adversary in a siege spectacularly dissimilar to his own.
You from that island of yours, with your leather mask, will never reach the ship. I, on the contrary, from my ship, with my mask of glass, am now on the verge of reaching my Island. Thus he spoke (to him, to himself) as he prepared to attempt once more his journey by water.
He remembered the distance from the ship to the point where he had been wounded, and therefore he swam calmly at first, the mask at his belt. When he believed he was drawing close to the reef, he slipped on the mask and sank to explore the sea bed.
For a while he saw only patches; then, like a seaman on a ship in a foggy night, approaching a cliff, which suddenly looms, sheer, before his eyes, he saw the rim of the chasm over which he was swimming.
He took off the mask, emptied it, replaced it, holding it with his hand, and with a slow kicking motion he headed for the spectacle he had just glimpsed.
So this was coral. His first impression, to judge by his later notes, was confused, dazed. It was an impression of being in the shop of a merchant of stuffs who draped before his eyes sendals and taffetas, brocades, satins, damasks, velvets, and bows, fringes and furbelows, and then stoles, pluvials, chasubles, dalmatics. But the stuffs moved with a life of their own, sensual as Oriental dancing-maids.
In that landscape—which Roberto does not describe because, seeing it for the first time, he cannot find in his memory images capable of translating it into words—now suddenly a host of creatures erupted and these, indeed, he recognized, or at least could compare to others previously seen. They were fish, intersecting like shooting stars in an August sky, but in composing and distributing the hues and patterns of their scales, Nature must have wanted to demonstrate the variety of accents that exists in the Universe and how many can be placed together on a single surface.
Some were striped in several colors, lengthwise or breadthwise, some had slanting lines and others had curving lines. Some seemed worked like intarsia with crumbs of spots brilliantly deployed, some were speckled or dotted, others patched, spattered, or minutely stippled, or veined like marble.
Still others had a serpentine design, or a pattern like several interwoven chains. Some were spotted with enamels, sown with shields and rosettes. And one, beautiful above the rest, seemed circled with cordons forming two rows of grapes and milk; and it was miraculous that not once did the row that enfolded the belly fail to continue on the flank, as if it were the work of an artist’s hand.
Only at that moment, seeing against the background of fish the coralline forms he had not been able to recognize at first, could Roberto make out bunches of bananas, baskets of bread rolls, corbeilles of bronze loquats over which canaries and geckos and hummingbirds were hovering.
He was above a garden, no, he was mistaken, now it seemed a petrified forest, and at the next moment there were mounds, folds, shores, gaps and grottoes, a single slope of living stones on which a vegetation not of this earth was composed in squat forms, or round, or scaly, that seemed to wear a granulated coat of mail, or else gnarled, or else coiled. But, different as they were, they were all stupendous in their grace and loveliness, to such a degree that even those worked with feigned negligence, roughly shaped, displayed their roughness with majesty: they were monsters, true, but monsters of beauty.
Or else (Roberto crosses out and revises, and is unable to report, like someone who must describe for the first time a squared circle, a coastal plain, a noisy silence, a nocturnal rainbow) what he was seeing were shrubs of cinnabar.
Perhaps, holding his breath so long, he had grown befuddled, and the water entering his mask blurred shapes and hues. He thrust his head up to let air into his lungs, and resumed floating along the edge of the barrier, following its rifts and anfracts, past corridors of chalk in which vinous harlequins were stuck, while on a promontory he saw reposing, stirred by slow respiration and a waving of claws, a lobster crested with whey over a coral net (this coral looked like the coral he knew, but was spread out like the legendary cheese of Fra Stefano, which never ends).
What he saw now was not a fish, nor was it a leaf; certainly it was a living thing, like two broad slices of whitish matter edged in crimson and with a feather fan; and where you would have expected eyes there were two horns of whipped sealing-wax.
Cypress-polyps, which in their vermicular writhing revealed the rosy color of a great central lip, stroked plantations of albino phalli with amaranth glandes; pink minnows dotted with olive grazed ashen cauliflowers sprayed with scarlet, striped tubers of blackening copper... And then he could see the porous, saffron liver of a great animal, or else an artificial fire of mercury arabesques, wisps of thorns dripping sanguine and finally a kind of chalice of flaccid mother-of-pearl...
That chalice then looked to him like an urn, and he thought that among those rocks was inhumed Father Caspar’s corpse. No longer visible, if the action of the water had covered it with coralline cartilage; but the corals, absorbing the terrestrial humors of that body, had assumed shapes of flowers and garden fruits. Perhaps in a little while he would recognize the poor old man transformed into an alien creature down here: the globe of the head made from a hairy coconut, two withered apples for the cheeks, eyes and eyelids turned into two unripe apricots, the nose of sow thistle knotty like an animal’s dung; below, in place of lips, dried figs, a beet with its apiculate stalk for the chin, and a wrinkled cardoon functioning as the throat; and at both temples, two chestnut burrs to act as side-curls, and for ears the halves of a split walnut; for fingers, carrots; a watermelon as belly; quinces, the knees.
How could Roberto dress such funereal thoughts in such a grotesque form? No, in quite different form the remains of his poor friend would have proclaimed in this place their fateful Et in Arcadia ego....
There, perhaps in the form of that gravelly coral skull... that double of a stone that seemed already uprooted from its bed. Whether out of piety, in memory of his lost master, or to rob from the sea at least one of its treasures, he grasped it and, having seen too much for that day, clutched this booty to his bosom and returned to the ship.