Chapter 14 Venetian Masque by Rafael Sabatini

If Marc-Antoine went home that day in the well-founded conviction that he had extinguished in Lallemant's mind all suspicion of double-dealing on the part of so intransigent a republican as he had proved himself, nevertheless, his heart was heavy.

His explanation of his visit to the Ducal Palace would not for a moment have been believed had he not backed it by that cruel ultimatum which must bring a measure of persecution to his unfortunate prince. Not even to save himself from the destruction that had faced him could he have taken that odious step had he not been persuaded by the tone of Barras' last letter that it could be only a matter of days before orders for that very measure would come from the Directory.

Even so, he wished that some lesser sacrifice might have served his ends. This ultimatum was a very ugly business.

And a very ugly business the Serenissima accounted it when it reached her.

In the course of inveighing against it, Count Pizzamano startled Marc-Antoine by informing him that it was known to the inquisitors of state that the Deputy Camille Lebel was in Venice. This, because in the ultimatum, which bore his signature, an event of the previous week was given as the immediate cause of it. Since there could not have been time to communicate with Paris on that matter, it became clear, not only that this Lebel was in Venice, but further that he was acting upon his own initiative. His ultimatum was regarded as a gesture of officious malice on the part of an extreme Jacobin.

This exposition made Marc-Antoine aware of a blunder committed in mentioning the intercepted letter to the Empress of Russia. He was not, however, disposed to attach importance to it.

The Serenissima bent in servile humility her once proud head. She ate dust, complied with the French ultimatum, and Louis XVIII departed from Verona on his travels.

He did not depart without some characteristic expressions of petulance, utterly beneath the dignity of a prince. His case is an illustration of how the conferring of benefits can appear to establish a liability to continue them. Instead of gratitude for the hospitality enjoyed, he displayed only resentment that it should be discontinued, and that Venice should be unwilling to defy on his behalf the guns of Bonaparte. He demanded that the name of Bourbon should be erased from the Golden Book of the Serenissima, and that a suit of armour presented to Venice by his ancestor Henri IV should be restored to him. They were childish demands, and they were so treated. Nevertheless, they served to increase the Senate's sense of shame and humiliation.

Within a week Marc-Antoine was relieved by the definite orders to present just such an ultimatum which reached Lallemant from the Directory; so that to the ambassador's impressions of Lebel's ardent Jacobinism was now added an increased respect for his acumen and foresight.

It was also of some relief to Marc-Antoine that the problem presented by the Vicomtesse was resolved for him by the events. In the first place to denounce her now must, in view of the suspicions that had attached to him in the matter of Terzi, be in the last degree imprudent; in the second place, it became desirable to leave her at liberty because her activities, being observed by him, supplied a channel of information.

As the summer advanced, the disregard of Venetian rights by both belligerents became more marked. Yet Manin curbed the impatience of public opinion with the news that a fresh Austrian army under General Wurmser was about to descend into Italy. It came at the end of July; and pouring down the slopes of Monte Baldo, inflicted a rout upon the French. There was joy in Venice, and its faith in the Empire was maintained thereafter even when by the middle of August Wurmser, defeated, was in full retreat towards the Tyrol. The procrastinators could still point to Austrian victories on the Rhine, and to the fact that Mantua still held, insisting, not without truth, that as long as Mantua held, Bonaparte was comparatively immobilized.

Thus, save for transient alarms and transient upliftings, life in hedonistic Venice flowed much as usual, and Marc-Antoine found in it little more than the part of the English idler he had assumed.

In those months his only activity on behalf of the cause he served was concerned with another denunciation. He had gleaned from Lallemant that a successor to Terzi had been found, and that soundings were once more being charted. When he inquired into the identity of this successor, Lallemant shook his head.

'Let me keep that to myself. If there should be an accident, I cannot again commit the folly of suspecting you of indiscretion.'

The accident followed. The inquisitors of state, on information supplied through Count Pizzamano by Marc-Antoine, employed the Signori di Notte, as the night-police of Venice was termed, to keep a sharp lookout for any boats that might be fishing in unlikely waters between Venice and the mainland, and to track them carefully down. After weeks of patient vigilance, the Signors of the Night were at last able to report such a boat. After operations which could have no legitimate object, this vessel was wont to repair to a house in the Giudecca. The person with whom the boatmen communicated there was a gentleman in poor circumstances named Sartoni.

This time not only was Sartoni taken by order of the inquisitors, and upon conviction suppressed as Terzi had been, but the two boatmen were also caught and sent to share his fate.

To Lallemant the distressing event supplied confirmation of the rashness of his earlier suspicions of Lebel.