“Those were beautiful times—I was then young and happy; I was then a man, and now—now am old; love has withered, and with it poesy! I am now nothing but a diplomatist.”
There was a low knock at the door. The cardinal hastily but carefully returned the portrait of his beautiful nun to the secret drawer in his writing-table whence it had been taken, and bade the knocker to enter.
It was Brunelli, the major-domo of the cardinal, who came with a proud step, and face beaming with joy, to make a report of his plans and preparations for the morrow’s entertainment.
“In the evening the park will be illuminated with many thousand lamps, which will outshine the sun, so that the guests will there wander in a sea of light,” said he, in closing his report.
The cardinal smiled, and with a stolen glance at the small box that contained the portrait of this beautiful nun, he said: “Spare some of the walks in the alleys from your sea of light, and leave them in partial obscurity. A little duskiness is sometimes necessary for joy and happiness! But how is it with your carte du diner? What has Signor Gianettino to offer us? I hope he has something very choice, for you know the cardinals like a good table, and my friend Duke Grimaldi has a high opinion of our cuisine.”
“Ah, the Spanish ambassador, your excellency?” exclaimed Brunelli, contemptuously. “The Spanish ambassador knows nothing of the art of cookery, or he would not possibly be satisfied with his cook! He is a niggard, a poor fellow, of whom all Rome is speaking to-day, and laughing at him and his master, while they are praising you to the skies!”
And Signor Brunelli related to his listening master the whole story of the gigantic fish, and of the humiliation of the Spanish cook.
The cardinal listened with attention, and a dark cloud gradually gathered upon his thoughtful brow.
“That is a very unfortunate occurrence,” said he, shaking his head, as Brunelli ended.
“But at least it was an occurrence in which France triumphed, your excellency,” responded Brunelli.
“I much fear the Duke of Grimaldi will do as you have done,” said the cardinal; “he will confound my cook with France, and in his cook see all Spain insulted.”
“Then your excellency is not satisfied?” asked Brunelli, with consternation. “The whole palace is full of jubilation; all the servants and lackeys and even the secretary of the legation are delighted with this divine affair!”
The cardinal paid no attention to these panegyrics of his major-domo, but thoughtfully paced the room with long strides.
“And you think Gianettino had the right of it?” at length he asked.
“He was entirely in the right, your excellency. Nothing had been paid for the fish, and Gianettino’s right to purchase was perfect, and nobody could dispute it!”
“Well, when we are in the right, we must maintain our right,” said the cardinal, after a pause, “and as the affair is known to all Rome, it must be fought through with eclat! The fish, in all its pride of greatness shall grace our table to-morrow!”