“Would you give me twenty thousand?” asked Albani.
“Threefold that sum if I possessed it, but I have nothing! I am a very poor cardinal, as you well know. My whole property consists of six thousand scudi, and that trifling sum I dare not offer you.”
“Borrow, then, of Signora Malveda!” said Albani. “Cardinal Rezzonico is rich and liberal. Let us speak directly to the point. You would be pope, and I am willing to forward your views. How much will you pay?”
“If Signora Malveda will lend me four thousand scudi, I should then have ten thousand to offer you!”
“Well, so be it. Ten thousand scudi will do, if you will add to it a trifling favor.”
“Name it,” said Braschi.
“You know that Ganganelli opposes the crowning of our famous improvisatrice, Corilla, in the capitol. This is an injustice which Ganganelli’s successor will have to repair. Will you do it?”
Braschi gave the cardinal a sly glance. “Ah,” said he, “Signora Corilla seems to be less liberal than Signora Malveda? She will allow you no discount of her future laurel-crown, is it not so? I know nothing worse than an ambitious woman. Listen, Albani; it seems that we must be mutually useful to each other; I need your voice to become pope, and you need mine to become a favored lover. Very well, give me your voice, and in return, I promise you a laurel-crown for Signora Corilla, and eight thousand scudi for yourself!”
“Ah, you would haggle!” contemptuously exclaimed Albani. “You would be a very niggardly vicegerent of God! But as Corilla is well worth two thousand scudi, I am content. Give me eight thousand scudi and the promise to crown Corilla!”
“As soon as I am pope, I will do both. My sacred word for it! Shall I strengthen my promise by swearing upon the Bible?”
Cardinal Albani gave the questioner a glance of astonishment, and then broke out with a loud and scornful laugh.
“You forget that you are speaking to one of your kind! Of what use would such a holy farce be to us who have no faith in its binding power? No, no, we priests know each other. Such buffoonery amounts to nothing. One written word is worth a thousand sworn oaths! Let us have a contract prepared—that is better. We will both sign it!”
“Just as you please!” said Braschi, with a smile, stepping to his writing desk and rapidly throwing some lines upon paper, which he signed after it had been carefully read by Albani.
“At length the business is finished,” said Albani. “Now, Cardinal Braschi, go to your signora, and surprise her with the news that she holds in her arms a pope in spe. Pope Clement will soon need a successor; he must be very ill, the poor pope!”
So speaking, he took leave of the future pope with a friendly nod, and departed with as much haste as he had come.
“And now to these pious Jesuit fathers!” said he, stepping out upon the grass. “It was very prudent in me that I went on foot to Corilla to-day. Our cursed equipages betray every thing; they are the greatest chatterboxes! How astonished these good Romans would be to see a cardinal’s carriage before these houses of the condemned! No, no, strengthen yourselves for another effort, my reverend legs! Only yet this walk, and then you will have rest.”