“We were speaking of the sacred and important duty you will have to perform to-morrow, your eminence,” said the prior, with a winning smile.
“Ah, yes, I remember,” said the cardinal, with apparent indifference. “We spoke of the to-morrow’s communion of his holiness the pope.”
“And of the fact that you, your eminence, would to-morrow have to discharge the important duty of pouring the sacred wine into the golden chalice of the vicegerent of God,” said the prior.
“Yes, yes, I now remember it all,” said Albani, with a smile. “You spoke to me of a wonderful flask of wine, which, by means of the golden tube, you would gladly help to the honor of being drunk by his holiness from the communion chalice.”
“It is so precious a wine that only the vicegerent of God is worthy of wetting his lips with it. It must touch the lips of no other mortal!”
“I know such a wine,” said Albani; “it thrives best in the region of Naples,(*) and whoever drinks of it becomes a partaker of eternal blessedness.”
(*) The celebrated poison,
Acqua Tofana, is prepared only
“Yes, you are right, it is a wonderfully strengthening wine!” said the prior, folding his hands and directing his eyes toward the heavens. “We thank God that He has left us in possession of so precious an essence! The pope, they say, is suffering and needs strengthening. See how closely we follow the teaching of Him whose name we bear, and who has commanded, ‘Love your enemies, bless those who curse you!’ Instead of avenging ourselves, we would be his benefactors, and refresh him with the most precious of what we possess!”
“And you would be so unselfish as to keep from him all knowledge of your benevolence, you would bless him quite secretly! But how if I should betray you, and communicate your precious secret to his holiness the pope? Yes, yes, I shall open my mouth and speak, unless I am prevented by a golden lock put upon my lips.”
“We shall willingly apply such a lock!” said the pleased prior.
“But, that it may entirely close my mouth, the lock will need to be very heavy!” responded Albani, with a laugh.
“It is so—it weighs six thousand scudi!” said the prior.
“That is much too light!” exclaimed Albani, laughing; “it will hardly cover my mouth. It still remains that I am to undertake a very hazardous affair. Reflect, if any one should discover my possession of this strange wine; if Ganganelli should perceive that it is not wine from his own cellar that I have poured into the cup for him! It is dangerous work that you would assign to me, a work for which I might lose my head, and you venture to offer me a poor six thousand scudi for it! Adieu, then, pious fathers, keep you your golden lock, and I my unclosed lips. I shall know when and where to speak!”
And the cardinal moved toward the door. Hastening after him, the prior handed him a small flask, the contents of which were clear and pure as crystal water, timidly and anxiously whispering, “Ten drops of this in Ganganelli’s communion wine, and ten thousand scudi are yours!”