"PIETRO GIUSTINIANI, merchant, of Venice." This was the signature affixed to his receipt by the little antiquary in the city of St. Mark, from whom I purchased a few stitched sheets of manuscript. What a name and title!
As I remarked on the splendor of his ancestry he slapped his pocket, and exclaimed, half in pride and half in lamentation:
"Yes, they had plenty of money; but what has become of it?"
"And have you no record of their deeds?" I asked the little man, who himself wore a moustache with stiff military points to it.
"Their deeds!" he echoed scornfully. "I wish they had been less zealous in their pursuit of fame and had managed their money matters better!—Poor child!"
And he pointed to little Marietta who was playing among the old books, and with whom I had already struck up a friendship. She this day displayed some strange appendage in the lobes of her ears, which on closer examination I found to be a twist of thread.
The child's pretty dark head was lying confidentially against my arm and as, with my fingers, I felt this singular ornament, I heard, from behind the little desk at the end of the counter, her mother's shrill voice in complaining accents: "Aye, Sir, it is a shame in a family which has given three saints to the Church—Saint Nicholas, Saint Anna, and Saint Eufemia, all three Giustinianis as you know—in a family whose sons have more than once worn a cardinal's hat—that a mother, Sir, should be compelled to let her own child—But you are fond of the little one, Sir, as every one is hereabout. Heh, Marietta! What would you say if the gentleman were to give you a pair of ear-rings, now; real gold ear-rings I mean? Thread for ear-rings, Sir, in the ears of a Giustiniani! It is absurd, preposterous, monstrous; and a right-thinking gentleman like you, Sir, will never deny that."
How could I neglect such a hint; and when I had gratified the antiquary's wife, I could reflect with some pride that I might esteem myself a benefactor to a family which boasted of its descent from the Emperor Justinian, which had been called the 'Fabia gens' of Venice, and, in its day had given to the Republic great generals, far-seeing statesmen, and admirable scholars.
When, at length, I had to quit the city and took leave of the curiosity-dealer, he pressed my hand with heartfelt regret; and though the Signora Giustiniani, as she pocketed a tolerably thick bundle of paper money, looked at me with that kindly pity which a good woman is always ready to bestow on the inexperienced, especially when they are young, that, no doubt, was because the manuscript I had acquired bore such a dilapidated appearance. The margins of the thick old Nuremberg paper were eaten into by mice and insects, in many places black patches like tinder dropped away from the yellow pages; indeed, many passages of the once clear writing had so utterly faded that I scarcely hoped to see them made legible again by the chemist's art. However, the contents of the document were so interesting and remarkable, so unique in relation to the time when it was written, that they irresistibly riveted my attention, and in studying them I turned half the night into day. There were nine separate parts. All, except the very last one, were in the same hand, and they seemed to have formed a single book before they were torn asunder. The cover and title-page were lost, but at the head of the first page these words were written in large letters: "The Book of my Life." Then followed a long passage in crude verse, very much to this effect.
"What we behold with waking Eye Can, to our judgment, never lie, And what through Sense and Sight we gain. Becometh part of Soul and Brain. Look round the World in which you dwell Nor, Snail-like, live within your Shell; And if you see His World aright The Lord shall grant you double Sight. For, though your Mind and Soul be small, If you but open them to all The great wide World, they will expand Those glorious Things to understand. When Heart and Brain are great with Love Man is most like the Lord above. Look up to Him with patient Eye Not on your own Infirmity. In pious Trust yourself forget For others only toil and fret, Since all we do for fellow Men With right good Will, shall be our Gain. What if the Folk should call you Fool Care not, but act by Virtue's Rule, Contempt and Curses let them fling, God's Blessing shields you from their Sting. Grey is my Head but young my Heart; In Nuremberg, ere I depart, Children and Grandchildren, for you I write this Book, and it is true." MARGERY SCHOPPER.
Below the verses the text of the narrative began with these words: "In the yere of our Lord M/CCCC/lx/VI dyd I begynne to wrtre in thys lytel Boke thys storie of my lyf, as I haue lyued it."