La Serenissima. Ha, ha!’ He laughs aloud and smacks his legs.
Sinking into a sofa, he commands in now slightly slurred tones,
‘Come on, man, let’s hear something!’
Vivaldi no longer knows what to make of it all. He looks
around the other faces in the room, but nobody else seems to ﬁnd
the prince’s behaviour at all out of the ordinary. The priest closes
his eyes and mind to everything, and simply plays. Effortlessly
improvising links between adjacent melodies, he produces a ﬂow
of music that streams on for twenty minutes.
‘Bravo!’ claps Ferdinando, as enthusiastic as a little child
at the end of his ﬁrst puppet-show. He rises with difﬁculty, unaware
that he has left behind him on the sofa, and carries on his trousers,
a large patch of wetness. Antonio is so excruciatingly embarrassed,
he does not know where to look. But the prince thumps him
amicably on the shoulder. ‘Fantastic, priest! That’s just what we
need around here, a bit of fun. But play on, I want to hear more!’
The odour of urine hangs in Vivaldi’s nostrils, sickening
him. Lodovico had warned him that the heir to the Medicis was not
altogether himself these days. But this is worse than that. The man
is very far from well! It costs Antonio more effort this time to
invent a recital and he keeps getting stuck in the same ritornellos.
By now the emphatic and omnipresent stench of urine is affecting
his powers of concentration and when at last, with a ﬁnal ﬂourish,
he brings his piece to an end, Vivaldi notices with relief that the
prince has nodded off to sleep. At least now he may be sure of
beating a safe retreat. Luca Casimiro accompanies the priest
outside. Pressing ﬁfteen ducats into his hand he hisses, ‘I am
conﬁdent that His Royal Highness much appreciated your presence.
I put my full trust in your discretion as a priest not to divulge
further anything you have seen today of the prince’s behaviour.’
Luca rests a heavy hand on Antonio’s shoulder and looks him
penetratingly in the eye.
‘Absolutely. You can trust me,’ Antonio assures him.
‘As you are aware, the prince has not been feeling so well
lately. But we are conﬁdent that he will soon be himself again, and
43-97 Chapter 2.indd 76 22-11-2007 14:09:13