Pellico's coffee

 Silvio Pellico 

Mijn gevangenissen / My Prisons

Dutch translation (below the English) by Yond Boeke and Patty Krone

Sometimes, by giving my dinner to one of the secondini, making him believe that I had no appetite, I induced him to bring me some sheets of paper. This happened only in certain cases, when the table was already covered with writing, and I could not yet determine to erase it. Then I suffered from hunger; but, although the gaoler had my money in deposit, I did not ask him for food through the whole day, partly that he might not suspect that I had given away my dinner, and partly that the secondino might not perceive that I had de ceived him, when I assured him of my want of appetite.

In the evening I sustained myself with strong coffee, and I begged that La Signora Zanze would make it. This was the daughter of the gaoler, who, if she could do it without the knowledge of her mother, made it very strong; so that, taken upon an empty stomach, it caused a kind of nervous affection, that was not unpleasant, and kept me awake all night.

In this state of gentle intoxication, I felt my intellectual powers redoubled. I made verses, philosophized, and prayed until the dawn of day, with wonderful pleasure. A sudden weaknessmafterwards seized me; then I threw myself on the bed, and in spite of the gnats, which, although I wrapped myself up, succeeded in getting at me to suck my blood, I slept profoundly for an hour or two.

These nights of excitement, produced by strong coffee taken upon an empty stomach, and passed in such pleasant exaltation, seemed too agreeable not to be often sought for. In consequence, even when I did not want paper from the secondino, I frequently determined not to taste a mouthful of dinner, in order to procure in the evening the desired charm of the magical beverage. Happy was it for me, when I obtained my object. More than once it happened, that the coffee was not made by the compassionate Zanze, and the wretched stuff was unavailing. Then the disappointment made me a little illhumored. Instead of being excited, I was languid, I yawned, suffered from hunger, threw myself upon the bed, and could not sleep.

Then I complained of it to Zanze, and she pitied me. One day, when I reproved her harshly, as if she had deceived me, the poor girl wept, and said to me; "Signore, I have never deceived any body, and yet every one calls me a deceiver."

"Every one? Oh! then it is clear that I am not the only person who is angry about this wretched coffee."