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Chapter 11 Summary

“The old woman’s story”

The old woman was not always in the physical condition she is in now, and she was not always a servant. She is the daughter of Pope Urban X and the Princess of Palestrina and, until she was fourteen, she was raised in a palace far finer than the stable of any Baron’s castle in Germany. Just one of her gowns was worth all the splendors of Westphalia. Her beauty, grace, and talents grew, and she was surrounded by “pleasures, deference, and expectations.” Her body grew beautiful in every way; the servants who dressed her were envious and every man wanted her.

She was betrothed to a prince as handsome as she was beautiful; he was charming, witty, and full of love for her. She loved with him with all the ardor of first love, and wedding preparations began. It was a glorious time of feasts, tournaments, and operas. The men of Italy were writing her sonnets (none of which were very good), and all happiness was within her reach. Then an old marquise who had been the prince’s lover invited him to eat some chocolate with her, and he died a horrible death within two hours. But that was not the worst.

The old woman’s mother was in despair over the prince’s death and wanted to escape her misery for a short time. They set sail in one of the grand, gilded ships of the principality, and on the sea they were overtaken by a corsair from Rome which overtook their vessel. The soldiers who were supposed to guard the women just fell to their knees, threw down their weapons, and begged for absolution before they died. Everyone on the ship was stripped naked and the attacking soldiers inspected their body cavities, a custom which seemed quite strange to the old woman. She did not know that it was “one of the laws of the rights of man that has always been adhered to,” a practice done by pirates to check for diamonds being carried in secret places.

The old woman and her mother endured awful things on the corsair vessel. Her virginity, which should have been given in love and...

(The entire section is 732 words.)