On leaving the Archbishop’s Palace, Fabrizio hastened to see little Marietta; he could hear from the street the loud voice of Giletti, who had sent out for wine and was regaling himself with his friends the prompter and the candle-snuffers. The mammaccia, who played the part of mother, came alone in answer to his signal.
“A lot has happened since you were here,” she cried; “two or three of our actors are accused of having celebrated the great Napoleon’s festa with an orgy, and our poor company, which they say is Jacobin, has been ordered to leave the States of Parma, and evviva Napoleone! But the Minister has had a finger in that pie, they say. One thing certain is that Giletti has got money, I don’t know how much, but I’ve seen him with a fistful of scudi. Marietta has had five scudi from our manager to pay for the journey to Mantua and Venice, and I have had one. She is still in love with you, but Giletti frightens her; three days ago, at the last performance we gave, he absolutely wanted to kill her; he dealt her two proper blows, and, what was abominable of him, tore her blue shawl. If you would care to. give her a blue shawl, you would be a very good boy, and we can say that we won it in a lottery. The drum-major of the carabinieri is giving an assault-at-arms tomorrow, you will find the hour posted up at all the street corners. Come and see us; if he has gone to the assault, and we have any reason to hope that he will stay away for some time, I shall be at the window, and I shall give you a signal to come up. Try to bring us something really nice, and Marietta will be madly in love with you.”
As he made his way down the winding staircase of this foul rookery, Fabrizio was filled with compunction. “I have not altered in the least,” he said to himself; “all the fine resolutions I made on the shore of our lake, when I looked at life with so philosophic an eye, have gone to the winds. My mind has lost its normal balance; the whole thing was a dream, and vanishes before the stern reality. Now would be the time for action,” he told himself as he entered the palazzo Sanseverina about eleven o’clock that evening. But it was in vain that he sought in his heart for the courage to speak with that sublime sincerity which had seemed to him so easy, the night he spent by the shore of the Lake of Como. “I am going to vex the person whom I love best in the world; if I speak, I shall simply seem to be jesting in the worst of taste; I am not worth anything, really, except in certain moments of exaltation.”
“The Conte has behaved admirably towards me,” he said to the Duchessa, after he had given her an account of his visit to the Archbishop’s Palace; “I appreciate his conduct all the more, in that I think I am right in saying that personally I have made only a very moderate impression on him: my behaviour towards him ought therefore to be strictly correct. He has his excavations at Sanguigna, about which he is still madly keen, if one is to judge, that is, by his expedition the day before yesterday: he went twelve leagues at a gallop in order to spend a couple of hours with his workmen. If they find fragments of statues in the ancient temple, the foundations of which he has just laid bare, he is afraid of their being stolen; I should like to propose to him that I should go and spend a night or two at Sanguigna. To-morrow, about five, I have to see the Archbishop again; I can start in the evening and take advantage of the cool night air for the journey.”
The Duchessa did not at first reply.
“One would think you were seeking excuses for staying away from me,” she said to him at length with extreme affection: “No sooner do you come back from Belgirate than you find a reason for going off again.”
“Here is a fine opportunity for speaking,” thought Fabrizio. “But by the lake I was a trifle mad; I did not realise, in my enthusiasm for sincerity, that my compliment ended in an impertinence. It was a question of saying: ‘I love you with the most devoted friendship, etc., etc., but my heart is not susceptible to love.’ Is not that as much as to say: ‘I see that you are in love with me: but take care, I cannot pay you back in the same coin.’ If it is love that she feels, the Duchessa may be annoyed at its being guessed, and she will be revolted by my impudence if all that she feels for me is friendship pure and simple . . . and that is one of the offences people never forgive.”
While he weighed these important thoughts in his mind, Fabrizio, quite unconsciously, was pacing up and down the drawing-room with the grave air, full of dignity, of a man who sees disaster staring him in the face.
The Duchessa gazed at him with admiration; this was no longer the child she had seen come into the world, this was no longer the nephew always ready to obey her; this was a serious man, a man whom it would be delicious to make fall in love with her. She rose from the ottoman on which she was sitting, and, flinging herself into his arms in a transport of emotion:
“So you want to run away from me?” she asked him.
“No,” he replied with the air of a Roman Emperor, “but I want to act wisely.”
This speech was capable of several interpretations; Fabrizio did not feel that he had the courage to go any farther and to run the risk of wounding this adorable woman. He was too young, too susceptible to sudden emotion; his brain could not supply him with any elegant turn of speech to give expression to what he wished to say. By a natural transport, and in defiance of all reason, he took this charming woman in his arms and smothered her in kisses. At that moment the Conte’s carriage could be heard coming into the courtyard, and almost immediately the Conte himself entered the room; he seemed greatly moved.
“You inspire very singular passions,” he said to Fabrizio, who stood still, almost dumbfoundered by this remark.
“The Archbishop had this evening the audience which His Serene Highness grants him every Thursday; the Prince has just been telling me that the Archbishop, who seemed greatly troubled, began with a set speech, learned by heart, and extremely clever, of which at first the Prince could understand nothing at all. Landriani ended by declaring that it was important for the Church in Parma that Monsignor Fabrizio del Dongo should be appointed his First Vicar General, and, in addition, as soon as he should have completed his twenty-fourth year, his Coadjutor with eventual succession.
“The last clause alarmed me, I must admit,” said the Conte: “it is going a little too fast, and I was afraid of an outburst from the Prince; but he looked at me with a smile, and said to me in French: ‘Ce sont là de vos coups, monsieur!’
“ ‘I can take my oath, before God and before Your Highness,’ I exclaimed with all the unction possible, ‘that I knew absolutely nothing about the words eventual succession.’ Then I told him the truth, what in fact we were discussing together here a few hours ago; I added, impulsively, that, so far as the future was concerned, I should regard myself as most bounteously rewarded with His Highness’s favour if he would deign to allow me a minor Bishopric to begin with. The Prince must have believed me, for he thought fit to be gracious; he said to me with the greatest possible simplicity: ‘This is an official matter between the Archbishop and myself; you do not come into it at all; the worthy man delivered me a kind of report, of great length and tedious to a degree, at the end of which he came to an official proposal; I answered him very coldly that the person in question was extremely young, and, moreover, a very recent arrival at my court, that I should almost be giving the impression that I was honouring a bill of exchange drawn upon me by the Emperor, in giving the prospect of so high a dignity to the son of one of the principal officers of his Lombardo–Venetian Kingdom. The Archbishop protested that no recommendation of that sort had been made. That was a pretty stupid thing to say to me. I was surprised to hear it come from a man of his experience; but he always loses his head when he speaks to me, and this evening he was more troubled than ever, which gave me the idea that he was passionately anxious to secure the appointment. I told him that I knew better than he that there had been no recommendation from any high quarter in favour of this del Dongo, that nobody at my court denied his capacity, that they did not speak at all too badly of his morals, but that I was afraid of his being liable to enthusiasm, and that I had made it a rule never to promote to considerable positions fools of that sort, with whom a Prince can never be sure of anything. Then,’ His Highness went on, ‘I had to submit to a fresh tirade almost as long as the first; the Archbishop sang me the praises of the enthusiasm of the Casa di Dio. Clumsy fellow, I said to myself, you are going astray, you are endangering an appointment which was almost confirmed; you ought to have cut your speech short and thanked me effusively. Not a bit of it; he continued his homily with a ridiculous intrepidity; I had to think of a reply which would not be too unfavourable to young del Dongo; I found one, and by no means a bad one, as you shall judge for yourself. Monsignore, I said to him, Pius VII was a great Pope and a great saint: among all the Sovereigns, he alone dared to say No to the tyrant who saw Europe at his feet: very well, he was liable to enthusiasm, which led him, when he was Bishop of Imola, to write that famous Pastoral of the Citizen–Cardinal Chiaramonti, in support of the Cisalpine Republic.
“‘My poor Archbishop was left stupefied, and, to complete his stupefaction, I said to him with a very serious air: Good-bye, Monsignore, I shall take twenty-four hours to consider your proposal. The poor man added various supplications, by no means well expressed and distinctly inopportune after the word Good-bye had been uttered by me. Now, Conte Mosca della Rovere, I charge you to inform the Duchessa that I have no wish to delay for twenty-four hours a decision which may be agreeable to her; sit down there and write the Archbishop the letter of approval which will bring the whole matter to an end.’ I wrote the letter, he signed it, and said to me: ‘Take it, immediately, to the Duchessa.’ Here, Signora, is the letter, and it is this that has given me an excuse for taking the pleasure of seeing you again this evening.”
The Duchessa read the letter with rapture. While the Conte was telling his long story, Fabrizio had had time to collect himself: he shewed no sign of astonishment at the incident, he took the whole thing like a true nobleman who naturally has always supposed himself entitled to these extraordinary advancements, these strokes of fortune which would unhinge a plebeian mind; he spoke of his gratitude, but in polished terms, and ended by saying to the Conte:
“A good courtier ought to flatter the ruling passion; yesterday you expressed the fear that your workmen at Sanguigna might steal any fragments of ancient sculpture they brought to light; I am extremely fond of excavation, myself; with your kind permission, I will go to superintend the workmen. To-morrow evening, after suitably expressing my thanks at the Palace and to the Archbishop, I shall start for Sanguigna.”
“But can you guess,” the Duchessa asked the Conte, “what can have given rise to this sudden passion on our good Archbishop’s part for Fabrizio?”
“I have no need to guess; the Grand Vicar whose nephew I made a captain said to me yesterday: ‘Father Landriani starts from this absolute principle, that the titular is superior to the coadjutor, and is beside himself with joy at the prospect of having a del Dongo under his orders, and of having done him a service.’ Everything that can draw attention to Fabrizio’s noble birth adds to his secret happiness: that he should have a man like that as his aide-decamp! In the second place, Monsignor Fabrizio has taken his fancy, he does not feel in the least shy before him; finally, he has been nourishing for the last ten years a very vigorous hatred of the Bishop of Piacenza, who openly boasts of his claim to succeed him in the see of Parma, and is moreover the son of a miller. It is with a view to this eventual succession that the Bishop of Piacenza has formed very close relations with the Marchesa Raversi, and now their intimacy is making the Archbishop tremble for the success of his favourite scheme, to have a del Dongo on his staff and to give him orders.”
Two days after this, at an early hour in the morning, Fabrizio was directing the work of excavation at Sanguigna, opposite Colorno (which is the Versailles of the Princes of Parma); these excavations extended over the plain close to the high road which runs from Parma to the bridge of Casalmaggiore, the first town on Austrian territory. The workmen were intersecting the plain with a long trench, eight feet deep and as narrow as possible: they were engaged in seeking, along the old Roman Way, for the ruins of a second temple which, according to local reports, had still been in existence in the Middle Ages. Despite the Prince’s orders, many of the contadini looked with misgivings on these long ditches running across their property. Whatever one might say to them, they imagined that a search was being made for treasure, and Fabrizio’s presence was especially desirable with a view to preventing any little unrest. He was by no means bored, he followed the work with keen interest; from time to time they turned up some medal, and he saw to it that the workmen did not have time to arrange among themselves to make off with it.
The day was fine, the time about six o’clock in the morning: he had borrowed an old gun, single-barrelled; he shot several larks; one of them, wounded, was falling upon the high road. Fabrizio, as he went after it, caught sight, in the distance, of a carriage that was coming from Parma and making for the frontier at Casalmaggiore. He had just reloaded his gun when, the carriage which was extremely dilapidated coming towards him at a snail’s pace, he recognised little Marietta; she had, on either side of her, the big bully Giletti and the old woman whom she passed off as her mother.
Giletti imagined that Fabrizio had posted himself there in the middle of the road, and with a gun in his hand, to insult him, and perhaps even to carry off his little Marietta. Like a man of valour, he jumped down from the carriage; he had in his left hand a large and very rusty pistol, and held in his right a sheathed sword, which he used when the limitations of the company obliged them to cast him for the part of some Marchese.
“Ha! Brigand!” he shouted, “I am very glad to find you here, a league from the frontier; I’ll settle your account for you, right away; you’re not protected here by your violet stockings.”
Fabrizio was engaged in smiling at little Marietta, and barely heeding the jealous shouts of Giletti, when suddenly he saw within three feet of his chest the muzzle of the rusty pistol; he was just in time to aim a blow at it, using his gun as a club: the pistol went off, but did not hit anyone.
“Stop, will you, you — — ” cried Giletti to the vetturino; at the same time he was quick enough to spring to the muzzle of his adversary’s gun and to hold it so that it pointed away from his body; Fabrizio and he pulled at the gun, each with his whole strength. Giletti, who was a great deal the more vigorous of the two, placing one hand in front of the other, kept creeping forward towards the lock, and was on the point of snatching away the gun when Fabrizio, to prevent him from making use of it, fired. He had indeed seen, first, that the muzzle of the gun was more than three inches above Giletti’s shoulder: still, the detonation occurred close to the man’s ear. He was somewhat startled at first, but at once recovered himself:
“Oh, so you want to blow my head off, you scum! Just let me settle your reckoning.” Giletti flung away the scabbard of his Marchese’s sword, and fell upon Fabrizio with admirable swiftness. Our hero had no weapon, and gave himself up for lost.
He made for the carriage, which had stopped some ten yards beyond Giletti; he passed to the left of it, and, grasping the spring of the carriage in his hand, made a quick turn which brought him level with the door on the right-hand side, which stood open. Giletti, who had started off on his long legs and had not thought of checking himself by catching hold of the spring, went on for several paces in the same direction before he could stop. As Fabrizio passed by the open door, he heard Marietta whisper to him:
“Take care of yourself; he will kill you. Here!”
As he spoke, Fabrizio saw fall from the door a sort of big hunting knife, he stooped to pick it up, but as he did so was wounded in the shoulder by a blow from Giletti’s sword. Fabrizio, on rising to his feet, found himself within six inches of Giletti, who struck him a furious blow in the face with the hilt of his sword; this blow was delivered with so much force that it completely took away Fabrizio’s senses. At that moment, he was on the point of being killed. Fortunately for him, Giletti was still too near to be able to give him a thrust with the point. Fabrizio, when he came to himself, took to flight, and ran as fast as his legs would carry him; as he ran, he flung away the sheath of the hunting knife, and then, turning smartly round, found himself three paces ahead of Giletti, who was in pursuit. Giletti rushed on, Fabrizio struck at him with the point of his knife; Giletti was in time to beat up the knife a little with his sword, but he received the point of the blade full in the left cheek. He passed close by Fabrizio, who felt his thigh pierced: it was Giletti’s knife, which he had found time to open. Fabrizio sprang to the right; he turned round, and at last the two adversaries found themselves at a proper fighting distance.
Giletti swore like a lost soul: “Ah! I shall slit your throat for you, you rascally priest,” he kept on repeating every moment. Fabrizio was quite out of breath and could not speak: the blow on his face from the sword-hilt was causing him a great deal of pain, and his nose was bleeding abundantly. He parried a number of strokes with his hunting knife, and made a number of passes without knowing quite what he was doing. He had a vague feeling that he was at a public display. This idea had been suggested to him by the presence of the workmen, who, to the number of twenty-five or thirty, formed a circle round the combatants, but at a most respectful distance; for at every moment they saw them start to run, and spring upon one another.
The fight seemed to be slackening a little; the strokes no longer followed one another with the same rapidity, when Fabrizio said to himself: “To judge by the pain which I feel in my face, he must have disfigured me.” In a spasm of rage at this idea, he leaped upon his enemy with the point of his hunting knife forwards. This point entered Giletti’s chest on the right side and passed out near his left shoulder; at the same moment Giletti’s sword passed right to the hilt through the upper part of Fabrizio’s arm, but the blade glided under the skin and the wound was not serious.
Giletti had fallen; as Fabrizio advanced towards him, looking down at his left hand which was clasping a knife, that hand opened mechanically and let the weapon slip to the ground.
“The rascal is dead,” said Fabrizio to himself. He looked at Giletti’s face: blood was pouring from his mouth. Fabrizio ran to the carriage.
“Have you a mirror?” he cried to Marietta. Marietta stared at him, deadly pale, and made no answer. The old woman with great coolness opened a green workbag and handed Fabrizio a little mirror with a handle, no bigger than his hand. Fabrizio as he looked at himself felt his face carefully: “My eyes are all right,” he said to himself, “that is something, at any rate.” He examined his teeth; they were not broken at all. “Then how is it that I am in such pain?” he asked himself, half aloud.
The old woman answered him:
“It is because the top of your cheek has been crushed between the hilt of Giletti’s sword and the bone we keep there. Your cheek is horribly swollen and blue: put leeches on it instantly, and it will be all right.”
“Ah! Leeches, instantly!” said Fabrizio with a laugh, and recovered all his coolness. He saw that the workmen had gathered round Giletti, and were gazing at him, without venturing to touch him.
“Look after that man there!” he called to them; “take his coat off.” He was going to say more, but, on raising his eyes, saw five or six men at a distance of three hundred yards on the high road, who were advancing on foot and at a measured pace towards the scene of action.
“They are police,” he thought, “and, as there has been a man killed, they will arrest me, and I shall have the honour of making a solemn entry into the city of Parma. What a story for the Raversi’s friends at court who detest my aunt!”
Immediately, with the rapidity of a flash of lightning, he flung to the open-mouthed workmen all the money that he had in his pockets and leaped into the carriage.
“Stop the police from pursuing me!” he cried to his men, “and your fortunes are all made; tell them that I am innocent, that this man attacked me and wanted to kill me.
“And you,” he said to the vetturino, “make your horses gallop; you shall have four golden napoleons if you cross the Po before these people behind can overtake me.”
“Right you are,” said the man; “but there’s nothing to be afraid of: those men back there are on foot, and my little horses have only to trot to leave them properly in the lurch.” So saying, he put the animals into a gallop.
Our hero was shocked to hear the word “afraid” used by the driver: the fact being that really he had been extremely afraid after the blow from the sword-hilt which had struck him in the face.
“We may run into people on horseback coming towards us,” said the prudent vetturino, thinking of the four napoleons, “and the men who are following us may call out to them to stop us. . . . ” Which meant, in other words: “Reload your weapons.”
“Oh, how brave you are, my little Abate!” cried Marietta as she embraced Fabrizio. The old woman was looking out through the window of the carriage; presently she drew in her head.
“No one is following you, sir,” she said to Fabrizio with great coolness; “and there is no one on the road in front of you. You know how particular the officials of the Austrian police are: if they see you arrive like this at a gallop, along the embankment by the Po, they will arrest you, no doubt about it.”
Fabrizio looked out of the window.
“Trot,” he said to the driver. “What passport have you?” he asked the old woman.
“Three, instead of one,” she replied, “and they cost us four francs apiece; a dreadful thing, isn’t it, for poor dramatic artists who are kept travelling all the year round! Here is the passport of Signor Giletti, dramatic artist: that will be you; here are our two passports, Marietta’s and mine. But ‘ Giletti had all our money in his pocket; what is to become of us?”
“What had he?” Fabrizio asked.
“Forty good scudi of five francs,” said the old woman.
“You mean six, and some small change,” said Marietta With a smile: “I won’t have my little Abate cheated.”
“Isn’t it only natural, sir,” replied the old woman with great coolness, “that I should try to tap you for thirty-four scudi? What are thirty-four scudi to you, and we — we have lost our protector. Who is there now to find us lodgings, to beat down prices with the vetturini when we are on the road, and to put the fear of God into everyone? Giletti was not beautiful, but he was most useful; and if the little girl there hadn’t been a fool, and fallen in love with you from the first, Giletti would never have noticed anything, and you would have given us good money. I can assure you that we are very poor.”
Fabrizio was touched; he took out his purse and gave several napoleons to the old woman.
“You see,” he said to her, “I have only fifteen left, so it is no use your trying to pull my leg any more.”
Little Marietta flung her arms round his neck, and the old woman kissed his hands. The carriage was moving all this time at a slow trot. When they saw in the distance the yellow barriers striped with black which indicated the beginning of Austrian territory, the old woman said to Fabrizio:
“You would do best to cross the frontier on foot with Giletti’s passport in your pocket; as for us, we shall stop for a minute, on the excuse of making ourselves tidy. And besides, the dogana will want to look at our things. If you will take my advice, you will go through Casalmaggiore at a careless stroll; even go into the caffè and drink a glass of brandy, once you are past the village, put your best foot foremost. The police are as sharp as the devil in an Austrian country; they will pretty soon know there has been a man killed; you are travelling with a passport which is not yours, that is more than enough to get you two years in prison. Make for the Po on your right after you leave the town, hire a boat and get away to Ravenna or Ferrara; get clear of the Austrian States as quickly as ever you can. With a couple of louis you should be able to buy another passport from some doganiere; it would be fatal to use this one; don’t forget that you have killed the man.”
As he approached, on foot, the bridge of boats at Casalmaggiore, Fabrizio carefully reread Giletti’s passport. Our hero was in great fear, he recalled vividly all that Conte Mosca had said to him about the danger involved in his entering Austrian territory; well, two hundred yards ahead of him he saw the terrible bridge which was about to give him access to that country, the capital of which, in his eyes, was the Spielberg. But what else was he to do? The Duchy of Modena, which marches with the State of Parma on the South, returned its fugitives in compliance with a special convention; the frontier of the State which extends over the mountains in the direction of Genoa was too far off; his misadventure would be known at Parma long before he could reach those mountains; there remained therefore nothing but the Austrian States on the left bank of the Po. Before there was time to write to the Austrian authorities asking them to arrest him, thirty-six hours, or even two days must elapse. All these considerations duly weighed, Fabrizio set a light with his cigar to his own passport; it was better for him, on Austrian soil, to be a vagabond than to be Fabrizio del Dongo, and it was possible that they might search him.
Quite apart from the very natural repugnance which he felt towards entrusting his life to the passport of the unfortunate Giletti, this document presented material difficulties. Fabrizio’s height was, at the most, five feet five inches, and not five feet ten inches as was stated on the passport. He was not quite twenty-four, and looked younger. Giletti had been thirty-nine. We must confess that our hero paced for a good half-hour along a flood-barrier of the Po near the bridge of boats before making up his mind to go down on to it. “What should I advise anyone else to do in my place?” he asked himself finally. “Obviously, to cross: there is danger in remaining in the State of Parma; a constable may be sent in pursuit of the man who has killed another man, even in self-defence.” Fabrizio went through his pocket, tore up all his papers, and kept literally nothing but his handkerchief and his cigar-case; it was important for him to curtail the examination which he would have to undergo. He thought of a terrible objection which might be raised, and to which he could find no satisfactory answer: he was going to say that his name was Giletti, and all his linen was marked F. D.
As we have seen, Fabrizio was one of those unfortunates who are tormented by their imagination; it is a characteristic fault of men of intelligence in Italy. A French soldier of equal or even inferior courage would have gone straight to the bridge and have crossed it without more ado, without thinking beforehand of any possible difficulties; but also he would have carried with him all his coolness, and Fabrizio was far from feeling cool when, at the end of the bridge, a little man, dressed in grey, said to him: “Go into the police office and shew your passport.”
This office had dirty walls studded with nails from which hung the pipes and the soiled hats of the officials. The big deal table behind which they were installed was spotted all over with stains of ink and wine; two or three fat registers bound in raw hide bore stains of all colours, and the margins of the pages were black with finger-marks. On top of the registers which were piled one on another lay three magnificent wreaths of laurel which had done duty a couple of days before for one of the Emperor’s festivals.
Fabrizio was impressed by all these details; they gave him a tightening of the heart; this was the price he must pay for the magnificent luxury, so cool and clean, that caught the eye in his charming rooms in the palazzo Sanseverina. He was obliged to enter this dirty office and to appear there as an inferior; he was about to undergo an examination.
The official who stretched out a yellow hand to take his passport was small and dark. He wore a brass pin in his necktie. “This is an ill-tempered fellow,” thought Fabrizio. The gentleman seemed excessively surprised as he read the passport, and his perusal of it lasted fully five minutes.
“You have met with an accident,” he said to the stranger, looking at his cheek.
“The vetturino flung us out over the embankment.”
Then the silence was resumed, and the official cast sour glances at the traveller.
“I see it now,” Fabrizio said to himself, “he is going to inform me that he is sorry to have bad news to give me, and that I am under arrest.” All sorts of wild ideas surged simultaneously into our hero’s brain, which at this moment was not very logical. For instance, he thought of escaping by a door in the office which stood open. “I get rid of my coat, I jump into the Po, and no doubt I shall be able to swim across it. Anything is better than the Spielberg.” The police official was staring fixedly at him, while he calculated the chances of success of this dash for safety; they furnished two interesting types of the human countenance. The presence of danger gives a touch of genius to the reasoning man, places him, so to speak, above his own level: in the imaginative man it inspires romances, bold, it is true, but frequently absurd.
You ought to have seen the indignant air of our hero under the searching eye of this police official, adorned with his brass jewelry. “If I were to kill him,” thought Fabrizio, “I should be convicted of murder and sentenced to twenty years in the galleys, or to death, which is a great deal less terrible than the Spielberg with a chain weighing a hundred and twenty pounds on each foot and nothing but eight ounces of bread to live on; and that lasts for twenty years; so that I should not get out until I was forty-four.” Fabrizio’s logic overlooked the fact that, as he had burned his own passport, there was nothing to indicate to the police official that he was the rebel, Fabrizio del Dongo.
Our hero was sufficiently alarmed, as we have seen; he would have been a great deal more so could he have read the thoughts that were disturbing the official’s mind. This man was a friend of Giletti; one may judge of his surprise when he saw his friend’s passport in the hands of a stranger; his first impulse was to have that stranger arrested, then he reflected that Giletti might easily have sold his passport to this fine young man who apparently had just been doing something disgraceful at Parma. “If I arrest him,” he said to himself, “Giletti will get into trouble; they will at once discover that he has sold his passport; on the other hand, what will my chiefs say if it is proved that I, a friend of Giletti, put a visa on his passport when it was carried by someone else.” The official got up with a yawn and said to Fabrizio: “Wait a minute, sir”; then, adopting a professional formula, added: “A difficulty has arisen.” On which Fabrizio murmured: “What is going to arise is my escape.”
As a matter of fact, the official went out of the office, leaving the door open; and the passport was left lying on the deal table. “The danger is obvious,” thought Fabrizio; “I shall take my passport and walk slowly back across the bridge; I shall tell the constable, if he questions me, that I forgot to have my passport examined by the commissary of police in the last village in the State of Parma.” Fabrizio had already taken the passport in his hand when, to his unspeakable astonishment, he heard the clerk with the brass jewelry say:
“Upon my soul, I can’t do any more work; the heat is stifling; I am going to the caffè to have half a glass. Go into the office when you have finished your pipe, there’s a passport to be stamped; the party is in there.”
Fabrizio, who was stealing out on tiptoe, found himself face to face with a handsome young man who was saying to himself, or rather humming: “Well, let us see this passport; I’ll put my scrawl on it.
“Where does the gentleman wish to go?”
“To Mantua, Venice and Ferrara.”
“Ferrara it is,” said the official, whistling; he took up a die, stamped the visa in blue ink on the passport, rapidly wrote in the words: “Mantua, Venice and Ferrara,” in the space left blank by the stamp, then waved his hand several times in the air, signed, and dipped his pen in the ink to make his flourish, which he executed slowly and with infinite pains. Fabrizio followed every movement of his pen; the clerk studied his flourish with satisfaction, adding five or six finishing touches, then handed the passport back to Fabrizio, saying in a careless tone: “A good journey, sir!”
Fabrizio made off at a pace the alacrity of which he was endeavouring to conceal, when he felt himself caught by the left arm: instinctively his hand went to the hilt of his dagger, and if he had not observed that he was surrounded by houses he might perhaps have done something rash. The man who was touching his left arm, seeing that he appeared quite startled, said by way of apology:
“But I called the gentleman three times, and got no answer; has the gentleman anything to declare before the customs?”
“I have nothing on me but my handkerchief; I am going to a place quite near here, to shoot with one of my family.”
He would have been greatly embarrassed had he been asked to name this relative. What with the great heat and his various emotions, Fabrizio was as wet as if he had fallen into the Po. “I am not lacking in courage to face actors, but clerks with brass jewelry send me out of my mind; I shall make a humorous sonnet out of that to amuse the Duchessa.”
Entering Casalmaggiore, Fabrizio at once turned to the right along a mean street which leads down to the Po. “I am in great need,” he said to himself, “of the succour of Bacchus and Ceres,” and he entered a shop outside which there hung a grey clout fastened to a stick; on the clout was inscribed the word Trattoria. A meagre piece of bed-linen supported on two slender wooden hoops and hanging down to within three feet of the ground sheltered the doorway of the Trattoria from the vertical rays of the sun. There, a half-undressed and extremely pretty woman received our hero with respect, which gave him the keenest pleasure; he hastened to inform her that he was dying of hunger. While the woman was preparing his breakfast, there entered a man of about thirty; he had given no greeting on coming in; suddenly he rose from the bench on which he had flung himself down with a familiar air, and said to Fabrizio: “Eccellenza, la riverisco!” (Excellency, your servant!) Fabrizio was in the highest spirits at the moment, and, instead of forming sinister plans, replied with a laugh: “And how the devil do you know my Excellency?”
“What! Doesn’t Your Excellency remember Lodovico, one of the Signora Duchessa Sanseverina’s coachmen? At Sacca, the place in the country where we used to go every year, I always took fever; I asked the Signora for a pension, and retired from service. Now I am rich; instead of the pension of twelve scudi a year, which was the most I was entitled to expect, the Signora told me that, to give me the leisure to compose sonnets, for I am a poet in the lingua volgare, she would allow me twenty-four scudi and the Signor Conte told me that if ever I was in difficulties I had only to come and tell him. I have had the honour to drive Monsignore for a stage, when he went to make his retreat, like a good Christian, in the Certosa of Velleja.”
Fabrizio studied the man’s face and began to recognise him. He had been one of the smartest coachmen in the Sanseverina establishment; now that he was what he called rich his entire clothing consisted of a coarse shirt, in holes, and a pair of cloth breeches, dyed black at some time in he past, which barely came down to his knees; a pair of shoes and a villainous hat completed his equipment. In addition to this, he had not shaved for a fortnight. As he ate his omelette Fabrizio engaged in conversation with him, absolutely as between equals; he thought he detected that Lodovico was in love with their hostess. He finished his meal rapidly, then said in a low voice to Lodovico: “I want a word with you.”
“Your Excellency can speak openly before her, she is a really good woman,” said Lodovico with a tender air.
“Very well, my friends,” said Fabrizio without hesitation, “I am in trouble, and have need of your help. First of all, there is nothing political about my case; I have simply and solely killed a man who wanted to murder me because I spoke to his mistress.”
“Poor young man!” said the landlady.
“Your Excellency can count on me!” cried the coachman, his eyes ablaze with the most passionate devotion; “where does His Excellency wish to go?”
“To Ferrara. I have a passport, but I should prefer not to speak to the police, who may have received information of what has happened.”
“When did you despatch this fellow?”
“This morning, at six o’clock.”
“Your Excellency has no blood on his clothes, has he,” asked the landlady.
“I was thinking of that,” put in the coachman, “and besides, the cloth of that coat is too fine; you don’t see many like that in the country round here, it would make — people stare at us; I shall go and buy some clothes from the Jew. Your Excellency is about my figure, only thinner.”
“For pity’s sake, don’t go on calling me Excellency, it may attract attention.”
“Very good, Excellency,” replied the coachman, as he left the tavern.
“Here, here,” Fabrizio called after him, “and what about the money! Come back!”
“What do you mean — money!” said the landlady; “he has sixty-seven scudi which are entirely at your service. I myself,” she went on, lowering her voice, “have forty scudi which I offer you with the best will in the world; one doesn’t always have money on one when these accidents happen.”
On account of the heat, Fabrizio had taken off his coat on entering the Trattoria.
“You have a waistcoat on you which might land us in trouble if anyone came in: that fine English cloth would attract attention.” She gave our fugitive a stuff waistcoat, dyed black, which belonged to her husband. A tall young man came into the tavern by an inner door; he was dressed with a certain style.
“This is my husband,” said the landlady. “Pietro–Antonio,” she said to her husband, “this gentleman is a friend of Ludovico; he met with an accident this morning, across the river, and he wants to get away to Ferrara.”
“Oh, we’ll get him there,” said the husband with an air of great gentility; “we have Carlo–Giuseppe’s boat.”
Owing to another weakness in our hero which we shall confess as naturally as we have related his fear in the police office at the end of the bridge, there were tears in his eyes; he was profoundly moved by the perfect devotion which he found among these contadini; he thought also of this characteristic generosity of his aunt; he would have liked to be able to make these people’s fortune. Lodovico returned, carrying a packet.
“So that’s finished,” the husband said to him in a friendly tone.
“It’s not that,” replied Lodovico in evident alarm, “people are beginning to talk about you, they noticed that you hesitated before turning down our vicolo and leaving the big street, like a man who was trying to hide.”
“Go up quick to the bedroom,” said the husband.
This room, which was very large and fine, had grey cloth instead of glass in its two windows; it contained four beds, each six feet wide and five feet high.
“Be quick! Be quick!” said Lodovico, “there is a swaggering fool of a constable who has just been posted here and began trying to make love to the pretty lady downstairs; and I’ve told him that when he goes travelling about the country he may find himself stopping a bullet. If the dog hears any mention of Your Excellency, he’ll want to do us a bad turn, he will try to arrest you here, so as to get Teodolinda’s Trattoria a bad name.
“What’s this?” Lodovico went on, seeing Fabrizio’s shirt all stained with blood and his wounds bandaged with handkerchiefs, “so the porco shewed fight, did he? That’s a hundred times more that you need to get yourself arrested, and I haven’t bought you any shirt.” Without ceremony he opened the husband’s wardrobe and gave one of his shirts to Fabrizio, who was soon attired like a prosperous countryman. Lodovico took down a net that was hanging on the wall, placed Fabrizio’s clothes in the basket in which the fish are put, went downstairs at a run and hastened out of the house by a back door; Fabrizio followed him.
“Teodolinda,” he called out as he passed by the bar, “hide . what I’ve left upstairs, we are going to wait among the willows, and you, Pietro–Antonio, send us a boat quickly, we’ll pay well for it.”
Lodovico led Fabrizio across more than a score of ditches. There were planks, very long and very elastic, which served as bridges across the wider of these ditches; Lodovico took up these planks after crossing by them. On coming to the last canal he took up the plank with haste. “Now we can stop and breathe,” he said; “that dog of a constable will have to go two leagues and more to reach Your Excellency. Why, you’re quite pale,” he said to Fabrizio; “I haven’t forgotten the little bottle of brandy.”
“It comes in most useful; the wound in my thigh is beginning to hurt me; and besides, I was in a fine fright in the police office by the bridge.”
“I can well believe it,” said Lodovico; “with a shirt covered in blood, as yours was, I can’t conceive how you ever even dared to set foot in such a place. As for your wounds, I know what to do; I am going to put you in a cool place where you can sleep for an hour; the boat will come for us there, if there is any way of getting a boat; if not, when you have rested a little, we shall go on two short leagues, and I shall take you to a mill where I shall take a boat myself. Your Excellency knows far more than I do: the Signora will be in despair when she hears of the accident; they will tell her that you are mortally wounded, perhaps even that you killed the other man by foul play. The Marchesa Raversi will not fail to circulate all the evil reports that can hurt the Signora. Your Excellency might write.” “And how should I get the letter delivered?” “The boys at the mill where we are going earn twelve soldi a day; in a day and a half they can be at Parma; say four francs for the journey, two francs for the wear and tear of their shoe-leather: if the errand was being done for a poor man like me, that would be six francs; as it is in the service of a Signore, I shall give them twelve.”
When they had reached the resting-place in a clump of alders and willows, very leafy and very cool, Lodovico went to a house more than an hour’s journey away in search of ink and paper. “Great heavens, how comfortable I am here,” cried Fabrizio. “Fortune, farewell! I shall never be an Archbishop!”
On his return, Lodovico found him fast asleep and did not like to arouse him. The boat did not arrive until the sun had almost set; as soon as Lodovico saw it appear in the distance he called Fabrizio, who wrote a couple of letters.
“Your Excellency knows far more than I do,” said Lodovico with a troubled air, “and I am very much afraid of displeasing him seriously, whatever he may say, if I add a certain remark.”
“I am not such a fool as you think me,” replied Fabrizio, “and, whatever you may say, you will always be in my eyes a faithful servant of my aunt, and a man who has done everything in the world to get me out of a very awkward scrape.”
Many more protestations still were required before Lodovico could be prevailed upon to speak, and when at last he had made up his mind, he began with a preamble which lasted for quite five minutes. Fabrizio grew impatient, then said to himself: “After all, whose fault is it? It is due to our vanity, which this man has very well observed from his seat on the box.” Lodovico’s devotion at last impelled him to run the risk of speaking plainly.
“What would not the Marchesa Raversi give to the messenger you are going to send to Parma to have these two letters? They are in your handwriting, and consequently furnish legal evidence against you. Your Excellency will take me for an inquisitive and indiscreet fellow; in the second place, he will perhaps feel ashamed of setting before the eyes of the Signora Duchessa the wretched handwriting of a coachman like myself; but after all, the thought of your safety opens my mouth, although you may think me impertinent. Could not Your Excellency dictate those two letters to me? Then I am the only person compromised, and that very little; I can say, at a pinch, that you appeared to me in the middle of a field with an inkhorn in one hand and a pistol in the other, and that you ordered me to write.”
“Give me your hand, my dear Ludovico?’ cried Fabrizio, “and to prove to you that I wish to have no secret from a friend like yourself, copy these two letters jest as they are.” Lodovico fully appreciated this mark of confidence, and was extremely grateful for it, but after writing a few lines, as he saw the boat coming rapidly downstream:
“The letters will be finished sooner,” he said to Fabrizio, “if Your Excellency will take the trouble to dictate them to me.” The letters written, Fabrizio wrote an A and a B on the closing lines, and on a little scrap of paper which he afterwards crumpled up, put in French: “Croyez A et B.” The messenger would be told to hide this scrap of paper in his clothing.
The boat having come within hailing distance, Lodovico called to the boatmen by names which were not theirs; they made no reply, and put into the bank a thousand yards lower down, looking all round them to make sure that they had not been seen by some doganiere.
“I am at your orders,” said Lodovico to Fabrizio; “would you like me to take these letters myself to Parma? Or would you prefer me to accompany you to Ferrara?”
“To accompany me to Ferrara is a service which I was hardly daring to ask of you. I shall have to land, and try to enter the town without shewing my passport. I may tell you that I feel the greatest repugnance towards travelling under the name of Giletti, and I can think of no one but yourself who would be able to buy me another passport.”
“Why didn’t you speak at Casalmaggiore? I know a spy there who would have sold me an excellent passport, and not dear, for forty or fifty francs.”
One of the two boatmen, whose home was on the right bank of the Po, and who consequently had no need of a foreign passport to go to Parma, undertook to deliver the letters. Lodovico, who knew how to handle the oars, set to work to propel the boat with the other man.
“We shall find on the lower reaches of the Po,” he said, “several armed vessels belonging to the police, and I shall manage to avoid them.” Ten times at least they were obliged to hide among little islets flush with the water, covered with willows. Three times they set foot on shore in order to let the boat drift past the police vessels empty. Lodovico took advantage of these long intervals of leisure to recite to Fabrizio several of his sonnets. The sentiments were true enough, but were so to speak blunted by his expression of them, and were not worth the trouble of putting them on paper; the curious thing was that this ex-coachman had passions and points of view that were vivid and picturesque; he became cold and commonplace as soon as he began to write. “It is the opposite of what we see in society,” thought Fabrizio; “people know nowadays how to express everything gracefully, but their hearts have nothing to say.” He realised that the greatest pleasure he could give to this faithful servant would be to correct the mistakes in spelling in his sonnets.
“They laugh at me when I lend them my copy-book,” said Lodovico; “but if Your Excellency would deign to dictate to me the spelling of the words letter by letter, the envious fellows wouldn’t have anything left to say: spelling doesn’t make genius.” It was not until the third night of his journey that Fabrizio was able to land in complete safety in a thicket of alders, a league above Pontelagoscuro. All the next day he remained hidden in a hempfield, while Lodovico went ahead to Ferrara; he there took some humble lodgings in the house of a poor Jew, who at once realised that there was money to be earned if one knew how to keep one’s mouth shut. That evening, as the light began to fail, Fabrizio entered Ferrara riding upon a pony; he had every need of this support, for he had been touched by the sun on the river; the knife-wound that he had in his thigh, and the sword-thrust that Giletti had given him in the shoulder, at the beginning of their duel, were inflamed and had brought on a fever.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00