All serious thoughts were forgotten on the unexpected appearance of this charming person. Fabrizio settled himself to live at Bologna in a joy and security that were profound. This artless tendency to take delight in everything that entered into his life shewed through in the letters which he wrote to the Duchessa; to such an extent that she began to take offence. Fabrizio paid little attention; he wrote, however, in abridged symbols on the face of his watch: “When I write to the D., must never say When I was prelate, when I was in the Church: that annoys her.” He had bought a pair of ponies with which he was greatly pleased: he used to harness them to a hired carriage whenever little Marietta wished to pay a visit to any of the enchanting spots in the neighbourhood of Bologna; almost every evening he drove her to the Cascata del Reno. On their way back, he would call on the friendly Crescentini, who regarded himself as to some extent Marietta’s father.
“Upon my soul, if this is the caffè life which seemed to me so ridiculous for a man of any worth, I did wrong to reject it,” Fabrizio said to himself. He forgot that he never went near a caffè except to read the Constitutionnel, and that, since he was a complete stranger to everyone in Bologna, the gratification of vanity did not enter at all into his present happiness. When he was not with little Marietta, he was to be seen at the Observatory, where he was taking a course in astronomy; the Professor had formed a great affection for him, and Fabrizio used to lend him his ponies on Sundays, to cut a figure with his wife on the Corso della Montagnola.
He loathed the idea of harming any living creature, however undeserving that creature might be. Marietta was resolutely opposed to his seeing the old woman, but one day, when she was at church, he went up to visit the Mammaccia, who flushed with anger when she saw him enter the room. “This is a case where one plays the del Dongo,” he said to himself.
“How much does Marietta earn in a month when she is working?” he cried, with the air with which a self-respecting young man, in Paris, enters the balcony at the Bouffes.
“You are lying, as usual; tell the truth, or, by God, you shall not have a centesimo!”
“Very well, she was getting twenty-two scudi in our company at Parma, when we had the bad luck to meet you; I was getting twelve scudi, and we used to give Giletti, our protector, a third of what each of us earned. Out of which, every month almost, Giletti would make Marietta a present; the present might be worth a couple of scudi.”
“You’re lying still; you never had more than four scudi. But if you are good to Marietta, I will engage you as though I were an impresario; every month you shall have twelve scudi for yourself and twenty-two for her; but if I see her with red eyes, I make you bankrupt.”
“You’re very stiff and proud; very well, your fine generosity will be the ruin of us,” replied the old woman in a furious tone; “we lose our avviamento” (our connexion). “When we have the enormous misfortune to be deprived of Your Excellency’s protection, we shall no longer be known in any of the companies, they will all be filled up; we shall not find any engagement, and, all through you, we shall starve to death.”
“Go to the devil,” said Fabrizio as he left the room.
“I shall not go to the devil, you impious wretch! But I will go straight away to the police office, where they shall learn from me that you are a Monsignore who has flung his cassock to the winds, and that you are no more Giuseppe Bossi than I am.” Fabrizio had already gone some way down the stairs. He returned.
“In the first place, the police know better than you what my real name may be; but if you take it into your head to denounce me, if you do anything so infamous,” he said to her with great seriousness, “Lodovico shall talk to you, and it is not six slashes with the knife that your old carcass shall get, but two dozen, and you will be six months in hospital, and no tobacco.”
The old woman turned pale, and dashed at Fabrizio’s hand, which she tried to kiss.
“I accept with gratitude the provision that you are making for Marietta and me. You look so good that I took you for a fool; and, you bear in mind, others besides myself may make the same error; I advise you always to adopt a more noblemanly air.” Then she added with an admirable impudence: “You will reflect upon this good advice, and, as the winter is not far off, you will make Marietta and me a present of two good jackets of that fine English stuff which they sell at the big shop in the Piazza San Petronio.”
The love of the pretty Marietta offered Fabrizio all the charms of the most delightful friendship, which set him dreaming of the happiness of the same order which he might have been finding in the Duchessa’s company.
“But is it not a very pleasant thing,” he asked himself at times, “that I am not susceptible to that exclusive and passionate preoccupation which they call love? Among the intimacies into which chance has brought me at Novara or at Naples, have I ever met a woman whose company, even in the first few days, was to my mind preferable to riding a good horse that I did not know? What they call love,” he went on, “can that be just another lie? I feel myself in love, no doubt, as I feel a good appetite at six o’clock! Can it be out of this slightly vulgar propensity that those liars have fashioned the love of Othello, the love of Tancred? Or am I indeed to suppose that I am constructed differently from other men? That my soul should be lacking in one passion, why should that be? It would be a singular destiny!”
At Naples, — especially in the latter part of his time there, Fabrizio had met women who, proud of their rank, their beauty and the position held in society by the adorers whom they had sacrificed to him, had attempted to lead him. On discovering their intention, Fabrizio had broken with them in the most summary and open fashion. “Well,” he said to himself, “if I ever allow myself to be carried away by the pleasure, which no doubt is extremely keen, of being on friendly terms with that charming woman who is known as the Duchessa Sanseverina, I shall be exactly like that stupid Frenchman who killed the goose that was laying the golden eggs. It is to the Duchessa that I owe the sole happiness which has ever come to me from sentiments of affection: my friendship for her is my life, and besides, without her, what am I? A poor exile reduced to living from hand to mouth in a tumble-down country house outside Novara. I remember how, during the heavy autumn rains, I used to be obliged, at night, for fear of accidents, to fix up an umbrella over the tester of my bed. I rode the agent’s horses, which he was good enough to allow out of respect for my blue blood (for my influence, that is), but he was beginning to find my stay there a trifle long; my father had made me an allowance of twelve hundred francs, and thought himself damned for having given bread to a Jacobin. My poor mother and sisters let themselves go without new clothes to keep me in a position to make a few little presents to my mistresses. This way of being generous pierced me to the heart. And besides, people were beginning to suspect my poverty, and the young noblemen of the district would have been feeling sorry for me next. Sooner or later some prig would have let me see his contempt for a poor Jacobin whose plans had come to grief, for in those people’s eyes I was nothing more than that. I should have given or received some doughty thrust with a sword which would have carried me off to the fortress of Fenestrelle, or else I should have been obliged to take refuge again in Switzerland, still on my allowance of twelve hundred francs. I have the good fortune to be indebted to the Duchessa for the absence of all these evils; besides, it is she who feels for me the transports of affection which I ought to be feeling for her.
“Instead of that ridiculous, pettifogging existence which would have made me a sad dog, a fool, for the last four years I have been living in a big town, and have an excellent carriage, which things have preserved me from feelings of envy and all the base sentiments of a provincial life. This too indulgent aunt is always scolding me because I do not draw enough money from the banker. Do I wish to ruin for all time so admirable a position? Do I wish to lose the one friend that I have in the world? All I need do is to utter a falsehood; all I need do is to say to a charming woman, a woman who is perhaps without a counterpart in the world, and for whom I feel the most passionate friendship: ‘I love you,’ I who do not know what it is to love amorously. She would spend the day finding fault with me for the absence of these transports which are unknown to me. Marietta, or the other hand, who does not see into my heart, and takes; caress for a transport of the soul, thinks me madly in love and looks upon herself as the most fortunate of women.
“As a matter of fact, the only slight acquaintance I have ever had with that tender obsession which is called, I believe, love, was with the young Aniken in the inn at Zonders, near the Belgian frontier.”
It is with regret that we have to record here one of Fabrizio’s worst actions; in the midst of this tranquil life, a wretched pique of vanity took possession of this heart rebellious to love and led it far astray. Simultaneously with himself there happened to be at Bologna the famous Fausta F—— — unquestionably one of the finest singers of the day and perhaps the most capricious woman that was ever seen. The excellent poet Burati, of Venice, had composed the famous satirical sonnet about her, which at that time was to be heard on the lips alike of princes and of the meanest street Arabs:
“To wish and not to wish, to adore and on the same day to detest, to find contentment only in inconstancy, to scorn what the world worships, while the world worships it: Fausta has these defects and many more. Look not therefore upon that serpent. If thou seest her, imprudent man, thou forgettest her caprices. Hast thou the happiness to hear her voice, thou dost forget thyself, and love makes of thee, in a moment, what Circe in days of yore made of the companions of Ulysses.”
For the moment, this miracle of beauty had come under the spell of the enormous whiskers and haughty insolence of the young Conte M— — to such an extent as not to be revolted by his abominable jealousy. Fabrizio saw this Conte in the streets of Bologna and was shocked by the air of superiority with which he took up the pavement and deigned to display his graces to the public. This young man was extremely rich, imagined that everything was permitted him, and, as his prepotenze had brought him threats of punishment, never appeared in public save with the escort of nine or ten buli (a sort of cut-throat) clad in his livery, whom he had brought from his estates in the environs of Brescia. Fabrizio’s eye had met once or twice that of this terrible Conte, whence chance led him to hear Fausta sing. He was astonished by the angelic sweetness of her voice: he had never imagined anything like it; he was indebted to it for sensations of supreme happiness, which made a pleasing contrast to the placidity of his life at the time. Could this at last be love? he asked himself. Thoroughly curious to taste that sentiment, and amused moreover by the thought of braving Conte M— — whose expression was more terrifying than that of any drum-major, our hero let himself fall into the childish habit of passing a great deal too often in front of the palazzo Tanari, which Conte M—— had taken for Fausta.
One day, as night was beginning to fall, Fabrizio, seeking to catch Fausta’s eye, was greeted by peals of laughter of the most pointed kind proceeding from the Conte’s buli, who were assembled by the door of the palazzo Tanari. He hastened home, armed himself well, and again passed before the palazzo. Fausta, concealed behind her shutters, was awaiting his return, and gave him due credit for it. M— — jealous of the whole world, became specially jealous of Signor Giuseppe Bossi, and indulged in ridiculous utterances; whereupon every morning our hero had delivered at his door a letter which contained only these words:
“Signor Giuseppe Bossi destroys troublesome insects and is staying at the Pellegrino, Via Larga, No. 79.”
Conte M— — accustomed to the respect which was everywhere assured him by his enormous fortune, his blue blood and the physical courage of his thirty servants, declined altogether to understand the language of this little missive.
Fabrizio wrote others of the sort to Fausta; M—— posted spies round this rival, who perhaps was not unattractive; first of all, he learned his true name, and later that, for the present, he could not shew his face at Parma. A few days after this, Conte M— — his buli, his magnificent horses and Fausta set off together for Parma.
Fabrizio, becoming excited, followed them next day. In vain did the good Lodovico utter pathetic remonstrances: Fabrizio turned a deaf ear, and Lodovico, who was himself extremely brave, admired him for it; besides, this removal brought him nearer to the pretty mistress he had left at Casalmaggiore. Through Lodovico’s efforts, nine or ten old soldiers of Napoleon’s regiments re-enlisted under Signor Giuseppe Bossi, in the capacity of servants. “Provided,” Fabrizio told himself, when committing the folly of going after Fausta, “that I have no communication either with the Minister of Police, Conte Mosca, or with the Duchessa, I expose only myself to risk. I shall explain later on to my aunt that I was going in search of love, that beautiful thing which I have never encountered. The fact is that I think of Fausta even when I am not looking at her. But is it the memory of her voice that I love, or her person?” Having ceased to think of an ecclesiastical career, Fabrizio had grown a pair of moustaches and whiskers almost as terrible as those of Conte M— — and these disguised him to some extent. He set up his headquarters not at Parma — that would have been too imprudent — but in a neighbouring village, in the woods, on the road to Sacca, where his aunt had her country house. Following Lodovico’s advice, he gave himself out in this village as the valet of a great English nobleman of original tastes, who spent a hundred thousand francs a year on providing himself with the pleasures of the chase, and would arrive shortly from the Lake of Como, where he was detained by the trout-fishing. Fortunately for him, the charming little palazzo which Conte M—— had taken for the fair Fausta was situated at the southern extremity of the city of Parma, precisely on the road to Sacca, and Fausta’s windows looked out over the fine avenues of tall trees which extend beneath the high tower of the citadel. Fabrizio was completely unknown in this little frequented quarter; he did not fail to have Conte M—— followed, and one day when that gentleman had just emerged from the admirable singer’s door, he had the audacity to appear in the street in broad daylight; it must be admitted that he was mounted upon an excellent horse, and well armed. A party of musicians, of the sort that frequent the streets in Italy and are sometimes excellent, came and planted their viols under Fausta’s window; after playing a prelude they sang, and quite well too, a cantata composed in her honour. Fausta came to the window and had no difficulty in distinguishing a young man of extremely polite manners, who, stopping his horse in the middle of the street, bowed to her first of all, then began to direct at her a gaze that could have but one meaning. In spite of the exaggeratedly English costume adopted by Fabrizio, she soon recognised the author of the passionate letters that had brought about her departure from Bologna. “That is a curious creature,” she said to herself; “it seems to me that I am going to fall in love with him. I have a hundred louis in hand, I can quite well give that terrible Conte M—— the slip; if it comes to that, he has no spirit, he never does anything unexpected, and is only slightly amusing because of the bloodthirsty appearance of his escort.”
On the following day Fabrizio, having learned that every morning at eleven o’clock Fausta went to hear mass in the centre of the town, in that same church of San Giovanni which contained the tomb of his great-uncle, Archbishop Ascanio del Dongo, made bold to follow her there. To tell the truth, Ludovico had procured him a fine English wig with hair of the most becoming red. Inspired by the colour of his wig, which was that of the flames that were devouring his heart, he composed a sonnet which Fausta thought charming; an unseen hand had taken care to place it upon her piano. This little war lasted for quite a week; but Fabrizio found that, in spite of the steps he was taking in every direction, he was making no real progress; Fausta refused to see him. He strained the effect of singularity; she admitted afterwards that she was afraid of him. Fabrizio was kept going now only by a faint hope of coming to feel what is known as love, but frequently he felt bored.
“Let us leave this place, Signore,” Lodovico used to urge him; “you are not in the least in love: I can see that you have the most desperate coolness and common sense. Besides, you are making no headway; if only for shame, let us clear out.” Fabrizio was ready to go at the first moment of ill-humour, when he heard that Fausta was to sing at the Duchessa Sanseverina’s. “Perhaps that sublime voice will succeed in softening my heart,” he said to himself; and he actually ventured to penetrate in disguise into the palazzo where he was known to every eye. We may imagine the Duchessa’s emotion when, right at the end of the concert, she noticed a man in the full livery of a chasseur, standing by the door of the big drawing-room: that pose reminded her of someone. She went to look for Conte Mosca, who only then informed her of the signal and truly incredible folly of Fabrizio. He took it extremely well. This love for another than the Duchessa pleased him greatly; the Conte, a perfect galantuomo, apart from politics, acted upon the maxim that he could himself find happiness only so long as the Duchessa was happy. “I shall save him from himself,” he said to his mistress; “judge of our enemies’ joy if he were arrested in this palazzo! Also I have more than a hundred men with me here, and that is why I made them ask you for the keys of the great reservoir. He gives out that he is madly in love with Fausta, and up to the present has failed to get her away from Conte M— — who lets the foolish woman live the life of a queen.” The Duchessa’s features betrayed the keenest grief; so Fabrizio was nothing more than a libertine, utterly incapable of any tender and serious feeling. “And not to come and see us! That is what I shall never be able to forgive him!” she said at length; “and I writing to him every day to Bologna!”
“I greatly admire his restraint,” replied the Conte; “he does not wish to compromise us by his escapade, and it will be amusing to hear him tell us about it.”
Fausta was too great a fool to be able to keep quiet about what was on her mind; the day after the concert, every melody in which her eyes had addressed to that tall young man dressed as a chasseur, she spoke to Conte M—— of an unknown admirer. “Where do you see him?” asked the Conte in a fury. “In the streets, in church,” replied Fausta, at a loss for words. At once she sought to atone for her imprudence, or at least to eliminate from it anything that could suggest Fabrizio: she dashed into an endless description of a tall young man with red hair; he had blue eyes; no doubt he was some Englishman, very rich and very awkward, or some prince. At this word Conte M— — who did not shine in the accuracy of his perceptions, conceived the idea, deliciously flattering to his vanity, that this rival was none other than the Crown Prince of Parma. This poor melancholy young man, guarded by five or six governors, under-governors, preceptors, etc., etc., who never allowed him out of doors until they had first held council together, used to cast strange glances at all the passable women whom he was permitted to approach. At the Duchessa’s concert, his rank had placed him in front of all the rest of the audience in an isolated armchair within three yards of the fair Fausta, and his stare had been supremely shocking to Conte M———. This hallucination of an exquisite vanity, that he had a Prince for a rival, greatly amused Fausta, who took delight in confirming it with a hundred details artlessly supplied.
“Your” race,” she asked the Conte, “is surely as old as that of the Farnese, to which this young man belongs?”
“What do you mean? As old? I have no bastardy in my family, thank you.”†
[† Pier–Luigi, the first sovereign of the Farnese family, so renowned for his virtues, was, as is generally known, a natural son of His Holiness Pope Paul III.]
As luck would have it, Conte M—— never had an opportunity of studying this pretended rival at his leisure, which confirmed him in the flattering idea of his having a Prince for antagonist. The fact was that whenever the interests of his enterprise did not summon Fabrizio to Parma, he remained in the woods round Sacca and on the bank of the Po. Conte M—— was indeed more proud, but was also more prudent since he had imagined himself to be on the way to disputing the heart of Fausta with a Prince; he begged her very seriously to observe the greatest restraint in all her doings. After flinging himself on his knees like a jealous and impassioned lover, he declared to her in so many words that his honour was involved in her not being made the dupe of the young Prince.
“Excuse me, I should not be his dupe if I cared for him; I must say, I have never yet seen a Prince at my feet.”
“If you yield,” he went on with a haughty stare, “I may not perhaps be able to avenge myself on the Prince but I will, most assuredly, be avenged”; and he went out, slamming the doors behind him. Had Fabrizio presented himself at that moment, he would have won his cause.
“If you value your life,” her lover said to her that evening as he bade her good night after the performance, “see that it never comes to my ears that the young Prince has been inside your house. I can do nothing to him, curse him, but do not make me remember that I can do everything to you!”
“Ah, my little Fabrizio,” cried Fausta, “if I only knew where to find you!”
Wounded vanity may carry a young man far who is rich and from his cradle has always been surrounded by flatterers. The very genuine passion that Conte M—— felt for Fausta revived with furious intensity; it was in no way checked by the dangerous prospect of his coming into conflict with the only son of the Sovereign in whose dominions he happened to be staying; at the same time he had not the courage to try to see this Prince, or at least to have him followed. Not being able to attack him in any other way, M——— dared to consider making him ridiculous. “I shall be banished for ever from the States of Parma,” he said to himself; “Pshaw! What does that matter?” Had he sought to reconnoitre the enemy’s position, he would have learned that the poor young Prince never went out of doors without being followed by three or four old men, tiresome guardians of etiquette, and that the one pleasure of his choice that was permitted him in the world was mineralogy. By day, as by night, the little palazzo occupied by Fausta, to which the best society of Parma went in crowds, was surrounded by watchers; M—— knew, hour by hour, what she was doing, and, more important still, what others were doing round about her. There is this to be said in praise of the precautions taken by her jealous lover: this eminently capricious woman had at first no idea of the multiplication of his vigilance. The reports of all his agents informed Conte M—— that a very young man, wearing a wig of red hair, appeared very often beneath Fausta’s windows, but always in a different disguise. “Evidently, it is the young Prince,” thought M— — “otherwise, why the disguise? And, by gad, a man like me is not made to give way to him. But for the usurpations of the Venetian Republic, I should be a Sovereign Prince myself.”
On the feast of Santo Stefano, the reports of the spies took on a more sombre hue; they seemed to indicate that Fausta was beginning to respond to the stranger’s advances. “I can go away this instant, and take the woman with me!” M—— said to himself; “but no! At Bologna I fled from del Dongo; here I should be fleeing before a Prince. But what could the young man say? He might think that he had succeeded in making me afraid. And, by God, I come of as good a family as he.” M——— was furious, but, to crown his misery, he made a particular point of not letting himself appear in the eyes of Fausta, whom he knew to be of a mocking spirit, in the ridiculous character of a jealous lover. On Santo Stefano’s day, then, after having spent an hour with her and been welcomed by her with an ardour which seemed to him the height of insincerity, he left her, shortly before eleven o’clock, getting ready to go and hear mass in the church of San Giovanni. Conte M—— returned home, put on the shabby black coat of a young student of theology, and hastened to San Giovanni; he chose a place behind one of the tombs that adorn the third chapel on the right; he could see everything that went on in the church beneath the arm of a cardinal who is represented as kneeling upon his tomb; this statue kept the light from the back of the chapel and gave him sufficient concealment. Presently he saw Fausta arrive, more beautiful than ever. She was in full array, and a score of admirers, drawn from the highest ranks of society, furnished her with an escort. Joyous smiles broke from her eyes and lips. “It is evident,” thought the jealous wretch, “that she counts upon meeting here the man she loves, whom for a long time, perhaps, thanks to me, she has been prevented from seeing.” Suddenly, the keen look of happiness in her eyes seemed to double in intensity; “My rival is here,” muttered M— — and the fury of his outraged vanity knew no bounds. “What sort of figure do I cut here, serving as pendant to a young Prince in disguise?” But despite every effort on his part, he could never succeed in identifying this rival, for whom his famished gaze kept seeking in every direction.
All through the service Fausta, after letting her eyes wander over the whole church, would end by bringing her gaze to rest, charged with love and happiness, on the dim corner in which M——— was concealed. In an impassioned heart, love is liable to exaggerate the slightest shades of meaning; it draws from them the most ridiculous conclusions; did not poor M——— end by persuading himself that Fausta had seen him, that, having in spite of his efforts perceived his deadly jealousy, she wished to reproach him with it and at the same time to console him for it with these tender glances?
The tomb of the cardinal, behind which M——— had taken his post of observation, was raised four or five feet above the marble floor of San Giovanni. The fashionable mass ending about one o’clock, the majority of the faithful left the church, and Fausta dismissed the beaux of the town, on a pretext of devotion; as she remained kneeling on her chair, her eyes, which had grown more tender and more brilliant, were fixed on M———; since there were now only a few people left in the building, she no longer put her eyes to the trouble of ranging over the whole of it before coming joyfully to rest on the cardinal’s statue. “What delicacy!’’ thought Conte M—— — imagining that he was the object of her gaze. At length Fausta rose and quickly left the church after first making some odd movements with her hands.
M—— — blind with love and almost entirely relieved of his mad jealousy, had left his post to fly to his mistress’s palazzo and thank her a thousand, thousand times, when, as he passed in front of the cardinal’s tomb, he noticed a young man all in black: this funereal being had remained until then on his knees, close against the epitaph on the tomb, in such a position that the eyes of the jealous lover, in their search for him, must pass over his head and miss him altogether.
This young man rose, moved briskly away, and was immediately surrounded by seven or eight persons, somewhat clumsy in their gait, of a singular appearance, who seemed to belong to him. M—— hurried after him, but, without any marked sign of obstruction, was stopped in the narrow passage formed by the wooden drum of the door by these clumsy men who were protecting his rival; and when finally, at the tail of their procession, he reached the street, he was in time only to see someone shut the door of a carriage of humble aspect, which, by an odd contrast, was drawn by a pair of excellent horses, and in a moment had passed out of sight.
He returned home panting with fury; presently there arrived his watchers, who reported impassively that that morning the mysterious lover, disguised as a priest, had been kneeling in an attitude of great devotion against a tomb which stood in the entrance of a dark chapel in the church of San Giovanni. Fausta had remained in the church until it was almost empty, and had then rapidly exchanged certain signs with the stranger; with her hands she had seemed to be making a series of crosses. M—— hastened to the faithless one’s house; for the first time she could not conceal her uneasiness; she told him, with the artless mendacity of a passionate woman, that, as usual, she had gone to San Giovanni, but that she had seen no sign there of that man who was persecuting her. On hearing these words, M—— — beside himself with rage, railed at her as at the vilest of creatures, told her everything that he had seen himself, and, the boldness of her lies increasing with the force of his accusations, took his dagger and flung himself upon her. With great coolness Fausta said to him:
“Very well, everything you complain of is the absolute truth, but I have tried to keep it from you so that you should not go rushing desperately into mad plans of vengeance which may ruin us both; for, let me tell you once for all, as far as I can make out, the man who is persecuting me with his attentions is one who is accustomed not to meet with any opposition to his wishes, in this country at any rate.” Having very skilfully reminded M—— that, after all, he had no legal authority over her, Fausta ended by saying that probably she would not go again to the church of San Giovanni. M—— was desperately in love; a trace of coquetry had perhaps combined itself with prudence in the young woman’s heart; he felt himself disarmed. He thought of leaving Parma; the young Prince, however powerful he might be, could not follow him, or if he did follow him would cease to be anything more than his equal. But pride represented to him afresh that this departure must inevitably have the appearance of a flight, and Conte M—— forbade himself to think of it.
“He has no suspicion that my little Fabrizio is here,” the singer said to herself, delighted, “and now we can make a fool of him in the most priceless fashion!”
Fabrizio had no inkling of his good fortune; finding next day that the singer’s windows were carefully shuttered, and not seeing her anywhere, he began to feel that the joke was lasting rather too long. He felt some remorse. “In what sort of position am I putting that poor Conte Mosca, and he the Minister of Police! They will think he is my accomplice, I shall have come to this place to ruin his career! But if I abandon a project I have been following for so long, what will the Duchessa say when I tell her of my essays in love?”
One evening when, on the point of giving up everything, he was moralising thus to himself, as he strolled under the tall trees which divided Fausta’s palazzo from the citadel, he observed that he was being followed by a spy of diminutive stature; in vain did he attempt to shake him off by turning down various streets, this microscopic being seemed always to cling to his heels. Growing impatient, he dashed into a lonely street running along the bank of the Parma, where his men were ambushed; on a signal from him they leaped out upon the poor little spy, who flung himself at their feet; it was Bettina, Fausta’s maid; after three days of boredom and seclusion, disguised as a man to escape the dagger of Conte M— — of whom her mistress and she were in great dread, she had undertaken to come out and tell Fabrizio to see someone who loved him passionately and was burning to see him, but that the said person could not appear any more in the church of San Giovanni. “The time has come,” Fabrizio said to himself, “hurrah for persistence!”
The little maid was exceedingly pretty, a fact which took Fabrizio’s mind from his moralisings. She told him that the avenue and all the streets through which he had passed that evening were being jealously watched, though quite unobtrusively, by M——‘s spies. They had taken rooms on the ground floors or on the first storeys of the houses; hidden behind the shutters and keeping absolutely silent, they observed everything that went on in the apparently quite deserted street, and heard all that was said.
“If those spies had recognised my voice,” said little Bettina, “I should have been stabbed without mercy as soon as I got back to the house, and my poor mistress with me, perhaps.”
This terror rendered her charming in Fabrizio’s eyes.
“Conte M—— — ” she went on, “is furious, and the Signora knows that he will stick at nothing. . . . She told me to say to you that she would like to be a hundred leagues away from here with you.”
Then she gave an account of the scene on St. Stephen’s day, and of the fury of M— — who had missed none of the glances and signs of affection which Fausta, madly in love that day with Fabrizio, had directed towards him. The Conte had drawn his dagger, had seized Fausta by the hair, and, but for her presence of mind, she must have perished.
Fabrizio made the pretty Bettina come up to a little apartment which he had near there. He told her that he came from Turin, and was the son of an important personage who happened at that moment to be in Parma, which meant that he had to be most careful in his movements. Bettina replied with a smile that he was a far grander gentleman than he chose to appear. It took our hero some little time to realise that the charming girl took him for no less a personage than the Crown Prince himself. Fausta was beginning to be frightened, and to love Fabrizio; she had taken the precaution of not mentioning his name to her maid, but of speaking to her always of the Prince. Finally Fabrizio admitted to the pretty girl that she had guessed aright: “But if my name gets out,” he added, “in spite of the great passion of which I have furnished your mistress with so many proofs, I shall be obliged to cease to see her, and at once my father’s Ministers, those rascally jokers whom I shall bring down from their high places some day, will not fail to send her an order to quit the country which up to now she has been adorning with her presence.”
Towards morning, Fabrizio arranged with the little lady’s maid a number of plans by which he might gain admission to Fausta’s house. He summoned Lodovico and another of his retainers, a man of great cunning, who came to an understanding with Bettina while he himself wrote the most extravagant letter to Fausta; the situation allowed all the exaggerations of tragedy, and Fabrizio did not miss the opportunity. It was not until day was breaking that he parted from the little lady’s maid, whom he left highly satisfied with the ways of the young Prince.
It had been repeated a hundred times over that, Fausta having now come to an understanding with her lover, the latter was no longer to pass to and fro beneath the windows of the little palazzo except when he could be admitted there, and that then a signal would be given. But Fabrizio, in love with Bellina, and believing himself to have come almost to the point with Fausla, could not confine himself to his village two leagues outside Parma. The following evening, about midnight, he came on horseback and with a good escort to sing under Fausta’s windows an air then in fashion, the words of which he altered. “Is not this the way in which our friends the lovers behave?” he asked himself.
Now that Fausta had shewn a desire to meet him, all this pursuit seemed to Fabrizio very tedious. “No, I am not really in love in the least,” he assured himself as he sang (none too well) beneath the windows of the little palazzo; “Bellina seems lo me a hundred limes preferable to Fausta, and it is by her that I should like to be received at this moment.” Fabrizio, distinctly bored, was returning to his village when, five hundred yards from Fausta’s palazzo, fifteen or twenty men flung themselves upon him; four of them seized his horse by the bridle, two others look hold of his arms. Lodovico and Fabrizio’s bravi were attacked, but managed to escape; they fired several shots with their pistols. All this was the affair of an instant: fifty lighted torches appeared in the street in the twinkling of an eye, as though by magic. All these men were well armed. Fabrizio had jumped down from his horse in spite of the men who were holding him; he tried lo clear a space round him; he even wounded one of the men who was gripping his arms in hands like a pair of vices; but he was greatly surprised to hear this man say to him, in the most respectful tone: “Your Highness will give me a good pension for this wound, which will be better for me than falling into the crime of high treason by drawing my sword against my Prince.”
“So this is the punishment I get for my folly,” thought Fabrizio; “I shall have damned myself for a sin which did not seem to me in the least attractive.”
Scarcely had this little attempt at a battle finished, when a number of lackeys in full livery appeared with a sedan-chair gilded and painted in an odd fashion. It was one of those grotesque chairs used by masked revellers at carnival time. Six men, with daggers in their hands, requested His Highness lo get into it, telling him that the cold night air might be injurious to his voice: they affected the most reverential forms, the title “Prince” being every moment repeated and almost shouted. The procession began to move on. Fabrizio counted in the street more than fifty men carrying lighted torches. It might be about one o’clock in the morning; all the populace was gazing out of the windows, the whole thing went off with a certain gravity. “I was afraid of dagger-thrusts on Conte M——‘s part,” Fabrizio said to himself; “he contents himself with making a fool of me; I had not suspected him of such good taste. But does he really think that he has the Prince to deal with? If he knows that I am only Fabrizio, ware the dirk!”
These fifty men carrying torches and the twenty armed men, after stopping for a long interval under Fausta’s windows, proceeded to parade before the finest palazzi in the town. A pair of maggiordomi, posted one on either side of the sedan-chair, asked His Highness from time to time whether he had any order to give them. Fabrizio took care not to lose his head; by the light which the torches cast he saw that Lodovico and his men were following the procession as closely as possible. Fabrizio said to himself: “Lodovico has only nine or ten men, and dares not attack.” From the interior of his sedan-chair he could see quite plainly that the men responsible for carrying out this practical joke were armed to the teeth. He made a show of talking and laughing with the maggiordomi who were looking after him. After more than two hours of this triumphal march, he saw that they were about to pass the end of the street in which the palazzo Sanseverina stood.
As they turned the corner, he quickly opened the door in the front of the chair, jumped out over one of the carrying poles, felled with a blow from his dagger one of the flunkeys who thrust a torch into his face; he received a stab in the shoulder from a dirk; a second flunkey singed his beard with his lighted torch, and finally Fabrizio reached Lodovico, to whom he shouted: “Kill! Kill everyone carrying a torch!” Lodovico used his sword, and delivered Fabrizio from two men who had started in pursuit of him. He arrived, running, at the door of the palazzo Sanseverina; out of curiosity the porter had opened the little door, three feet high, that was cut in the big door, and was gazing in bewilderment at this great mass of torches. Fabrizio sprang inside and shut this miniature door behind him; he ran to the garden and escaped by a gate which opened on to an unfrequented street. An hour later, he was out of the town; at daybreak he crossed the frontier of the States of Modena, and was safe. That evening he entered Bologna. “Here is a fine expedition,” he said to himself; “I never even managed to speak to my charmer.” He made haste to write letters of apology to the Conte and the Duchessa, prudent letters which, while describing all that was going on in his heart, could not give away any information to an enemy. “I was in love with love,” he said to the Duchessa, “I have done everything in the world to acquire knowledge of it; but it appears that nature has refused me a heart to love, and to be melancholy; I cannot raise myself above the level of vulgar pleasure,” and so forth.
It would be impossible to give any idea of the stir that this escapade caused in Parma. The mystery of it excited curiosity: innumerable people had seen the torches and the sedan-chair. But who was the man they were carrying away, to whom every mark of respect was paid? No one of note was missing from the town next day.
The humble folk who lived in the street from which the prisoner had made his escape did indeed say that they had seen a corpse; but in daylight, when they ventured out of their houses, they found no other traces of the fray than quantities of blood spilled on the pavement. More than twenty thousand sight-seers came to visit the street that day. Italian towns are accustomed to singular spectacles, but the why and the wherefore of these are always known. What shocked Parma about this occurrence was that even a month afterwards, when people had ceased to speak of nothing but the torchlight procession, nobody, thanks to the prudence of Conte Mosca, had been able to guess the name of the rival who had sought to carry off Fausta from Conte M———. This jealous and vindictive lover had taken flight at the beginning of the parade. By the Conte’s order, Fausta was sent to the citadel. The Duchessa laughed heartily over a little act of injustice which the Conte was obliged to commit to put a stop to the curiosity of the Prince, who otherwise might have succeeded in hitting upon the name of Fabrizio.
There was to be seen at Parma a scholar, arrived there from the North to write a History of the Middle Ages; he was in search of manuscripts in the libraries, and the Conte had given him every possible facility. But this scholar, who was still quite young, shewed a violent temper; he believed, for one thing, that everybody in Parma was trying to make a fool of him. It was true that the boys in the streets sometimes followed him on account of an immense shock of bright red hair which he displayed with pride. This scholar imagined that at his inn they were asking exaggerated prices for everything, and he never paid for the smallest trifle without first looking up its price in the Travels of a certain Mrs. Starke, a book which has gone into its twentieth edition because it indicates to the prudent Englishman the price of a turkey, an apple, a glass of milk, and so forth.
The scholar with the fiery crest, on the evening of the very day on which Fabrizio made this forced excursion, flew into a rage at his inn, and drew from his pocket a brace of small pistols to avenge himself on the cameriere who demanded two soldi for an indifferent peach. He was arrested, for to carry pocket pistols is a serious crime!
As this irascible scholar was long and lean, the Conte conceived the idea, next morning, of making him pass in the Prince’s eyes as the rash fellow who, having tried to steal away Fausta from Conte M—— — had afterwards been hoaxed. The carrying of pocket pistols is punishable at Parma with three years in the galleys; but this punishment is never enforced. After a fortnight in prison, during which time the scholar had seen no one but a lawyer who had put in him a terrible fright by his account of the atrocious laws aimed by the pusillanimity of those in power against the bearers of hidden arms, another lawyer visited the prison and told him of the expedition inflicted by Conte M——— on a rival who had not yet been identified. “The police do not wish to admit to the Prince that they have not been able to find out who this rival is. Confess that you were seeking to find favour with Fausta; that fifty brigands carried you off while you were singing beneath her window; that for an hour they took you about the town in a sedan-chair without saying anything to you that was not perfectly proper. There is nothing humiliating about this confession, you are asked to say only one word. As soon as, by saying it, you have relieved the police from their difficulty, you will be put into a post-chaise and driven to the frontier, where they will bid you good-bye.”
The scholar held out for a month; two or three times the Prince was on the point of having him brought to the Ministry of the Interior, and of being present in person at his examination. But at last he gave no more thought to the matter when the scholar, losing patience, decided to confess everything, and was conveyed to the frontier. The Prince remained convinced that Conte M——‘s rival had a forest of red hair.
Three days after the escapade, while Fabrizio, who was in hiding at Bologna, was planning with the faithful Lodovico the best way to catch Conte M—— — he learned that he too was hiding in a village in the mountains on the road to Florence. The Conte had only two or three of his buli with him; next day, just as he was coming home from his ride, he was seized by eight men in masks who gave him to understand that they were sbirri from Parma. They conducted him, after bandaging his eyes, to an inn two leagues farther up the mountains, where he found himself treated with the utmost possible respect, and an abundant supper awaiting him. He was served with the best wines of Italy and Spain.
“Am I a State prisoner then?” asked the Conte.
“Nothing of the sort,” the masked Ludovico answered him, most politely. “You have given offence to a private citizen by taking upon yourself to have him carried about in a sedan-chair; tomorrow morning he wishes to fight a duel with you. If you kill him, you will find a pair of good horses, money, and relays prepared for you along the road to Genoa.”
“What is the name of this fire-eater?” asked the Conte with irritation.
“He is called Bombace. You will have the choice of weapons and good seconds, thoroughly loyal, but it is essential that one of you die!”
“Why, it is murder, then!” said the Conte; growing frightened.
“Please God, no! It is simply a duel to the death with the young man whom you have had carried about the streets of Parma in the middle of the night, and whose honour would be tarnished if you remained alive. One or other of you is superfluous on this earth, therefore try to kill him; you shall have swords, pistols, sabres, all the weapons that can be procured at a few hours’ notice, for we have to make haste; the police at Bologna are most diligent, as you perhaps know, and they must on no account interfere with this duel which is necessary to the honour of the young man whom you have made to look foolish.”
“But if this young man is a Prince. . . . ”
“He is a private citizen like yourself, and indeed a great deal less wealthy than you, but he wishes to fight to the death, and he will force you to fight, I warn you.”
“Nothing in the world frightens me!” cried M——.
“That is just what your adversary most passionately desires,” replied Lodovico. “To-morrow, at dawn, prepare to defend your life; it will be attacked by a man who has good reason to be extremely angry, and will not let you off lightly; I repeat that you will have the choice of weapons; and remember to make your will.”
Next morning, about six o’clock, breakfast was brought to Conte M—— — a door was then opened in the room in which he was confined, and he was made to step into the courtyard of a country inn; this courtyard was surrounded by hedges and walls of a certain height, and its doors had been carefully closed.
In a corner, upon a table which the Conte was requested to approach, he found several bottles of wine and brandy, two pistols, two swords, two sabres, paper and ink; a score of contadini stood in the windows of the inn which overlooked the courtyard. The Conte implored their pity. “They want to murder me,” he cried, “save my life!”
“You deceive yourself, or you wish to deceive others,” called out Fabrizio, who was at the opposite corner of the courtyard, beside a table strewn with weapons. He was in his shirtsleeves, and his face was concealed by one of those wire masks which one finds in fencing-rooms.
“I require you,” Fabrizio went on, “to put on the wire mask which is lying beside you, then to advance towards me with a sword or with pistols; as you were told yesterday evening, you have the choice of weapons.”
Conte M—— raised endless difficulties, and seemed most reluctant to fight; Fabrizio, for his part, was afraid of the arrival of the police, although they were in the mountains quite five leagues from Bologna. He ended by hurling at his rival the most atrocious insults; at last he had the good fortune to enrage Conte M—— — who seized a sword and advanced upon him. The fight began quietly enough.
After a few minutes, it was interrupted by a great tumult. Our hero had been quite aware that he was involving himself in an action which, for the rest of his life, might be a subject of reproach or at least of slanderous imputations. He had sent Lodovico into the country to procure witnesses. Lodovico gave money to some strangers who were working in a neighbouring wood; they ran to the inn shouting, thinking that the game was to kill an enemy of the man who had paid them. When they reached the inn, Ludovico asked them to keep their eyes open and to notice whether either of the two young men who were fighting acted treacherously and took an unfair advantage over the other.
The fight, which had been interrupted for the time being by the cries of murder uttered by the contadini, was slow in beginning again. Fabrizio offered fresh insults to the fatuity of the Conte. “Signor Conte,” he shouted to him, “when one is insolent, one ought to be brave also. I feel that the conditions are hard on you; you prefer to pay people who are brave.” The Conte, once more stung to action, began to shout to him that he had for years frequented the fencing-school of the famous Battistini at Naples, and that he was going to punish his insolence. Conte M——‘s anger having at length reappeared, he fought with a certain determination, which did not however prevent Fabrizio from giving him a very pretty thrust in the chest with his sword, which kept him in bed for several months. Lodovico, while giving first aid to the wounded man, whispered in his ear: “If you report this duel to the police, I will have you stabbed in your bed.”
Fabrizio withdrew to Florence; as he had remained in hiding at Bologna, it was only at Florence that he received all the Duchessa’s letters of reproach; she could not forgive his having come to her concert and made no attempt to speak to her. Fabrizio was delighted by Conte Mosca’s letters; they breathed a sincere friendship and the most noble sentiments. He gathered that the Conte had written to Bologna, in such a way as to clear him of any suspicion which might attach to him as a result of the duel. The police behaved with perfect justice: they reported that two strangers, of whom one only, the wounded man, was known to them (namely Conte M———), had fought with swords, in front of more than thirty contadini, among whom there had arrived towards the end of the fight the curate of the village, who had made vain efforts to separate the combatants. As the name of Giuseppe Bossi had never been mentioned, less than two months afterwards Fabrizio returned to Bologna, more convinced than ever that his destiny condemned him never to know the noble and intellectual side of love. So much he gave himself the pleasure of explaining at great length to the Duchessa; he was thoroughly tired of his solitary life and now felt a passionate desire to return to those charming evenings which he used to pass with the Conte and his aunt. Since then he had never tasted the delights of good society. “I am so bored with the thought of the love which I sought to give myself, and of Fausta,” he wrote to the Duchessa, “that now, even if her fancy were still to favour me, I would not go twenty leagues to hold her to her promise; so have no fear, as you tell me you have, of my going to Paris, where I see that she has now made her appearance and has created a furore. I would travel all the leagues in the world to spend an evening with you and with that Conte who is so good to his friends.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00