The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal


A couple of hours later, the unfortunate Fabrizio, fitted with handcuffs and actually attached by a long chain

to the sediola into which he had been made to climb, started for the citadel of Parma, escorted by eight constables. These had orders to take with them all the constables stationed in the villages through which the procession had to pass; the podestà in person followed this important prisoner. About seven o’clock in the evening the sediola, escorted by all the little boys in Parma and by thirty constables, came down the fine avenue of trees, passed in front of the little palazzo in which Fausta had been living a few months earlier, and finally presented itself at the outer gate of the citadel just as General Fabio Conti and his daughter were coming out. The governor’s carriage stopped before reaching the drawbridge to make way for the sediola to which Fabrizio was attached; the General instantly shouted for the gates to be shut, and hastened down to the turnkey’s office to see what was the matter; he was not a little surprised when he recognised the prisoner, who had grown quite stiff after being fastened to his sediola throughout such a long journey; four constables had lifted him down and were carrying him into the turnkey’s office. “So I have in my power,” thought the feather-pated governor, “that famous Fabrizio del Dongo, with whom anyone would say that for the last year the high society of Parma had taken a vow to occupy themselves exclusively!”

The General had met him a score of times at court, at the Duchessa’s and elsewhere; but he took good care not to shew any sign that he knew him; he was afraid of compromising himself.

“Have a report made out,” he called to the prison clerk, “in full detail of the surrender made to me of the prisoner by his worship the podestà of Castelnuovo.”

Barbone, the clerk, a terrifying personage owing to the volume of his beard and his martial bearing, assumed an air of even greater importance than usual; one would have called him a German gaoler. Thinking he knew that it was chiefly the Duchessa Sansevérina who had prevented his master from becoming Minister of War, he was behaving with more than his ordinary insolence towards the prisoner; in speaking to him he used the pronoun voi, which in Italy is the formula used in addressing servants.

“I am a prelate of the Holy Roman Church,” Fabrizio said to him firmly, “and Grand Vicar of this Diocese; my birth alone entitles me to respect.”

“I know nothing about that!” replied the clerk pertly; “prove your assertions by shewing the brevets which give you a right to those highly respectable titles.”

Fabrizio had no such documents and did not answer. General Fabio Conti, standing by the side of his clerk, watched him write without raising his eyes to the prisoner, so as not to be obliged to admit that he was really Fabrizio del Dongo.

Suddenly Clelia Conti, who was waiting in the carriage, heard a tremendous racket in the guard-room. The clerk, Barbone, in making an insolent and extremely long description of the prisoner’s person, ordered him to undo his clothing in order to verify and put on record the number and condition of scars received by him in his fight with Giletti.

“I cannot,” said Fabrizio, smiling bitterly; “I am not in a position to obey the gentleman’s orders, these handcuffs make it impossible.”

“What!” cried the General with an innocent air, “the prisoner is handcuffed! Inside the fortress! That is against the rules, it requires an order ad hoc; take the handcuffs off him.”

Fabrizio looked at him: “There’s a nice Jesuit,” he thought; “for the last hour he has seen me with these handcuffs, which have been hurting me horribly, and he pretends to be surprised!”

The handcuffs were taken off by the constables; they had just learned that Fabrizio was the nephew of the Duchessa Sansevérina, and made haste to shew him a honeyed politeness which formed a sharp contrast to the rudeness of the clerk; the latter seemed annoyed by this and said to Fabrizio, who stood there without moving:

“Come along, there! Hurry up, shew us those scratches you got from poor Giletti, the time he was murdered.” With a bound, Fabrizio sprang upon the clerk, and dealt him such a blow that Barbone fell from his chair against the General’s legs. The constables seized hold of the arms of Fabrizio, who made no attempt to resist them; the General himself and two constables who were standing by him hastened to pick up the clerk, whose face was bleeding copiously. Two subordinates who stood farther off ran to shut the door of the office, in the idea that the prisoner was trying to escape. The brigadiere who was in command of them thought that young del Dongo could not make a serious attempt at flight, since after all he was in the interior of the citadel; at the same time, he went to the window to put a stop to any disorder, and by a professional instinct. Opposite this open window and within a few feet of it the General’s carriage was drawn up: Clelia had shrunk back inside it, so as not to be a witness of the painful scene that was being enacted in the office; when she heard all this noise, she looked out.

“What is happening?” she asked the brigadiere.

“Signorina, it is young Fabrizio del Dongo who has just given that insolent Barbone a proper smack!”

“What! It is Signor del Dongo that they are taking to prison?”

“Eh! No doubt about that,” said the brigadiere; “it is because of the poor young man’s high birth that they are making all this fuss; I thought the Signorina knew all about it.” Clelia remained at the window: when the constables who were standing round the table moved away a little she caught a glimpse of the prisoner. “Who would ever have said,” she thought, “that I should see him again for the first time in this sad plight, when I met him on the road from the Lake of Como? . . . He gave me his hand to help me into his mother’s carriage. . . . He had the Duchessa with him even then! Had they begun to love each other as long ago as that?”

It should be explained to the reader that the members of the Liberal Party swayed by the Marchesa Raversi and General Conti affected to entertain no doubt as to the tender intimacy that must exist between Fabrizio and the Duchessa. Conte Mosca, whom they abhorred, was the object of endless pleasantries for the way in which he was being deceived.

“So,” thought Clelia, “there he is a prisoner, and a prisoner in the hands of his enemies. For after all, Conte Mosca, angel as one would like to think him, will be delighted when he hears of this capture.”

A loud burst of laughter sounded from the guard-room.

“Jacopo,” she said to the brigadiere in a voice that quivered with emotion, “what in the world is happening?”

“The General asked the prisoner sharply why he had struck Barbone: Monsignor Fabrizio answered calmly: ‘He called me assassino; let him produce the titles and brevets which authorise him to give me that title’; and they all laughed.”

A gaoler who could write took Barbone’s place; Clelia saw the latter emerge mopping with his handkerchief the blood that streamed in abundance from his hideous face; he was swearing like a heathen: “That f —— Fabrizio,” he shouted at the top of his voice, “I’ll have his life, I will, if I have to steal the hangman’s rope.” He had stopped between the office window and the General’s carriage, and his oaths redoubled.

“Move along there,” the brigadiere told him; “you mustn’t swear in front of the Signorina.”

Barbone raised his head to look at the carriage, his eyes met those of Clelia who could not repress a cry of horror; never had she seen at such close range so atrocious an expression upon any human face. “He will kill Fabrizio!” she said to herself, “I shall have to warn Don Cesare.” This was her uncle, one of the most respected priests in the town; General Conti, his brother, had procured for him the post of economo and principal chaplain in the prison.

The General got into the carriage.

“Would you rather stay at home,” he said to his daughter, “or wait for me, perhaps for some time, in the courtyard of the Palace? I must go and report all this to the Sovereign.”

Fabrizio came out of the office escorted by three constables; they were taking him to the room which had been allotted to him. Clelia looked out of the window, the prisoner was quite close to her. At that moment she answered her father’s question in the words: “I will go with you.” Fabrizio, hearing these words uttered close to his ear, raised his eyes and met the girl’s gaze. He was struck, especially, by the expression of melancholy on her face. “How she has improved,” he thought, “since our meeting near Como! What an air of profound thought! . . . They are quite right to compare her with the Duchessa; what angelic features!” Barbone, the bloodstained clerk, who had not taken his stand beside the carriage without a purpose, held up his hand to stop the three constables who were leading Fabrizio away, and, moving round behind the carriage until he reached the window next which the General was sitting:

“As the prisoner has committed an act of violence in the interior of the citadel,” he said to him, “in consideration of Article 157 of the regulations, would it not be as well to put the handcuffs on him for three days?”

“Go to the devil!” cried the General, still considerably embarrassed by this arrest. It was important for him that he should not drive either the Duchessa or Conte Mosca to extremes; and besides, what attitude was the Conte going to adopt towards this affair? After all, the murder of a Giletti was a mere trifle, and only intrigue had succeeded in magnifying it into anything of importance.

During this brief dialogue, Fabrizio stood superb among the group of constables, his expression was certainly the proudest and most noble that one could imagine; his fine and delicate features and the contemptuous smile that strayed over his lips made a charming contrast with the coarse appearance of the constables who stood round him. But all this formed, so to speak, only the external part of his physiognomy; he was enraptured by the heavenly beauty of Clelia, and his eyes betrayed his surprise to the full.

She, profoundly pensive, had never thought of drawing back her head from the window; he bowed to her with a half-smile of the utmost respect; then, after a moment’s silence:

“It seems to me, Signorina,” he said to her, “that, once before, near a lake, I had the honour of meeting you, in the company of the police.”

Clelia blushed, and was so taken aback that she could find no words in which to reply. “What a noble air among all those coarse creatures,” she had been saying to herself at the moment when Fabrizio spoke to her. The profound pity, we might almost say the tender emotion in which she was plunged deprived her of the presence of mind necessary to find words, no matter what; she became conscious of her silence and blushed all the deeper. At this moment the bolts of the great gate of the citadel were drawn back with a clang; had not His Excellency’s carriage been waiting for at least a minute? The echo was so loud in this vaulted passage that even if Clelia had found something to say in reply Fabrizio could not have caught her words.

Borne away by the horses which had broken into a gallop immediately after crossing the drawbridge, Clelia said to herself: “He must have thought me very silly!” Then suddenly she added: “Not only silly; he must have felt that I had a base nature, he must have thought that I did not respond to his greeting because he is a prisoner and I am the governor’s daughter.”

The thought of such a thing was terrible to this girl of naturally lofty soul. “What makes my behaviour absolutely degrading,” she went on, “is that before, when we met for the first time, also in the company of the police, as he said just now, it was I who was the prisoner, and he did me a service, and helped me out of a very awkward position. . . . Yes, I am bound to admit, my behaviour was quite complete, it combined rudeness and ingratitude. Alas, poor young man! Now that he is in trouble, everybody is going to behave disgracefully to him. Even if he did say to me then: ‘You will remember my name, I hope, at Parma?’ how he must be despising me at this moment! It would have been so easy to say a civil word! Yes, I must admit, my conduct towards him has been atrocious. The other time, but for the generous offer of his mother’s carriage, I should have had to follow the constables on foot through the dust, or, what would have been far worse, ride pillion behind one of them; it was my father then who was under arrest, and I defenceless! Yes, my behaviour is complete. And how keenly a nature like his must have felt it! What a contrast between his noble features and my behaviour! What nobility! What serenity! How like a hero he looked, surrounded by his vile enemies! Now I understand the Duchessa’s passion: if he looks like that in distressing circumstances which may end in frightful disaster, what must he be like when his heart is happy!”

The governor’s carriage waited for more than an hour and a half in the courtyard of the Palace, and yet, when the General returned from his interview with the Prince, Clelia by no means felt that he had stayed there too long.

“What is His Highness’s will?” asked Clelia.

“His tongue said: Prison! His eyes: Death!”

“Death! Great God!” exclaimed Clelia.

“There now, be quiet!” said the General crossly; “what a fool I am to answer a child’s questions.”

Meanwhile Fabrizio was climbing the three hundred and eighty steps which led to the Torre Farnese, a new prison built on the platform of the great tower, at a prodigious height from the ground. He never once thought, distinctly that is to say, of the great change that had just occurred in his fortunes. “What eyes!” he said to himself: “What a wealth of expression in them! What profound pity! She looked as though she were saying: ‘Life is such a tangled skein of misfortunes! Do not distress yourself too much about what is happening to you! Are we not sent here below to be unhappy?’ How those fine eyes of hers remained fastened on me, even when the horses were moving forward with such a clatter under the arch!”

Fabrizio completely forgot to feel wretched.

Clelia accompanied her father to various houses; in the early part of the evening no one had yet heard the news of the arrest of the great culprit, for such was the name which the courtiers bestowed a couple of hours later on this poor, rash young man.

It was noticed that evening that there was more animation than usual in Clelia’s face; whereas animation, the air of taking part in what was going on round her, was just what was chiefly lacking in that charming young person. When you compared her beauty with that of the Duchessa, it was precisely that air of not being moved by anything, that manner as though of a person superior to everything, which weighed down the balance in her rival’s favour. In England, in France, lands of vanity, the general opinion would probably have been just the opposite, Clelia Conti was a young girl still a trifle too slim, who might be compared to the beautiful models of Guido Reni. We make no attempt to conceal the fact that, according to Greek ideas of beauty, the objection might have been made that her head had certain features a trifle too strongly marked; the lips, for instance, though full of the most touching charm, were a little too substantial.

The admirable peculiarity of this face in which shone the artless graces and the heavenly imprint of the most noble soul was that, albeit of the rarest and most singular beauty, it did not in any way resemble the heads of Greek sculpture. The Duchessa had, on the other hand, a little too much of the recognised beauty of the ideal type, and her truly Lombard head recalled the voluptuous smile and tender melancholy of Leonardo’s lovely paintings of Herodias. Just as the Duchessa shone, sparkled with wit and irony, attaching herself passionately, if one may use the expression, to all the subjects which the course of the conversation brought before her mind’s eye, so Clelia showed herself calm and slow to move, whether from contempt for her natural surroundings or from regret for some unfulfilled dream. It had long been thought that she would end by embracing the religious life. At twenty she was observed to show a repugnance towards going to balls, and if she accompanied her father to these entertainments it was only out of obedience to him and in order not to jeopardise the interests of his career.

“It is apparently going to be impossible for me,” the General in his vulgarity of spirit was too prone to repeat, “heaven having given me as a daughter the most beautiful person in the States of our Sovereign, and the most virtuous, to derive any benefit from her for the advancement of my fortune! I live in too great isolation, I have only her in the world, and what I must absolutely have is a family that will support me socially, and will procure for me a certain number of houses where my merit, and especially my aptitude for ministerial office shall be laid down as unchallengeable postulates in any political discussion. And there is my daughter, so beautiful, so sensible, so religious, taking offence whenever a young man well established at court attempts to find favour in her sight. If the suitor is dismissed, her character becomes less sombre, and I see her appear almost gay, until another champion enters the lists. The handsomest man at court, Conte Baldi, presented himself and failed to please; the richest man in His Highness’s States, the Marchese Crescenzi, has now followed him; she insists that he would make her miserable.

“Decidedly,” the General would say at other times, “my daughter’s eyes are finer than the Duchessa’s, particularly as, on rare occasions, they are capable of assuming a more profound expression; but that magnificent expression, when does anyone ever see it? Never in a drawing-room where she might do justice to it; but simply out driving alone with me, when she lets herself be moved, for instance, by the miserable state of some hideous rustic. ‘Keep some reflexion of that sublime gaze,’ I tell her at times, ‘for the drawing-rooms in which we shall be appearing this evening.’ Not a bit of it: should she condescend to accompany me into society, her pure and noble features present the somewhat haughty and scarcely encouraging expression of passive obedience.” The General spared himself no trouble, as we can see, in his search for a suitable son-in-law, but what he said was true.

Courtiers, who have nothing to contemplate in their own hearts, notice every little thing that goes on round about them; they had observed that it was particularly on those days when Clelia could not succeed in making herself emerge from her precious musings and feign an interest in anything that the Duchessa chose to stop beside her and tried to make her talk, Clelia had hair of an ashen fairness, which stood out with a charming effect against cheeks that were delicately tinted but, as a rule, rather too pale. The mere shape of her brow might have told an attentive observer that that air, so instinct with nobility, that manner, so far superior to vulgar charms, sprang from a profound indifference to everything that was vulgar. It was the absence and not the impossibility of interest in anything. Since her father had become governor of the citadel, Clelia had found happiness, or at least freedom from vexations in her lofty abode. The appalling number of steps that had to be climbed in order to reach this official residence of the governor, situated on the platform of the main tower, kept away tedious visitors, and Clelia, for this material reason, enjoyed the liberty of the convent; she found there almost all the ideal of happiness which at one time she had thought of seeking from the religious life. She was seized by a sort of horror at the mere thought of putting her beloved solitude and her secret thoughts at the disposal of a young man whom the title of husband would authorise to disturb all this inner life. If, by her solitude, she did not attain to happiness, at least she had succeeded in avoiding sensations that were too painful.

On the evening after Fabrizio had been taken to the fortress, the Duchessa met Clelia at the party given by the Minister of the Interior, Conte Zurla; everyone gathered round them; that evening, Clelia’s beauty outshone the Duchessa’s. The beautiful eyes of the girl wore an expression so singular and so profound as to be almost indiscreet; there was pity, there were indignation also and anger in her gaze. The gaiety and brilliant ideas of the Duchessa seemed to plunge Clelia into spells of grief that bordered on horror. “What will be the cries and groans of this poor woman,” she said to herself, “when she learns that her lover, that young man with so great a heart and so noble a countenance, has just been flung into prison? And that look in the Sovereign’s eyes which condemns him to death! O Absolute Power, when wilt thou cease to crush down Italy! O base and venal souls! And I am the daughter of a gaoler! And I have done nothing to deny that noble station, for I did not deign to answer Fabrizio! And once before he was my benefactor! What can he be thinking of me at this moment, alone in his room with his little lamp for sole companion?” Revolted by this idea, Clelia cast a look of horror at the magnificent illumination of the drawing-rooms of the Minister of the Interior.

“Never,” the word went round the circle of courtiers who had gathered round the two reigning beauties, and were seeking to join in their conversation, “never have they talked to one another with so animated and at the same time so intimate an air. Can the Duchessa, who is always so careful to smooth away the animosities aroused by the Prime Minister, can she have thought of some great marriage for Clelia?” This conjecture was founded upon a circumstance which until then had never presented itself to the observation of the court: the girl’s eyes shewed more fire, and indeed, if one may use the term, more passion than those of the beautiful Duchessa. The latter, for her part, was astonished, and, one may say it to her credit, delighted by the discovery of charms so novel in the young recluse; for an hour she had been gazing at her with a pleasure by no means commonly felt in the sight of a rival. “Why, what can have happened?” the Duchessa asked herself; “never has Clelia looked so beautiful, or, one might say, so touching: can her heart have spoken? . . . But in that case, certainly, it is an unhappy love, there is a dark grief at the root of this strange animation. . . . But unhappy love keeps silent. Can it be a question of recalling a faithless lover by shining in society?” And the Duchessa gazed with attention at all the young men who stood round them. Nowhere could she see any unusual expression, every face shone with a more or less pleased fatuity. “But a miracle must have happened,” the Duchessa told herself, vexed by her inability to solve the mystery. “Where is Conte Mosca, that man of discernment? No, I am not mistaken, Clelia is looking at me attentively, and as if I was for her the object of a quite novel interest. Is it the effect of some order received from her father, that vile courtier? I supposed that young and noble mind to be incapable of lowering itself to any pecuniary consideration. Can General Fabio Conti have some decisive request to make of the Conte?”

About ten o’clock, a friend of the Duchessa came up to her and murmured a few words; she turned extremely pale: Clelia took her hand and ventured to press it.

“I thank you, and I understand you now . . . you have a noble heart,” said the Duchessa, making an effort to control herself; she had barely the strength to utter these few words. She smiled profusely at the lady of the house, who rose to escort her to the door of the outermost drawing-room: such honours were due only to Princesses of the Blood, and were for the Duchessa an ironical comment on her position at the moment. And so she continued to smile at Contessa Zurla, but in spite of untold efforts did not succeed in uttering a single word.

Clelia’s eyes filled with tears as she watched the Duchessa pass through these rooms, thronged at the moment with all the most brilliant figures in society. “What is going to happen to that poor woman,” she wondered, “when she finds herself alone in her carriage? It would be an indiscretion on my part to offer to accompany her, I dare not. . . . And yet, what a consolation it would be to the poor prisoner, sitting in some wretched cell, if he knew that he was loved to such a point! What a frightful solitude that must be in which they have plunged him! And we, we are here in these brilliant rooms, how horrible! Can there be any way of conveying a message to him? Great God! That would be treachery to my father; his position is so delicate between the two parties! What will become of him if he exposes himself to the passionate hatred of the Duchessa, who controls the will of the Prime Minister, who in three out of every four things here is the master? On the other hand, the Prince takes an unceasing interest in everything that goes on at the fortress, and will not listen to any jest on that subject; fear makes him cruel. . . . In any case, Fabrizio” (Clelia no longer thought of him as Signor del Dongo) “is greatly to be pitied. . . . It is a very different thing for him from the risk of losing a lucrative post! . . . And the Duchessa! . . . What a terrible passion love is! . . . And yet all those liars in society speak of it as a source of happiness! One is sorry for elderly women because they can no longer feel or inspire love. . . . Never shall I forget what I have just seen; what a sudden change! How those beautiful, radiant eyes of the Duchessa turned dull and dead after the fatal word which Marchese N—— came up and said to her! . . . Fabrizio must indeed be worthy of love!”

Breaking in upon these highly serious reflexions, which were absorbing the whole of Clelia’s mind, the complimentary speeches which always surrounded her seemed to her even more distasteful than usual. To escape from them she went across to an open window, half screened by a taffeta curtain; she hoped that no one would be so bold as to follow her into this sort of sanctuary. This window opened upon a little grove of orange-trees planted in the ground: as a matter of fact, every winter they had to be protected by a covering, Clelia inhaled with rapture the scent of their blossom, and this pleasure seemed to restore a little calm to her spirit. “I felt that he had a very noble air,” she thought, “but to inspire such passion in so distinguished a woman! She has had the glory of refusing the Prince’s homage, and if she had deigned to consent, she would have reigned as queen over his States. . . . My father says that the Sovereign’s passion went so far as to promise to marry her if ever he became free to do so. . . . And this love for Fabrizio has lasted so long! For it is quite five years since we met them by the Lake of Como. . . . Yes, it is quite five years,” she said to herself after a moment’s reflexion. “I was struck by it even then, when so many things passed unnoticed before my childish eyes. How those two ladies seemed to admire Fabrizio! . . . ”

Clelia remarked with joy that none of the young men who had been speaking to her with such earnestness had ventured to approach her balcony. One of them, the Marchese Crescenzi, had taken a few steps in that direction, but had then stopped by a card-table. “If only,” she said to herself, “under my window in our palazzo in the fortress, the only one that has any shade, I had some pretty orange-trees like these to look at, my thoughts would be less sad: but to have as one’s sole outlook the huge blocks of stone of the Torre Farnese. . . . Ah!” she cried with a convulsive movement, “perhaps that is where they have put him. I must speak about it at once to Don Cesare! He will be less severe than the General. My father is certain to tell me nothing on our way back to the fortress, but I shall find out everything from Don Cesare. . . . I have money, I could buy a few orange-trees, which, placed under the window of my aviary, would prevent me from seeing that great wall of the Torre Farnese. How infinitely more hateful still it will be to me now that I know one of the people whom it hides from the light of day! . . . Yes, it is just the third time I have seen him. Once at court, at the ball on the Princess’s birthday; today, hemmed in by three constables, while that horrible Barbone was begging for handcuffs to be put on him, and the other time by the Lake of Como. That is quite five years ago. What a hang-dog air he had then! How he stared at the constables, and what curious looks his mother and his aunt kept giving him. Certainly there must have been some secret that day, some special knowledge which they were keeping to themselves; at the time, I had an idea that he too was afraid of the police. . . . ” Clelia shuddered; “But how ignorant I was! No doubt at that time the Duchessa had already begun to take an interest in him. How he made us laugh after the first few minutes, when the ladies, in spite of their obvious anxiety, had begun to grow more accustomed to the presence of a stranger! . . . And this evening I had not a word to say in reply when he spoke to me. . . . O ignorance and timidity! How often you have the appearance of the blackest cowardice! And I am like this at twenty, yes and past twenty! . . . I was well-advised to think of the cloister; really I am good for nothing but retirement. ‘Worthy daughter of a gaoler!’ he will have been saying to himself. He despises me, and, as soon as he is able to write to the Duchessa, he will tell her of my want of consideration, and the Duchessa will think me a very deceitful little girl; for, after all, this evening she must have thought me full of sympathy with her in her trouble.”

Clelia noticed that someone was approaching, apparently with the intention of taking his place by her side on the iron balcony of this window; she could not help feeling annoyed, although she blamed herself for being so; the meditations in which she was disturbed were by no means without their pleasant side. “Here comes some troublesome fellow to whom I shall give a warm welcome!” she thought. She was turning her head with a haughty stare, when she caught sight of the timid face of the Archbishop, who was approaching the balcony by a series of almost imperceptible little movements. “This saintly man has no manners,” thought Clelia. “Why come and disturb a poor girl like me? My tranquillity is the only thing I possess.” She was greeting him with respect, but at the same time with a haughty air, When the prelate said to her:

“Signorina, have you heard the terrible news?”

The girl’s eyes had at once assumed a totally different expression; but, following the instructions repeated to her a hundred times over by her father, she replied with an air of ignorance which the language of her eyes loudly contradicted:

“I have heard nothing, Monsignore.”

“My First Grand Vicar, poor Fabrizio del Dongo, who is no more guilty than I am of the death of that brigand Giletti, has been arrested at Bologna where he was living under the assumed name of Giuseppe Bossi; they have shut him up in your citadel; he arrived there actually chained to the carriage that brought him. A sort of gaoler, named Barbone, who was pardoned some time ago after murdering one of his own brothers, chose to attempt an act of personal violence against Fabrizio, but my young friend is not the man to take an insult quietly. He flung his infamous adversary to the ground, whereupon they cast him into a dungeon, twenty feet underground, after first putting handcuffs on his wrists.”

“Not handcuffs, no!”

“Ah! Then you do know something,” cried the Archbishop. And the old man’s features lost their intense expression of discouragement. “But, before we go any farther, someone may come out on to this balcony and interrupt us: would you be so charitable as to convey personally to Don Cesare my pastoral ring here?”

The girl took the ring, but did not know where to put it for fear of losing it.

“Put it on your thumb,” said the Archbishop; and he himself slipped the ring into position. “Can I count upon you to deliver this ring?”

“Yes, Monsignore.”

“Will you promise me to keep secret what I am going to say, even if circumstances should arise in which you may find it inconvenient to agree to my request?”

“Why, yes, Monsignore,” replied the girl, trembling all over as she observed the sombre and serious air which the old man had suddenly assumed. . . .

“Our estimable Archbishop,” she went on, “can give me no orders that are not worthy of himself and me.”

“Say to Don Cesare that I commend to him my adopted son; I know that the sbirri who carried him off did not give him time to take his breviary with him, I therefore request Don Cesare to let him have his own, and if your uncle will send tomorrow to my Palace, I promise to replace the book given by him to Fabrizio. I request Don Cesare also to convey the ring which this pretty hand is now wearing to Signor del Dongo.” The Archibishop was interrupted by General Fabio Conti, who came in search of his daughter to take her to the carriage; there was a brief interval of conversation in which the prelate shewed a certain adroitness. Without making any reference to the latest prisoner, he so arranged matters that the course of the conversation led naturally to the utterance of certain moral and political maxims by himself; for instance: “There are moments of crisis in the life of a court which decide for long periods the existence of the most exalted personages; it would be distinctly imprudent to change into personal hatred the state of political aloofness which is often the quite simple result of diametrically opposite positions.” The Archbishop, letting himself be carried away to some extent by the profound grief which he felt at so unexpected an arrest, went so far as to say that one must undoubtedly strive to retain the position one holds, but that it would be a quite gratuitous imprudence to attract to oneself furious hatreds in consequence of lending oneself to certain actions which are never forgotten.

When the General was in the carriage with his daughter: “Those might be described as threats,” he said to her. . . . “Threats, to a man of my sort!”

No other words passed between father and daughter for the next twenty minutes.

On receiving the Archbishop’s pastoral ring, Clelia had indeed promised herself that she would inform her father, as soon as she was in the carriage, of the little service which the prelate had asked of her; but after the word threats, uttered with anger, she took it for granted that her father would intercept the token; she covered the ring with her left hand and pressed it passionately. During the whole of the time that it took them to drive from the Ministry of the Interior to the citadel, she was asking herself whether it would be criminal on her part not to speak of the matter to her father. She was extremely pious, extremely timorous, and her heart, usually so tranquil, beat with an unaccustomed violence; but in the end the chi va là of the sentry posted on the rampart above the gate rang out on the approach of the carriage before Clelia had found a form of words calculated to incline her father not to refuse, so much afraid was she of his refusing. As they climbed the three hundred and sixty steps which led to the governor’s residence, Clelia could think of nothing.

She hastened to speak to her uncle, who rebuked her and refused to lend himself to anything.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00