The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal


Thus, with an entire devotion to the prisoner, the Duchessa and the Prime Minister had been able to do but very little for him. The Prince was in a rage, the court as well as the public were piqued by Fabrizio, delighted to see him come to grief: he had been too fortunate. In spite of the gold which she spent in handfuls, the Duchessa had not succeeded in advancing an inch in her siege of the citadel; not a day passed but the Marchesa Raversi or Cavaliere Riscara had some fresh report to communicate to General Fabio Conti. They were supporting his weakness.

As we have already said, on the day of his imprisonment, Fabrizio was taken first of all to the governor’s palazzo. This was a neat little building erected in the eighteenth century from the plans of Vanvitelli, who placed it one hundred and eighty feet above the ground, on the platform of the huge round tower. From the windows of this little palazzo, isolated on the back of the enormous tower like a camel’s hump, Fabrizio could make out the country and the Alps to a great distance; he followed with his eye beneath the citadel the course of the Parma, a sort of torrent which, turning to the right four leagues from the town, empties its waters into the Po. Beyond the left bank of this river, which formed so to speak a series of huge white patches in the midst of the green fields, his enraptured eye caught distinctly each of the summits of the immense wall with which the Alps enclose Italy to the north. These summits, always covered in snow, even in the month of August which it then was, give one as it were a reminder of coolness in the midst of these scorching plains; the eye can follow them in the minutest detail, and yet they are more than thirty leagues from the citadel of Parma. This expansive view from the governor’s charming palazzo is broken at one corner towards the south by the Torre Farnese, in which a room was being hastily prepared for Fabrizio. This second tower, as the reader may perhaps remember, was built on the platform of the great tower in honour of a Crown Prince who, unlike Hippolytus the son of Theseus, had by no means repelled the advances of a young stepmother. The Princess died in a few hours; the Prince’s son regained his liberty only seventeen years later, when he ascended the throne on the death of his father. This Torre Farnese to which, after waiting for three quarters of an hour, Fabrizio was made to climb, of an extremely plain exterior, rises some fifty feet above the platform of the great tower, and is adorned with a number of lightning conductors. The Prince who, in his displeasure with his wife, built this prison visible from all parts of the country, had the singular design of trying to persuade his subjects that it had been there for many years: that is why he gave it the name of Torre Farnese. It was forbidden to speak of this construction, and from all parts of the town of Parma and the surrounding plains people could perfectly well see the masons laying each of the stones which compose this pentagonal edifice. In order to prove that it was old, there was placed above the door two feet wide and four feet high which forms its entrance a magnificent bas-relief representing Alessandro Farnese, the famous general, forcing Henri IV to withdraw from Paris. This Torre Farnese, standing in so conspicuous a position, consists of a hall on the ground floor, at least forty yards long, broad in proportion and filled with extremely squat pillars, for this disproportionately large room is not more than fifteen feet high. It is used as the guard-room, and in the middle of it the staircase rises in a spiral round one of the pillars; it is a small staircase of iron, very light, barely two feet in width and wrought in filigree. By this staircase, which shook beneath the weight of the gaolers who were escorting him, Fabrizio came to a set of vast rooms more than twenty feet high, forming a magnificent first floor. They had originally been furnished with the greatest luxury for the young Prince who spent in them the seventeen best years of his life. At one end of this apartment, the new prisoner was shewn a chapel of the greatest magnificence; the walls and ceiling were entirely covered in black marble; pillars, black also and of the noblest proportions, were placed in line along the black walls without touching them, and these walls were decorated with a number of skulls in white marble, of colossal proportions, elegantly carved and supported underneath by crossbones. “There is an invention of the hatred that cannot kill,” thought Fabrizio, “and what a devilish idea to let me see it.”

An iron staircase of light filigree, similarly coiled about a pillar, gave access to the second floor of this prison, and it was in the rooms of this second floor, which were some fifteen feet in height, that for the last year General Fabio Conti had given proof of his genius. First of all, under his direction, solid bars had been fixed in the windows of these rooms, originally occupied by the Prince’s servants, and standing more than thirty feet above the stone slabs which paved the platform of the great round tower. It was by a dark corridor, running along the middle of this building, that one approached these rooms, each of which had two windows; and in this very narrow corridor Fabrizio noticed three iron gates in succession, formed of enormous bars and rising to the roof. It was the plans, sections and elevations of all these pretty inventions that, for two years past, had entitled the General to an audience of his master every week. A conspirator placed in one of these rooms could not complain to public opinion that he was being treated in an inhuman fashion, and yet was unable to communicate with anyone in the world, or to make a movement without being heard. The General had had placed in each room huge joists of oak in the form of trestles three feet high, and this was his paramount invention, which gave him a claim to the Ministry of Police. On these trestles he had set up a cell of planks, extremely resonant, ten feet high, and touching the wall only at the side where the windows were. On the other three sides ran a little corridor four feet wide, between the original wall of the prison, which consisted of huge blocks of dressed stone, and the wooden partitions of the cell. These partitions, formed of four double planks of walnut, oak and pine, were solidly held together by iron bolts and by innumerable nails.

It was into one of these rooms, constructed a year earlier, and the masterpiece of General Fabio Conti’s inventive talent, which had received the sounding title of Passive Obedience, that Fabrizio was taken. He ran to the windows. The view that one had from these barred windows was sublime: one little piece of the horizon alone was hidden, to the north-west, by the terraced roof of the governor’s palazzo, which had only two floors; the ground floor was occupied by the offices of the staff; and from the first Fabrizio’s eyes were attracted to one of the windows of the upper floor, in which were to be seen, in pretty cages, a great number of birds of all sorts. Fabrizio amused himself in listening to their song and in watching them greet the last rays of the setting sun, while the gaolers busied themselves about him. This aviary window was not more than five-and-twenty feet from one of his, and stood five or six feet lower down, so that his eyes fell on the birds.

There was a moon that evening, and at the moment of Fabrizio’s entering his prison it was rising majestically on the horizon to the right, over the chain of the Alps, towards Treviso. It was only half past eight, and, at the other extremity of the horizon, to the west, a brilliant orange-red sunset showed to perfection the outlines of Monviso and the other Alpine peaks which run inland from Nice towards Mont Cenis and Turin. Without a thought of his misfortunes, Fabrizio was moved and enraptured by this sublime spectacle. “So it is in this exquisite world that Clelia Conti dwells; with her pensive and serious nature, she must enjoy this view more than anyone; here it is like being alone in the mountains a hundred leagues from Parma.” It was not until he had spent more than two hours at the window, admiring this horizon which spoke to his soul, and often also letting his eyes rest on the governor’s charming palazzo, that Fabrizio suddenly exclaimed: “But is this really a prison? Is this what I have so greatly dreaded?” Instead of seeing at every turn discomforts and reasons for bitterness, our hero let himself be charmed by the attractions of his prison.

Suddenly his attention was forcibly recalled to reality by a terrifying din: his wooden cell, which was not unlike a cage and moreover was extremely resonant, was violently shaken; the barking of a dog and little shrill cries completed the strangest medley of sounds. “What now! Am I going to escape so soon?” thought Fabrizio. A moment later he was laughing as perhaps no one has ever laughed in a prison. By the General’s orders, at the same time as the gaolers there had been sent up an English dog, extremely savage, which was set to guard officers of importance, and was to spend the night in the space so ingeniously contrived all round Fabrizio’s cage. The dog and the gaoler were to sleep in the interval of three feet left between the stone pavement of the original floor and the wooden planks on which the prisoner could not move a step without being heard.

Now, when Fabrizio arrived, the room of the Passive Obedience happened to be occupied by a hundred huge rats which took flight in every direction. The dog, a sort of spaniel crossed with an English fox-terrier, was no beauty, but to make up for this shewed a great alertness. He had been tied to the stone pavement beneath the planks of the wooden room; but when he heard the rats pass close by him, he made an effort so extraordinary that he succeeded in pulling his head out of his collar. Then came this splendid battle the din of which aroused Fabrizio, plunged in the least melancholy of dreams. The rats that had managed to escape the first assault of the dog’s teeth took refuge in the wooden room, the dog came after them up the six steps which led from the stone floor to Fabrizio’s cell. Then began a really terrifying din: the cell was shaken to its foundations. Fabrizio laughed like a madman until the tears ran down his cheeks: the gaoler Grillo, no less amused, had shut the door; the dog, in going after the rats, was not impeded by any furniture, for the room was completely bare; there was nothing to check the bounds of the hunting dog but an iron stove in one corner. When the dog had triumphed over all his enemies, Fabrizio called him, patted him, succeeded in winning his affection. “Should this fellow ever see me jumping over a wall,” he said to himself, “he will not bark.” But this far-seeing policy was a boast on his part: in the state of mind in which he was, he found his happiness in playing with this dog. By a paradox to which he gave no thought, a secret joy was reigning in the depths of his heart.

After he had made himself quite breathless by running about with the dog:

“What is your name?” Fabrizio asked the gaoler.

“Grillo, to serve Your Excellency in all that is allowed by the regulations.”

“Very well, my dear Grillo, a certain Giletti tried to murder me on the broad highway, I defended myself, and killed him; I should kill him again if it had to be done, but I wish to lead a gay life for all that so long as I am your guest. Ask for authority from your chiefs, and go and procure linen for me from the palazzo Sanseverina; also, buy me lots of nebiolo d’Asti.

This is quite a good sparkling wine which is made in Piedmont, in Alfieri’s country, and is highly esteemed, especially by the class of wine-tasters to which gaolers belong. Nine or ten of these gentlemen were engaged in transporting to Fabrizio’s wooden room certain pieces of old furniture, highly gilded, which they took from the Prince’s apartment on the first floor; all of them bore religiously in mind this recommendation of the wine of Asti. In spite of all they might do, Fabrizio’s establishment for this first night was lamentable; but he appeared shocked only by the absence of a bottle of good nebiolo. “He seems a good lad,” said the gaolers as they left him, “and there is only one thing to be hoped for, that our gentlemen will let him have plenty of money.”

When he had recovered a little from all this din and confusion: “Is it possible that this is a prison?” Fabrizio asked himself, gazing at that vast horizon from Treviso to Monviso, the endless chain of the Alps, the peaks covered with snow, the stars, and everything, “and a first night in prison besides. I can conceive that Clelia Conti enjoys this airy solitude; here one is a thousand leagues above the pettinesses and wickednesses which occupy us down there. If those birds which are under my window there belong to her, I shall see her. . . . Will she blush when she catches sight of me?” It was while debating this important question that our hero, at a late hour of the night, fell asleep.

On the day following this night, the first spent in prison, in the course of which he never once lost his patience, Fabrizio was reduced to making conversation with Fox, the English dog; Grillo the gaoler did indeed greet him always with the friendliest expression, but a new order made him dumb, and he brought neither linen nor nebiolo.

“Shall I see Clelia?” Fabrizio asked himself as he awoke. “But are those birds hers?” The birds were beginning to utter little chirps and to sing, and at that height this was the only sound that was carried on the air. It was a sensation full of novelty and pleasure for Fabrizio, the vast silence which reigned at this height; he listened with rapture to the little chirpings, broken and so shrill, with which his neighbours the birds were greeting the day. “If they belong to her, she will appear for a moment in that room, there, beneath my window,” and, while he examined the immense chains of the Alps, against the first foothills of which the citadel of Parma seemed to rise like an advanced redoubt, his eyes returned every moment to the sumptuous cages of lemon-wood and mahogany, which, adorned with gilt wires, filled the bright room which served as an aviary. What Fabrizio did not learn until later was that this room was the only one on the second floor of the palazzo which had any shade, between eleven o’clock and four: it was sheltered by the Torre Farnese.

“What will be my dismay,” thought Fabrizio, “if, instead of those modest and pensive features for which I am waiting, and which will blush slightly perhaps if she catches sight of me, I see appear the coarse face of some thoroughly common maid, charged with the duty of looking after the birds! But if I do see Clelia, will she deign to notice me? Upon my soul, I must commit some indiscretion so as to be noticed; my position should have some privileges; besides, we are both alone here, and so far from the world! I am a prisoner, evidently what General Conti and the other wretches of his sort call one of their subordinates. . . . But she has so much intelligence, or, I should say, so much heart, so the Conte supposes, that possibly, by what he says, she despises her father’s profession; which would account for her melancholy. A noble cause of sadness! But, after all, I am not exactly a stranger to her. With what grace, full of modesty, she greeted me yesterday evening! I remember quite well how, when we met near Como, I said to her: ‘One day I shall come to see your beautiful pictures at Parma; will you remember this name: Fabrizio del Dongo?’ Will she have forgotten it? She was so young then!

“But by the way,” Fabrizio said to himself in astonishment, suddenly interrupting the current of his thoughts, “I am forgetting to be angry. Can I be one of those stout hearts of which antiquity has furnished the world with several examples? How is this, I who was so much afraid of prison, I am in prison, and I do not even remember to be sad! It is certainly a case where the fear was a hundred times worse than the evil. What! I have to convince myself before I can be distressed by this prison, which, as Blanès says, may as easily last ten years as ten months! Can it be the surprise of all these novel surroundings that is distracting me from the grief that I ought to feel? Perhaps this good humour which is independent of my will and not very reasonable will cease all of a sudden, perhaps in an instant I shall fall into the black misery which I ought to be feeling.

“In any case, it is indeed surprising to be in prison and to have to reason with oneself in order to be unhappy. Upon my soul, I come back to my theory, perhaps I have a great character.”

Fabrizio’s meditations were disturbed by the carpenter of the citadel, who came to take the measurements of a screen for his windows; it was the first time that this prison had been used, and they had forgotten to complete it in this essential detail.

“And so,” thought Fabrizio, “I am going to be deprived of that sublime view.” And he sought to derive sadness from this privation.

“But what’s this?” he cried suddenly, addressing the carpenter. “Am I not to see those pretty birds any more?”

“Ah, the Signorina’s birds, that she’s so fond of,” said the man, with a good-natured air, “hidden, eclipsed, blotted out like everything else.”

Conversation was forbidden the carpenter just as strictly as it was the gaolers, but the man felt pity for the prisoner’s youth: he informed him that these enormous shutters, resting on the sills of the two windows, and slanting upwards and away from the wall, were intended to leave the inmates with no view save of the sky. “It is done for their morals,” he told him, “to increase a wholesome sadness and the desire to amend their ways in the hearts of the prisoners; the General,” the carpenter added, “has also had the idea of taking the glass out of their windows and putting oiled paper there instead.”

Fabrizio greatly enjoyed the epigrammatic turn of this conversation, extremely rare in Italy.

“I should very much like to have a bird to cheer me, I am madly fond of them; buy me one from Signorina Clelia Conti’s maid.”

“What, do you know her,” cried the carpenter, “that you say her name so easily?”

“Who has not heard tell of so famous a beauty? But I have had the honour of meeting her several times at court.”

“The poor young lady is very dull here,” the carpenter went on; “she spends all her time there with her birds. This morning she sent out to buy some fine orange trees which they have placed by her orders at the door of the tower, under your window: if it weren’t for the cornice, you would be able to see them.” There were in this speech words that were very precious to Fabrizio; he found a tactful way of giving the carpenter money.

“I am breaking two rules at the same time,” the man told him; “I am talking to Your Excellency and taking money. The day after tomorrow, when I come back with the shutters, I shall have a bird in my pocket, and if I am not alone, I shall pretend to let it escape; if I can, I shall bring you a prayer book: you must suffer by not being able to say your office.”

“And so,” Fabrizio said to himself as soon as he was alone, “those birds are hers, but in two days more I shall no longer see them.” At this thought his eyes became tinged with regret. But finally, to his inexpressible joy, after so long a wait and so much anxious gazing, towards midday Clelia came to attend to her birds. Fabrizio remained motionless, and did not breathe; he was standing against the enormous bars of his window and pressed close to them. He observed that she did not raise her eyes to himself; but her movements had an air of embarrassment, like those of a person who knows that she is being overlooked. Had she wished to do so, the poor girl could not have forgotten the delicate smile she had seen hovering over the prisoner’s lips the day before, when the constables brought him out of the guard-room.

Although to all appearance she was paying the most careful attention to what she was doing, at the moment when she approached the window of the aviary she blushed quite perceptibly. The first thought in Fabrizio’s mind, as he stood glued to the iron bars of his window, was to indulge in the childish trick of tapping a little with his hand on those bars, and so making a slight noise; then the mere idea of such a want of delicacy horrified him. “It would serve me right if for the next week she sent her maid to look after the birds.” This delicate thought would never have occurred to him at Naples or at Novara.

He followed her eagerly with his eyes: “Obviously,” he said to himself, “she is going to leave the room without deigning to cast a glance at this poor window, and yet she is just opposite me.” But, on turning back from the farther end of the room, which Fabrizio, thanks to his greater elevation, could see quite plainly, Clelia could not help looking furtively up at him, as she approached, and this was quite enough to make Fabrizio think himself authorised to salute her. “Are we not alone in the world here?” he asked himself, to give himself the courage to do so. At this salute the girl stood still and lowered her eyes; then Fabrizio saw her raise them very slowly; and, evidently making an effort to control herself, she greeted the prisoner with the most grave and distant gesture; but she could not impose silence on her eyes: without her knowing it, probably, they expressed for a moment the keenest pity. Fabrizio remarked that she blushed so deeply that the rosy tinge ran swiftly down to her shoulders, from which the heat had made her cast off, when she came to the aviary, a shawl of black lace. The unconscious stare with which Fabrizio replied to her glance doubled the girl’s discomposure. “How happy that poor woman would be,” she said to herself, thinking of the Duchessa, “if for a moment only she could see him as I see him now.”

Fabrizio had had some slight hope of saluting her again as she left the room; but to avoid this further courtesy Clelia beat a skilful retreat by stages, from cage to cage, as if, at the end of her task, she had to attend to the birds nearest the door. At length she went out; Fabrizio stood motionless gazing at the door through which she had disappeared; he was another man.

>From that moment the sole object of his thoughts was to discover how he might manage to continue to see her, even when they had set up that horrible screen outside the window that overlooked the governor’s palazzo.

Overnight, before going to bed, he had set himself the long and tedious task of hiding the greater part of the gold that he had in several of the rat-holes which adorned his wooden cell. “This evening, I must hide my watch. Have I not heard it said that with patience and a watch-spring with a jagged edge one can cut through wood and even iron? So I shall be able to saw through this screen.” The work of concealing his watch, which occupied him for hours, did not seem to him at all long; he was thinking of the different ways of attaining his object and of what he himself could do in the way of carpentering. “If I get to work the right way,” he said to himself, “I shall be able to cut a section clean out of the oak plank which will form the screen, at the end which will be resting on the window-sill; I can take this piece out and put it back according to circumstances; I shall give everything I possess to Grillo, so that he may be kind enough not to notice this little device.” All Fabrizio’s happiness was now involved in the possibility of carrying out this task, and he could think of nothing else. “If I can only manage to see her, I am a happy man. . . . No,” he reminded himself, “she must also see that I see her.” All night long his head was filled with devices of carpentering, and perhaps never gave a single thought to the court of Parma, the Prince’s anger, etc., etc. We must admit that he did not think either of the grief in which the Duchessa must be plunged. He waited impatiently for the morrow; but the carpenter did not appear again: evidently he was regarded in the prison as a Liberal. They took care to send another, a sour-faced fellow who made no reply except a growl that boded ill to all the pleasant words with which Fabrizio sought to cajole him. Some of the Duchessa’s many attempts to open a correspondence with Fabrizio had been discovered by the Marchesa Raversi’s many agents, and, by her, General Fabio Conti was daily warned, frightened, put on his mettle. Every eight hours six soldiers of the guard relieved the previous six in the great hall with the hundred pillars on the ground floor: in addition to these, the governor posted a gaoler on guard at each of the three successive iron gates of the corridor, and poor Grillo, the only one who saw the prisoner, was condemned to leave the Torre Farnese only once a week, at which he shewed great annoyance. He made his ill humour felt by Fabrizio, who had the sense to reply only in these words: “Plenty of good nebiolo d’Asti, my friend.” And he gave him money.

“Well now, even this, which consoles us in all our troubles,” exclaimed the indignant Grillo, in a voice barely loud enough to be heard by the prisoner, “we are forbidden to take, and I ought to refuse it, but I accept; however, it’s money thrown away; I can tell you nothing about anything. Go on, you must be a rare bad lot, the whole citadel is upside down because of you; the Signora Duchessa’s fine goings on have got three of us dismissed already.”

“Will the screen be ready before midday?” This was the great question which made Fabrizio’s heart throb throughout that long morning; he counted each quarter as it sounded from the citadel clock. Finally, when the last quarter before noon struck, the screen had not yet arrived; Clelia reappeared and looked after her birds. Cruel necessity had made Fabrizio’s daring take such strides, and the risk of not seeing her again seemed to him so to transcend all others that he ventured, looking at Clelia, to make with his finger the gesture of sawing through the screen; it is true that as soon as she had perceived this gesture, so seditious in prison, she half bowed and withdrew.

“How now!” thought Fabrizio in amazement, “can she be so unreasonable as to see an absurd familiarity in a gesture dictated by the most imperious necessity? I meant to request her always to deign, when she is attending to her birds, to look now and again at the prison window, even when she finds it masked by an enormous wooden shutter; I meant to indicate to her that I shall do everything that is humanly possible to contrive to see her. Great God! Does this mean that she will not come tomorrow owing to that indiscreet gesture?” This fear, which troubled Fabrizio’s sleep, was entirely justified; on the following day Clelia had not apppeared at three o’clock, when the workman finished installing outside Fabrizio’s windows the two enormous screens; they had been hauled up piecemeal, from the terrace of the great tower, by means of ropes and pulleys attached to the iron bars outside the windows. It is true that, hidden behind a shutter in her own room, Clelia had followed with anguish every movement of the workmen; she had seen quite plainly Fabrizio’s mortal anxiety, but had nevertheless had the courage to keep the promise she had made to herself.

Clelia was a little devotee of Liberalism; in her girlhood she had taken seriously all the Liberal utterances which she had heard in the company of her father, who thought only of establishing his own position; from this she had come to feel a contempt, almost a horror for the flexible character of the courtier; whence her antipathy to marriage. Since Fabrizio’s arrival, she had been racked by remorse: “And so,” she said to herself, “my unworthy heart is taking the side of the people who seek to betray my father! He dares to make me the sign of sawing through a door! . . . But,” she at once went on with anguish in her heart, “the whole town is talking of his approaching death! To-morrow may be the fatal day! With the monsters who govern us, what in the world is not possible? What meekness, what heroic serenity in those eyes, which perhaps are about to close for ever! God! What must be the Duchessa’s anguish! They say that she is in a state of utter despair. If I were she, I would go and stab the Prince, like the heroic Charlotte Corday.”

Throughout this third day of his imprisonment, Fabrizio was wild with anger, but solely at not having seen Clelia appear. “Anger for anger, I ought to have told her that I loved her,” he cried; for he had arrived at this discovery. “No, it is not at all from greatness of heart that I am not thinking about prison, and am making Blanès’s prophecy prove false: such honour is not mine. In spite of myself I think of that look of sweet pity which Clelia let fall on me when the constables led me out of the guard-room; that look has wiped out all my past life. Who would have said that I should find such sweet eyes in such a place, and at the moment when my own sight was offended by the faces of Barbone and the General-governor. Heaven appeared to me in the midst of those vile creatures. And how can one help loving beauty and seeking to see it again? No, it is certainly not greatness of heart that makes me indifferent to all the little vexations which prison heaps upon me.” Fabrizio’s imagination, passing rapidly over every possibility in turn, arrived at that of his being set at liberty. “No doubt the Duchessa’s friendship will do wonders for me. Well, I shall thank her for my liberty only with my lips; this is not at all the sort of place to which one returns! Once out of prison, separated as we are socially, I should practically never see Clelia again! And, after all, what harm is prison doing me? If Clelia deigned not to crush me with her anger, what more should I have to ask of heaven?”

On the evening of this day on which he had not seen his pretty neighbour, he had a great idea: with the iron cross of the rosary which is given to every prisoner on his admission to prison, he began, and with success, to bore a hole in the shutter. “It is perhaps an imprudence,” he told himself before he began. “Did not the carpenters say in front of me that the painters would be coming tomorrow in their place? What will they say if they find the shutter with a hole in it? But if I do not commit this imprudence, tomorrow I shall not be able to see her. What! By my own inactivity am I to remain for a day without seeing her, and that after she has turned from me in an ill humour?” Fabrizio’s imprudence was rewarded; after fifteen hours of work he saw Clelia, and, to complete his happiness, as she had no idea that he was looking at her, she stood for a long time without moving, her gaze fixed on the huge screen; he had plenty of time to read in her eyes the signs of the most tender pity. Towards the end of the visit, she was even quite evidently neglecting her duty to her birds, to stay for whole minutes gazing at the window. Her heart was profoundly troubled; she was thinking of the Duchessa, whose extreme misfortune had inspired in her so much pity, and at the same time she was beginning to hate her. She understood nothing of the profound melancholy which had taken hold of her character, she felt out of temper with herself. Two or three times, in the course of this encounter, Fabrizio was impatient to try to shake the screen; he felt that he was not happy so long as he could not indicate to Clelia that he saw her. “However,” he told himself, “if she knew that I could see her so easily, timid and reserved as she is, she would probably slip away out of my sight.”

He was far more happy next day (out of what miseries does love create its happiness!): while she was looking sadly at the huge screen, he succeeded in slipping a tiny piece of wire through the hole which the iron cross had bored, and made signs to her which she evidently understood, at least in the sense that they implied: “I am here and I see you.”

Fabrizio was unfortunate on the days that followed. He was anxious to cut out of the colossal screen a piece of board the size of his hand, which could be replaced when he chose, and which would enable him to see and to be seen, that is to say to speak, by signs at least, of what was passing in his heart; but he found that the noise of the very imperfect little saw which he had made by notching the spring of his watch with the cross aroused Grillo, who came and spent long hours in his cell. It is true that he thought he noticed that Clelia’s severity seemed to diminish as the material difficulties in the way of any communication between them increased; Fabrizio was fully aware that she no longer pretended to lower her eyes or to look at the birds when he was trying to shew her a sign of his presence by means of his wretched little piece of wire; he had the pleasure of seeing that she never failed to appear in the aviary at the precise moment when the quarter before noon struck, and he almost presumed to imagine himself to be the cause of this remarkable punctuality. Why? Such an idea does not seem reasonable; but love detects shades invisible to the indifferent eye, and draws endless conclusions from them. For instance, now that Clelia could no longer see the prisoner, almost immediately on entering the aviary she would raise her eyes to his window. These were the funereal days on which no one in Parma had any doubt that Fabrizio would shortly be put to death: he alone knew nothing; but this terrible thought never left Clelia’s mind for a moment, and how could she reproach herself for the excessive interest which she felt in Fabrizio? He was about to perish — and for the cause of freedom! For it was too absurd to put a del Dongo to death for running his sword into a mummer. It was true that this attractive young man was attached to another woman! Clelia was profoundly unhappy, and without admitting to herself at all precisely the kind of interest that she took in his fate: “Certainly,” she said to herself, “if they lead him out to die, I shall fly to a convent, and never in my life will I reappear in that society of the court; it horrifies me. Kid-gloved assassins!”

On the eighth day of Fabrizio’s imprisonment, she had good cause to blush: she was watching fixedly, absorbed in her sorrowful thoughts, the screen that hid the prisoner’s window: suddenly a small piece of the screen, larger than a man’s hand, was removed by him; he looked at her with an air of gaiety, and she could see his eyes which were greeting her. She had not the strength to endure this unlooked-for trial, she turned swiftly towards her birds and began to attend to them; but she trembled so much that she spilled the water which she was pouring out for them, and Fabrizio could perfectly well see her emotion; she could not endure this situation, and took the prudent course of running from the room.

This was the best moment in Fabrizio’s life, beyond all comparison. With what transports would he have refused his freedom, had it been offered to him at that instant!

The following day was the day of the Duchessa’s great despair. Everyone in the town was certain that it was all over with Fabrizio. Clelia had not the melancholy courage to show him a harshness that was not in her heart, she spent an hour and a half in the aviary, watched all his signals, and often answered him, at least by an expression of the keenest and sincerest interest; at certain moments she turned from him so as not to let him see her tears. Her feminine coquetry felt very strongly the inadequacy of the language employed: if they could have spoken, in how many different ways could she not have sought to discover what precisely was the nature of the sentiments which Fabrizio felt for the Duchessa! Clelia was now almost unable to delude herself any longer; her feeling for Signora Sanseverina was one of hatred.

One night Fabrizio began to think somewhat seriously of his aunt: he was amazed, he found a difficulty in recognising her image; the memory that he kept of her had totally changed; for him, at this moment, she was a woman of fifty. “Great God!” he exclaimed with enthusiasm, “how well inspired I was not to tell her that I loved her!” He had reached the point of being barely able to understand how he had found her so good looking. In this connexion little Marietta gave him the impression of a less perceptible change: this was because he had never imagined that his heart entered at all into his love for Marietta, while often he had believed that his whole heart belonged to the Duchessa. The Duchessa d’A—— and Marietta now had the effect on him of two young doves whose whole charm would be in weakness and innocence, whereas the sublime image of Clelia Conti, taking entire possession of his heart, went so far as to inspire him with terror. He felt only too well that the eternal happiness of his life was to force him to reckon with the governor’s daughter, and that it lay in her power to make of him the unhappiest of men. Every day he went in mortal fear of seeing brought to a sudden end, by a caprice of her will against which there was no appeal, this sort of singular and delicious life which he found in her presence; in any event she had already filled with joy the first two months of his imprisonment. It was the time when, twice a week, General Fabio Conti was saying to the Prince: “I can give Your Highness my word of honour that the prisoner del Dongo does not speak to a living soul, and is spending his life crushed by the most profound despair, or asleep.”

Clelia came two or three times daily to visit her birds, sometimes for a few moments only; if Fabrizio had not loved her so well, he would have seen clearly that he was loved; but he had serious doubts on this head. Clelia had had a piano put in her aviary. As she struck the notes, that the sounds of the instrument might account for her presence there, and occupy the minds of the sentries who were patrolling beneath her windows, she replied with her eyes to Fabrizio’s questions. On one subject alone she never made any answer, and indeed, on serious occasions, took flight, and sometimes disappeared for a whole day; this was when Fabrizio’s signals indicated sentiments the import of which it was too difficult not to understand: on this point she was inexorable.

Thus, albeit straitly confined in a small enough cage, Fabrizio led a fully occupied life; it was entirely devoted to seeking the solution of this important problem: “Does she love me?” The result of thousands of observations, incessantly repeated, but also incessantly subjected to doubt, was as follows: “All her deliberate gestures say no, but what is involuntary in the movement of her eyes seems to admit that she is forming an affection for me.”

Clelia hoped that she might never be brought to an avowal, and it was to avert this danger that she had repulsed, with an excessive show of anger, a prayer which Fabrizio had several times addressed to her. The wretchedness of the resources employed by the poor prisoner ought, it might seem, to have inspired greater pity in Clelia. He sought to correspond with her by means of letters which he traced on his hand with a piece of charcoal of which he had made the precious discovery in his stove; he would have formed the words letter by letter, in succession. This invention would have doubled the means of conversation, inasmuch as it would have allowed him to say actual words. His window was distant from Clelia’s about twenty-five feet; it would have been too great a risk to speak aloud over the heads of the sentries patrolling outside the governor’s palazzo. Fabrizio was in doubt whether he was loved; if he had had any experience of love, he would have had no doubt left: but never had a woman occupied his heart; he had, moreover, no suspicion of a secret which would have plunged him in despair had he known it: there was a serious question of the marriage of Clelia Conti to the Marchese Crescenzi, the richest man at court.

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