General Fabio Conti’s ambition, exalted to madness by the obstacles which were occurring in the career of the Prime Minister Mosca, and seemed to forebode his fall, had led him to make violent scenes before his daughter; he told her incessantly, and angrily, that she was ruining her own prospects if she did not finally make up her mind to choose a husband; at twenty and past it was time to make a match; this cruel state of isolation, in which her unreasonable obstinacy was plunging the General, must be brought to an end, and so forth.
It was originally to escape from these continual bursts of ill humour that Clelia had taken refuge in the aviary; it could be reached only by an extremely awkward wooden stair, which his gout made a serious obstacle to the governor.
For some weeks now Clelia’s heart had been so agitated, she herself knew so little what she ought to decide, that, without giving any definite promise to her father, she had almost let herself be engaged. In one of his fits of rage, the General had shouted that he could easily send her to cool her heels in the most depressing convent in Parma, and that there he would let her stew until she deigned to make a choice.
“You know that our family, old as it is, cannot muster a rent-roll of 6,000 lire, while the Marchese Crescenzi’s fortune amounts to more than 100,000 scudi a year. Everyone at court agrees that he has the sweetest temper; he has never given anyone cause for complaint; he is a fine looking man, young, popular with the Prince; and I say that you ought to be shut up in a madhouse if you reject his advances. If this were the first refusal, I might perhaps put up with it, but there have been five or six suitors now, all among the first men at court, whom you have rejected, like the little fool that you are. And what would become of you, I ask you, if I were to be put on half-pay? What a triumph for my enemies, if they saw me living in some second-floor apartment, I who have so often been talked of for the Ministry! No, begad, my good nature has let me play Cassandra quite long enough. You will kindly supply me with some valid objection to this poor Marchese Crescenzi, who is so kind as to be in love with you, to be willing to marry you without a dowry, and to make over to you a jointure of 30,000 lire a year, which will at least pay my rent; you will talk to me reasonably, or, by heaven, you will marry him in two months from now!”
One passage alone in the whole of this speech had struck Clelia; this was the threat to send her to a convent, and thereby remove her from the citadel, at the moment, moreover, when Fabrizio’s life seemed to be hanging only by a thread, for not a month passed in which the rumour of his approaching death did not run afresh through the town and through the court. Whatever arguments she might use, she could not make up her mind to run this risk. To be separated from Fabrizio, and at the moment when she was trembling for his life! This was in her eyes the greatest of evils; it was at any rate the most immediate.
This is not to say that, even in not being parted from Fabrizio, her heart found any prospect of happiness; she believed him to be loved by the Duchessa, and her soul was torn by a deadly jealousy. Incessantly she thought of the advantages enjoyed by this woman who was so generally admired. The extreme reserve which she imposed on herself with regard to Fabrizio, the language of signs to which she had restricted him, from fear of falling into some indiscretion, all seemed to combine to take from her the means of arriving at any enlightenment as to his relations with the Duchessa. Thus, every day, she felt more cruelly than before the frightful misfortune of having a rival in the heart of Fabrizio, and every day she dared less to expose herself to the danger of giving him an opportunity to tell her the whole truth as to what was passing in that heart. But how charming it would be, nevertheless, to hear him make an avowal of his true feelings! What a joy for Clelia to be able to clear away those frightful suspicions which were poisoning her life!
Fabrizio was fickle; at Naples he had had the reputation of changing his mistress rather easily. Despite all the reserve imposed on the character of a young lady, since she had become a Canoness and had gone to court, Clelia, without ever asking questions, but by listening attentively, had succeeded in learning the reputation that had been made for themselves by the young men who in succession had sought her hand; very well, Fabrizio, when compared with all these young men, was the one who was charged with being most fickle in affairs of the heart. He was in prison, he was dull, he was paying court to the one woman to whom he could speak; what more simple? What, indeed, more common? And it was this that grieved Clelia. Even if, by a complete revelation, she should learn that Fabrizio no longer loved the Duchessa, what confidence could she have in his words? Even if she believed in the sincerity of what he said, what confidence could she have in the permanence of his feelings? And lastly, to drive the final stroke of despair into her heart, was not Fabrizio already far advanced in his career as a churchman? Was he not on the eve of binding himself by lifelong vows? Did not the highest dignities await him in that walk in life? “If the least glimmer of sense remained in my mind,” the unhappy Clelia said to herself, “ought I not to take flight? Ought I not to beg my father to shut me up in some convent far away? And, as a last straw, it is precisely the fear of being sent away from the citadel and shut up in a convent that is governing all my conduct! It is that fear which is forcing me to hide the truth, which is obliging me to act the hideous and degrading lie of pretending to accept the public attentions of the Marchese Crescenzi.”
Clelia was by nature profoundly reasonable; in the whole of her life she had never had to reproach herself with a single unconsidered step, and her conduct on this occasion was the height of unreason: one may judge of her sufferings! They were all the more cruel in that she let herself rest under no illusion. She was attaching herself to a man who was desperately loved by the most beautiful woman at court, a woman who had so many claims to be reckoned superior to Clelia herself! And this man himself, had he been at liberty, was incapable of a serious attachment, whereas she, as she felt only too well, would never have but this one attachment in her life.
It was, therefore, with a heart agitated by the most frightful remorse that Clelia came every day to the aviary: carried to this spot as though in spite of herself, her uneasiness changed its object and became less cruel, the remorse vanished for a few moments; she watched, with indescribable beatings of her heart, for the moments at which Fabrizio could open the sort of hatch that he had made in the enormous screen which masked his window. Often the presence of the gaoler Grillo in his cell prevented him from conversing by signs with his friend.
One evening, about eleven, Fabrizio heard sounds of the strangest nature in the citadel: at night, by leaning on the window-sill and poking his head out through the hatch, he could distinguish any noise at all loud that was made on the great staircase, called “of the three hundred steps,” which led from the first courtyard, inside the round tower, to the stone platform on which had been built the governor’s palazzo and the Farnese prison in which he himself was.
About halfway up, at the hundred and eightieth step, this staircase passed from the south side of a vast court to the north side; at this point there was an iron bridge, very light and very narrow, on the middle of which a turnkey was posted. This man was relieved every six hours, and was obliged to rise and stand to one side to enable anyone to pass over the bridge which he guarded, and by which alone one could reach the governor’s palazzo and the Torre Farnese. Two turns of a spring, the key of which the governor carried on his person, were enough to hurl this iron bridge down into the court, more than a hundred feet below; this simple precaution once taken, as there was no other staircase in the whole of the citadel, and as every evening at midnight a serjeant brought to the governor’s house, and placed in a closet which was reached through his bedroom, the ropes of all the wells, he was left completely inaccessible in his palazzo, and it would have been equally impossible for anyone in the world to reach the Torre Farnese. All this Fabrizio had thoroughly observed for himself on the day of his arrival at the citadel, while Grillo who, like all gaolers, loved to boast of his prison, had explained it to him many times since; thus he had but little hope of escape. At the same time he reminded himself of a maxim of Priore Blanès: “The lover thinks more often of reaching his mistress than the husband of guarding his wife; the prisoner thinks more often of escaping than the gaoler of shutting his door; and so, whatever the obstacles may be, the lover and the prisoner ought to succeed.”
That evening Fabrizio could hear quite distinctly a considerable number of men cross the iron bridge, known as the Slave’s Bridge, because once a Dalmatian slave had succeeded in escaping, by throwing the guardian of the bridge down into the court below.
“They are coming here to carry off somebody, perhaps they are going to take me out to hang me; but there may be some disorder, I must make the most of it.” He had armed himself, he was already taking the gold from some of his hiding-places, when suddenly he stopped.
“Man is a quaint animal,” he exclaimed, “I must admit! What would an invisible onlooker say if he saw my preparations? Do I by any chance wish to escape? What would happen to me the day after my return to Parma? Should I not be doing everything in the world to return to Clelia? If there is some disorder, let us profit by it to slip into the governor’s palazzo; perhaps I may be able to speak to her, perhaps, encouraged by the disorder, I may venture to kiss her hand. General Conti, highly mistrustful by nature, and no less vain, has his palazzo guarded by five sentries, one at each corner of the building and a fifth outside the door, but fortunately the night is very dark.” On tiptoe Fabrizio stole down to find out what the gaoler Grillo and his dog were doing: the gaoler was fast asleep in an oxhide suspended by four ropes and enclosed in a coarse net; the dog Fox opened his eyes, rose, and came quietly towards Fabrizio to lick his hand.
Our prisoner returned softly up the six steps which led to his wooden cell; the noise was becoming so loud at the foot of the Torre Farnese, and immediately opposite the door, that he thought that Grillo might easily awake. Fabrizio, armed with all his weapons, ready for action, was imagining that he was destined that night for great adventures, when suddenly he heard the most beautiful symphony in the world strike up: it was a serenade which was being given to the governor or his daughter. He was seized with a fit of wild laughter: “And I who was already dreaming of striking dagger-blows! As though a serenade were not infinitely more normal than an abduction requiring the presence of two dozen people in a prison, or than a mutiny!” The music was excellent, and seemed to Fabrizio delicious, his spirit having had no distraction for so many weeks; it made him shed very pleasant tears; in his delight he addressed the most irresistible speeches to the fair Clelia. But the following day, at noon, he found her in so sombre a melancholy, she was so pale, she directed at him a gaze in which he read at times such anger, that he did not feel himself to be sufficiently justified in putting any question to her as to the serenade; he was afraid of being impolite.
Clelia had every reason to be sad, it was a serenade given her by the Marchese Crescenzi; a step so public was in a sense the official announcement of their marriage. Until the very day of the serenade, and until nine o’clock that evening, Clelia had set up the bravest resistance, but she had had the weakness to yield to the threat of her being sent immediately to a convent, which had been held over her by her father.
“What! I should never see him again!” she had said to herself, weeping. It was in vain that her reason had added: “I should never see again that creature who will harm me in every possible way, I should never see again that lover of the Duchessa, I should never see again that man who had ten acknowledged mistresses at Naples, and was unfaithful to them all; I should never see again that ambitious young man who, if he survives the sentence that he is undergoing, is to take holy orders! It would be a crime for me to look at him again when he is out of his citadel, and his natural inconstancy will spare me the temptation; for, what am I to him? An excuse for spending less tediously a few hours of each of his days in prison.” In the midst of all this abuse, Clelia happened to remember the smile with which he had looked at the constables who surrounded him when he came out of the turnkey’s office to go up to the Torre Farnese. The tears welled into her eyes: “Dear friend, what would I not do for you? You will ruin me, I know; such is my fate; I am ruining myself in a terrible fashion by listening to-night to this frightful serenade; but tomorrow, at midday, I shall see your eyes again.”
It was precisely on the morrow of that day on which Clelia had made such great sacrifices for the young prisoner, whom she loved with so strong a passion; it was on the morrow of that day on which, seeing all his faults, she had sacrificed her life to him, that Fabrizio was in despair at her coldness. If, even employing only the imperfect language of signs, he had done the slightest violence to Clelia’s heart, probably she would not have been able to keep back her tears, and Fabrizio would have won an avowal of all that she felt for him; but he lacked the courage, he was in too deadly a fear of offending Clelia, she could punish him with too severe a penalty. In other words, Fabrizio had no experience of the emotion that is given one by a woman whom one loves; it was a sensation which he had never felt, even in the feeblest degree. It took him a week, from the day of the serenade, to place himself once more on the old footing of simple friendship with Clelia. The poor girl armed herself with severity, being half dead with fear of betraying herself, and it seemed to Fabrizio that every day he was losing ground with her.
One day (and Fabrizio had then been nearly three months in prison without having had any communication whatever with the outer world, and yet without feeling unhappy), Grillo had stayed very late in the morning in his cell: Fabrizio did not know how to get rid of him; in the end, half past twelve had already struck before he was able to open the two little traps, a foot high, which he had carved in the fatal screen.
Clelia was standing at the aviary window, her eyes fixed on Fabrizio’s; her drawn features expressed the most violent despair. As soon as she saw Fabrizio, she made him a sign that all was lost: she dashed to her piano, and, pretending to sing a recitativo from the popular opera of the season, spoke to him in sentences broken by her despair and the fear of being overheard by the sentries who were patrolling beneath the window:
“Great God! You are still alive? How grateful I am to heaven! Barbone, the gaoler whose impudence you punished on the day of your coming here, disappeared, was not to be found in the citadel; the night before last he returned, and since yesterday I have had reason to believe that he is seeking to poison you. He comes prowling through the private kitchen of the palazzo, where your meals are prepared. I know nothing for certain, but my maid thinks that the horrible creature can only be coming to the palazzo kitchens with the object of taking your life. I was dying of anxiety when I did not see you appear, I thought you were dead. Abstain from all nourishment until further notice, I shall do everything possible to see that a little chocolate comes to you. In any case, this evening at nine, if the bounty of heaven wills that you have any thread, or that you can tie strips of your linen together in a riband, let it down from your window over the orange trees, I shall fasten a cord to it which you can pull up, and by means of the cord I shall keep you supplied with bread and chocolate.”
Fabrizio had carefully treasured the piece of charcoal which he had found in the stove in his cell: he hastened to make the most of Clelia’s emotion, and wrote on his hand a series of letters which taken in order formed these words:
“I love you, and life is dear to me only because I see you; at all costs, send me paper and a pencil.”
As Fabrizio had hoped, the extreme terror which he read in Clelia’s features prevented the girl from breaking off the conversation after this daring announcement, “I love you”; she was content with exhibiting great vexation. Fabrizio was inspired to add: “There is such a wind blowing today that I can only catch very faintly the advice you are so kind as to give me in your singing; the sound of the piano is drowning your voice. What is this poison, for instance, that you tell me of?”
At these words the girl’s terror reappeared in its entirety; she began in haste to trace large letters in ink on the pages of a book which she tore out, and Fabrizio was transported with joy to see at length established, after three months of effort, this channel of correspondence for which he had so vainly begged. He had no thought of abandoning the little ruse which had proved so successful, his aim was to write real letters, and he pretended at every moment not to understand the words of which Clelia was holding up each letter in turn before his eyes.
She was obliged to leave the aviary to go to her father; she feared more than anything that he might come to look for her; his suspicious nature would not have been at all satisfied with the close proximity of the window of this aviary to the screen which masked that of the prisoner. Clelia herself had had the idea a few moments earlier, when Fabrizio’s failure to appear was plunging her in so deadly an anxiety, that it might be possible to throw a small stone wrapped in a piece of paper over the top of this screen; if by a lucky chance the gaoler in charge of Fabrizio happened not to be in his cell at that moment, it was a certain method of corresponding with him.
Our hero hastened to make a riband of sorts out of his linen; and that evening, shortly after nine, he heard quite distinctly a series of little taps on the tubs of the orange trees which stood beneath his window; he let down his riband, which brought back with it a fine cord of great length with the help of which he drew up first of all a supply of chocolate, and then, to his unspeakable satisfaction, a roll of paper and a pencil. It was in vain that he let down the cord again, he received nothing more; apparently the sentries had come near the orange trees. But he was wild with joy. He hastened to write Clelia an endless letter: no sooner was it finished than he attached it to the cord and let it down. For more than three hours he waited in vain for it to be taken, and more than once drew it up again to make alterations. “If Clelia does not see my letter to-night,” he said to himself, “while she is still upset by her idea of poison, tomorrow morning perhaps she will utterly reject the idea of receiving a letter.”
The fact was that. Clelia had been unable to avoid going down to the town with her father; Fabrizio almost guessed as much when he heard, about half past twelve, the General’s carriage return; he recognised the trot of the horses. What was his joy when, a few minutes after he had heard the General cross the terrace and the sentries present arms to him, he felt a pull at the cord which he had not ceased to keep looped round his arm! A heavy weight was attached to this cord; two little tugs gave him the signal to draw it up. He had considerable difficulty in getting the heavy object that he was lifting past a cornice which jutted out some way beneath his window.
This object which he had so much difficulty in pulling up was a flask filled with water and wrapped in a shawl. It was with ecstasy that this poor young man, who had been living for so long in so complete a solitude, covered this shawl with his kisses. But we must abandon the attempt to describe his emotion when at last, after so many days of fruitless expectation, he discovered a little scrap of paper which was attached to the shawl by a pin.
“Drink nothing but this water, live upon chocolate; tomorrow I shall do everything in the world to get some bread to you, I shall mark it on each side with little crosses in ink. It is a terrible thing to say, but you must know it, perhaps Barbone has been ordered to poison you. How is it that you did not feel that the subject of which you treat in your pencilled letter was bound to displease me? Besides, I should not write to you, but for the danger that threatens us. I have just seen the Duchessa, she is well and so is the Conte, but she has grown very thin; do not write to me again on that subject; do you wish to make me angry?”
It required a great effort of virtue on Clelia’s part to write the penultimate line of this letter. Everyone alleged, in the society at court, that Signora Sanseverina was becoming extremely friendly with Conte Baldi, that handsome man, the former friend of the Marchesa Raversi. What was certain was that he had quarrelled in the most open fashion with the said Marchesa, who for six years had been a second mother to him and had established him in society.
Clelia had been obliged to begin this hasty little note over again, for, in the first draft, some allusion escaped her to the fresh amours with which popular malice credited the Duchessa.
“How base of me!” she had exclaimed, “to say things to Fabrizio against the woman he loves!”
The following morning, long before it was light, Grillo came into Fabrizio’s cell, left there a package of some weight, and vanished without saying a word. This package contained a loaf of bread of some size, adorned on every side with little crosses traced in ink: Fabrizio covered them with kisses; he was in love. Besides the bread there was a roll wrapped in a large number of folds of paper; these enclosed six hundred francs in sequins; last of all Fabrizio found a handsome breviary, quite new: a hand which he was beginning to know had traced these words on the margin:
“Poison! Beware of water, wine, everything; live upon chocolate, try to make the dog eat your untouched dinner; you must not appear distrustful, the enemy would try some other plan. Do nothing foolish, in heaven’s name! No frivolity!”
Fabrizio made haste to erase these dear words which might compromise Clelia, and to tear a large number of pages from the breviary, with the help of which he made several alphabets; each letter was properly drawn with crushed charcoal soaked in wine. These alphabets had dried when at a quarter to twelve Clelia appeared, a few feet inside the aviary window. “The great thing now,” Fabrizio said to himself, “is that she shall consent to make use of these.” But, fortunately for him, it so happened that she had a number of things to say to the young prisoner with regard to the attempt to poison him: a dog belonging to one of the maidservants had died after eating a dish that was intended for him. Clelia, so far from raising any objection to the use of the alphabets, had prepared a magnificent one for herself, in ink. The conversation carried out by these means, awkward enough in the first few moments, lasted not less than an hour and a half, that is to say all the time that Clelia was able to spend in the aviary. Two or three times, when Fabrizio allowed himself forbidden liberties, she made no answer, and turned away for a moment to give the necessary attention to her birds.
Fabrizio had obtained the concession that, in the evening, when she sent him his water, she would convey to him one” of the alphabets which she had written in ink, and which were far more visible. He did not fail to write her a very long letter in which he took care not to include anything affectionate, in a manner at least that might give offence. This plan proved successful; his letter was accepted.
Next day, in their conversation by the alphabets, Clelia made him no reproach; she told him that the danger of poison was growing less; Barbone had been attacked and almost killed by the men who were keeping company with the kitchen-maids of the governor’s palazzo; probably he would not venture to appear in the kitchens again. Clelia confessed to him that, for his sake, she had dared to steal an antidote from her father; she was sending it to him; the essential thing was to refuse at once all food in which he detected an unusual taste.
Clelia had put many questions to Don Cesare without succeeding in discovering who had sent the six hundred francs which Fabrizio had received; in any case, it was an excellent sign; the severity was decreasing.
This episode of the poison advanced our hero’s position enormously; he was still unable ever to obtain the least admission that resembled love, but he had the happiness of living on the most intimate terms with Clelia. Every morning, and often in the evening, there was a long conversation with the alphabets; every evening, at nine o’clock, Clelia accepted a long letter, to which she sometimes replied in a few words; she sent him the newspaper and several books; finally, Grillo had been won over to the extent of bringing Fabrizio bread and wine, which were given him every day by Clelia’s maid. The gaoler Grillo had concluded from this that the governor was not acting in concert with the people who had ordered Barbone to poison the young Monsignore, and was greatly relieved, as were all his fellows, for it had become a proverb in the prison that “you had only to look Monsignor del Dongo in the face for him to give you money.”
Fabrizio had grown very pale; the complete want of exercise was affecting his health; apart from this, he had never in his life been so happy. The tone of the conversation between Clelia and himself was intimate, and at times quite gay. The only moments in Clelia’s life that were not besieged by grim forebodings and remorse were those which she spent in talk with him. One day she was so rash as to say to him:
“I admire your delicacy; as I am the governor’s daughter, you never speak to me of your desire to regain your freedom!”
“That is because I take good care not to feel so absurd a desire,” was Fabrizio’s answer; “once back in Parma, how should I see you again? And life would become insupportable if I could not tell you all that is in my mind — no, not quite all that is in my mind, you take good care of that: but still, in spite of your hard-heartedness, to live without seeing you every day would be to me a far worse punishment than this prison! Never in my life have I been so happy! . . . Is it not pleasant to find that happiness was awaiting me in prison?”
“There is a great deal more to be said about that,” replied Clelia with an air which became of a sudden unduly serious and almost sinister.
“What!” cried Fabrizio, greatly alarmed, “is there a risk of my losing the tiny place I have managed to win in your heart, which constitutes my sole joy in this world?”
“Yes,” she told him; “I have good reason to believe that you are lacking in frankness towards me, although you may be regarded generally as a great gentleman; but I do not wish to speak of this today.”
This singular opening caused great embarrassment in their conversation, and often tears started to the eyes of both.
The Fiscal General Rassi was still anxious to change his name; he was tired to death of the name he had made for himself, and wished to become Barone Riva. Conte Mosca, for his part, was toiling, with all the skill of which he was capable, to strengthen in this venal judge his passion for the Barony, just as he was seeking to intensify in the Prince his mad hope of making himself Constitutional Monarch of Lombardy. They were the only means that he could invent of postponing the death of Fabrizio.
The Prince said to Rassi:
“A fortnight of despair and a fortnight of hope, it is by patiently carrying out this system that we shall succeed in subduing that proud woman’s nature; it is by these alternatives of mildness and harshness that one manages to break the wildest horses. Apply the caustic firmly.”
And indeed, every fortnight, one saw a fresh rumour come to birth in Parma announcing the death of Fabrizio in the near future. This talk plunged the unhappy Duchessa in the utmost despair. Faithful to her resolution not to involve the Conte in her downfall, she saw him but twice monthly; but she was punished for her cruelty towards that poor man by the continual alternations of dark despair in which she was passing her life. In vain did Conte Mosca, overcoming the cruel jealousy inspired in him by the assiduities of Conte Baldi, that handsome man, write to the Duchessa when he could not see her, and acquaint her with all the intelligence that he owed to the zeal of the future Barone Riva; the Duchessa would have needed (for strength to resist the atrocious rumours that were incessantly going about with regard to Fabrizio), to spend her life with a man of intelligence and heart such as Mosca; the nullity of Baldi, leaving her to her own thoughts, gave her an appalling existence, and the Conte could not succeed in communicating to her his reasons for hope.
By means of various pretexts of considerable ingenuity the Minister had succeeded in making the Prince agree to his depositing in a friendly castle, in the very heart of Lombardy, the records of all the highly complicated intrigues by means of which Ranuccio–Ernesto IV nourished the utterly mad hope of making himself Constitutional Monarch of that smiling land.
More than a score of these extremely compromising documents were in the Prince’s hand, or bore his signature, and in the event of Fabrizio’s life being seriously threatened the Conte had decided to announce to His Highness that he was going to hand these documents over to a great power which with a word could crush him.
Conte Mosca believed that he could rely upon the future Barone Riva, he was afraid only of poison; Barbone’s attempt had greatly alarmed him, and to such a point that he had determined to risk taking a step which, to all appearance, was an act of madness. One morning he went to the gate of the citadel and sent for General Fabio Conti, who came down as far as the bastion above the gate; there, strolling with him in a friendly fashion, he had no hesitation in saying to him, after a short preamble, acidulated but polite:
“If Fabrizio dies in any suspicious manner, his death may be put down to me; I shall get a reputation for jealousy, which would be an absurd and abominable stigma and one that I am determined not to accept. So, to clear myself in the matter, if he dies of illness, I shall kill you with my own hand; you may count on that.” General Fabio Conti made a magnificent reply and spoke of his bravery, but the look in the Conte’s eyes remained present in his thoughts.
A few days later, as though he were working in concert with the Conte, the Fiscal Rassi took a liberty which was indeed singular in a man of his sort. The public contempt attached to his name, which was proverbial among the rabble, had made him ill since he had acquired the hope of being able to change it. He addressed to General Fabio Conti an official copy of the sentence which condemned Fabrizio to twelve years in the citadel. According to the law, this was what should have been done on the very day after Fabrizio’s admission to prison; but what was unheard-of at Parma, in that land of secret measures, was that Justice should allow itself to take such a step without an express order from the Sovereign. How indeed could the Prince entertain the hope of doubling every fortnight the Duchessa’s alarm, and of subduing that proud spirit, to quote his own words, once an official copy of the sentence had gone out from the Chancellory of Justice? On the day before that on which General Fabio Conti received the official document from the Fiscal Rassi, he learned that the clerk Barbone had been beaten black and blue on returning rather late to the citadel; he concluded from this that there was no longer any question, in a certain quarter, of getting rid of Fabrizio; and, in a moment of prudence which saved Rassi from the immediate consequences of his folly, he said nothing to the Prince, at the next audience which he obtained of him, of the official copy of Fabrizio’s sentence which had been transmitted to him. The Conte had discovered, happily for the peace of mind of the unfortunate Duchessa, that Barbone’s clumsy attempt had been only an act of personal revenge, and had caused the clerk to be given the warning of which we have spoken.
Fabrizio was very agreeably surprised when, after one hundred and thirty-five days of confinement in a distinctly narrow cell, the good chaplain Don Cesare came to him one Thursday to take him for an airing on the dungeon of the Torre Farnese: he had not been there ten minutes before, unaccustomed to the fresh air, he began to feel faint.
Don Cesare made this accident an excuse to allow him half an hour’s exercise every day. This was a mistake: these frequent airings soon restored to our hero a strength which he abused.
There were several serenades; the punctilious governor allowed them only because they created an engagement between the Marchese Crescenzi and his daughter Clelia, whose character alarmed him; he felt vaguely that there was no point of contact between her and himself, and was always afraid of some rash action on her part. She might fly to the convent, and he would be left helpless. At the same time, the General was afraid that all this music, the sound of which could penetrate into the deepest dungeons, reserved for the blackest Liberals, might contain signals. The musicians themselves, too, made him suspicious; and so no sooner was the serenade at an end than they were locked into the big rooms below the governor’s palazzo, which by day served as an office for the staff, and the door was not opened to let them out until the following morning, when it was broad daylight. It was the governor himself who, stationed on the Slave’s Bridge, had them searched in his presence and gave them their liberty, not without several times repeating that he would have hanged at once any of them who had the audacity to undertake the smallest commission for any prisoner. And they knew that, in his fear of giving offence, he was a man of his word, so that the Marchese Crescenzi was obliged to pay his musicians at a triple rate, they being greatly upset at thus having to spend a night in prison.
All that the Duchessa could obtain, and that with great difficulty, from the pusillanimity of one of these men was that he should take with him a letter to be handed to the governor. The letter was addressed to Fabrizio: the writer deplored the fatality which had brought it about that, after he had been more than five months in prison, his friends outside had not been able to establish any communication with him.
On entering the citadel, the bribed musician flung himself at the feet of General Fabio Conti, and confessed to him that a priest, unknown to him, had so insisted upon his taking a letter addressed to Signor del Dongo that he had not dared to refuse; but, faithful to his duty, he was hastening to place it in His Excellency’s hands.
His Excellency was highly flattered: he knew the resources at the Duchessa’s disposal, and was in great fear of being hoaxed. In his joy, the General went to submit this letter to the Prince, who was delighted.
“So, the firmness of my administration has brought me my revenge! That proud woman has been suffering for more than six months! But one of these days we are going to have a scaffold erected, and her wild imagination will not fail to believe that it is intended for young del Dongo.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00