During the day Fabrizio was attacked by certain serious and disagreeable reflexions; but as he heard the hours strike that brought him nearer to the moment of action, he began to feel alert and ready. The Duchessa had written that he would feel the shock of the fresh air, and that once he was out of his prison he might find it impossible to walk; in that case it was better to run the risk of being caught than to let himself fall from a height of a hundred and eighty feet. “If I have that misfortune,” said Fabrizio, “I shall lie down beneath the parapet, I shall sleep for an hour, then I shall start again. Since I have sworn to Clelia that I will make the attempt, I prefer to fall from the top of a rampart, however high, rather than always to have to think about the taste of the bread I eat. What horrible pains one must feel before the end, when one dies of poison! Fabio Conti will stand on no ceremony, he will make them give me the arsenic with which he kills the rats in his citadel.”
Towards midnight, one of those thick white fogs in which the Po sometimes swathes its banks, spread first of all over the town, and then reached the esplanade and the bastions from the midst of which rises the great tower of the citadel. Fabrizio estimated that from the parapet of the platform it would be impossible to make out the young acacias that surrounded the gardens laid out by the soldiers at the foot of the hundred and eighty foot wall. “That, now, is excellent,” he thought.
Shortly after half past twelve had struck, the signal of the little lamp appeared at the aviary window. Fabrizio was ready for action; he crossed himself, then fastened to his bed the fine cord intended to enable him to descend the thirty-five feet that separated him from the platform on which the palazzo stood. He arrived without meeting any obstacle on the roof of the guard-room occupied overnight by the reinforcement of two hundred soldiers of whom we have spoken. Unfortunately, the soldiers, at a quarter to one in the morning, as it now was, had not yet gone to sleep; while be was creeping on tiptoe over the roof of large curved tiles, Fabrizio could hear them saying that the devil was on the roof, and that they must try to kill him with a shot from a musket. Certain voices insisted that this desire savoured of great impiety; others said that if a shot were fired without killing anything, the governor would put them all in prison for having alarmed the garrison without cause. The upshot of this discussion was that Fabrizio walked across the roof as quickly as possible and made a great deal more noise. The fact remains that at the moment when, hanging by his cord, he passed opposite the windows, mercifully at a distance of four or five feet owing to the projection of the roof, they were bristling with bayonets. Some accounts suggest that Fabrizio, mad as ever, had the idea of acting the part of the devil, and that he flung these soldiers a handful of sequins . . . One thing certain is that he had scattered sequins upon the floor of his room, and that he scattered more on the platform on his way from the Torre Farnese to the parapet, so as to give himself the chance of distracting the attention of the soldiers who might come in pursuit of him.
Landing upon the platform where he was surrounded by soldiers, who ordinarily called out every quarter of an hour a whole sentence: “All’s well around my post!” he directed his steps towards the western parapet and sought for the new stone.
The thing that appears incredible and might make one doubt the truth of the story if the result had not had a whole town for witnesses, is that the sentries posted along the parapet did not see and arrest Fabrizio; as a matter of fact the fog was beginning to rise, and Fabrizio said afterwards that when he was on the platform the fog seemed to him to have come already halfway up the Torre Farnese. But this fog was by no means thick, and he could quite well see the sentries, some of whom were moving. He added that, impelled as though by a supernatural force, he went to take up his position boldly between two sentries who were quite near one another. He calmly unwound the big cord which he had round his body, and which twice became entangled; it took him a long time to unravel it and spread it out on the parapet. He heard the soldiers talking on all sides of him, and was quite determined to stab the first who advanced upon him. “I was not in the least anxious,” he added, “I felt as though I were performing a ceremony.”
He fastened his cord, when it was finally unravelled, through an opening cut in the parapet for the escape of rain-water, climbed on to the said parapet and prayed to God with fervour; then, like a hero of the days of chivalry, he thought for a moment of Clelia. “How different I am,” he said to himself, “from the fickle, libertine Fabrizio of nine months ago!” At length he began to descend that astounding height. He acted mechanically, he said, and as he would have done in broad daylight, climbing down a wall before friends, to win a wager. About halfway down, he suddenly felt his arms lose their strength; he thought afterwards that he had even let go the cord for an instant, but he soon caught hold of it again; possibly, he said, he had held on to the bushes into which he slipped, receiving some scratches from them. He felt from time to time an agonising pain between his shoulders; it actually took away his breath. There was an extremely unpleasant swaying motion; he was constantly flung from the cord to the bushes. He was brushed by several birds which he aroused, and which dashed at him in their flight. At first, he thought that he was being clutched by men who had come down from the citadel by the same way as himself in pursuit, and he prepared to defend his life. Finally he arrived at the base of the great tower without any inconvenience save that of having blood on his hands. He relates that, from the middle of the tower, the slope which it forms was of great use to him; he hugged the wall all the way down, and the plants growing between the stones gave him great support. On reaching the foot, among the soldiers’ gardens, he fell upon an acacia which, looked at from above, had seemed to him to be four or five feet high, but was really fifteen or twenty. A drunken man who was lying asleep beneath it took him for a robber. In his fall from this tree, Fabrizio nearly dislocated his right arm. He started to run towards the rampart; but, as he said, his legs felt like cotton, he had no longer any strength. In spite of the danger, he sat down and drank a little brandy which he had left. He dozed off for a few minutes to the extent of not knowing where he was; on awaking, he could not understand how, lying in bed in his cell, he saw trees. Then the terrible truth came back to his mind. At once he stepped out to the rampart, and climbed it by a big stair. The sentry who was posted close beside this stair was snoring in his box. He found a cannon lying in the grass; he fastened his third cord to it; it proved to be a little too short, and he fell into a muddy ditch in which there was perhaps a foot of water. As he was picking himself up and trying to take his bearings, he felt himself seized by two men; he was afraid for a moment; but presently heard a voice close to his ear whisper very softly: “Ah! Monsignore, Monsignore!” He gathered vaguely that these men belonged to the Duchessa; at once he fell in a dead faint. A minute later, he felt that he was being carried by men who were marching in silence and very fast; then they stopped, which caused him great uneasiness. But he had not the strength either to speak or to open his eyes; he felt that he was being clasped in someone’s arm; suddenly he recognised the scent of the Duchessa’s clothing. This scent revived him; he opened his eyes; he was able to utter the words: “Ah! Dear friend!” Then once again he fainted away.
The faithful Bruno, with a squad of police all devoted to the Conte, was in reserve at a distance of two hundred yards; the Conte himself was hidden in a small house close to the place where the Duchessa was waiting. He would not have hesitated, had it been necessary, to take his sword in his hand, with a party of half-pay officers, his intimate friends; he regarded himself as obliged to save the life of Fabrizio, who seemed to him to be exposed to great risk, and would long ago have had his pardon signed by the Prince, if he, Mosca, had not been so foolish as to seek to avoid making the Sovereign write a foolish thing.
Since midnight the Duchessa, surrounded by men armed to the teeth, had been pacing in deep silence outside the ramparts of the citadel; she could not stay in one place, she thought that she would have to fight to rescue Fabrizio from the men who would pursue him. This ardent imagination had taken a hundred precautions, too long to be given here in detail, and of an incredible imprudence. It was calculated that more than eighty agents were afoot that night, in readiness to fight for something extraordinary. Fortunately Ferrante and Lodovico were at the head of all these men, and the Minister of Police was not hostile; but the Conte himself remarked that the Duchessa was not betrayed by anyone, and that he himself, as Minister, knew nothing.
The Duchessa lost her head altogether on seeing Fabrizio again; she clasped him convulsively in her arms, then was in despair on seeing herself covered in blood: it was the blood from Fabrizio’s hands; she thought that he was dangerously wounded. With the assistance of one of her men, she was taking off his coat to bandage him when Lodovico, who fortunately happened to be on the spot, firmly put her and Fabrizio in one of the little carriages which were hidden in a garden near the gate of the town, and they set off at full gallop to cross the Po near Sacca. Ferrante, with a score of well-armed men, formed the rearguard, and had sworn on his head to stop the pursuit. The Conte, alone and on foot, did not leave the neighbourhood of the citadel until two hours later, when he saw that no one was stirring. “Look at me, committing high treason,” he said to himself, mad with joy.
Lodovico had the excellent idea of placing in one of the carriages a young surgeon attached to the Duchessa’s household, who was of much the same build as Fabrizio.
“Make your escape,” he told him, “in the direction of Bologna; be as awkward as possible, try to have yourself arrested; then contradict yourself in your answers, and finally admit that you are Fabrizio del Dongo; above all, gain time. Use your skill in being awkward, you will get off with a month’s imprisonment, and the Signora will give you fifty sequins.”
“Does one think of money when one is serving the Signora?”
He set off, and was arrested a few hours later, an event which gave great joy to General Fabio Conti and also to Rassi, who, with Fabrizio’s peril, saw his Barony taking flight.
The escape was not known at the citadel until about six o’clock in the morning, and it was not until ten that they dared inform the Prince. The Duchessa had been so well served that, in spite of Fabrizio’s deep sleep, which she mistook for a dead faint, with the result that she stopped the carriage three times, she crossed the Po in a boat as four was striking. There were relays on the other side, they covered two leagues more at great speed, then were stopped for more than an hour for the examination of their passports. The Duchessa had every variety of these for herself and Fabrizio; but she was mad that day, and took it into her head to give ten napoleons to the clerk of the Austrian police, and to clasp his hand and burst into tears. This clerk, greatly alarmed, began the examination afresh. They took post; the Duchessa paid in so extravagant a fashion that everywhere she aroused suspicions, in that land where every stranger is suspect. Lodovico came to the rescue again: he said that the Signora Duchessa was beside herself with grief at the protracted fever of young Conte Mosca, son of the Prime Minister of Parma, whom she was taking with her to consult the doctors of Pavia.
It was not until they were ten leagues beyond the Po that the prisoner really awoke; he had a dislocated shoulder and a number of slight cuts. The Duchessa again behaved in so extraordinary a fashion that the landlord of a village inn where they dined thought he was entertaining a Princess of the Imperial House, and was going to pay her the honours which he supposed to be due to her when Lodovico told him that the Princess would without fail have him put in prison if he thought of ordering the bells to be rung.
At length, about six o’clock in the evening, they reached Piedmontese territory. There for the first time Fabrizio was in complete safety; he was taken to a little village off the high road, the cuts on his hands were dressed, and he slept for several hours more.
It was in this village that the Duchessa allowed herself to take a step that was not only horrible from the moral point of view, but also fatal to the tranquillity of the rest of her life. Some weeks before Fabrizio’s escape, on a day when the whole of Parma had gone to the gate of the citadel, hoping to see in the courtyard the scaffold that was being erected for his benefit, the Duchessa had shown to Lodovico, who had become the factotum of her household, the secret by which one raised from a little iron frame, very cunningly concealed, one of the stones forming the floor of the famous reservoir of the palazzo Sanseverina, a work of the thirteenth century, of which we have spoken already. While Fabrizio was lying asleep in the trattoria of this little village, the Duchessa sent for Lodovico. He thought that she had gone mad, so strange was the look that she gave him.
“You probably expect,” she said to him, “that I am going to give you several thousand francs; well, I am not; I know you, you are a poet, you would soon squander it all. I am giving you the small podere of La Ricciarda, a league from Casalmaggiore.” Lodovico flung himself at her feet, mad with joy, and protesting in heartfelt accents that it was not with any thought of earning money that he had helped to save Monsignor Fabrizio; that he had always loved him with a special affection since he had had the honour to drive him once, in his capacity as the Signora’s third coachman. When this man, who was genuinely warm-hearted, thought that he had taken up enough of the time of so great a lady, he took his leave; but she, with flashing eyes, said to him:
She paced without uttering a word the floor of this inn room, looking from time to time at Lodovico with incredible eyes. Finally the man, seeing that this strange exercise showed no sign of coming to an end, took it upon himself to address his mistress.
“The Signora has made me so extravagant a gift, one so far beyond anything that a poor man like me could imagine, and moreover so much greater than the humble services which I have had the honour to render, that I feel, on my conscience, that I cannot accept the podere of La Ricciarda. I have the honour to return this land to the Signora, and to beg her to grant me a pension of four hundred francs.”
“How many times in your life,” she said to him with the most sombre pride, “how many times have you heard it said that I had abandoned a project once I had made it?”
After uttering this sentence, the Duchessa continued to walk up and down the room for some minutes; then suddenly stopping, cried:
“It is by accident, and because he managed to attract that little girl, that Fabrizio’s life has been saved! If he had not been attractive, he would now be dead. Can you deny that?” she asked, advancing on Lodovico with eyes in which the darkest fury blazed. Lodovico recoiled a few steps and thought her mad, which gave him great uneasiness as to the possession of his podere of La Ricciarda.
“Very well!” the Duchessa went on, in the most winning and light-hearted tone, completely changed, “I wish my good people of Sacca to have a mad holiday which they will long remember. You are going to return to Sacca; have you any objection? Do you think that you will be running any risk?”
“None to speak of, Signora: none of the people of Sacca will ever say that I was in Monsignor Fabrizio’s service. Besides, if I may venture to say so to the Signora, I am burning to see my property at La Ricciarda: it seems so odd for me to be a landowner!”
“Your gaiety pleases me. The farmer at La Ricciarda owes me, I think, three or four years’ rent; I make him a present of half of what he owes me, and the other half of all these arrears I give to you, but on this condition: you will go to Sacca, you will say there that the day after tomorrow is the festa of one of my patron saints, and, on the evening after your arrival, you will have my house illuminated in the most splendid fashion. Spare neither money nor trouble; remember that the occasion is the greatest happiness of my life. I have prepared for this illumination long beforehand; more than three months ago, I collected in the cellars of the house everything that can be used for this noble festa; I have put the gardener in charge of all the fireworks necessary for a magnificent display: you will let them off from the terrace overlooking the Po. I have eighty-nine large barrels of wine in my cellars, you will set up eighty-nine fountains of wine in my park. If next day there remains a single bottle which has not been drunk, I shall say that you do not love Fabrizio. When the fountains of wine, the illumination and the fireworks are well started, you will slip away cautiously, for it is possible, and it is my hope, that at Parma all these fine doings may appear an insolence.”
“It is not possible, it is only a certainty; as it is certain too that the Fiscal Rassi, who signed Monsignore’s sentence, will burst with rage. And indeed,” added Lodovico timidly, “if the Signora wished to give more pleasure to her poor servant than by bestowing on him half the arrears of La Ricciarda, she would allow me to play a little joke on that Rassi. .. .”
“You are a stout fellow!” cried the Duchessa in a transport; “but I forbid you absolutely to do anything to Rassi: I have a plan of having him publicly hanged, later on. As for you, try not to have yourself arrested at Sacca; everything would be spoiled if I lost you.”
“I, Signora! After I have said that I am celebrating the festa of one of the Signora’s patrons, if the police sent thirty constables to upset things, you may be sure that before they had reached the Croce Rossa in the middle of the village, not one of them would be on his horse. They’re no fools, the people of Sacca; finished smugglers all of them, and they worship the Signora.”
“Finally,” went on the Duchessa with a singularly detached air, “if I give wine to my good people of Sacca, I wish to flood the inhabitants of Parma; the same evening on which my house is illuminated, take the best horse in my stable, dash to my palazzo in Parma, and open the reservoir.”
“Ah! What an excellent idea of the Signora!” cried Lodovico, laughing like a madman; “wine for the good people of Sacca, water for the cits of Parma, who were so sure, the wretches, that Monsignor Fabrizio was going to be poisoned like poor L——.”
Lodovico’s joy knew no end; the Duchessa complacently watched his wild laughter; he kept on repeating “Wine for the people of Sacca and water for the people of Parma! The Signora no doubt knows better than I that when they rashly emptied the reservoir, twenty years ago, there was as much as a foot of water in many of the streets of Parma.”
“And water for the people of Parma,” retorted the Duchessa with a laugh. “The avenue past the citadel would have been filled with people if they had cut off Fabrizio’s head. . . . They all call him the great culprit. . . . But, above all, do everything carefully, so that not a living soul knows that the flood was started by you or ordered by me. Fabrizio, the Conte himself must be left in ignorance of this mad prank. . . . But I was forgetting the poor of Sacca: go and write a letter to my agent, which I shall sign; you will tell him that, for the festa of my holy patron, he must distribute a hundred sequins among the poor of Sacca, and tell him to obey you in everything to do with the illumination, the fireworks and the wine; and especially that there must not be a full bottle in my cellars next day.”
“The Signora’s agent will have no difficulty except in one thing: in the five years that the Signora has had the villa, she has not left ten poor persons in Sacca.”
“And water for the people of Parma!” the Duchessa went on chanting. “How will you carry out this joke?”
“My plans are all made: I leave Sacca about nine o’clock, at half past ten my horse is at the inn of the Tre Ganasce, on the road to Casalmaggiore and to my podere of La Ricciarda; at eleven, I am in my room in the palazzo, and at a quarter past eleven water for the people of Parma, and more than they wish, to drink to the health of the great culprit. Ten minutes later, I leave the town by the Bologna road. I make, as I pass it, a profound bow to the citadel, which Monsignore’s courage and the Signora’s spirit have succeeded in disgracing; I take a path across country, which I know well, and I make my entry into La Ricciarda.”
Lodovico raised his eyes to the Duchessa and was startled. She was staring fixedly at the blank wall six paces away from her, and, it must be admitted, her expression was terrible.
“Ah! My poor podere!” thought Ludovico. “The fact of the matter is, she is mad!” The Duchessa looked at him and read bis thoughts.
“Ah! Signor Lodovico the great poet, you wish a deed of gift in writing: run and find me a sheet of paper.” Lodovico did not wait to be told twice, and the Duchessa wrote out in her own hand a long form of receipt, ante-dated by a year, in which she declared that she had received from Lodovico San Micheli the sum of 80,000 francs, and had given him in pledge the lands of La Ricciarda. If after the lapse of twelve months the Duchessa had not restored the said 80,000 francs to Lodovico, the lands of La Ricciarda were to remain his property.
“It is a fine action,” the Duchessa said to herself, “to give to a faithful servant nearly a third of what I have left for myself.”
“Now then,” she said to Lodovico, “after the joke of the reservoir, I give you just two days to enjoy yourself at Casalmaggiore. For the conveyance to hold good, say that it is a transaction which dates back more than a year. Come back and join me at Belgirate, and as quickly as possible; Fabrizio is perhaps going to England, where you will follow him.”
Early the next day the Duchessa and Fabrizio were at Belgirate.
They took up then” abode in that enchanting village; but a killing grief awaited the Duchessa on Lake Maggiore. Fabrizio was entirely changed; from the first moments in which he had awoken from his sleep, still somewhat lethargic, after his escape, the Duchessa had noticed that something out of the common was occurring in him. The deep-lying sentiment, which he took great pains to conceal, was distinctly odd, it was nothing less than this: he was in despair at being out of his prison. He was careful not to admit this cause of his sorrow, which would have led to questions which he did not wish to answer.
“What!” said the Duchessa, in amazement, “that horrible sensation when hunger forced you to feed, so as not to fall down, on one of those loathsome dishes supplied by the prison kitchen, that sensation: ‘Is there some strange taste in this, am I poisoning myself at this moment?’— did not that sensation fill you with horror?”
“I thought of death,” replied Fabrizio, “as I suppose soldiers think of it: it was a possible thing which I thought to avoid by taking care.”
And so, what uneasiness, what grief for the Duchessa! This adored, singular, vivid, original creature was now before her eyes a prey to an endless train of fancies; he actually preferred solitude to the pleasure of talking of all manner of things, and with an open heart, to the best friend that he had in the world. Still he was always good, assiduous, grateful towards the Duchessa; he would, as before, have given his life a hundred times over for her; but his heart was elsewhere. They often went four or five leagues over that sublime lake without uttering a word. The conversation, the exchange of cold thoughts that from then onwards was possible between them might perhaps have seemed pleasant to others; but they remembered still, the Duchessa especially, what their conversation had been before that fatal fight with Giletti which had set them apart. Fabrizio owed the Duchessa an account of the nine months that he had spent in a horrible prison, and it appeared that he had nothing to say of this detention but brief and unfinished sentences.
“It was bound to happen sooner or later,” the Duchessa told herself with a gloomy sadness. “Grief has aged me, or else he is really in love, and I have now only the second place in his heart.” Demeaned, cast down by the greatest of all possible griefs, the Duchessa said to herself at times: “If, by the will of heaven, Ferrante should become mad altogether, or his courage should fail, I feel that I should be less unhappy.” From that moment this half-remorse poisoned the esteem that the Duchessa had for her own character. “So,” she said to herself bitterly, “I am repenting of a resolution I have already made. Then I am no longer a del Dongo!”
“It is the will of heaven,” she would say: “Fabrizio is in love, and what right have I to wish that he should not be in love? Has one single word of genuine love ever passed between us?”
This idea, reasonable as it was, kept her from sleeping, and in short, a thing which shewed how old age and a weakening of the heart had come over her, she was a hundred times more unhappy than at Parma. As for the person who could be responsible for Fabrizio’s strange abstraction, it was hardly possible to entertain any reasonable doubt: Clelia Conti, that pious girl, had betrayed her father since she had consented to make the garrison drunk, and never once did Fabrizio speak of Clelia! “But,” added the Duchessa, beating her breast in desperation, “if the garrison had not been made drunk, all my stratagems, all my exertions became useless; so it is she that saved him!”
It was with extreme difficulty that the Duchessa obtained from Fabrizio any details of the events of that night, which, she said to herself, “would at one time have been the subject of an endlessly renewed discussion between us! In those happy times he would have talked for a whole day, with a force and gaiety endlessly renewed, of the smallest trifle which I thought of bringing forward.”
As it was necessary to think of everything, the Duchessa had installed Fabrizio at the port of Locarno, a Swiss town at the head of Lake Maggiore. Every day she went to fetch him in a boat for long excursions over the lake. Well, on one occasion when she took it into her head to go up to his room, she found the walls lined with a number of views of the town of Parma, for which he had sent to Milan or to Parma itself, a place which he ought to be holding in abomination. His little sitting-room, converted into a studio, was littered with all the apparatus of a painter in water-colours, and she found him finishing a third sketch of the Torre Farnese and the governor’s palazzo.
“The only thing for you to do now,” she said to him with an air of vexation, “is to make a portrait from memory of that charming governor whose only wish was to poison you. But, while I think of it,” she went on, “you ought to write him a letter of apology for having taken the liberty of escaping and making his citadel look foolish.”
The poor woman little knew how true her words were: no sooner had he arrived in a place of safety than Fabrizio’s first thought had been to write General Fabio Conti a perfectly polite and in a sense highly ridiculous letter; he asked his pardon for having escaped, offering as an excuse that a certain subordinate in the prison had been ordered to give him poison. Little did he care what he wrote, Fabrizio hoped that Clelia’s eyes would see this letter, and his cheeks were wet with tears as he wrote it. He ended it with a very pleasant sentence: he ventured to say that, finding himself at liberty, he frequently had occasion to regret his little room in the Torre Farnese. This was the principal thought in his letter, he hoped that Clelia would understand it. In his writing vein, and always in the hope of being read by someone, Fabrizio addressed his thanks to Don Cesare, that good chaplain who had lent him books on theology. A few days later Fabrizio arranged that the small bookseller of Locarno should make the journey to Milan, where this bookseller, a friend of the celebrated bibliomaniac Reina, bought the most sumptuous editions that he could find of the works that Don Cesare had lent Fabrizio. The good chaplain received these books and a handsome letter which informed him that, in moments of impatience, pardonable perhaps to a poor prisoner, the writer had covered the margins of his books with silly notes. He begged him, accordingly, to replace them in his library with the volumes which the most lively gratitude took the liberty of presenting to him.
Fabrizio was very modest in giving the simple name of notes to the endless scribblings with which he had covered the margins of a folio volume of the works of Saint Jerome. In the hope that he might be able to send back this book to the good chaplain, and exchange it for another, he had written day by day on the margins a very exact diary of all that occurred to him in prison; the great events were nothing else than ecstasies of divine love (this word divine took the place of another which he dared not write). At one moment this divine love led the prisoner to a profound despair, at other times a voice heard in the air restored some hope and caused transports of joy. All this, fortunately, was written with prison ink, made of wine, chocolate and soot, and Don Cesare had done no more than cast an eye over it as he put back on his shelves the volume of Saint Jerome. If he had studied the margins, he would have seen that one day the prisoner, believing himself to have been poisoned, was congratulating himself on dying at a distance of less than forty yards from what he had loved best in the world. But another eye than the good chaplain’s had read this page since his escape. That fine idea: To die near what one loves! expressed in a hundred different fashions, was followed by a sonnet in which one saw that this soul, parted, after atrocious torments, from the frail body in which it had dwelt for three-and-twenty years, urged by that instinct for happiness natural to everything that has once existed, would not mount to heaven to mingle with the choirs of angels as soon as it should be free, and should the dread Judgment grant it pardon for its sins; but that, more fortunate after death than it had been in life, it would go a little way from the prison, where for so long it had groaned, to unite itself with all that it had loved in this world. And “So,” said the last line of the sonnet, “I should find my earthly paradise.”
Although they spoke of Fabrizio in the citadel of Parma only as of an infamous traitor who had outraged the most sacred ties of duty, still the good priest Don Cesare was delighted by the sight of the fine books which an unknown hand had conveyed to him; for Fabrizio had decided to write to him only a few days after sending them, for fear lest his name might make the whole parcel be rejected with indignation. Don Cesare said no word of this kind attention to his brother, who flew into a rage at the mere name of Fabrizio; but since the latter’s flight, he had returned to all his old intimacy with his charming niece; and as he had once taught her a few words of Latin, he let her see the fine books that he had received. Such had been the traveller’s hope. Suddenly Clelia blushed deeply, she had recognised Fabrizio’s handwriting. Long and very narrow strips of yellow paper were placed by way of markers in various parts of the volume. And as it is true to say that in the midst of the sordid pecuniary interests, and of the colourless coldness of the vulgar thoughts which fill our lives, the actions inspired by a true passion rarely fail to produce their effect; as though a propitious deity were taking the trouble to lead them by the hand, Clelia, guided by this instinct, and by the thought of one thing only in the world, asked her uncle to compare the old copy of Saint Jerome with the one that he had just received. How can I describe her rapture in the midst of the gloomy sadness in which Fabrizio’s absence had plunged her, when she found on the margins of the old Saint Jerome the sonnet of which we have spoken, and the records, day by day, of the love that he had felt for her.
>From the first day she knew the sonnet by heart; she would sing it, leaning on her window-sill, before the window, “henceforward empty, where she had so often seen a little opening appear in the screen. This screen had been taken down to be placed in the office of the criminal court, and to serve as evidence in a ridiculous prosecution which Rassi was drawing up against Fabrizio, accused of the crime of having escaped, or, as the Fiscal said, laughing himself as he said it, of having removed himself from the clemency of a magnanimous Prince!
Each stage in Clelia’s actions was for her a matter for keen remorse, and now that she was unhappy, her remorse was all the keener. She sought to mitigate somewhat the reproaches that she addressed to herself by reminding herself of the vow never to see Fabrizio again, which she had made to the Madonna at the time when the General was nearly poisoned, and since then had renewed daily.
Her father had been made ill by Fabrizio’s escape, and, moreover, had been on the point of losing his post, when the Prince, in his anger, dismissed all the gaolers of the Torre Farnese, and sent them as prisoners to the town gaol. The General had been saved partly by the intercession of Conte Mosca, who preferred to see him shut up at the top of his citadel, rather than as an active and intriguing rival in court circles.
It was during the fortnight of uncertainty as to the disgrace of General Fabio Conti, who was really ill, that Clelia had the courage to carry out this sacrifice which she had announced to Fabrizio. She had had the sense to be ill on the day of the general rejoicings, which was also that of the prisoner’s flight, as the reader may perhaps remember; she was ill also on the following day, and, in a word, managed things so well that, with the exception of Grillo, whose special duty it was to look after Fabrizio, no one had any suspicion of her complicity, and Grillo held his tongue.
But as soon as Clelia had no longer any anxiety in that direction, she was even more cruelly tormented by her just remorse. “What argument in the world,” she asked herself, “can mitigate the crime of a daughter who betrays her father?”
One evening, after a day spent almost entirely in the chapel, and in tears, she begged her uncle, Don Cesare, to accompany her to the General, whose outbursts of rage alarmed her all the more since into every topic he introduced imprecations against Fabrizio, that abominable traitor.
Having come into her father’s presence, she had the courage to say to him that if she had always refused to give her hand to the Marchese Crescenzi, it was because she did not feel any inclination towards him, and was certain of finding no happiness in such a union. At these words the General flew into a rage; and Clelia had some difficulty in making herself heard. She added that if her father, tempted by the Marchese’s great fortune, felt himself bound to give her a definite order to marry him, she was prepared to obey. The General was quite astonished by this conclusion, which he had been far from expecting; he ended, however, by rejoicing at it. “So,” he said to his brother, “I shall not be reduced to a lodging on a second floor, if that scoundrel Fabrizio makes me lose my post through his vile conduct.”
Conte Mosca did not fail to shew himself profoundly scandalised by the flight of that scapegrace Fabrizio, and repeated when the occasion served the expression invented by Rassi to describe the base conduct of the young man — a very vulgar young man, to boot — who had removed himself from the clemency of the Prince. This witty expression, consecrated by good society, did not take hold at all of the people. Left to their own good sense, while fully believing in Fabrizio’s guilt they admired the determination that he must have had to let himself down from so high a wall. Not a creature at court admired this courage. As for the police, greatly humiliated by this rebuff, they had officially discovered that a band of twenty soldiers, corrupted by the money distributed by the Duchessa, that woman of such atrocious ingratitude whose name was no longer uttered save with a sigh, had given Fabrizio four ladders tied together, each forty-five feet long; Fabrizio, having let down a cord which they had tied to these ladders, had had only the quite commonplace distinction of pulling the ladders up to where he was. Certain Liberals, well known for their imprudence, and among them Doctor C— — an agent paid directly by the Prince, added, but compromised themselves by adding that these atrocious police had had the barbarity to shoot eight of the unfortunate soldiers who had facilitated the flight of that wretch Fabrizio. Thereupon he was blamed even by the true Liberals, as having caused by his imprudence by the death of eight poor soldiers. It is thus that petty despotisms reduce to nothing the value of public opinion.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00