Amid this general uproar, Archbishop Landriani alone shewed himself loyal to the cause of his young friend; he made bold to repeat, even at the Princess’s court, the legal maxim according to which, in every case, one ought to keep an ear free from all prejudice to hear the plea of an absent party.
The day after Fabrizio’s escape a number of people had received a sonnet of no great merit which celebrated this flight as one of the fine actions of the age, and compared Fabrizio to an angel arriving on the earth with outspread wings. On the evening of the following day, the whole of Parma was repeating a sublime sonnet. It was Fabrizio’s monologue as he let himself slide down the cord, and passed judgment on the different incidents of his life. This sonnet gave him a place in literature by two magnificent lines; all the experts recognised the style of Ferrante Palla.
But here I must seek the epic style: where can I find colours in which to paint the torrents of indignation that suddenly flooded every orthodox heart, when they learned of the frightful insolence of this illumination of the house at Sacca? There was but one outcry against the Duchessa; even the true Liberals decided that such an action compromised in a barbarous fashion the poor suspects detained in the various prisons, and needlessly exasperated the heart of the Sovereign. Conte Mosca declared that there was but one thing left for the Duchessa’s former friends — to forget her. The concert of execration was therefore unanimous: a stranger passing through the town would have been struck by the energy of public opinion. But in the country, where they know how to appreciate the pleasure of revenge, the illumination and the admirable feast given in the park to more than six thousand contadini had an immense success. Everyone in Parma repeated that the Duchessa had distributed a thousand sequins among her contadini; thus they explained the somewhat harsh reception given to a party of thirty constables whom the police had been so foolish as to send to that small village, thirty-six hours after the sublime evening and the general intoxication that had followed it. The constables, greeted with showers of stones, had turned and fled, and two of their number, who fell from their horses, were flung into the Po.
As for the bursting of the great reservoir of the palazzo Sanseverina, it had passed almost unnoticed: it was during the night that several streets had been more or less flooded, next morning one would have said that it had rained. Lodovico had taken care to break the panes of a window in the palazzo, so as to account for the entry of robbers.
They had even found a little ladder. Only Conte Mosca recognised his friend’s inventive genius.
Fabrizio was fully determined to return to Parma as soon as he could; he sent Lodovico with a long letter to the Archbishop, and this faithful servant came back to post at the first village in Piedmont, San Nazzaro, to the west of Pavia, a Latin epistle which the worthy prelate addressed to his young client. We may add here a detail which, like many others no doubt, will seem otiose in countries where there is no longer any need of precaution. The name of Fabrizio del Dongo was never written; all the letters that were intended for him were addressed to Lodovico San Micheli, at Locarno in Switzerland, or at Belgirate in Piedmont. The envelope was made of a coarse paper, the seal carelessly applied, the address barely legible and sometimes adorned with recommendations worthy of a cook; all the letters were dated from Naples six days before their actual date.
>From the Piedmontese village of San Nazzaro, near Pavia, Lodovico returned in hot haste to Parma; he was charged with a mission to which Fabrizio attached the greatest importance; this was nothing less than to convey to Clelia Conti a handkerchief on which was printed a sonnet of Petrarch. It is true that a word was altered in this sonnet: Clelia found it on the table two days after she had received the thanks of the Marchese Crescenzi, who professed himself the happiest of men; and there is no need to say what impression this token of a still constant remembrance produced on her heart.
Lodovico was to try to procure all possible details as to what was happening at the citadel. He it was who told Fabrizio the sad news that the Marchese Crescenzi’s marriage seemed now to be definitely settled; scarcely a day passed without his giving a festa for Clelia, inside the citadel. A decisive proof of the marriage was that the Marchese, immensely rich and in consequence very avaricious, as is the custom among the opulent people of Northern Italy, was making immense preparations, and yet he was marrying a girl without a portion. It was true that General Fabio Conti, his vanity greatly shocked by this observation, the first to spring to the minds of all his compatriots, had just bought a properly worth more than 300,000 francs; and for this property he, who had nothing, had paid in ready money, evidently with the Marchese’s gold. Moreover, the General had said that he was giving this property to his daughter on her marriage. But the charges for the documents and other matters, which amounted to more than 12,000 francs, seemed a most ridiculous waste of money to the Marchese, a man of eminently logical mind. For his part he was having woven at Lyons a set of magnificent tapestries of admirably blended colours, calculated to charm the eye, by the famous Pallagi, the Bolognese painter. These tapestries, each of which embodied some deed of arms by the Crescenzi family, which, as the whole world knows, is descended from the famous Crescentius, Roman Consul in the year 985, were to furnish the seventeen saloons which composed the ground floor of the Marchese’s palazzo. The tapestries, clocks and lustres sent to Parma cost more than 350,000 francs; the price of the new mirrors, in addition to those which the house already possessed, came to 200,000 francs. With the exception of two rooms, famous works of the Parmigianino, the greatest of local painters after the divine Correggio, all those of the first and second floors were now occupied by the leading painters of Florence, Rome and Milan, who were decorating them with paintings in fresco. Fokelberg, the great Swedish sculptor, Tenerani of Rome and Marchesi of Milan had been at work for the last year on ten bas-reliefs representing as many brave deeds of Crescentius, that truly great man. The majority of the ceilings, painted in fresco, also offered some allusion to his life. The ceiling most generally admired was that on which Hayez of Milan had represented Crescentius being received in the Elysian Fields by Francesco Sforza, Lorenzo the Magnificent, King Robert, the Tribune Cola di Rienzi, Machiavelli, Dante and the other great men of the middle ages. Admiration for these chosen spirits is supposed to be an epigram at the expense of the men in power.
All these sumptuous details occupied the exclusive attention of the nobility and burgesses of Parma, and pierced our hero’s heart when he read of them, related with an artless admiration, in a long letter of more than twenty pages which Lodovico had dictated to a doganiere of Casalmaggiore.
“And I, who am so poor!” said Fabrizio, “an income of four thousand lire in all and for all! It is truly an impertinence in me to dare to be in love with Clelia Conti for whom all these miracles are being performed.”
A single paragraph in Lodovico’s long letter, but written, this, in his own villainous hand, announced to his master that he had met, at night and apparently in hiding, the unfortunate Grillo, his former gaoler, who had been put in prison and then released. The man had asked him for a sequin in charity, and Lodovico had given him four in the Duchessa’s name. The old gaolers recently set at liberty, twelve in number, were preparing an entertainment with their knives (un trattamento di cortellate) for the new gaolers their successors, should they ever succeed in meeting them outside the citadel. Grillo had said that almost every day there was a serenade at the fortress, that Signorina Clelia was extremely pale, often ill, and other things of the sort. This absurd expression caused Lodovico to receive, by courier after courier, the order to return to Locarno. He returned, and the details which he supplied by word of mouth were even more depressing for Fabrizio.
One may judge what consideration he was shewing for the poor Duchessa; he would have suffered a thousand deaths rather than utter in her hearing the name of Clelia Conti. The Duchessa abhorred Parma; whereas, for Fabrizio, everything which recalled that city was at once sublime and touching.
Less than ever had the Duchessa forgotten her revenge; she had been so happy before the incident of Giletti’s death — and now, what a fate was hers! She was living in expectation of a dire event of which she was careful not to say a word to Fabrizio, she who before, at the time of her arrangement with Ferrante, thought she would so delight Fabrizio by telling him that one day he would be avenged.
One can now form some idea of the pleasantness of Fabrizio’s conversations with the Duchessa: a gloomy silence reigned almost invariably between them. To enhance the pleasantness of their relations, the Duchessa had yielded to the temptation to play a trick on this too dear nephew. The Conte wrote to her almost every day; evidently he was sending couriers as in the days of their infatuation, for his letters always bore the postmark of some little town in Switzerland. The poor man was torturing his mind so as not to speak too openly of his affection, and to construct amusing letters; barely did a distracted eye glance over them. What avails, alas, the fidelity of a respected lover when one’s heart is pierced by the coldness of the other whom one sets above him?
In the space of two months the Duchessa answered him only once, and that was to engage him to explore how the land lay round the Princess, and to see whether, despite the impertinence of the fireworks, a letter from her, the Duchessa, would be received with pleasure. The letter which he was to present, if he thought fit, requested the post of Cavaliere d’onore to the Princess, which had recently fallen vacant, for the Marchese Crescenzi, and desired that it should be conferred upon him in consideration of his marriage. The Duchessa’s letter was a masterpiece; it was a message of the most tender respect, expressed in the best possible terms; the writer had not admitted to this courtly style a single word the consequences, even the remotest consequences of which could be other than agreeable to the Princess. The reply also breathed a tender friendship, which was being tortured by the absence of its recipient.
“My son and I,” the Princess told her, “have not spent one evening that could be called tolerable since your sudden departure. Does my dear Duchessa no longer remember that it was she who caused me to be consulted in the nomination of the officers of my household? Does she then think herself obliged to give me reasons for the Marchese’s appointment, as if the expression of her desire was not for me the chief of reasons? The Marchese shall have the post, if I can do anything; and there will always be one in my heart, and that the first, for my dear Duchessa. My son employs absolutely the same expressions, a little strong perhaps on the lips of a great boy of one-and-twenty, and asks you for specimens of the minerals of the Val d’Orla, near Belgirate. You may address your letters, which will, I hope, be frequent, to the Conte, who still adores you and who is especially dear to me on account of these sentiments. The Archbishop also has remained faithful to you. We all hope to see you again one day: remember that it is your duty. The Marchesa Ghisleri, my Grand Mistress, is preparing to leave this world for a better: the poor woman has done me much harm; she displeases me still further by departing so inopportunely; her illness makes me think of the name which I should once have set with so much pleasure in the place of hers, if, that is, I could have obtained that sacrifice of her independence from that matchless woman who, in fleeing from us, has taken with her all the joy of my little court,” and so forth.
It was therefore with the consciousness of having sought to hasten, so far as it lay in her power, the marriage which was filling Fabrizio with despair, that the Duchessa saw him every day. And so they spent sometimes four or five hours in drifting together over the lake, without exchanging a single word. The good feeling was entire and perfect on Fabrizio’s part; but he was thinking of other things, and his innocent and simple nature furnished him with nothing to say. The Duchessa saw this, and it was her punishment.
We have forgotten to mention in the proper place that the Duchessa had taken a house at Belgirate, a charming village and one that contains everything which its name promises (to wit a beautiful bend in the lake). From the window-sill of her drawing-room, the Duchessa could set foot in her boat. She had taken a quite simple one for which four rowers would have sufficed; she engaged twelve, and arranged things so as to have a man from each of the villages situated in the neighbourhood of Belgirate. The third or fourth time that she found herself in the middle of the lake with all of these well-chosen men, she stopped the movement of their oars.
“I regard you all as friends,” she said to them, “and I wish to confide a secret in you. My nephew Fabrizio has escaped from prison; and possibly by treachery they will seek to recapture him, although he is on your lake, in a place of freedom. Keep your ears open, and inform me of all that you may hear. I authorise you to enter my room by day or night.”
The rowers replied with enthusiasm; she knew how to make herself loved. But she did not think that there was any question of recapturing Fabrizio: it was for herself that all these precautions were taken, and, before the fatal order to open the reservoir of the palazzo Sanseverina, she would not have dreamed of them.
Her prudence had led her also to take an apartment at the port of Locarno for Fabrizio; every day he came to see her, or she herself crossed into Switzerland. One may judge of the pleasantness of their perpetual companionship by the following detail. The Marchesa and her daughter came twice to see them, and the presence of these strangers gave them pleasure; for, in spite of the ties of blood, we may call “stranger” a person who knows nothing of our dearest interests and whom we see but once in a year.
The Duchessa happened to be one evening at Locarno, in Fabrizio’s rooms, with the Marchesa and her two daughters. The Archpriest of the place and the curate had come to pay their respects to these ladies: the Archpriest, who had an interest in a business house, and kept closely in touch with the news, was inspired to announce:
“The Prince of Parma is dead!”
The Duchessa turned extremely pale; she had barely the strength to say:
“Do they give any details?”
“No,” replied the Archpriest; “the report is confined to the announcement of his death, which is certain.”
The Duchessa looked at Fabrizio. “I have done this for him,” she said to herself; “I would have done things a thousand times worse, and there he is standing before me indifferent, and dreaming of another!” It was beyond the Duchessa’s strength to endure this frightful thought; she fell in a dead faint. Everyone hastened to her assistance; but, on coming to herself, she observed that Fabrizio was less active than the Archpriest and curate; he was dreaming as usual.
“He is thinking of returning to Parma,” the Duchessa told herself, “and perhaps of breaking off Clelia’s marriage to the Marchese; but I shall manage to prevent him.” Then, remembering the presence of the two priests, she made haste to add:
“He was a good Prince, and has been greatly maligned! It is an immense loss for us!”
The priests took their leave, and the Duchessa, to be alone, announced that she was going to bed.
“No doubt,” she said to herself, “prudence ordains that I should wait a month or two before returning to Parma; but I feel that I shall never have the patience; I am suffering too keenly here. Fabrizio’s continual dreaming, his silence, are an intolerable spectacle for my heart. Who would ever have said that I should find it tedious to float on this charming lake, alone with him, and at the moment when I have done, to avenge him, more than I can tell him! After such a spectacle, death is nothing. It is now that I am paying for the transports of happiness and childish joy which I found in my palazzo at Parma when I welcomed Fabrizio there on his return from Naples. If I had said a word, all was at an end, and it may be that, tied to me, he would not have given a thought to that little Clelia; but that word filled me with a horrible repugnance. Now she has prevailed over me. What more simple? She is twenty; and I, altered by my anxieties, sick, I am twice her age! . . . I must die, I must make an end of things! A woman of forty is no longer anything save to the men who have loved her in her youth! Now I shall find nothing more but the pleasures of vanity; and are they worth the trouble of living? All the more reason for going to Parma, and amusing myself. If things took a certain turn, I should lose my life. Well, where is the harm? I shall make a magnificent death, and, before the end, but then only, I shall say to Fabrizio: ‘Wretch! It is for you!’ Yes, I can find no occupation for what little life remains to me save at Parma. I shall play the great lady there. What a blessing if I could be sensible now of all those distinctions which used to make the Raversi so unhappy! Then, in order to see my happiness, I had to look into the eyes of envy. . . . My vanity has one satisfaction; with the exception of the Conte perhaps, no one can have guessed what the event was that put an end to the life of my heart. . . . I shall love Fabrizio, I shall be devoted to his interests; but he must not be allowed to break off Clelia’s marriage, and end by taking her himself. . . . No, that shall not be!”
The Duchessa had reached this point in her melancholy monologue, when she heard a great noise in the house.
“Good!” she said to herself, “they are coming to arrest me; Ferrante has let himself be caught, he must have spoken. Well, all the better! I am going to have an occupation, I am going to fight them for my head. But in the first place, I must not let myself be taken.”
The Duchessa, half clad, fled to the bottom of her garden: she was already thinking of climbing a low wall and escaping across country; but she saw someone enter her room. She recognised Bruno, the Conte’s confidential man; he was alone with her maid. She went up to the window. The man Was telling her maid of the injuries he had received. The Duchessa entered the house. Bruno almost flung himself at her feet, imploring her not to tell the Conte of the preposterous hour at which he had arrived.
“Immediately after the Prince’s death,” he went on, “the Signor Conte gave the order to all the posts not to supply horses to subjects of the States of Parma. So that I had to go as far as the Po with the horses of the house, but on leaving the boat my carriage was overturned, broken, smashed, and I had such bad bruises that I could not get on a horse, as was my duty.”
“Very well,” said the Duchessa, “it is three o’clock in the morning: I shall say that you arrived at noon; but you must not go and give me away.”
“I am very grateful for the Signora’s kindness.” Politics in a work of literature are like a pistol-shot in the middle of a concert, something loud and vulgar and yet a thing to which it is not possible to refuse one’s attention.
We are about to speak of very ugly matters, as to which, for more than one reason, we should like to keep silence; but we are forced to do so in order to come to happenings which are in our province, since they have for their theatre the hearts of our characters.
“But, great God, how did that great Prince die?” said the Duchessa to Bruno.
“He was out shooting the birds of passage, in the marshes, along by the Po, two leagues from Sacca. He fell into a hole hidden by a tuft of grass; he was all in a sweat, and caught cold; they carried him to a lonely house where he died in a few hours. Some say that Signor Catena and Signor Borono are dead as well, and that the whole accident arose from the copper pans in the contadino’s house they went to, which were full of verdigris. They took their luncheon there. In fact, the swelled heads, the Jacobins, who say what they would like to be true, speak of poison. I know that my friend Toto, who is a groom at court, would have died but for the kind attention of a rustic who appeared to have a great knowledge of medicine, and gave him some very singular remedies. But they’ve ceased to talk of the Prince’s death already; after all, he was a cruel man. When I left, the people were gathering to kill the Fiscal General Rassi: they were also proposing to set fire to the gates of the citadel, to enable the prisoners to escape. But it was said that Fabio Conti would fire his guns. Others were positive that the gunners at the citadel had poured water on their powder, and refused to massacre their fellow-citizens. But I can tell you something far more interesting: while the surgeon of Sandolaro was mending my poor arm, a man arrived from Parma who said that the mob had caught Barbone, the famous clerk from the citadel, in the street, and had beaten him, and were then going to hang him from the tree on the avenue nearest to the citadel. The mob were marching to break that fine statue of the Prince in the gardens of the court; but the Signor Conte took a battalion of the Guard, paraded them in front of the statue, and sent word to the people that no one who entered the gardens would go out of them alive, and the people took fright. But, what is a very curious thing, which the man who had come from Parma, who is an old constable, repeated several times, is that the Signor Conte kicked General P— — the commander of the Prince’s Guard, and had him led out of the garden by two fusiliers, after tearing off his epaulettes.”
“I can see the Conte doing that,” cried the Duchessa with a transport of joy which she would not have believed possible a minute earlier: “he will never allow anyone to insult our Princess; and as for General P— — in his devotion to his rightful masters, he would never consent to serve the usurper, while the Conte, with less delicacy, fought through all the Spanish campaigns, and has often been reproached for it at court.”
The Duchessa had opened the Conte’s letter, but kept stopping as she read it to put a hundred questions to Bruno.
The letter was very pleasant; the Conte employed the most lugubrious terms, and yet the keenest joy broke out in every word; he avoided any detail of the Prince’s death, and ended with the words:
“You will doubtless return, my dear angel, but I advise you to wait a day or two for the courier whom the Princess will send you, as I hope, today or tomorrow; your return must be as triumphant as your departure was bold. As for the great criminal who is with you, I count upon being able to have him tried by twelve judges selected from all parties in this State. But, to have the monster punished as he deserves, I must first be able to make spills of the other sentence, if it exists.”
The Conte had opened his letter to add:
“Now for a very different matter: I have just issued ammunition to the two battalions of the Guard; I am going to fight, and shall do my best to deserve the title of Cruel with which the Liberals have so long honoured me. That old mummy General P—— has dared to speak in the barracks of making a parley with the populace, who are more or less in revolt. I write to you from the street; I am going to the Palace, which they shall not enter save over my dead body. Good-bye! If I die, it will be worshipping you all the same, as I have lived. Do not forget to draw three hundred thousand francs which are deposited in my name with D—— of Lyons.
“Here is that poor devil Rassi, pale as death, and without his wig; you have no idea what he looks like. The people are absolutely determined to hang him; it would be doing him a great injustice, he deserves to be quartered. He took refuge in my palazzo and has run after me into the street; I hardly know what to do with him. . . . I do not wish to take him to the Prince’s Palace, that would make the revolt break out there. F—— shall see whether I love him; my first word to Rassi was: I must have the sentence passed on Signor del Dongo, and all the copies that you may have of it; and say to all those unjust judges, who are the cause of this revolt, that I will have them all hanged, and you as well, my dear friend, if they breathe a word of that sentence, which never existed. In Fabrizio’s name, I am sending a company of grenadiers to the Archbishop. Good-bye, dear angel. My palazzo is going to be burned, and I shall lose the charming portraits I have of you. I must run to the Palace to degrade that wretched General P— — who is at his tricks; he is basely flattering the people, as he used to flatter the late Prince. All these Generals are in the devil of a fright; I am going, I think, to have myself made Commander in Chief.”
The Duchessa was unkind enough not to send to waken Fabrizio; she felt for the Conte a burst of admiration which was closely akin to love. “When all is said and done,” she decided, “I shall have to marry him.” She wrote to him at once and sent off one of her men. That night the Duchessa had no time to be unhappy.
Next day, about noon, she saw a boat manned by ten rowers which was swiftly cleaving the waters of the lake; Fabrizio and she soon recognised a man wearing the livery of the Prince of Parma: it was, in fact, one of his couriers who, before landing, cried to the Duchessa: “The revolt is suppressed!” This courier gave her several letters from the Conte, an admirable letter from the Princess, and an order from Prince Ranuccio–Ernesto V, on parchment, creating her Duchessa di San Giovanni and Grand Mistress to the Princess Dowager. The young Prince, an expert in mineralogy, whom she regarded as an imbecile, had had the intelligence to write her a little note; but there was love at the end of it. The note began thus:
“The Conte says, Signora Duchessa, that he is pleased with me; the fact is that I stood under fire by his side, and that my horse was hit: seeing the stir that is made about so small a matter, I am keen to take part in a real battle, but not against my subjects. I owe everything to the Conte; all my Generals, who have never been to war, ran like hares; I believe two or three have fled as far as Bologna. Since a great and deplorable event set me in power, I have signed no order which has given me so much pleasure as this which appoints you Grand Mistress to my mother. My mother and I both remembered a day when you admired the fine view one has from the palazzetto of San Giovanni, which once belonged to Petrarch, or so they say at least; my mother wished to give you that little property: and I, not knowing what to give you, and not venturing to offer you all that is rightly yours, have made you Duchessa in my country; I do not know whether you are learned enough in these matters to be aware that Sanseverina is a Roman title. I have just given the Grand Cordon of my Order to our worthy Archbishop, who has shown a firmness very rare in men of seventy. You will not be angry with me for having recalled all the ladies from exile. I am told that I must now sign only after writing the words your affectionate; it annoys me that I should be made to scatter broadcast what is completely true only when I write to you.
Who would not have said, from such language, that the Duchessa was about to enjoy the highest favour? And yet she found something very strange in other letters from the Conte, which she received an hour or two later. He offered no special reason, but advised her to postpone for some days her return to Parma, and to write to the Princess that she was seriously unwell. The Duchessa and Fabrizio set off, nevertheless, for Parma immediately after dinner. The Duchessa’s object, which however she did not admit to herself, was to hasten the Marchese Crescenzi’s marriage; Fabrizio, for his part, spent the journey in wild transports of joy, which seemed to his aunt absurd. He was in hopes of seeing Clelia again soon; he fully counted upon carrying her off, against her will, if there should be no other way of preventing her marriage.
The Duchessa and her nephew made a very gay journey. At a post before Parma, Fabrizio stopped for a minute to change into the ecclesiastical habit; ordinarily he dressed as a layman in mourning. When he returned to the Duchessa’s room:
“I find something suspicious and inexplicable,” she said to him, “in the Conte’s letters. If you would take my advice you would spend a few hours here; I shall send you a courier after I have spoken to that great Minister.”
It was with great reluctance that Fabrizio consented to accept this sensible warning. Transports of joy worthy of a boy of fifteen were the note of the reception which the Conte gave to the Duchessa, whom he called his wife. It was long before he would speak of politics, and when at last they came down to cold reason:
“You did very well to prevent Fabrizio from arriving officially; we are in the full swing of reaction here. Just guess the colleague that the Prince has given me as Minister of Justice! Rassi, my dear, Rassi, whom I treated like the ruffian that he is, on the day of our great adventure. By the way, I must warn you that we have suppressed everything that has happened here. If you read our Gazette you will see that a clerk at the citadel, named Barbone, has died as the result of falling from a carriage. As for the sixty odd rascals whom I dispatched with powder and shot, when they were attacking the Prince’s statue in the gardens, they are in the best of health, only they are travelling abroad. Conte Zurla, the Minister of the Interior, has gone in person to the house of each of these unfortunate heroes, and has handed fifteen sequins to his family or his friends, with the order to say that the deceased is abroad, and a very definite threat of imprisonment should they let it be understood that he is dead. A man from my own Ministry, the Foreign Office, has been sent on a mission to the journalists of Milan and Turin, so that they shall not speak of the unfortunate event — that is the recognised expression; he is to go on to Paris and London, to insert a correction in all the newspapers, semi-officially, of anything that they may say about our troubles. Another agent has posted off to Bologna and Florence. I have shrugged my shoulders.
“But the delightful thing, at my age, is that I felt a moment of enthusiasm when I was speaking to the soldiers of the Guard, and when I tore the epaulettes off that contemptible General P——. At that moment, I would have given my life, without hesitating, for the Prince: I admit now that it would have been a very stupid way of ending it. To-day the Prince, excellent young fellow as he is, would give a hundred scudi to see me die in my bed; he has not yet dared to ask for my resignation, but we speak to each other as seldom as possible, and I send him a number of little reports in writing, as I used to do with the late Prince, after Fabrizio’s imprisonment. By the way, I have not yet made spills out of the sentence they passed on Fabrizio, for the simple reason that that scoundrel Rassi has not let me have it. So you are very wise to prevent Fabrizio from arriving here officially. The sentence still holds good; at the same time I do not think that Rassi would dare to have our nephew arrested now, but it is possible that he will in another fortnight. If Fabrizio absolutely insists on returning to town, let him come and stay with me.”
“But the reason for all this?” cried the Duchessa in astonishment.
“They have persuaded the Prince that I am giving myself the airs of a dictator and a saviour of the country, and that I wish to lead him about like a boy; what is more, in speaking of him, I seem to have uttered the fatal words: that boy. It may be so, I was excited that day; for instance, I looked on him as a great man, because he was not unduly frightened by the first shots he had ever heard fired in his life. He is not lacking in spirit, indeed he has a better tone than his father; in fact, I cannot repeat it too often, in his heart of hearts he is honest and good; but that sincere and youthful heart shudders when they tell him of any dastardly trick, and he thinks he must have a very dark soul himself to notice such things: think of the upbringing he has had!”
“Your Excellency ought to have remembered that one day he would be master, and to have placed an intelligent man with him.”
“For one thing, we have the example of the Abbé de Condillac, who, when appointed by the Marchese di Felino, my predecessor, could make nothing more of his pupil than a King of fools. He succeeded in due course, and, in 1796, he had not the sense to treat with General Bonaparte, who would have tripled the area of his States. In the second place, I never expected to remain Minister for ten years in succession. Now that I have lost all interest in the business, as I have for the last month, I intend to amass a million before leaving this bedlam I have rescued to its own devices. But for me, Parma would have been a Republic for two months, with the poet Ferrante Palla as Dictator.”
This made the Duchessa blush; the Conte knew nothing of what had happened.
“We are going to fall back into the ordinary Monarchy of the eighteenth century; the confessor and the mistress. At heart the Prince cares for nothing but mineralogy, and perhaps yourself, Signora. Since he began to reign, his valet, whose brother I have just made a captain, this brother having nine months’ service, his valet, I say, has gone and stuffed into his head that he ought to be the happiest of men because his profile is going to appear on the scudi. This bright idea has been followed by boredom.
“What he now needs is an Aide-deCamp, as a remedy for boredom. Well, even if he were to offer me that famous million which is necessary for us to live comfortably in Naples or Paris, I would not be his remedy for boredom, and spend four or five hours every day with His Highness. Besides, as I have more brains than he, at the end of a month he would regard me as a monster.
“The late Prince was evil-minded and jealous, but he had been on service and had commanded army corps, which had given him a bearing; he had the stuff in him of which Princes are made, and I could be his Minister, for better or worse. With this honest fellow of a son, who is candid and really good, I am forced to be an intriguer. You see me now the rival of the humblest little woman in the Castle, and a very inferior rival, for I shall scorn all the hundred essential details. For instance, three days ago, one of those women who put out the clean towels every morning in the rooms, took it into her head to make the Prince lose the key of one of his English desks. Whereupon His Highness refused to deal with any of the business the papers of which happened to be in this desk; as a matter of fact, for twenty francs, they could have taken off the wooden bottom, or used skeleton keys; but Ranuccio–Ernesto V told me that that would be teaching the court locksmith bad habits.
“Up to the present, it has been absolutely impossible for him to adhere to any decision for three days running. If he had been born Marchese so-and-so, with an ample fortune, this young Prince would have been one of the most estimable men at court, a sort of Louis XVI; but how, with his pious simplicity, is he to resist all the cunningly laid snares that surround him? And so the drawing-room of your enemy the Marchesa Raversi is more powerful than ever; they have discovered there that I, who gave the order to fire on the people, and was determined to kill three thousand men if necessary, rather than let them outrage the statue of the Prince who had been my master, am a red-hot Liberal, that I wished him to sign a Constitution, and a hundred such absurdities. With all this talk of a Republic, the fools would prevent us from enjoying the best of Monarchies. In short, Signora, you are the only member of the present Liberal Party of which my enemies make me the head, at whose expense the Prince has not expressed himself in offensive terms; the Archbishop, always perfectly honest, for having spoken in reasonable language of what I did on the unhappy day, is in deep disgrace.
“On the morrow of the day which was not then called unhappy, when it was still true that the revolt had existed, the Prince told the Archbishop that, so that you should not have to take an inferior title on marrying me, he would make me a Duca. To-day I fancy that it is Rassi, ennobled by me when he sold me the late Prince’s secrets, who is going to be made Conte. In the face of such a promotion as that, I shall cut a sorry figure.”
“And the poor Prince will bespatter himself with mud.”
“No doubt; but after all he is master, a position which, in less than a fortnight, makes the ridiculous element disappear. So, dear Duchessa, as at the game of tric-trac, let us get out.”
“But we shall not be exactly rich.”
“After all, neither you nor I have any need of luxury. If you give me, at Naples, a seat in a box at San Carlo and a horse, I am more than satisfied; it will never be the amount of luxury with which we live that will give you and me our position, it is the pleasure which the intelligent people of the place may perhaps find in coming to take a dish of tea with you.”
“But,” the Duchessa went on, “what would have happened, on the unhappy day, if you had held aloof, as I hope you will in future?”
“The troops would have fraternised with the people, there would have been three days of bloodshed and incendiarism (for it would take a hundred years in this country for the Republic to be anything more than an absurdity), then a fortnight of pillage, until two or three regiments supplied from abroad came to put a stop to it. Ferrante Palla was in the thick of the crowd, full of courage and raging as usual; he had probably a dozen friends who were acting in collusion with him, which Rassi will make into a superb conspiracy. One thing certain is that, wearing an incredibly dilapidated coat, he was scattering gold with both hands.”
The Duchessa, bewildered by all this information, went in haste to thank the Princess.
As she entered the room the Lady of the Bedchamber handed her a little gold key, which is worn in the belt, and is the badge of supreme authority in the part of the Palace which belongs to the Princess. Clara–Paolina hastened to dismiss all the company; and, once she was alone with her friend, persisted for some moments in giving only fragmentary explanations. The Duchessa found it hard to understand what she meant, and answered only with considerable reserve. At length the Princess burst into tears, and, flinging herself into the Duchessa’s arms, cried: “The days of my misery are going to begin again; my son will treat me worse than his father did!”
“That is what I shall prevent,” the Duchessa replied with emphasis. “But first of all,” she went on, “I must ask Your Serene Highness to deign to accept this offering of all my gratitude and my profound respect.”
“What do you mean?” cried the Princess, full of uneasiness, and fearing a resignation.
“I ask that whenever Your Serene Highness shall permit me to turn to the right the head of that nodding mandarin on her chimneypiece, she will permit me also to call things by their true names.”
“Is that all, my dear Duchessa?” cried Clara–Paolina, rising from her seat and hastening herself to put the mandarin’s head in the right position: “speak then, with the utmost freedom, Signora Maggiordoma,” she said in a charming tone.
“Ma’am,” the Duchessa went on, “Your Highness has grasped the situation perfectly; you and I are both running the greatest risk; the sentence passed on Fabrizio has not been quashed; consequently, on the day when they wish to rid themselves of me and to insult you, they will put him back in prison. Our position is as bad as ever. As for me personally, I am marrying the Conte, and we are going to set up house in Naples or Paris. The final stroke of ingratitude of which the Conte is at this moment the victim has entirely disgusted him with public life, and but for the interest Your Serene Highness takes in him, I should advise him to remain in this mess only on condition of the Prince’s giving him an enormous sum. I shall ask leave of Your Highness to explain that the Conte, who had 130,000 francs when he came into office, has today an income of barely 20,000 lire. In vain did I long urge him to think of his pocket. In my absence, he has picked a quarrel with the Prince’s Farmers–General, who were rascals; he has replaced them with other rascals, who have given him 800,000 francs.”
“What!” cried the Princess in astonishment; “Heavens, I am extremely annoyed to hear that!”
“Ma’am,” replied the Duchessa with the greatest coolness, “must I turn the mandarin’s head back to the left?”
“Good heavens, no,” exclaimed the Princess; “but I am annoyed that a man of the Conte’s character should have thought of enriching himself in such a way.”
“But for this peculation he would be despised by all the honest folk.”
“Great heavens! Is it possible?”
“Ma’am,” went on the Duchessa, “except for my friend, the Marchese Crescenzi, who has an income of three or four hundred thousand lire, everyone here steals; and how should they not steal in a country where the recognition of the greatest services lasts for not quite a month? It means that there is nothing real, nothing that survives disgrace, save money. I am going to take the liberty, Ma’am, of saying some terrible truths.”
“You have my permission,” said the Princess with a deep sigh, “and yet they are painfully unpleasant to me.”
“Very well, Ma’am, the Prince your son, a perfectly honest man, is capable of making you far more unhappy than his father ever did; the late Prince was a man of character more or less like everyone else. Our present Sovereign is not sure of wishing the same thing for three days on end, and so, in order that one may make sure of him, one must live continually with him and not allow him to speak to anyone. As this truth is not very difficult to guess, the new Ultra Party, ruled by those two excellent heads, Rassi and the Marchesa Raversi, are going to try to provide the Prince with a mistress. This mistress will have permission to make her own fortune and to distribute various minor posts; but she will have to answer to the Party for the constancy of the master’s will.
“I, to be properly established at Your Highness’s court, require that Rassi be exiled and degraded; I desire, in addition, that Fabrizio be tried by the most honest judges that can be found: if these gentlemen admit, as I hope, that he is innocent, it will be natural to grant the petition of His Grace the Archbishop that Fabrizio shall be his Coadjutor with eventual succession. If I fail, the Conte and I retire; in that case, I leave this parting advice with Your Serene Highness: she must never pardon Rassi, nor must she ever leave her son’s States. While she is with him, that worthy son will never do her any serious harm.”
“I have followed your arguments with the close attention they require,” the Princess replied, smiling; “ought I, then, to take upon myself the responsibility of providing my son with a mistress?”
“Not at all, Ma’am, but see first of all that your drawing-room is the only one which he finds amusing.”
The conversation on this topic was endless, the scales fell from the eyes of the innocent and intelligent Princess.
One of the Duchessa’s couriers went to tell Fabrizio that he might enter the town, but must hide himself. He was barely noticed: he spent his time disguised as a contadino in the wooden booth of a chestnut-seller, erected opposite the gate of the citadel, beneath the trees of the avenue.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00