The Duchessa arranged a series of charming evenings at the Palace, which had never seen such gaiety: never had she been more delightful than during this winter, and yet she was living in the midst of the greatest dangers; but at the same time, during this critical period, it so happened that she did not think twice with any appreciable regret of the strange alteration in Fabrizio. The young Prince used to appear very early at his mother’s parties, where she always said to him:
“Away with you and govern; I wager there are at least a score of reports on your desk awaiting a definite answer, and I do not wish to have the rest of Europe accuse me of making you a mere figurehead in order to reign in your place.”
These counsels had the disadvantage of being offered always at the most inopportune moments, that is to say when His Highness, having overcome his timidity, was taking part in some acted charade which amused him greatly. Twice a week there were parties in the country to which on the pretext of winning for the new Sovereign the affection of his people, the Princess admitted the prettiest women of the middle classes. The Duchessa, who was the life and soul of this joyous court, hoped that these handsome women, all of whom looked with a mortal envy on the great prosperity of the burgess Rassi, would inform the Prince of some of the countless rascalities of that Minister. For, among other childish ideas, the Prince claimed to have a moral Ministry.
Rassi had too much sense not to feel how dangerous these brilliant evenings at the Princess’s court, with his enemy in command of them, were to himself. He had not chosen to return to Conte Mosca the perfectly legal sentence passed on Fabrizio; it was inevitable therefore that either the Duchessa or he must vanish from the court.
On the day of that popular movement, the existence of which it was now in good taste to deny, someone had distributed money among the populace. Rassi started from that point: worse dressed even than was his habit, he climbed to the most wretched attics in the town, and spent whole hours in serious conversation with their needy inhabitants. He was well rewarded for all his trouble: after a fortnight of this kind of life he had acquired the certainty that Ferrante Palla had been the secret head of the insurrection, and furthermore, that this creature, a pauper all his life as a great poet would be, had sent nine or ten diamonds to be sold at Genoa.
Among others were mentioned five valuable stones which were really worth more than 40,000 francs, and which, ten days before the death of the Prince, had been sacrificed for 35,000 francs, because, the vendor said, he was in need of money.
What words can describe the rapture of the Minister of Justice on making this discovery? He had learned that every day he was being made a laughing stock at the court of the Princess Dowager, and on several occasions the Prince, when discussing business with him, laughed in his face with all the frankness of his youth. It must be admitted that Rassi had some singularly plebeian habits: for instance, as soon as a discussion began to interest him, he would cross his legs and take his foot in his hand; if the interest increased, he would spread his red cotton handkerchief over his knee, and so forth. The Prince had laughed heartily at the wit of one of the prettiest women of the middle class, who, being aware incidentally that she had a very shapely leg, had begun to imitate this elegant gesture of the Minister of Justice.
Rassi requested an extraordinary audience and said to the Prince:
“Would Your Highness be willing to give a hundred thousand francs to know definitely in what manner his august father met his death? With that sum, the authorities would be in a position to arrest the guilty parties, if such exist.”
The Prince’s reply left no room for doubt.
A little while later, Cecchina informed the Duchessa that she had been offered a large sum to allow her mistress’s diamonds to be examined by a jeweller; she had indignantly refused. The Duchessa scolded her for having refused; and, a week later, Cecchina had the diamonds to shew. On the day appointed for this exhibition of the diamonds, the Conte posted a couple of trustworthy men at every jeweller’s in Parma, and towards midnight he came to tell the Duchessa that the inquisitive jeweller was none other than Rassi’s brother. The Duchessa, who was very gay that evening (they were playing at the Palace a commedia dell’arte, that is to say one in which each character invents the dialogue as he goes on, only the plot of the play being posted up in the green-room), the Duchessa, who was playing a part, had as her lover in the piece Conte Baldi, the former friend of the Marchesa Raversi, who was present. The Prince, the shyest man in his States, but an extremely good looking youth and one endowed with the tenderest of hearts, was studying Conte Baldi’s part, which he intended to take at the second performance.
“I have very little time,” the Duchessa told the Conte; “I am appearing in the first scene of the second act: let us go into the guard-room.”
There, surrounded by a score of the body-guard, all wide awake and closely attentive to the conversation between the Prime Minister and the Grand Mistress, the Duchessa said with a laugh to her friend:
“You always scold me when I tell you unnecessary secrets. It was I who summoned Ernesto V to the throne; it was a question of avenging Fabrizio, whom I loved then far more than I do today, although always quite innocently. I know very well that you have little belief in my innocence, but that does not matter, since you love me in spite of my crimes. Very well, here is a real crime: I gave all my diamonds to a sort of lunatic, a most interesting man, named Ferrante Palla, I even kissed him so that he should destroy the man who wished to have Fabrizio poisoned. Where is the harm in that?”
“Ah! So that is where Ferrante had found money for his rising!” said the Conte, slightly taken aback; “and you tell me all this in the guard-room!”
“It is because I am in a hurry, and now Rassi is on the track of the crime. It is quite true that I never mentioned an insurrection, for I abhor Jacobins. Think it over, and let me have your advice after the play.”
“I will tell you at once that you must make the Prince fall in love with you. But perfectly honourably, please.”
The Duchessa was called to return to the stage. She fled.
Some days later the Duchessa received by post a long and ridiculous letter, signed with the name of a former maid of her own; the woman asked to be employed at the court, but the Duchessa had seen from the first glance that the letter was neither in her handwriting nor in her style. On opening the sheet to read the second page, she saw fall at her feet a little miraculous image of the Madonna, folded in a printed leaf from an old book. After glancing at the image, the Duchessa read a few lines of the printed page. Her eyes shone, she found on it these words:
“The Tribune has taken one hundred francs monthly, not more; with the rest it was decided to rekindle the sacred fire in souls which had become frozen by selfishness. The fox is upon my track, that is why I have not sought to see for the last time the adored being. I said to myself, she does not love the Republic, she who is superior to me in mind as well as by her graces and her beauty. Besides, how is one to create a Republic without Republicans? Can I be mistaken? In six months I shall visit, microscope in hand, and on foot, the small towns of America, I shall see whether I ought still to love the sole rival that you have in my heart. If you receive this letter, Signora Baronessa, and no profane eye has read it before yours, tell them to break one of the young ash trees planted twenty paces from the spot where I dared to speak to you for the first time. I shall then have buried, under the great box tree in the garden to which you called attention once in my happy days, a box in which will be found some of those things which lead to the slandering of people of my way of thinking. You may be sure that I should have taken care not to write if the fox were not on my track, and there were not a risk of his reaching that heavenly being; examine the box tree in a fortnight’s time.”
“Since he has a printing press at his command,” the Duchessa said to herself, “we shall soon have a volume of sonnets; heaven knows what name he will give me!”
The Duchessa’s coquetry led her to make a venture; for a week she was indisposed, and the court had no more pleasant evenings. The Princess, greatly shocked by all that her fear of her son was obliging her to do in the first moments of her widowhood, went to spend this week in a convent attached to the church in which the late Prince was buried.
This interruption of the evening parties threw upon the Prince an enormous burden of leisure and brought a noteworthy check to the credit of the Minister of Justice. Ernesto V realised all the boredom that threatened him if the Duchessa left his court, or merely ceased to diffuse joy in it. The evenings began again, and the Prince shewed himself more and more interested in the commedia dell’arte. He had the intention of taking a part, but dared not confess this ambition. One day, blushing deeply, he said to the Duchessa: “Why should not I act, also?”
“We are all at Your Highness’s orders here; if he deigns to give me the order, I will arrange the plot of a comedy, all the chief scenes in Your Highness’s part will be with me, and as, on the first evenings, everyone falters a little, if Your Highness will please to watch me closely, I will tell him the answers that he ought to make.” Everything was arranged, and with infinite skill. The very shy Prince was ashamed of being shy, the pains that the Duchessa took not to let this innate shyness suffer made a deep impression on the young Sovereign.
On the day of his first appearance, the performance began half an hour earlier than usual, and there were in the drawing-room, when the party moved into the theatre, only nine or ten elderly women. This audience had but little effect on the Prince, and besides, having been brought up at Munich on sound monarchical principles, they always applauded. Using her authority as Grand Mistress, the Duchessa turned the key in the door by which the common herd of courtiers were admitted to the performance. The Prince, who had a literary mind and a fine figure, came very well out of his opening scenes; he repeated with intelligence the lines which he read in the Duchessa’s eyes, or with which she prompted him in an undertone. At a moment when the few spectators were applauding with all their might, the Duchessa gave a signal, the door of honour was thrown open, and the theatre filled in a moment with all the pretty women of the court, who, finding that the Prince cut a charming figure and seemed thoroughly happy, began to applaud; the Prince flushed with joy. He was playing the part of a lover to the Duchessa. So far from having to suggest his speeches to him, she was soon obliged to request him to curtail those speeches; he spoke of love with an enthusiasm which often embarrassed the actress; his replies lasted five minutes. The Duchessa was no longer the dazzling beauty of the year before: Fabrizio’s imprisonment, and, far more than that, her stay by Lake Maggiore with a Fabrizio grown morose and silent, had added ten years to the fair Gina’s age. Her features had become marked, they shewed more intelligence and less youth.
They had now only very rarely the playfulness of early youth; but on the stage, with the aid of rouge and all the expedients which art supplies to actresses, she was still the prettiest woman at court. The passionate addresses uttered by the Prince put the courtiers on the alert; they were all saying to themselves this evening: “There is the Balbi of this new reign.” The Conte felt himself inwardly revolted. The play ended, the Duchessa said to the Prince before all the court:
“Your Highness acts too well; people will say that you are in love with a woman of eight-and-thirty, which will put a stop to my arrangement with the Conte. And so I will not act any more with Your Highness, unless the Prince swears to me to address me as he would a woman of a certain age, the Signora Marchesa Raversi, for example.”
The same play was three times repeated; the Prince was madly happy; but one evening he appeared very thoughtful.
“Either I am greatly mistaken,” said the Grand Mistress to the Princess, “or Rassi is seeking to play some trick upon us; I should advise Your Highness to choose a play for tomorrow; the Prince will act badly, and in his despair will tell you something.”
The Prince did indeed act very badly; one could barely hear him, and he no longer knew how to end his sentences. At the end of the first act he almost had tears in his eyes; the Duchessa stayed beside him, but was cold and unmoved. The Prince, finding himself alone with her for a moment, in the actors’ green-room, went to shut the door.
“I shall never,” he said to her, “be able to play in the second and third acts; I absolutely decline to be applauded out of kindness; the applause they gave me this evening cut me to the heart. Give me your advice, what ought I to do?”
“I shall appear on the stage, make a profound reverence to Her Highness, another to the audience, like a real stage manager, and say that, the actor who was playing the part of Lelio having suddenly been taken ill, the performance will conclude with some pieces of music. Conte Rusca and little Ghisolfi will be delighted to be able to shew off their harsh voices to so brilliant an assembly.”
The Prince took the Duchessa’s hand, which he kissed with rapture.
“Why are you not a man?” he said to her; “you would give me good advice. Rassi has just laid on my desk one hundred and eighty-two depositions against the alleged assassins of my father. Apart from the depositions, there is a formal accusation of more than two hundred pages; I shall have to read all that, and, besides, I have given my word not to say anything to the Conte. All this is leading straight to executions, already he wants me to fetch back from France, from near Antibes, Ferrante Palla, that great poet whom I admire so much. He is there under the name of Poncet.”
“The day on which you have a Liberal hanged, Rassi will be bound to the Ministry by chains of iron, and that is what he wishes more than anything: but Your Highness will no longer be able to speak of leaving the Palace two hours in advance. I shall say nothing either to the Princess or to the Conte of the cry of grief which has just escaped you; but, since I am bound on oath to keep nothing secret from the Princess, I should be glad if Your Highness would say to his mother the same things that he has let fall with me.”
This idea provided a diversion to the misery of the hissed actor which was crushing the Sovereign.
“Very well, go and tell my mother; I shall be in her big cabinet.”
The Prince left the stage, found his way to the drawing-room from which one entered the theatre, harshly dismissed the Great Chamberlain and the Aide-deCamp on duty who were following him; the Princess, meanwhile, hurriedly left the play; entering the big cabinet, the Grand Mistress made a profound reverence to mother and son, and left them alone. One may imagine the agitation of the court, these are the things that make it so amusing. At the end of an hour the Prince himself appeared at the door of the cabinet and summoned the Duchessa; the Princess was in tears; her son’s expression had entirely altered.
“These are weak creatures who are out of temper,” the Grand Mistress said to herself, “and are seeking some good excuse to be angry with somebody.” At first the mother and son began both to speak at once to tell the details to the Duchessa, who in her answers took great care not to put forward any idea. For two mortal hours, the three actors in this tedious scene did not step out of the parts which we have indicated. The Prince went in person to fetch the two enormous portfolios which Rassi had deposited on his desk; on leaving his mother’s cabinet, he found the whole court awaiting him. “Go away, leave me alone!” he cried in a most impolite tone which was quite without precedent in him. The Prince did not wish to be seen carrying the two portfolios himself, a Prince ought not to carry anything. The courtiers vanished in the twinkling of an eye. On his return the Prince encountered no one but the footmen who were blowing out the candles; he dismissed them with fury, also poor Fontana, the Aide-deCamp on duty, who had been so tactless as to remain, in his zeal.
“Everyone is doing his utmost to try my patience this evening,” he said crossly to the Duchessa, as he entered the cabinet; he credited her with great intelligence, and was furious at her evident refusal to offer him any advice. She, for her part, was determined to say nothing so long as she was not asked for her advice quite expressly. Another long half hour elapsed before the Prince, who had a sense of his own dignity, could make up his mind to say to her: “But, Signora, you say nothing.”
“I am here to serve the Princess, and to forget very quickly what is said before me.”
“Very well, Signora,” said the Prince, blushing deeply, “I order you to give me your opinion.”
“One punishes crimes to prevent their recurrence. Was the late Prince poisoned? That is a very doubtful question. Was he poisoned by the Jacobins? That is what Rassi would dearly like to prove, for then he becomes for Your Highness a permanently necessary instrument. In that case Your Highness, whose reign is just beginning, can promise himself many evenings like this. Your subjects say on the whole, what is quite true, that Your Highness has a strain of goodness in his nature; so long as he has not had any Liberal hanged, he will enjoy that reputation, and most certainly no one will ever dream of planning to poison him.”
“Your conclusion is evident,” cried the Princess angrily; “you do not wish us to punish my husband’s assassins!”
“Apparently, Ma’am, because I am bound to them by ties of tender affection.”
The Duchessa could see in the Prince’s eyes that he believed her to be perfectly in accord with his mother as to dictating a plan of action to him. There followed between the two women a fairly rapid succession of bitter repartees, at the end of which the Duchessa protested that she would not utter a single word more, and adhered to her resolution; but the Prince, after a long discussion with his mother, ordered her once more to express her opinion.
“That is what I swear to Your Highnesses that I will not do!”
“But this is really childish!” exclaimed the Prince.
“I beg you to speak, Signora Duchessa,” said the Princess with an air of dignity.
“That is what I implore you to excuse me from doing, Ma’am; but Your Highness,” the Duchessa went on, addressing the Prince, “reads French perfectly: to calm our agitated minds, would he read us a fable by La Fontaine?”
The Princess thought this “us” extremely insolent, but assumed an air at once of surprise and of amusement when the Grand Mistress, who had gone with the utmost coolness to open the bookcase, returned with a volume of La Fontaine’s Fables; she turned the pages for some moments, then said to the Prince, handing him the book:
“I beg your Highness to read the whole of the fable.”
THE GARDENER AND THE LORD OF THE MANOR
A devotee of gardening there was,
Between the peasant and the yeoman class,
Who on the outskirts of a certain village
Owned a neat garden with a bit of tillage.
He made a quickset hedge to fence it in,
And there grew lettuce, pink and jessamine,
Such as win prizes at the local show,
Or make a birthday bouquet for Margot.
One day he called upon the neighbouring Squire
To ask his help with a marauding hare.
“The brute,” says he, “comes guzzling everywhere,
And simply laughs at all my traps and wire.
No stick or stone will hit him — I declare
He’s a magician.” “Rubbish! I don’t care
If he’s the Deuce himself,” replied the other,
“I warrant he shan’t give you much more bother.
Miraut, in spite of all his cunning,
Won’t take much time to get him running.”
“But when?” “To-morrow, sure as here I stand.”
Next morning he rides up with all his band.
“Now then, we’ll lunch!
Those chickens don’t look bad.”
The luncheon over, all was preparation,
Bustle and buzz and animation,
Horns blowing, hounds barking, such a hullabaloo,
The good man feared the worst. His fear came true!
The kitchen-garden was a total wreck
Under the trampling, not a speck
Of pot or frame survived. Good-bye
To onion, leek, and chicory,
Good-bye to marrows and their bravery,
Good-bye to all that makes soup savoury!
The wretched owner saw no sense
In this grand style of doing things;
But no one marked his mutterings.
The hounds and riders in a single trice
Had wrought more havoc in his paradise
Than all the hares in the vicinity
Could have achieved throughout infinity.
So far the story — now the moral:
Each petty Prince should settle his own quarrel.
If once he gets a King for an ally,
He’s certain to regret it by and by.
[† For this translation of La Fontaine’s fable I am indebted to my friend Mr. Edward Marsh, who allows me to reprint the lines from his Forty-two Fables of La Fontaine (William Heinemann, Ltd., 1924). C. K. S. M.]
This reading was followed by a long silence. The Prince paced up and down the cabinet, after going himself to put the volume back in its place.
“Well, Signora,” said the Princess, “will you deign to speak?”
“No, indeed, Ma’am, until such time as His Highness shall appoint me his Minister; by speaking here, I should run the risk of losing my place as Grand Mistress.”
A fresh silence, lasting a full quarter of an hour; finally the Princess remembered the part that had been played in the past by Marie de’ Medici, the mother of Louis XIII: for the last few days the Grand Mistress had made the lettrice read aloud the excellent History of Louis XIII, by M. Bazin. The Princess, although greatly annoyed, thought that the Duchessa might easily leave the country, and then Rassi, who filled her with mortal terror, might quite well imitate Richelieu and have her banished by her son. At this moment the Princess would have given everything in the world to humiliate her Grand Mistress; but she could not. She rose, and came, with a smile that was slightly exaggerated, to take the Duchessa’s hand and say to her:
“Come, Signora, give me a proof of your friendship by speaking.”
“Very well! Two words, and no more: burn, in the grate there, all the papers collected by that viper Rassi, and never reveal to him that they have been burned.”
She added in a whisper, and in a familiar tone, in the Princess’s ear:
“Rassi may become Richelieu!”
“But, damn it, those papers are costing me more than 80,000 francs!” the Prince exclaimed angrily.
“Prince,” replied the Duchessa with emphasis, “that is what it costs to employ scoundrels of low birth. Would to God you could lose a million and never put your trust in the base rascals who kept your father from sleeping during the last six years of his reign.”
The words low birth had greatly delighted the Princess, who felt that the Conte and his friend had too exclusive a regard for brains, always slightly akin to Jacobinism.
During the short interval of profound silence, filled by the Princess’s reflections, the castle clock struck three. The Princess rose, made a profound reverence to her son, and said to him: “My health does not allow me to prolong the discussion further. Never have a Minister of low birth; you will not disabuse me of the idea that your Rassi has stolen half the money he has made you spend on spies.” The Princess took two candles from the brackets and put them in the fireplace in such a way that they should not blow out; then, going up to her son, she added: “La Fontaine’s fable prevails, in my mind, over the lawful desire to avenge a husband. Will Your Highness permit me to burn these writings?” The Prince remained motionless.
“His face is really stupid,” the Duchessa said to herself; “the Conte is right: the late Prince would not have kept us out of our beds until three o’clock in the morning, before making up his mind.”
The Princess, still standing, went on:
“That little attorney would be very proud, if he knew that his papers stuffed with lies, and arranged so as to secure his own advancement, had occupied the two greatest personages in the States for a whole night.”
The Prince dashed at one of the portfolios like a madman, and emptied its contents into the fireplace. The mass of papers nearly extinguished the two candles; the room filled with smoke. The Princess saw in her son’s eyes that he was tempted to seize a jug of water and save these papers, which were costing him eighty thousand francs.
“Open the window!” she cried angrily to the Duchessa. The Duchessa made haste to obey; at once all the papers took light together; there was a great roar in the chimney, and it soon became evident that it was on fire.
The Prince had a petty nature in all matters of money; he thought he saw his Palace in flames, and all the treasures that it contained destroyed; he ran to the window and called the guard in a voice completely altered. The soldiers in a tumult rushed into the courtyard at the sound of the Prince’s voice, he returned to the fireplace which was sucking in the air from the open window with a really alarming sound; he grew impatient, swore, took two or three turns up and down the room like a man out of his mind, and finally ran out.
The Princess and the Grand Mistress remained standing, face to face, and preserving a profound silence.
“Is the storm going to begin again?” the Duchessa asked herself; “upon my word, my cause is won.” And she was preparing to be highly impertinent in her replies, when a sudden thought came to her; she saw the second portfolio intact. “No, my cause is only half won!” She said to the Princess, in a distinctly cold tone:
“Does Ma’am order me to burn the rest of these papers?” “And where will you burn them?” asked the Princess angrily.
“In the drawing-room fire; if I throw them in one after another, there is no danger.”
The Duchessa put under her arm the portfolio bursting with papers, took a candle and went into the next room. She looked first to see that the portfolio was that which contained the depositions, put in her shawl five or six bundles of papers, burned the rest with great care, then disappeared without taking leave of the Princess.
“There is a fine piece of impertinence,” she said to herself,
with a laugh, “but her affectations of inconsolable widowhood
came very near to making me lose my head on a scaffold.”
On hearing the sound of the Duchessa’s carriage, the Princess was beside herself with rage at her Grand Mistress.
In spite of the lateness of the hour, the Duchessa sent for the Conte; he was at the fire at the Castle, but soon appeared with the news that it was all over. “That little Prince has really shewn great courage, and I have complimented him on it effusively.”
“Examine these depositions quickly, and let us burn them as soon as possible.”
The Conte read them, and turned pale.
“Upon my soul, they have come very near the truth; their procedure has been very cleverly managed, they are positively on the track of Ferrante Palla; and, if he speaks, we have a difficult part to play.”
“But he will not speak,” cried the Duchessa; “he is a man of honour: burn them, burn them.”
“Not yet. Allow me to take down the names of a dozen or fifteen dangerous witnesses, whom I shall take the liberty of removing, if Rassi ever thinks of beginning again.”
“I may remind Your Excellency that the Prince has given his word to say nothing to his Minister of Justice of our midnight escapade.”
“From cowardice and fear of a scene he will keep it.”
“Now, my friend, this is a night that has greatly hastened our marriage; I should not have wished to bring you as my portion a criminal trial, still less for a sin which I was led to commit by my interest in another man.”
The Conte was in love; he took her hand with an exclamation; tears stood in his eyes.
“Before you go, give me some advice as to the way I ought to behave with the Princess; I am utterly worn out, I have been play-acting for an hour on the stage and for five in her cabinet.”
“You have avenged yourself quite sufficiently for the Princess’s sour speeches, which were due only to weakness, by the impertinence with which you left her. Address her tomorrow in the tone you used this morning; Rassi is not yet in prison or in exile, and we have not yet torn up Fabrizio’s sentence.
“You were asking the Princess to come to a decision, which is a thing that always annoys Princes and even Prime Ministers; also you are her Grand Mistress, that is to say her little servant. By a reversion which is inevitable in weak people, in three days Rassi will be more in favour than ever; he will try to have someone hanged: so long as he has not compromised the Prince, he is sure of nothing.
“There has been a man injured in to-night’s fire; he is a tailor, who, upon my word, shewed an extraordinary intrepidity. To-morrow I am going to ask the Prince to take my arm and come with me to pay the tailor a visit; I shall be armed to the teeth and shall keep a sharp look-out; but anyhow, this young Prince is not hated at all as yet. I wish to make him accustomed to walking in the streets, it is a trick I am playing on Rassi, who is certainly going to succeed me, and will not be able to allow such imprudences. On our way back from the tailor’s, I shall take the Prince past his father’s statue; he will notice the marks of the stones which have broken the Roman toga in which the idiot of a sculptor dressed it up; and, in short, he will have to be a great fool if he does not on his own initiative make the comment: ‘This is what one gains by having Jacobins hanged.’ To which I shall reply: ‘You must hang either ten thousand or none at all: the Saint–Bartholomew destroyed the Protestants in France.’
‘To-morrow, dear friend, before this excursion, send your name in to the Prince, and say to him: ‘Yesterday evening, I performed the duties of a Minister to you, and, by your orders, have incurred the Princess’s displeasure. You will have to pay me.’ He will expect a demand for money, and will knit his brows; you will leave him plunged in this unhappy thought for as long as you can; then you will say: ‘I beg Your Highness to order that Fabrizio be tried in contradittorio’ (which means, in his presence) ‘by the twelve most respected judges in your States.’ And, without losing any time, you will present for his signature a little order written out by your own fair hand, which I am going to dictate to you; I shall of course include the clause that the former sentence is quashed. To this there is only one objection; but, if you press the matter warmly, it will not occur to the Prince’s mind. He may say to you: ‘Fabrizio must first make himself a prisoner in the citadel.’ To which you will reply: ‘He will make himself a prisoner in the town prison” (you know that I am the master there; every evening your nephew will come to see us). If the Prince answers: ‘No, his escape has tarnished the honour of my citadel, and I desire, for form’s sake, that he return to the cell in which he was’; you in turn will reply: ‘No, for there he would be at the disposal of my enemy Rassi’; and, in one of those feminine sentences which you utter so effectively, you will give him to understand that, to make Rassi yield, you have only to tell him of to-night’s auto-da-fè; if he insists, you will announce that you are going to spend a fortnight at your place at Sacca.
“You will send for Fabrizio, and consult him as to this step which may land him in prison. If, to anticipate everything while he is under lock and key, Rassi should grow too impatient and have me poisoned, Fabrizio may run a certain risk. But that is hardly probable; you know that I have imported a French cook, who is the merriest of men, and makes puns; well, punning is incompatible with poison. I have already told our friend Fabrizio that I have managed to find all the witnesses of his fine and courageous action; it was evidently that fellow Giletti who tried to murder him. I have not spoken to you of these witnesses, because I wished to give you a surprise, but the plan has failed; the Prince refused to sign. I have told our friend Fabrizio that certainly I should procure him a high ecclesiastical dignity; but I shall have great difficulty if his enemies can raise the objection in the Roman Curia of a charge of murder.
“Do you realise, Signora, that, if he is not tried and judged in the most solemn fashion, all his life long the name of Giletti will be a reproach to him? It would be a great act of cowardice not to have oneself tried, when one is sure of one’s innocence. Besides, even if he were guilty, I should make them acquit him. When I spoke to him, the fiery youngster would not allow me to finish, he picked up the official almanac, and we went through it together choosing the twelve most upright and learned judges; when we had made the list, we cancelled six names for which we substituted those of six counsel, my personal enemies, and, as we could find only two enemies, we filled up the gaps with four rascals who are devoted to Rassi.”
This proposal filled the Duchessa with a mortal anxiety, and not without cause; at length she yielded to reason, and, at the Minister’s dictation, wrote out the order appointing the judges.
The Conte did not leave her until six o’clock in the morning; she endeavoured to sleep, but in vain. At nine o’clock, she took breakfast with Fabrizio, whom she found burning with a desire to be tried; at ten, she waited on the Princess, who was not visible; at eleven, she saw the Prince, who was holding his levee, and signed the order without the slightest objection. The Duchessa sent the order to the Conte, and retired to bed.
It would be pleasant perhaps to relate Rassi’s fury when the Conte obliged him to countersign, in the Prince’s presence, the order signed that morning by the Prince himself; but we must go on with our story.
The Conte discussed the merits of each judge, and offered to change the names. But the reader is perhaps a little tired of all these details of procedure, no less than of all these court intrigues. From the whole business one can derive this moral, that the man who mingles with a court compromises his happiness, if he is happy, and, in any event, makes his future depend on the intrigues of a chambermaid.
On the other hand in America, in the Republic, one has to spend the whole weary day paying serious court to the shopkeepers in the street, and must become as stupid as they are; and there, one has no Opera.
The Duchessa, when she rose in the evening, had a moment of keen anxiety: Fabrizio was not to be found; finally, towards midnight, during the performance at court, she received a letter from him. Instead of making himself a prisoner in the town prison, where the Conte was in control, he had gone back to occupy his old cell in the citadel, only too happy to be living within a few feet of Clelia.
This was an event of vast consequence: in this place he was exposed to the risk of poison more than ever. This act of folly filled the Duchessa with despair; she forgave the cause of it, a mad love for Clelia, because unquestionably in a few days’ time that young lady was going to marry the rich Marchese Crescenzi. This folly restored to Fabrizio all the influence he had originally enjoyed over the Duchessa’s heart.
“It is that cursed paper which I went and made the Prince sign that will be his death! What fools men are with their ideas of honour! As if one needed to think of honour under absolute governments, in countries where a Rassi is Minister of Justice! He ought to have accepted the pardon outright, which the Prince would have signed just as readily as the order convening this extraordinary tribunal. What does it matter, after all, that a man of Fabrizio’s birth should be more or less accused of having himself, sword in hand, killed an actor like Giletti?”
No sooner had she received Fabrizio’s note than the Duchessa ran to the Conte, whom she found deadly pale.
“Great God! Dear friend, I am most unlucky in handling that boy, and you will be vexed with me again. I can prove to you that I made the gaoler of the town prison come here yesterday evening; every day your nephew would have come to take tea with you. What is so terrible is that it is impossible for you and me to say to the Prince that there is fear of poison, and of poison administered by Rassi; the suspicion would seem to him the height of immorality. However, if you insist, I am ready to go up to the Palace; but I am certain of the answer. I am going to say more; I offer you a stratagem which I would not employ for myself. Since I have been in power in this country, I have not caused the death of a single man, and you know that I am so sensitive in that respect that sometimes, at the close of day, I still think of those two spies whom I had shot, rather too light-heartedly, in Spain. Very well, do you wish me to get rid of Rassi? The danger in which he is placing Fabrizio is unbounded; he has there a sure way of sending me packing.”
This proposal pleased the Duchessa extremely, but she did not adopt it.
“I do not wish,” she said to the Conte, “that in our retirement, beneath the beautiful sky of Naples, you should have dark thoughts in the evenings.”
“But, dear friend, it seems to me that we have only the choice between one dark thought and another. What will you do, what will I do myself, if Fabrizio is carried off by an illness?”
The discussion returned to dwell upon this idea, and the Duchessa ended it with this speech:
“Rassi owes his life to the fact that I love you more than Fabrizio; no, I do not wish to poison all the evenings of the old age which we are going to spend together.”
The Duchessa hastened to the fortress; General Fabio Conti was delighted at having to stop her with the strict letter of the military regulations: no one might enter a state prison without an order signed by the Prince.
“But the Marchese Crescenzi and his musicians come every day to the citadel?”
“Because I obtained an order for them from the Prince.”
The poor Duchessa did not know the full tale of her troubles. General Fabio Conti had regarded himself as personally dishonoured by Fabrizio’s escape: when he saw him arrive at the citadel, he ought not to have admitted him, for he had no order to that effect. “But,” he said to himself, “it is Heaven that is sending him to me to restore my honour, and to save me from the ridicule which would assail my military career. This opportunity must not be missed: doubtless they are going to acquit him, and I have only a few days for my revenge.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00