The arrival of our hero threw Clelia into despair: the poor girl, pious and sincere with herself, could not avoid the reflexion that there would never be any happiness for her apart from Fabrizio; but she had made a vow to the Madonna, at the time when her father was nearly poisoned, that she would offer him the sacrifice of marrying the Marchese Crescenzi. She had made the vow that she would never see Fabrizio, and already she was a prey to the most fearful remorse over the admission she had been led to make in the letter she had written Fabrizio on the eve of his escape. How is one to depict what occurred in that sorrowful heart when, occupied in a melancholy way with watching her birds flit to and fro, and raising her eyes from habit, and with affection, towards the window from which formerly Fabrizio used to look at her, she saw him there once again, greeting her with tender respect.
She imagined it to be a vision which Heaven had allowed for her punishment; then the atrocious reality became apparent to her reason. “They have caught him again,” she said to herself, “and he is lost!” She remembered the things that had been said in the fortress after the escape; the humblest of the gaolers regarded themselves as mortally insulted. Clelia looked at Fabrizio, and in spite of herself that look portrayed in full the passion that had thrown her into despair.
“Do you suppose,” she seemed to be saying to Fabrizio, “that I shall find happiness in that sumptuous palace which they are making ready for me? My father repeats to me till I am weary that you are as poor as ourselves; but, great God, with what joy would I share that poverty! But, alas, we must never see one another again!”
Clelia had not the strength to make use of the alphabets: as she looked at Fabrizio she felt faint and sank upon a chair that stood beside the window. Her head rested upon the ledge of this window, and as she had been anxious to see him until the last moment, her face was turned towards Fabrizio, who had a perfect view of it. When, after a few moments, she opened her eyes again, her first glance was at Fabrizio: she saw tears in his eyes, but those tears were the effect of extreme happiness; he saw that absence had by no means made him forgotten. The two poor young things remained for some time as though spell-bound by the sight of each other. Fabrizio ventured to sing, as if he were accompanying himself on the guitar, a few improvised lines which said: “It is to see you again that I have returned to prison; they are going to try me.”
These words seemed to awaken all Clelia’s dormant virtue: she rose swiftly, and hid her eyes; and, by the most vivid gestures, sought to express to him that she must never see him again; she had promised this to the Madonna, and had looked at him just now in a moment of forgetfulness. Fabrizio venturing once more to express his love, Clelia fled from the room indignant, and swearing to herself that never would she see him again, for such were the precise words of her vow to the Madonna: “My eyes shall never see him again.” She had written them on a little slip of paper which her uncle Don Cesare had allowed her to burn upon the altar at the moment of the oblation, while he was saying mass.
But, oaths or no oaths, Fabrizio’s presence in the Torre Farnese had restored to Clelia all her old habits and activities. Normally she passed all her days in solitude, in her room. No sooner had she recovered from the unforeseen disturbance in which the sight of Fabrizio had plunged her, than she began to wander through the palazzo, and, so to speak, to renew her acquaintance with all her humble friends. A very loquacious old woman, employed in the kitchen, said to her with an air of mystery: “This time, Signor Fabrizio will not leave the citadel.”
“He will not make the mistake of going over the walls again,” said Clelia, “but he will leave by the door if he is acquitted.”
“I say, and I can assure Your Excellency that he will go out of the citadel feet first.”
Clelia turned extremely pale, a change which was remarked by the old woman and stopped the flow of her eloquence. She said to herself that she had been guilty of an imprudence in speaking thus before the governor’s daughter, whose duty it would be to tell everybody that Fabrizio had died a natural death. As she went up to her room, Clelia met the prison doctor, an honest sort of man but timid, who told her with a terrified air that Fabrizio was seriously ill. Clelia could hardly keep on her feet; she sought everywhere for her uncle, the good Don Cesare, and at length found him in the chapel, where he was praying fervently: from his face he appeared upset. The dinner bell rang. At table, not a word was exchanged between the brothers; only, towards the end of the meal, the General addressed a few very harsh words to his brother. The latter looked at the servants, who left the room.
“General,” said Don Cesare to the governor, “I have the honour to inform you that I am leaving the citadel: I give you my resignation.”
“Bravo! Bravissimo! So that I shall be suspect! . . . And your reason, if you please?”
“Go on, you’re only a frock! You know nothing about honour.”
“Fabrizio is dead,” thought Clelia; “they have poisoned him at dinner, or it is arranged for tomorrow.” She ran to the aviary, resolved to sing, accompanying herself on the piano. “I shall go to confession,” she said to herself, “and I shall be forgiven for having broken my vow to save a man’s life.” What was her consternation when, on reaching the aviary, she saw that the screens had been replaced by planks fastened to the iron bars. In desperation she tried to give the prisoner a warning in a few words shouted rather than sung. There was no response of any sort: a deathly silence already reigned in the Torre Farnese. “It is all over,” she said to herself. Beside herself, she went downstairs, then returned to equip herself with the little money she had and some small diamond earrings; she took also, on her way out, the bread that remained from dinner, which had been placed in a sideboard. “If he still lives, my duty is to save him.” She advanced with a haughty air to the little door of the tower; this door stood open, and eight soldiers had just been posted in the pillared room on the ground floor. She faced these soldiers boldly; Clelia counted on speaking to the serjeant who would be in charge of them: this man was absent, Clelia rushed on to the little iron staircase which wound in a spiral round one of the pillars; the soldiers looked at her with great stupefaction but, evidently on account of her lace shawl and her hat, dared not say anything to her. On the first landing there was no one; but, when she reached the second, at the entrance to the corridor which, as the reader may remember, was closed by three barred gates and led to Fabrizio’s cell, she found a turnkey who was a stranger to her, and said to her with a terrified air: “He has not dined yet.”
“I know that,” said Clelia haughtily. The man dared not stop her. Twenty paces farther, Clelia found sitting upon the first of the six wooden steps which led to Fabrizio’s cell, another turnkey, elderly and very cross, who said to her firmly:
“Signorina, have you an order from the governor?” “Do you mean to say that you do not know me?” Clelia, at that moment, was animated by a supernatural force, she was beside herself. “I am going to save my husband,” she said to herself.
While the old turnkey was exclaiming: “But my duty does not allow me. . . . ” Clelia hastened up the six steps; she hurled herself against the door: an enormous key was in the lock; she required all her strength to make it turn. At that moment, the old turnkey, who was half intoxicated, seized the hem of her gown, she went quickly into the room, shut the door behind her, tearing her gown, and, as the turnkey was pushing the door to follow her, closed it with a bolt which lay to her hand. She looked into the cell and saw Fabrizio seated at a small table upon which his dinner was laid. She dashed at the table, overturned it, and, seizing Fabrizio by the arm, said to him: “Hai mangiato?”
This use of the singular form delighted Fabrizio. In her confusion, Clelia forgot for the first time her feminine reserve, and let her love appear.
Fabrizio had been going to begin the fatal meal; he took her in his arms and covered her with kisses. “This dinner was poisoned,” was his thought: “if I tell her that I have not touched it, religion regains its hold, and Clelia flies. If, on the other hand, she regards me as a dying man, I shall obtain from her a promise not to leave me. She wishes to find some way of breaking off her abominable marriage and here chance offers us one: the gaolers will collect, they will break down the door, and then, there will be such a scandal that perhaps the Marchese Crescenzi will fight shy, and the marriage be broken off.”
During the moment of silence occupied by these reflexions Fabrizio felt that already Clelia was seeking to free herself from his embrace.
“I feel no pain as yet,” he said to her, “but presently it will prostrate me at your feet; help me to die.”
“O my only friend!” was her answer, “I will die with thee.” She clasped him in her arms with a convulsive movement.
She was so beautiful, half unclad and in this state of intense passion, that Fabrizio could not resist an almost unconscious impulse. No resistance was offered him.
In the enthusiasm of passion and generous instincts which follows an extreme happiness, he said to her fatuously:
“I must not allow an unworthy falsehood to soil the first moments of our happiness: but for your courage, I should now be only a corpse, or writhing in atrocious pain, but I was going to begin my dinner when you came in, and I have not touched these dishes at all.”
Fabrizio dwelt upon these appalling images to conjure away the indignation which he could already read in Clelia’s eyes. She looked at him for some moments, while two violent and conflicting sentiments fought within her, then flung herself into his arms. They heard a great noise in the corridor, the three iron doors were violently opened and shut, voices shouted.
“Ah! If I had arms!” cried Fabrizio; “they made me give them up before they would let me in. No doubt they are coming to kill me. Farewell, my Clelia, I bless my death since it has been the cause of my happiness.” Clelia embraced him and gave him a little dagger with an ivory handle, the blade of which was scarcely longer than that of a pen-knife.
“Do not let yourself be killed,” she said to him, “and defend yourself to the last moment; if my uncle the Priore hears the noise, he is a man of courage and virtue, he will save you.” So saying she rushed to the door.
“If you are not killed,” she said with exaltation, holding the bolt of the door in her hand and turning her head towards him, “let yourself die of hunger rather than touch anything. Carry this bread always on you.” The noise came nearer, Fabrizio seized her round the body, stepped into her place by the door, and, opening it with fury, dashed down ‘ the six steps of the wooden staircase. He had in his hand the little dagger with the ivory handle, and was on the point of piercing with it the waistcoat of General Fontana, Aide-deCamp to the Prince, who recoiled with great alacrity, crying in a panic: “But I am coming to save you, Signor del Dongo.”
Fabrizio went up the six steps, called into the cell: “Fontana has come to save me”; then, returning to the General, on the wooden steps, discussed matters coldly with him. He begged him at great length to pardon him a movement of anger. “They wished to poison me; the dinner that is there on my table is poisoned; I had the sense not to touch it, but I may admit to you that this procedure has given me a shock. When I heard you on the stair, I thought that they were coming to finish me off with their dirks. Signor Generale, I request you to order that no one shall enter my cell: they would remove the poison, and our good Prince must know all.”
The General, very pale and completely taken aback, passed on the orders suggested by Fabrizio to the picked body of gaolers who were following him: these men, greatly dismayed at finding the poison discovered, hastened downstairs; they went first, ostensibly so as not to delay the Prince’s Aide-deCamp on the narrow staircase, actually in order to escape themselves and vanish. To the great surprise of General Fontana, Fabrizio kept him for fully a quarter of an hour on the little iron staircase which ran round the pillar of the ground floor; he wished to give Clelia time to hide on the floor above.
It was the Duchessa who, after various wild attempts, had managed to get General Fontana sent to the citadel; it was only by chance that she succeeded. On leaving Conte Mosca, as alarmed as she was herself, she had hastened to the Palace. The Princess, who had a marked repugnance for energy, which seemed to her vulgar, thought her mad and did not appear at all disposed to attempt any unusual measures on her behalf. The Duchessa, out of her senses, was weeping hot tears, she could do nothing but repeat, every moment:
“But, Ma’am, in a quarter of an hour Fabrizio will be dead, poisoned.”
Seeing the Princess remain perfectly composed, the Duchessa became mad with grief. She completely overlooked the moral reflexion which would not have escaped a woman brought up in one of those Northern religions which allow self-examination: “I was the first to use poison, and I am perishing by poison.” In Italy reflexions of that sort, in moments of passion, appear in the poorest of taste, as a pun would seem in Paris in similar circumstances.
The Duchessa, in desperation, risked going into the drawing-room where she found the Marchese Crescenzi, who was in waiting that day. On her return to Parma he had thanked her effusively for the place of Cavaliere d’onore, to which, but for her, he would never have had any claim. Protestations of unbounded devotion had not been lacking on his part. The Duchessa appealed to him in these words:
“Rassi is going to have Fabrizio, who is in the citadel, poisoned. Take in your pocket some chocolate and a bottle of water which I shall give you. Go up to the citadel, and save my life by saying to General Fabio Conti that you will break off your marriage with his daughter if he does not allow you to give the water and the chocolate to Fabrizio with your own hands.”
The Marchese turned pale, and his features, so far from shewing any animation at these words, presented a picture of the dullest embarrassment; he could not believe in the possibility of so shocking a crime in a town as moral as Parma, and one over which so great a Prince reigned, and so forth; these platitudes, moreover, he uttered slowly. In a word, the Duchessa found an honest man, but the weakest imaginable, and one who could not make up his mind to act. After a score of similar phrases interrupted by cries of impatience from Signora Sanseverina, he hit upon an excellent idea: the oath which he had given as Cavaliere d’onore forbade him to take part in any action against the Government.
Who can conceive the anxiety and despair of the Duchessa, who felt that time was flying? >
“But, at least, see the governor; tell him that I shall pursue Fabrizio’s murderers to hell itself!”
Despair increased the Duchessa’s natural eloquence, but all this fire only made the Marchese more alarmed and doubled his irresolution; at the end of an hour he was less disposed to act than at the first moment.
This unhappy woman, who had reached the utmost limits of despair and knew well that the governor would refuse nothing to so rich a son-in-law, went so far as to fling herself at his feet; at this the Marchese’s pusillanimity seemed to increase still further; he himself, at the sight of this strange spectacle, was afraid of being compromised unawares; but a singular thing happened: the Marchese, a good man at heart, was touched by the tears and by the posture, at his feet, of so beautiful and, above all, so influential a woman.
“I myself, noble and rich as I am,” he said to himself, “will perhaps one day be at the feet of some Republican!” The Marchese burst into tears, and finally it was agreed that the Duchessa, in her capacity as Grand Mistress, should present him to the Princess, who would give him permission to convey to Fabrizio a little hamper, of the contents of which he would declare himself to know nothing.
The previous evening, before the Duchessa knew of Fabrizio’s act of folly in going to the citadel, they had played at court a commedia dell’arte, and the Prince, who always reserved for himself the lover’s part to be played with the Duchessa, had been so passionate in speaking to her of his affection that he would have been absurd, if, in Italy, an impassioned man or a Prince could ever be thought so.
The Prince, extremely shy, but always intensely serious in matters of love, met, in one of the corridors of the Castle, the Duchessa who was carrying off the Marchese Crescenzi, in great distress, to the Princess. He was so surprised and dazzled by the beauty, full of emotion, which her despair gave the Grand Mistress, that for the first time in his life he shewed character. With a more than imperious gesture he dismissed the Marchese, and began to make a declaration of love, according to all the rules, to the Duchessa. The Prince had doubtless prepared this speech long beforehand, for there were things in it that were quite reasonable.
“Since the conventions of my rank forbid me to give myself the supreme happiness of marrying you, I will swear to you upon the Blessed Sacrament never to marry without your permission in writing. I am well aware,” he added, “that I am making you forfeit the hand of a Prime Minister, a clever and extremely amiable man; but after all he is fifty-six, and I am not yet two-and-twenty. I should consider myself to be insulting you, and to deserve your refusal if I spoke to you of the advantages that there are apart from love; but everyone who takes an interest in money at my court speaks with admiration of the proof of his love which the Conte gives you, in leaving you the custodian of all that he possesses. I shall be only too happy to copy him in that respect. You will make a better use of my fortune than I, and you shall have the entire disposal of the annual sum which my Ministers hand over to the Intendant General of my Crown; so that it will be you, Signora Duchessa, who will decide upon the sums which I may spend each month.” The Duchessa found all these details very long; Fabrizio’s dangers pierced her heart.
“Then you do not know, Prince,” she cried, “that at this moment they are poisoning Fabrizio in your citadel! Save him! I accept everything.”
The arrangement of this speech was perfect in its clumsiness. At the mere mention of poison all the ease, all the good faith which this poor, moral Prince was putting into the conversation vanished in the twinkling of an eye; the Duchessa did not notice her tactlessness until it was too late to remedy it, and her despair was intensified, a thing she had believed to be impossible. “If I had not spoken of poison,” she said to herself, “he would grant me Fabrizio’s freedom. . . . O my dear Fabrizio,” she added, “so it is fated that it is I who must pierce your heart by my foolishness!”
It took the Duchessa all her time and all her coquetry to get the Prince back to his talk of passionate love; but even then he remained deeply offended. It was his mind alone that spoke; his heart had been frozen by the idea first of all of poison, and then by the other idea, as displeasing as the first was terrible: “They administer poison in my States, and without telling me! So Rassi wishes to dishonour me in the eyes of Europe! And God knows what I shall read text month in the Paris newspapers!”
Suddenly the heart of this shy young man was silent, his mind arrived at an idea.
“Dear Duchessa! You know whether I am attached to you. Your terrible ideas about poison are unfounded, I prefer to think; still, they give me food for thought, they make me almost forget for an instant the passion that I feel for you, which is the only passion that I have ever felt in all my life. I know that I am not attractive; I am only a boy, hopelessly in love; still, put me to the test.”
The Prince grew quite animated in using this language.
“Save Fabrizio, and I accept everything! No doubt I am carried away by the foolish fears of a mother’s heart; but send this moment to fetch Fabrizio from the citadel, that I may see him. If he is still alive, send him from the Palace to the town prison, where he can remain for months on end, if Your Highness requires, until his trial.”
The Duchessa saw with despair that the Prince, instead of granting with a word so simple a request, had turned sombre; he was very red, he looked at the Duchessa, then lowered his eyes, and his cheeks grew pale. The idea of poison put forward at the wrong moment, had suggested to him an idea worthy of his father or of Philip II; but he dared not express it in words.
“Listen, Signora,” he said at length, as though forcing himself to speak, and in a tone that was by no means gracious, “you look down on me as a child and, what is more, a creature without graces: very well, I am going to say something which is horrible, but which has just been suggested to me by the deep and true passion that I feel for you. If I believed for one moment in this poison, I should have taken action already, as in duty bound; but I see in your request only a passionate fancy, and one of which, I beg leave to state, I do not see all the consequences. You desire that I should act without consulting my Ministers, I who have been reigning for barely three months! You ask of me a great exception to my ordinary mode of action, which I regard as highly reasonable. It is you, Signora, who are here and now the Absolute Sovereign, you give me reason to hope in a matter which is everything to me; but, in an hour’s time, when this imaginary poison, when this nightmare has vanished, my presence will become an annoyance to you, I shall forfeit your favour, Signora. Very well, I require an oath: swear to me, Signora, that if Fabrizio is restored to you safe and sound I shall obtain from you, in three months from now, all that my love can desire; you will assure the happiness of my entire life by placing at my disposal an hour of your own, and you will be wholly mine.”
At that moment, the Castle clock struck two. “Ah! It is too late, perhaps,” thought the Duchessa.
“I swear it,” she cried, with a wild look in her eyes.
At once the Prince became another man; he ran to the far end of the gallery, where the Aide-deCamp’s room was.
“General Fontana, dash off to the citadel this instant, go up as quickly as possible to the room in which they have put Signor del Dongo, and bring him to me; I must speak to him within twenty minutes, fifteen if possible.”
“Ah, General,” cried the Duchessa, who had followed the Prince, “one minute may decide my life. A report which is doubtless false makes me fear poison for Fabrizio: shout to him, as soon as you are within earshot, not to eat. If he has touched his dinner, make him swallow an emetic, tell him that it is I who wish it, employ force if necessary; tell him that I am following close behind you, and I shall be obliged to you all my life.”
“Signora Duchessa, my horse is saddled, I am generally considered a pretty good horseman, and I shall ride hell for leather; I shall be at the citadel eight minutes before you.”
“And I, Signora Duchessa,” cried the Prince, “I ask of you four of those eight minutes.”
The Aide-deCamp had vanished, he was a man who had no other merit than that of his horsemanship. No sooner had he shut the door than the young Prince, who seemed to have acquired some character, seized the Duchessa’s hand.
“Condescend, Signora,” he said to her with passion, “to come with me to the chapel.” The Duchessa, at a loss for the first time in her life, followed him without uttering a word. The Prince and she passed rapidly down the whole length of the great gallery of the Palace, the chapel being at the other end. On entering the chapel, the Prince fell on his knees, almost as much before the Duchessa as before the altar.
“Repeat the oath,” he said with passion: “if you had been fair, if the wretched fact of my being a Prince had not been against me, you would have granted me out of pity for my love what you now owe me because you have sworn it.”
“If I see Fabrizio again not poisoned, if he is alive in a week from now, if His Highness will appoint him Coadjutor with eventual succession to Archbishop Landriani, my honour, my womanly dignity, everything shall be trampled under foot, and I will give myself to His Highness.”
“But, dear friend,” said the Prince with a blend of timid anxiety and affection which was quite pleasing, “I am afraid of some ambush which I do not understand, and which might destroy my happiness; that would kill me. If the Archbishop opposes me with one of those ecclesiastical reasons which keep things dragging on for year after year, what will become of me? You see that I am behaving towards you with entire good faith; are you going to be a little Jesuit with me?”
“No: in good faith, if Fabrizio is saved, if, so far as lies in your power, you make him Coadjutor and a future Archbishop, I dishonour myself and I am yours.
“Your Highness undertakes to write approved on the margin of a request which His Grace the Archbishop will present to you in a week from now.”
“I will sign you a blank sheet; reign over me and over my States,” cried the Prince, colouring with happiness and really beside himself. He demanded a second oath. He was so deeply moved that he forgot the shyness that came so naturally to him, and, in this Palace chapel in which they were alone, murmured in an undertone to the Duchessa things which, uttered three days earlier, would have altered the opinion that she held of him. But in her the despair which Fabrizio’s danger had caused her had given place to horror at the promise which had been wrung from her.
The Duchessa was completely upset by what she had just done. If she did not yet feel all the fearful bitterness of the word she had given, it was because her attention was occupied in wondering whether General Fontana would be able to reach the citadel in time.
To free herself from the madly amorous speeches of this boy, and to change the topic of conversation, she praised a famous picture by the Parmigianino, which hung over the high altar of the chapel.
“Be so good as to permit me to send it to you,” said the Prince.
“I accept,” replied the Duchessa; “but allow me to go and meet Fabrizio.”
With a distracted air she told her coachman to put his horses into a gallop. On the bridge over the moat of the citadel she met General Fontana and Fabrizio, who were coming out on foot.
“Have you eaten?”
“No, by a miracle.”
The Duchessa flung her arms round Fabrizio’s neck and fell in a faint which lasted for an hour, and gave fears first for her life and afterwards for her reason.
The governor Fabio Conti had turned white with rage at the sight of General Fontana: he had been so slow in obeying the Prince’s orders that the Aide-deCamp, who supposed that the Duchessa was going to occupy the position of reigning mistress, had ended by losing his temper. The governor reckoned upon making Fabrizio’s illness last for two or three days, and “now,” he said to himself, “the General, a man from the court, will find that insolent fellow writhing in the agony which is my revenge for his escape.”
Fabio Conti, lost in thought, stopped in the guard-room on the ground floor of the Torre Farnese, from which he hastily dismissed the soldiers: he did not wish to have any witnesses of the scene which was about to be played. Five minutes later he was petrified with astonishment on hearing Fabrizio’s voice, on seeing him, alive and alert, giving General Fontana an account of his imprisonment. He vanished.
Fabrizio shewed himself a perfect “gentleman” in his interview with the Prince. For one thing, he did not wish to assume the air of a boy who takes fright at nothing. The Prince asked him kindly how he felt: “Like a man, Serene Highness, who is dying of hunger, having fortunately neither broken my fast nor dined.” After having had the honour to thank the Prince, he requested permission to visit the Archbishop before surrendering himself at the town prison. The Prince had turned prodigiously pale, when his boyish head had been penetrated by the idea that this poison was not altogether a chimaera of the Duchessa’s imagination. Absorbed in this cruel thought, he did not at first reply to the request to see the Archbishop which Fabrizio addressed to him; then he felt himself obliged to atone for his distraction by a profusion of graciousness.
“Go out alone, Signore, walk through the streets of my capital unguarded. About ten or eleven o’clock you will return to prison, where I hope that you will not long remain.”
On the morrow of this great day, the most remarkable of his life, the Prince fancied himself a little Napoleon; he had read that that great man had been kindly treated by several of the beauties of his court. Once established as a Napoleon in love, he remembered that he had been one also under fire. His heart was still quite enraptured by the firmness of his conduct with the Duchessa. The consciousness of having done something difficult made him another man altogether for a fortnight; he became susceptible to generous considerations; he had some character.
He began this day by burning the patent of Conte made out in favour of Rassi, which had been lying on his desk for a month. He degraded General Fabio Conti, and called upon Colonel Lange, his successor, for the truth as to the poison. Lange, a gallant Polish officer, intimidated the gaolers, and reported that there had been a design to poison Signor del Dongo’s breakfast; but too many people would have had to be taken into confidence. Arrangements to deal with his dinner were more successful; and, but for the arrival of General Fontana, Signor del Dongo was a dead man. The Prince was dismayed; but, as he was really in love, it was a consolation for him to be able to say to himself: “It appears that I really did save Signor del Dongo’s life, and the Duchessa will never dare fail to keep the word she has given me.” Another idea struck him: “My business is a great deal more difficult than I thought; everyone is agreed that the Buchessa is a woman of infinite cleverness, here my policy and my heart go together. It would be divine for me if she would consent to be my Prime Minister.”
That evening, the Prince was so infuriated by the horrors that he had discovered that he would not take part in the play.
“I should be more than happy,” he said to the Buchessa, “if you would reign over my States as you reign over my heart. To begin with, I am going to tell you how I have spent my day.” He then told her everything, very exactly: the burning of Conte Rassi’s patent, the appointment of Lange, his report on the poisoning, and so forth. “I find that I have very little experience for ruling. The Conte humiliates me by his jokes. He makes jokes even at the Council; and, in society, he says things the truth of which you are going to disprove; he says that I am a boy whom he leads wherever he chooses. Though one is a Prince, Signora, one is none the less a man, and these things annoy one. In order to give an air of improbability to the stories which Signor Mosca may repeat, they have made me summon to the Ministry that dangerous scoundrel Rassi, and now there is that General Conti who believes him to be still so powerful that he dare not admit that it was he or the Raversi who ordered him to destroy your nephew; I have a good mind simply to send General Fabio Conti before the court; the judges will see whether he is guilty of attempted poisoning.”
“But, Prince, have you judges?”
“What!” said the Prince in astonishment.
“You have certain learned counsel who walk the streets with a solemn air; apart from that they always give the judgment that will please the dominant party at your court.”
While the young Prince, now scandalised, uttered expressions which shewed his candour far more than his sagacity, the Buchessa was saying to herself:
“Does it really suit me to let Conti be disgraced? No, certainly not; for then his daughter’s marriage with that honest simpleton the Marchese Crescenzi becomes impossible.”
On this topic there was an endless discussion between the Duchessa and the Prince. The Prince was dazed with admiration. In consideration of the marriage of Clelia Conti to the Marchese Crescenzi, but on that express condition, which he laid down in an angry scene with the ex-governor, the Prince pardoned his attempt to poison; but, on the Duchessa’s advice, banished him until the date of his daughter’s marriage. The Duchessa imagined that it was no longer love that she felt for Fabrizio, but she was still passionately anxious for the marriage of Clelia Conti to the Marchese; “ there lay in that the vague hope that gradually she might see Fabrizio’s preoccupation disappear.
The Prince, rapturously happy, wished that same evening publicly to disgrace the Minister Rassi. The Duchessa said to him with a laugh:
“Do you know a saying of Napoleon? A man placed in an exalted position, with the eyes of the whole world on him, ought never to allow himself to make violent movements. But this evening it is too late, let us leave business till tomorrow.”
She wished to give herself time to consult the Conte, to whom she repeated very accurately the whole of the evening’s conversation, suppressing however the frequent allusions to a promise which was poisoning her life. The Duchessa hoped to make herself so indispensable that she would be able to obtain an indefinite adjournment by saying to the Prince: “If you have the barbarity to insist upon subjecting me to that humiliation, which I will never forgive you, I leave your States the day after.”
Consulted by the Duchessa as to the fate of Rassi, the Conte shewed himself most philosophic. General Fabio Conti and he went for a tour of Piedmont.
A singular difficulty arose in the trial of Fabrizio: the judges wished to acquit him by acclamation, and at the first sitting of the court. The Conte was obliged to use threats to enforce that the trial should last for at least a week, and the judges take the trouble to hear all the witnesses. “These fellows are always the same,” he said to himself.
The day after his acquittal, Fabrizio del Dongo at last took possession of the place of Grand Vicar to the worthy Archbishop Landriani. On the same day the Prince signed the dispatches necessary to obtain Fabrizio’s nomination as Coadjutor with eventual succession, and less than two months afterwards he was installed in that office.
Everyone complimented the Duchessa on her nephew’s air of gravity; the fact was that he was in despair. The day after his deliverance, followed by the dismissal and banishment of General Fabio Conti and the Duchessa’s arrival in high favour, Clelia had taken refuge with Contessa Contarmi, her aunt, a woman of great wealth and great age, occupied exclusively in looking after her health. Clelia could, had she wished, have seen Fabrizio; but anyone acquainted with her previous commitments who had seen her behaviour now might have thought that with her lover’s danger her love for him also had ceased. Not only did Fabrizio pass as often as he decently could before the palazzo Contarini, he had also succeeded, after endless trouble, in taking a little apartment opposite the windows of its first floor. On one occasion Clelia, having gone to the window without thinking, to see a procession pass, drew back at once, as though terror-stricken; she had caught sight of Fabrizio, dressed in black, but as a workman in very humble circumstances, looking at her from one of the windows of this rookery, which had panes of oiled paper, like his cell in the Torre Farnese. Fabrizio would fain have been able to persuade himself that Clelia was shunning him in consequence of her father’s disgrace, which current report put down to the Duchessa; but he knew only too well another cause for this aloofness, and nothing could distract him from his melancholy.
He had been left unmoved by his acquittal, his installation in a fine office, the first that he had had to fill in his life, by his fine position in society, and finally by the assiduous court that was paid to him by all the ecclesiastics and all the devout laity in the diocese. The charming apartment that he occupied in the palazzo Sanseverina was no longer adequate. Greatly to her delight, the Duchessa was obliged to give up to him all the second floor of her palazzo and two fine rooms on the first, which were always filled with people awaiting their turn to pay their respects to the young Coadjutor. The clause securing his eventual succession had created a surprising effect in the country; people now ascribed to Fabrizio as virtues all those firm qualities in his character which before had so greatly scandalised the poor, foolish courtiers.
It was a great lesson in philosophy to Fabrizio to find himself perfectly insensible of all these honours, and far more unhappy in this magnificent apartment, with ten flunkeys wearing his livery, than he had been in his wooden cell in the Torre Farnese, surrounded by hideous gaolers, and always in fear for his life. His mother and sister, the Duchessa V— — who came to Parma to see him in his glory, were struck by his profound melancholy. The Marchesa del Dongo, now the least romantic of women, was so greatly alarmed by it that she imagined that they must, in the Torre Farnese, have given him some slow poison. Despite her extreme discretion, she felt it her duty to speak of so extraordinary a melancholy, and Fabrizio replied only by tears.
A swarm of advantages, due to his brilliant position, produced no other effect on him than to make him ill-tempered. His brother, that vain soul gangrened by the vilest selfishness, wrote him what was almost an official letter of congratulation, and in this letter was enclosed a draft for fifty thousand francs, in order that he might, said the new Marchese, purchase horses and a carriage worthy of his name. Fabrizio sent this money to his younger sister, who was poorly married.
Conte Mosca had ordered a fine translation to be made, in Italian, of the genealogy of the family Valserra del Dongo, originally published in Latin by Fabrizio, Archbishop of Parma. He had it splendidly printed, with the Latin text on alternate pages; the engravings had been reproduced by superb lithographs made in Paris. The Duchessa had asked that a fine portrait of Fabrizio should be placed opposite that of the old Archbishop. This translation was published as being the work of Fabrizio during his first imprisonment. But all the spirit was crushed out of our hero; even the vanity so natural to mankind; he did not deign to read a single page of this work which was attributed to himself. His social position made it incumbent upon him to present a magnificently bound copy to the Prince, who felt that he owed him some compensation for the cruel death to which he had come so near, and accorded him the grand entry into his bed-chamber, a favour which confers the rank of Excellency.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00