Carried away by the train of events, we have not had time to sketch the comic race of courtiers who swarm at the court of Parma and who made fatuous comments on the incidents which we have related. What in that country makes a small noble, adorned with an income of three or four thousand lire, worthy to figure in black stockings at the Prince’s levees, is, first and foremost, that he shall never have read Voltaire and Rousseau: this condition it is not very difficult to fulfil. He must then know how to speak with emotion of the Sovereign’s cold, or of the latest case of mineralogical specimens that has come to him from Saxony. If, after this, you were not absent from mass for a single day in the year, if you could include in the number of your intimate friends two or three prominent monks, the Prince deigned to address a few words to you once every year, a fortnight before or a fortnight after the first of January, which brought you great relief in your parish, and the tax collector dared not press you unduly if you were in arrears with the annual sum of one hundred francs with which your small estate was burdened.
Signor Gonzo was a poor devil of this sort, very noble, who, apart from possessing some little fortune of his own, had obtained, through the Marchese Crescenzi’s influence, a magnificent post which brought him in eleven hundred and fifty francs annually. This man might have dined at home; but he had one passion: he was never at his ease and happy except when he found himself in the drawing-room of some great personage who said to him from time to time: “Hold your tongue, Gonzo, you’re a perfect fool.” This judgment was prompted by ill temper, for Gonzo had almost always more intelligence than the great personage. He would discuss anything, and quite gracefully, besides, he was ready to change his opinion on a grimace from the master of the house. To tell the truth, although of a profound subtlety in securing his own interests, he had not an idea in his head, and, when the Prince had not a cold, was sometimes embarrassed as he came into a drawing-room.
What had, in Parma, won Gonzo a reputation was a magnificent cocked hat, adorned with a slightly dilapidated black plume, which he wore even with evening dress; but you ought to have seen the way in which he carried this plume, whether upon his head or in his hand; there were talent and importance combined. He inquired with genuine anxiety after the health of the Marchesa’s little dog, and, if the palazzo Crescenzi had caught fire, he would have risked his life to save one of those fine armchairs in gold brocade, which for so many years had caught in his black silk breeches, whenever it so happened that he ventured to sit down for a moment.
Seven or eight persons of this species appeared every evening at seven o’clock in the Marchesa Crescenzi’s drawing-room. No sooner had they sat down than a lackey, magnificently attired in a daffodil-yellow livery, covered all over with silver braid, as was the red waistcoat which completed his magnificence, came to take the poor devils’ hats and canes. He was immediately followed by a footman carrying an infinitesimal cup of coffee, supported on a stem of silver filigree; and every half hour a butler, wearing a sword and a magnificent coat, in the French style, brought round ices.
Half an hour after the threadbare little courtiers, one saw arrive five or six officers, talking in loud voices and with a very military air, and usually discussing the number of buttons which ought to be on the soldiers’ uniform in order that the Commander in Chief might gain victories. It would not have been prudent to quote a French newspaper in this drawing-room; for, even when the news itself was of the most agreeable kind, as for instance that fifty Liberals had been shot in Spain, the speaker none the less remained convicted of having read a French newspaper. The crowning effort of all these people’s skill was to obtain every ten years an increase of 150 francs in their pensions. It is thus that the Prince shares with his nobility the pleasure of reigning over all the peasants and burgesses of the land.
The principal personage, beyond all question, of the Crescenzi drawing-room, was the Cavaliere Foscarini, an entirely honest man; in consequence of which he had been in prison off and on, under every government. He had been a member of that famous Chamber of Deputies which, at Milan, rejected the Registration Law presented to them by Napoleon, an action of very rare occurrence in history. Cavaliere Foscarini, after having been for twenty years a friend of the Marchesers mother, had remained the influential man in the household. He had always some amusing story to tell, but nothing escaped his shrewd perception; and the young Marchesa, who felt herself guilty at heart, trembled before him.
As Gonzo had a regular passion for the great gentleman, who said rude things to him and moved him to tears once or twice every year, his mania was to seek to do him trifling services; and, if he had not been paralysed by the habits of an extreme poverty, he might sometimes have succeeded, for he was not lacking in a certain ingredient of shrewdness, and a far greater effrontery.
Gonzo, as we have seen him, felt some contempt for the Marchesa Crescenzi, for never in her life had she addressed a word to him that was not quite civil; but after all she was the wife of the famous Marchese Crescenzi, Cavaliere d’onore to the Princess, who, once or twice in a month, used to say to Gonzo: “Hold your tongue, Gonzo, you’re a perfect fool.” Gonzo observed that everything which was said about little Annetta Marmi made the Marchesa emerge for a moment from the state of dreamy indifference in which as a rule she remained plunged until the clock struck eleven; then she made tea, and offered a cup to each of the men present, addressing him by name. After which, at the moment of her withdrawing to her room, she seemed to find a momentary gaiety, and this was the time chosen for repeating to her satirical sonnets.
They compose such sonnets admirably in Italy: it is the one kind of literature that has still a little vitality; as a matter of fact, it is not subjected to the censor, and the courtiers of the casa Crescenzi invariably prefaced their sonnets with these words: “Will the Signora Marchesa permit one to repeat to her a very bad sonnet?” And when the sonnet had been greeted with laughter and had been repeated several times, one of the officers would not fail to exclaim: “The Minister of Police ought to see about giving a bit of hanging to the authors of such atrocities.” Middle class society, on the other hand, welcomes these sonnets with the most open admiration, and the lawyers’ clerks sell copies of them.
>From the sort of curiosity shown by the Marchesa, Gonzo imagined that too much had been said in front of her of the beauty of the little Marini, who moreover had a fortune of a million, and that the other woman was jealous of her. As, with his incessant smile and his complete effrontery towards all that was not noble, Gonzo found his way everywhere, on the very next day he arrived in the Marchesa’s drawing-room, carrying his plumed hat in a triumphant fashion which was to be seen perhaps only once or twice in the year, when the Prince had said to him: “Addio, Gonzo.”
After respectfully greeting the Marchesa, Gonzo did not withdraw as usual to take his seat on the chair which had just been pushed forward for him. He took his stand in the middle of the circle and exclaimed bluntly: “I have seen the portrait of Monsignor del Dongo.” Clelia was so surprised that she was obliged to lean upon the arm of her chair; she tried to face the storm, but presently was obliged to leave the room.
“You must agree, my poor Gonzo, that your tactlessness is unique,” came arrogantly from one of the officers, who was finishing his fourth ice. “Don’t you know that the Coadjutor, who was one of the most gallant Colonels in Napoleon’s army, played a trick that ought to have hanged him on the Marchesa’s father, when he walked out of the citadel where General Fabio Conti was in command, as he might have walked out of the Steccata?” (The Steccata is the principal church in Parma.)
“Indeed I am ignorant of many things, my dear Captain, and I am a poor imbecile who makes blunders all day long.”
This reply, quite to the Italian taste, caused a laugh at the expense of the brilliant officer. The Marchesa soon returned; she had armed herself with courage, and was not without hope of being able herself to admire this portrait, which was said to be excellent. She spoke with praise of the talent of Hayez, who had painted it. Unconsciously she addressed charming smiles at Gonzo, who looked malevolently at the officer. As all the other courtiers of the house indulged in the same pastime, the officer took flight, not without vowing a deadly hatred against Gonzo; the latter was triumphant, and later in the evening, when he took his leave, was invited to dine next day.
“I can tell you something more,” cried Gonzo, the following evening, after dinner, when the servants had left the room: “the latest thing is that our Coadjutor has fallen in love with the little Marini!”
One may judge of the agitation that arose in Clelia’s heart on hearing so extraordinary an announcement. The Marchese himself was moved.
“But, Gonzo my friend, you are off the track, as usual! And you ought to speak with a little more caution of a person who has had the honour to sit down eleven times at his Highness’s whist-table.”
“Well, Signor Marchese,” replied Gonzo with the coarseness of people of his sort, “I can promise you that he would just as soon sit down to the little Marini. But it is enough that these details displease you; they no longer exist for me, who desire above all things not to shock my beloved Marchese.”
Regularly, after dinner, the Marchese used to retire to take a siesta. He let the time pass that day; but Gonzo would sooner have cut out his tongue than have said another word about the little Marini; and, every moment, he began a speech, so planned that the Marchese might hope that he was about to return to the subject of the little lady’s love affairs. Gonzo had in a superior degree that Italian quality of mind which consists in exquisitely delaying the launching of the word for which one’s hearer longs. The poor Marchese, dying of curiosity, was obliged to make advances; he told Gonzo that, when he had the pleasure of dining with him, he ate twice as much as usual. Gonzo did not take the hint, he began to describe a magnificent collection of pictures which the Marchesa Balbi, the late Prince’s mistress, was forming; three or four times he spoke of Hayez, in a slow and measured tone full of the most profound admiration. The Marchese said to himself: “Now he is coming to the portrait which the little Marini ordered!” But this was what Gonzo took good care not to do. Five o’clock struck, which put the Marchese in the worst of tempers, for he was in the habit of getting into his carriage at half past five, after his siesta, to drive to the Corso.
‘This is what you do with your stupid talk!” he said rudely to Gonzo: “you are making me reach the Corso after the Princess, whose Cavaliere d’onore I am, when she may have orders to give me. Come along! Hurry up! Tell me in a few words, if you can, what is this so-called love affair of the Coadjutor?”
But Gonzo wished to keep this anecdote for the Marchesa, who had invited him to dine; he did hurry up, in a very few words, the story demanded of him, and the Marchese, half asleep, ran off to take his siesta. Gonzo adopted a wholly different manner with the poor Marchesa. She had remained so young and natural in spite of her high position, that she felt it her duty to make amends for the rudeness with which the Marchese had just spoken to Gonzo. Charmed by this success, her guest recovered all his eloquence, and made it a pleasure, no less than a duty, to enter into endless details with her.
Little Annetta Marini gave as much as a sequin for each place that was kept for her for the sermons; she always arrived with two of her aunts and her father’s old cashier. These places, which were reserved for her overnight, were generally chosen almost opposite the pulpit, but slightly in the direction of the high altar, for she had noticed that the Coadjutor often turned towards the altar. Now, what the public also had noticed was that, not infrequently, those speaking eyes of the young preacher rested with evident pleasure on the young heiress, that striking beauty; and apparently with some attention, for, when he had his eyes fixed on her, his sermon became learned; the quotations began to abound in it, there was no more sign of that eloquence which springs from the heart; and the ladies, whose interest ceased almost at once, began to look at the Marini and to find fault with her.
Clelia made him repeat to her three times over all these singular details. At the third repetition she became lost in meditation; she was calculating that just fourteen months had passed since she last saw Fabrizio. “Would it be very wrong,” she asked herself, “to spend an hour in a church, not to see Fabrizio but to hear a famous preacher? Besides, I shall take a seat a long way from the pulpit, and I shall look at Fabrizio only once as I go in and once more at the end of the sermon. . . . No,” Clelia said to herself, “it is not Fabrizio I am going to see, I am going to hear the astounding preacher!” In the midst of all these reasonings, the Marchesa felt some remorse; her conduct had been so exemplary for fourteen months! “Well,” she said to herself, in order to secure some peace of mind, “if the first woman to arrive this evening has been to hear Monsignor del Dongo, I shall go too; if she has not been, I shall stay away.”
Having come to this decision, the Marchesa made Gonzo happy by saying to him:
“Try to find out on what day the Coadjutor will be preaching, and in what church. This evening, before you go, I shall perhaps have a commission to give you.”
No sooner had Gonzo set off for the Corso than Clelia went to take the air in the garden of her palazzo. She did not consider the objection that for ten months she had not set foot in it. She was lively, animated; she had a colour. That evening, as each boring visitor entered the room, her heart throbbed with emotion. At length they announced Gonzo, who at the first glance saw that he was going to be the indispensable person for the next week; “The Marchesa is jealous of the little Marini, and, upon my word, it would be a fine drama to put on the stage,” he said to himself, “with the Marchesa playing the leading lady, little Annetta the juvenile, and Monsignor del Dongo the lover! Upon my word, the seats would not be too dear at two francs.” He was beside himself with joy, and throughout the evening cut everybody short, and told the most ridiculous stories (that, for example, of the famous actress and the Marquis de Pequigny, which he had heard the day before from a French visitor). The Marchesa, for her part, could not stay in one place; she moved about the drawing-room, she passed into a gallery adjoining it into which the Marchese had admitted no picture that had not cost more than twenty thousand francs. These pictures spoke in so clear a language that evening that they wore out the Marchesa’s heart with the force of her emotion. At last she heard the double doors open, she ran to the drawing-room: it was the Marchesa Raversi! But, on making her the customary polite speeches, Clelia felt that her voice was failing her. The Marchesa made her repeat twice the question: “What do you think of the fashionable preacher?” which she had not heard at first.
“I did regard him as a little intriguer, a most worthy nephew of the illustrious Contessa Mosca, but the last time he preached; why, it was at the Church of the Visitation, opposite you, he was so sublime, that I could not hate him any longer, and I regard him as the most eloquent man I have ever heard.”
“So you have been to hear his sermons?” said Clelia, trembling with happiness.
“Why,” the Marchesa laughed, “haven’t you been listening? I wouldn’t miss one for anything in the world. They say that his lungs are affected, and that soon he will have to give up preaching.”
No sooner had the Marchesa left than Clelia called Gonzo to the gallery.
“I have almost decided,” she told him, “to hear this preacher who is so highly praised. When does he preach?”
“Next Monday, that is to say in three days from now; and one would say that he had guessed Your Excellency’s intention, for he is coming to preach in the Church of the Visitation.”
There was more to be settled; but Clelia could no longer muster enough voice to speak: she took five or six turns of the gallery without adding a word. Gonzo said to himself: “There is vengeance at work. How can anyone have the insolence to escape from a prison, especially when he is guarded by a hero like General Fabio Conti?
“However, you must make haste,” he added with delicate irony; “his lungs are affected. I heard Doctor Rambo say that he has not a year to live; God is punishing him for having broken his bond by treacherously escaping from the citadel.”
The Marchesa sat down on the divan in the gallery, and made a sign to Gonzo to follow her example. After some moments of silence she handed him a little purse in which she had a few sequins ready. “Reserve four places for me.”
“Will it be permitted for poor Gonzo to slip in, in Your Excellency’s train?”
“Certainly. Reserve five places. . . . I do not in the least mind,” she added, “whether I am near the pulpit; but I should like to see Signorina Marini, who they say is so pretty.”
The Marchesa could not live through the three days that separated her from the famous Monday, the day of the sermon. Gonzo, inasmuch as it was a signal honour to be seen in the company of so great a lady, had put on his French coat with his sword; this was not all, taking advantage of the proximity of the palazzo, he had had carried into the church a magnificent gilt armchair for the Marchesa, which was thought the last word in insolence by the middle classes. One may imagine how the poor Marchesa felt when she saw this armchair, which had been placed directly opposite the pulpit. Clelia was in such confusion, with downcast eyes, shrinking into a corner of the huge chair, that she had not even the courage to look at the little Marini, whom Gonzo pointed out to her with his hand with an effrontery which amazed her. Everyone not of noble birth was absolutely nothing in the eyes of this courtier.
Fabrizio appeared in the pulpit; he was so thin, so pale, so consumed, that Clelia’s eyes immediately filled with tears. Fabrizio uttered a few words, then stopped, as though his voice had suddenly failed; he tried in vain to begin various sentences; he turned round and took up a sheet of paper:
“Brethren,” he said, “an unhappy soul and one well worthy of all your pity requests you, through my lips, to pray for the ending of his torments, which will cease only with his life.”
Fabrizio read the rest of his paper very slowly; but the expression of his voice was such that before he was halfway through the prayer, everyone was weeping, even Gonzo. “At any rate, I shall not be noticed,” thought the Marchesa, bursting into tears.
While he was reading from the paper, Fabrizio found two or three ideas concerning the state of the unhappy man for whom he had come to beg the prayers of the faithful. Presently thoughts came to him in abundance. While he appeared to be addressing the public, he spoke only to the Marchesa. He ended his discourse a little sooner than was usual, because, in spite of his efforts to control them, his tears got the better of him to such a point that he was no longer able to pronounce his words in an intelligible manner. The good judges found this sermon strange but quite equal, in pathos at least, to the famous sermon preached with the lighted candles. As for Clelia, no sooner had she heard the first ten lines of the prayer read by Fabrizio than it seemed to her an atrocious crime to have been able to spend fourteen months without seeing him. On her return home she took to her bed, to be able to think of Fabrizio with perfect freedom; and next morning, at an early hour, Fabrizio received a note couched in the following terms:
“We rely upon your honour; find four bravi, of whose discretion you can be sure, and tomorrow, when midnight sounds from the Steccata, be by a little door which bears the number 19, in the Strada San Paolo. Remember that you may be attacked, do not come alone.”
On recognising that heavenly script, Fabrizio fell on his knees and burst into tears. “At last,” he cried, “after fourteen months and eight days! Farewell to preaching.”
It would take too long to describe all the varieties of folly to which the hearts of Fabrizio and Clelia were a prey that day. The little door indicated in the note was none other than that of the orangery of the palazzo Crescenzi, and ten times in the day Fabrizio found an excuse to visit it. He armed himself, and alone, shortly before midnight, with a rapid step, was passing by the door when, to his inexpressible joy, he heard a well-known voice say in a very low Whisper:
“Come in here, friend of my heart.”
Fabrizio entered cautiously and found himself actually in the orangery, but opposite a window heavily barred which stood three or four feet above the ground. The darkness was intense. Fabrizio had heard a slight sound in this window, and was exploring the bars with his hand, when he felt another hand, slipped through the bars, take hold of his and carry it to a pah” of lips which gave it a kiss.
“It is I,” said a dear voice, “who have come here to tell you that I love you, and to ask you if you are willing to obey me.”
One may imagine the answer, the joy, the astonishment of Fabrizio; after the first transports, Clelia said to him:
“I have made a vow to the Madonna, as you know, never to see you; that is why I receive you in this profound darkness. I wish you to understand clearly that, should you ever force me to look at you in the daylight, all would be over between us. But first of all, I do not wish you to preach before Annetta Marini, and do not go and think that it was I who was so foolish as to have an armchair carried into the House of God.”
“My dear angel, I shall never preach again before anyone; I have been preaching only in the hope that one day I might see you.”
“Do not speak like that, remember that it is not permitted to me to see you.”
Here we shall ask leave to pass over, without saying a single word about them, an interval of three years.
At the time when our story is resumed, Conte Mosca had long since returned to Parma, as Prime Minister, and was more powerful than ever.
After three years of divine happiness, Fabrizio’s heart underwent a caprice of affection which led to a complete change in his circumstances. The Marchesa had a charming little boy two years old, Sandrine, who was his mother’s joy; he was always with her or on the knees of the Marchese Crescenzi; Fabrizio, on the other hand, hardly ever saw him; he did not wish him to become accustomed to loving another father. He formed the plan of taking the child away before his memories should have grown distinct.
In the long hours of each day when the Marchesa could not see her lover, Sandrino’s company consoled her; for we have to confess a thing which will seem strange north of the Alps; in spite of her errors she had remained true to her vow; she had promised the Madonna, as the reader may perhaps remember, never to see Fabrizio; these had been her exact words; consequently she received him only at night, and there was never any light in the room.
But every evening he was received by his mistress; and, what is worthy of admiration, in the midst of a court devoured by curiosity and envy, Fabrizio’s precautions had been so ably calculated that this amicizia, as it is called in Lombardy, had never even been suspected. Their love was too intense for quarrels not to occur; Clelia was extremely given to jealousy, but almost always their quarrels sprang from another cause. Fabrizio had made use of some public ceremony in order to be in the same place as the Marchesa and to look at her; she then seized a pretext to escape quickly, and for a long time afterwards banished her lover.
Amazement was felt at the court of Parma that no intrigue should be known of a woman so remarkable both for her beauty and for the loftiness of her mind; she gave rise to passions which inspired many foolish actions, and often Fabrizio too was jealous.
The good Archbishop Landriani had long been dead; the piety, the exemplary morals, the eloquence of Fabrizio had made him be forgotten; his own elder brother was dead and all the wealth of his family had come to him. From this time onwards he distributed annually among the vicars and curates of his diocese the hundred odd thousand francs which the Archbishopric of Parma brought him in.
It would be difficult to imagine a life more honoured, more honourable or more useful than Fabrizio had made for himself, when everything was upset by this unfortunate caprice of paternal affection.
“According to the vow which I respect and which nevertheless is the bane of my life, since you refuse to see me during the day,” he said once to Clelia, “I am obliged to live perpetually alone, with no other distraction than my work; and besides I have not enough work. In the course of this stern and sad way of passing the long hours of each day, an idea has occurred to me, which is now torturing me, and against which I have been striving in vain for six months: my son will not love me at all; he never hears my name mentioned. Brought up amid all the pleasing luxury of the palazzo Crescenzi, he barely knows me. On the rare occasions when I do see him, I think of his mother, whose heavenly beauty he recalls to me, and whom I may not see, and he must find me a serious person, which, with children, means sad.”
“Well,” said the Marchesa, “to what is all this speech leading? It frightens me.”
“To my having my son; I wish him to live with me; I wish to see him every day; I wish him to grow accustomed to loving me; I wish to love him myself at my leisure. Since a fatality without counterpart in the world decrees that I must be deprived of that happiness which so many other tender hearts enjoy, and forbids me to pass my life with all that I adore, I wish at least to have beside me a creature who recalls you to my heart, who to some extent takes your place. Men and affairs are a burden to me in my enforced solitude; you know that ambition has always been a vain word to me, since the moment when I had the good fortune to be locked up by Barbone; and anything that is not felt in my heart seems to me fatuous in the melancholy which in your absence overwhelms me.”
One can imagine the keen anguish with which her lover’s grief filled the heart of poor Clelia; her sorrow was all the more intense, as she felt that Fabrizio had some justification. She went the length of wondering whether she ought not to try to obtain a release from her vow. Then she would receive Fabrizio during the day like any other person in society, and her reputation for sagacity was too well established for any scandal to arise. She told herself that by spending enough money she could procure a dispensation from her vow; but she felt also that this purely worldly arrangement would not set her conscience at rest, and that an angry heaven might perhaps punish her for this fresh crime.
On the other hand, if she consented to yield to so natural a desire on the part of Fabrizio, if she sought not to hurt that tender heart which she knew so well, and whose tranquillity her singular vow so strangely jeopardised, what chance was there of abducting the only son of one of the greatest nobles in Italy without the fraud’s being discovered? The Marchese Crescenzi would spend enormous sums, would himself conduct the investigations, and sooner or later the facts of the abduction would become known. There was only one way of meeting this danger, the child must be sent abroad, to Edinburgh, for instance, or to Paris; but this was a course to which the mother’s affection could never consent. The other plan proposed by Fabrizio, which was indeed the more reasonable of the two, had something sinister about it, and was almost more alarming still in the eyes of this despairing mother; she must, said Fabrizio, feign an illness for the child; he would grow steadily worse, until finally he died in the Marchese Crescenzi’s absence.
A repugnance which, in Clelia, amounted to terror, caused a rupture that could not last.
Clelia insisted that they must not tempt God; that this beloved son was the fruit of a crime, and that if they provoked the divine anger further, God would not fail to call him back to Himself. Fabrizio spoke again of his strange destiny: “The station to which chance has called me,” he said to Clelia, “and my love oblige me to dwell in an eternal solitude, I cannot, like the majority of my brethren, taste the pleasures of an intimate society, since you will receive me only in the darkness, which reduces to a few moments, so to speak, the part of my life which I may spend with you.”
Tears flowed in abundance. Clelia fell ill; but she loved Fabrizio too well to maintain her opposition to the terrible sacrifice that he demanded of her. Apparently, Sandrino fell ill; the Marchese sent in haste for the most celebrated doctors, and Clelia at once encountered a terrible difficulty which she had not foreseen: she must prevent this adored child from taking any of the remedies ordered by the doctors; it was no small matter.
The child, kept in bed longer than was good for his health, became really ill. How was one to explain to the doctors the cause of his malady? Torn asunder by two conflicting interests both so dear to her, Clelia was within an ace of losing her reason. Must she consent to an apparent recovery, and so sacrifice all the results of that long and painful make-believe? Fabrizio, for his part, could neither forgive himself the violence he was doing to the heart of his mistress nor abandon his project. He had found a way of being admitted every night to the sick child’s room, which had led to another complication. The Marchesa came to attend to her son, and sometimes Fabrizio was obliged to see her by candle-light, which seemed to the poor sick heart of Clelia a horrible sin and one that foreboded the death of Sandrino. In vain had the most famous casuists, consulted as to the necessity of adherence to a vow in a case where its performance would obviously do harm, replied that the vow could not be regarded as broken in a criminal fashion, so long as the person bound by a promise to God failed to keep that promise not for a vain pleasure of the senses but so as not to cause an obvious evil. The Marchesa was none the less in despair, and Fabrizio could see the time coming when his strange idea was going to bring about the death of Clelia and that of his son.
He had recourse to his intimate friend, Conte Mosca, who, for all the old Minister that he was, was moved by this tale of love of which to a great extent he had been ignorant.
“I can procure for you the Marchese’s absence for five or six days at least: when do you require it?”
A little later, Fabrizio came to inform the Conte that everything was in readiness now for them to take advantage of the Marchese’s absence.
Two days after this, as the Marchese was riding home from one of his estates in the neighbourhood of Mantua, a party of brigands, evidently hired to execute some personal vengeance, carried him off, without maltreating him in any way, and placed him in a boat which took three days to travel down the Po, making the same journey that Fabrizio had made long ago, after the famous affair with Giletti. On the fourth day, the brigands marooned the Marchese on a desert island in the Po, taking care first to rob him completely, and to leave him no money or other object that had the slightest value. It was two whole days before the Marchese managed to reach his palazzo in Parma; he found it draped in black and all his household in mourning.
This abduction, very skilfully carried out, had a deplorable consequence: Sandrino, secretly installed in a large and fine house where the Marchesa came to see him almost every day, died after a few months. Clelia imagined herself to have been visited with a just punishment, for having been unfaithful to her vow to the Madonna: she had seen Fabrizio so often by candle-light, and indeed twice in broad daylight and with such rapturous affection, during Sandrino’s illness. She survived by a few months only this beloved son, but had the joy of dying in the arms of her lover.
Fabrizio was too much in love and too religious to have recourse to suicide; he hoped to meet Clelia again in a better world, but he had too much intelligence not to feel that he had first to atone for many faults.
A few days after Clelia’s death, he signed several settlements by which he assured a pension of one thousand francs to each of his servants, and reserved a similar pension for himself; he gave landed property, of an annual value of 100,000 lire or thereabouts, to Contessa Mosca; a similar estate to the Marchesa del Dongo, his mother, and such residue as there might be of the paternal fortune to one of his sisters who was poorly married. On the following day, having forwarded to the proper authorities his resignation of his Archbishopric and of all the posts which the favour of Ernesto V and the Prime Minister’s friendship had successively heaped upon him, he retired to the Charterhouse of Parma, situated in the woods adjoining the Po, two leagues from Sacca.
Contessa Mosca had strongly approved, at the time, her husband’s return to office, but she herself would never on any account consent to cross the frontier of the States of Ernesto V. She held her court at Vignano, a quarter of a league from Casalmaggiore, on the left bank of the Po, and consequently in the Austrian States. In this magnificent palace of Vignano, which the Conte had built for her, she entertained every Thursday all the high society of Parma, and every day her own many friends. Fabrizio had never missed a day in going to Vignano. The Contessa, in a word, combined all the outward appearances of happiness, but she lived for a very short tune only after Fabrizio, whom she adored, and who spent but one year in his Charterhouse.
The prisons of Parma were empty, the Conte immensely rich, Ernesto V adored by his subjects, who compared his rule to that of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany.
TO THE HAPPY FEW
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00