The whole of this adventure had not lasted a minute. Fabrizio’s wounds were nothing; they tied up his arm with bandages torn from the colonel’s shirt. They wanted to make up a bed for him upstairs in the inn.
“But while I am tucked up here on the first floor,” said Fabrizio to the serjeant, “my horse, who is down in the stable, will get bored with being left alone and will go off with another master.”
“Not bad for a conscript!” said the serjeant. And they deposited Fabrizio on a litter of clean straw in the same stall as his horse.
Then, as he was feeling very weak, the serjeant brought him a bowl of mulled wine and talked to him for a little. Several compliments included in this conversation carried our hero to the seventh heaven.
Fabrizio did not wake until dawn on the following day; the horses were neighing continuously and making a frightful din; the stable was filled with smoke. At first Fabrizio could make nothing of all this noise, and did not even know where he was: finally, half stifled by the smoke, it occurred to him that the house was on fire; in the twinkling of an eye he was out of the stable and in the saddle. He raised his head; smoke was belching violently from the two windows over the stable; and the roof was covered by a black smoke which rose curling into the air. A hundred fugitives had arrived during the night at the White Horse; they were all shouting and swearing. The five or six whom Fabrizio could see close at hand seemed to him to be completely drunk; one of them tried to stop him and called out to him: “Where are you taking my horse?”
When Fabrizio had gone a quarter of a league, he turned his head. There was no one following him; the building was in flames. Fabrizio caught sight of the bridge; he remembered his wound, and felt his arm compressed by bandages and very hot. “And the old colonel, what has become of him? He gave his shirt to tie up my arm.” Our hero was this morning the coolest man in the world; the amount of blood he had shed had liberated him from all the romantic element in his character.
“To the right!” he said to himself, “and no time to lose.” He began quietly following the course of the river which, after passing under the bridge, ran to the right of the road. He remembered the good cantinière’s advice. “What friendship!” he said to himself, “what an open nature!”
After riding for an hour he felt very weak. “Oho! Am I going to faint?” he wondered. “If I faint, someone will steal my horse, and my clothes, perhaps, and my money and jewels with them.” He had no longer the strength to hold the reins, and was trying to keep his balance in the saddle when a peasant who was digging in a field by the side of the high road noticed his pallor and came up to offer him a glass of beer and some bread.
“When I saw you look so pale, I thought you must be one of the wounded from the great battle,” the peasant told him. Never did help come more opportunely. As Fabrizio was munching the piece of bread his eyes began to hurt him when he looked straight ahead. When he felt a little better he thanked the man. “And where am I?” he asked. The peasant told him that three quarters of a league farther on he would come to the township of Zonders, where he would be very well looked after. Fabrizio reached the town, not knowing quite what he was doing and thinking only at every step of not falling off his horse. He saw a big door standing open; he entered. It was the Woolcomb Inn. At once there ran out to him the good lady of the house, an enormous woman; she called for help in a voice that throbbed with pity. Two girls came and helped Fabrizio to dismount; no sooner had his feet touched the ground than he fainted completely. A surgeon was fetched, who bled him. For the rest of that day and the days that followed Fabrizio scarcely knew what was being done to him; he slept almost without interruption.
The sabre wound in his thigh threatened to form a serious abscess. When his mind was clear again, he asked them to look after his horse, and kept on repeating that he would pay them well, which shocked the good hostess and her daughters. For a fortnight he was admirably looked after and he was beginning to be himself again when he noticed one evening that his hostesses seemed greatly upset. Presently a German officer came into his room: in answering his questions they used a language which Fabrizio did not understand, but he could see that they were speaking about him; he pretended to be asleep. A little later, when he thought that the officer must have gone, he called his hostesses.
“That officer came to put my name on a list, and make me a prisoner, didn’t he?” The landlady assented with tears in her eyes.
“Very well, there is money in my dolman!” he cried, sitting up in bed; “buy me some civilian clothes and tonight I shall go away on my horse. You have already saved my life once by taking me in just as I was going to drop down dead in the street; save it again by giving me the means of going back to my mother.”
At this point the landlady’s daughters began to dissolve in tears; they trembled for Fabrizio; and, as they barely understood French, they came to his bedside to question him. They talked with their mother in Flemish; but at every moment pitying eyes were turned on our hero; he thought he could make out that his escape might compromise them seriously, but that they would gladly incur the risk. A Jew in the town supplied a complete outfit, but when he brought it to the inn about ten o’clock that night, the girls saw, on comparing it with Fabrizio’s dolman, that it would require an endless amount of alteration. At once they set to work; there was no time to lose. Fabrizio showed them where several napoleons were hidden in his uniform, and begged his hostesses to stitch them into the new garments. With these had come a fine pair of new boots. Fabrizio had no hesitation in asking these kind girls to slit open the hussar’s boots at the place which he shewed them, and they hid the little diamonds in the lining of the new pair.
One curious result of his loss of blood and the weakness that followed from it was that Fabrizio had almost completely forgotten his French; he used Italian to address his hostesses, who themselves spoke a Flemish dialect, so that their conversation had to be conducted almost entirely in signs. When the girls, who for that matter were entirely disinterested, saw the diamonds, their enthusiasm for Fabrizio knew no bounds; they imagined him to be a prince in disguise. Aniken, the younger and less sophisticated, kissed him without ceremony. Fabrizio, for his part, found them charming, and towards midnight, when the surgeon had allowed him a little wine in view of the journey he had to take, he felt almost inclined not to go. “Where could I be better off than here?” he asked himself. However, about two o’clock in the morning, he rose and dressed. As he was leaving the room, his good hostess informed him that his horse had been taken by the officer who had come to search the house that afternoon.
“Ah! The swine!” cried Fabrizio with an oath, “robbing a wounded man!” He was not enough of a philosopher, this young Italian, to bear in mind the price at which he himself had acquired the horse.
Aniken told him with tears that they had hired a horse for him. She would have liked him not to go. Their farewells were tender. Two big lads, cousins of the good landlady, helped Fabrizio into the saddle: during the journey they supported him on his horse, while a third, who walked a few hundred yards in advance of the little convoy, searched the roads for any suspicious patrol. After going for a couple of hours, they stopped at the house of a cousin of the landlady of the Woolcomb. In spite of anything that Fabrizio might say, the young men who accompanied him refused absolutely to leave him; they claimed that they knew better than anyone the hidden paths through the woods.
“But tomorrow morning, when my flight becomes known, and they don’t see you anywhere in the town, your absence will make things awkward for you,” said Fabrizio.
They proceeded on their way. Fortunately, when day broke at last, the plain was covered by a thick fog. About eight o’clock in the morning they came in sight of a little town. One of the young men went on ahead to see if the post-horses there had been stolen. The postmaster had had time to make them vanish and to raise a team of wretched screws with which he had filled his stables. Grooms were sent to find a pair of horses in the marshes where they were hidden, and three hours later Fabrizio climbed into a little cabriolet which was quite dilapidated but had harnessed to it a pair of good post-horses. He had regained his strength. The moment of parting with the young men, his hostess’s cousins, was pathetic in the extreme; on no account, whatever friendly pretext Fabrizio might find, would they consent to take any money.
“In your condition, sir, you need it more than we do,” was the invariable reply of these worthy young fellows. Finally they set off with letters in which Fabrizio, somewhat emboldened by the agitation of the journey, had tried to convey to his hostesses all that he felt for them. Fabrizio wrote with tears in his eyes, and there was certainly love in the letter addressed to little Aniken.
In the rest of the journey there was nothing out of the common. He reached Amiens in great pain from the cut he had received in his thigh; it had not occurred to the country doctor to lance the wound, and in spite of the bleedings an abscess had formed. During the fortnight that Fabrizio spent in the inn at Amiens, kept by an obsequious and avaricious family, the Allies were invading France, and Fabrizio became another man, so many and profound were his reflexions on the things that had happened to him. He had remained a child upon one point only: what he had seen, was it a battle; and, if so, was that battle Waterloo? For the first time in his life he found pleasure in reading; he was always hoping to find in the newspapers, or in the published accounts of the battle, some description which would enable him to identify the ground he had covered with Marshal Ney’s escort, and afterwards with the other general. During his stay at Amiens he wrote almost every day to his good friends at the Woolcomb. As soon as his wound was healed, he came to Paris. He found at his former hotel a score of letters from his mother and aunt, who implored him to return home as soon as possible. The last letter from Contessa Pietranera had a certain enigmatic tone which made him extremely uneasy; this letter destroyed all his tender fancies. His was a character to which a single word was enough to make him readily anticipate the greatest misfortunes; his imagination then stepped in and depicted these misfortunes to him with the most horrible details.
“Take care never to sign the letters you write to tell us what you are doing,” the Contessa warned him. “On your return you must on no account come straight to the Lake of Como. Stop at Lugano, on Swiss soil.” He was to arrive in this little town under the name of Cavi; he would find at the principal inn the Contessa’s footman, who would tell him what to do. His aunt ended her letter as follows: “Take every possible precaution to keep your mad escapade secret, and above all do not carry on you any printed or written document; in Switzerland you will be surrounded by the friends of Santa Margherita.† If I have enough money,” the Contessa told him, “I shall send someone to Geneva, to the Hôtel des Balances, and you shall have particulars which I cannot put in writing but which you ought to know before coming here. But, in heaven’s name, not a day longer in Paris; you will be recognised there by our spies.” Fabrizio’s imagination set to work to construct the wildest hypotheses, and he was incapable of any other pleasure save that of trying to guess what the strange information could be that his aunt had to give him. Twice on his passage through France he was arrested, but managed to get away; he was indebted, for these unpleasantnesses, to his Italian passport and to that strange description of him as a dealer in barometers, which hardly seemed to tally with his youthful face and the arm which he carried in a sling.
[† Silvio Pellico has given this name a European notoriety: it is that of the street in Milan in which the police headquarters and prisons are situated.]
Finally, at Geneva, he found a man in the Contessa’s service, who gave him a message from her to the effect that he, Fabrizio, had been reported to the police at Milan as having gone abroad to convey to Napoleon certain proposals drafted by a vast conspiracy organised in the former Kingdom of Italy. If this had not been the object of his journey, the report went on, why should he have gone under an assumed name? His mother was endeavouring to establish the truth, as follows:
1st, that he had never gone beyond Switzerland.
2ndly, that he had left the castle suddenly after a quarrel with his elder brother.
On hearing this story Fabrizio felt a thrill of pride. “I am supposed to have been a sort of ambassador to Napoleon,” he said to himself; “I should have had the honour of speaking to that great man: would to God I had!” He recalled that his ancestor seven generations back, a grandson of him who came to Milan in the train of the Sforza, had had the honour of having his head cut off by the Duke’s enemies, who surprised him as he was on his way to Switzerland to convey certain proposals to the Free Cantons and to raise troops there. He saw in his mind’s eye the print that illustrated this exploit in the genealogy of the family. Fabrizio, questioning the servant, found him shocked by a detail which finally he allowed to escape him, despite the express order, several times repeated to him by the Contessa, not to reveal it. It was Ascanio, his elder brother, who had reported him to the Milan police. This cruel news almost drove our hero out of his mind. >From Geneva, in order to go to Italy, one must pass through Lausanne; he insisted on setting off at once on foot, and thus covering ten to twelve leagues, although the mail from Geneva to Lausanne was starting in two hours’ time. Before leaving Geneva he picked a quarrel in one of the melancholy cafés of the place with a young man who, he said, stared at him in a singular fashion. Which was perfectly true: the young Genevan, phlegmatic, rational and interested only in money, thought him mad; Fabrizio oh coming in had glared furiously in all directions, then had upset the cup of coffee that was brought to him over his breeches. In this quarrel Fabrizio’s first movement was quite of the sixteenth century: instead of proposing a duel to the young Genevan, he drew his dagger and rushed upon him to stab him with it. In this moment of passion, Fabrizio forgot everything he had ever learned of the laws of honour and reverted to instinct, or, more properly speaking, to the memories of his earliest childhood.
The confidential agent whom he found at Lugano increased his fury by furnishing him with fresh details. As Fabrizio was beloved at Grianta, no one there had mentioned his name, and, but for his brother’s kind intervention, everyone would have pretended to believe that he was at Milan, and the attention of the police in that city would not have been drawn to his absence.
“I expect the doganieri have a description of you,” his aunt’s envoy hinted, “and if we keep to the main road, when you come to the frontier of the Lombardo–Venetian Kingdom, you will be arrested.”
Fabrizio and his party were familiar with every footpath over the mountain that divides Lugano from the Lake of Como; they disguised themselves as hunters, that is to say as poachers, and as they were three in number and had a fairly resolute bearing, the doganieri whom they passed gave them a greeting and nothing more. Fabrizio arranged things so as not to arrive at the castle until nearly midnight; at that hour his father and all the powdered footmen had long been in bed. He climbed down without difficulty into the deep moat and entered the castle by the window of a cellar: it was there that his mother and aunt were waiting for him; presently his sisters came running in. Transports of affection alternated with tears for some time, and they had scarcely begun to talk reasonably when the first light of dawn came to warn these people who thought themselves so unfortunate that time was flying.
“I hope your brother won’t have any suspicion of your being here,” Signora Pietranera said to him; “I have scarcely spoken to him since that fine escapade of his, and his vanity has done me the honour of taking offence. This evening, at supper, I condescended to say a few words to him; I had to find some excuse to hide my frantic joy, which might have made him suspicious. Then, when I noticed that he was quite proud of this sham reconciliation, I took advantage of his happiness to make him drink a great deal too much, and I am certain he will never have thought of taking any steps to carry on his profession of spying.”
“We shall have to hide our hussar in your room,” said the Marchesa; “he can’t leave at once; we haven’t sufficient command of ourselves at present to make plans, and we shall have to think out the best way of putting those terrible Milan police off the track.”
This plan was adopted; but the Marchese and his elder son noticed, next day, that the Marchesa was constantly in her sister-in-law’s room. We shall not stop to depict the transports of affection and joy which continued, all that day, to convulse these happy creatures. Italian hearts are, far more than ours in France, tormented by the suspicions and wild ideas which a burning imagination presents to them, but on the other hand their joys are far more intense and more lasting. On the day in question the Contessa and Marchesa were literally out of their minds; Fabrizio was obliged to begin all his stories over again; finally they decided to go away and conceal their general joy at Milan, so difficult did it appear to be to keep it hidden any longer from the scrutiny of the Marchese and his son Ascanio.
They took the ordinary boat of the household to go to Como; to have acted otherwise would have aroused endless suspicions. But on arriving at the harbour of Como the Marchesa remembered that she had left behind at Grianta papers of the greatest importance: she hastened to send the boatmen back for them, and so these men could give no account of how the two ladies were spending their time at Como. No sooner had they arrived in the town than they selected haphazard one of the carriages that ply for hire near that tall mediaeval tower which rises above the Milan gate. They started off at once, without giving the coachman time to speak to anyone. A quarter of a league from the town they found a young sportsman of their acquaintance who, out of courtesy to them as they had no man with them, kindly consented to act as their escort as far as the gates of Milan, whither he was bound for the shooting. All went well, and the ladies were conversing in the most joyous way with the young traveller when, at a bend which the road makes to pass the charming hill and wood of San Giovanni, three constables in plain clothes sprang at the horses’ heads. “Ah! My husband has betrayed us,” cried the Marchesa, and fainted away. A serjeant who had remained a little way behind came staggering up to the carriage and said, in a voice that reeked of the trattoria:
“I am sorry, sir, but I must do my duty and arrest you, General Fabio Conti.”
Fabrizio thought that the serjeant was making a joke at his expense when he addressed him as “General.” “You shall pay for this!” he said to himself. He examined the men in plain clothes and watched for a favourable moment to jump down from the carriage and dash across the fields.
The Contessa smiled — a smile of despair, I fancy — then said to the serjeant:
“But, my dear serjeant, is it this boy of sixteen that you take for General Conti?”
“Aren’t you the General’s daughter?” asked the serjeant.
“Look at my father,” said the Contessa, pointing to Fabrizio. The constables went into fits of laughter.
“Show me your passports and don’t argue the point,” said the serjeant, stung by the general mirth.
“These ladies never take passports to go to Milan,” said the coachman with a calm and philosophical air: “they are coming from their castle of Grianta. This lady is the Signora Contessa Pietranera; the other is the Signora Marchesa del Dongo.”
The serjeant, completely disconcerted, went forward to the horses’ heads and there took counsel with his men. The conference had lasted for fully five minutes when the Contessa asked if the gentlemen would kindly allow the carriage to be moved forward a few yards and stopped in the shade; the heat was overpowering, though it was only eleven o’clock in the morning. Fabrizio, who was looking out most attentively in all directions, seeking a way of escape, saw coming out of a little path through the fields and on to the high road a girl of fourteen or fifteen, who was crying timidly into her handkerchief. She came forward walking between two constables in uniform, and, three paces behind her, also between constables, stalked a tall, lean man who assumed an air of dignity, like a Prefect following a procession.
“Where did you find them?” asked the serjeant, for the moment completely drunk.
“Running away across the fields, with not a sign of a passport about them.”
The serjeant appeared to lose his head altogether; he had before him five prisoners, instead of the two that he was expected to have. He went a little way off, leaving only one man to guard the male prisoner who put on the air of majesty, and another to keep the horses from moving.
“Wait,” said the Contessa to Fabrizio, who had already jumped out of the carriage. “Everything will be settled in a minute.”
They heard a constable exclaim: “What does it matter! If they have no passports, they’re fair game whoever they are.” The serjeant seemed not quite so certain; the name of Contessa Pietranera made him a little uneasy: he had known the General, and had not heard of his death. “The General is not the man to let it pass, if I arrest his wife without good reason,” he said to himself.
During this deliberation, which was prolonged, the Contessa had entered into conversation with the girl, who was standing on the road, and in the dust by the side of the carriage; she had been struck by her beauty.
“The sun will be bad for you, Signorina. This gallant soldier,” she went on, addressing the constable who was posted at the horses’ heads, “will surely allow you to get into the carriage.”
Fabrizio, who was wandering round the vehicle, came up to help the girl to get in. Her foot was already on the step, her arm supported by Fabrizio, when the imposing man, who was six yards behind the carriage, called out in a voice magnified by the desire to preserve his dignity:
“Stay in the road; don’t get into a carriage that does not belong to you!”
Fabrizio had not heard this order; the girl, instead of climbing into the carriage, tried to get down again, and, as Fabrizio continued to hold her up, fell into his arms. He smiled; she blushed a deep crimson; they stood for a moment looking at one another after the girl had disengaged herself from his arms.
“She would be a charming prison companion,” Fabrizio said to himself. “What profound thought lies behind that brow! She would know how to love.”
The serjeant came up to them with an air of authority: “Which of these ladies is named Clelia Conti?”
“I am,” said the girl.
“And I,” cried the elderly man, “am General Fabio Conti, Chamberlain to H.S.H. the Prince of Parma; I consider it most irregular that a man in my position should be hunted down like a thief.”
“The day before yesterday, when you embarked at the harbour of Como, did you not tell the police inspector who asked for your passport to go away? Very well, his orders today are that you are not to go away.”
“I had already pushed off my boat, I was in a hurry, there was a storm threatening, a man not in uniform shouted to me from the quay to put back into harbour, I told him my name and went on.”
“And this morning you escaped from Como.”
“A man like myself does not take a passport when he goes from Milan to visit the lake. This morning, at Como, I was told that I should be arrested at the gate. I left the town on foot with my daughter; I hoped to find on the road some carriage that would take me to Milan, where the first thing I shall do will certainly be to call on the General commanding the Province and lodge a complaint.”
A heavy weight seemed to have been lifted from the serjeant’s mind.
“Very well, General, you are under arrest and I shall take you to Milan. And you, who are you?” he said to Fabrizio.
“My son,” replied the Contessa; “Ascanio, son of the Divisional General Pietranera.”
“Without a passport, Signora Contessa?” said the serjeant, in a much gentler tone.
“At his age, he has never had one; he never travels alone, he is always with me.”
During this colloquy General Conti was standing more and more on his dignity with the constables.
“Not so much talk,” said one of them; “you are under arrest, that’s enough!”
“You will be glad to hear,” said the serjeant, “that we allow you to hire a horse from some contadino; otherwise, never mind all the dust and the heat and the Chamberlain of Parma, you would have to put your best foot foremost to keep pace with our horses.”
The General began to swear.
“Will you kindly be quiet!” the constable repeated. “Where is your general’s uniform? Anybody can come along and say he’s a general.”
The General grew more and more angry. Meanwhile things were looking much brighter in the carriage.
The Contessa kept the constables running about as if they had been her servants. She had given a scudo to one of them to go and fetch wine, and, what was better still, cold water from a cottage that was visible two hundred yards away. She had found time to calm Fabrizio, who was determined, at all costs, to make a dash for the wood that covered the hill. “I have a good brace of pistols,” he said. She obtained the infuriated General’s permission for his daughter to get into the carriage. On this occasion the General, who loved to talk about himself and his family, told the ladies that his daughter was only twelve years old, having been born in 1803, on the 27th of October, but that, such was her intelligence, everyone took her to be fourteen or fifteen.
“A thoroughly common man,” the Contessa’s eyes signalled to the Marchesa. Thanks to the Contessa, everything was settled, after a colloquy that lasted an hour. A constable, who discovered that he had some business to do in the neighbouring village, lent his horse to General Conti, after the Contessa had said to him: “You shall have ten francs.” The serjeant went off by himself with the General; the other constables stayed behind under a tree, accompanied by four huge bottles of wine, almost small demi-johns, which the one who had been sent to the cottage had brought back, with the help of a contadino, Clelia Conti was authorised by the proud Chamberlain to accept, for the return journey to Milan, a seat in the ladies’ carriage, and no one dreamed of arresting the son of the gallant General Pietranera. After the first few minutes had been devoted to an exchange of courtesies and to remarks on the little incident that had just occurred, Clelia Conti observed the note of enthusiasm with which so beautiful a lady as the Contessa spoke to Fabrizio; certainly, she was not his mother. The girl’s attention was caught most of all by repeated allusions to something heroic, bold, dangerous to the last degree, which he had recently done; but for all her cleverness little Clelia could not discover what this was. She gazed with astonishment at this young hero, whose eyes seemed to be blazing still with all the fire of action. For his part, he was somewhat embarrassed by the remarkable beauty of this girl of twelve, and her steady gaze made him blush.
A league outside Milan Fabrizio announced that he was going to see his uncle, and took leave of the ladies.
“If I ever get out of my difficulties,” he said to Clelia, “I shall pay a visit to the beautiful pictures at Parma, and then will you deign to remember the name: Fabrizio del Dongo?”
“Good!” said the Contessa, “that is how you keep your identity secret. Signorina, deign to remember that this scape-grace is my son, and is called Pietranera, and not del Dongo.”
That evening, at a late hour, Fabrizio entered Milan by the Porta Renza, which leads to a fashionable gathering-place. The despatch of their two servants to Switzerland had exhausted the very modest savings of the Marchesa and her sister-in-law; fortunately, Fabrizio had still some napoleons left, and one of the diamonds, which they decided to sell.
The ladies were highly popular, and knew everyone in the town. The most important personages in the Austrian and religious party went to speak on behalf of Fabrizio to Barone Binder, the Chief of Police. These gentlemen could not conceive, they said, how anyone could take seriously the escapade of a boy of sixteen who left the paternal roof after a dispute with an elder brother.
“My business is to take everything seriously,” replied Barone Binder gently; a wise and solemn man, he was then engaged in forming the Milan police, and had undertaken to prevent a revolution like that of 1746, which drove the Austrians from Genoa. This Milan police, since rendered so famous by the adventures of Silvio Pellico and M. Andryane, was not exactly cruel; it carried out, reasonably and without pity, harsh laws. The Emperor Francis II wished these over-bold Italian imaginations to be struck by terror.
“Give me, day by day,” repeated Barone Binder to Fabrizio’s protectors, “a certified account of what the young Marchesino del Dongo has been doing; let us follow him from the moment of his departure on the 8th of March to his arrival last night in this city, where he is hidden in one of the rooms of his mother’s apartment, and I am prepared to treat him as the most well-disposed and most frolicsome young man in town. If you cannot furnish me with the young man’s itinerary during all the days following his departure from Grianta, however exalted his birth may be, however great the respect I owe to the friends of his family, obviously it is my duty to order his arrest. Am I not bound to keep him in prison until he-has furnished me with proofs that he did not go to convey a message to Napoleon from such disaffected persons as may exist in Lombardy among the subjects of His Imperial and Royal Majesty? Note farther, gentlemen, that if young del Dongo succeeds in justifying himself on this point, he will still be liable to be charged with having gone abroad without a passport properly issued to himself, and also with assuming a false name and deliberately making use of a passport issued to a common workman, that is to say to a person of a class greatly inferior to that to which he himself belongs.”
This declaration, cruelly reasonable, was accompanied by all the marks of deference and respect which the Chief of Police owed to the high position of the Marchesa del Dongo and of the important personages who were intervening on her behalf.
The Marchesa was in despair when Barone Binder’s reply was communicated to her.
“Fabrizio will be arrested,” she sobbed, “and once he is in prison, God knows when he will get out! His father will disown him!”
Signora Pietranera and her sister-in-law took counsel with two or three ultimate friends, and, in spite of anything these might say, the Marchesa was absolutely determined to send her son away that very night.
“But you can see quite well,” the Contessa pointed out to her, “that Barone Binder knows that your son is here; he is not a bad man.”
“No; but he is anxious to please the Emperor Francis.”
“But, if he thought it would lead to his promotion to put Fabrizio in prison, the boy would be there now; it is showing an insulting defiance of the Barone to send him away.”
“But his admission to us that he knows where Fabrizio is, is as much as to say: ‘Send him away!’ No, I shan’t feel alive until I can no longer say to myself: ‘In a quarter of an hour my son may be within. prison walls.’ Whatever Barone Binder’s ambition may be,” the Marchesa went on, “he thinks it useful to his personal standing in this country to make certain concessions to oblige a man of my husband’s rank, and I see a proof of this in the singular frankness with which he admits that he knows where to lay hands on my son. Besides, the Barone has been so kind as to let us know the two offences with which Fabrizio is charged, at the instigation of his unworthy brother; he explains that each of these offences means prison: is not that as much as to say that if we prefer exile it is for us to choose?”
“If you choose exile,” the Contessa kept on repeating, “we shall never set eyes on him again as long as we live.” Fabrizio, who was present at the whole conversation, with an old friend of the Marchesa, now a counsellor on the tribunal set up by Austria, was strongly inclined to take the key of the street and go; and, as a matter of fact, that same evening he left the palazzo, hidden in the carriage that was taking his mother and aunt to the Scala theatre. The coachman, whom they, distrusted, went as usual to wait in an osteria, and while the footmen, on whom they could rely, were looking after the horses, Fabrizio, disguised as a contadino, slipped out of the carriage and escaped from the town. Next morning he crossed the frontier with equal ease, and a few hours later had established himself on a property which his mother owned in Piedmont, near Novara, to be precise, at Romagnano, where Bayard was killed.
It may be imagined how much attention the ladies, on reaching their box in the Scala, paid to the performance. They had gone there solely to be able to consult certain of their friends who belonged to the Liberal party and whose appearance at the palazzo del Dongo might have been misconstrued by the police. In the box it was decided to make a fresh appeal to Barone Binder. There was no question of offering a sum of money to this magistrate who was a perfectly honest man; moreover, the ladies were extremely poor; they had forced Fabrizio to take with him all the money that remained from the sale of the diamond.
It was of the utmost importance that they should be kept constantly informed of the Barone’s latest decisions. The Contessa’s friends reminded her of a certain Canon Borda, a most charming young man who at one time had tried to make advances to her, in a somewhat violent manner; finding himself unsuccessful he had reported her friendship for Limercati to General Pietranera, whereupon he had been dismissed from the house as a rascal. Now, at present this Canon was in the habit of going every evening to play tarocchi with Baronessa Binder, and was naturally the intimate friend of her husband. The Contessa made up her mind to take the horribly unpleasant step of going to see this Canon; and the following morning, at an early hour, before he had left the house, she sent in her name.
When the Canon’s one and only servant announced: “Contessa Pietranera,” his master was so overcome as to be incapable of speech; he made no attempt to repair the disorder of a very scanty attire.
“Shew her in, and leave us,” he said in faint accents. The Contessa entered the room; Borda fell on his knees.
“It is in this position that an unhappy madman ought to receive your orders,” he said to the Contessa, who, that morning, in a plain costume that was almost a disguise, was irresistibly attractive. Her intense grief at Fabrizio’s exile, the violence that she was doing to her own feelings in coming to the house of a man who had behaved treacherously towards her, all combined to give an incredible brilliance to her eyes. “It is in this position that I wish to receive your orders,” cried the Canon, “for it is obvious that you have some service to ask of me, otherwise you would not have honoured with your presence the poor dwelling of an unhappy madman; once before, carried away by love and jealousy, he behaved towards you like a scoundrel, as soon as he saw that he could not win your favour.”
The words were sincere, and all the more handsome in that the Canon now enjoyed a position of great power; the Contessa was moved to tears by them; humiliation and fear had frozen her spirit; now in a moment affection and a gleam of hope took their place. From a most unhappy state she passed in a flash almost to happiness.
“Kiss my hand,” she said, as she held it out to the Canon, “and rise.” (She used the second person singular, which in Italy, it must be remembered, indicates a sincere and open friendship just as much as a more tender sentiment.) “I have come to ask your favour for my nephew Fabrizio. This is the whole truth of the story without the slightest concealment, as one tells it to an old friend. At the age of sixteen and a half he has done an intensely stupid thing. We were at the castle of Grianta on the Lake of Como. One evening at seven o’clock we learned by a boat from Como of the Emperor’s landing on the shore of the Gulf of Juan. Next morning Fabrizio went off to France, after borrowing the passport of one of his plebeian friends, a dealer in barometers, named Vasi. As he does not exactly resemble a dealer in barometers, he had hardly gone ten leagues into France when he was arrested on sight; his outbursts of enthusiasm in bad French seemed suspicious. After a time he escaped and managed to reach Geneva; we sent to meet him at Lugano. . . . ”
“That is to say, Geneva,” put in the Canon with a smile.
The Contessa finished her story.
“I will do everything for you that is humanly possible,” replied the Canon effusively; “I place myself entirely at your disposal. I will even do imprudent things,” he added. “Tell me, what am I to do as soon as this poor parlour is deprived of this heavenly apparition which marks an epoch in the history of my life?”
“You must go to Barone Binder and tell him that you have loved Fabrizio ever since he was born, that you saw him in his cradle when you used to come to our house, and that accordingly, in the name of the friendship he has shown for you, you beg him to employ all his spies to discover whether, before his departure for Switzerland, Fabrizio was in any sort of communication whatsoever with any of the Liberals whom he has under supervision. If the Barone’s information is of any value, he is bound to see that there is nothing more in this than a piece of boyish folly. You know that I used to have, in my beautiful apartment in the palazzo Dugnani, prints of the battles won by Napoleon: it was by spelling out the legends engraved beneath them that my nephew learned to read. When he was five years old, my poor husband used to explain these battles to him; we put my husband’s helmet on his head, the boy strutted about trailing his big sabre. Very well, one fine day he learns that my husband’s god, the Emperor, has returned to France, he starts out to join him, like a fool, but does not succeed in reaching him. Ask your Barone with what penalty he proposes to punish this moment of folly?”
“I was forgetting one thing,” said the Canon, “you shall see that I am not altogether unworthy of the pardon that you grant me. Here,” he said, looking on the table among his papers, “here is the accusation by that infamous collo-torto” (that is, hypocrite), “see, signed Ascanio Vdiserra del DONGO, which gave rise to the whole trouble; I found it yesterday at the police headquarters, and went to the Scala in the hope of finding someone who was in the habit of going to your box, through whom I might be able to communicate it to you. A copy of this document reached Vienna long ago. There is the enemy that we have to fight.” The Canon read the accusation through with the Contessa, and it was agreed that in the course of the day he would let her have a copy by the hand of some trustworthy person. It was with joy in her heart that the Contessa returned to the palazzo del Dongo.
“No one could possibly be more of a gentleman than that reformed rake,” she told the Marchesa. “This evening at the Scala, at a quarter to eleven by the theatre clock, we are to send everyone away from our box, put out the candles, and shut our door, and at eleven the Canon himself will come and tell us what he has managed to do. We decided that this would be the least compromising course for him.”
This Canon was a man of spirit; he was careful to keep the appointment; he shewed when he came a complete good nature and an unreserved openness of heart such as are scarcely to be found except in countries where vanity does not predominate over every other sentiment. His denunciation of the Contessa to her husband, General Pietranera, was one of the great sorrows of his life, and he had now found a means of getting rid of that remorse.
That morning, when the Contessa had left his room, “So she’s in love with her nephew, is she,” he had said to himself bitterly, for he was by no means cured. “With her pride, to have come to me! . . . After that poor Pietranera died, she repulsed with horror my offers of service, though they were most polite and admirably presented by Colonel Scotti, her old lover. The beautiful Pietranera reduced to living on fifteen hundred francs!” the Canon went on, striding vigorously up and down the room. “And then to go and live in the castle of Grianta, with an abominable seccatore like that Marchese del Dongo! . . . I can see it all now! After all, that young Fabrizio is full of charm, tall, well built, always with a smile on his face . . . and, better still, a deliciously voluptuous expression in his eye . . . a Correggio face,” the Canon added bitterly.
“The difference in age . . . not too great . . . Fabrizio born after the French came, about ‘98, I fancy; the Contessa might be twenty-seven or twenty-eight: no one could be better looking, more adorable. In this country rich in beauties, she defeats them all, the Marini, the Gherardi, the Ruga, the Aresi, the Pietragrua, she is far and away above any of them. They were living happily together, hidden away by that beautiful Lake of Como, when the young man took it into his head to join Napoleon. . . . There are still souls in Italy! In spite of everything! Dear country! No,” went on this heart inflamed by jealousy, “impossible to explain in any other way her resigning herself to vegetating in the country, with the disgusting spectacle, day after day, at every meal, of that horrible face of the Marchese del Dongo, as well as that unspeakable pasty physiognomy of the Marchesino Ascanio, who is going to be worse than his father! Well, I shall serve her faithfully. At least I shall have the pleasure of seeing her otherwise than through an opera-glass.”
Canon Borda explained the whole case very clearly to the ladies. At heart, Binder was as well disposed as they could wish; he was delighted that Fabrizio should have taken the key of the street before any orders could arrive from Vienna; for Barone Binder had no power to make any decision, he awaited orders in this case as in every other. He sent every day to Vienna an exact copy of all the information that reached him; then he waited.
It was necessary that, in his exile at Romagnano, Fabrizio
(1) Should hear mass daily without fail, take as his confessor a man of spirit, devoted to the cause of the Monarchy, and should confess to him, at the tribunal of penitence, only the most irreproachable sentiments.
(2) Should consort with no one who bore any reputation for intelligence, and, were the need to arise, must speak of rebellion with horror as a thing that no circumstances could justify.
(3) Must never let himself be seen in the caffè, must never read any newspaper other than the official Gazette of Turin and Milan; in general he should shew a distaste for reading, and never open any book printed later than 1720, with the possible exception of the novels of Walter Scott.
(4) “Finally” (the Canon added with a touch of malice), “it is most important that he should pay court openly to one of the pretty women of the district, of the noble class, of course; this will shew that he has not the dark and dissatisfied mind of an embryo conspirator.”
Before going to bed, the Contessa and the Marchesa each wrote Fabrizio an endless letter, in which they explained to him with a charming anxiety all the advice that had been given them by Borda.
‘ Fabrizio had no wish to be a conspirator: he loved Napoleon, and, in his capacity as a young noble, believed that he had been created to be happier than his neighbour, and thought the middle classes absurd. Never had he opened a book since leaving school, where he had read only texts arranged by the Jesuits. He established himself at some distance from Romagnano, in a magnificent palazzo, one of the masterpieces of the famous architect Sanmicheli; but for thirty years it had been uninhabited, so that the rain came into every room and not one of the windows would shut. He took possession of the agent’s horses, which he rode without ceremony at all hours of the day; he never spoke, and he thought about things. The recommendation to take a mistress from an ultra family appealed to him, and he obeyed it to the letter. He chose as his confessor a young priest given to intrigue who wished to become a bishop (like the confessor of the Spielberg† but he went three leagues on foot and wrapped himself in a mystery which he imagined to be impenetrable, in order to read the Constitutionnel, which he thought sublime. “It is as fine as Alfieri and Dante!” he used often to exclaim. Fabrizio had this in common with the young men of France, that he was far more seriously taken up with his horse and his newspaper than with his politically sound mistress. But there was no room as yet for imitation of others in this simple and sturdy nature, and he made no friends in the society of the large country town of Romagnano; his simplicity passed as arrogance: no one knew what to make of his character. “He is a younger son who feels himself wronged because he is not the eldest,” was the parroco’s comment.
[† See the curious Memoirs of M. Andryane, as entertaining as a novel, and as lasting as Tacitus.]
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00