The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER II

… “Alors que Vesper vient embrunir nos yeux

Tout épris de l’avenir, je contemple les cieux,

En qui Dieu nous escrit, par notes non obscures

Les sorts et les destins de toutes créatures.

Car lui, du fond des cieux regardant un humain,

Parfois, mû de pitié, lui montre le chemin;

Par les astres du ciel, qui sont ses caractères,

Les choses nous prèdit, et bonnes et contraires;

Mais les hommes, chargés de terre et de trépas,

Méprisent tel écrit, et ne le lisent pas.”—Ronsard.

The marchese professed a hearty hatred of knowledge. “Ideas,” he said, “have been the ruin of Italy.” He was somewhat puzzled to reconcile this holy horror of information with his desire that Fabrizio should perfect the education so brilliantly begun under the auspices of the Jesuits.

To minimize the risk as far as possible, he commissioned the worthy priest of Grianta, Father Blanès, to carry on the boy’s Latin studies. To this end the priest should himself have been acquainted with the language. But he thoroughly despised it. His knowledge of it was restricted to the prayers in his missal, which he knew by rote, and the sense of which, or something near it, he was capable of imparting to his flock. None the less was the father respected, and even feared, all over the canton. He had always averred that the famous prophecy of San Giovità, patron saint of Brescia, would not be accomplished either in thirteen weeks or thirteen months. He would confide to his trusted friends that if he dared speak openly he could give the proper interpretation of the number thirteen, and that it would cause general astonishment (1813).

The fact is that Father Blanès—a man of primitive virtue and honesty, and a clever one into the bargain—spent most of his nights on the top of his church tower. He had a mania for astrology, and, after calculating the positions and conjunctions of the stars all day, would pass the greater part of his nights in tracing them in the sky. So poor was he that his only instrument was a telescope with a long cardboard tube. My reader will conceive the scorn for linguistic study nursed by a man who spent his life in discovering the precise moment at which empires were to fall, and revolutions, destined to change the face of the whole world, were to begin. “What more do I know about a horse,” he would say to Fabrizio, “because somebody tells me its Latin name is Equus?”

The peasants dreaded the priest as a mighty magician, and he, through the fear inspired by his tarryings on the top of his tower, prevented them from thieving. His brother priests of the neighbouring parishes envied him his influence, and hated him accordingly. The marchese frankly despised him, because he reasoned too much for a person in so humble a position. Fabrizio worshipped him. To please him he would sometimes spend whole evenings over huge sums in addition or multiplication. And then he would climb up into the tower. This was a great favour—one the priest had never bestowed on any other person. But he loved the boy for the sake of his simplicity. “If you don’t become a hypocrite,” he would say, “you may turn into a man!”

Twice or thrice in every year, Fabrizio, who was bold and passionate in the pursuit of his pleasures, ran serious risks of drowning in the lake. He was the head and front of all the great expeditions of the peasant boys of Grianta and Cadenabbia. These urchins had provided themselves with a collection of small keys, and when the very dark nights came, they did their best to open the padlocks on the chains by which the fishermen moored their boats to some big stone or tree close to the shore. It must be explained that on the Lake of Como the fisherman puts down his lines at a considerable distance from the edge of the lake. The upper end of each line is fastened to a lath lined with cork, to which is fixed a very flexible hazel rod bearing a little bell, which tinkles as soon as the fish takes the bait and shakes the float.

The great object of the nocturnal raids, in which Fabrizio acted as commander in chief, was to get to these lines before the fishermen heard the tinkling of their little bells. The boys chose stormy seasons, and embarked on their risky enterprises early in the morning, an hour before dawn. They felt convinced, when they got into their boats, that they were rushing into terrible danger—this constituted the splendid aspect of their undertaking—and, like their fathers, they always devoutly recited an Ave Maria. Now, it frequently would happen that at the very moment of the start, and the instant after the recital of the Ave Maria, Fabrizio would be struck by an omen. This was the fruit, as affecting him, of his friend the priest’s astrology, in the actual predictions of which he had no belief at all. To his juvenile imagination these omens were a certain indication of success or failure, and as he was more resolute than any of his comrades, the whole band gradually grew so accustomed to accept such signs that if, just as the boat was shoving off, a priest was seen on the coast line, or a raven flew away on the left, the padlock was hastily put back upon the chain and every boy went home to bed. Thus, though Father Blanès had not imparted his somewhat recondite science to Fabrizio, he had imbued him, all unconsciously, with an unlimited confidence in those signs and portents which may unveil the future.

The marchese was conscious that an accident to his secret correspondence might place him at his sister’s mercy. Every year, therefore, when the St. Angela (the Countess Pietranera’s feast day) came around, Fabrizio was allowed to spend a week at Milan. All through the year he lived on the hope, or the regretful memory, of those seven days. On so great an occasion, and to defray the expenses of this politic journey, the marchese would give his son four crowns. To his wife, who went with the boy, he gave, as usual, nothing at all. But a cook, six lackeys, and a coachman and pair of horses started for Como the night before the travellers, and while the marchesa was at Milan her carriage was at her disposal, and dinner for twelve persons was served every day.

The sullen retirement in which the Marchese del Dongo elected to live was certainly not an amusing form of existence. But it had one advantage, that of permanently enriching the coffers of the families who chose to adopt it. The marchese owned a revenue of more than two hundred thousand francs; he did not spend a quarter of it. He lived on hope. During the years between 1800 and 1813 he remained in the firm and unceasing expectation that Napoleon would be overthrown before the next six months were out. His joy when he received the news of the catastrophe of the Beresina, in the spring of 1813, may consequently be imagined. The capture of Paris and the fall of Napoleon almost drove him wild with joy, and he ventured on behaviour of the most insulting nature, both to his wife and his sister. At last, after fourteen years of waiting, he tasted the inexpressible delight of seeing the Austrian troops re-enter Milan. The general in command, obeying orders sent from Vienna, received the Marchese del Dongo with a courtesy which almost amounted to respect. One of the highest offices connected with the Government was at once offered him, and he accepted it as the discharge of a just debt. His eldest son was made a lieutenant in one of the finest of the imperial regiments, but Fabrizio would never have anything to do with the cadet’s commission which was offered for his acceptance. The marchese’s triumph, which he enjoyed with peculiar insolence, lasted but a few months, and was followed by a most humiliating reverse. He had never possessed any business aptitude, and his fourteen years of country life, surrounded by his servants, his notary, and his doctor, coupled with the ill humour which had crept upon him with advancing years, had developed his incapacity to the extremest point. In Austria no important post can be held for long by any person lacking that particular talent demanded by the slow and complicated, but essentially logical, system of administration peculiar to that ancient monarchy. The marchese’s blunders scandalized the clerks of his department, and even hampered the progress of business, while his ultra-monarchical vapourings irritated a populace which it was important to lull back into its former state of slumbrous indifference. So, one fine day, he was informed that his Majesty was graciously pleased to accept his resignation of his office, and simultaneously appointed him second grand major-domo of the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom. The marchese was furious at the abominable injustice of which he was the victim. In spite of his horror of the free press, he printed a Letter to a Friend. Then he wrote to the Emperor, assuring his Majesty that his ministers were playing him false, and were no better than Jacobins. This done, he betook himself sadly back to his home at Grianta. One consolation he possessed. After the downfall of Napoleon certain powerful individuals at Milan had organized a brutal attack on Count Prina, a man of first-class worth, who had acted as minister in the service of the King of Italy. Pietranera risked his own life to save that of the unhappy man, who was thrashed to death with umbrellas, and lingered in agony for five hours. If a certain priest, the Marchese del Dongo’s own confessor, had chosen to open the iron gate of the Church of San Giovanni, in front of which Prina had been dragged (and, indeed, he had at one moment been left lying in the gutter running along the middle of the street), the victim might have been saved. But the cleric scornfully refused to unlock the gate, and within six months his patron enjoyed the happiness of securing him a handsome piece of preferment.

The marchese detested his brother-in-law, Count Pietranera, who, though his yearly income did not amount to fifty louis, dared to be fairly merry, ventured to cling faithfully to that which he had loved all his life, and was so insolent as to proclaim that spirit of impersonal justice which Del Dongo was pleased to define as vile Jacobinism. The count had refused to enter the Austrian service. The attention of the authorities was drawn to this refusal on his part, and a few months after the death of Prina the same men who had paid for his assassination procured an order for the imprisonment of General Pietranera. Upon this, his wife sent for a passport and ordered post horses to take her to Vienna, so that she might tell the Emperor the truth. Prina’s assassins took fright, and at midnight, just one hour before the countess was to have started for Vienna, one of them, a cousin of her own, brought her the order for her husband’s release. The following morning the Austrian general sent for Count Pietranera, received him with every possible respect, and assured him that his retiring pension would shortly be paid on the most satisfactory scale. The worthy General Bubna, who was both a clever and a kind-hearted man, looked thoroughly ashamed of Prina’s murder and the count’s imprisonment.

After this angry squall had blown over, calmed by Countess Pietranera’s firmness, the couple lived in tolerable comfort on the retiring pension, which, thanks to General Bubna’s influence, was shortly granted them.

It was a fortunate circumstance that for five or six years previously the countess had lived on terms of great friendship with an exceedingly wealthy young man, who was also her husband’s intimate friend, and who placed the finest pair of English horses then to be seen at Milan, his box at the Scala Theatre, and his country house entirely at their service. But the count was conscious of his own valour; he had a generous soul, he was easily moved to anger, and on such occasions indulged in somewhat unusual behaviour. He was out hunting one day with some young men, when one of them, who had served under a different flag, ventured on some joke concerning the courage of the soldiers of the Cisalpine Republic. The count boxed his ears, there was a fracas then and there, and Pietranera, whose opinion found no support among the company present, was killed. This duel, if so it could be called, made a great stir; the persons concerned in it found it more prudent to journey into Switzerland.

That ridiculous kind of courage which men entitle resignation—the courage of the fool, who allows himself to be hanged without opening his lips—was not a quality possessed by the countess. In her rage at her husband’s death she would have had Limercati, the wealthy young man who was her faithful adorer, instantly take his way to Switzerland, and there punish Pietranera’s murderer either with a rifle bullet or with a hearty cuffing. But Limercati regarded the plan as simply ridiculous, and forthwith the countess realized that, in her case, love had been killed by scorn.

She grew kinder than ever to Limercati. Her aim was to rekindle his love, and that done, to forsake him and leave him in despair. To explain this plan of vengeance to the French mind, I should say that in Milan, a country far distant from our own, love does still drive men to despair. The countess, whose beauty, heightened by her mourning robes, eclipsed that of all her rivals, set herself to coquette with the best-born young men of the city, and one of them, Count N⸺, who had always said that Limercati’s qualities struck him as being too heavy and stiff to attract so brilliant a woman, fell desperately in love with her. Then she wrote to Limercati:

“Would you like to behave, for once, like a clever man? Imagine that you have never known me. I am, with a touch of scorn, perhaps,

“Your very humble servant,

“Gina Pietranera.”

When Limercati received this note he departed to one of his country houses; his passion blazed, he lost his head, and talked of shooting himself—an unusual course in countries which acknowledge the existence of a hell.

The very morning after his arrival in the country he wrote to the countess to offer her his hand and his two hundred thousand francs a year. She sent him back his letter, with the seal unbroken, by Count N⸺’s groom; whereupon Limercati spent three years on his estates, coming back to Milan every two months, but never finding courage to stay there, and boring all his friends with the story of his passionate adoration of the lady and the circumstantial recital of the favour she had formerly shown him. In the earlier months of this period he added that Count N⸺ would ruin her, and that she dishonoured herself by contracting such an intimacy.

As a matter of fact, the countess had no love of any kind for N⸺, and of this fact she apprised him as soon as she was quite certain of Limercati’s despair. The count, who knew the world, only begged her not to divulge the sad truth she had confided to him. “If,” he added, “you will have the extreme kindness to continue receiving me with all the external distinctions generally granted to the reigning lover, I may, perhaps, attain a suitable position.”

After this heroic declaration the countess would make no further use of Count N⸺’s horses and opera box. But for fifteen years she had been accustomed to a life of the greatest ease. She was now driven to solve the difficult, or rather impossible, problem of living at Milan on a yearly pension of fifteen hundred francs. She quitted her palace, hired two fifth-floor rooms, and dismissed all her servants, even to her maid, whom she replaced by a poor old char-woman. The sacrifice was really less heroic and less painful than it appears. No ridicule attaches to poverty in Milan, and therefore people do not shrink from it in terror, as the worst of all possible evils. After some months spent in this proud penury, bombarded by perpetual letters from Limercati, and even from Count N⸺, who also desired to marry her, it came to pass that the Marchese del Dongo, whose stinginess was usually abominable, was struck by the notion that his own enemies might perhaps be rejoicing over his sister’s sufferings. What! Was a Del Dongo to be reduced to existing on the pension granted by the Viennese court, against which he had so great a grievance, to its generals’ widows?

He wrote that an apartment and an income worthy of his sister awaited her at Grianta. The versatile-minded countess welcomed the idea of this new life with enthusiasm. It was twenty years since she had lived in the venerable pile which rose so proudly among the old chestnut trees planted in the days of the Sforzas. “There,” she reflected, “I shall find peace; and at my age, is that not happiness?” (As she had arrived at the age of one-and-thirty, she believed that the hour of her retirement had struck.) “I shall find a happy and peaceful life at last, on the shores of the noble lake beside which I was born.”

Whether she was mistaken I know not, but it is certain that this eager-hearted creature, who had just so unhesitatingly refused two huge fortunes, carried happiness with her into the Castle of Grianta. Her two nieces were beside themselves with delight. “You have brought the beautiful days of my youth back to me!” said the marchesa as she kissed her. “The night before you arrived I felt a hundred years old.”

In Fabrizio’s company the countess went about revisiting all those enchanting spots near Grianta which travellers have made so famous: the Villa Melzi, on the other side of the lake, opposite the castle, and one of the chief objects in the view therefrom; the sacred wood of the Sfondrata; and the bold promontory which divides the branches of the lake, that of Como, so rich in its beauty, and that which runs toward Lecco, of aspect far more severe—a sublime and graceful prospect, equalled, perhaps, but not surpassed, by the most famous view in all the world, that of the Bay of Naples. The countess found the most exquisite delight in calling up memories of her early days, and comparing them with her present sensations. “The Lake of Como,” she said to herself, “is not hemmed in, like the Lake of Geneva, by great tracts of land, carefully hedged and cultivated on the best system, reminding one of money and speculation. Here, on every side, I see hills of unequal height, covered with clumps of trees, growing as chance has scattered them, and which have not yet been ruined, and forced to bring in an income, by the hand of man. Amid these hills, with their beautiful shapes and their curious slopes that drop toward the lake, I can carry on all the illusions of the descriptions of Tasso and Ariosto. It is all noble and tender, it all speaks of love; nothing recalls the hideousness of civilization. The villages set half-way up the hills are sheltered by great trees, and above the tree tops rise the charming outlines of their pretty church spires. Where some little field, fifty paces wide, shows itself here and there among the chestnuts and wild-cherry trees my pleased eye notes plants of more vigorous and willing growth than can be seen elsewhere. Beyond the hills, on whose deserted crests a happy hermit existence might be spent, the wondering eye rests on the Alpine peaks, covered with eternal snows, and their stern severity reminds one sufficiently of life’s misfortunes, to increase one’s sense of present delight. The imagination is stirred by the distant sound of the church bells of some little village hidden among the trees. Their tone softens as it floats over the water, with a touch of gentle melancholy and resignation, which seems to say, ‘Life slips by. Do not, then, look so coldly on the happiness that comes to you. Make haste to enjoy.’”

The influence of these enchanting spots, unequalled on earth for loveliness, made the countess feel a girl once more. She could not conceive how she had been able to spend so many years without returning to the lake. “Can it be,” she wondered, “that true happiness belongs to the beginning of old age?” She purchased a boat, and adorned it with her own hands, assisted by Fabrizio and the marchesa, for no money was to be had, though the household was kept up with the utmost splendour. Since his fall the Marchese del Dongo had doubled his magnificence. For instance, to gain ten paces of ground on the shore of the lake, close to the famous avenue of plane trees leading toward Cadenabbia, he was building an embankment which was to cost eighty thousand francs. At the end of this embankment was rising a chapel, constructed entirely of enormous blocks of granite, after drawings by the celebrated Cagnola, and within the chapel, Marchesi, the fashionable Milanese sculptor, was erecting a tomb on which the noble deeds of the marchese’s ancestors were to be represented in numerous bas-reliefs.

Fabrizio’s elder brother, the Marchesino Ascanio, tried to join the ladies in their expeditions, but his aunt splashed water over his powdered head, and was forever playing some fresh prank on his solemnity. At last he relieved the merry party of the sight of his heavy sallow countenance. They dared not laugh when he was present, feeling that he was the spy of the marchese, his father, and that it was wise to keep on terms with the stern despot, who had never recovered his temper since his forced resignation.

Ascanio swore to be avenged on Fabrizio.

One day there was a storm, and the boat was in some danger. Though money was scarce enough, the two boatmen were liberally bribed to prevent their saying anything to the marchese, who was very angry already because his daughters had been taken out. Then came a second hurricane. On this beautiful lake storms are both terrible and unexpected. Violent squalls sweep suddenly down the mountain gorges on opposite sides of the shore, and battle over the water. This time, in the midst of the whirlwind and the thunderclaps, the countess insisted on landing; she declared that if she could stand on a lonely rock, as large as a small room, which lay in the middle of the lake, she would enjoy a strange spectacle, and see her stronghold lashed on every side by the furious waves. But, as she sprang from the boat, she fell into the water. Fabrizio plunged in after her, and they were both carried a considerable distance. Drowning is certainly not an attractive death, but boredom, at all events, fled astonished from the feudal castle. The countess had fallen in love with Father Blanès’s primitive qualities, and astrological studies. The little money remaining to her after the purchase of her boat had been spent on a small second-hand telescope, and almost every night she mounted, with Fabrizio and her nieces, to the top of one of the Gothic towers of the castle. Fabrizio was the learned member of the party, which would thus spend several very cheerful hours, far from prying eyes.

It must be acknowledged that there were days during which the countess never spoke to anybody, and might be seen walking up and down under the great chestnut trees, plunged in gloomy reverie. She was too clever a woman not to suffer, now and then, from the weariness of never being able to exchange an idea. But the next day she would be laughing again, as she had laughed the day before. It was the lamentations of her sister-in-law which occasionally cast a gloom over her naturally elastic nature. “Are we doomed to spend all the youth left to us in this dreary house?” the marchesa would cry. Before the arrival of the countess she had not even had courage to feel such repinings.

Thus the winter of 1814 to 1815 wore on. Twice, in spite of her poverty, did the countess spend a few days in Milan. She went to see a magnificent ballet by Vigano, produced at the Scala, and the marchese did not forbid his wife to accompany her sister-in-law. The quarterly payments of the little pension were drawn, and it was the poor widow of the Cisalpine general who lent a few sequins to the wealthy Marchesa del Dongo. These expeditions were delightful; the ladies invited their old friends to dinner, and consoled themselves by laughing at everything, like real children. Their light-hearted Italian gaiety helped them to forget the melancholy gloom which the marchese and his elder son shed over everything at Grianta. Fabrizio, then hardly sixteen years old, represented the head of the family in a very satisfactory manner.

On the 17th of March, 1815, the ladies, very lately returned from a delightful little trip to Milan, were walking up and down under the fine avenue of plane trees which had lately been extended down to the very edge of the lake. A boat appeared, coming from the direction of Como, and made some peculiar signals. One of the marchese’s agents sprang ashore. Napoleon had just landed in the Gulf of Juan! Europe in general was simple enough to be surprised at this event, which did not astonish the Marchese del Dongo. He wrote his sovereign a letter full of heartfelt expressions of devotion, placed his talents and several millions of money at his service, and reaffirmed that his ministers were all Jacobins, and in league with the Parisian leaders.

On the 8th of March, at six o’clock in the morning, the marchese, adorned with all his insignia, was writing the rough draft of a third political despatch from his son’s dictation. Solemnly he transcribed it in his large, careful handwriting, on paper the watermark of which bore his sovereign’s effigy. At that very moment Fabrizio was entering the presence of his aunt, the Countess Pietranera.

“I am off!” he cried. “I am going to join the Emperor! He is King of Italy as well! How he loved your husband! I shall go through Switzerland. Last night my friend Vasi, the barometer dealer at Menagio, gave me his passport. Now do you give me a few napoleons, for I have only two of my own. But if it comes to that, I’ll walk!”

The countess was weeping with terror and delight. “Good God!” she cried, as she seized Fabrizio’s hands, “how did such an idea come into your head?”

She rose from her seat, and from the linen chest, where it had been carefully concealed, took a little bead-embroidered purse, containing all her earthly wealth.

“Take it,” she said to her nephew, “but in God’s name do not get yourself killed! What would be left to your unhappy mother and to me if you were taken from us? As for Napoleon’s success, that, my poor child, is impossible. Did not you hear the story, a week ago, when we were at Milan, of the three-and-twenty well-laid plots for his assassination which he only escaped by a miracle? And in those days he was all powerful! And you have seen it is not the will to destroy him which our enemies lack. France has been nothing since he left her!”

The voice of the countess trembled with the liveliest emotion as she spoke to Fabrizio of Napoleon’s future fate. “When I consent to your going to join them,” she said, “I sacrifice, for his sake, what I hold dearest in this world!” Fabrizio’s eyes grew moist, and his tears fell as he embraced his aunt. But not for an instant did he waver in his determination to depart. He eagerly explained to this beloved friend the reasons which had decided him—reasons which we take the liberty of thinking somewhat comical.

“Yesterday evening, at seven minutes to six o’clock, we were walking, as you know, on the shores of the lake, under the plane trees, below the Casa Sommariva, and our faces were turned southward. Then, for the first time, I noticed, in the far distance, the boat from Como which was bearing the great news to us. As I watched it, without a thought of the Emperor, and simply envying the fate of those who had an opportunity of travelling, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of deep emotion. The boat had touched the shore, and the agent, after whispering something to my father, who had changed colour, had taken us aside to inform us of the terrible news. I turned toward the lake with the simple object of hiding the tears of joy with which my eyes were swimming. Suddenly, on my right, and at an immense height, I perceived an eagle, Napoleon’s own bird; it was winging its majestic way toward Switzerland, and consequently toward Paris. ‘And I, too,’ said I to myself instantly, ‘will cross Switzerland, swiftly as an eagle, and will offer that great man a very little thing indeed—but still all that I have to offer—the help of my feeble arm! He would fain have given us a fatherland, and he loved my uncle!’ That instant, while I yet watched the eagle, by some strange charm, my tears were dried, and the proof that my idea came from above is that at that very moment, and without hesitation, my resolve was taken, and the method of carrying out the journey became clear to me. In a flash all the melancholy which, as you know, poisons my life, especially on Sundays, was swept away as by some divine breath. I saw the great figure of Italy rising out of the mire into which the Germans have cast her, and stretching out her wounded arms, on which the chains still hung, towards her king and liberator. ‘And I too,’ I murmured, ‘the son, as yet unknown, of that unhappy mother, I will depart, and I will die or win victory beside that Man of Fate, who would have cleansed us from the scorn cast on us by the vilest and most enslaved of the inhabitants of Europe!’

“You know,” he added in a lower voice, drawing closer to the countess, and as he spoke he fixed great flashing eyes upon her, “you know the young chestnut tree which my mother planted with her own hands the winter I was born, beside the deep pool in our forest, two leagues off? Before I would do anything I went to see it. ‘The spring is not far advanced,’ said I to myself; ‘well, if there are leaves on my tree, that will be a sign for me, and I too must cast off the torpor in which I languish in this cold and dreary house. Are not these old blackened walls—the symbols now, and once the strongholds, of despotism—a true picture of winter and its dreariness? To me they are what winter is to my tree.’

“Would you believe it, Gina? At half-past seven yesterday evening I had reached my chestnut tree. There were leaves upon it—pretty little leaves of a fair size already! I kissed them, without hurting them, carefully turned the soil round the beloved tree, and then, in a fresh transport, crossed the mountain and reached Menagio. A passport was indispensable, if I was to get into Switzerland. The hours had flown, and it was one o’clock in the morning when I reached Vasi’s door. I expected to have to knock for long before I could rouse him; but he was sitting up with three of his friends. At my very first word, ‘You are going to Napoleon!’ he cried, and fell upon my neck; the others, too, embraced me joyfully. ‘Why am I married?’ cried one.”

The countess had grown pensive; she thought it her duty to put forward some objections. If he had possessed the smallest experience Fabrizio would have perceived that she herself had no faith in the excellent reasons she hastened to lay before him. But though experience was lacking, he had plenty of resolution, and would not even condescend to listen to her expostulations. Before long the countess confined herself to obtaining a promise that at all events his mother should be informed of his plan.

“She will tell my sisters, and those women will betray me unconsciously!” cried Fabrizio, with a sort of heroic arrogance.

“Speak more respectfully,” said the countess, smiling through her tears, “of the sex which will make your fortune. For men will never like you—you are too impulsive to please prosaic beings!”

When the marchesa was made acquainted with her son’s strange project she burst into tears. His heroism did not appeal to her, and she did everything in her power to dissuade him. But she was soon convinced that nothing but prison walls would prevent him from starting, and gave him what little money she had of her own. Then she recollected that she had in her possession eight or ten small diamonds, worth about ten thousand francs, given her the night before by the marchese, so that she might have them reset the next time she went to Milan. Fabrizio returned the poor ladies the contents of their slender purses, and his sisters entered their mother’s room while the countess was sewing the diamonds into our hero’s travelling coat. They were so enthusiastic over his plan, and embraced him with such noisy delight, that he snatched up a few diamonds, which had not yet been hidden in his clothes, and insisted on starting off at once.

“You will betray me without knowing it!” he said to his sisters, “and as I have all this money I need not take clothes—I shall find them wherever I go.” He kissed his loved ones, and departed that instant, without even going back to his room. So rapidly did he walk, in his terror of being pursued by mounted men, that he reached Lugano that very evening. He was safe, by God’s mercy, in a Swiss town, and no longer feared that gendarmes in his father’s pay might lay violent hands on him in the lonely road. From Lugano he wrote a fine letter to the marchese, a childish performance which increased that gentleman’s fury. Then he took horse, crossed the St. Gothard, travelled rapidly, and entered France by Pontarlier. The Emperor was in Paris, and in Paris Fabrizio’s misfortunes began. He had started with the firm intention of getting speech with the Emperor, the idea that this might be difficult never entering his head. At Milan he had seen Prince Eugène a dozen times a day, and could have spoken to him each time if he would. In Paris he went every day of his life to watch the Emperor review his troops in the court of the Tuileries, but never could get near him. Our hero believed every Frenchman must be as deeply moved as he was himself by the extreme danger in which the country stood. At the table of the hotel in which he lived, he made no secret of his plans or his devotion. He found himself surrounded by young men of agreeable manners, and still more enthusiastic than himself, who succeeded, before many days were passed, in relieving him of every penny he possessed. Fortunately, and out of sheer modesty, he had not mentioned the diamonds given him by his mother. One morning, when, after a night’s orgie, it became quite clear to him that he had been robbed, he bought himself two fine horses, engaged an old soldier, one of the horse dealer’s grooms, as his servant, and, overflowing with scorn for the young Parisians who talked so fine, started to join the army. He had no information save that it was concentrating near Maubeuge. Hardly had he reached the frontier, when it struck him as absurd that he should stay indoors and warm himself at a good fire while soldiers were bivouacking in the open air. In spite of the remonstrances of his servant, who was a sensible fellow, he insisted, in the most imprudent manner, on joining the military bivouac on the farthest edge of the frontier toward Belgium. He had hardly reached the first battalion, lying beside the road, when the soldiers began to stare at the young civilian, whose dress had not a touch of uniform about it. Night was falling, and the wind was very cold. Fabrizio drew near to a fire, and offered to pay for leave to sit by it. The soldiers looked at each other in astonishment, especially at this offer of pay, but made room for him good-naturedly, and his servant extemporized a shelter for him. But an hour later, when the adjutant of the regiment passed within hail of the bivouac, the soldiers reported the arrival of the stranger who talked bad French. The adjutant questioned Fabrizio, who told him of his worship for the Emperor in an accent of the most doubtful description, whereupon the officer requested that he would accompany him to the colonel, who was quartered in a neighbouring farm. Fabrizio’s servant at once brought up the two horses. The sight of them seemed to produce such an effect upon the non-commissioned officer that he immediately changed his mind, and began to question the servant as well. The man, an old soldier, suspected his interlocutor’s plan of campaign, and spoke of his master’s influence in high quarters, adding that his fine horses could not easily be taken from him. Instantly, at a sign from the adjutant, one soldier seized him by the collar, another took charge of the horses, and Fabrizio was sternly ordered to follow his captor and hold his tongue.

After making him march a good league through darkness that seemed all the blacker by contrast with the bivouac fires, which lighted up the horizon on every side, the adjutant handed Fabrizio over to an officer of gendarmerie, who gravely demanded his papers. Fabrizio produced his passport, which described him as a “dealer in barometers, travelling with his merchandise.”

“What fools they are!” cried the officer; “this really is too much!”

He questioned our hero, who talked about the Emperor and liberty in terms of the most ardent and enthusiastic description; whereupon the officer fell into fits of laughter. “Upon my soul!” he cried, “they are anything but clever; to send us greenhorns such as you is a little too much, really!” And in spite of everything Fabrizio could say, and his desperate assurances that he really was not a dealer in barometers, he was ordered to the prison of B⸺, a small town in the neighbourhood, where he arrived at three o’clock in the morning, bursting with anger, and half dead with fatigue.

Here he remained, astonished, first of all, and then furious, and utterly unable to understand what had happened, for thirty-three long days. He wrote letter after letter to the commandant of the fortress, the jailer’s wife, a handsome Flemish woman of six-and-thirty, undertaking to deliver them; but as she had no desire whatever to see so good-looking a young fellow shot, and as, moreover, he paid her well, she invariably put his letters in the fire. Very late at night she would condescend to come to listen to his complaints—she had informed her husband that the simpleton had money, whereupon that prudent functionary had given her carte blanche. She availed herself of his permission, and gleaned several gold pieces; for the adjutant had only taken the horses, and the police officer had confiscated nothing at all. One fine afternoon Fabrizio caught the sound of a heavy though distant cannonade. Fighting had begun at last! His heart thumped with impatience. He heard a great deal of noise, too, in the streets. An important military movement was, in fact, in course of execution. Three divisions were marching through the town. When the jailer’s wife came to share his sorrows, at about eleven o’clock that night, Fabrizio made himself even more agreeable than usual. Then, taking her hands in his, he said: “Help me to get out! I swear on my honour I’ll come back to prison as soon as the fighting is over.”

“That’s all gammon!” she replied. “Have you any quibus (cash)?” He looked anxious, not understanding what the word quibus meant. The woman, seeing his expression, concluded his funds were running low, and, instead of talking about gold napoleons, as she had intended, only mentioned francs.

“Listen!” she said. “If you can raise a hundred francs, I will blind both eyes of the corporal who will relieve the guard to-night, with a double napoleon. Then he will not see you get out of prison, and if his regiment is to be off during the day, he will make no difficulties.” The bargain was soon struck; the woman even agreed to hide Fabrizio in her own room, out of which it would be easier for him to slip in the early morning.

The next day, before dawn, she said to our hero, and there was real feeling in her tone: “My dear boy, you are very young to ply this horrible trade of yours. Believe me, don’t begin it again!”

“What!” repeated Fabrizio. “Is it wicked, then, to want to fight for one’s own country?”

“Enough! But always remember I have saved your life. Your case was a clear one. You would certainly have been shot. But never tell anybody, for we should lose our place, my husband and I. And, above all, never repeat your silly tale about being a Milanese gentleman disguised as a dealer in barometers; it is too foolish! Now, listen carefully. I am going to give you the clothes of a hussar who died in the prison the day before yesterday. Never open your lips unless you are obliged to. If a sergeant or an officer questions you so that you have to reply, say you have been lying ill in the house of a peasant, who found you shaking with fever in a ditch, and sheltered you out of charity. If this answer does not satisfy them, say you are working your way back to your regiment. You may be arrested because of your accent. Then say you were born in Piedmont, that you are a conscript, and were left behind in France last year, etc.”

For the first time, after his three-and-thirty days of rage and fury, Fabrizio understood the meaning of what had befallen him. He had been taken for a spy! He reasoned with the jailer’s wife, who felt very tenderly toward him that morning, and at last, while she, armed with a needle, was taking in the hussar’s garments for him, frankly told her his story. For a moment she believed it—he looked so simple and was so handsome in his hussar uniform!

“As you had set your heart on fighting,” she said, half convinced at last, “you should have enlisted in some regiment as soon as you got to Paris. That job would have been done at once if you had taken any sergeant to a tavern and paid his score there.” She added a great deal of good advice for his future, and at last, just as day was breaking, let him out of the house, after making him swear again and again, a hundred times over, that, whatever happened to him, her name should never pass his lips. As soon as Fabrizio had got clear of the little town and began stepping out boldly along the high-road, with his sabre tucked under his arm, a shadow fell upon his soul. “Here I am,” he reflected, “with the clothes and the route papers of a hussar who died in prison, where he was put, I understand, for stealing a cow and some silver spoons and forks! I have inherited, so to speak, his existence, and that without any wish or intention of my own. Look out for prisons! The omen is clear—I shall suffer many things from prisons!”

Hardly an hour after he had bidden farewell to his benefactress the rain began to fall with such violence that the newly fledged hussar, hampered by the heavy boots which had never been made for his feet, could hardly contrive to walk. He came across a peasant riding a sorry nag, and bought the horse, bargaining by signs, for the jailer’s wife had advised him to speak as little as possible, on account of his foreign accent.

That day the army, which had just won the battle of Ligny, was in full march on Brussels. It was the eve of the battle of Waterloo. Toward noon, while the rain still poured down, Fabrizio heard artillery firing. In his happiness he forgot all the terrible moments of despair he had endured in his undeserved prison. He travelled on, far into the night, and, as he was beginning to learn a little sense, he sought shelter in a peasant’s hut, quite off the main road. The peasant was crying, and saying that he had been stripped of everything he had. Fabrizio gave him a crown, and discovered some oats. “My horse is no beauty,” the young man reflected, “but still some adjutant fellow might take a fancy to him,” and he lay down in the stable beside his mount. An hour before daylight next morning he was on the road again. By dint of much coaxing he wheedled his horse into a trot. Toward five o’clock he heard heavy firing. It was the beginning of Waterloo.