The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER V

The whole affair had not lasted more than a minute. Fabrizio’s wounds were of the most trifling description; his arm was bound up in strips torn off one of the colonel’s shirts. He was offered a bed in the upper story of the inn.

“But while I am lying comfortably here,” said Fabrizio to the sergeant, “my horse will feel lonely in the stable, and may take himself off with another master.”

“Not bad, for a recruit,” said the sergeant, and he settled Fabrizio on some clean straw in the very manger to which his horse was tied.

Then, as Fabrizio felt very faint, he brought him a bowl of hot wine and talked to him for a while. Certain compliments included in this conversation made our hero feel as happy as a king.

It was near daybreak on the following morning when Fabrizio awoke. The horses were neighing long and loud, and making a terrible racket. The stable was full of smoke. At first Fabrizio could make nothing of the noise, and did not even realize where he was. At last, when the smoke had half stifled him, it struck him that the house was on fire; in the twinkling of an eye he was out of the stable and on his horse’s back. He looked up and saw the smoke pouring out of the two windows above the stable, and the roof of the house hidden in a black, whirling cloud. A good hundred fugitives had reached the tavern during the night, and all of them were shouting and swearing at once. The five or six who were close to Fabrizio seemed to him to be completely drunk. One of them tried to stop him, shouting, “Where are you taking my horse?”

When Fabrizio had gone about a quarter of a league he looked back. Nobody was following him; the house was blazing. He recognised the bridge, thought of his wound, and touched his arm, which felt hot and tight in the bandages. And what had become of the old colonel? “He gave his shirt to bind up my arm.” That morning our hero was the coolest and most collected man in the world; the quantities of blood he had lost had washed all the romantic qualities out of his character.

“To the right,” said he, “and let us be off.” He quietly followed the course of the river, which, after passing under the bridge, flowed toward the right side of the road. He remembered the good cantinière’s advice. “What true friendship!” said he to himself; “what an honest soul!”

After an hour he began to feel very weak. “Now then,” he thought, “am I going to faint? If I faint somebody will steal my horse, and perhaps my clothes, and with my clothes my valuables.” He had not strength to guide his horse, and was doing his best to keep steady in the saddle, when a peasant digging in a field hard by the high-road noticed his pallor, and offered him a glass of beer and a bit of bread.

“Seeing you so pale,” said the man, “I thought you might have been wounded in the great battle.” Never did help come more in the nick of time. When Fabrizio began to chew that morsel of black bread his eyes had begun to sting when he looked in front of him. When he had pulled himself together a little he thanked his benefactor. “And where am I?” he inquired. The peasant informed him that three quarters of a league farther on he would find the little town of Zonders, where he would be well cared for. Fabrizio reached the town without well knowing what he was doing, his only care being how not to fall off at every step his horse took. He saw a big gate standing open and rode through it; it led to a tavern, The Currycomb. The good-natured mistress of the house, an exceedingly fat woman, ran forward, calling for help in a voice that shook with pity. Two young girls assisted Fabrizio to dismount. Before he was well out of his saddle he fainted dead away. A surgeon was summoned and he was bled. On that day and those following it he hardly knew what was being done to him. He slept almost incessantly.

The puncture in his leg threatened to turn into a serious abscess. Whenever he was in his senses he begged that care might be taken of his horse, and frequently reiterated that he would pay well, which mightily offended the good hostess and her daughters. He had been admirably tended for a fortnight, and was beginning to collect his thoughts a little, when he noticed, one evening, that his nurses seemed very much disturbed. Presently a German officer entered his room. The language in which his questions were answered was one which Fabrizio did not understand, but he clearly perceived that he himself was the subject of the conversation; he pretended to be asleep. Some time afterward, when he thought the officer must have departed, he called his hostess.

“Did not that officer come to write my name down on a list and take me prisoner?”

With tears in her eyes his hostess admitted the fact.

“Well, then,” he cried, raising himself up in his bed, “there’s money in my pocket. Buy me civilian clothes, and this very night I’ll ride away. You’ve saved my life once already by taking me in when I should have fallen and died in the street. Save it again by helping me to get back to my mother.”

At this point the landlady’s daughters both burst into tears. They trembled for Fabrizio’s safety, and as they could hardly understand any French, they came close to his bed to question him. They held a discussion with their mother in Flemish, but every moment their wet eyes turned pityingly upon our hero. He thought he gathered that his flight might compromise them seriously, but that they were ready to take the risk. He clasped his hands together and thanked them earnestly.

A local Jew undertook to provide him with a suit of clothes, but when he brought it, about ten o’clock that night, the young ladies discovered, by comparing the coat with Fabrizio’s hussar jacket, that it was a great deal too large for him. They set to work on it at once; there was no time to be lost. Fabrizio showed them several napoleons hidden in his garments, and begged them to sew them into those which had just been bought. With the suit the Jew had brought a fine pair of new boots. Fabrizio did not hesitate to ask the kind-hearted girls to cut open his hussar boots at the place he showed them, and his little diamonds were soon hidden in the lining of his new foot-gear.

A singular result of his loss of blood, and his consequent weakness, was that Fabrizio had almost entirely forgotten his French. He talked to his hostesses in Italian, and as they spoke nothing but their Flemish patois, intercourse was really carried on solely by signs. When the young girls, perfectly disinterested as they were, beheld the diamonds, their admiration for our hero knew no bounds. They were convinced he was a prince in disguise. Aniken, the younger and more artless of the two, kissed him without further ceremony. Fabrizio, for his part, thought them charming, and toward midnight, when, in consideration of the journey he was about to take, the surgeon had allowed him to drink a little wine, he was half inclined not to depart at all.

“Where could I be better off than I am here?” he said. Nevertheless, about two o’clock in the morning he got up and dressed. Just as he was leaving his room the kindly hostess informed him that his horse had been carried off by the officer who had searched the house a few hours previously.

“Ah, the blackguard!” cried Fabrizio, “to play such a trick on a wounded man!” and he began to swear. Our young Italian was not enough of a philosopher to recollect the price he himself had paid for the horse.

Aniken told him, through her tears, that a horse had been hired for him. If she could have had her will he would not have started at all. The parting was a tender one. Two tall young fellows, the good landlady’s kinsmen, lifted Fabrizio into his saddle and walked along, holding him up, while a third preceded the little party by a few hundred paces, on the lookout for any suspicious patrol upon the road. After two hours’ journey a halt was made at the house of a cousin of the hostess of The Currycomb. In spite of all Fabrizio could say he could not induce the young men to leave him. Nobody, they declared, knew the paths through the forest as well as they!

“But to-morrow morning, when my escape becomes known, and you are not seen in the neighbourhood, your absence will get you into trouble,” urged Fabrizio.

A fresh start was made, and by good luck, when daylight came, a heavy fog shrouded the plain. Toward eight o’clock in the morning they were near a small town. One of the young men went on to see whether the post-horses had all been stolen. The postmaster had been able to hide them, and to fill up his stables with vile screws instead. Two horses were fetched out of the swamps where they had been concealed, and three hours later Fabrizio clambered into a little cabriolet, shabby enough, but drawn by two excellent posters. He felt stronger already; his parting with the hostesses’ young kinsmen was pathetic in the extreme. Never—not under one of the friendly pretexts Fabrizio could invent—could he induce them to accept a halfpenny.

“In your condition, sir, you need it much more than we do,” was the honest young fellows’ invariable reply. They departed at last, bearing letters in which Fabrizio, somewhat steadied by the excitement of his journey, had endeavoured to express all he felt for his benefactresses. The tears were in his eyes as he wrote, and in his letter to little Aniken some love passages certainly occurred.

Nothing extraordinary happened during the rest of his journey. When he reached Amiens the sword thrust in his thigh was causing him great suffering. The country surgeon had not thought of keeping the wound open, and in spite of the bleeding, an abscess had formed. During the fortnight Fabrizio spent in the inn at Amiens, kept by an obsequious and covetous family, the allies were overrunning France, and so deeply did our hero reflect upon his late experiences that he became another man. There was only one point on which he still remained a child. Had the fighting he had seen really been a battle? and, secondly, Was it the battle of Waterloo?

For the first time in his life he found pleasure in reading; he was always hoping to discover in the newspapers or the descriptions of the battle something which would enable him to recognise the ground he had ridden over with Marshal Ney’s and the other general’s escort. During his stay at Amiens he wrote almost every day to his good friends of the Currycomb Inn. As soon as he was cured he went to Paris. At his former hotel he found twenty letters from his mother and his aunt, all beseeching him to return as quickly as possible. The last one from the Countess Pietranera was couched in a sort of enigmatic tone which alarmed him very much. This letter dispelled all his tender dreams. To a man of his nature a word sufficed to stir up apprehensions of the gravest kind, and his imagination immediately depicted misfortunes aggravated by the most gruesome details.

“Be careful not to sign your letters when you write us news of yourself,” said the countess. “When you return you must not come straight to the Lake of Como. Stop in Swiss territory, at Lugano.” He was to arrive at that little town under the name of Cavi; there, at the principal inn, he was to find his aunt’s man-servant, who would tell him what he was to do next. The countess closed her letter with the following words: “Use every means to conceal the folly you have committed, and, above all, keep no paper, whether written or printed, about you! In Switzerland you will be surrounded by the friends of Ste.-Marguerite.[2] If I have money enough I will send somebody to the Hôtel des Balances, at Geneva, to give you details which I can not write, and which, nevertheless, you must have before you arrive. But for God’s sake, not another day in Paris; our spies there will recognise you!”

Fabrizio’s imagination began to picture the most extraordinary things, and the only pleasure of which he was capable was that of trying to guess what the amazing fact might be, with which his aunt desired to acquaint him. Twice, during his journey across France, he was arrested, but each time he contrived to obtain his release. These annoyances he owed to his Italian passport, and that strange title of “dealer in barometers,” which tallied so ill with his youthful countenance, and his arm in a sling.

At Geneva, at last, he met one of his aunt’s serving-men, who told him, from her, that he, Fabrizio, had been denounced to the Milanese police, as having gone over to Napoleon with proposals formulated by a huge conspiracy organized in his late Kingdom of Italy. “If this was not the object of his journey,” said his accuser, “why should he have taken a false name?” His mother would endeavour to prove the truth; firstly, that he had never gone beyond Switzerland, and, secondly, that he had left the castle hastily in consequence of a quarrel with his elder brother.

When Fabrizio heard the story, his first feeling was one of pride. “I’ve been taken for a sort of ambassador to Napoleon; I am supposed to have had the honour of speaking to that great man. Would to God it had been so!” He recollected that his ancestor seven generations back, grandson of that Valserra who had come to Milan with Sforza, underwent the honour of having his head cut off by the duke’s enemies, who laid hands upon him as he was going into Switzerland, to carry proposals to the cantons and to collect recruits. He could see, in his mind’s eye, the engraving recording this fact in the family genealogy. When Fabrizio cross-questioned the man-servant, he found him in a fury about a matter which he let slip at last, in spite of the fact that the countess had told him several times over to hold his tongue about it. It was Fabrizio’s elder brother, Ascanio, who had denounced him to the Milanese police. This cruel fact threw our hero into a state bordering on madness. To get into Italy from Geneva, it was necessary to pass through Lausanne. He insisted on starting instantly on foot, and walking ten or twelve leagues, although the diligence from Geneva to Lausanne was to depart within two hours. Before he left Geneva, he had a quarrel in one of the dreary cafés of the place, with a young man who, so he declared, had looked at him strangely. It was perfectly true. The phlegmatic, sensible young citizen, who never thought of anything but making money, believed him to be mad. When Fabrizio entered the café, he had cast wild glances about him on every side, and then spilled the cup of coffee he had ordered over his trousers. In this quarrel, Fabrizio’s first instinctive movement was quite in the style of the sixteenth century. Instead of suggesting a duel to the young Genevan, he drew his dagger and threw himself upon him to strike him. In that moment of fury Fabrizio forgot everything he had learned concerning the code of honour, and fell back on the instinct—or I should rather say on the memories—of his early boyhood.

The confidential servant whom he met at Lugano increased his rage by relating fresh details. Fabrizio was very much loved at Grianta, and nobody would ever have mentioned his name. But for his brother’s spiteful proceeding every one would have pretended to believe he was at Milan, and the attention of the police would never have been drawn to his absence. “You may be quite certain that the customs officers hold a description of your appearance,” said his aunt’s messenger, “and if we travel by the high-road you will be stopped on the frontier.”

Fabrizio and his attendants knew every mountain-path between Lugano and the Lake of Como. They disguised themselves as hunters—in other words, as smugglers—and as they were three together, and resolute-looking fellows into the bargain, the customs officers they met did no more than greet them civilly. Fabrizio arranged matters so as to arrive at the castle about midnight. At that hour his father and all the servants with powdered heads were sure to be safe in their beds. Without any difficulty he dropped into the deep ditch and entered the castle by a small window opening out of a cellar. Here his mother and his aunt were awaiting him. Very soon his sisters joined them. For a long time they were all in such a transport of tenderness and tears, that they had hardly begun to talk sensibly before the first rays of dawn warned these beings, who believed themselves unhappy, that time was slipping by.

“I hope your brother will not have suspected your return!” said the Countess Pietranera. “I have hardly spoken to him since this fine prank of his, and his vanity did me the honour of being very much hurt. To-night, at supper, I condescended to address him—I had to find some pretext for hiding my wild delight, which might have roused his suspicions. Then, when I perceived how proud he was of this sham reconciliation, I took advantage of his satisfaction to make him drink a great deal more than was good for him, and he will certainly not have thought of lying in ambush to carry on his spying operations.”

“It’s in your room that we must hide our hussar,” said the marchesa. “He can not start at once. We have not collected our thoughts sufficiently as yet, and we must choose the best way of throwing that terrible Milanese police off the scent.”

This idea was promptly put into practice. But on the following day the marchese and his eldest son remarked that the marchesa spent all her time in her sister-in-law’s apartment. We will not depict the passion of joy and tenderness that filled these happy beings’ hearts during the whole of that day. The Italian nature is much more easily wrung than ours by the suspicions and wild fancies born of a feverish imagination. But its joys, on the other hand, are far deeper than ours, and last much longer. During the whole of that day the countess and the marchesa were absolutely beside themselves; they made Fabrizio begin all his stories over and over again. At last, so difficult did any further concealment of their feelings from the sharp eyes of the marchese and his son Ascanio appear, that they decided to betake themselves to Milan, and there conceal their mutual ecstasy.

The ladies took the usual boat belonging to the castle as far as Como; any other course would have aroused innumerable suspicions. But when they reached the port of Como, the marchesa recollected that she had left papers of the most important description at Grianta. She sent the boatmen back at once, and they were thus deprived of all opportunity of noticing the manner in which the two ladies employed their time at Como. The moment the latter arrived, they hired one of the carriages that always stand near the high tower, built in the middle ages, which rises above the Milan gate, and started off at once, without giving the coachman time to speak to a soul. About a quarter of a league beyond the town, they fell in with a young sportsman of their acquaintance, who, as they had no gentleman with them, was good-natured enough to attend them to the gates of Milan, whither he himself was bound, shooting on the way. Everything promised well, and the ladies were talking most merrily to the young traveller when, just where the road bends round the base of the pretty hill and wood of San Giovanni, three gendarmes in disguise sprang to the horses’ heads. “Ah!” cried the marchesa, “my husband has betrayed us!” and she fainted away.

A sergeant of gendarmes, who had been standing somewhat in the background, approached the carriage. He stumbled as he walked, and spoke in a voice that was redolent of the tavern: “I am sorry to have to perform this duty, but I arrest you, General Fabio Conti!” Fabrizio thought the sergeant was poking fun at him by calling him general. “I’ll pay you out for this,” thought he to himself. He had his eye on the gendarmes, and was watching his opportunity to leap from the carriage and take to his heels across the fields.

The countess smiled—at a venture, as I think—and then said to the sergeant, “But, my good sergeant, do you take this child of sixteen years old to be General Conti!”

“Are you not the general’s daughter?” said the sergeant.

“Behold my father!” said the countess, pointing to Fabrizio. The gendarmes burst into a roar of laughter.

“Show your passports, and don’t bandy words!” said the sergeant, nettled by the general mirth.

“These ladies never take any passport to go to Milan,” said the coachman, with a cool and philosophic air; “they are coming from their house at Grianta. This one is the Countess Pietranera, and that one is the Marchesa del Dongo.”

The sergeant, quite put out of countenance, went to the horses’ heads, and there held council with his men. The conference had lasted quite five minutes, when the countess begged the carriage might be moved a few paces farther into the shade; the heat was overwhelming, though it was only eleven o’clock in the day. Fabrizio, who had been looking about carefully in all directions, with a view to making his escape, noticed, emerging from a field path which led on to the dusty road, a young girl of fourteen or fifteen, with her handkerchief to her face, shedding frightened tears. She walked between two gendarmes in uniform, and three paces behind her, also flanked by gendarmes, came a tall, bony man, who gave himself dignified airs, like a prefect walking in a procession.

“But where did you find them?” said the sergeant, who now appeared quite drunk.

“Running away across the fields, and not a passport between them!” The sergeant seemed to have quite lost his bearings. He had five prisoners now, instead of the two he had been sent out to take. He retired a little distance, leaving only one man to look after the prisoner with the majestic demeanour, and another to keep the horses from moving on.

“Stay here,” whispered the countess to Fabrizio, who had already jumped out of the carriage. “It will all come right.”

They heard a gendarme exclaim: “What does it matter? If they have no passports we have a right to take them up.”

The sergeant did not seem quite so sure. The name of Pietranera had alarmed him. He had known the general, and he was not aware of his death. “The general,” he reflected, “is not the man to forego his vengeance if I arrest his wife without authority.”

During this deliberation, which was somewhat lengthy, the countess had entered into conversation with the young girl, who was still standing in the dust, on the road beside the carriage. She had been struck by her beauty.

“The sun will do you harm, signorina. That honest soldier,” she added, addressing the gendarme standing at the horses’ heads, “will let you get into the carriage, I am sure!” Fabrizio, who was prowling round the carriage, came forward to help the young lady into it. She had her foot on the step, and Fabrizio’s hand was under her arm, when the imposing individual, who was standing six paces behind the carriage, called out, in a voice that his desire to look dignified made yet more rasping: “Stop on the road! Do not get into a carriage which does not belong to you!” Fabrizio had not heard this order. The young girl, instead of trying to get up, tried to get down, and as Fabrizio still held her, she fell into his arms. He smiled, and she blushed deeply; for a moment after the girl had freed herself from his clasp they stood looking into each other’s eyes.

“What a charming prison companion!” said Fabrizio to himself. “What deep thoughts lie behind that brow! That woman would know how to love!”

The sergeant approached with an air of importance.

“Which of these ladies is called Clelia Conti?”

“I,” said the young girl.

“And I,” exclaimed the elderly man, “I am General Fabio Conti, Chamberlain to his Serene Highness the Prince of Parma, and I think it most improper that a man of my position should be hunted like a thief!”

“The day before yesterday, when you embarked at the port of Como, did you not send the police inspector, who asked you for your passport, about his business? Well, to-day the inspector prevents you from going about your business.”

“My boat had already pushed off from the shore. I was in a hurry, a storm was coming on, a man without a uniform shouted to me from the pier to come back into the port. I told him my name, and I went on my way.”

“And this morning you sneaked out of Como!”

“A man in my position does not take out a passport to go from Milan to see the lake. This morning, at Como, I was told I should be arrested at the gate. I left the town on foot with my daughter. I hoped I might meet with some carriage on the road, which would take me to Milan, where my first visit will certainly be to the general commanding the province, to lay my complaint before him.”

The sergeant seemed relieved of a great weight.

“Very good, general, you are under arrest, and I shall take you to Milan.—And who are you?” he said, turning to Fabrizio.

“My son,” put in the countess, “Ascanio, son of General Pietranera.”

“Without a passport, madam?” said the sergeant, very much more politely.

“He is so young! He has never had one; he never travels alone; he is always with me!”

While this colloquy was proceeding, General Conti had been growing more and more dignified, and more and more angry with the gendarmes.

“Not so many words!” said one of them at last; “you’re arrested, and there’s an end of it.”

“You’ll be very lucky,” said the sergeant, “if we give you leave to hire a horse from some peasant! Otherwise, in spite of the dust and the heat, and your chamberlainship, you’ll just march along among our horses.”

The general began to swear.

“Will you hold your tongue?” said the gendarme. “Where’s your uniform? Any man who chooses can say he is a general.”

The general grew more and more furious. In the carriage, meanwhile, matters were going far better.

The countess was making all the gendarmes run about as if they had been her servants. She had just given one of them a crown to go and fetch her some wine, and above all some cool water, from a villa which stood about two hundred paces off. She had found time to pacify Fabrizio, who was most anxious to bolt into the wood that clothed the hill. “I have two good pistols,” he kept saying. She persuaded the angry general to let his daughter get into her carriage. On this occasion the general, who was fond of talking of himself and his family, informed the ladies that his daughter was only twelve years old, having been born on October 27, 1803, but that she was so sensible that every one took her for fourteen or fifteen.

“Quite a common person,” was the verdict which the countess’s eyes telegraphed to the marchesa’s. In an hour’s time, thanks to the former lady, everything was settled. One of the gendarmes, who had business in the adjoining village, hired his horse to General Conti, after the countess had told him he would have ten francs for it.

The sergeant departed alone with the general, and his comrades remained under a tree, with four huge bottles of wine which the gendarme, with the assistance of a peasant, had brought back from the villa. The worthy chamberlain authorized Clelia Conti to accept a seat in the ladies’ carriage back to Milan, and the idea of arresting the gallant General Pietranera’s son never entered anybody’s head. After the first moments devoted to general civilities, and remarks on the little incident just brought to a close, Clelia Conti noticed the touch of enthusiasm evident in the beautiful countess’s manner when she spoke to Fabrizio. Clelia was sure she was not his mother. More especially was her attention attracted by the constant allusions to something bold, heroic, dangerous in the highest degree, which he had lately done. But what that might be the young girl, clever as she was, could not divine. She gazed in wonder on the young hero, whose eyes still seemed to sparkle with the fire of action. He, on his side, was somewhat taken aback by the singular beauty of the twelve-year-old girl, and his glances brought the colour to her cheeks.

About a league from Milan, Fabrizio took leave of the ladies, saying he must go and see his uncle. “If ever I get out of my difficulties,” said he, addressing Clelia, “I shall go and see the great pictures at Parma. Will you deign, then, to remember this name—Fabrizio del Dongo?”

“Very good!” said the countess. “So that’s how you keep your incognito! Signorina, be good enough to remember that this scamp is my son, and that his name is Pietranera, and not Del Dongo!”

That evening, very late, Fabrizio entered Milan by the Renza gate, which leads to a fashionable promenade. The very modest hoards amassed by the marchesa and her sister had been exhausted by the expense of sending servants into Switzerland. Luckily Fabrizio still had a few napoleons, and one of the diamonds, which they decided to sell.

The two ladies were much beloved, and knew everybody in the city. The leading members of the Austrian and religious party spoke to Baron Binder, the chief of the police, in Fabrizio’s favour. These gentlemen could not understand, they declared, how the prank of a boy of sixteen, who had quarrelled with his elder brother and left his father’s house, could be taken seriously.

“My business is to take everything seriously,” gently replied the baron, a wise and melancholy man. He was then engaged in organizing the far-famed Milan police, and had undertaken to prevent a revolution like that of 1746, which drove the Austrians out of Genoa. This Milanese police, which afterward became celebrated by its connection with the adventures of Pellico and Andryana, was not exactly cruel, but it carried laws of great severity into logical and pitiless execution. The Emperor Francis II was determined to strike terror into these bold Italian imaginations.

“Give me,” said Baron Binder to Fabrizio’s friends, “the proved facts as to what the young Marchesino del Dongo has been doing every day, from the moment he left Grianta, on the 8th of March, until his arrival last night in this city, where he is hidden in a room in his mother’s apartment, and I am ready to look upon him as the most charming and frolicsome young fellow in the town. But if you can not give me information as to the young man’s goings and comings for every day since his departure from Grianta, is it not my duty to have him arrested, however high may be his birth, and however deep my respect for the friends of his family? And am I not bound to keep him in prison until he has proved to me that he did not convey a message to Napoleon from the few malcontents who may exist among his Majesty, the Emperor-King’s, Lombard subjects? And further, gentlemen, note well, that even if young Del Dongo contrives to justify himself on this point, he will still remain guilty of having gone abroad without a regular passport, and also of passing under a false name, and knowingly using a passport issued to a mere artisan—that is to say, to an individual of a class infinitely inferior to his own.”

This declaration, merciless in its logic, was accompanied by all that show of deference and respect due from the head of the police to the exalted position of the Marchesa del Dongo and of the important personages who had come forward on her behalf.

When the marchesa heard the baron’s reply she was in despair.

“Fabrizio will be arrested!” she exclaimed, bursting into tears; “and once he is in prison, God only knows when he will come out! His father will cast him off!”

The two ladies took counsel with two or three of their closest friends, and in spite of everything they said, the marchesa wished to insist on sending her son away the following night.

“But,” said the countess, “you must surely see that Baron Binder knows quite well that your son is here. He is not a spiteful man.”

“No, but he desires to please the Emperor Francis.”

“But if he thought he could serve his own ends by putting Fabrizio into prison, he would have done it already, and if you insist on the boy’s taking to flight, you insult him by your want of confidence.”

“But the very fact that he admits he knows Fabrizio’s whereabouts is as good as telling us to send him away. No, I shall never breathe freely as long as I can say to myself, ‘In a quarter of an hour my boy may be shut up between four walls!’ Whatever Baron Binder’s ambition may be,” added the marchesa, “he thinks his personal position in this country will be strengthened by an affected consideration for a man of my husband’s rank, and the strange frankness with which he avows that he knows where to lay his hand on my son proves this to me. And besides, the baron calmly sets forth the two offences of which Fabrizio stands accused according to his brother’s vile denunciation, and explains that either of these entails imprisonment. Is not that as good as telling us that if we prefer exile to prison we have only to choose it?”

“If you choose exile,” repeated the countess, “we shall never see the boy again.” Fabrizio, who had been present at the whole discussion with one of the marchesa’s oldest friends, now one of the councillors of the Austrian Tribunal, was strongly in favour of making himself scarce, and that very evening, in fact, he left the palace, concealed in the carriage which was to convey his mother and aunt to the Scala.

The coachman, whom they did not trust, betook himself, as usual, to a neighbouring tavern, and while the footman, a faithful servant, held the horses, Fabrizio, disguised as a peasant, slipped out of the carriage and out of the town. By the next morning he had crossed the frontier with equal success, and a few hours later he was safe in a country house belonging to his mother in Piedmont, near Novara, at a place called Romagnano, where Bayard met his death.

The amount of attention bestowed by the two ladies on the theatrical performance after they reached their box may be easily conceived. They had only gone to the theatre to secure an opportunity of consulting several of their friends of the Liberal party, whose appearance at the Palazzo del Dongo would have stirred suspicion on the part of the police. The council in the box decided on making a fresh appeal to Baron Binder. There could be no question of offering money to the magistrate, who was a perfectly upright man. And besides, the ladies were very poor; they had obliged Fabrizio to take all the money remaining over from the sale of the diamond with him. Nevertheless, it was very important to know the baron’s final word. The countess’s friends reminded her of a certain Canon Borda, a very agreeable young man, who had formerly tried to pay her court, and had behaved in a somewhat shabby fashion to her. When he found his advances were rejected, he had gone to General Pietranera, had told him of his wife’s friendship with Limercati, and was forthwith turned out of the house for his pains. Now, the canon played cards every evening with Baroness Binder, and was, naturally, her husband’s close friend. The countess made up her mind to the horribly disagreeable step of paying a visit to the canon, and the next morning early, before he had gone out, she appeared in his rooms.

When the canon’s only servant pronounced the name of the Countess Pietranera, his master was so agitated that his voice almost failed him, and he made no attempt to rearrange a morning costume of the most extreme simplicity.

“Show the lady in, and then go,” he said huskily. The countess entered the room, and Borda cast himself on his knees before her.

“It is in this position only that an unhappy madman like myself can dare to receive your orders,” said he to the countess, who looked irresistibly charming in her morning dress, which was half a disguise.

Her deep grief at the idea of Fabrizio’s exile and the violence she did her own feelings in appearing under the roof of a man who had once behaved like a traitor to her, combined to make her eyes shine with an extraordinary light.

“It is in this position,” cried the canon again, “that I must receive your orders—for some service you must desire of me, otherwise the poor dwelling of this unhappy madman would never have been honoured by your presence. Once upon a time, wild with love and jealousy, and seeing he had no chance of finding favour in your eyes, he played a coward’s part toward you.”

The words were sincerely spoken, and were all the nobler because at that moment the canon was in a position of great power. The countess was touched to tears; her heart had been frozen with humiliation and dread, but these feelings were replaced, in an instant, by a tender emotion and a ray of hope. From a condition of great misery she passed, in the twinkling of an eye, to one that was almost happiness.

“Kiss my hand,” she said, and she held it to the canon’s lips, “and stand up. I have come to ask you to obtain mercy for my nephew Fabrizio. Here is the truth, without the smallest disguise, just as it should be told to an old friend. The boy, who is only sixteen years and a half old, has committed an unspeakable folly. We were living at the Castle of Grianta, on the Lake of Como. One night, at seven o’clock, a boat from Como brought us the news that the Emperor had landed in the Gulf of Juan. The next morning Fabrizio started for France, after having induced one of his humble friends, a dealer in barometers of the name of Vasi, to give him his passport. As he by no means looks like a dealer in barometers, he had hardly travelled ten leagues through France when he was arrested. His outbursts of enthusiasm, expressed in very bad French, were thought suspicious. After some time he escaped, and contrived to get to Geneva. We sent to meet him at Lugano.”

“At Geneva, you mean,” said the canon, smiling.

The countess finished her story.

“Everything that is humanly possible I will do for you,” replied the canon earnestly. “I place myself entirely at your orders. I will even risk imprudences,” he added. “Tell me, what am I to do at this moment, when my poor room is to be bereft of the celestial vision which marks an epoch in the history of my life?”

“You must go to Baron Binder; you must tell him you have loved Fabrizio from his babyhood, that you saw the child at the time of his birth, when you used to come to our house, and that you beseech Binder, in the name of his friendship for you, to set all his spies to discover whether before Fabrizio departed into Switzerland he ever had the shortest interview with any of the suspected Liberals. If the baron is at all decently served he will be convinced that this whole business has been nothing but a childish freak. You know that when I lived in the Palazzo Dugnani I had quantities of engravings of Napoleon’s battles. My nephew learned to read from the inscriptions on those pictures. When he was only five years old my poor husband would describe the battles to him; we used to put the general’s helmet on the child’s head, and he would drag his great sword about the room. Well, one fine day the boy hears that the man my husband worshipped, the Emperor, is back in France. Like the young madcap he is, he started off to join him, but he did not succeed. Ask your baron what punishment he can possibly inflict for that one moment of folly.”

“I was forgetting something,” cried the canon. “You shall see that I am not quite unworthy of your gracious pardon. Here,” he said, hunting about among the papers on his table, “here is the denunciation of that vile col-torto [hypocrite]—look! It is signed ‘Ascanio Valserra del Dongo’—which is at the bottom of the whole business. I got it yesterday in the police office, and I went to the Scala, hoping to meet somebody who was in the habit of going to your box, by whom I might send it to you. The copy of this paper reached Vienna long ago. This is the enemy we have to fight!” The canon and the countess read the document together, and agreed that in the course of the day he was to send her a copy by a safe hand. Then the countess went back rejoicing to the Palazzo del Dongo.

“No one could have behaved more perfectly than this man, who once behaved so ill,” said she to the marchesa. “To-night, at the Scala, when the theatre clock strikes a quarter to eleven, we will turn everybody out of our box, we will shut our door, and at eleven o’clock the canon will come himself, and tell us what he has been able to do. This plan seemed to us the one least likely to compromise him.”

The canon was no fool; he took good care not to break his appointment, and having kept it, he gave proofs of a thorough kind-heartedness and absolute straightforwardness rarely seen save in countries where vanity does not override every other feeling. His accusation of the Countess Pietranera to her own husband had caused him constant remorse, and he hailed the opportunity for atonement.

That morning, when the countess left him, he had said to himself bitterly, “Now there she is, in love with her nephew!” and his old wound was not healed. “Otherwise, proud as she is, she would have never come to me. When poor Pietranera died she refused all my offers of service with horror, though they were couched in the most polite terms and transmitted to her by Colonel Scotti, who had been her lover. To think of the beautiful Pietranera living on fifteen hundred francs!” he added, as he walked rapidly up and down his room, “and then settling herself at Grianta with an odious secatore like the Marchese del Dongo! But that is all explained now. That young Fabrizio is certainly very attractive—tall, well-built, with a face that is always gay, and, what’s better, with a sort of tender voluptuous look about him—a Correggio face!” added the canon bitterly.

“The difference of age—not too great, after all! Fabrizio was born after the French came here—about ’98, I think. The countess may be seven or eight and twenty. No woman could be prettier, more delightful. Even in this country, where there are so many lovely women, she beats them all—the Marini, the Gherardi, the Ruga, the Aresi, the Pietragrua—she is better-looking than any of them! They were living happily together on the banks of that lovely Lake of Como when the young man insisted on following Napoleon. Ah, there are hearts in Italy still, in spite of what every one may do! Beloved country! No,” he mused, and his breast swelled with jealousy, “there is no other possible means of explaining her willingness to vegetate in the country and endure the disgusting sight, every day and at every meal, of the Marchese del Dongo’s hideous countenance, and the vile sallow face of the Marchesino Ascanio, who will be much worse than his father, on the top of it! Ah, well! I will serve her faithfully. At all events, I shall have the satisfaction of seeing her nearer than through my opera-glasses.”

Canon Borda explained the matter very clearly to the ladies. In his heart Binder was disposed to do all he could for them. He was heartily glad that Fabrizio had taken himself off before definite orders had arrived from Vienna, for Baron Binder could decide nothing himself; on this matter, as on every other, he was obliged to wait for orders. Every day he sent an exact copy of all his information to Vienna, and awaited the imperial reply.

During his exile at Romagnano, Fabrizio was to be sure, in the first place, to go to mass every day, to choose some intelligent man, devoted to the cause of the monarchy, as his confessor, and in confession to be careful to confide none but the most irreproachable sentiments to his ear; secondly, he was not to consort with any man who had the reputation of being clever, and, when occasion offered, he was to speak of rebellion with horror, as a thing that should never be permitted; thirdly, he was never to be seen in a café, he was never to read any newspaper except the Turin and Milan Official Gazettes, he was to express dislike of reading in general, and he was never to peruse any work printed later that 1720, the only possible exception being Sir Walter Scott’s novels; “and lastly,” said the canon, with just a touch of spite, “he must not fail to pay open court to some pretty woman in the district—one of noble birth, of course. That will prove he has none of the gloomy and discontented spirit of the juvenile conspirator.”

Before going to bed that night, the countess and the marchesa wrote Fabrizio two voluminous letters, which explained, with an anxiety that was most endearing, all the advice imparted by the canon.

Fabrizio had not the slightest wish to conspire. He loved Napoleon, believed himself destined, as a nobleman, to be more fortunate than most men, and despised the whole middle class.

Since he had left college he had never opened a book, and while there, had only read books arranged by the Jesuits. He took up his residence at some distance from Romagnano, in a magnificent palace which had been one of the masterpieces of the famous architect San Michele. But it had been left untenanted for thirty years, so that the rain came through all the ceilings, and there was not a window that would shut. He took possession of the agent’s horses, and rode them all day long, just as it suited him. He never opened his lips, and thought a great deal. The suggestion that he should take a mistress in some ultra family tickled his fancy, and he obeyed it to the letter. He chose for his confessor a young and intriguing priest, who aimed at becoming a bishop (like the confessor of the Spielberg).[3] But he travelled three leagues on foot, and wrapped himself in what he believed to be impenetrable mystery, so as to read the Constitutionnel, which he thought sublime—“as fine as Alfieri and Dante,” he would often exclaim. Fabrizio resembled young Frenchmen in this particular, that he thought much more about his horse and his newspaper than about his high-born mistress. But there was no room, as yet, for any imitation of others in that simple and steadfast soul, and he made no friends in the society to be found in the town of Romagnano. His simplicity was taken for pride; nobody could understand his nature; “a younger son, who is discontented because he is not the eldest,” said the parish priest.

[2] This name, thanks to Signor Pellico, is known all over Europe. It is that of the street in Milan in which the Ministry of Police and the prisons are situated.

[3] In Andryana’s curious memoirs which are as amusing as a fairy-tale and should be as immortal as the works of Tacitus.