The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER VI

We will honestly admit that the canon’s jealousy was not utterly unfounded. When Fabrizio returned from France he appeared in Countess Pietranera’s eyes as a handsome stranger with whom she had once been intimately acquainted. If he had made love to her she would have fallen in love with him, and the admiration she already nursed for both his person and his acts was passionate, and I might almost say unbounded. But Fabrizio kissed her with so much innocent gratitude and simple affection that she herself would have been horrified at the idea of seeking any other feeling in a regard that was almost filial. “After all,” said the countess to herself, “some few old friends who knew me six years ago at the viceroy’s court may still consider me pretty, and even young; but to this boy I am a respectable woman, and frankly, without any regard for my vanity, a middle-aged woman, too!” The countess laboured under a certain illusion with regard to her time of life, but it was not the illusion of the ordinary woman. “Besides,” she added, “at Fabrizio’s age a man is inclined to exaggerate the effect produced by the ravages of time. Now, an older man than he——”

The countess, who had been walking up and down her drawing-room, paused before a mirror, and smiled. My readers must be informed that for several months past serious siege had been laid to Gina Pietranera’s heart, and that by a man quite out of the ordinary category. A short time after Fabrizio’s departure for France the countess, who, though she did not quite acknowledge it to herself, was already very much interested in him, had fallen into a condition of the deepest melancholy. All her former occupations seemed to have lost their attraction, and if I may so describe it, their flavour. She told herself that Napoleon, in his desire to win the affections of the Italian people, would certainly take Fabrizio for his aide-de-camp! “He’s lost to me!” she exclaimed, weeping. “I shall never see him again! He will write to me, but what can I be to him ten years hence?”

While she was in this frame of mind she made a trip to Milan, in the hope of obtaining more direct news of Napoleon, and possibly further news of Fabrizio. Though she did not admit it, her eager soul was growing very weary of the monotony of her country life. “I do not live there,” said she to herself. “I only keep myself from dying.” She shuddered at the thought of the powdered heads she must behold every day—her brother, her nephew Ascanio, and their serving-men; what would her trips on the lake be without Fabrizio? The affection that bound her to the marchesa was her only consolation. But for some time past her intimacy with Fabrizio’s mother, who was older than herself, and had no future outlook, had brought her less satisfaction.

Such was the Countess Pietranera’s peculiar position. Now that Fabrizio was gone, she expected but little future happiness, and she hungered for consolation and for novelty. When she reached Milan she developed a passionate fondness for the opera then in fashion. She shut herself up alone for long hours at a stretch in her old friend’s, General Scotti’s, box at the Scala. The men whose acquaintance she sought, in the hope of obtaining news of Napoleon and his army, struck her as coarse and vulgar. When she came home at night she would extemporize on her piano till three o’clock in the morning. One evening she went to the Scala, and was sitting in a box belonging to one of her lady friends, whither she had gone to try and gather news from France. The Minister of Parma, Count Mosca, was presented to her. He was an agreeable man, who spoke of France and of Napoleon in a manner which made her heart thrill afresh with hope and fear. The following day she returned to the same box. The clever statesman returned also, and during the whole of the performance she talked to him, and found pleasure in the conversation. Never, since Fabrizio’s departure, had she thought an evening so enjoyable. The man who thus diverted her thoughts, Count Mosca della Rovere Sorezana, was then Minister of War, of Police, and of Finance to Ernest IV, that famous Prince of Parma, so celebrated for his severity, which Milanese Liberals termed cruelty. Mosca might have been forty or forty-five years of age. He was a large-featured man, without a vestige of self-importance and a simple cheery manner, which prepossessed people in his favour. He would have been very good-looking, if his master’s whim had not obliged him to powder his hair, as an earnest of the propriety of his political views. In Italy, where the fear of wounding the vanity of others is little felt, people soon fall into intimacy, and proceed to make personal remarks. The corrective for this habit consists in not meeting again, if feelings happen to be hurt.

“Tell me, count,” said Countess Pietranera on the third occasion of their meeting, “why you wear powder? Powder on a man like you—delightful, still young, and who fought with us in Spain!”

“Because I brought no booty away with me from Spain. After all, a man must live. I was mad for glory; one word of praise from Gouvion-St. Cyr, the French general who commanded us, was all I cared for in those days. When Napoleon fell, I discovered that while I had been spending all my fortune in his service, my father, who had a lively imagination, and dreamed of seeing me a general, had been building me a palace at Parma; and in 1813 I discovered that the whole of my worldly wealth consisted of a big unfinished palace and a pension.”

“A pension! Three thousand five hundred francs, I suppose, like my poor husband’s.”

“Count Pietranera was a full general. My poor major’s pension was never more than eight hundred francs, and until I became Minister of Finance I was never paid even that!”

As the only other occupant of the box was its owner, a lady of exceedingly liberal opinions, the conversation was continued in the same strain of intimacy. In answer to the countess’s questions, Count Mosca spoke of his life at Parma: “In Spain, under General St. Cyr, I braved volleys of musketry fire for the sake of the Cross of Honour, and afterward to win a little glory. Now I dress myself up like a character in a comedy to secure a great establishment and a certain number of thousand francs. When I played my first moves in this game of chess the insolence of my superiors nettled me, and I resolved to reach one of the highest places. I have gained my object, but my happiest days are always those I am able to spend, now and then, at Milan. Here, as it seems to me, the heart of the old army of Italy still throbs.”

The frankness and disinvoltura with which the minister referred to so greatly-dreaded a prince piqued the countess’s curiosity. She had expected to meet a self-important pedant; instead of that she found a man who seemed rather ashamed of his solemn position. Mosca had promised to keep her informed of all the news from France he could collect. This was a great indiscretion for any one living at Milan the month before Waterloo. At that moment the fate of Italy hung in the balance, and every one in Milan was in a fever of hope or fear. In the midst of the universal agitation, the countess made inquiries concerning the man who spoke thus lightly of a position so universally envied, and one which was his own sole subsistence. She learned things that were curious, whimsical, and interesting. Count Mosca della Rovere Sorezana, she was told, is on the point of becoming the Prime Minister and acknowledged favourite of Ernest IV, absolute ruler of the state of Parma, and one of the richest princes in Europe into the bargain. The count could already have attained this supreme position if he would only have assumed a more serious demeanour. The prince, it is said, has frequently remonstrated with him on this point. “How can my ways matter to your Highness,” he answers boldly, “so long as I transact your business?”

“The favourite’s good fortune,” continued her informant, “is not without its thorns. He has to please a sovereign who, though certainly a man of sense and cleverness, appears to have lost his head since the day he ascended an absolute throne, and who, for instance, nurses suspicions really unworthy even of a woman.”

“Ernest IV’s bravery is limited to that he has displayed in war. Twenty times over, and in the most gallant fashion, he has led a column to the attack. But since his father, Ernest III, has died, and he himself has taken up his residence within his dominions—where, unluckily for himself, he enjoys unlimited power—he has begun to hold forth in the wildest way against Liberals and liberty. He soon took it into his head that his subjects hated him, and at last, in a fit of temper, and egged on by a wretch by the name of Rassi, a sort of Minister of Justice, he caused two Liberals, whose guilt was probably of the slightest, to be hanged.

“Since that fatal moment, the sovereign’s whole life seems changed, and he is harried by the most extraordinary suspicions. He is not yet fifty, but terror has so degraded him, if one may so describe it, that when he begins to talk about the Jacobins and the plans of their Central Committee in Paris his face grows like that of a man of ninety, and he falls back into all the fanciful terrors of babyhood. His favourite, Rassi, the head of his judicial department (or chief justice) has no influence except through his master’s terrors. As soon as he begins to tremble for his own credit, he instantly discovers some fresh conspiracy of the blackest and most fanciful description. If thirty imprudent souls meet to read a number of the Constitutionnel, Rassi declares they are conspiring, and sends them as prisoners to that famous Citadel of Parma, which is the terror of the whole of Lombardy. As this citadel is very high—one hundred and eighty feet, they say—it is seen from an immense distance all over the huge plain, and the outline of the prison, about which horrible stories are told, frowns like a merciless sovereign over the whole tract of country from Milan to Bologna.”

“Would you believe it,” said another traveller to the countess, “at night Ernest IV sits shivering with terror in his room on the third story of his palace, where he is guarded by eighty sentries, who shout a whole sentence instead of a password every quarter of an hour. With ten bolts shot on each of his doors, and the rooms above and below his apartments filled with soldiers, he is still terrified of the Jacobins! If a board in the floor creaks he snatches at his pistols and is convinced a Liberal must be hidden underneath his bed. Instantly every bell in the castle begins to ring, and an aide-de-camp hurries off to wake Count Mosca. When the Minister of Police reaches the castle he knows better than to deny the existence of the conspiracy. Armed to the teeth, he and the prince go alone round every corner of the apartments, look under all the beds, and, in a word, perform a number of ridiculous antics worthy of an old woman. In those happy days when the prince was a soldier, and had never killed a man except in war, all these precautions would have struck him as exceedingly degrading. Being an exceedingly intelligent and clever man, he really is ashamed of them. Even at the moment of taking them they appear ridiculous to him. And the secret of Count Mosca’s immense credit is that he applies all his skill to prevent the prince from ever feeling ashamed in his presence. It is he, Mosca, who, as Minister of Police, insists on search being made under every bit of furniture, and, as people at Parma declare, even in musical instrument cases. It is the prince who objects, and jokes his minister on his extreme punctiliousness. ‘This is a matter of honour to me,’ Mosca replies. ‘Think of the satirical sonnets the Jacobins would rain down upon us if we let them kill you! We have to defend not only your life, but our own reputation.’ Still the prince appears to be only half taken in by it all, for if any one in the town ventures to say there has been a sleepless night in the castle, Rassi forthwith sends the unseasonable joker to the citadel, and once the prisoner is shut up in that high and airy dwelling, it is only by a miracle that any one recollects his existence. It is because Mosca is a soldier, who, during the Spanish campaigns, saved his own life twenty times over, pistol in hand, and surrounded by pitfalls, that the prince prefers him to Rassi, who is far more pliable and cringing. The unhappy prisoners in the citadel are kept in the most strict and solitary confinement. All sorts of stories are current about them. The Liberals declare that Rassi has invented a plan whereby the jailers and confessors are ordered to convince them that almost every month one of them is led out to execution. On that day they are allowed to mount on to the terrace of the huge tower, one hundred and eighty feet high, and thence they see a departing procession, in which a spy represents the poor wretch supposed to be going out to meet his fate.”

These tales and a score more of the same nature, and not less authentic, interested the countess deeply. The day after hearing them she questioned the count, and jested at his answers. She thought him most entertaining, and kept assuring him that he certainly was a monster, though he might be unconscious of the fact. One day, as the count was going home to his inn, he said to himself: “Not only is the Countess Pietranera a charming woman, but when I spend the evening in her box I contrive to forget certain things at Parma, the memory of which stabs me to the heart!” This minister, in spite of his lively air and brilliant manners, had not the soul of a Frenchman. He did not know how to forget his sorrows. “When there was a thorn in his pillow he was forced to break it and wear it down by thrusting it into his own throbbing limbs.” I must apologize for introducing this sentence, translated from the Italian. The morning following on his discovery, the count became aware that in spite of the business which had called him to Milan, the day was extraordinarily long; he could not stay quiet anywhere, and tired his carriage horses out. Toward six o’clock he rode out to the Corso. He had hoped he might have met the Countess Pietranera there. He could not see her, and recollected that the Scala opened at eight o’clock. Thither he betook himself, and did not find more than ten persons in the whole of the great building. He felt quite shy at being there. “Can it be?” he mused, “that at five-and-forty I am committing follies for which a subaltern officer would blush? Luckily nobody suspects it.” He fled, and tried to pass away the time by walking about the pretty streets in the neighbourhood of the Scala Theatre. They are full of cafés, which at that hour are teeming with customers. In front of each, a crowd of idlers sits on chairs, spreading right out into the street, eating ices and criticising the passers-by. The count was a passer-by of considerable notoriety, and he had the pleasure of being recognised and accosted. Three or four importunate individuals, of that class which it is not easy to shake off, seized this opportunity of obtaining an audience from the powerful minister. Two of them thrust petitions into his hands, a third contented himself with giving him long-winded advice as to his political conduct.

“So clever a man as I am must not go to sleep, and a person so powerful as I should not walk in the streets,” he reflected. He went back to the theatre, and it occurred to him to take a box on the third tier. Thence he could gaze unnoticed right into the box on the second tier, in which he hoped to see the countess appear. Two full hours of waiting did not seem too long to this man who was in love. Safely screened from observation, he gave himself up to the enjoyment of his passionate dream. “What is old age!” he said to himself. “Surely, above all other things, it means that the capacity for this exquisite foolery is lost!”

At last the countess made her appearance. Through his opera-glasses he watched her adoringly. “Young, brilliant, blithe as a bird,” he said, “she does not look five-and-twenty. Her beauty is the least of her charms. Where else could I discover a creature of such perfect sincerity, one whose actions are never governed by prudence, who gives herself up bodily to the feelings of the moment, and asks nothing better than to be whirled off by some fresh object? I can understand all Count Nani’s wild behaviour!”

The count gave himself excellent reasons for his extravagant feelings so long as he only thought of attaining the happiness he saw before his eyes. But his arguments were not so cogent when he began to consider his own age, and the anxieties, some of them gloomy enough, which clouded his existence. “A clever man, whose terrors override his intelligence, gives me a great position and large sums of money for acting as his minister. But supposing he were to dismiss me to-morrow? I should be nothing but an elderly and needy man; in other words, just the sort of man that every one is inclined to despise. A nice sort of individual to offer to the countess!” These thoughts were too dreary, and he turned his eyes once more upon the object of his affections. He was never tired of gazing at her, and he refrained from going to her box so that he might contemplate her more undisturbedly. “I have just been told,” he mused, “that she only encouraged Nani to play a trick on Limercati, who would not take the trouble to run her husband’s murderer through, or have him stabbed by somebody else. I would fight twenty duels for her!” he murmured in a passion of adoration. He kept continually glancing at the Scala clock, with its luminous figures standing out on a black ground, which, as each five minutes passed, warned the spectators that the hour of their admission into some fair friend’s box had duly arrived.

The count ruminated again: “I have only known her such a short time that I dare not spend more than half an hour in her box. If I stay longer than that I shall attract attention, and then, thanks to my age, and still more to the cursed powder in my hair, I shall look as foolish as a pantaloon!” But a sudden thought forced him to a decision. “Supposing she were to leave her box to pay a visit to another; I should be well punished for the stinginess with which I had meted out my pleasure to myself!” He rose to his feet, meaning to go down to the box in which the countess was sitting. Suddenly he felt that his desire to enter it had almost entirely disappeared. “Now this really is delightful,” he exclaimed, and he stopped on the staircase to laugh at himself. “I am positively frightened! Such a thing hasn’t happened to me for five-and-twenty years!” He had almost to make a conscious effort to go into the box, and like a clever man he took advantage of the circumstance.

He made no attempt whatever to appear at his ease, or to show off his wit by plunging headlong into some joking conversation. He had the courage to be shy, and applied his mind to letting his agitation betray itself without rendering him ridiculous. “If she takes it amiss,” said he to himself, “I am done for forever! What! Shyness in a man with powdered hair—hair which would be gray if the powder did not cover it! But it is the truth, therefore it can not be ridiculous unless I exaggerate it, or wave it like a trophy before her eyes.” The countess had so often been bored at the Castle of Grianta, among the powdered heads of her brother, her nephew, and some tiresome neighbours of the right way of thinking, that she never gave a thought to the fashion in which her new adorer dressed his hair.

Her good sense, then, saved her from bursting out laughing when he entered, and her whole attention was absorbed by the French news which Mosca always confided to her particular ear when he entered her box. Some of this news, no doubt, he invented. As she talked it over with him that evening she noticed his glance, which was open and kindly.

“I fancy,” she said, “that when you are at Parma, surrounded by your slaves, you do not look at them in so kindly a manner. That would spoil everything, and give them some hope of not being hanged.”

The total absence of pretension on the part of a man who bore the reputation of being the foremost diplomatist in Italy struck the countess as peculiar, and even endowed him with a certain charm in her eyes. On the whole, and considering how well and brilliantly he talked, she was not at all displeased that he should have taken it into his head to play the part of her attentive swain for this one evening, and with no serious ulterior intentions.

A great point had been gained, and a very risky one. Fortunately for the minister, who at Parma never saw his advances rejected, the countess had only just returned from Grianta, and her mind was still numb with the dulness of her rural life. She had forgotten, so to speak, how to be merry, and everything connected with the elegancies and frivolities of life wore an appearance of novelty which almost made them sacred in her eyes. She had no inclination to laugh at anything, not even at a shy man of five-and-forty who had fallen in love with her. A week later the count’s boldness might have met with quite a different reception.

As a rule no visit paid to a box in the Scala lasts more than twenty minutes. The count spent the whole evening in that in which he had been so happy as to find the Countess Pietranera. “This woman,” said he to himself, “brings me back to all the follies of my youth,” yet he felt the danger of his position. “Will she forgive my folly for the sake of my reputation as an all-powerful pasha at a place forty leagues off? How tiresome that life of mine at Parma is!” Nevertheless, as each quarter struck, he vowed to himself he would depart.

“You must consider, signora,” he said laughingly to the countess, “that I am bored to death at Parma, and that therefore I must be allowed to drink deep draughts of pleasure whenever pleasure lies in my path. Thus, for this one evening, and without making any ulterior claim on your kindness, give me leave to pay my court to you. In a few days, alas! I shall be far from this box, where I forget all my sorrows, and you will say, perhaps, all the proprieties.”

A week after that lengthy visit to the box at the Scala, which had been followed by various little incidents too numerous to relate here, Count Mosca was madly in love, and the countess was beginning to think that his age need be no objection if he pleased her in other respects. Matters had reached this point, when Mosca was recalled by a courier from Parma. It was as though his prince had grown frightened at being left alone. The countess went back to Grianta. That beautiful spot, no longer idealized, now, by her imagination, seemed to her a desert. “Have I really grown fond of this man?” said she to herself. Mosca wrote, and found himself at a loss; separation had dried up the springs of his ideas. His letters were amusing, and there was a quaintness connected with them which did not fail to please. So as to avoid the remarks of the Marchese del Dongo, who was not fond of paying for the delivery of letters, these were sent by messengers, who posted them at Como, Lecco, Varese, and the other pretty little towns in the near neighbourhood of the lake. One object of this manœuvre was that the couriers might bring back answers. It was successfully attained.

Before long the countess began to watch for the days when the post arrived. The couriers brought her flowers, fruit, little presents of no value, but which entertained her and her sister-in-law as well. Her memory of the count began to be mingled with thoughts of his great power, and the countess grew curious about everything that was said concerning him. Even the Liberals paid homage to his talents.

The chief ground of the count’s evil reputation rested on the fact that he was considered the head of the ultra party at the court of Parma, where the Liberal party was led by an intriguing woman, capable of anything, even of success, and very rich into the bargain—the Marchesa Raversi. The prince was very careful not to discourage whichever of the two parties was not in power. He knew well enough that he would always be master, even with a ministry chosen out of the Marchesa Raversi’s circle. Numerous details of these intrigues were related at Grianta. Mosca, whom all the world described as a minister of first-rate talent and a man of action, was not present, and therefore the countess was free to forget the hair powder, which in her eyes symbolized everything that is most slow and dreary. That, after all, was an infinitesimal detail, one of the obligations imposed by the court at which he otherwise played so noble a part. “A court is an absurd thing,” said the countess to the marchesa, “but it’s amusing. It’s an interesting game, but it must be played according to the rules. Did anybody ever think of rebelling against the rules of piquet? Yet once one has grown accustomed to them, there is great enjoyment in beating one’s adversary.”

The countess gave many a thought to the writer of all those pleasant letters. The days on which she received them were bright days to her. She would call for her boat, and go and read them at the most beautiful spots on the lake—at Pliniana, at Belano, or in the wood of the Sfondrata. These letters seemed to bring her some consolation for Fabrizio’s absence. At any rate, she could not deny the count the right to be desperately in love with her, and before the month was out she was thinking of him with a very tender affection. Count Mosca, on his part, was very nearly in earnest when he offered to send in his resignation, leave the ministry, and spend his life with her at Milan or elsewhere. “I have four hundred thousand francs,” he said; “that would always give us fifteen thousand francs a year.”

“An opera-box and horses again,” reflected the countess. The dream was a tempting one.

The charms of the sublime scenery round Como appealed to her afresh. On the shores of the lake she dreamed again over the strange and brilliant existence which, contrary to all appearances, was opening once more before her. She saw herself in Milan, on the Corso, happy and gay as she had been in the days of the viceroy. “My youth would come back to me. My life would be full, at all events.”

Her ardent imagination sometimes deceived her, but she had never laboured under those voluntary illusions which are the result of cowardice. Above all things, she was perfectly straightforward with herself. “If I am a little beyond the age for committing follies, envy—which can deceive as well as love—may poison the happiness of my life at Milan. After my husband’s death, my proud poverty and my refusal of two great fortunes were admired. This poor little count of mine has not a twentieth part of the wealth those two simpletons, Limercati and Nani, laid at my feet. The tiny widow’s pension, obtained with so much difficulty, the sending away of my servants, the little room on the fifth story, which brought twenty coaches to the door of the house—all that was curious and interesting at the time. But I shall have some disagreeable moments, however cleverly I may manage, if with no more private fortune than my widow’s pension, I go back to Milan, and live there in the modest middle-class comfort which the fifteen thousand francs a year that will remain to Mosca after his resignation will insure us. One curious objection, which will become a terrible weapon in the hands of the envious, is, that though the count has been separated from his wife for years, he is married. At Parma everybody is aware of this, but at Milan it will be news, and it will be ascribed to me. Therefore, farewell, my beautiful Scala! my heavenly Lake of Como, fare thee well!”

In spite of all her forebodings, if the countess had had the smallest fortune of her own, she would have accepted Mosca’s offer to resign. She believed herself to be growing old, and the idea of a court alarmed her. But the fact which, on this side of the Alps, will appear incredible to the last degree, is that the count would have given in his resignation most joyfully. At least he contrived to convince his friend that so it was. Every letter of his besought her, with ever-growing eagerness, to grant him another interview at Milan. She did so. “If I were to swear that I loved you madly,” she said to him, “I should lie to you. I should be only too happy if, now that I am past thirty, I could love as I loved at two-and-twenty. But too many things which I believed eternal have faded from my sight. I have the most tender affection for you, I feel the most unbounded confidence in you, and I prefer you to every other man I know.” She believed herself perfectly sincere, but the close of this declaration was not absolutely truthful. It may be that if Fabrizio had chosen he might have swept everything else out of her heart, but Fabrizio, in Count Mosca’s eyes, was no more than a child. The minister arrived in Milan three days after the young madcap had departed for Novara, and lost no time in speaking to Baron Binder in his favour. The count’s opinion was, that there was no chance of saving the youth from banishment.

He had not come to Milan alone. In his carriage had travelled the Duke Sanseverina-Taxis—a nice-looking little old man of sixty-eight, gray-haired, polished, well-groomed, immensely rich, but of inadequate birth. His grandfather had amassed millions of money by farming the revenues of the state of Parma. His father had induced the then reigning prince to appoint him his ambassador at a certain court, by means of the following argument: “Your Highness allows your envoy at the court of ⸺ thirty thousand francs a year, and he cuts a very poor figure on the money. If your Highness will appoint me I will be content with a salary of six thousand francs; I will never spend less than a hundred thousand francs a year on my embassy, and my man of business shall pay twenty thousand francs a year to the Department of Foreign Affairs at Parma. This sum will be the salary of any secretary of my embassy selected by the government. I shall show no jealousy about being informed as to diplomatic secrets, if any such exist. My object is to shed honour on my family, which is still a new one, and to increase its dignity by holding a great official position.” The present duke, son of the ambassador, had been clumsy enough to betray some Liberal tendencies, and for the last two years he had been in a state of despair. He had lost two or three millions in Napoleon’s time, by his obstinate insistence on remaining abroad, and notwithstanding this he had failed, since the sovereigns had been re-established in Europe, to obtain a certain great order which figured in his father’s portrait. The absence of this order was wasting him away with sorrow.

So complete is the intimacy which in Italy results on love, that personal vanity could be no stumbling-block between the two friends. It was, therefore, with the most perfect simplicity that Mosca said to the woman he worshipped: “I have two or three plans to suggest to you, all of them fairly well laid. I have dreamed of nothing else for the last three months. First, I can resign, and we will live quietly at Milan, Florence, Naples, or where you will. We have fifteen thousand francs a year, independently of the prince’s bounty to us, which will last for a time, at all events. Second, if you will condescend to come to the country where I have some power, you will buy a country place—let us say Sacca, for instance, a charming house in the forest overlooking the Po; you can have the contract of sale duly signed within a week. The prince will give you a position at his court. But here a great difficulty comes in. You would be well received at court, nobody would venture to hesitate as to that in my presence, and besides, the princess thinks she is unfortunate, and I have just rendered her several services with an eye to your benefit. But there is one capital objection of which I must remind you. The prince is exceedingly religious, and, as you know, I am, unluckily, a married man. This would give rise to innumerable small difficulties. You are a widow, and that charming title must be exchanged for another. Here my third proposal comes in.

“It would be easy enough to find a husband who would give us no trouble, but, above all things, we must have a man of considerable age—for why should you refuse me the hope of taking his place some day? Well, I have arranged this curious business with the Duke Sanseverina-Taxis, who is quite ignorant, of course, of the name of his future duchess. All he knows about her is that she will make him an ambassador and will procure him the order his father held, and without which he himself is the most unhappy of men. Apart from that mania the duke is by no means a fool. He gets his coats and wigs from Paris; he is not at all the kind of man who deliberately plots wickedness. He honestly believes that his honour is involved in wearing that particular order, and he is ashamed of his money. A year ago he came and proposed to me to build a hospital, so as to get his order. I laughed at him, but he did not laugh at me when I proposed this marriage. My first condition, of course, was that he was never to set his foot in Parma again.”

“But do you know that the suggestion you make to me is exceedingly immoral?” said the countess.

“Not more immoral than everything else at our court, and at twenty others. There’s one convenience about absolute power, that it sanctifies everything in the eyes of the people. Now where is the importance of an absurdity that nobody notices? Our policy for the next twenty years will consist in being afraid of the Jacobins, and what a terror it will be! Every year we shall believe ourselves on the brink of another ’93. Some day, I hope, you will hear the remarks I make on that subject at my receptions; they are really fine! Everything which may tend to diminish this terror, however little, will be superlatively moral in the eyes of the nobles and the bigots. Now, at Parma every one who is not either noble or a bigot is in prison, or on the road thither. You may be quite sure that till the day I am disgraced no one will think this marriage the least extraordinary. The arrangement involves no dishonesty to any one, and that, I imagine, is the great point. The prince, whose favour is our stock in trade, has only imposed one condition to insure his consent—that the future duchess should be of noble birth. Last year, as far as I can reckon, my post brought me in a hundred and seven thousand francs, and my whole income must have been a hundred and twenty-two thousand. I have invested a sum of twenty thousand francs at Lyons. Now, you must choose between a life of splendour, with a hundred and twenty-two thousand francs a year to spend—which in Parma would be as much as four hundred thousand in Milan (but in this case you must accept the marriage which will give you the name of a very decent man, whom you will never see except at the altar)—or a modest existence on fifteen thousand francs a year at Florence or Naples—for I agree with you, you have been too much admired at Milan. We should be tormented by envy there, and it might end by making us unhappy. The life at Parma would, I hope, have some charm of novelty, even for you who have seen the court of Prince Eugène. It would be worth your while to make acquaintance with it before we close that door. Do not think I desire to influence your decision. As far as I am concerned, my choice is made. I would rather live with you on a fourth floor than continue alone in my great position.”

The possibility of this strange marriage was discussed daily between the lovers. The countess saw the duke at a ball at the Scala, and thought him very presentable. In one of their last conversations, Mosca thus summed up the matter: “We must take some decisive step if we want to spend our lives happily, and not to grow old before our time. The prince has given his approbation. Sanseverina is really rather attractive than otherwise. He owns the finest palace in Parma and a huge fortune; he is sixty-eight years old, and is madly in love with the Collar of an Order; but there is one great blot upon his life—he bought a bust of Napoleon by Canova, for ten thousand francs. His second misdoing, which will be the death of him if you do not come to his rescue, is that he once lent twenty-five napoleons to Ferrante Palla, a madman, from our country, but a man of genius all the same, whom we have since condemned to death—by default, I am happy to say. This Ferrante once wrote two hundred lines of poetry, which are quite unrivalled. I will recite them to you; they are as fine as Dante. The prince will send Sanseverina to the court of ⸺. He will marry you the day he starts, and in the second year of his journey—which he calls an embassy—he will receive the collar of the order for which he sighs. In him you will find a brother, whom you will not dislike. He is ready to sign every document I give him beforehand, and, besides, you will see him hardly ever, or never, just as you choose. He will be glad not to show himself in Parma, where the memory of his grandfather, the farmer general, and his own imputed liberalism make him feel uncomfortable. Rassi, our persecutor, declares that the duke subscribed secretly to the Constitutionnel, through Ferrante, the poet; and for a long time this calumny was a serious obstacle in the way of the prince’s consent.”

Why should the historian be blamed for faithfully reproducing the smallest details of the story he has heard? Is it his fault if certain persons, led away by a passion which he, unfortunately for himself, does not share, stoop to actions of the deepest immorality? It is true, indeed, that this sort of thing is no longer done in a country where the only passion—that which has survived all others—is the love of money, which is the food of vanity?

Three months after the events above related, the Duchess Sanseverina-Taxis was astonishing the court of Parma by her easy charm and the noble serenity of her intellect. Her house was beyond all comparison the most agreeable in the city. This fulfilled the promise made by Count Mosca to his master. The reigning prince, Ranuzio-Ernest IV, and the princess, his wife, to whom the duchess was presented by two of the greatest ladies in the country, received her with the utmost respect. She had been curious to see the prince, the arbiter of the fate of the man she loved. She desired to please him, and succeeded only too well. She beheld a man of tall and somewhat heavy build; his hair, mustaches, and huge whiskers were of what his courtiers called a beautiful golden colour; elsewhere their dull tinge would have earned the unflattering title of tow. From the middle of a large face there projected, very slightly, a tiny, almost feminine nose. But the duchess remarked that to realize all these various uglinesses a close examination of the royal features was necessary. Taking him altogether, the prince had the appearance of a clever and resolute man. His air and manner were not devoid of majesty, but very often he took it into his head to try and impress the person to whom he was speaking; then he grew confused himself, and rocked almost perpetually from one leg to the other. Apart from this, Ernest IV’s glance was penetrating and authoritative. There was something noble about the gesture of his arm, and his speech was both measured and concise.

Mosca had warned the duchess that the prince’s audience chamber contained a full-length portrait of Louis XIV and a very fine Florentine scagliola table. The imitation struck her very much. It was evident that the prince sought to reproduce the noble look and utterance of Louis XIV, and that he leaned against the scagliola table so as to make himself look like Joseph II. Immediately after his first words to the duchess he seated himself, so as to give her an opportunity of making use of the tabouret which her rank conferred on her. At this court the only ladies who have a right to sit are duchesses, princesses, and wives of Spanish grandees. The rest all wait until the prince or princess invites them to be seated, and these august persons are always careful to mark the degree of rank by allowing a short interval to elapse before giving this permission to a lady of less rank than a duchess. The duchess thought the prince’s imitation of Louis XIV was occasionally somewhat too marked, as, for instance, when he threw back his head and smiled good-naturedly.

Ernest IV wore a dress-coat of the fashion then reigning in Paris. Every month he received from that city, which he abhorred, a dress-coat, a walking-coat, and a hat. But on the day of the duchess’s visit he had attired himself, with a whimsical mixture of styles, in red pantaloons, silk stockings, and very high shoes, such as may be observed in the pictures of Joseph II.

He received the lady graciously, and said several sharp and witty things to her. But she saw very clearly that civil as her reception was, there was no excessive warmth about it. “And do you know why?” said Count Mosca, when she returned from her audience. “It is because Milan is a larger and finer city than Parma. He was afraid that if he received you as I expected, and as he had given me reason to hope, you would take him for a provincial person, in ecstasies over the charms of a fine lady just arrived from the capital. Doubtless, too, he is vexed by a peculiarity which I hardly dare express to you. The prince sees no lady at his court who can compete with you in beauty; last night, when he was going to bed, that was the sole subject of his conversation with Pernice, his chief valet, who is a friend of mine. I foresee a small revolution in matters of etiquette. My greatest enemy at this court is a blockhead who goes by the name of General Fabio Conti. You must imagine an extraordinary creature who has spent one full day of his whole life, perhaps, on active service, and who therefore gives himself the airs of a Frederick the Great; and, further, because he is the head of the Liberal party here (God alone knows how liberal they are!), endeavours to reproduce the noble affability of General Lafayette.”

“I know Fabio Conti,” said the duchess. “I had a glimpse of him at Como; he was quarrelling with the gendarmes.” She related the little incident, which my readers may possibly recollect.

“Some of these days, madam—if your intellect ever contrives to probe the depths of our etiquette—you will become aware that no young lady is presented at this court till after her marriage. Well, so fervent is our prince’s patriotic conviction of the superiority of his own city of Parma over every other, that I am ready to wager anything he will find means to have young Clelia Conti, our Lafayette’s daughter, presented to him. She is a charming creature, on my honour, and only a week ago was supposed to be the loveliest person in the prince’s dominions.

“I do not know,” the count went on, “whether the horrible stories put about by our sovereign’s enemies have travelled as far as Grianta. He is described as a monster and an ogre. As a matter of fact, Ernest IV is full of good commonplace virtues, and it might be added that if he had been as invulnerable as Achilles he would have continued to be a model potentate. But in a fit of boredom and bad temper, and a little, too, for the sake of imitating Louis XIV, who found some hero of the Fronde living quietly and insolently in a country house close to Versailles fifty years after the close of that rebellion, and forthwith cut off his head, Ernest IV had two Liberals hanged. These impudent fellows were in the habit, it appears, of meeting on certain days to speak evil of the prince and earnestly implore Heaven to send a plague on Parma, and so deliver them from the tyrant. The use of the word “tyrant” was absolutely proved. Rassi declared this was a conspiracy; he had them sentenced to death, and the execution of one of them, Count L⸺, was a horrible business. All this happened before my time. Ever since that fatal moment,” continued the count, dropping his voice, “the prince has been subject to fits of terror which are unworthy of any man, but which are the sole and only source of the favour I enjoy. If it were not for the sovereign’s alarms, my particular style of excellence would be too rough and rugged to suit this court, where stupidity reigns supreme. Will you believe that the prince looks under every bed in his apartments before he gets into his own, and spends a million yearly—which at Parma is what four millions would be at Milan—to insure himself a good police force. The head of that terrible police force, madam, now stands before you. Through the police—that is to say, through the prince’s terrors—I have become Minister of War and of Finance; and as the Minister of the Interior is my nominal chief—insomuch as the police falls within his department—I have caused that portfolio to be bestowed on Count Zurla-Contarini, an idiot who delights in work, and is never so happy as when he can write eighty letters in a day. This very morning I have received one on which the count has had the pleasure of writing No. 20,715 with his own hand.”

The Duchess Sanseverina was presented to the melancholy-looking Princess of Parma, Clara Paolina, who, because her husband had a mistress (the Marchesa Balbi, a rather pretty woman), thought herself the unhappiest, and had thus become the most tiresome woman, perhaps, in the universe.

The duchess found herself in the presence of a very tall and thin woman, who had not reached the age of six-and-thirty, and who looked fifty. Her face, with its noble and regular features, might have been thought beautiful, in spite of a pair of large round eyes, out of which she could hardly see, if the princess had not grown so utterly careless of her personal appearance. She received the duchess with such evident shyness that certain of the courtiers, who hated Count Mosca, ventured to remark that the sovereign looked like the woman who was being presented, and the duchess like the sovereign who received her. The duchess, surprised and almost put out of countenance, did not know what terms she should employ to indicate the inferiority of her own position to that which the princess chose to take up. The only thing she could devise to restore some composure to the poor princess, who was really not lacking in intelligence, was to begin and carry on a long dissertation on the subject of botany. The princess really knew a great deal about the subject; she had very fine hot-houses filled with tropical plants. The duchess, while simply attempting to get out of her own difficulty, made a lasting conquest of the Princess Clara Paolina, who, timid and nervous as she had been at the opening of the audience, was so perfectly at her ease before its close that, contrary to every rule of etiquette, this first reception lasted no less than an hour and a quarter. The very next day the duchess purchased quantities of exotic plants, and gave herself out as a great lover of botany.

The princess spent all her time with the venerable Father Landriani, Archbishop of Parma, a learned and even a witty man, and a perfectly well-mannered man into the bargain. But it was a curious sight to see him, enthroned in the crimson velvet chair which he occupied by virtue of his office, opposite the arm-chair in which the princess sat, surrounded by her ladies of honour and her two ladies in waiting. The aged prelate, with his long white hair, was even more shy, if that were possible, than the princess. They met every day of their lives, and every audience began with a full quarter of an hour of silence—to such a point indeed, that one of the ladies in waiting, the Countess Alvizi, had become a sort of favourite because she possessed the knack of encouraging them to open their lips, and making them break the stillness.

To wind up her presentations, the duchess was received by the hereditary prince, who was taller than his father, and even shyer than his mother. He was sixteen years old, and an authority on mineralogy. When the duchess appeared he blushed scarlet, and was so put out that he was quite unable to invent anything to say to the fair lady. He was very good-looking, and spent his whole life in the woods with a hammer in his hand. When the duchess rose to her feet to bring the silent audience to a close,

“Heavens, madam,” he cried, “how beautiful you are!” and the lady who had been presented to him did not think the remark altogether ill-chosen.

The Marchesa Balbi, a young woman of five-and-twenty, might, some two or three years before the arrival of the duchess in Parma, have been quoted as a most perfect type of Italian beauty. She still had the loveliest eyes in the world, and the most graceful little gestures. But close observation showed her skin to be covered with innumerable tiny wrinkles, which made her into a young-looking old woman. Seen from a distance, in her box at the theatre, for instance, she was still beautiful, and the good people in the pit thought the prince showed very good taste. He spent all the evenings in the Marchesa Balbi’s house, but frequently without opening his lips, and her consciousness that the prince was bored had worried the poor woman into a condition of extraordinary thinness. She gave herself airs of excessive cleverness, and was always smiling archly. She had the most beautiful teeth in the world, and in season and out she endeavoured to smile people into the belief that she meant something different from what she was saying. Count Mosca declared it was this perpetual smile—while she was yawning in her heart—which had given her so many wrinkles. The Balbi had her finger in every business, and the state could not conclude a bargain of a thousand francs without a “remembrance,” so it was politely termed at Parma, for the marchesa. According to public report she had invested six millions of francs in England, but her fortune, which was certainly a thing of recent growth, did not really exceed one million five hundred thousand francs. It was to protect himself from her cunning and to keep her dependent on him that Mosca had made himself Minister of Finance. The marchesa’s sole passion was fear, disguised in the shape of sordid avarice. “I shall die destitute,” she would sometimes say to the prince, who was furious at the very idea. The duchess remarked that the splendid gilded antechamber of the Balbi’s palace was lighted by a solitary candle, which was guttering down on to a precious marble table, and her drawing-room doors were blackened by the servants’ fingers. “She received me,” said the duchess to her friend, “as if she expected me to give her a gratuity of fifty francs!”

The tide of these successes was somewhat checked by the reception the duchess received at the hands of the cleverest woman at the court of Parma, the celebrated Marchesa Raversi, a consummate intrigante, who led the party opposed to Count Mosca. She was bent on his overthrow, and had been so more especially during the last few months, for she was the Duke Sanseverina’s niece, and was afraid the charms of the new duchess might diminish her own share of his inheritance.

“The Raversi is by no means a woman to be overlooked,” said the count to his friend. “So great is my opinion of her capacity that I separated from my wife simply and solely because she insisted on taking one of the marchesa’s friends, the Cavaliere Bentivoglio, as her lover.”

The Marchesa Raversi, a tall, masterful woman, with very black hair, remarkable for the diamonds which she wore even in the daytime, and for the rouge with which she covered her face, had declared her enmity to the duchess beforehand, and was careful to begin hostile operations as soon as she beheld her. Sanseverina’s letters betrayed so much satisfaction with his embassy, and especially such delight in his hope of obtaining his much-coveted order, that his family feared he might leave part of his fortune to his wife, on whom he showered a succession of trifling presents. The Raversi, though a thoroughly ugly woman, had a lover, Count Baldi, the best-looking man about the court. As a general rule she succeeded in everything she undertook.

The duchess kept up a magnificent establishment. The Palazzo Sanseverina had always been one of the most splendid in Parma, and the duke, in honour of his embassy and his expected decoration, was spending large sums on improvements. The duchess superintended all these changes.

The count had guessed aright. A few days after the duchess’s presentation the young Clelia Conti appeared at court; she had been created a canoness. To parry the blow the conferring of this favour might appear to have given the count’s credit, the duchess, under pretext of opening the gardens of her palace, gave a fête, and in her graceful way made Clelia, whom she called her “little friend from the Lake of Como,” the queen of the revels. Her initials appeared, as though by chance, on all the chief transparencies which adorned the grounds. The youthful Clelia, though a trifle pensive, spoke in the most charming fashion of her little adventure on the shore of the lake, and of her own sincere gratitude. She was said to be very devout and fond of solitude. “I’ll wager,” said the count, “she’s clever enough to be ashamed of her father!” The duchess made a friend of the young girl; she really felt drawn toward her. She did not wish to appear jealous, and included her in all her entertainments. She made it her rule to endeavour to soften all the various hatreds of which the count was the object.

Everything smiled on the duchess. The court existence, over which the storm-cloud always hangs threateningly, entertained her. Life seemed to have begun afresh for her; she was tenderly attached to the count, and he was literally beside himself with delight. His private happiness had endued him with the most absolute composure regarding matters which only affected his ambition, and hardly two months after the duchess’s arrival he received his patent as Prime Minister, and all the honours appertaining to that position, which fell but little short of those rendered to the sovereign himself. The count’s influence over his master’s mind was all powerful. A striking proof of the fact was soon to become evident in Parma.

Ten minutes’ walk from the town, toward the southeast, rises the far-famed citadel, renowned all over Italy, the great tower of which, some hundred and eighty feet high, may be descried from an immense distance. This tower, built toward the beginning of the sixteenth century by the Farnese, grandsons of Paul III, in imitation of the Mausoleum of Adrian at Rome, is so thick that room has been found on the terrace at one end of it, to build a palace for the governor of the citadel, and a more modern prison, known as the Farnese Tower. This citadel, built in honour of Ranuzio-Ernest II, who had been his own stepmother’s favourite lover, has a great reputation in the country, both for its beauty and as a curiosity. The duchess took a fancy to see it. On the day of her visit, the heat in Parma had been most oppressive. At the altitude on which the prison stood she found a breeze, and was so delighted that she remained there several hours. Rooms in the Farnese Tower were immediately opened for her convenience.

On the terrace of the great tower she met a poor imprisoned Liberal, who had come up to enjoy the half-hour’s walk allowed him every third day. She returned to Parma, and not having yet attained the discretion indispensable at an autocratic court, she talked about the man, who had told her his whole story. The Marchesa Raversi’s party laid hold of the duchess’s remarks, and made a great deal of them, in the eager hope that they would give umbrage to the prince. As a matter of fact, Ernest IV was fond of reiterating that the great point was to strike people’s imaginations. “Forever,” he would say, “is a great word, and sheds more terror in Italy than anywhere else.” Consequently he had never granted a pardon in his life. A week after her visit to the fortress, the duchess received a written commutation of a prisoner’s sentence, signed by the prince and minister, and with the name left blank. Any prisoner whose name she might insert was to recover his confiscated property, and to be allowed to depart to America and there spend the remainder of his days. The duchess wrote the name of the man to whom she had spoken. By ill-luck he happened to be a sort of half-rascal, a weak-hearted fellow. It was on his confessions that the celebrated Ferrante Palla had been condemned to death.

The peculiar circumstances connected with this pardon crowned the Duchess Sanseverina’s success. Count Mosca was deliriously happy. It was one of the brightest moments in his life, and had a decisive influence on Fabrizio’s future. The young man was still at Romagnano, near Novara, confessing his sins, hunting, reading nothing at all, and making love to a high-born lady—according to the instructions given him. The duchess was still somewhat disgusted by this last stipulation. Another sign, which was not a good one for the count, was that though on every other subject she was absolutely frank with him, and, in fact, thought aloud in his presence, she never mentioned Fabrizio without having carefully prepared her sentence beforehand.

“If you wish it,” said the count to her one day, “I will write to that delightful brother of yours on the Lake of Como, and with a little trouble on my own part and that of my friends, I can certainly force the Marchese del Dongo to sue for mercy for your dear Fabrizio. If it be true—and I should be sorry to think it was not—that the boy is somewhat superior to the majority of the young men who ride their horses up and down the streets of Milan, what a life lies before him! that of a man who at eighteen years old has nothing to do, and never expects to have any occupation. If Heaven had granted him a real passion for anything on the face of the earth—even for rod-fishing—I would respect it. But what is to become of him at Milan, even if he is pardoned? At one particular hour of the day he will ride out upon the horse he will have brought over from England; at another fixed hour sheer idleness will drive him into the arms of his mistress, whom he will care for less than he does for his horse. Still, if you order me to do it, I will endeavour to procure your nephew the opportunity of leading that kind of life.”

“I should like him to be an officer,” said the duchess.

“Could you advise any sovereign to confer such a position, which may at any moment become one of some importance, on a young man who, in the first place, is capable of enthusiasm, and, in the second, has proved his enthusiasm for Napoleon to the extent of going to join him at Waterloo? Consider what we should all be now if Napoleon had won that battle! True, there would be no Liberals for us to dread, but the only way in which the sovereigns of the ancient families could retain their thrones would be by marrying his marshals’ daughters. For Fabrizio the military career would be like the life of a squirrel in a cage—constant movement and no advancement; he would have the vexation of seeing his services outweighed by those of any and every plebeian. The indispensable quality for every young man in the present day—that is to say, for the next fifty years, during which time our terrors will last, and religion will not yet be firmly re-established—must be lack of intelligence and incapacity for all enthusiasm. I have thought of one thing—but you will begin by crying out at the very idea—and it is a matter which would give me infinite trouble, that would last for many a day. Still, it is a folly that I am ready to commit for you—and tell me, if you can, what folly I would not commit for the sake of a smile from you?”

“Well?” said the duchess.

“Well! Three Archbishops of Parma have been members of your family—Ascanio del Dongo, who wrote a book in 16—; Fabrizio, who was here in 1699; and another Ascanio, in 1740. If Fabrizio will enter the Church, and give proofs of first-rate merit, I will first of all make him bishop of some other place, and then archbishop here, provided my influence lasts long enough. The real objection is this: Shall I continue in power sufficiently long to realize this fine plan? It will take several years. The prince may die, or he may have the bad taste to dismiss me. Still, after all, this is the only means I can perceive of doing anything for Fabrizio which will be worthy of you.”

There was a long discussion; the idea was very repugnant to the duchess.

“Prove to me once again,” said she to the count, “that no other career is possible for Fabrizio.”

The count repeated his arguments, and he added: “What you regret is the gay uniform. But in that matter I am powerless.”

The duchess asked for a month to think it over, and then, with a sigh, she accepted the minister’s wise counsels. “He must either ride about some big town on an English horse, with a stuck-up air, or take up a way of life which is not unsuitable to his birth. I see no middle course,” repeated the count. “A nobleman, unfortunately, can not be either a doctor or a lawyer, and this is the century of lawyers. But remember, madam,” he continued, “that it is in your power to give your nephew the same advantages of life in Milan as are enjoyed by the young men of his age who are considered to be Fortune’s favourites. Once his pardon is granted, you can allow him fifteen, twenty, or thirty thousand francs a year; the sum will matter little; neither you nor I expect to put away money.”

But the duchess pined for glory; she did not want her nephew to be a mere spendthrift. She gave in her adhesion to her lover’s project.

“Observe,” the count said to her, “that I do not the least claim that Fabrizio should become an exemplary priest, like so many that you see about you. No. First and foremost, he remains an aristocrat; he can continue perfectly ignorant if he so prefers it, and that will not prevent him from becoming a bishop and an archbishop if the prince only continues to consider me a useful servant. If your will condescends to change my proposal into an immutable decree,” he continued, “our protégé must not appear at Parma in any modest position. His ultimate honours would give umbrage if he had been seen here as an ordinary priest. He must not appear at Parma without the violet stockings[4] and all the appropriate surroundings. Then everybody will guess that your nephew is going to be a bishop, and nobody will find fault. If you will be ruled by me, you will send Fabrizio to Naples for three years to study theology. During the vacations he can, if he chooses, go and see Paris and London, but he must never show himself at Parma.”

This last sentence made the duchess shiver. She sent a courier to her nephew, desiring him to meet her at Piacenza. I need hardly say that the messenger carried all the necessary funds and passports.

Fabrizio, who was the first to arrive at Piacenza, ran to meet the duchess, and kissed her in a transport of affection, which made her burst into tears. She was glad the count was not present. It was the first time since the beginning of their liaison that she had been conscious of such a sensation.

Fabrizio was greatly touched, and deeply distressed, also, by the plans the duchess had made for him. His hope had always been that, once his Waterloo escapade had been excused, he might yet become a soldier.

One thing struck the duchess and increased her romantic admiration for her nephew; he absolutely refused to lead the ordinary life of young men in large Italian cities.

“Don’t you see yourself at the Corso, in Florence, or Naples,” said the duchess, “riding your thorough-bred English horses, and then in the evening your carriage, and beautiful rooms, and so forth?” She dwelt with delight on her description of the commonplace enjoyments from which she saw Fabrizio turn in disdain. “He is a hero,” thought she to herself.

“And after ten years of that delightful life,” said Fabrizio, “what shall I have done? What shall I be? Nothing but a middle-aged young man who will have to make way for the first good-looking youth who rides into society on another English horse.”

At first he would not hear of going into the Church. He talked of going to New York, obtaining citizenship, and serving as a soldier in the republic of America.

“What a mistake you will make! You will have no fighting, and you will just fall back into the old café life, only without elegance, without music, and without love-making,” replied the duchess. “Believe me, your life in America would be a sad business, both for you and me.” And she explained what dollar worship was, and the respect necessarily paid to the artisan class, on whose votes everything depended. They went back again to the Church plan.

“Before you lose your temper over it,” said the duchess, “try to understand what the count asks you to do. It is not at all a question of your living a poor and more or less exemplary life, like Father Blanès. Remember the history of your ancestors, who were Archbishops of Parma. Read the notices of their lives in the Appendix to the Genealogy. The man who bears a great name must be first and foremost a true nobleman, high-hearted, generous, a protector of justice, destined from the outset to stand at the head of his order, guilty of but one piece of knavery in his life, and that a very useful one.”

“Alas!” cried Fabrizio, “so all my illusions have vanished into thin air!” and he sighed deeply. “It is a cruel sacrifice. I confess I never reckoned with the horror of enthusiasm and intelligence, even when used in their own service, which will reign for the future among all absolute sovereigns.”

“Consider that a proclamation, or a mere freak of the affections, may drive an enthusiastic man into the opposite party to that in the service of which he has spent his whole life.”

“Enthusiastic! I!” repeated Fabrizio. “What an extraordinary accusation! I can not even contrive to fall in love!”

“What!” exclaimed the duchess.

“When I have the honour of paying my court to a beautiful woman, even though she be religious and of the highest birth, I never can think of her except when I am looking at her.”

This confession had a very peculiar effect upon the duchess.

“Give me a month,” said Fabrizio, “to take leave of Signora C⸺ at Novara, and, what is far more difficult, to bid farewell to the dreams of all my life. I will write to my mother, who will be good enough to come and see me at Belgirate, on the Piedmontese shore of the Lago Maggiore, and on the one-and-thirtieth day from this one I will be at Parma incognito.”

“Do not dream of such a thing,” exclaimed the duchess; she had no wish that Count Mosca should see her with Fabrizio.

They met once more at Piacenza. This time the duchess was sorely agitated. A storm had broken at court. The Marchesa Raversi’s party was on the brink of triumph; it was quite on the cards that Count Mosca might be replaced by General Fabio Conti, the head of what was known at Parma as the Liberal party. With the exception of the name of the rival whose favour was thus growing with the prince, the duchess told Fabrizio everything. She discussed all his future chances over again, even to the possibility that the count’s all-powerful protection might fail him.

“I am to spend three years at the Ecclesiastical Academy at Naples,” exclaimed Fabrizio. “But as I am to be first and foremost a young man of family, and as you do not expect me to lead the severe life of a virtuous seminarist, the idea of my stay at Naples does not alarm me. The life there will, at all events, be no worse than that at Romagnano. The best company in that place was beginning to look on me as a Jacobin. During my exile I have discovered that I know nothing—not even Latin—nay, not even how to spell! I had determined to begin my education afresh at Novara. I shall be glad to study theology at Naples; it is a complicated science.”

The duchess was overjoyed. “If we are dismissed,” she said, “we will go and see you at Naples. But as, for the moment, you accept the idea of the violet stockings, the count, who knows the present condition of Italy thoroughly, has given me a hint for you. Believe whatever is taught you or not, as you choose, but never express any objection. Tell yourself you are being taught the rules of whist; would you make any demur about the rules of whist? I told the count you were a believer, and he was very glad of it; it is useful both in this world and in the next. But do not, because you believe, fall into the vulgarity of speaking with horror of Voltaire, Diderot, Raynal, and all the other wild Frenchmen who were the precursors of the two Chambers. Those names should hardly ever be pronounced by you. But if the necessity should arise, you must refer to them with the calmest irony, as people whose theories have long since been rejected, and whose attacks are no longer of the slightest consequence. Accept everything you are told at the academy with the blindest faith. Recollect that there are individuals within its walls who will take faithful note of your most trifling objections. A little love affair, if judiciously managed, will be forgiven you, but a doubt, never! Advancing years suppress the tendency to love-making and increase that toward doubt. When you go to confession act on this principle. You will have a letter of recommendation to the bishop who acts as factotum to the Cardinal Archbishop of Naples. To him alone you will confess your escapade in France, and your presence near Waterloo on the 18th of June. And even so, shorten the matter, make little of the adventure; only confess it so that nobody may be able to reproach you with having concealed it—you were so young when it happened. The second hint which the count sends you is this: If a brilliant argument occurs to you, or a crushing reply which would change the course of a conversation, do not yield to the temptation to shine; keep silence. Clever people will read your intelligence in your eyes. It will be time enough for you to be witty when you are a bishop.”

Fabrizio began life at Naples with a quiet-looking carriage and four faithful Milanese servants, sent him by his aunt. After a year’s study, no one called him a clever man; he rather bore the reputation of being an aristocrat, studious, very generous, and something of a libertine.

The year, which had been a fairly pleasant one to Fabrizio, had been terrible for the duchess. Two or three times over the count had been within an inch of ruin. The prince, who, being ill, was more timorous than ever, fancied that by dismissing him he would get rid of the odium of the executions which had taken place before the count became minister. Rassi was the favourite with whom the sovereign was determined not to part. The count’s peril made the duchess cling to him with passionate affection; she never gave a thought to Fabrizio. To give some colour to their possible retirement, she discovered that the air of Parma, which is, indeed, somewhat damp, like that of the whole of Lombardy, was quite unsuited to her health. At last, after intervals of disgrace, during which the Prime Minister sometimes spent three weeks without seeing his master privately, Mosca won the day. He had General Fabio Conti, the so-called Liberal, appointed governor of the citadel in which the Liberals sentenced by Rassi were imprisoned. “If Conti shows any indulgence to his prisoners,” said Mosca to his mistress, “he will be disgraced as a Jacobin, whose political views have made him forget his duty as a soldier. If he proves severe and merciless, which, as I fancy, is the direction in which he will most likely lean, he ceases to be the leader of his own party, and alienates all the families whose relations are imprisoned in the citadel. The poor wretch knows how to put on an air of the deepest respect whenever he appears before the prince; he can change his clothes four times a day, he can discuss a question of etiquette, but his head is not strong enough to guide him along the difficult path which is the only one that can lead him to safety. And anyhow, I am on the spot.”

The day after General Fabio Conti’s appointment, which closed the ministerial crisis, it was noised abroad that an ultra-monarchical newspaper was to be published in Parma.

“What quarrels this newspaper will cause!” said the duchess.

“The idea of publishing this newspaper is perhaps the best I ever had,” replied the count with a laugh. “Little by little, and in spite of myself, I shall let the ultra-furies take the management out of my hands. I have had good salaries attached to all the positions connected with the editorial staff—people will apply to be appointed from all quarters—the matter will keep us busy for a month or two, and so my late dangers will be forgotten. Those serious personages P⸺ and D⸺ have already joined the staff.”

“But the whole thing will be too revoltingly absurd!”

“I hope so, indeed,” replied the count. “The prince shall read it every morning, and admire the doctrine of the newspaper I have founded. As regards the details, he will approve of some and find fault with others; that will take up two of his working hours. The newspaper will get into difficulties, but by the time the serious troubles begin, eight or ten months hence, it will be entirely in the hands of the ultras. Then that party, which is a trouble to me, will have to answer for it, and I shall make complaints against the newspaper. On the whole, I would rather have a hundred vile absurdities than see a single man hanged. Who will remember an absurdity two years after its publication in the official newspaper? Whereas, if I have to hang a man, his son and his whole family vow a hatred against me which will last my whole life, and may shorten it.”

The duchess, who was always passionately interested in one thing or another, constantly active and never idle, was cleverer than the whole court of Parma together. But she had not the patience and calmness indispensable to success in intrigue; nevertheless, she contrived to follow the working of the various coteries with eager interest, and was even beginning to enjoy some personal credit with the prince. The reigning princess, Clara Paolina, who was loaded with honours, but, girt about with the most superannuated etiquette, looked on herself as the unhappiest of women. The Duchess Sanseverina paid court to her, and undertook to convince her she was not so very wretched after all. It must be explained that the prince never saw his wife except at dinner. This repast lasted about twenty minutes, and sometimes for weeks and weeks the prince never opened his lips to Clara Paolina. The duchess endeavoured to change all this. She herself amused the prince, all the more so because she had managed to preserve her independence. Even if she had desired it she could not have contrived never to displease any of the fools who swarmed at court. It was this utter incapacity on her part that caused her to be detested by the common herd of courtiers, all of them men of title, most of them enjoying incomes of about five thousand francs a year. She realized this misfortune during her first days at Parma, and turned her exclusive attention to pleasing the prince and his consort, who completely swayed the hereditary prince. The duchess knew how to amuse the sovereign, and took advantage of the great attention he paid to her lightest word, to cast hearty ridicule on the courtiers who hated her. Since the follies into which Rassi had led him—and blood-stained follies cannot be repaired—the prince was occasionally frightened, and very often bored. This had brought him to a condition of melancholy envy. He realized that he was hardly ever amused, and looked glum if he thought other people were amusing themselves. The sight of happiness drove him wild. “We must hide our love,” said the duchess to her lover, and she allowed the prince to surmise that her affection for the count, charming fellow though he was, was by no means so strong as it had been.

This discovery insured his Highness a whole day of happiness. From time to time the duchess would let fall a word or two concerning a plan she had for taking a few months’ holiday every year, and spending the time in seeing Italy, for she did not know the country at all. She would pay visits to Naples, Florence, and Rome. Now, nothing in the world could possibly be more displeasing to the prince than any idea of such desertion. This was one of his ruling weaknesses—any action which might be imputed to scorn of his native city stabbed him to the heart. He felt he had no means of detaining the Duchess Sanseverina, and the Duchess Sanseverina was by far the most brilliant woman at Parma. People even came back from their country houses in the neighbourhood to be present at her Thursday parties, a wonderful effort for these idle Italians. These Thursday gatherings were real fêtes, at which the duchess almost always produced some fresh and attractive novelty. The prince was dying to see one of these parties, but how was he to set about it? To go to a private house was a thing which neither he nor his father had ever done.

On a certain Thursday it was raining and bitterly cold. All through the evening the duke had been listening to the carriages rattling across the pavement of the square in front of his palace, on their way to the Palazzo Sanseverina. A fit of impatient anger seized him. Other people were amusing themselves, and he, their sovereign prince and absolute lord, who ought to amuse himself more than anybody in the world, was feeling bored.

He rang for his aide-de-camp. It took a little time to station a dozen trusty servants in the street leading from the palace of his Highness to the Palazzo Sanseverina. At last, after an hour, which to the prince seemed like a century, and during which he had been tempted, twenty times over, to set forth boldly without any precaution whatsoever, and take his chance of dagger thrusts, he made his appearance in the Duchess Sanseverina’s outer drawing-room. If a thunderbolt had fallen in that drawing-room, it could not have caused such great surprise. In the twinkling of an eye, as the prince passed forward, a stupor of silence fell upon the rooms which had just been so noisy and so gay. Every eye was fixed on the prince, and stared wider and wider. The courtiers seemed put out of countenance; the duchess alone did not appear astonished. When the power of speech returned, the great anxiety of all the company present was to decide the important question whether the duchess had been warned of the impending visit, or whether it had taken her, like everybody else, by surprise.

The prince amused himself, and my readers will now be able to realize the impulsive nature of the duchess, and the infinite power which the vague ideas of possible departure she had so skilfully dropped had enabled her to attain.

As she accompanied the departing prince to the door, he addressed her in the most flattering strain. A strange notion entered her head, and she ventured to say, quite simply, and as though it were the most ordinary matter in the world:

“If your Most Serene Highness would address two or three of the gracious expressions you have showered on me to the princess, you would ensure my happiness far more thoroughly than by telling me, here, that I am pretty. For I would not, for all the world, that the princess should look askance at the signal mark of favour with which your Highness has just honoured me.” The prince looked hard at her, and responded dryly:

“I suppose I am free to go where I choose.”

The duchess coloured.

“My only desire,” she instantly replied, “was to avoid giving your Highness the trouble of driving out for nothing, for this Thursday will be my last. I am going to spend a few days at Bologna or Florence.”

When she passed back into the drawing-rooms, every one thought she had reached the very height of court favour, and she had just dared what no one in the memory of man had ever dared at Parma. She made a sign to the count, who left his whist table and followed her into a small room, which, though lighted up, was empty.

“What you have done is very bold,” he said. “I should not have advised you to do it. But when a man’s heart is really engaged,” he added with a laugh, “happiness increases love, and if you start to-morrow morning, I follow you to-morrow night! The only thing which will delay me is this troublesome Finance Ministry, which I have been foolish enough to undertake. But in four hours of steady work I shall be able to give over a great many cash boxes. Let us go back, dear friend, and show off our ministerial conceit freely and unreservedly; it may be the last performance we shall give in this city. If the man thinks he is being set at defiance he is capable of anything; he will call that making an example! When all these people have departed we will see about barricading you in for the night. Perhaps your best plan would be to start at once for your house at Sacca, near the Po, which has the advantage of being only half an hour’s journey from the Austrian states.”

It was an exquisite moment, both for the duchess’s love, and for her vanity. She looked at the count, and her eyes were moist with tears. That so powerful a minister, surrounded by a mob of courtiers who overwhelmed him with homage equal to that they paid to the prince himself, should be ready to leave everything for her, and that so cheerfully!

When she went back to her rooms she was giddy with delight; every one bowed down before her.

“How happiness does change the duchess!” said the courtiers on every side; “one would hardly know her again. At last that Roman soul, which as a rule scorns everything, actually condescends to appreciate the exceeding favour which the sovereign has just shown her.”

Toward the end of the evening the count came to her. “I must tell you some news.” Immediately the persons close to the duchess retired to a distance.

“When the prince returned to the palace,” the count went on, “he sent to the princess to announce his arrival. Imagine her astonishment! ‘I have come,’ he said, ‘to give you an account of a really very pleasant evening which I have just spent with the Sanseverina. It is she who begged me to give you details of the manner in which she has rearranged that smoky old palace.’ And then the prince, seating himself, began to describe each of your rooms. He spent more than five-and-twenty minutes with his wife, who was shedding tears of joy. In spite of her cleverness, she could not find a word to carry on the conversation in the light tone which it was his Highness’s pleasure to give it.”

The prince was not a bad man, whatever the Italian Liberals might say of him. He had, it is true, cast a certain number of them into prison, but this was out of fright, and he would sometimes reiterate, as though to console himself for certain memories, “It is better to kill the devil than to let the devil kill us.” On the morrow after the party to which we have just referred he was quite joyous; he had done two good actions—had been to the party, and had talked to his wife. At dinner he spoke to her again. In a word, that Thursday party at the Sanseverina palace brought about a domestic revolution which resounded all over Parma. The Raversi was dismayed, and the duchess tasted a twofold joy. She had been able to serve her lover, and she had found him more devoted than ever.

“And all that because a very imprudent notion came into my head,” said she to the count. “I should have more freedom, no doubt, at Rome or at Naples, but could I find any existence so fascinating as this? No, my dear count, and, in good truth, I owe my happiness to you.”

[4] In Italy, young men who are learned or protected in high quarters are created monsignori and prelates, which does not mean that they are bishops. They then wear violet stockings. A monsignore takes no vows, and can relinquish his violet stockings if he desires to marry.