The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER XI

When Fabrizio left the archiepiscopal palace he hurried off to Marietta’s dwelling. In the distance he heard Giletti’s rough voice. He had sent out for wine, and was carousing with his friends the prompter and the candle snuffer. The mamaccia, who performed the functions of a mother to Marietta, was the only person who answered his signal.

“Things have happened while you have been away,” she cried. “Two or three of our actors have been accused of having held an orgy in honour of the great Napoleon’s birthday, and our unlucky company has been given the name of Jacobin. So we have been ordered to clear out of the dominion of Parma, and, Evriva Napoleone! But the Prime Minister is supposed to have paid our reckoning. Giletti certainly has money in his pocket. I don’t know how much, but I have seen him with a handful of crown pieces. The manager has given Marietta five crowns for her travelling expenses to Mantua and Venice, and one for mine. She is still very much in love with you, but she is afraid of Giletti. Three days ago, at her last performance, he really would have killed her. He boxed her ears soundly twice over, and, what is abominable, he tore her blue shawl. If you would give her a blue shawl it would be very good-natured of you, and we would say we had won it in the lottery. The drum master of the carabineers is holding a competition to-morrow—you will see the hour advertised at every street corner. Come and see us then. If Giletti goes to the match, and we can hope he will stay away for any time, I will be at the window, and will beckon you to come up. Try to bring us something very pretty. And Marietta dotes upon you.”

As he descended the winding stairs that led from the vile garret, Fabrizio’s soul was filled with compunction. “I am not a bit altered,” he thought. “All those fine resolutions I made on the shores of the lake, when I looked at life with so much philosophy, have flown away. I was not in my normal condition then. It was all a dream, which disappears when I have to face stern realities. This would be the moment for action,” he went on, as he re-entered the Sanseverina Palace about eleven o’clock at night. But in vain did he search his heart for that noble sincerity which had seemed so easy of attainment during the night he had spent on the shores of Como. “I shall displease the person I love best in the world. If I speak, I shall look like an inferior play-actor. I really never am worth anything, except in certain moments of excitement.”

“The count is wonderfully good to me,” said he to the duchess, after he had given her an account of his visit to the archbishop. “I value his kindness all the more highly because I fancy I notice that he does not particularly care about me. Therefore I must be all the more correct in my behaviour to him. I know he has excavations at Sanguigna in which he still delights—judging, at least, by his expedition the day before yesterday, galloping twelve leagues to spend two hours with his workmen. He is afraid that if they find fragments of statuary in the antique temple, the foundations of which he has just laid bare, they may steal them. I should like to offer to go and spend thirty-six hours at Sanguigna. I am to see the archbishop to-morrow, about five o’clock. I could start in the evening, and take advantage of the cool hours of the night for my ride.”

The duchess made no answer at first. Presently she said to him in a very tender voice: “It looks as if you were seeking pretexts for getting away from me; you are hardly back from Belgirate, and you find out a reason for starting off again.”

“Here’s a fine opportunity for me,” thought Fabrizio. “But I was a little mad when I was sitting by the lake. In my passion for truthfulness I overlooked the fact that my compliment winds up with an impertinence. I should have to say, ‘I regard you with the most devoted friendship, etc., but my heart is not capable of real love.’ Is not that tantamount to saying: ‘I see you are in love with me. But pray take care! I can not return it to you in kind.’ If the duchess has any passion for me, she will be vexed at my having guessed it. If her feeling for me is one of mere friendship she will be disgusted by my impudence, and such offences are never forgiven.”

While he was weighing these important considerations Fabrizio was walking, quite unconsciously, up and down the room, looking grave and proud, like a man who sees misfortune hovering within ten paces of him.

The duchess gazed at him with admiration. This was not the child she had known from his birth, the nephew ever ready to obey her commands. This was a serious man—a man whose love would be an exquisite possession. She rose from the ottoman on which she had been sitting, and threw herself passionately into his arms.

“Are you bent on leaving me?” she cried.

“No,” said he, looking like a Roman emperor, “but I want to behave well.”

The phrase was susceptible of several interpretations. Fabrizio had not courage to go farther, and run the risk of wounding the adorable woman before him. He was too young, too easily moved. His mind did not suggest any well-turned expression which might convey his meaning. In a fit of passion, which was natural enough, and in spite of his reason, he clasped the charming creature in his arms and rained kisses upon her. Just at that moment the count’s carriage was heard in the courtyard, and almost instantly he entered the room. He looked quite affected.

“You inspire very strange devotions,” said he to Fabrizio, who was almost stunned by the phrase. “This evening the archbishop was received in audience by the prince, as he is regularly every Thursday. The prince has just informed me that the archbishop, who seemed greatly agitated, began by making a very prosy speech, evidently learned by heart, of which the prince could make nothing at all. Landriani ended by saying that it was important for the sake of the Church in Parma that Monsignore Fabrizio del Dongo should be appointed his chief grand vicar, and afterward, as soon as he had reached his five-and-twentieth year, his coadjutor, and his ultimate successor.

“This idea alarmed me, I confess,” said the count. “It is somewhat precipitate, and I was afraid it might throw the prince into a fit of ill-humour. But he looked at me and laughed, and said to me in French, ‘Ce sont là vos coups, monsieur!’

“‘I will take my oath before God and your Highness,’ I cried with the utmost possible fervour, ‘that I was utterly ignorant of the idea of the “future succession.”’ Then I went on to tell the real truth, as we talked it over here a few hours since, and I added impulsively that I should have considered his Highness had conferred an overwhelming favour on me if he had ultimately granted you a modest bishopric to begin with. The prince must have believed me, for it pleased him to be gracious. He said to me in the simplest possible way: ‘This is an official affair between me and the archbishop. You have nothing whatever to do with it. The old gentleman has sent me in a very long and tolerably tiresome report, which he winds up with a formal proposal. I replied that the individual was still very young, and more especially a very new arrival at my court; that I should almost look as if I were honouring a letter of credit drawn on me by the Emperor if I bestowed the reversion of so high a dignity on the son of one of the great officials of his Lombardo-Venetian kingdom. The archbishop protested there had been no pressure of any such kind. It was a pretty piece of folly to say that to me. It surprised me in a man who is generally so intelligent. But he always loses his head completely when he talks to me, and to-night he was more nervous than ever, which led me to think he passionately desired what he asked for. I told him that nobody knew better than myself that there had been no attempt in high quarters to put forward Del Dongo, that nobody about my court denied his powers, that his reputation for virtue was a fair one, but that I feared he was capable of enthusiasm, and that I had made a vow I would never place madmen of that kind, on whom rulers never can rely, in any exalted position. Then,’ his Highness continued, ‘I had to endure a pathetic appeal nearly as long as the first. The archbishop sang the praises of enthusiasm for God’s house. “Bungler,” said I to myself, “you are risking the appointment you were very near getting! You should have cut it short, and thanked me fervently.” Not a bit, he went on pouring out his homily with a bravery that was ridiculous. I cast about for an answer that would not be too unfavourable to young Del Dongo’s cause. I found it, and a fairly apposite one, as you will perceive.

“‘“Monsignore,” I said, ”Pius VII was a great Pope, and a great saint. He was the only one of all the sovereigns who dared to say No to the tyrant at whose feet Europe grovelled. Well, he was capable of enthusiasm, and this led him, when he was Bishop of Imola, into writing that famous pastoral of the Citizen-Cardinal Chiaramonti, in support of the Cisalpine Republic.”

“‘My poor archbishop was struck dumb, and to complete his stupefaction I said to him, very gravely: “Farewell, monsignore; I will take four-and-twenty hours to think over your proposal.” The poor man added a few more entreaties, which were both ill-expressed and, considering I had bidden him “Farewell,” somewhat inopportune. Now, Count Mosca della Rovere, I desire you will inform the duchess that I will not delay for four-and-twenty hours a matter which may give her pleasure. Sit you down here, and write the archbishop the note of approval which will close the whole business.’ I wrote the note, he signed it, and he said, ‘Take it to the duchess instantly.’ Here, madam, is the note, and to it I owe the happiness of seeing you again to-night.”

The duchess perused the paper with delight. While the count had been telling his long story Fabrizio had had time to collect himself. He did not appear astonished by the incident. He took it like a true aristocrat, who had always believed in his own right to that extraordinary advancement, those lucky chances which might very well throw a common man off his balance. He expressed his gratitude, but in measured language, and ended by saying to the count:

“A good courtier should flatter the ruling passion. Yesterday you expressed your fear that your workmen at Sanguigna might steal the fragments of antique statuary they may unearth. I delight in excavations. If you will give me leave, I will go and look after those workmen. To-morrow evening, after I have paid the necessary visits, to return thanks, at the palace, and to the archbishop, I will start for Sanguigna.”

“But can you imagine,” said the duchess, “any reason for the good archbishop’s sudden devotion to Fabrizio?”

“There is no need of any imagination. The grand vicar whose brother is a captain said to me, yesterday, Father Landriani argues on this unvarying principle, that the holder of the title is superior to the coadjutor, and he is beside himself with delight at having a Del Dongo at his orders, and under an obligation conferred by himself. Everything that draws attention to Fabrizio’s high birth increases his private satisfaction—that is the man he has under him. In the second place, he likes Monsignore Fabrizio. He does not feel shy in his presence. And, finally, for the last ten years he has been nursing a hearty hatred of the Bishop of Piacenza, who openly avows his expectation of succeeding him at Parma, and who is, besides, the son of a miller. It is with an eye to this future succession that the Bishop of Piacenza has entered into close relations with the Marchesa Raversi, and this intimacy makes our archbishop tremble for his pet plan—that of seeing a Del Dongo on his staff, and of issuing his orders to him.”

Very early on the next morning but one, Fabrizio was overlooking the workers on the excavations at Sanguigna, opposite Colorno (the Versailles of the Parmese princes). These excavations stretched across the plain close to the high-road leading from Parma to the bridge of Casal-Maggiore, the nearest Austrian town. The workmen were cutting a long ditch along the plain. It was eight feet deep, and as narrow as might be. The object was to find, alongside the old Roman road, the ruins of a second temple, which, according to local tradition, had been still standing in the middle ages. Notwithstanding the prince’s authority, many peasants looked with a jealous eye on the long trenches cut across their land. In spite of everything they were told, they fancied search was being made for some treasure, and Fabrizio’s presence was particularly valuable as a check on any little outbreak on their part. He was not at all bored. He watched the work with passionate interest. Now and then some medal was turned up, and he was resolved he would not give the labourers time to agree among themselves to pilfer it.

It was about six o’clock in the morning of a lovely day. He had borrowed an old single-barrelled gun. He shot at a few larks. One of them fell wounded on the high-road. Fabrizio, when he followed it, saw a carriage in the distance, coming from Parma, and travelling toward Casal-Maggiore. He had just reloaded his gun when the vehicle, a very shabby one, came slowly up to him, and in it he recognised little Marietta. With her were the ungainly Giletti and the old woman she passed off as her mother.

Giletti took it into his head that Fabrizio had set himself thus in the middle of the road, gun in hand, with the idea of insulting him, and perhaps of carrying off little Marietta. Like a bold fellow, he jumped out of the carriage instantly. In his left hand he grasped a large and very rusty pistol, and in his right a sword, still in its scabbard, which he was in the habit of wearing when necessity obliged the manager of his company to allot him some nobleman’s part in a play.

“Ha, villain,” he cried, “I’m heartily glad to catch you here, only a league from the frontier! I’ll soon settle your business for you; your violet stockings won’t protect you here.”

Fabrizio had been making signs to little Marietta, and scarcely paying any attention to Giletti’s jealous shrieks. Suddenly he saw the muzzle of the rusty pistol within three feet of his own chest. He had only time to strike at the pistol with his gun, using it as if it had been a stick; the pistol went off, but nobody was wounded.

“Stop, you fool!” shrieked Giletti to the vetturino, skilfully contriving at the same time to spring at the barrel of his adversary’s gun and hold it away from his own body. He and Fabrizio each tugged at the gun with all his strength. Giletti, who was much the stronger of the two, kept slipping one hand over the other toward the lock, and had very nearly got possession of the weapon when Fabrizio, to prevent his using it, touched the trigger. He had previously noticed that the muzzle was over three inches above Giletti’s shoulder. The shot went off close to the man’s ear; he was a little startled, but pulled himself together in a moment.

“Oho! you’d like to blow my brains out, you scoundrel! I’ll soon settle you!”

Giletti threw away the scabbard of his sword, and fell upon Fabrizio with the most astonishing swiftness. Fabrizio, who was unarmed, gave himself up for lost.

He bolted toward the carriage, which had stopped some paces behind Giletti, and, turning to the left, he caught hold of the springs, ran quickly round it, and past the right-hand door, which was open. Giletti, tearing along on his long legs, and not having thought of catching at the carriage springs, ran several steps in his original direction before he could stop himself. Just as Fabrizio ran past the open door he heard Marietta say in an undertone: “Look out for yourself; he’ll kill you! Here!” and at the same moment he saw a great hunting-knife fall out of the carriage. He bent down to pick it up, but just at that moment a sword thrust from Giletti touched him on the shoulder. When Fabrizio stood up he found himself within six inches of Giletti, who gave him a furious blow in the face with the pommel of his sword. So violent was this blow that Fabrizio was quite dazed, and at that moment he was very near being killed. Fortunately for him, Giletti was still too close to be able to thrust at him. When Fabrizio recovered his wits he took to flight at the top of his speed. As he ran he threw away the sheath of the hunting-knife, and then, turning sharp round, he found himself within three paces of Giletti, who was tearing after him. Giletti was running as fast as he could go; Fabrizio made a thrust at him, and though Giletti had time to strike up the hunting-knife a little, he received the thrust full in his cheek. He passed close to Fabrizio, who felt himself wounded in the thigh; this was by Giletti’s knife, which he had found time to open. Fabrizio made a spring to the right, turned round, and at last the adversaries found themselves within reasonable fighting distance.

Giletti was swearing furiously. “Ah, I’ll cut your throat for you, you scoundrel of a priest!” he cried over and over again. Fabrizio was quite out of breath, and could not speak; the blow on his face with the pommel of the sword hurt him dreadfully, and his nose was pouring blood. He parried various blows with his hunting-knife, and delivered several thrusts without well knowing what he was about. He had a sort of vague idea that he was performing in a public assault-at-arms. This idea had been suggested to him by the presence of his workmen, who, to the number of five-and-twenty or thirty, had formed a ring round them, but at a very respectful distance, for both of the combatants kept running hither and thither, and then rushing upon each other.

The fight seemed to be growing less fierce, the thrusts rather less rapidly exchanged, when Fabrizio said to himself, “Judging by the way my face hurts me he must have disfigured me.” Stung to fury by the thought, he rushed at his enemy, holding the hunting-knife in front of him. The point entered Giletti’s chest on the right, and passed out near his left shoulder. At the same moment the whole length of Giletti’s sword ran through the upper part of Fabrizio’s arm, but as the sword slipped beneath the skin the wound was quite a trifling one.

Giletti had fallen. Just as Fabrizio went toward him, with his eye on his left hand, which held the knife, that hand unclosed mechanically, and the weapon dropped from its grasp.

“The rascal is dead,” said Fabrizio to himself. He looked at the face; the blood was pouring from Giletti’s mouth.

Fabrizio ran to the carriage. “Have you a looking-glass?” he cried to Marietta. Marietta, very pale, was staring at him, and did not answer. The old woman, with the greatest coolness, opened a green workbag and handed Fabrizio a small mirror about the size of a man’s hand, with a handle to it. Fabrizio felt his face all over as he peered into the glass. “My eyes are all right,” said he. “That’s a great thing.” Then he looked at his teeth; they were not broken. “Then why does it hurt me so?” he murmured.

The old woman replied: “Because the top of your cheek has been crushed between Giletti’s sword and the bone we all have there. It’s all blue and horribly swelled. Put on leeches at once, and it will be nothing at all.”

“Ah, leeches at once,” said Fabrizio, laughing, and he recovered all his self-possession. He saw the workmen gathering round Giletti, looking at him without daring to touch him.

“Why don’t you help the man?” he shouted. “Take his coat off him!” He would have proceeded, but raising his eyes he saw, some three hundred paces off, five or six men advancing along the high-road, with slow and measured step, toward the spot on which he stood.

“Those are gendarmes,” thought he to himself, “and as there’s a man dead they will arrest me, and I shall have the pleasure of making my solemn entry into the city of Parma with them! What a nice story for the courtiers who are the Raversi’s friends and hate my aunt!” Instantly, and as quick as lightning, he threw all the money he had in his pockets to the astonished workmen, and jumped into the carriage.

“Prevent those gendarmes from following me,” he shouted to the men, “and I will make your fortunes. Tell them I am innocent, that the man attacked me and would have killed me. And you,” he added to the vetturino, “make your horses gallop! You shall have four gold napoleons if you get across the Po before those fellows can reach me.”

“All right,” said the vetturino; “don’t be in a fright! Those men yonder are on foot, and if my little horses only trot they will be left far behind.” As he spoke he shook them up into a gallop.

Our hero was much offended by the coachman’s use of the word fright. He really had been in a horrible fright after receiving the blow from the sword pommel in his face.

“We may meet people on horseback coming this way,” said the vetturino, thinking of his four napoleons, “and the men who are following us may shout to them to stop us.” This meant “Reload your weapons.”

“Ah, how brave you are, my little abbé!” cried Marietta, and she kissed Fabrizio. The old woman had thrust her head out of the window; presently she drew it in again.

“Nobody is following you, sir,” she said to Fabrizio very coolly, “and there is nobody on the road in front of you. You know how precise the Austrian police officials are; if they see you come galloping up to the embankment beside the Po you may be perfectly certain they will stop you.”

Fabrizio put his head out of the window. “You can trot now,” said he to the coachman. Then, turning to the old woman, “What passport have you?”

“Three instead of one,” replied she, “and each of them cost us four francs. Isn’t that cruel for poor play-actors, travelling all the year round? Here is a passport for Signor Giletti, a dramatic artist—that shall be you—and here are Mariettina’s and mine. But Giletti had all our money in his pocket. What is to become of us?”

“How much had he?” said Fabrizio.

“Forty good crowns of five francs each,” said the old woman.

“That is to say, six crowns and some small change,” laughed Marietta. “I won’t have my little abbé imposed upon.”

“Is it not quite natural, sir,” returned the old woman with the greatest calmness, “that I should try to do you out of four-and-thirty crowns? What are thirty-four crowns to you? And as for us, we’ve lost our protector. Who is to look after our lodgings now, and bargain with the vetturino when we travel, and keep everything in order? Giletti was not a beauty, but he was useful, and if this child here had not been a fool and fallen in love with you at first sight, Giletti would never have noticed anything, and you would have given us good silver crowns. I can assure you we are very poor.”

Fabrizio was touched. He took out his purse and gave the old woman several gold pieces.

“You see,” he said, “that I have only fifteen left, so it will be useless to try and get any more out of me.”

Little Marietta threw her arms round his neck and the old woman kissed his hands. The carriage was still trotting slowly forward, when the yellow barriers, striped with black, which marked the Austrian frontier, appeared in sight. The old woman addressed Fabrizio.

“You would do well to pass on foot with Giletti’s passport in your pocket. We will stop a few minutes, on the pretext of making ourselves look tidy. And besides, the customs officers will open our baggage. If you will take my advice, you had better walk lazily through Casal-Maggiore; even turn into the café and drink a glass of brandy. Once you are out of the village make off. The police on Austrian territory are devilishly sharp; they will soon find out that a man has been killed. You are travelling with a passport which does not belong to you; for less than that you might get two years in prison. When you leave the town turn to the right, and get to the banks of the Po. Hire a boat, and take refuge at Ravenna or Ferrara. Get out of the Austrian states as quickly as ever you can. Two louis will buy you another passport from some custom-house officer; this one would be the ruin of you. Remember you’ve killed the man!”

Fabrizio carefully reread Giletti’s passport as he walked toward the bridge of boats at Casal-Maggiore. Our hero was seriously alarmed; he had a vivid recollection of all Count Mosca had told him concerning the risk he would run if he re-entered Austrian territory, and only two paces in front of him he saw the fateful bridge which was to admit him to those dominions, the capital of which, in his eyes, was the Spielberg. But what else was he to do? By an express convention between the two states the duchy of Modena, which bounds the dominion of Parma on the south, returned all fugitives who passed over its borders. The Parmese frontier running up into the mountain country near Genoa was too distant; his misadventure would be known at Parma before he could reach those mountains. Nothing remained to him, therefore, except the Austrian states on the left bank of the Po. Thirty-six hours or two days would probably elapse before there could be time to write to the Austrian authorities and request his arrest. On the whole, Fabrizio thought it wiser to burn his own passport, which he lighted at the end of his cigar. He would be safer on Austrian ground as a vagabond than as Fabrizio del Dongo, and there was the possibility of his being searched.

Apart from his very natural repugnance to the idea of staking his life on the unhappy Giletti’s passport, the document itself presented some material difficulties. Fabrizio’s stature did not, at the most, exceed five foot five, instead of the five foot ten described in the passport. He was nearly twenty-four, and looked younger. Giletti was thirty-nine. We will confess that our hero spent a full half-hour walking up and down an embankment on the river, close by the bridge of boats, before he could make up his mind to go down upon it. “What advice should I give to another man in my place?” said he to himself at last. “Clearly, to go across. It is dangerous to stay in Parma. A gendarme may be sent in pursuit of the man who has killed another, even against his own will.” Fabrizio turned out his pockets, tore up all his papers, and kept literally nothing except his handkerchief and his cigar case. It was important to shorten, by every possible means, the examination he would have to undergo. He thought of a terrible difficulty which might be made, and to which he could find no good answer. He was going to call himself Giletti, and all his linen was marked F. D.

Fabrizio, as will be observed, was one of those unhappy beings who are tortured by their own imaginations, a somewhat common weakness among intelligent people in Italy. A French soldier of equal or even inferior courage would have set about crossing the bridge at once, without thinking of any difficulty beforehand, and he would have done it with perfect composure, whereas Fabrizio was very far from being composed when, at the far end of the bridge, a little man dressed in gray said to him, “Go into the police office and show your passport.”

The office had dirty walls, studded with nails on which the officials’ pipes and greasy hats were hung. The big deal writing-table at which they sat was covered with ink stains and wine stains. Two or three big green leather registers also showed stains of every shade of colour, and the edges of the pages were blackened by dirty hands. On these registers, which were piled one upon the other, lay three splendid laurel wreaths, which had been used the night before, in honour of one of the Emperor’s fête days.

Fabrizio was struck by all these details; they sent a pang through his heart. This was the price he paid for the splendid luxury and freshness of his beautiful rooms in the Palazzo Sanseverina. He was obliged to enter the dirty office and stand there like an inferior. He was soon to be cross-questioned.

The official who stretched out a yellow hand to receive his passport was a short, dark man, with a brass jewel in his neckcloth. “Here’s a common man, in a bad temper,” said Fabrizio to himself. He seemed very much surprised when he read the passport, and the perusal lasted quite five minutes.

“You’ve had an accident,” said he to the stranger, looking at his cheek.

“The vetturino upset us over the river embankment.” Then silence fell again, and the official cast strange glances at the traveller.

“I have it,” said Fabrizio to himself; “he’s going to tell me that he’s sorry to have to give me an unpleasant piece of news, and that I am arrested.”

All sorts of wild notions crowded on to our hero’s brain. His logic at that moment was of the weakest description. He thought, for instance, of bolting through the office door, which was standing open. “I would get rid of my coat, I would jump into the Po, and I have no doubt I could swim across. Anything is better than the Spielberg.”

While he weighed his chances of succeeding in this prank, the police officer was looking hard at him; their two faces were a study. The presence of danger inspires a sensible man with genius, raising him, so to speak, above himself. In the case of the man of imagination, it inspires him with romances, which may indeed be bold, but which are frequently absurd.

Our hero’s look of indignation under the scrutinizing glance of this police officer with the brass jewellery was something worth seeing. “If I were to kill him,” said Fabrizio to himself, “I should be sentenced to twenty years at the galleys or to death. That would be far less awful than the Spielberg, with a chain weighing a hundred and twenty pounds on each foot, and eight ounces of bread for my daily food. And it would last twenty years, so that I should be forty-four before I came out.” Fabrizio’s logical mind overlooked the fact that as he had burned his own passport, there was nothing to acquaint the police officer with the detail of his being the rebel Fabrizio del Dongo.

Our hero was tolerably frightened, as my readers perceive. His alarm would have been far greater if he had been aware of the thoughts passing in the official’s mind. The man was a friend of Giletti’s; his surprise at seeing his passport in the hands of another person may therefore be imagined. His first impulse had been to arrest the stranger. Then he reflected that very likely Giletti had sold the passport to the good-looking young fellow, who had probably just got into some scrape at Parma. “If I arrest him,” said he to himself, “Giletti will get into trouble. It will easily be discovered that he has sold his passport. But, on the other hand, what will my superiors say if they find out that I, who am a friend of Giletti’s, have countersigned his passport when presented by another person!” The officer stood up with a yawn, and said to Fabrizio, “Wait here, sir!” Then, as was natural to a policeman, he added, “There is a difficulty.” Fabrizio said within himself, “What there is going to be, is my flight.”

The official, indeed, had left the office, leaving the door open, and the passport was still lying on the deal table. “There’s no doubt about my danger,” thought Fabrizio to himself. “I will take up my passport, and walk quietly back across the bridge. If the gendarme questions me I will tell him I have forgotten to get it countersigned by the police officer at the last village in the dominion of Parma.” The passport was actually in Fabrizio’s hand when, to his inexpressible astonishment, he heard the clerk with the brass jewellery say:

“Upon my soul! I am done up; I’m choking with heat; I am going to get a cup of coffee at the café. When you’ve finished your pipe just go into the office; there’s a passport to be signed. The traveller is waiting.”

Fabrizio, who was just stepping out on tiptoe, found himself face to face with a good-looking young fellow, who was humming a tune, and heard him say, “Very good. We’ll see to their passport. I’ll oblige them with my flourish.”

“Where do you wish to go, sir?”

“To Mantua, Venice, and Ferrara.”

“Ferrara let it be,” answered the official, whistling; he took up a stamp, printed the visa upon the passport in blue ink, and rapidly inserted the words “Mantua, Venice, and Ferrara” in the blank space left by the stamp. Then he waved his hand in the air several times, signed his name, and dipped his pen in the ink again to make his flourish, a feat he performed slowly and with infinite care. Fabrizio watched every motion of his pen. The clerk looked complacently at his flourish, added five or six dots, and then returned the passport to Fabrizio, saying indifferently, “A pleasant journey to you, sir.”

Fabrizio was departing with a rapidity which he was attempting to conceal when he felt himself stopped by a touch on his left arm. Instinctively his hand sought the handle of his dagger, and if he had not seen houses all round him he might have been guilty of a blunder. The man who had touched his left arm, seeing his startled look, said apologetically:

“But I spoke to you three times, sir, and you did not answer. Have you anything to declare at the custom-house?”

“I’ve nothing on me but my handkerchief; I am going to shoot with one of my relations, quite close by.”

He would have been sorely puzzled if he had been asked to mention that relation’s name.

Thanks to the great heat and his own emotions, Fabrizio was dripping as if he had fallen into the Po. “I am brave enough when I have to do with play-actors, but custom-house clerks with brass jewellery drive me beside myself. I’ll write the duchess a comic sonnet on that subject.”

Fabrizio entered the town of Casal-Maggiore and immediately turned to the right, down a shabby street leading to the Po. “I am in sore need,” said he to himself, “of the assistance of Bacchus and Ceres,” and he entered a shop, over the door of which a gray cloth hung from a pole. On this cloth was inscribed the word Trattoria. A ragged bed sheet, supported by two thin wooden hoops and hanging within three feet of the ground, sheltered the door of the trattoria from the direct blaze of the sun. Within it a half-naked and very pretty woman received our hero respectfully, a fact which gave him the keenest satisfaction. He lost no time in telling her that he was starving with hunger. While the woman was preparing his breakfast a man of about thirty years of age came into the room. On his first entrance he made no sign of greeting, but suddenly he rose from the bench on which he had cast himself with an easy gesture, and said to Fabrizio:

“Eccellenza! la riverisco!” (I salute your Excellency!) Fabrizio felt exceedingly cheerful at that moment, and instead of at once expecting something gloomy he answered with a laugh:

“And how the devil do you know my Excellency?”

“What! doesn’t your Excellency recollect Ludovico, one of the Duchess Sanseverina’s coachmen? At Sacca, the country house where we went every year, I always got fever, so I asked my mistress to give me a pension, and I retired. I am rich now, for instead of the pension of twelve crowns a year, which was the very most I could have expected, my mistress told me that to give me leisure to write sonnets (for I am a poet in the vulgar tongue) she would allow me four-and-twenty crowns; and the signor count told me that if ever I was in need I had only to come and tell him. I had the honour of driving monsignore for a stage when he went to make his retreat, like a good churchman, at the Carthusian monastery at Velleia.”

Fabrizio looked at the man, and began to recall him a little. He had been one of the smartest coachmen at the Casa Sanseverina; now that he was rich, as he affirmed, his only garments were a coarse, tattered shirt and a pair of canvas nether garments, which hardly reached his knees, and had once been dyed black. A pair of shoes and a very bad hat completed his costume; and further, he had not been shaved for a fortnight. Fabrizio, as he ate his omelet, chatted with him on absolutely equal terms. He thought he perceived that Ludovico was his hostess’s lover. He soon despatched his meal, and then said to Ludovico in an undertone, “I have a word for you.”

“Your Excellency can speak freely before her; she is a really good woman,” said Ludovico, with a tender glance.

“Well, then, my friends,” said Fabrizio at once, “I am in trouble, and I want your help. To begin with, there is nothing political about my business. I have simply killed a man who tried to murder me because I was speaking to his mistress.”

“Poor young fellow!” quoth the hostess.

“Your Excellency may reckon on me,” cried the coachman, with eyes that shone with the most fervent devotion. “Where does your Excellency desire to go?”

“To Ferrara. I have a passport, but I would rather not face the gendarmes, who may know something of what has happened.”

“When did you put the fellow out of the way?”

“At six o’clock this morning.”

“Is there no blood on your Excellency’s clothes?” said the hostess.

“I was thinking of that,” replied the coachman; “and besides, the cloth is too fine. Such stuff as that is not often seen in our country. It would attract attention. I will go and buy clothes from the Jew. Your Excellency is about my height, only thinner.”

“For mercy’s sake, don’t call me your Excellency! That will attract attention.”

“Yes, your Excellency,” replied the coachman, as he went out of the shop.

“Halloo! halloo!” shouted Fabrizio. “What about the money? Come back!”

“Don’t talk of money,” said the hostess. “He has sixty-seven crowns, which are very much at your service, and I,” she added, dropping her voice, “have forty, which I offer you with all my heart. One does not always happen to have money about one when such accidents as these occur.”

When Fabrizio had entered the trattoria he had taken off his coat on account of the heat.

“If any one should come in, that waistcoat of yours might get us into difficulties; that fine English cloth would be remarked.”

She gave the fugitive one of her husband’s waistcoats, made of canvas dyed black. A tall young man entered the shop through an inner door; there was a touch of elegance about his dress.

“This is my husband,” said the hostess.—“Pietro Antonio,” said she to her husband, “this gentleman is a friend of Ludovico’s. He had an accident this morning on the other side of the river; he wants to escape to Ferrara.”

“Oh, we’ll get him through,” said the husband very civilly. “We have Carlo Giuseppe’s boat.”

Another weakness of our hero’s character, which we will confess as frankly as we have related his fright in the police office at the end of the bridge, now caused his eyes to brim with tears.

The absolute devotion he had met with among these peasants moved him deeply. He thought, too, of his aunt’s characteristic kind-heartedness. He would have liked to have been able to make all these people’s fortunes. Ludovico now came back, carrying a bundle.

“Good-bye to this other fellow,” said the husband in the most friendly fashion.

“That’s not it at all,” replied Ludovico, in a very anxious voice. “People are beginning to talk about you. It was noticed when you left the main street and turned down our vicolo that you hesitated, like a man who wanted to hide himself.”

“Get up quickly to the room above,” said the husband. This room was a very large and handsome one. The two windows were filled with gray linen instead of glass. It contained four beds, each about six feet wide and five feet high.

“And quick! and quick!” said Ludovico. “There’s a conceited fool of a gendarme lately arrived here who wanted to make love to the pretty woman below stairs, and I warned him that when next he went out patrolling on the roads he would very likely meet a bullet. If that dog hears your Excellency mentioned, he’ll want to play us a trick; he’ll try to get you arrested here, so as to bring disrepute on Theodolinda’s trattoria. What!” Ludovico went on, when he saw Fabrizio’s shirt all stained with blood and his wounds tied up with handkerchiefs; “so the porco defended himself! This is enough to get us arrested a hundred times over. I didn’t buy a shirt.” Unceremoniously he opened the husband’s cupboard, and handed over one of his shirts to Fabrizio, who was soon dressed as a rich middle-class countryman. Ludovico unhooked a net which was hanging on the wall, put Fabrizio’s clothes into the basket for holding the fish, ran down the stairs, and went swiftly out by a back door, Fabrizio following him.

“Theodolinda,” he called out, as he hurried past the shop, “hide what we’ve left upstairs. We’ll go and wait in the willows, and you, Pietro Antonio, make haste and send us a boat. It will be well paid for.”

Ludovico led Fabrizio over more than twenty ditches; the widest of these were bridged by very long and very elastic wooden boards. Ludovico pulled these planks over as fast as they crossed them. When they reached the last cutting he pulled the plank away eagerly. “Now we can breathe,” he said. “That dog of a policeman will have to go more than two leagues round before he can reach your Excellency. But you’ve turned white!” said he to Fabrizio. “I’ve not forgotten to bring a little bottle of brandy.”

“I shall be very glad of it; the wound in my thigh is beginning to hurt, and besides, I was in a horrible fright while I was in the police office at the end of the bridge.”

“I should think so indeed,” said Ludovico. “With a bloody shirt like yours, I don’t understand how you ever dared to go into such a place. As for the wounds, I know all about that sort of thing. I’ll take you to a nice cool place where you can sleep for an hour; the boat will come to fetch us there, if there’s a boat to be had. If not, when you’re a little rested we’ll go on two short leagues farther, and I’ll take you to a mill where I can get a boat myself. Your Excellency knows a great deal more than I do; my mistress will be in despair when she hears of the accident. She will be told you are mortally wounded, or perhaps that you have killed the other treacherously. The Marchesa Raversi will not fail to put about every kind of spiteful report to distress my mistress. Your Excellency might write.”

“And how shall I send my letter?”

“The men at the mill to which we are going earn twelve sous a day; they can get to Parma in a day and a half—that means four francs for the journey, and two francs for the wear and tear of their shoes. If the message was carried for a poor man like myself it would cost six francs; as it will be done for a nobleman, I will give twelve.”

When they reached the resting-place, in a thicket of alder and willow trees, very cool and shady, Ludovico went on an hour’s distance to fetch paper and ink. “Heavens! how comfortable I am here!” exclaimed Fabrizio; “fortune, farewell! I shall never be an archbishop.”

When Ludovico returned he found him sound asleep, and would not wake him. The boat did not come till near sunset. As soon as Ludovico saw it appearing in the distance, he roused Fabrizio, who wrote two letters.

“Your Excellency is very much wiser than I am,” said Ludovico, with a look of distress, “and I am afraid you will be displeased with me at the bottom of your heart, whatever you may say, if I add a certain thing.”

“I am not such an idiot as you think,” said Fabrizio. “And whatever you may say to me, I shall always look upon you as a faithful servant of my aunt’s, and a man who has done everything in the world to help me out of a very terrible difficulty.”

A good many further protestations were necessary before Ludovico could be induced to speak, and when he finally made up his mind he began with a preface which lasted quite five minutes. Fabrizio grew impatient, and then he thought: “Whose fault is this? The fault of our vanity, which this man has seen very clearly from his coach-box?” At last Ludovico’s devotion induced him to run the risk of speaking frankly.

“What would not the Marchesa Raversi give the runner you are going to send to Parma for those two letters? They are written by your own hand, and therefore can be used as evidence against you. Your Excellency will take me for an indiscreet and curious person, and besides, you will be ashamed, perhaps, to let the duchess see a poor coachman’s handwriting. But for the sake of your safety, I am forced to speak, even if you do think it an impertinence. Could not your Excellency dictate those two letters to me? Then I should be the only person compromised, and very little compromised at that, for I could always say that you made your appearance in front of me in a field, with an inkhorn in one hand and a pistol in the other, and ordered me to write.”

“Give me your hand, my dear Ludovico,” cried Fabrizio; “and to convince you I have no desire to keep anything secret from such a friend, you shall copy these two letters just as they are.” Ludovico realized the full extent of this mark of confidence, and was very much touched by it, but at the end of a few lines, seeing the boat coming rapidly toward them—

“These letters will be finished more quickly,” said he to Fabrizio, “if your Excellency would take the trouble of dictating them to me.” As soon as the letters were finished, Fabrizio wrote an A and a B on the bottom line, and on a little scrap of paper which he afterward crumpled up, he wrote in French, “Croyez A et B.” The messenger was to hide this scrap of paper in his clothes.

When the boat was within hailing distance, Ludovico shouted to the boatmen, using names which were not their own. They did not reply, but approached the bank about a thousand yards lower down, looking about on every side, lest any custom-house officer should have caught sight of them.

“I am at your orders,” said Ludovico to Fabrizio. “Would you wish me to take the letters to Parma myself? Would you like me to go with you to Ferrara?”

“To come with me to Ferrara is a service which I did not venture to ask of you. I shall have to land and try to get into the town without showing my passport. I don’t mind telling you that I have the greatest repugnance to the idea of travelling under Giletti’s name, and nobody that I can think of, except yourself, can procure me another passport.”

“Why did you not speak of that at Casal-Maggiore? I know a spy there who would have sold us an excellent passport, and not dear either, for forty or fifty francs.”

One of the two boatmen, who had been born on the right bank of the Po, and consequently needed no passport to get him to Parma, undertook to deliver the letters. Ludovico, who knew how to handle an oar, pledged himself to manage the boat with the other man’s assistance.

“Lower down the river,” he said, “we shall meet several armed police-boats, and I know how to keep out of their way.” A dozen times they had to hide themselves in the midst of low islets covered with willows; three times they landed, to let the empty boat pass in front of the police boats. Ludovico took advantage of these long spells of idleness to recite several of his sonnets to Fabrizio. They were good enough as regarded feeling, but this was weakened by the form of expression, and none of them were worth writing down. The curious thing was that the ex-coachman’s passions and conception were lively and picturesque, but the moment he began to write he grew cold and commonplace. “The very opposite,” said Fabrizio to himself, “of what we see in the world. There everything is gracefully expressed, but the heart has nothing to do with it.” He discovered that the greatest pleasure he could do to his faithful servant was to correct the spelling of his sonnets.

“When I lend my manuscript to anybody I get laughed at,” said Ludovico. “But if your Excellency would condescend to dictate the spelling of the words to me, letter by letter, envious people would have to hold their tongues. Spelling is not genius.”

It was not till the evening of the second day that Fabrizio was able to land, in perfect safety, in an alder copse a league from Ponte-Lago-Oscuro. All the day long he lay hid in a hemp field, and Ludovico went on to Ferrara, where he hired a little lodging in the house of a needy Jew, who at once realized that there was money to be earned if he would hold his tongue. In the evening, as the darkness was falling, Fabrizio rode into Ferrara on a pony. He was in urgent need of care. The heat on the river had made him ill; the knife thrust in his thigh and the sword thrust Giletti had given him in the shoulder, at the beginning of their fight, had both become inflamed, and made him feverish.