The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER XII

The Jew landlord of their lodgings brought them a discreet surgeon, who, soon coming to the conclusion that there was money to be made, informed Ludovico that his conscience obliged him to report the wounds of the young man, whom Ludovico called his brother, to the police.

“The law is clear,” he added. “It is quite evident that your brother has not hurt himself, as he declares, by falling off a ladder with an open knife in his hand.”

Ludovico coldly answered the worthy surgeon to the effect that if he ventured to listen to the promptings of his conscience, he, Ludovico, would have the honour, before he left Ferrara, of falling upon him with an open knife in his hand. When he related the incident to Fabrizio he blamed him severely. But there was not an instant to be lost about decamping. Ludovico told the Jew he was going to try what an airing would do for his brother. He fetched a carriage, and our friends left the house, never to return to it again. My readers doubtless find these descriptions of all the steps necessitated by the lack of a passport very lengthy. But in Italy, and especially in the neighbourhood of the Po, everybody’s talk is about passports. As soon as they had slipped safely out of Ferrara, as if they were merely taking a drive, Ludovico dismissed the carriage, re-entered the town by a different gate, and then came back to fetch Fabrizio in a sediola, which he had hired to take them twelve leagues. When they were near Bologna, our friends had themselves driven across country, to the road leading into the city from Florence. They spent the night in the most wretched tavern they could discover, and the next morning, as Fabrizio felt strong enough to walk a little, they entered Bologna on foot. Giletti’s passport had been burned. The actor’s death must now be known, and it was less dangerous to be arrested for having no passport, than for presenting one belonging to a man who had been killed.

Ludovico knew several servants in great houses at Bologna. It was agreed that he should go and collect intelligence from them. He told them he had come from Florence with his young brother, who, being overcome with sleep, had let him start alone an hour before sunrise. They were to have met in the village where Ludovico was to halt during the sultry midday hours, but when his brother did not arrive, Ludovico had resolved to retrace his steps. He had found him wounded by a blow from a stone and several knife thrusts, and robbed into the bargain, by people who had picked a quarrel with him. The brother was a good-looking young fellow; he could groom and manage horses, and would be glad to take service in some great house. Ludovico intended to add, if necessity should arise, that when Fabrizio had fallen down, the thieves had taken to flight, and had carried off a little bag containing their linen and their passports.

When Fabrizio reached Bologna he felt very weary, and not daring to go into an inn without a passport, he turned into the large Church of San Petronio. It was deliciously cool within the building, and he soon felt quite recovered. “Ungrateful wretch that I am,” said he to himself suddenly; “I walk into a church, and just sit myself down as if I were in a café.” He threw himself on his knees, and thanked God fervently for the protection He had so evidently extended to him since he had had the misfortune of killing Giletti. The danger which still made him shudder was that of being recognised in the police office at Casal-Maggiore. “How was it,” he thought, “that the clerk, whose eyes were so full of suspicion, and who read my passport three times over, did not perceive that I am not five foot ten tall, that I am not eight-and-thirty years old, and that I am not deeply pitted with the small-pox? What mercies do I owe thee, oh, my God! and I have waited until now to lay my nothingness at Thy feet. My pride would fain have believed it was to vain human prudence that I owed the happiness of escaping the Spielberg, which was already yawning to engulf me.”

More than an hour did Fabrizio spend in the deepest emotion at the thought of the immense goodness of the Most High. He did not hear Ludovico approach him and stand in front of him. Fabrizio, who had hidden his face in his hands, raised his head, and his faithful servant saw the tears coursing down his cheeks.

“Come back in an hour,” said Fabrizio to him with some asperity.

Ludovico forgave his tone in consideration of his piety. Fabrizio recited the seven penitential psalms, which he knew by heart, several times over, making long pauses over the verses applicable to his present position.

Fabrizio asked pardon of God for many things, but it is a remarkable fact that it never occurred to him to reckon among his faults his plan of becoming an archbishop simply and solely because Count Mosca was a prime minister, and considered this dignity, and the great position it conferred, suitable for the duchess’s nephew. He had not indeed desired the thing at all passionately, but still he had considered it exactly as he would have considered his appointment to a ministry or a military command. The thought that his conscience might be involved in the duchess’s plan had never struck him. This is a remarkable feature of the teaching he owed to the Jesuits at Milan. This form of religion deprives men of courage to think of unaccustomed matters, and more especially forbids self-examination, as the greatest of all sins—a step toward Protestantism. To discover in what one is guilty, we must ask questions of one’s priest, or read the list of sins as printed in the book entitled Preparation for the Sacrament of Penitence. Fabrizio knew the Latin list of sins, which he had learned at the Ecclesiastical Academy at Naples, by heart, and when, as he repeated this list, he came to the word “Murder,” he had honestly accused himself before God of having killed a man, though in defence of his own life. He had run rapidly, and without the smallest attention, through the various clauses relating to the sin of simony (the purchase of ecclesiastical dignities with money). If he had been invited to give a hundred louis to become grand vicar to the Archbishop of Parma, he would have shrunk from the idea with horror. But although he neither lacked intelligence nor, more especially, logic, it never once came into his head that the employment of Count Mosca’s credit in his favour constituted a simony. Herein lies the triumph of the Jesuits’ teaching; it instils the habit of paying no attention to things which are as clear as day. A Frenchman brought up amid Parisian self-interest and scepticism might honestly have accused Fabrizio of hypocrisy at the very moment when our hero was laying open his heart before his God with the utmost sincerity, and the deepest possible emotion.

Fabrizio did not leave the church until he had prepared the confession which he had resolved to make the very next morning. He found Ludovico sitting on the steps of the huge stone peristyle which rises on the great square before the façade of San Petronio. Just as the air is purified by a great thunder-storm, so Fabrizio’s heart felt calmer, happier, and, so to speak, cooler. “I am much better. I hardly feel my wounds at all,” he said, as he joined Ludovico. “But, first of all, I must ask your forgiveness; I answered you crossly when you came to speak to me in the church. I was examining my conscience. Well, how does our business go?”

“It’s going right well. I’ve engaged a lodging—not at all worthy of your Excellency, indeed—kept by the wife of one of my friends, who is a very pretty woman, and in close intimacy, besides, with one of the principal police agents. To-morrow I shall go and report that our passports have been stolen. This declaration will be well received, but I shall pay the postage of a letter which the police will send to Casal-Maggiore to inquire whether there is a man there of the name of San Micheli, who has a brother named Fabrizio in the service of the Duchess Sanseverina of Parma. It’s all done, siamo à cavallo” (an Italian proverb, meaning “we are saved”).

Fabrizio had suddenly become very grave. He asked Ludovico to wait for him a moment, returned to the church almost at a run, and had hardly got inside when he cast himself once more upon his knees and humbly kissed the stone pavement. “This is a miracle,” he cried, with tears in his eyes. “Thou sawest my soul ready to return to the path of duty, and Thou hast saved me. O God, I may be killed some day in a scuffle. Remember, O Lord, when my dying moment comes, the condition of my heart at this moment.” In a passion of the liveliest joy, Fabrizio once more recited the seven penitential psalms. Before he left the church, he approached an old woman who sat in front of a great Madonna and beside an iron triangle set vertically on a support of the same metal. The edges of this triangle bristled with little spikes, destined to support the small tapers which the faithful burn before Cimabue’s famous Madonna.

Only seven tapers were burning when Fabrizio approached. He noted the fact in his memory, so as to reflect on it when he should have time.

“How much do the tapers cost?” said he to the woman.

“Two baiocchi each.”

And, indeed, they were no thicker than a penholder, and not a foot high.

“How many tapers will your triangle hold?”

“Sixty-three, since there are seven already.”

“Ha!” said Fabrizio. “Sixty-three and seven make seventy; I must remember that, too.” He paid for the tapers, set up and lighted the first seven himself, and then knelt down to make his offering. As he rose from his knees he said to the old woman, “It is for a mercy bestowed.”

“I am dying of hunger,” said Fabrizio to Ludovico as he rejoined him.

“Don’t let us go into a tavern; let us go to the lodgings,” said his servant. “The mistress of the house will go out and buy you what you want for breakfast; she’ll cheat us out of a score of sous, and that will make her feel all the more kindly to the new arrival.”

“That means that I shall have to go on starving for another hour,” said Fabrizio, laughing as merrily as a child, and he entered a tavern close to San Petronio. To his extreme astonishment he beheld, sitting at a table close to his own his aunt’s principal man-servant, Pepe, the very man who had once been sent to meet him at Geneva. Fabrizio signed to him to keep silence; then, after a hasty repast, with a happy smile trembling on his lips, he rose to his feet. Pepe followed him, and for the third time our hero passed into San Petronio. Ludovico discreetly held back, and walked up and down the square.

“Oh, monsignore, how are your wounds? The duchess is in dreadful anxiety. For one whole day she believed you were dead, and cast away on some island in the river. I must send a messenger to her instantly. I have been hunting for you for six days; I spent three of them at Ferrara, going to all the inns.”

“Have you a passport for me?”

“I have three. One with all your Excellency’s names and titles, one with nothing but your name, and the third with a false name, Giuseppe Bossi. Each of the passports will serve your Excellency’s purpose, whether you choose to arrive from Florence or from Modena. All you have to do is to walk out beyond the town. The count would be glad if you would lodge at the Albergo del Pellegrino, which is kept by a friend of his.”

Fabrizio walked, as though by chance, up the right aisle of the church to the spot where his tapers were burning. He fixed his eyes on the Cimabue Madonna, then, kneeling down, he said to Pepe, “I must thank God for a moment.” Pepe followed his example. As they left the church Pepe noticed that Fabrizio gave a twenty-franc piece to the first beggar who asked charity of him. The beggar set up a shout of gratitude, which attracted the crowds of indigent people of every sort who generally collect on the square of San Petronio all round the charitable donor. Everybody wanted his or her share of the napoleon. The women, despairing of getting through the press round the lucky mendicant, fell upon Fabrizio, shrieking to him to say it was true he had given his gold piece to be divided among all the poor beggars. Pepe brandished his gold-headed cane, and ordered them to leave “his Excellency” alone.

“Oh, your Excellency,” screamed all the women at once, even louder than before, “give the poor women another gold piece.” Fabrizio quickened his pace; the women ran after him, calling aloud, and many male beggars ran up from side streets, so that quite a little disturbance ensued. The whole of the filthy and noisy crowd kept shouting “Your Excellency!” Fabrizio found it by no means easy to get out of the press. The scene recalled his imagination to earth. “I am only getting what I deserve,” thought he. “I have been rubbing shoulders with the common folk.”

Two of the women followed him as far as the Saragossa Gate, through which he passed out of the town. There Pepe stopped them by threatening them seriously with his cane and throwing them some small coins. Fabrizio climbed the pretty hill of San Michele in Bosco, walked partly round the town, outside the walls, turned into a foot-path, which, five hundred paces farther on, ran into the road from Florence, returned to Bologna, and gravely presented a passport containing a very accurate description of his person to the police commissary. This passport described him as Giuseppe Bossi, student of theology. Fabrizio noticed a little splash of red ink that seemed to have been dropped by accident on the lower right-hand corner of the paper. Two hours later he had a spy upon his heels, on account of the title “your Excellency” applied to him by his companion in the presence of the beggars at San Petronio, although his passport detailed none of those honours which entitle a man to be addressed as “Excellency” by his servants.

Fabrizio perceived the spy, and snapped his fingers at him. He gave not a thought, now, either to passports or police officers, and was as amused as a child with everything about him. When Pepe, who had been ordered to stay with him, saw how well pleased he was with Ludovico, he thought his own best course was to carry the good news to the duchess himself. Fabrizio wrote two long letters to his dear ones. Then he bethought him of writing a third to the venerable Archbishop Landriani. This letter produced a most extraordinary effect. It contained the exact history of his fight with Giletti. The good archbishop, quite overcome by his emotion, did not fail to go and read the letter to the prince, whose curiosity to know how the young monsignore would set about excusing so terrible a murder made him willing to listen. Thanks to the Marchesa Raversi’s many friends, the prince, like the whole city of Parma, believed Fabrizio had obtained the assistance of some twenty or thirty peasants to kill an inferior actor who had ventured to dispute his possession of little Marietta. At despotic courts truth lies at the mercy of the first clever schemer, just as in Paris it is ruled by fashion.

“But, devil take it,” said the prince to the archbishop, “one has those things done by a third person. It is not customary to do them oneself. And then actors like Giletti are not killed; they are bought.”

Fabrizio had not the smallest suspicion of what was going on at Parma. As a matter of fact, the death of a player who only earned thirty-two francs a month in his lifetime was going near to overthrow the ultra ministry, with Count Mosca at its head.

When the news of Giletti’s death reached him, the prince, nettled by the airs of independence which the duchess gave herself, had ordered Rassi, his Minister of Justice, to deal with the whole trial as if the accused person had been a Liberal. Fabrizio, for his part, believed that a man of his rank was above all law. The fact that in countries where the bearers of great names are never punished, there is nothing that can not be achieved, even against such persons, by intrigue, had not entered into his calculations. He would often talk to Ludovico of his perfect innocence, which was soon to be proclaimed. His great argument was that he was not guilty. At last, one day, Ludovico said to him: “I can not conceive why your Excellency, who is so clever and knows so much, takes the trouble of saying such things to me, who am his devoted servant. Your Excellency is too cautious. Such things are only good for use in public or before the judges.”

“This man believes I am a murderer, and he does not love me the less,” mused Fabrizio, thunder-struck.

Three days after Pepe’s departure, Fabrizio was astonished to receive a huge letter bound with a silken cord, like those used in Louis XIV’s time, and addressed to “His Most Reverend Excellency, Monsignore Fabrizio del Dongo, Chief Grand Vicar of the Diocese of Parma, Canon, etc.”

“But am I all that already?” he said to himself with a laugh. Archbishop Landriani’s epistle was a masterpiece of perspicacity and logic. It covered no less than nineteen large sheets, and gave a very good account of everything that had happened at Parma with regard to Giletti’s death.

“The march of a French army on the town, under the command of Marshal Ney, would not have made more stir,” wrote the good archbishop. “Every soul, my very dear son, except the duchess and myself, believes you killed the actor Giletti because you wanted to do it. If that misfortune had befallen you, it would have been one of those matters that can be hushed up by means of a couple of hundred louis and an absence of six months. But the Raversi is bent on using the incident to overthrow Count Mosca. It is not the terrible sin of murder for which the public blames you, it is simply for your awkwardness, or rather insolence, in not having condescended to employ a bulo [a kind of inferior bully]. I give you the clear substance of the talk I hear all round me. For since this most deplorable event I go every day to three of the most important houses in this city, so as to find opportunity for justifying you, and never have I felt I was making a holier use of what little eloquence Heaven has bestowed on me.”

The scales began to fall from Fabrizio’s eyes. The numerous letters he received from the duchess, all throbbing with affection, never condescended to report anything of what was happening around her. The duchess assured him she would leave Parma forever, unless he soon returned there in triumph. “The count,” she wrote, in a letter which reached him together with the archbishop’s, “will do all that is humanly possible for you. As for me, this last prank of yours has changed my nature; I have grown as stingy as Tombone, the banker. I have discharged all my workmen. I have done more—I have dictated the inventory of my belongings to the count, and I find I have very much less than I thought. After the death of that excellent Pietranera (whose murder, by the way, you would have done far better to avenge, than to risk your life against such a creature as Giletti), I was left with twelve hundred francs a year, and debts amounting to five thousand. Among other things, I remember, I had thirty pairs of white satin slippers which had come from Paris, and only one single pair of walking shoes. I have almost made up my mind to take the three hundred thousand francs the duke left me, and which I had intended to lay out entirely on a magnificent monument to his memory. For the rest, it is the Marchesa Raversi who is your bitterest enemy, and therefore mine. If you are bored at Bologna, you have only to say one word, and I will go to you there. Here are four more bills of exchange.”

The duchess never told Fabrizio a word about the opinion concerning his business which prevailed at Parma. Her first object was to console him, and in any case the death of such an absurd person as Giletti did not strike her as matter of any serious reproach to a Del Dongo.

“How many Gilettis have our ancestors sent into the next world!” she would say to the count; “and nobody ever dreamed of finding fault with them for it.”

Fabrizio, filled with astonishment, and perceiving for the first time the real condition of things, set himself to study the archbishop’s letter. Unfortunately the archbishop himself believed him better informed than he really was. As Fabrizio understood the matter, the Marchesa Raversi’s triumph rested on the impossibility of discovering any eye-witnesses of the fatal scuffle. His own servant, who had been the first to bring the news to Parma, had been inside the village tavern at Sanguigna when the incident occurred. Little Marietta, and the old woman who acted as her mother, had disappeared, and the marchesa had bought over the man who had driven the carriage, and who was now making a deposition of the most abominable kind. “Although the proceedings are wrapped in the deepest mystery,” wrote the good archbishop in his Ciceronian style, “and directed by Rassi, of whom Christian charity forbids me to speak evil, but who has made his fortune by pursuing unfortunate beings accused of crime, even as the hound pursues the hare; though Rassi, I say, whose baseness and venality you can not overrate, has been charged with the management of the trial by an angry prince, I have obtained a sight of the vetturino’s three depositions. By a signal piece of good fortune the wretch has flatly contradicted himself, and I will add, seeing I speak to my vicar-general, who will rule this diocese when I am gone, that I sent for the priest of the parish in which this wandering sinner dwells. I will confide to you, my very dear son, though under the secret of the confessional, that the priest already knows, through the vetturino’s wife, the actual number of crowns her husband has received from the Marchesa Raversi. I will not dare to say that the marchesa has insisted on his slandering you, but that is very likely. The crowns were paid over by a miserable priest who performs very dubious functions in the marchesa’s service, and whom I have been obliged, for the second time, to prohibit from saying mass. I will not weary you with the recital of several other steps which you might fairly have expected from me, and which, indeed, it was only my duty to take. A canon, a colleague of yours at the cathedral, who is occasionally too apt to remember the influence conferred on him by the possession of the family fortune, of which, by God’s will, he has become the sole inheritor, ventured to say, in the house of Count Zurla, Minister of the Interior, that he considered this trifle clearly proved against you (he was speaking of the unhappy Giletti’s murder). I summoned him to my palace, and there, in presence of my three other vicars-general, of my chaplain, and of two priests who happened to be in my waiting-room, I requested him to enlighten us, his brothers, as to the grounds on which he based the complete conviction he declared himself to have acquired, of the guilt of one of his colleagues at the cathedral. The only reasons the poor wretch could articulate were very inconclusive. Every one present rose up against him, and although I did not think it necessary to add more than a very few words, he burst into tears, and before us all made a full confession of his complete error. Whereupon I promised him secrecy, in my own name and that of all those who had been present at the conference, on condition, however, that he should use all his zeal to rectify the false impression produced by the remarks he had been making during the past fortnight.

“I will not repeat, my dear son, what you must have known for long—that out of the four-and-thirty peasants working on Count Mosca’s excavation, and who, according to the Raversi, were paid to assist you in your crime, thirty-two men were hard at work at the bottom of their ditch at the moment when you seized the hunting-knife and used it to defend your life against the man who had so unexpectedly attacked you. Two of them who were not in the ditch shouted to them, ‘He is murdering monsignore!’ This one exclamation is a brilliant testimony to your innocence. Well, Rassi declares that these two men have disappeared, and further, eight of the men who were in the trench have been found. When they were first examined six of these declared they had heard the shout, ‘He is murdering monsignore!’ I know indirectly that when they were examined for the fifth time, yesterday evening, five of them asserted that they could not remember whether they had actually heard the exclamation, or whether they had been told of it afterward, by one of their comrades. Orders have been given which will make me acquainted with the localities in which these workmen live, and their priest will make them understand that if they allow themselves to be tempted to wrest the truth, for the sake of earning a few crowns, they will be damned everlastingly.”

The good archbishop proceeded with infinite detail, as may be judged by what we have already reported. Then he added these lines in Latin:

“This business is nothing less than an attempt to turn out the ministry. If you are sentenced it can only be to the galleys or to execution. In that case I should intervene, and declare, with all the weight of my archiepiscopal authority, that I know you to be innocent; that you have simply defended your life against a rascal; and further, that I have forbidden you to return to Parma as long as your enemies triumph there. I even propose to brand the Minister of Justice as he deserves; the hatred felt for that man is as common as esteem for his character is rare. But on the eve of the day whereon the minister pronounces so unjust a sentence, the Duchess of Sanseverina will leave the city, and perhaps even the dominion of Parma. In that case, no one doubts that the count will immediately hand in his resignation. Then, most probably, General Fabio Conti will be made minister, and the Marchesa Raversi will triumph. The great difficulty about your business is that no capable man has been placed in charge of the steps indispensable for the demonstration of your innocence, and for the frustration of the attempts being made to suborn witnesses. The count thinks he is doing this himself, but he is too great a gentleman to condescend to certain details, and besides, his position as Minister of Police obliged him, at the very outset, to issue the severest orders against you. And finally—dare I say it?—our sovereign master believes you guilty, or simulates the belief, at all events, and imports a certain bitterness into the affair.” (The words corresponding to our sovereign master and simulates the belief were in Greek characters, and Fabrizio was infinitely grateful to the archbishop for having dared to write them at all. He cut the line out of the letter with his penknife, and instantly destroyed it.)

Twenty times over Fabrizio broke off in the perusal of this letter. He was filled with the deepest and most lively gratitude, and instantly wrote a letter of eight pages in reply. Often he had to lift his head, so as to prevent the tears from dropping on his paper. The next morning, just as he was about to seal his missive, he bethought him that it was too worldly in tone. “I will write it in Latin,” said he to himself; “it will seem more correct to the worthy archbishop.” But while he was striving to turn fine long Latin phrases, careful imitations of Cicero, he remembered that one day, when the archbishop had been speaking to him of Napoleon, he had made it a point to call him “Buonaparte.” That instant every trace of the emotion which, only the night before, had affected him even to tears, fled utterly. “Oh, King of Italy!” he cried, “the faith so many swore to you in your lifetime shall be kept by me, now that you are no more. He cares for me, no doubt, but that is because I am a Del Dongo and he the son of a common man.” So that his fine Italian letter might not be wasted, Fabrizio made some necessary changes in it, and despatched it to Count Mosca.

That very some day, Fabrizio met little Marietta in the street. She reddened with delight, and signed to him to follow without speaking to her. She took her way swiftly toward a lonely portico; once there, she drew forward the black lace which covered her head, in the fashion of that country, so that no one could recognise her, and then, turning round sharply—

“How is it,” said she to Fabrizio, “that you are walking about freely in the streets?” Fabrizio told her his story.

“Great heavens, you’ve been to Ferrara! And I have been hunting for you everywhere. You must know that I quarrelled with the old woman because she wanted to take me to Venice, where I knew quite well you would never go, because you are on the Austrian black list. I sold my gold necklace to get to Bologna. Something told me I should have the happiness of meeting you here, and the old woman arrived two days after me. I would not advise you to visit us, because she would make more of those shabby attempts to get money out of you, of which I am so ashamed. We have lived very comfortably since that fatal day you know of, and we have not spent a quarter of what you gave her. I should not like to go to see you at the Albergo del Pellegrino; that would be a publicity. Try to hire some little room in a lonely street, and at the Ave Maria (nightfall) I will be here under this same portico.”

Having said these words, she took to flight.