The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER XIV

While Fabrizio was prosecuting his search for love in a village near Parma, Rassi, all unconscious of his vicinity, continued dealing with the young man’s case as if it had been that of a Liberal. He pretended it was impossible to find any witnesses for the defence, or rather, he browbeat those he did find. Finally, after protracted and skilful labour, lasting nearly a year, the Marchesa Raversi, one Friday evening some two months after Fabrizio’s last visit to Bologna, publicly announced in her drawing-room—that on the very next day young Del Dongo’s sentence, which had been pronounced just an hour before, would be presented for the prince’s signature, and would receive his approval.

Within a very few minutes the duchess was apprised of her enemy’s announcement. “The count’s agents must serve him very ill,” said she to herself. “Even this morning he thought the sentence could not be pronounced for another week. It would not break his heart, perhaps, to see my young grand vicar banished from Parma. But,” she added, and she began to sing, “we shall see him come back, and he will be our archbishop some day!” The duchess rang the bell. “Call all the servants together into the anteroom,” said she to her footman, “even the cooks. Go to the commandant of the fortress and get a permit from him for four post-horses, and see that those same horses are harnessed to my carriage before half an hour is out.” All the waiting-women in the house were busy packing trunks, the duchess hurriedly slipped on a travelling dress—all this without sending any warning to the count. The idea of making sport of him a little filled her with delight.

“My friends,” she said to the servants, who were now assembled, “I have just heard that my poor nephew is about to be sentenced, by default, for having had the impudence to defend his life against a madman. It was Giletti who would have killed him. You have all of you had opportunities of seeing how gentle and inoffensive Fabrizio is by nature. Infuriated, as I have a right to be, by this vile insult, I start instantly for Florence. I leave each of you ten years’ wages. If you fall into difficulties, write to me, and as long as I have a sequin, there will be something for you.”

The duchess thought exactly what she said, and at her last words, her servants burst into tears. Her own eyes were wet, and she added, in a voice that trembled with emotion, “Pray to God for me, and for Monsignore del Dongo, chief grand vicar of the diocese, who will be sentenced to-morrow morning to the galleys, or, which would be less ridiculous, to the penalty of death.”

The servants’ tears fell faster, and their sobs changed by degrees into shouts that were almost seditious. The duchess entered her coach, and had herself driven to the prince’s palace. In spite of the unwonted hour, she requested General Fontana, the aide-de-camp in waiting, to beg the prince to grant her an audience. The aide-de-camp observed, with great astonishment, that she was not in full court dress. As for the prince, he was not the least surprised, and even less displeased, by the request for an audience. “Now we shall see tears shed by lovely eyes,” said he to himself, rubbing his hands. “She comes to sue for mercy; this proud beauty is going to humble herself at last. And, indeed, she was quite unbearable, with her little airs of independence. Whenever the smallest thing displeased her, those speaking eyes seemed always to tell me ‘it would be far pleasanter to live at Naples, or at Milan, than in your little town of Parma.’ It is true I do not reign over Naples, nor over Milan, but at any rate this fine lady is coming to beg me for something which depends on me alone, and which she pines to obtain. I have always thought that the nephew’s arrival would help me to get something out of her.”

While the prince was smiling at his own thoughts, and indulging in these pleasing forecasts, he kept walking up and down his study, at the door of which General Fontana still stood, upright and stiff, like a soldier shouldering arms. When he saw the prince’s shining eyes and recollected the duchess’s travelling garments, he felt convinced the monarchy was about to drop to pieces, and his astonishment exceeded all limits when he heard the prince address him thus: “You will ask the duchess to be good enough to wait for a quarter of an hour or so.” The aide-de-camp turned to the right about, like a soldier on parade, and the prince smiled again. “Fontana is not accustomed,” said he to himself, “to see the haughty duchess kept waiting. His face of astonishment when he tells her to wait for a quarter of an hour will pave the way for the affecting tears that will shortly be shed in this study.” That quarter of an hour was an exquisite one to the prince. He walked up and down, with steady and even step; he reigned in very deed. “It is important that nothing should be said which is not perfectly correct. Whatever may be my feelings toward the duchess, I must not forget that she is one of the greatest ladies of my court. How did Louis XIV address the princesses, his daughters, when he had reason to be displeased with them?” and his glance lingered on the great king’s portrait.

The comical thing was that the prince never thought of asking himself whether he should show mercy to Fabrizio, and what kind of mercy he should extend. At last, after the lapse of twenty minutes, the faithful Fontana appeared once more at the door, this time without saying a word. “The Duchess Sanseverina is permitted to enter,” exclaimed the prince, with a theatrical air. “Now the tears will begin,” said he, and as though to prepare himself for the sight, he pulled out his own handkerchief.

Never had the duchess looked so active or so pretty; she did not seem more than five-and-twenty. When the poor aide-de-camp saw her float across the carpet which her light foot hardly appeared to touch, he very nearly lost his head altogether. “I have all sorts of apologies to make your Most Serene Highness,” said the duchess in her clear blithe voice. “I’ve taken the liberty of presenting myself in a dress which is not exactly correct, but your Highness has so accustomed me to your kindnesses, that I have dared to hope you would grant me this favour.”

The duchess spoke rather slowly, so as to give herself time to enjoy the expression of the prince’s countenance, which was exquisite, by reason of his overwhelming astonishment and the remains of pomposity still indicated by the pose of his head and the position of his arms. The prince was thunder-struck. Every now and then he exclaimed almost inarticulately, in his little shrill, unsteady voice, “What! what!”

When the duchess had come to the end of her speech, she paused respectfully, as though to give him an opportunity of replying. Then she continued, “I venture to hope your Most Serene Highness will pardon the incongruity of my costume,” but even as she spoke the words, her mocking eyes shot out such brilliant shafts that the prince could not endure their glance. He stared at the ceiling, which, in his case, was always a sign of the most extreme embarrassment.

“What! what!” said he again. Then he was lucky enough to think of a remark.

“Duchess, pray be seated,” and he himself offered her a chair, and with considerable grace. The duchess was not unmoved by this politeness, and her indignant glance softened.

“What! what!” repeated the prince once more, fidgeting in his chair as though he could not settle himself firmly into it.

“I am going to take advantage of the coolness of the night hours to travel by post,” continued the duchess, “and as my absence may be of considerable duration, I would not leave your Most Serene Highness’s dominions without thanking you for all the kindness you have condescended to show me during the last five years.” At these words the prince understood at last, and turned pale. No man in the world suffered more than he, at the idea of having been mistaken in his forecast, but he took on an air of majesty quite worthy of the picture of Louis XIV which hung in front of him. “Ah, very good,” thought the duchess; “this is a man.”

“And what may be the reason of this sudden departure?” said the prince in a fairly steady voice.

“The plan is an old one,” replied the duchess, “and a petty insult which is being put on Monsignore del Dongo, who is to be sentenced either to death or to the galleys to-morrow, has hastened my departure.”

“And to what town do you proceed?”

“To Naples, I think.” Then, rising, she added: “All that now remains for me to do is to take leave of your Most Serene Highness, and to thank you, most humbly, for your former kindnesses.” Her tone was now so resolute that the prince clearly perceived that in two seconds everything would be over. Once the rupture of her departure had taken place, he knew any arrangement would be hopeless. She was not a woman to undo what she had once done. He hurried after her.

“But you know very well, duchess,” he said, taking her hand, “that I have always liked you, and that if you had chosen, that affection would have borne another name. A murder has been committed; that can not be denied. I employed my best judges to carry on the trial——”

At these words the duchess drew herself up to her full height. Like a flash every semblance of respect and even of urbanity disappeared. The offended woman stood unveiled before him, and an offended woman speaking to a being whom she knew to be false. With an expression of the liveliest anger and even scorn, she addressed the prince, laying stress on every word:

“I am leaving your Most Serene Highness’s dominions forever, so that I may never again hear the names of Rassi and of the other vile assassins who have passed sentence of death on my nephew, and on so many others. If your Most Serene Highness does not desire to mingle a feeling of bitterness with the memory of the last moments I have to spend in the presence of a prince who is both courteous and witty, when he is not deceived, I very humbly beseech your Highness not to remind me of those shameless judges who sell themselves for a decoration, or for a thousand crowns.” The ring of nobility, and above all of truth, in her words, made the prince shiver. For a moment he feared his dignity might be compromised by a yet more direct accusation. But on the whole, his sensation soon became one of pleasure. He admired the duchess; her whole person, at that moment, breathed a beauty that was sublime. “Good God, how beautiful she is!” said the prince to himself; “something must be forgiven to such a woman—there is probably not another like her in Italy.… Well, with a little careful policy, I may not find it impossible to make her my mistress some day. Such a creature would be very different from that doll-faced Balbi, who steals at least three hundred thousand francs a year from my poor subjects into the bargain.… But did I hear aright?” thought he suddenly. “She said, ‘sentenced my nephew and so many others’!” Then rage got the upper hand, and it was with a haughtiness worthy of his supreme position that the prince said, after a silence, “And what must be done to prevent the duchess from departing?”

“Something of which you are not capable,” replied the duchess, and the most bitter irony and the most open scorn rang in her voice.

The prince was beside himself, but the habit of reigning with absolute authority had brought him strength to resist his first impulses. “I must possess this woman,” thought he; “I owe it to myself. And then I must kill her with my scorn. If she leaves this study I shall never see her again.” But wild as he was, at that moment, with rage and hatred, how was he to pitch on a phrase which would at once fulfil what was due to himself, and induce the duchess not to forsake his court that instant? “A gesture,” thought he, “can neither be repeated nor turned into ridicule,” and he put himself between the duchess and the door of the room. Soon after he heard somebody tapping at the door. “Who is the damned fellow,” he exclaimed, swearing with all the strength of his lungs, “who is the damned fellow who wants to intrude his idiotic person here?” Poor General Fontana put in a pale and completely puzzled countenance. With a face like the face of a dying man he murmured inarticulately, “His Excellency Count Mosca craves the honour of an audience.”

“Let him come in,” shouted the prince, and as Mosca bowed before him, “Well,” said he, “here is the Duchess Sanseverina, who says she is instantly leaving Parma to go and settle in Naples, and who has been making impertinent remarks to me into the bargain.”

“What!” said Mosca.

“What! You knew nothing about the plan of departure?”

“Not a single word. When I left the duchess at six o’clock she was cheerful and gay.” The words produced an incredible effect upon the prince. First of all he looked at Mosca, whose increasing pallor proved that he had spoken the truth, and had nothing to do with the duchess’s sudden freak. “In that case,” said he to himself, “she is lost to me forever. My pleasure and my vengeance both fly away together. At Naples she and her nephew Fabrizio will write epigrams on the mighty rages of the little Prince of Parma.” Then he looked at the duchess; the most violent scorn and anger were struggling in her breast, her eyes were riveted on Count Mosca, and the delicate lines of her beautiful mouth expressed the bitterest disdain. Her whole expression seemed to say “Cringing courtier!”

“Thus,” thought the prince after having scrutinized her, “I have lost the means of recalling her to my country. Once more, if she leaves the study at this moment, she is lost to me. God only knows what she will say about my judges at Naples. And with the wit and divine powers of persuasion Heaven has given her, she will make everybody believe her. Thanks to her, I shall bear the reputation of an undignified tyrant, who gets up in the night to look under his bed.” Then, by a skilful manœuvre, as if he were walking about to calm his agitation, the prince once more placed himself in front of the study door. The count was at his right, some three paces off, pale, discomposed, and trembling to such an extent that he was obliged to support himself by leaning on the back of the arm-chair which the duchess had occupied during the beginning of the audience, and which the prince had pushed away with an angry gesture.

The count was in love. “If the duchess goes,” he was saying to himself, “I shall follow her. But will she allow me to follow her? That is the question.” On the prince’s left the duchess stood erect, her arms folded tightly across her bosom, superbly angry, watching him. The brilliant colour which had lately flushed her beautiful face had faded into the deepest pallor. The prince’s face, unlike those of the other two actors in the scene, was red, and he looked worried. His left hand convulsively jerked the cross fastened to the ribbon of his order, which he wore under his coat; his right hand caressed his chin.

“What is to be done?” said he to the count, hardly knowing what he said, and carried away by his habit of consulting Mosca about everything.

“Truly I know not, your Most Serene Highness,” said the count, like a man who was breathing out his last sigh; he could hardly speak the words. The tone of his voice was the first consolation to his wounded pride which the prince had enjoyed during the audience, and this small piece of good fortune inspired him with a remark that was very grateful to his vanity.

“Well,” said he, “I am the most sensible of us three. I am willing to completely overlook my own position in the world. I shall speak as a friend,” and he added, with a noble smile of condescension—a fine imitation of the good old times of Louis XIV—“as a friend speaking to his friends. Duchess,” he added, “what must I do to induce you to forget this untimely decision?”

“Truly, I know not,” said the duchess with a great sigh; “truly I know not, so hateful is Parma to me.” There was not the smallest epigrammatic intention in her words; her sincerity was quite evident. The count turned sharply toward her; his courtier’s soul was horrified. Then he cast a beseeching glance toward the prince. The prince paused for a moment; then, turning with great dignity and calmness to the count, “I see,” said he, “that your charming friend is quite beside herself; that is quite natural—she adores her nephew.” Then to the duchess—speaking in the most gallant manner, and at the same time with the sort of air with which a man quotes the key word of a comedy—he added, “What must I do to find favour in those fair eyes?”

The duchess had had time to reflect. In a slow and steady voice, as if she had been dictating her ultimatum, she replied: “Your Highness would write me a gracious letter, such as you so well know how to write, in which you would say that, not being convinced of the guilt of Fabrizio del Dongo, chief grand vicar to the archbishop, you will not sign the sentence when it is presented to you, and that these unjust proceedings shall have no further effect.”

“What! unjust?” said the prince, reddening up to the whites of his eyes and falling into a rage again.

“That is not all,” replied the duchess with all the dignity of a Roman matron. “This very evening, and,” she added, looking at the clock, “it is already a quarter past eleven—this very evening your Most Serene Highness would send word to the Marchesa Raversi that you advise her to go to the country to recover from the fatigue which a certain trial, of which she was talking in her drawing-room early this evening, must doubtless have caused her.”

The prince was raging up and down his study like a fury.

“Did any one ever see such a woman?” he cried. “She actually fails in respect to my person!”

The duchess replied with the most perfect grace: “Never in my life did it enter my head to fail in respect to your Most Serene Highness. Your Highness was so extremely condescending as to say that you would speak as a friend to his friends. And, indeed, I have no desire to remain in Parma,” she added, shooting a glance of the most ineffable scorn at the count. That glance decided the prince, who had been hitherto very uncertain in his mind, although his words might have been taken to indicate an undertaking,—but words meant little to him.

A few more remarks were exchanged, but at last Count Mosca received orders to write the gracious note for which the duchess had asked. He omitted the sentence: “These unjust proceedings shall have no further effect.” “It will be quite enough,” said the count to himself, “if the prince promises not to sign the sentence when it is presented to him.” As the prince signed the paper he thanked him with a glance.

The count made a great blunder. The prince was tired out, and he would have signed everything. He flattered himself he had got through the scene very well, and the whole matter was overshadowed in his mind by the thought, “If the duchess goes away the court will grow tiresome to me in less than a week.” The count noticed that his master had corrected the date, and inserted that of the next day. He glanced at the clock; it was almost midnight. The correction only struck the minister as a proof of the prince’s pedantic desire to show his exactness and careful government. As to the exile of the Marchesa Raversi, he made no difficulty at all. The prince took a particular delight in banishing people.

“General Fontana!” he called out, half opening the door. The general appeared, wearing a face of such astonishment and curiosity that a swift glance of amusement passed between the count and the duchess, and in that glance, peace was made between them.

“General Fontana,” said the prince, “you will get into my carriage, which is waiting under the colonnade, you will go to the Marchesa Raversi’s house, you will send up your name. If she is in bed you will add that you come from me, and when you reach her room, you will say these exact words, and no others: ‘Signora Marchesa Raversi, his Most Serene Highness invites you to depart to-morrow, before eight o’clock in the morning, to your castle at Velleia. His Highness will inform you when you may return to Parma.’” The prince’s eyes sought those of the duchess, who, without thanking him, as he had expected, made him an exceedingly respectful courtesy, and went swiftly out of the room.

“What a woman!” said the prince, turning toward Count Mosca.

The count, who was delighted at the Marchesa Raversi’s exile, which immensely facilitated all his ministerial actions, talked for a full half-hour, like the consummate courtier he was; his great object was to heal the sovereign’s vanity, and he did not take leave until he had thoroughly convinced him that there was no finer page in the anecdotic history of Louis XIV than that which he had just furnished for his own future historians.

When the duchess got home she closed her doors, and gave orders that nobody was to be admitted—not even the count. She wanted to be alone, and to make up her mind as to what she ought to think of the scene that had just taken place. She had acted at random, just as her fancy led her at the moment. But whatever step she might have been carried away into undertaking, she would have adhered to it steadily. She never would have blamed herself, and much less repented, when her coolness had returned. It was to these characteristics that she owed the fact that she was still, at six-and-thirty years of age, the prettiest woman at the court.

At that moment she was dreaming over all the charms Parma might possess, as she might have done on her way back there, after a long absence, so sure had she been, from nine to eleven o’clock, that she was about to leave the city forever.

“That poor dear count did cut a comical figure when he heard of my departure in the prince’s presence! He really is a charming fellow, and one does not come across such a heart as his every day. He would have resigned all his portfolios to follow me. But, then, for five whole years he has never once had to complain of any want of attention on my part. How many regularly married women could say the same to their lord and master? I must admit there is no self-importance nor pedantry about him; he never makes me feel I should like to deceive him. He always seems ashamed of his power when he is with me. How droll he looked before his lord and master! If he were here I would kiss him. But nothing on earth would induce me to undertake the task of amusing a minister who has lost his portfolio. That is an illness which nothing but death can cure, and which kills other folks. What a misfortune it must be to be a minister when you are young! I must write to him. He must know this thing officially before he quarrels with his prince. But I was forgetting my poor servants.”

The duchess rang the bell. Her women were still busy filling trunks, the carriage was standing underneath the portico, and the men were packing it. All the servants who had no work to do were standing round the carriage with tearful eyes. Cecchina, the only person allowed to enter the duchess’s room on solemn occasions, informed her mistress of all these details.

“Send them upstairs,” said the duchess. A moment later she herself went into the anteroom. “I have received a promise,” said she, addressing them, “that the sentence against my nephew will not be signed by the sovereign” (the Italian mode of expression). “I have put off my departure. We shall see whether my enemies have enough credit to get this decision altered.”

There was silence for a moment. Then the servants began to shout “Long live our lady the duchess!” and clapped their hands furiously. The duchess, who had retired into the next room, reappeared, like a popular actress, dropped a little graceful courtesy to her people, and said, “My friends, I thank you.” At that moment, on the slightest hint from her, they would all have marched in a body to attack the palace. She beckoned to one of her postillions, a former smuggler, and most trusty servant, who followed her out.

“You must dress yourself as a well-to-do peasant, you must get out of Parma as best you can; then hire a sediola, and get to Bologna as quickly as possible. You will enter Bologna, as if you were taking an ordinary walk, by the Florence gate, and you will deliver a packet, which Cecchina will give you, to Fabrizio, who is living at the Pellegrino. Fabrizio is in hiding there, and calls himself Signor Giuseppe Bossi. Do not betray him by any imprudence; do not appear to know him. My enemies may set spies upon your heels. Fabrizio will send you back here in a few hours, or a few days. It is on your way back, especially, that you must be careful not to betray him.”

“Ah, the Marchesa Raversi’s servants, you mean,” exclaimed the postillion. “We’re ready for them, and if it were the signora’s will they should soon be exterminated.”

“Some day, perhaps. But for your life beware of doing anything without my orders.” It was the copy of the prince’s note that the duchess wanted to send to Fabrizio. She could not deny herself the pleasure of amusing him, and she added a few words concerning the scene of which the note had been the outcome. These few words swelled into a letter of ten pages. She sent for the postillion again. “You can not start,” she said, “until four o’clock, when the gates open.”

“I thought I would get out by the main sewer; the water would be up to my chin, but I could get through.”

“No,” said the duchess. “I will not let one of my most faithful servants run the risk of a fever. Do you know any one in the archbishop’s household?”

“The second coachman is a friend of mine.”

“Here is a letter for the holy prelate; slip quietly into his palace, and have yourself taken to his valet—I would not have his Grace disturbed. If he is already shut up in his own room, spend the night at the palace, and as he always gets up at daybreak, send in to-morrow at four o’clock, say you have been sent by me, ask the holy archbishop’s blessing, give him this packet, and take the letters he may possibly give you to Bologna.” The duchess was sending the archbishop the original of the prince’s letter, requesting him, as the note concerned his chief grand vicar, to place it among the archiepiscopal archives, where she hoped her nephew’s colleagues, the other grand vicars and canons, would take note of its existence—all this under seal of the most profound secrecy.

The duchess wrote to Monsignore Landriani in a style of familiarity which was certain to delight that worthy man; her signature took up three lines. The letter, couched in the most friendly terms, ended with the words:

“Angelina Cornelia Isola Valserra del Dongo, Duchess Sanseverina.”

“I don’t believe I have written my name in full,” said the duchess, laughing, “since I signed my marriage contract with the poor duke. But it is trifles such as these that impress people, and common folk take caricature for beauty.”

She could not resist winding up her evening by yielding to the temptation of writing a tormenting letter to the poor count. She announced to him, officially, and for his guidance, so she expressed it, in his intercourse with crowned heads, that she did not feel herself equal to the task of entertaining a disgraced minister. “You are afraid of the prince,” she wrote. “When you can no longer see him, shall you expect me to frighten you?” She despatched the letter instantly.

The prince, on his side, sent, at seven o’clock the next morning, for Count Zurla, Minister of the Interior, and said: “Give fresh and most stringent orders to every podestà to arrest Fabrizio del Dongo. I hear there is some chance that he may venture to reappear in my dominions. The fugitive is at Bologna, where he seems to brave the action of our law courts. You will therefore place police officers who are personally acquainted with his appearance: 1. In the villages on the road from Bologna to Parma. 2. In the neighbourhood of the Duchess Sanseverina’s house at Sacca and her villa at Castelnovo. 3. All round Count Mosca’s country-house. I venture, Count, to rely on your great wisdom to conceal all knowledge of your sovereign’s orders from discovery by Count Mosca. Understand clearly that I will have Fabrizio del Dongo arrested.”

As soon as this minister had departed, Rassi, the chief justice, entered the prince’s study by a secret door, and came forward, bent well-nigh double, and bowing at every step. The rascal’s face was a study for a painter, worthy of all the vileness of the part he played, and while the swift and disturbed glance of his eye betrayed his consciousness of his own value, the grinning expression of arrogant self-confidence upon his lips showed that he knew how to struggle against scorn.

As this individual is destined to exert great influence over Fabrizio’s fate, I may say a word of him here. He was tall, with fine and very intelligent eyes, but his face was seamed by small-pox. As for intelligence, he had plenty of it, and of the sharpest. His thorough knowledge of legal matters was uncontested, but his strongest point was his resourcefulness. Whatever might be the aspect of a matter, he always, with the greatest ease and in the shortest space of time, discovered the most logical and well-founded means of obtaining a sentence or an acquittal. He was, above all things, a past master in attorney’s tricks.

This man, whose services mighty monarchs would have envied the Prince of Parma, had only one great passion—to talk familiarly with exalted personages, and entertain them with buffooneries. Little did he care whether the great man laughed at what he said, or at his own person, or even made disgusting jokes about his wife. So long as he saw him laugh, and was himself treated with familiarity, he was content. Sometimes, when the prince had exhausted all possible means of belittling his chief justice’s dignity, he would kick him heartily. If the kicks hurt him, the chief justice would cry. But the instinct of buffoonery was so strong in him that he continued to prefer the drawing-room of a minister who scoffed at him, to his own, where he held despotic sway over the whole legal profession. Rassi had made himself quite a peculiar position, owing to the fact that not the most insolent noble in the country could humiliate him. His vengeance for the insults showered on him all the day long consisted in retailing them to the prince, to whom he had acquired the privilege of saying everything. It is true that the prince’s answer frequently consisted in a hearty box on the ear, which hurt him horribly, but to that he never took exception. The presence of the chief justice distracted the prince’s thoughts in his hours of bad temper, and he would then amuse himself by ill treating him. My readers will perceive that Rassi was almost the perfect man for a court. He had no honour and no humour.

“Secrecy, above all things!” exclaimed the prince, without any recognition of his salutation. The most courteous of men, as a rule, he treated Rassi like the merest varlet. “What is the date of your sentence?”

“Yesterday morning, your Most Serene Highness.”

“How many of the judges signed it?”

“All five.”

“And the penalty?”

“Twenty years in the fortress, as your Most Serene Highness told me.”

“A death sentence would have horrified people,” said the prince, as though talking to himself. “A pity! What a shock it would have been to that woman! But he is a Del Dongo, and the name is honoured in Parma because of the three archbishops who came almost one after the other.… Twenty years in the fortress, you say?”

“Yes, your Most Serene Highness,” replied Rassi, who was still standing doubled up in an attitude of obeisance. “To be preceded by a public apology before a portrait of your Most Serene Highness; and besides, a fast of bread and water every Friday and on the eves of all the chief feast days, because of the prisoner’s notorious impiety. This with a view to the future, and to break the neck of his career.”

“Write,” said the prince, “‘His Most Serene Highness, having deigned to grant a favourable hearing to the very humble petitions of the Marchesa del Dongo, mother of the culprit, and the Duchess Sanseverina, his aunt, who have represented that at the period of the crime their son and nephew was very young, and carried away by his mad passion for the wife of the unfortunate Giletti, has condescended, notwithstanding his horror of the murder, to commute the penalty to which Fabrizio del Dongo has been condemned to that of twelve years’ detention in the fortress.’

“Give the paper to me to sign.” The prince added his signature and the date of the preceding day. Then, handing the sheet back to Rassi, he said: “Write just below my signature: ‘The Duchess Sanseverina having once more cast herself at his Highness’s feet, the prince has granted the culprit permission to walk for an hour, every Thursday, on the platform of the square tower, vulgarly called the Farnese Tower.’

“Sign that,” said the prince, “and keep your lips sealed, whatever you may hear in the town. You will tell Councillor de’ Capitani, who voted for two years’ imprisonment, and even held forth in support of his ridiculous opinion, that I advise him to read over the laws and regulations. Now, silence again, and good-night to you.”

Chief-Justice Rassi made three deep bows, very slowly indeed, and the prince never even looked at them.

All this happened at seven o’clock in the morning. A few hours later, the news of the Marchesa Raversi’s exile had spread all over the town and the cafés. Everybody was talking at once about the great event. For some time, thanks to the marchesa’s banishment, that implacable enemy of small cities and small courts, known as boredom, fled from the town of Parma. General Fabio Conti, who had believed himself sure of the ministry, pretended he had the gout, and never showed his nose outside his fortress for several days. The middle class, and consequently the populace, concluded from current events that the prince had resolved to confer the archbishopric of Parma on Monsignore del Dongo. The more cunning café politicians went so far as to declare that Archbishop Landriani had been invited to feign serious illness, and send in his resignation. He was to be compensated with a large pension, charged on the tobacco duties. They were quite certain of this. The rumour reached the archbishop, who was very much disturbed, and for some days his zeal in our hero’s cause was largely paralyzed in consequence. Some two months later, this fine piece of news appeared in the Paris press, with the trifling alteration that it was Count Mosca, the Duchess Sanseverina’s nephew, who was supposed to be likely to be appointed archbishop.

Meanwhile the Marchesa Raversi was raging at her country house at Velleia. There was nothing womanish about her. She was not one of those weak creatures who fancy they slake their vengeance when they pour out violent diatribes against their enemies. The very day after her disgrace, Cavaliere Riscara and three other friends of hers waited on the prince, and sued permission to go and see her in her country place. His Highness received these gentlemen with the utmost graciousness, and their arrival at Velleia was a great consolation to the marchesa.

Before the second week was out she had gathered quite thirty persons about her—all those who would have obtained office in the Liberal government. Every evening the marchesa sat in council with the best-informed of her adherents. One day, when she had received numerous letters from Parma and Bologna, she retired at a very early hour. Her favourite waiting-woman introduced to her presence first of all her acknowledged lover, Count Baldi, a young man of great beauty and utter futility, and later on Cavaliere Riscara, who had been Baldi’s predecessor. This last was a short man, dusky, both physically and morally speaking, who had begun life by teaching geometry in the Nobles’ College at Parma, and was now a councillor of state, and knight of several orders.

“I have the good habit,” said the marchesa to the two men, “of never destroying any paper, and it serves me well now. Here are nine letters which the Sanseverina has written to me on various occasions. You will both of you start for Genoa; there, among the convicts at the galleys, you will seek out an ex-notary whose name is Burati, like the great Venetian poet, or, it may be, Durati. You, Count Baldi, will be pleased to sit down at my table, and write at my dictation:

“‘An idea has just struck me, and I send you a word. I am going to my hut near Castelnovo. If you like to come and spend twelve hours there with me, it will make me very happy. I do not think there is any great danger in this, after what has happened. The clouds are growing lighter. Nevertheless, stop before you go into Castelnovo. You will meet one of my servants on the road. They are all passionately devoted to you. Of course you will keep the name of Giuseppe Bossi for this little expedition. I am told you have a beard worthy of the most splendid Capuchin, and at Parma you have only been seen with the decent countenance of a grand vicar.’

“Do you understand, Riscara?”

“Perfectly. But the journey to Genoa is a quite unnecessary luxury. I know a man in Parma who has not been to the galleys yet, indeed, but who can not fail to get there. He will forge the Sanseverina’s handwriting in the most successful manner.”

At these words Count Baldi opened his fine eyes desperately wide. He was only beginning to understand.

“If you know this worthy gentleman at Parma, whose interests you hope to advance,” said the marchesa to Riscara, “he probably knows you too. His mistress, his confessor, his best friend, may be bought by the Sanseverina. I prefer to delay my little joke for a few days, and run no risk whatsoever. Start within two hours, like two good little lambs, don’t see a soul at Genoa, and come back as quickly as you can.” Cavaliere Riscara sped away, laughing, and talking through his nose like Pulcinello. “I must pack up,” he cried, cantering off with the most ludicrous gestures.

He wanted to leave Baldi alone with the fair lady. Five days later, Riscara brought the marchesa back her lover, very stiff and sore. To save six leagues, he had made him cross a mountain on mule-back. He swore nobody should ever catch him making a long journey again. Baldi brought the marchesa three copies of the letter she had dictated, and six others, in the same hand, of Riscara’s composition, and which might come in usefully later. One of these letters contained some very pleasing jokes about the prince’s terrors at night, and the deplorable thinness of his mistress, the Marchesa Balbi, who, so it declared, left a mark like that of a pair of tongs on the cushion of every arm-chair in which she sat. Anybody would have sworn these missives were all in the Duchess Sanseverina’s handwriting.

“Now,” said the marchesa, “I know, without any possibility of doubt, that the duchess’s best beloved, her Fabrizio, is at Bologna, or in the neighbourhood.”

“I am too ill,” interrupted Count Baldi. “I beseech you to excuse me from making another journey, or, at all events, let me rest for a few days, and recover my health.”

“I will plead your cause,” said Riscara. He rose, and said something to the marchesa in an undertone.

“Very good; I consent to that,” she answered with a smile.

“Make your mind easy. You will not have to go away,” said the marchesa to Baldi, with a somewhat scornful look.

“Thanks,” he cried, and his tone was heartfelt. Riscara did, in fact, set off alone, in a post-chaise. He had hardly been two days at Bologna before he caught sight of Fabrizio and Marietta in a carriage. “The devil!” he cried. “Our future archbishop does not appear to deny himself any pleasure. This must be revealed to the duchess, who will be delighted.” All Riscara had to do, to discover Fabrizio’s residence, was to follow him there. The very next morning, the post brought the young man the letter of Genoese manufacture. He thought it a little short, but no idea of suspicion occurred to him. The idea of seeing the duchess and the count again sent him frantic with delight, and in spite of all Ludovico’s remonstrances, he hired a post-horse and started off at a hard gallop. All unknown to himself, he was followed by Riscara, who, when he reached the posting-station before Castelnovo, about six leagues from Parma, had the pleasure of seeing a crowd collected in the square in front of the local prison. Its doors had just closed upon our hero, who had been recognised, as he was changing horses, by two myrmidons of the law, chosen and sent out by Count Zurla.

Riscara’s small eyes twinkled with delight. With the most exemplary patience, he verified every incident connected with the affair that had just taken place in the little village, and then sent off a messenger to the marchesa Raversi. After which, by dint of walking about the streets as though to visit the church—a very interesting building—and to hunt up a picture by Parmegiano which, he had heard, existed in that neighbourhood, he contrived to come across the podestà, who hastened to pay his respects to a councillor of state. Riscara appeared surprised that the podestà had not despatched the conspirator, on whom he had so luckily laid his hand, straight to the citadel.

“There is some risk,” Riscara added unconcernedly, “that his many friends, who were out looking for him yesterday, to help him to get across the dominions of his Most Serene Highness, might meet the gendarmes. There were quite twelve or fifteen of the rebels, all mounted.”

“Intelligenti pauca!” exclaimed the podestà, with a knowing look.