The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER XVI

“Well,” cried the general, as soon as he caught sight of his brother Don Cesare, “here is the duchess ready to spend a hundred thousand crowns to make a fool of me and save the prisoner.”

But for the present we must leave Fabrizio in his prison, high up in the citadel of Parma. He is well guarded there, and when we come back we shall find him safe enough, though perhaps a trifle changed. We must now turn all our attention to the court, where his fate is to be decided by the most complicated intrigues, and, above all, by the passions of a most unhappy woman. As Fabrizio, watched by the governor, climbed the three hundred and eighty steps which led to his dungeon in the Farnese Tower he felt, greatly as he had dreaded that moment, that he had no time to think of his misfortune.

When the duchess reached home after leaving Count Zurla’s party she waved her women from her, and then, throwing herself, fully dressed, upon her bed, she moaned aloud: “Fabrizio is in the hands of his enemies, and, because of me, perhaps they will poison him.” How can I describe the moment of despair which followed this summing up of the situation in the heart of a woman so unreasonable, so enslaved by the sensation of the moment, and, though she did not acknowledge it to herself, so desperately in love with the young prisoner?

There were inarticulate exclamations, transports of rage, convulsive movements, but not one tear. She had sent away her women that they might not see her weep. She had thought she must burst into sobs the moment she was left alone, but tears, the first relief of a great sorrow, were denied her utterly. Her haughty soul was too full of rage, indignation, and the sense of her own inferiority to the prince.

“Is not this humiliation enough?” she cried. “I am insulted, and, what is far worse, Fabrizio’s life is risked! And shall I not avenge myself? Beware, my prince! you may destroy me—so be it; that is in your power—but after you have done it, I will have your life. Alas, my poor Fabrizio, and what good will that do you? What a change from the day on which I was about to leave Parma! And yet I thought myself unhappy then.… What blindness! I was on the point of breaking up all the habits of a pleasant life. Alas, all unknowingly, I stood on the brink of an event which was to settle my fate forever. If the count’s vile habits of slavish toadyism had not made him suppress the words ‘unjust proceedings’ in that fatal note which I had wrung from the prince’s vanity, we should have been safe. More by good luck than by good guidance, I must acknowledge, I had nettled his vanity about his beloved city of Parma. Then it was I who threatened to depart. Then I was free.… My God! now I am nothing but a slave. Here I lie, nailed to this vile sewer; and Fabrizio lies chained in the citadel—that citadel which has been death’s antechamber to so many men. And I—I can no longer hold that wild beast by his fear of seeing me forsake his lair!

“He is too clever not to feel that I shall never go far from the hateful tower to which my heart is fettered. The man’s wounded vanity may inspire him with the most extraordinary notions; their whimsical cruelty would only tickle his astounding vanity. If he puts forward his nauseous attempts at love-making again, if he says, ‘Accept the homage of your slave or else Fabrizio dies,’ well, then it will be the old story of Judith.… Yes, but though that would be suicide for me, it would be murdering Fabrizio. That booby who would come after him, our prince royal, and Rassi, his infamous torturer, would hang Fabrizio as my accomplice.”

The duchess cried out in her distress. This alternative, from which she could see no escape, put her agonized heart to torture. Her bewildered mind could see no other probability in the future. For some ten minutes she tossed about like a mad woman; this horrible restlessness was followed at last, for a few moments, by the slumber of exhaustion; she was worn out. But in a few minutes she woke again, with a start, and found herself sitting on her bed. She had fancied the prince was cutting off Fabrizio’s head before her very eyes. The duchess cast distracted glances all about her. When she had convinced herself, at last, that neither the prince nor Fabrizio were in her presence, she fell back upon her bed, and very nearly fainted. So great was her physical weakness that she had not strength to alter her position. “O God, if only I could die!” she said. “But what cowardice! Could I forsake Fabrizio in his misfortunes? My brain must be failing. Come, let me look at the truth; let me coolly consider the horrible position into which I have sprung, as though to please myself. What mad folly to come and live at the court of an absolute prince, a tyrant who knows every one of his victims! To him every glance they give seems a threat against his own power. Alas! neither the count nor I thought of that when I left Milan. All I considered were the attractions—a pleasant court, something inferior, indeed, still somewhat resembling the happy days under Prince Eugène.

“One has no idea, at a distance, of what the authority of a despot, who knows all his subjects by sight, really means. The external forms of despotism are the same as those of other governments. There are judges, for instance, but they are men like Rassi. The monster! He would not think it the least odd to hang his own father at the prince’s order.… He would call it his duty.… I might buy over Rassi, but—unhappy that I am—I have no means of doing it. What have I to offer him? A hundred thousand francs, perhaps. And the story goes that when Heaven’s wrath against this unhappy country last saved him from a dagger thrust, the prince sent him ten thousand gold sequins in a casket. And besides, what sum of money could possibly tempt him? That grovelling soul, which has never read anything but scorn in other men’s eyes, has the pleasure, now, of being looked at with fear, and even with respect. He may become Minister of Police—and why not? Then three quarters of the inhabitants of the country will pay him abject court, and tremble before him as slavishly as he himself trembles before the sovereign.

“As I can not fly this odious place, I must be useful to Fabrizio. If I live on alone, solitary, despairing, what, then, am I to do for Fabrizio? No! forward, miserable woman! Do your duty. Go out into the world. Pretend you have forgotten Fabrizio. Pretend to forget you, dear angel?”

At the words the duchess burst into tears—she could weep at last. After an hour claimed by the natural weakness of humanity, she became aware, with some sense of consolation, that her ideas were beginning to grow clearer. “If I had a magic carpet,” said she, “if I could carry off Fabrizio from the citadel, and take refuge with him in some happy country where they could not pursue us—in Paris, for instance—we should have the twelve hundred francs his father’s agent sends me with such comical regularity, to live on, at first; and I am sure I could get together another three hundred thousand, out of the remnants of my fortune.” The imagination of the duchess dwelt with inexpressible delight upon all the details of the life she would lead three hundred leagues from Parma. “There,” thought she to herself, “he might enter the army under an assumed name. In one of those brave French regiments, young Valserra would soon make himself a reputation, and he would be happy at last.”

These dreams of delight brought back her tears again, but this time, they were softer. There was still such a thing as happiness, then, somewhere. This frame of mind continued for a long time. The poor woman shrank with horror from the contemplation of the terrible reality. At last, just as the dawn began to show a white light above the tree tops in her garden, she made a great effort. “Within a few hours,” said she to herself, “I shall be on the battle-field. I shall have to act, and if anything irritating should happen to me, if the prince took it into his head to say anything about Fabrizio, I am not sure that I shall be able to keep my self-control. Therefore, here and without delay, I must take my resolution.

“If I am declared a state criminal, Rassi will seize everything there is in the palace. On the first of the month, the count and I, according to our custom, burned all the papers of which the police might take advantage—and he is Minister of Police; there lies the beauty of the joke. I have three rather valuable diamonds. To-morrow Fulgenzio, my old boatman from Grianta, shall go to Geneva and place them in safe-keeping. If ever Fabrizio escapes (O God! be favourable to me!” and she crossed herself), “the Marchese del Dongo will perceive, in his unspeakable meanness, that it is a sin to provide support for a man who has been prosecuted by a legitimate prince. Then Fabrizio will get my diamonds, and so he will have bread at all events.

“I must dismiss the count.… After what has happened I never could bear to be alone with him again. Poor fellow! he is not wicked—far from it—he is only weak. His commonplace soul can not rise to the height of ours. My poor Fabrizio, would you could be with me for an instant, so that we might take counsel together about our danger!

“The count’s scrupulous prudence would interfere with all my plans, and besides, I must not drag him down into my own ruin.… For why should not that tyrant’s vanity make him cast me into prison? I shall have conspired … what is more easy to prove? If he would only send me to his citadel, and I could contrive to buy even one instant’s conversation with Fabrizio, how bravely we would go to death together! But a truce to such folly—his Rassi would advise him to get rid of me by poison. My appearance in the streets, dragged along in a cart, might touch the hearts of his dear subjects … but what! more fancies? Alas! such foolery must be forgiven to a poor woman whose real fate is so sad. The truth in all this is that the prince will not send me to death, but nothing would be easier for him than to cast me into prison and keep me there. He can have all sorts of compromising papers hidden in a corner of my palace, as was done in the case of poor L⸺. Then three judges—who need not be too great rogues, for there will be authentic evidence—and a dozen false witnesses, will do the rest. Thus I may be sentenced to death for conspiracy, and the prince, in his boundless mercy, and considering that I had formerly had the honour of being received by him, will commute the penalty to ten years in the fortress. But I, not to belie the violent character which has drawn so many foolish remarks from the Marchesa Raversi and my other enemies, shall coolly poison myself—so, at least, the public will kindly believe. But I will undertake that Rassi will make his appearance in my dungeon, and politely offer me a phial of strychnine or laudanum, in the prince’s name.

“Yes, I must have a very open rupture with the count, for I will not drag him down with my own fall. That would be infamy. The poor man has loved me so sincerely. It was my own folly which led me to believe any true courtier’s soul had room in it for love. The prince will very probably find some pretext for throwing me into prison. He will be afraid of my perverting public opinion with regard to Fabrizio. The count has a deep sense of honour; that instant he will do what the court hangers-on, in their overwhelming astonishment, will style an act of madness—he will leave the court. I braved the prince’s authority the night he wrote that note; I must be prepared for anything from his wounded self-love. Can a man who was born a prince ever forget the sensation I gave him that evening? And besides, if the count is at variance with me, he will be in a better position to serve Fabrizio. But supposing the count, whom my decision will throw into despair, were to avenge himself.… But that is an idea that would not occur to him. He is not an intrinsically mean man, like the prince. The count may countersign an infamous decree, and groan as he does it, but he is honourable. And then, what should he avenge? The fact that after having loved him for five years, and never given his love a single cause for complaint, I say to him: ‘Dear count, I was happy enough to love you. Well, the flame has burned out; I do not love you any more. But I know the very bottom of your heart; I have the deepest regard for you, and you will always be the dearest of all my friends.’

“What reply can an honourable gentleman make to such a declaration?

“I will take a new lover, or, at all events, the world will think so. I will say to that lover: ‘After all, the prince is quite right to punish Fabrizio’s blunder. But on his fête day our gracious sovereign will, no doubt, set him at liberty!’ Thus I shall gain six months. This new lover, whom prudence recommends, should be that venal judge, that vile torturer, Rassi. He would be ennobled, and as a matter of fact, I should give him the entrée into the best society. Forgive me, Fabrizio, dearest, that effort is beyond my powers. What! that monster! still stained with the blood of Count P⸺ and of D⸺? I should swoon with horror if he came near me, or, rather, I should seize a knife and plunge it into his vile heart. Ask me not things which are impossible!

“Yes, above all things, I must forget Fabrizio. I must not betray a shadow of anger against the prince. I must be as cheerful as ever. And my cheerfulness will seem yet more attractive to these sordid souls. First, because I shall appear to submit to their sovereign with a good grace; and secondly, because, far from making game of them, I shall take pains to show off their pretty little points—for instance, I will compliment Count Zurla on the beauty of the white feather in the hat he has just sent a courier to fetch from Lyons, and which is his great delight.

“I might choose a lover in the Raversi’s party. If the count retires, that will be the ministerial party, and there the power will lie. The man who rules the citadel will be a friend of the Raversi, for Fabio Conti will be one of the ministers. How will the prince, a well-bred man, a clever man, accustomed to the count’s delightful methods, endure doing business with that ox, that arch-fool, whose whole life has been taken up with the all-important problem of whether his Highness’s soldiers ought to wear seven buttons on the breasts of their tunics, or nine? It is such idiotic brutes as these—all very jealous of me, and there lies your danger, my dear Fabrizio—it is such idiotic brutes as these who will decide my fate and yours. Therefore the count will not resign. He always fancies resignation is the greatest sacrifice that can be made by a Prime Minister, and every time his looking-glass tells him he is growing old, he offers to make that sacrifice for me. Therefore my rupture with him must be complete. Yes, and there must be no reconciliation unless that should appear my only means of preventing his retirement. I will dismiss him, indeed, with all the kindness possible. But after his courtier-like suppression of the words ‘unjust proceedings’ in the prince’s note, I feel that if I am not to hate him I must spend some months without seeing him at all. On that decisive evening I had no need of his intelligence; all he had to do was to write under my dictation. He had only to write that one sentence, which I had won by my own resolution. His cringing courtier’s instinct was too much for him. He told me next morning that he could not ask his prince to sign anything so ridiculous—that he would have had to issue letters of pardon. But, good heavens, when one has to deal with such people—those monsters of vanity and spite known as the Farnese—one takes what one can get.”

At the thought, the anger of the duchess blazed up afresh. “The prince deceived me,” she said, “and how basely!… There is no excuse for that man. He has intellect, he has cleverness, he has logic; the only mean things in him are his passions. We have remarked it a score of times, the count and I. He is never vulgar-minded, except when he thinks there has been an intention to insult him. Well, Fabrizio’s crime has nothing to do with politics; it is a mere trifle of an assassination, such as occur by the hundred every year within his happy dominions, and the count has sworn to me that he has made the most careful inquiries, and that Fabrizio is innocent. Giletti was not devoid of courage. When he saw himself close to the frontier, he was suddenly tempted to get rid of a rival who found favour in the eyes of his mistress.”

The duchess pondered long over the question of Fabrizio’s possible culpability. Not that she considered it a very heavy sin on the part of a nobleman of her nephew’s rank to rid himself of an impertinent actor, but, in her despair, she was beginning to have a vague feeling that she would have to struggle desperately to prove Fabrizio’s innocence. “No,” said she at last, “here is a decisive proof. He is like poor Pietranera; he always carries arms in his pockets, and that day all he had was a broken-down single-barrelled gun, which he had borrowed from one of the workmen.

“I hate the prince, because he has deceived me, and deceived me after the most cowardly fashion. After he had signed his pardon, he had the poor boy carried off from Bologna. But this account shall be settled between us.”

Toward five o’clock in the morning the duchess, worn out by her long fit of despair, rang for her women. When they entered her room they screamed aloud. Seeing her stretched on her bed, fully dressed, with all her diamonds, her face white as her sheets, and her eyes closed, they almost fancied she was lying in state after her death. They would have thought her in a dead faint, if they had not recollected that she had just rung. Every now and then a slow tear coursed down her cheeks; her women understood, on a sign from her, that she desired to be put to bed.

Twice that morning, after Count Zurla’s party, the count had called upon the duchess. Finding no admittance, he wrote that he desired her advice for himself. Ought he to continue minister after the affront which had been put upon him? “The young man is innocent; but even if he had been guilty, ought he to have been arrested without any warning to me, his declared protector?”

The count had no virtue; we may even add that what Liberals understand by virtue (to seek the happiness of the greatest number) seemed to him folly. He believed his first duty to be to seek the happiness of Count Mosca della Rovere; but when he spoke of resigning, he was thoroughly honourable and perfectly sincere. Never in all his life had he spoken an untruth to the duchess. She, however, paid not the slightest attention to his letter. Her course, and a very painful one, was settled: she was to pretend to forget Fabrizio. After that effort, everything else was quite indifferent to her.

Toward noon next morning the count, who had called quite ten times at the Palazzo Sanseverina, was at last admitted. He was thunder-struck when he saw the duchess. “She looks forty,” said he to himself, “and yesterday she was so brilliant, so young; every one tells me that during her long conversation with Clelia Conti she looked quite as young as she, and far more bewitching.”

The duchess’s voice and manner of speaking were just as strange as her appearance. Her tone—passionless, devoid of all human interest, of any touch of anger—drove the colour from the count’s face. It reminded him of one of his friends who, a few months previously, when on the point of death, and after having received the sacrament, had desired to speak with him. After a few minutes, the duchess was able to speak to him. She looked at him, but her eyes were still dim.

“Let us part, my dear count,” she said, in a voice that was weak, but quite articulate, and which she did her best to render kind. “Let us part! It must be done. Heaven is my witness that for the last five years my conduct toward you has been above reproach. You have given me a brilliant life in place of the boredom which would have been my dreary lot at Grianta. But for you, old age and I would have met together some years earlier.… On my part, my one care has been to endeavour to make you happy. It is because I care for you that I propose this separation, ‘à l’amiable,’ as they say in France.”

The count did not understand her. She was obliged to repeat herself several times over. Then he grew deadly pale, and, casting himself on his knees beside her bed, he poured out all that the deepest astonishment, followed by the liveliest despair, could inspire in the heart of a clever man who was desperately in love. Over and over again he offered to send in his resignation, and follow his friend to some safe retreat a thousand leagues from Parma.

“You dare to speak to me of departure,” she cried at last, “and Fabrizio is here!” But seeing that the name of Fabrizio pained the count, she added, after a moment’s rest, and with a slight pressure of his hand: “No, dear friend, I will not tell you that I have loved you with those passionate transports which nobody, it appears to me, can feel after thirty, and I am long past that age. You will have been told that I love Fabrizio, for I know that story has been rife at this wicked court.” For the first time during this conversation, her eyes flashed as she spoke the word wicked. “I swear to you, before God, and on Fabrizio’s life, that not the smallest thing has ever happened between him and me, which a third person might not have seen. Neither will I tell you that I love him exactly as a sister would love him. I love him, so to speak, by instinct. I love his courage, so simple and so perfect that he may be said to be unaware of it himself. I remember that this admiration began when he returned from Waterloo. He was still a child, in spite of his seventeen years. His great anxiety was to know whether he really had been present at the battle; and if that were so, whether he could say he had fought, seeing he had not shared in the attack on any battery or any column of the enemy’s forces. It was during our serious discussion of this important subject that I began to notice his perfect charm. His great soul was revealed to me. What skilful lies a well-brought-up young man would have put forward in his place! Well, if he is not happy, I can not be happy. There; that sentence exactly describes the condition of my heart. If it is not the truth, it is, at all events, as much of the truth as I can see.” Encouraged by her tone of frankness and friendliness, the count tried to kiss her hand. She drew it away with a sort of horror. “Those days are over,” she said. “I am a woman of seven-and-thirty; I am on the threshold of old age. I feel all its despondency already; perhaps, indeed, I am very near my grave. That moment is a terrible one, so I have heard, and yet I think I long for it. I have the worst symptom of old age. This horrible misfortune has killed my heart; there is no love left in me. When I look at you, dear count, I only seem to see the shadow of some one who was once dear to me! I will say more. It is only my gratitude which makes me speak to you thus.”

“What is to become of me?” reiterated the count; “of me, who feel I love you more passionately than when I first saw you at the Scala?”

“Shall I tell you something, dear friend? Your talk of love wearies me, and strikes me as indecent. Come,” she said, and she tried to smile, but failed, “take courage; act like a clever man, a judicious man, full of resource to meet events. Be with me that which you really are in the eyes of the outside world—the cleverest man and the greatest politician whom Italy has produced for centuries.”

The count rose to his feet and walked up and down for some moments in silence.

“Impossible, dear friend,” said he at last. “I am torn in pieces by the most violent passion, and you ask me to appeal to my own reason. There is no reason for me at present.”

“Let us not speak of passion, I beg of you,” she replied in a hard tone, and for the first time in their two hours’ conversation there was some expression in her voice. In spite of his own despair, the count endeavoured to console her.

“He has deceived me,” she exclaimed, without making any answer to the reasons for hope which the count was putting before her; “he has deceived me in the basest manner,” and for an instant her deadly pallor disappeared. But the count remarked that even at that moment she had not strength to raise her arms.

“Good God!” thought he, “can it be possible that she is only ill? In that case this must be the beginning of some very serious illness.” And, overcome with anxiety, he proposed sending for the famous Razori, the chief physician of that country, and the best in Italy.

“Would you, then, give a stranger the pleasure of knowing all the depths of my despair?… Is that the counsel of a traitor or of a friend?” and she looked at him with wild eyes.

“It is all over,” said he to himself in despair, “She has no more love for me, and, what is worse, she does not even reckon me among men of ordinary honour.”

“I must tell you,” added the count, speaking rapidly, “that I was determined, in the first instance, to know all the details of the arrest which has thrown us into despair, and, curiously enough, I know nothing positive as yet. I have had the gendarmes at the next post questioned. They saw the prisoner come in by the road from Castelnovo, and were ordered to follow his sediola. I immediately sent off Bruno, with whose zeal and devotion you are acquainted. He has orders to go back from one post to another, and to find out where and how Fabrizio was arrested.”

At the sound of Fabrizio’s name the duchess was seized with a slight convulsion.

“Excuse me, my friend,” she said to the count, as soon as she could speak. “These details interest me. Tell them all to me; help me to understand the smallest incidents.”

“Well, signora,” continued the count, striving to speak lightly, in the hope of distracting her thoughts a little. “I am rather tempted to send a confidential message to Bruno, and tell him to push on as far as Bologna. It is there, perhaps, that they may have laid hands upon our young friend. What is the date of his last letter?”

“Tuesday; that is five days ago.”

“Had it been opened in transmission?”

“There was not a sign of that. I must tell you that it was written on the most horrible paper; the address is in a woman’s handwriting, and bears the name of an old washerwoman who is related to my waiting-maid. The washerwoman believes the letters have to do with a love affair, and Cecchina repays her the charges for delivery, and gives her nothing more.” The count, who had now quite taken up the tone of a business man, endeavoured, in talking the matter over with the duchess, to discover on what day Fabrizio might have been carried off from Bologna. It was only then that he, generally so full of tact, discovered that this was the tone he had better take. These details interested the unhappy woman, and seemed to distract her thoughts a little. If the count had not been so desperately in love, this simple idea would have occurred to him as soon as he entered her room.

The duchess dismissed him, so that he might send orders to the faithful Bruno without delay. When they touched, for a moment, on the question of finding out whether the sentence had actually been pronounced, when the prince had signed the note addressed to the duchess, she, with a sort of eagerness, seized the opportunity of saying to the count: “I will not reproach you with having omitted the words ‘unjust proceedings’ from the note which you wrote, and he signed. That was your courtier’s instinct, which was too strong for you. Unconsciously, you were preferring the interests of your master to the interests of your friend. Your acts, my dear count, have been subservient to my orders, and that for a very long time. But it is not within your power to change your nature. As a minister you have great talents, but you have the instincts of your trade as well. The suppression of the word ‘unjust’ has worked my ruin. But far be it from me to reproach you with it in any way. The fault lay with your instincts, and not with your will.

“Remember,” she added in an altered voice, and in the most imperious fashion, “that I am not too much overwhelmed by Fabrizio’s imprisonment, that it has never occurred to me to leave this country, and that my feeling for the prince is one of the most profound respect. That is what you have to say. And this is what I have to say to you: As I propose, in future, to direct my course alone, I wish to part from you ‘à l’amiable’—that is to say, as good old friends. You must consider that I am sixty years old, that youth is dead within me, that I can never feel anything very strongly again, that love is no longer possible to me. But I should be still more miserable than I am if I should happen to compromise your future. It may become part of my plans to give myself the appearance of having taken a young lover, and I should not like to see you pained on that account. I can swear to you, on Fabrizio’s happiness”—and she paused a minute on the words—“that I have never been unfaithful to you once in all these five years—that is a very long time,” she said. She tried to smile; there was a movement on her pallid cheeks, but there was no curve upon her lips. “I will even swear to you that I have never planned such a thing, nor even thought of it. Now I have made that clear, so pray leave me.”

The count left the Palazzo Sanseverina in a state of despair. He saw the duchess was thoroughly resolved to separate from him, and he had never been so desperately in love with her. This is one of the matters to which I am constantly obliged to return, because, outside Italy, their improbability is so great. As soon as he reached his own house he sent off six different people along the road from Castelnovo and Bologna, all of them carrying letters. “But this is not all,” said the unhappy count to himself. “The prince may take it into his head to have the unhappy boy executed, just to avenge himself for the tone the duchess took with him on the day of that fatal note. I felt then that the duchess had overstepped a boundary beyond which one should never go, and it was to patch things up that I fell into the incredible folly of suppressing the words ‘unjust proceedings,’ the only ones which bound the sovereign. But pooh! is there anything that binds a man in his position? It was certainly the greatest mistake of my whole life, and has risked everything which made it worth living to me. I must use all my activity and skill to repair the blunder now. But if I utterly fail to gain anything, even by sacrificing a certain amount of my dignity, I will leave this man in the lurch, and we’ll see whom he will find to replace me, and realize his mighty political dreams, and his idea of making himself constitutional King of Lombardy! Fabio Conti is a mere fool, and Rassi’s talent amounts to finding legal reasons for hanging a man whom the ruler dislikes.”

Once the count had thoroughly made up his mind to resign his post if the severity with which Fabrizio was treated exceeded that of an ordinary imprisonment, he said to himself: “If an imprudent defiance of that man’s vain whim costs me my life, I will preserve my honour at all events.… By the way, now that I snap my fingers at my ministerial portfolio, I can venture to do a hundred things which would have seemed impossible to me, even this morning. For instance, I will attempt anything within the bounds of human possibility to help Fabrizio to escape.… Good God!” exclaimed the count, breaking off suddenly, and his eyes dilated immensely, as if he had caught sight of some unexpected joy. “The duchess said nothing about escape to me! Can she have failed in sincerity for once in her life, and is her quarrel with me merely founded on her desire that I should deceive the prince? My faith, the thing is done!”

The count’s eyes had regained their old expression of satirical shrewdness. “That charming creature Rassi is paid by his master for all those sentences of his which dishonour us in the eyes of Europe. But he is not the man to refuse payment from me for betraying his master’s secrets. The brute has a mistress and a confessor. But the mistress is too vile a creature for me to converse with; all the fruit hucksters in the neighbourhood would know the details of our interview by the next morning.” The count, revived by this gleam of hope, was already on his way to the cathedral. Astounded at the hastiness of his own action, he laughed, in spite of his sorrow. “See what it is,” he said, “to be no longer minister.”

This cathedral, like many Italian churches, was used as a passage from one street to another. In the distance the count noticed one of the archbishop’s grand vicars crossing the aisle.

“As I have met you,” said he, “I am sure you will be good enough to save my gouty feet from the deadly fatigue of climbing up the archbishop’s staircase. I should be profoundly grateful to him if he would be so kind as to come down to the sacristy.” The archbishop was delighted at the message. He had a thousand things to say to the minister about Fabrizio; but the minister guessed these things were nothing but empty phrases, and would not listen to any of them.

“What sort of a man is Dugnani, the curate of San Paolo?”

“A small mind and a huge ambition,” replied the archbishop; “very few scruples, and excessive poverty, because of his vices.”

“Zounds! Monsignore,” exclaimed the minister, “your descriptions are worthy of Tacitus,” and he took leave of him with a smile. As soon as he was back in his palace he sent for Father Dugnani.

“You direct the conscience of my excellent friend Chief-Justice Rassi. Is there not anything he would like to say to me?” and without more words, or further ceremony, he dismissed the priest.