The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER XVIII

Thus, in spite of their absolute devotion to the prisoner’s interests, neither the duchess nor the Prime Minister had been able to do more than a very little for him. The prince was furious with Fabrizio; and both the court and the public had a grudge against him, and were delighted to see him in trouble—his luck had been too remarkable. The duchess, though she had scattered money broadcast, had not been able to advance one step in her siege of the citadel. Never a day passed but that the Marchesa Raversi or Cavaliere Riscara found some fresh word to drop into General Conti’s ear. Thus they strengthened his weakness.

As we have already said, Fabrizio, on the day of his imprisonment, was conducted, in the first place, to the governor’s palace. This is a pretty little building erected during the last century, after a design by Vanvitelli, who placed it at an elevation of a hundred and eighty feet, on the platform of the huge Round Tower. From the windows of this little palace, set like a camel’s hump on the back of the great tower, Fabrizio looked far out over the country, and to the Alps in the distance. At the foot of the citadel he could mark the course of the Parma, a sort of torrent which bends to the right, about four leagues from the city, and casts itself into the Po. Beyond the left bank of that river, which formed a succession of immense white stains upon the verdant green of the surrounding country, his delighted eye could distinctly recognise the peaks of the mighty wall of the Alps, running right across the north of Italy. These peaks, which, even in the month of August, as it then was, are always covered with snow, cast a sort of memory of coolness across the blazing country. Every detail of their outline can be followed, and yet they are more than thirty leagues from the citadel of Parma.

The wide view from the governor’s charming palace is broken, at one of its southern corners, by the Farnese Tower, in which a room was being hastily prepared for Fabrizio. This second tower was built, as my readers will perhaps remember, on the platform of the great tower, in honour of a certain hereditary prince, who, far from following the example of Hippolytus, the son of Theseus, had turned a by no means deaf ear to the blandishments of a youthful stepmother. The princess died within a few hours; the son of the prince only regained his liberty some seventeen years later, when he ascended the throne after his father’s death. This Farnese Tower, to which Fabrizio was conducted after waiting some three-quarters of an hour, is externally a very ugly building, rising some fifty feet above the platform of the great tower, and adorned with a number of lightning conductors.

The prince, who had reason to be displeased with his wife, and who had caused the prison, which was visible from every quarter, to be constructed, conceived the strange notion of persuading his subjects that it had already been in existence for many years, and for this reason he dubbed it the Farnese Tower. Any reference to the progress of the building was forbidden; yet, from every corner of the city of Parma, and of the plains around it, the masons might be seen laying every stone that went to the composition of the pentagonal edifice. To prove its ancient origin a magnificent bas-relief, representing Alessandro Farnese, the famous general, forcing Henry IV to retire from Paris, was placed above the doorway, two feet wide and four high, which formed the entrance to the building. The Farnese Tower, standing in this prominent position, consists of a ground floor apartment, at least forty paces long, broad in proportion, and full of very squat pillars, for the room, disproportionately large as it is, is not more than fifteen feet high. This is used as the guard-room, and in the middle of it the staircase runs up round one of the pillars—quite a small, open-work iron staircase, very light, and hardly two feet wide. Up this staircase, which shook under the weight of the jailers who guarded him, Fabrizio was led into some huge rooms more than twenty feet high, which formed a magnificent first floor. They had once been furnished with the utmost splendour for the young prince who had spent the seventeen best years of his life in them. At one end of these rooms the new prisoner was shown a chapel of the greatest magnificence—the walls and vaulted ceiling were entirely cased with black marble; the pillars, which were also black, and of the most noble proportions, were set in rows along the black walls, though not touching them; these walls were adorned with a number of skulls of colossal proportions, beautifully chiselled in white marble, and each supported by two crossed bones. “That was certainly invented by the hatred of a man who did not dare to kill,” said Fabrizio to himself. “What a devilish notion to show it to me!”

Another very light open-work iron staircase, also wound round a pillar, led to the second story of this prison, and it was in these second-story rooms, about fifteen feet high, that General Fabio Conti’s genius had been displaying itself for the past year. Under his directions, to begin with, the windows of the rooms, which had originally been occupied by the prince’s servants, and are over thirty feet above the stone flags forming the roof of the great Round Tower, were all securely covered with gratings. These rooms, each of which has two windows, are reached by a dark passage, running through the centre of the building, and across this very narrow passage Fabrizio noticed three successive gates, made of huge iron bars, and carried right up into the vaulted ceiling. The plans, sections, and elevations of all these fine inventions had secured the general a weekly audience with his master for the two previous years. A conspirator immured in one of these dungeons could not well appeal to public opinion on the score of inhuman treatment, and yet he was precluded from holding communication with any one on earth, or from making the smallest movement without being overheard. In each of these rooms the general had placed thick oaken planking, which formed something like benches, three feet high; and here came in his great invention, that which established his claim to be appointed Minister of Police. On these planks he had built a kind of wooden shed, ten feet high, and very resounding, which only touched the wall on the window side of the room. On the three other sides a narrow passage, some four feet wide, ran between the original walls of the prison, built of enormous hewn stones, and the wooden sides of the shed. These sides, made of four thicknesses of walnut wood, oak, and deal, were strongly bound together by iron bolts, and innumerable nails.

It was into one of these rooms, which had been prepared a year previously, was considered General Fabio Conti’s masterpiece, and had received the resounding title of “Passive Obedience,” that Fabrizio was conducted. The view out of the barred windows was sublime. Only one small corner of the horizon, that toward the northwest, was concealed by the balustraded roof of the governor’s pretty palace, which was only two stories high. The ground floor was occupied by the officers of his staff, and Fabrizio’s eye was at once caught by one of the upper-floor windows, round which hung a great number of pretty cages, containing birds of every kind. While the jailers were moving about around him, Fabrizio entertained himself by listening to the birds’ singing, and watching their farewells to the last rays of the setting sun. This aviary window was not more than five-and-twenty feet from one of his own, and some five or six feet below it, so that he looked down upon the birds.

There was a moon that night, and just as Fabrizio entered his prison, she rose in majesty over the horizon on the right, from behind the Alps toward Treviso. It was only half past eight, and at the other end of the horizon, where the sun had just set, a brilliant red light, tinged with orange, lay on the clear-cut outlines of Monte Viso, and the other Alpine peaks, piled one above the other from Nice toward the Mont Cenis and Turin. Without another thought for his misfortunes, Fabrizio gave himself over to the emotion and delight roused by this splendid sight. “This, then, is the wonderful world in which Clelia Conti lives. To her serious and pensive soul this view must be specially delightful. One feels here just as one does in the lonely mountains a hundred leagues from Parma.” It was not till he had spent more than two hours at his window, admiring the view which appealed so strongly to his heart, and casting many a glance, meanwhile, at the governor’s pretty palace, that Fabrizio suddenly exclaimed: “But is this a prison? Is this what I have dreaded so intensely?” Instead of discovering discomforts and causes for bitterness at every step, our hero was falling in love with the delights of his dungeon.

Suddenly a frightful noise roughly recalled his attention to the realities of life. His wooden room, which rather resembled a cage, and was especially remarkable for its resonant qualities, was violently shaken; the barking of a dog and a number of little shrill squeaks made up a most extraordinary pandemonium. “What is this? Shall I be able to escape so soon?” thought Fabrizio. A moment afterward he was laughing, as perhaps no prisoner ever laughed before. By the general’s orders, the jailers had brought up with them an English dog, very savage, which had been told off to keep guard over the more important officers, and which was to spend the night in the space so ingeniously contrived all round Fabrizio’s cage. The dog and the jailer were both to sleep in the aperture, three feet deep, between the flag-stones of the original flooring of the room and the wooden boards, upon which the prisoner could not take a step without being heard.

Now, when Fabrizio entered the room called “Passive Obedience,” it had been in possession of about a hundred huge rats, who had taken to flight in all directions. The dog, a sort of cross between a spaniel and an English fox-terrier, was not good-looking, but was exceedingly sharp. It had been fastened to the flagged pavement below the floor of the wooden room, but when it smelled the rats close beside it, it struggled so desperately that it contrived to slip its collar. Then began the mighty battle, the noise of which had disturbed Fabrizio, and roused him out of his anything but unpleasant dream. The rats, which had been able to escape the first onset, took refuge in the wooden room, and the dog followed them up the six steps which led from the stone pavement to Fabrizio’s shed. Then a far more terrible racket began. The wooden shell was shaken to its very foundations. Fabrizio laughed like a lunatic, till the tears ran down his cheeks; Grillo, the jailer, who was laughing just as heartily, had shut the door. The dog was not the least incommoded in his hunt by the furniture, for the room was absolutely bare; the only thing to interfere with his bounds upon his prey was an iron stove standing in one corner. When the dog had destroyed all his enemies, Fabrizio called to him, patted him, and succeeded in making friends with him. “If ever this fellow should see me jumping over some wall,” said he to himself, “he will not bark at me.” But this cunning policy was a mere pretence on his part. In his state of mind at that moment, it was a delight to him to play with the dog. By a strange whimsicality, on which he did not reflect, there was a sense of secret joy at the bottom of his heart.

When he had run about with the dog till he was out of breath—

“What is your name?” said Fabrizio to the jailer.

“Grillo, at your Excellency’s service, in everything that the regulations will permit.”

“Well, my good Grillo, a fellow of the name of Giletti tried to murder me in the middle of the road. I defended my life, and killed him. I should kill him again, if it had to be done. But none the less I will live a cheery life as long as I am your guest. Ask leave from your chiefs, and then go fetch me some linen from the Palazzo Sanseverina, and bring me plenty of nébieu d’Asti.”

This is a fairly good effervescent wine, made in Piedmont, in the country of Alfieri, and which is highly esteemed, especially by that class to which jailers generally belong. Eight or ten of these gentry were engaged in moving various ancient and highly gilt pieces of furniture, taken from the prince’s apartments on the first floor, into Fabrizio’s wooden room, and they all carefully treasured up their prisoner’s remark in favour of Asti wine. In spite of all their efforts, the arrangements for Fabrizio’s first night were rather pitiful; but the only thing that seemed to distress him was the absence of a bottle of good nébieu. “He seems a good fellow,” said the jailers as they departed, “and we must only hope one thing—that our chiefs will let his friends pass money in to him.”

When he was left alone, and had settled down a little after all the noise, “Is it possible that this can be a prison?” said Fabrizio to himself, as he looked out over the mighty horizon stretching from Treviso to the Monte Viso, the huge chain of the Alps, the snow-covered peaks, and the stars above them. “And this my first night in a prison, too! I can imagine that Clelia Conti must delight in this aerial solitude. Here we are a thousand leagues above the meannesses and wickednesses which make up our life down there. If those birds there, under my window, belong to her, I shall see her.… Will she blush when she sees me?” When slumber overtook him, in the small hours of the morning, the prisoner was still debating this great question.

On the very morning after that first night in prison, during which Fabrizio had not once felt impatient, he was reduced to holding conversations with Fox, the English dog. Grillo, the jailer, still looked at him with the most kindly eyes, but a newly issued order had sealed his lips, and he brought his prisoner neither linen nor nébieu.

“Shall I see Clelia?” thought Fabrizio as he woke. “But do those birds really belong to her?” The birds in question were beginning to chirp and sing, and at that height, theirs was the only noise that fell upon the air. The deep silence which reigned at that altitude was a most novel and pleasurable sensation to Fabrizio. He listened with delight to the little fitful, lively warbling with which his neighbours the birds greeted the sun. “If they are hers, she will come for an instant into that room under my window.” And while he watched the huge ranges of the Alps, against the nearer tier of which the citadel of Parma seemed to project like an outwork, his eyes came back perpetually to the splendid satin-wood and mahogany cages, with their gilded wires, which stood in the middle of the bright room which had been transformed into an aviary. It was not till later that Fabrizio found out that this room was the only one on the second floor of the palace which had any shade between eleven o’clock and four; it was screened by the Farnese Tower.

“What will my grief be,” said Fabrizio to himself, “if, instead of that modest and thoughtful face which I expect, and which, perhaps, will blush a little at the sight of me, I behold the coarse countenance of some vulgar waiting-maid, who has been sent to supply the birds’ necessities? But if I do see Clelia, will she condescend to notice me? Faith, I must risk some indiscretion, so as to attract her attention. Some privileges must surely be allowed to a man in my position. And besides, we two are alone here, and far away from all the world. I am a prisoner, and what General Conti and wretches of his kind probably regard as their inferior, … but she has so much cleverness, or rather so much heart, as the count believes, that perhaps, even as he says, she despises her father’s trade. That would account for her melancholy. A noble reason, truly, for her sadness. But, after all, I am not a complete stranger to her.… What modest grace there was in her greeting to me yesterday evening! I remember very well that when I met her near Como I said to her, ‘Some day I shall go to see your beautiful pictures at Parma. Will you then remember this name—Fabrizio del Dongo?’ Has she forgotten it? She was so young!

“But now I think of it,” said Fabrizio in astonishment, and breaking off the thread of his thoughts, “I am forgetting to be angry! Can it be that I possess a mighty courage, like that of which the ancients gave a few instances to the world? Am I a hero, with no suspicion of the fact? What! I, who dreaded prison so bitterly, here am I in a dungeon, and I can not remember to be sad! How true it is that the dread of the evil is a hundred times worse than the evil itself! How is this? Must I argue myself into grief at finding myself in this prison, which, so Blanès said, may as likely last ten years as ten months? Can it be the strangeness of my new surroundings which diminishes the distress I ought to feel? Perhaps this unreasoning cheerfulness, which is quite independent of my own will, will come to a sudden end? Perhaps in another instant I shall fall into the black gloom which ought to overwhelm me?

“In any case, it is a very astonishing thing that I should be in prison, and that I should have to argue with myself before I can feel sad. Upon my word, I come back to my old inference; perhaps I am a great man, after all!”

Fabrizio’s musings were broken by the arrival of the carpenter of the fortress, who came to take measurements for a screen for his windows. This was the first occasion on which this room had been occupied as a prison, and its completion in this essential particular had been overlooked.

“Then,” said Fabrizio, “I shall be deprived of that splendid view?” and he tried to feel sad over the loss. “But what,” he cried suddenly, speaking to the carpenter, “I shall not be able to see those pretty birds!”

“Ah, the signorina’s birds, that she’s so fond of,” said the man, a kind-looking fellow. “They will be hidden, blocked out, swallowed up, like all the rest.”

Talking was as strictly forbidden to the carpenter as to the jailer, but this man pitied the prisoner’s youth. He told him that the huge screens, which were to rest on the sills of the two windows, and run outward from the walls in proportion to their height, were to prevent the prisoners from seeing anything but the sky. “It is done,” he added, “with the view of impressing their minds, so as to increase a salutary feeling of sadness, and fill the prisoners’ souls with a desire to amend their ways. Another invention of the general’s,” added the carpenter, “is to take out the window-glass and replace it with sheets of oiled paper.”

Fabrizio was much taken with the epigrammatic tone of this conversation, seldom met with in Italy.

“I should very much like to have a bird to cheer me, I am so fond of them. Buy me one from the Signorina Clelia Conti’s maid.”

“What!” exclaimed the carpenter; “you must know her, if you tell her name so plainly.”

“Who is there that has not heard of that famous beauty? But I have had the honour of meeting her several times at court.”

“The poor young lady has a very dull life here,” continued the carpenter. “She spends her whole time over there with her birds. This morning she has had some fine orange trees bought, and has ordered them to be placed at the door of the tower, just under your window. If it were not for the cornice you would be able to see them.” Certain words in this reply had been very precious to Fabrizio; he devised some friendly pretext for bestowing a gift of money upon the carpenter.

“I am doing wrong twice over,” said the man. “I am talking to your Excellency, and taking your money. When I come back the day after to-morrow, about these screens, I will have a bird in my pocket, and if I am not alone, I will pretend to let it escape. And, if I can manage it, I will bring you a prayer-book. It must be very painful to you not to be able to say your prayers.”

“So,” said Fabrizio, as soon as he was alone, “those are her birds! But after another two days I shall not be able to see them.”

The thought brought a tinge of sadness to his face. But near midday, at last, to his inexpressible delight, after long waiting and much watching, Clelia came to attend to her birds. Fabrizio, motionless and almost breathless, stood upright, close against the huge bars of his window. He remarked that she did not raise her eyes to him, but there was a something shy about her movements, as though she felt she was being looked at. Even if she had desired it, the poor girl could not have forgotten the subtle smile which had flickered on the prisoner’s lips, just as he was being led out of the guard-room on the preceding night.

Though according to all appearances she was keeping the most careful watch upon her actions, she reddened visibly as she drew near the window of the aviary. Fabrizio’s first impulse, as he stood close against his iron window bars, was to indulge in the childish freak of rapping a little on the iron, so as to make a slight noise. But the very idea of such a lack of delicacy disgusted him. “It would serve me right if she sent her maid to look after her birds for a week afterward.” This tender scruple would not have occurred to him at Naples or at Novara.

He watched her hungrily, saying to himself: “She will surely not go away without condescending to glance at this poor window, and yet she is just opposite it.” But as she moved from the back of the room, into which, thanks to the superior height of his position, Fabrizio could clearly see, Clelia could not prevent herself from glancing up at him as she walked, and this was sufficient to make Fabrizio venture to salute her. “Are we not alone in the world here?” said he, to give himself courage. When he saluted her the young girl stopped short and dropped her eyes. Then Fabrizio saw her raise them again, very slowly and with an evident effort, and she greeted the prisoner with the gravest and most distant gesture. But she could not prevent her eyes from speaking. Without her knowledge, probably, they held, for one instant, an expression of the liveliest pity. Fabrizio noticed she was colouring so deeply that the rosy tinge was spreading rapidly even on to her shoulders, from which the heat had caused her to drop a black lace shawl, as she entered the aviary. The involuntary glance by which Fabrizio answered her salute doubled the young girl’s agitation. “How happy that poor woman would be,” said she to herself, thinking of the duchess, “if she could only see him as I see him, just for one moment!”

Fabrizio had nursed a tiny hope that he might have been able to send her another greeting ere she departed, but to avoid this fresh attention, Clelia executed a skilful retreat in échelon from one cage to another, as though she had necessarily to end her task by attending to the birds nearest to the door. She left the room at last, and Fabrizio stood motionless, gazing at the door through which she had just disappeared. He was a changed man.

From that instant the one object of his thoughts was to discover how he might continue to see her, even after that odious screen should have been placed over the window looking on to the governor’s palace.

Before going to bed on the previous night, he had performed the tedious and tiresome duty of concealing most of his gold coins in several of the rat holes which adorned his wooden room. “To-night,” he thought, “I must hide my watch. Have I not heard that with patience and the jagged spring of a watch, a man may cut through wood and even through iron? So I may be able to saw through the screen.” The work of hiding the watch, which lasted for several hours, did not seem lengthy to him. He pondered over the various methods whereby he might attain his end, and his own knowledge of carpentering matters. “If I set about it properly,” he mused, “I can simply cut out a compartment of the oaken board of which the screen will consist, at the place where it will rest on the window-sill. I will take this bit of wood in and out, according to circumstances. I will give everything I have to Grillo, so as to induce him to overlook this little manœuvre.” All Fabrizio’s future happiness seemed to depend on the possibility of carrying out this undertaking, and he thought of nothing else. “If I can only contrive to see her, I am happy.… But, no,” he went on, “she must see that I see her.” All night long his head was full of carpentering schemes, and in all probability he never gave a thought to the court of Parma, the prince’s anger, and all the rest. We must acknowledge, too, that he did not trouble himself a whit concerning the distress in which the duchess must be plunged. He waited eagerly for the morning, but the carpenter did not reappear. He was apparently considered too much of a Liberal by the prison authorities, and they carefully sent another, a gruff-looking fellow, who deigned no answer except a threatening grunt to all the pleasant things which Fabrizio was inspired to say to him. Some of the duchess’s endless attempts to enter into correspondence with Fabrizio had been discovered by the marchesa’s numerous agents, and General Fabio Conti received daily warnings from her, which both startled him, and nettled his vanity. Every eight hours six soldiers relieved each other in the great ground-floor hall, with its hundred pillars. Besides this, the governor placed a jailer on each of the three iron gates in the passage, and poor, unlucky Grillo, the only person who saw the prisoner, was forbidden to go outside the Farnese Tower oftener than once a week, which vexed him sorely. He made Fabrizio conscious of his ill-temper. Fabrizio had wit enough to reply with these words only, “Plenty of nébieu d’Asti, my good fellow,” and he gave him some money.

“Well, even this, which consoles us for every misfortune,” exclaimed the angry Grillo in a voice so low that the prisoner could hardly catch it, “we are forbidden to accept, and I ought to refuse it. But I shall take it. Yet, indeed, it is money wasted, for I can not tell you anything about nothing. Why, you must be guilty indeed! The whole citadel is upside down because of you, and the duchess’s fine tricks have got three of us sent away already.”

“Will the screen be ready before noon?” That was the great question which made Fabrizio’s heart thump all through that long morning. He counted up every quarter of an hour as it rang on the citadel clock. However, when the third quarter after eleven struck, the screen had not yet arrived, and Clelia reappeared to attend to her birds. Cruel necessity had so emboldened Fabrizio, and the danger of never seeing her again seemed to him so greatly to exceed anything else in the whole world, that he dared, as he gazed at Clelia, to make a gesture with his finger as of sawing the wooden screen. It must be added that as soon as she perceived this very seditious gesture on the part of the prisoner, she made him a sort of half bow, and retired.

“Bless me!” exclaimed Fabrizio in astonishment. “Can she have been so unreasonable as to take a sign dictated by the most imperious necessity for a piece of ridiculous familiarity? I wanted to entreat her to condescend to look up sometimes at my prison window when she came to see her birds, even if she should find it masked by a huge wooden shutter! I wanted to make her understand that I would do everything that was humanly possible to contrive to see her. Good God! Will she abstain from coming to-morrow on account of that indiscreet gesture of mine?” This dread, which disturbed Fabrizio’s slumbers, was thoroughly well founded. By three o’clock the next day, when the two huge screens were set up on each of Fabrizio’s windows, Clelia had not appeared. The various sections of these screens had been drawn up from the platform of the great tower, by means of cords and pulleys, fastened outside the iron bars of the windows. It is true, indeed, that Clelia, hidden behind one of the sun blinds in her room, had anxiously watched all the workman’s actions. She had clearly perceived Fabrizio’s mortal anxiety, but, nevertheless, she had found courage to keep the promise she had made herself.

Clelia was an eager little Liberal. In her first youth she had taken all the Liberal talk she had heard in her father’s society in the most serious earnest, while her father’s only view of it was to make a position for himself. This had given her a scorn and almost a horror of the pliability of courtiers; hence arose her dislike to marriage. Since Fabrizio’s arrival she had been harried by remorse. “Now,” said she to herself, “my unworthy heart is taking up the cause of those who would betray my father. He dares to make me signs, as if he would saw through a door.… But,” she went on, and her heart was wrung at the thought, “the whole city talks of his approaching death.… To-morrow may be the fatal day.… Under such monsters as those who govern us, what is there in the world that is not possible? How soft, how nobly calm, are those eyes, doomed, perhaps, soon to close forever! Heavens, what anguish the duchess must be enduring!… And, indeed, every one says she is in despair.… If it were I, I would go, like the heroic Charlotte Corday, and stab the prince.”

During the whole of his third day in prison, Fabrizio was beside himself with rage, simply and solely because Clelia had not returned. “If she was to be angry with me,” he exclaimed, “I should have done much better to tell her that I loved her,” for he had arrived at this discovery. “No, it is not my nobility of soul that prevents me from fretting in my prison, and makes me bring Father Blanès’s prophecy to naught. I do not deserve so much honour. In spite of myself, I dream of the gentle pitying look Clelia cast on me as the gendarmes were leading me out of the guard-room—that look has wiped out all my past life! Who would have told me I should have met such gentle eyes in such a place! and at the very moment when my own sight was polluted by the appearance of Barbone, and of the general who rules this fortress! Heaven opened, in the midst of those vile creatures. And how can I help loving beauty, and seeking to see it again? No, it is not my nobility of soul which makes me indifferent to all the petty annoyances with which imprisonment overwhelms me.” Fabrizio’s imagination, running rapidly over every possibility, reached that of being set at liberty. “No doubt the duchess’s affection will work miracles for me. Ah, well, I should thank her but very coldly for my liberty; there is not much coming back to such places as these. Once I was out of prison, living as we do in different societies, I should hardly ever see Clelia again. And, after all, what harm does the prison do me? If Clelia would only not crush me with her displeasure, what more need I ask of Heaven?”

On the evening of that day on which he had not seen his lovely neighbour, a great idea occurred to him. With the iron cross of the rosary given to each prisoner when he entered the fortress, he began, and successfully, to work a hole in the screen. “This is not very prudent, perhaps,” thought he, before he began. “The carpenters have said in my presence that they will be followed to-morrow by the painters. What will the painters say when they find a hole in the window screen? But if I do not commit this imprudence I shall not be able to see her to-morrow. What! shall I deliberately spend another day without seeing her, and after she has left me in anger?” Fabrizio’s imprudence had its reward; after fifteen hours’ labour he did see Clelia, and, by an excess of good fortune, as she thought he did not see her, she stood motionless for a long time, gazing at the great screen. He had ample time to read symptoms of the tenderest pity in her eyes. Toward the end of her visit it became evident that she was neglecting the care of her birds to spend whole minutes in contemplation of his window. Her soul was sorely troubled; she was thinking of the duchess, whose extreme misery had inspired her with so much pity, and yet she was beginning to hate her. She could not comprehend the profound melancholy which was taking possession of her whole nature, and she was angry with herself. Two or three times during the course of her visit Fabrizio’s eagerness led him to try to shake the screen; he felt as if he could not be happy unless he could make Clelia understand that he saw her. “Yet,” said he to himself, “shy and reserved as she is, no doubt if she knew I could see her so easily, she would hide herself from my sight.”

He was much more fortunate the next day (on what trifles does love build happiness!). While she was looking up sadly at the great screen, he managed to slip a small piece of wire through the hole he had made with his iron cross, and make signs to her which she evidently understood—at all events in so far as that they were intended to convey “I am here, and I see you.”

Bad luck followed Fabrizio on the following days. He was anxious to take a bit of wood the size of his hand out of the monster screen, which he would have replaced whenever he chose, and which would have allowed of his seeing and being seen, and thus of speaking, by signs at all events, of that which filled his heart. But the noise of the little and very imperfect saw which he had fashioned out of his watch-spring and notched with his cross gave the alarm to Grillo, who spent long hours in his room. He thought he observed, indeed, that Clelia’s severity seemed to diminish in proportion as the material difficulties, which prevented any correspondence between them, increased. Fabrizio noticed clearly that she no longer affected to drop her eyes or look at the birds whenever he attempted to make her aware of his presence with the help of his paltry bit of iron wire. He had the pleasure of seeing that she never failed to appear in her aviary exactly as the clock struck a quarter to noon, and he was almost presumptuous enough to believe that he himself was the cause of this exact punctuality. Why so? The idea does not appear reasonable, but love catches shades which are invisible to the careless eye, and deduces endless consequences from them. For instance, since Clelia could not see the prisoner she would raise her eyes toward his window almost as soon as she entered the aviary. These were the gloomy days when no one in Parma doubted that Fabrizio would soon be put to death. He was the only person unaware of the fact. But the horrible thought was never out of Clelia’s mind, and how could she reproach herself for the excessive interest she took in Fabrizio? He was about to perish, and for the cause of liberty, for it was too ridiculous to put a Del Dongo to death for giving a sword thrust to an actor. It was true, indeed, that the charming young man was attached to another woman. Clelia was profoundly miserable, though she did not clearly realize the nature of the interest she took in his fate. “If he is led out to death,” said she to herself, “I shall certainly take refuge in a convent, and never again will I reappear in this court society. It fills me with horror; they are polished murderers, every one of them!”

On the eighth day of Fabrizio’s imprisonment she endured a great humiliation. Absorbed in her sad thoughts, she was gazing fixedly at the prisoner’s window. He had given no sign of his presence that day. All at once he removed a small bit of his screen, a little larger than his hand. He looked at her cheerily, and she read greeting in his eyes. This unexpected experience was too much for her; she turned quickly to her birds, and began to attend to them; but she trembled so much that she spilled the water she was pouring out for them, and Fabrizio could see her emotion quite plainly. She could not face the situation, and at last, to escape it, she ran away.

That moment was, without any comparison, the happiest in the whole of Fabrizio’s life. If his liberty had been offered to him at that moment, how joyously would he have refused it!

The following day was that of the duchess’s deepest despair. Every one in the city was convinced that all was over with Fabrizio. Clelia had not the dreary courage to treat him with a harshness which found no echo in her heart. She spent an hour and a half in the aviary, looked at all his signs, and often replied to them by the liveliest and sincerest expression of interest, at all events. Every now and then she would slip away to conceal her tears. Her womanly instincts made her vividly conscious of the imperfection of the language they were employing. If they could have spoken, in how many different ways might she not have endeavoured to discover the real nature of Fabrizio’s feeling for the duchess? Clelia could hardly deceive herself now; she felt a hatred for the Duchess Sanseverina.

One night Fabrizio happened to think somewhat seriously about his aunt. He was astonished to find he hardly recognised his recollection of her. His memory of her had completely altered; at that moment she seemed fifty years old to him. “Good God!” he cried enthusiastically, “how right I was not to tell her that I loved her!” He went so far as hardly to be able to understand how he had ever thought her so pretty. In that respect the alteration in his impression of little Marietta was less remarkable. This was because he had never dreamed that his heart had anything to do with his love for Marietta, whereas he had frequently imagined that the whole of his heart was possessed by the duchess. The duchess of A⸺ and Marietta now appeared in his memory as two young turtle-doves, whose whole charm resided in their weakness and their innocence, whereas the noble image of Clelia Conti, which absorbed his whole soul, actually filled him with a kind of terror. He felt, only too clearly, that the happiness of his whole life would depend on the governor’s daughter, and that she had it in her power to make him the most miserable of men. Every day he was tortured by the mortal fear of seeing some inexorable caprice end the strange and delightful life he led in her vicinity. At all events, she had filled the first two months of his imprisonment with happiness. This was the period during which, twice every week, General Fabio Conti assured the prince: “I can give your Highness my word of honour that the prisoner Del Dongo never speaks to a human being, and spends his whole life either in a state of the deepest despair or else asleep.”

Clelia came every day, two or three times over, to see her birds. Sometimes she only stayed a few moments. If Fabrizio had not cared for her so much he would soon have found out that he was loved. But he was in deadly doubt upon that subject. Clelia had ordered a piano to be placed in the aviary. While her fingers wandered over the keys, so as to account for her presence in the room, and occupy the attention of the sentries who marched to and fro under her windows, her eyes answered Fabrizio’s questions. On one subject only she would make no response, and on certain great occasions she even took to flight, and thus would sometimes disappear for a whole day. This was when Fabrizio’s signs indicated feelings the nature of which it was impossible for her to misunderstand. On that point she was quite inexorable.

Thus, closely imprisoned as he was, within a narrow cage, Fabrizio’s life was a very busy one. It was entirely devoted to the solution of the all-important problem, “Will she love me?” The result of endless observation, perpetually renewed, but as perpetually shadowed by doubt, was as follows: “All her deliberate gestures answer ‘No,’ but every involuntary movement of her eyes seems to betray her growing regard for me.”

Clelia hoped to escape any open avowal of his love, and it was to avoid this risk that she had refused, and very angrily, to grant a request which Fabrizio had proffered several times over. One would have fancied the miserable expedients to which the poor prisoner was reduced would have touched Clelia’s heart with greater pity. He wanted to correspond with her, by means of letters which he wrote upon the palm of his hand with a piece of charcoal he had been so lucky as to find in his stove. He would have made up the words letter by letter, showing them one after the other. This plan would have facilitated their intercourse twofold, for it would have allowed of his putting things in a clear form. His window was some five-and-twenty feet away from Clelia’s, and it would have been too risky to talk over the heads of the sentries, who marched up and down in front of the governor’s palace. Fabrizio was uncertain whether he was loved or not. If he had possessed any experience in such matters he would have had no doubt at all. But till now no woman had ever filled his heart. And further, he had no suspicion of a fact which would have driven him to despair, if he had been aware of it. There was serious likelihood of a marriage between Clelia Conti and the Marchese Crescenzi, the wealthiest gentleman at the court of Parma.