The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER XX

One morning, toward one o’clock, Fabrizio, stretched upon his window-sill, had slipped his head through the opening he had made in the screen, and was gazing at the stars, and at the wide horizon visible from the top of the Farnese Tower. As his eyes wandered over the country lying toward the lower Po and Ferrara, they chanced to notice a very small, but exceedingly bright, light, seemingly placed on the top of a tower. “That light can not be visible from the plain,” said Fabrizio to himself. “The thickness of the tower would prevent any one from seeing it from below. It must be a signal to some distant point.” All at once he remarked that this light appeared and disappeared at very close intervals. “It must be some young girl signalling to her lover in the next village.” He counted nine successive flashes. “That’s an ‘I,’” said he, “and certainly ‘I’ is the ninth letter in the alphabet.” Then, after a pause, there came fourteen flashes. “That’s an ‘N.’” Then, after another pause, there came a single flash. “That’s an ‘A’; the word is ‘Ina.’”

What were his joy and astonishment when he realized that these successive flashes, punctuated by short pauses, made up the following words:

“Ina pensa a te,”

which evidently meant, “Gina is thinking of thee.”

Instantly he replied by successive displays of his own lamp through the aperture in his shutter:

“Fabrizio loves thee.”

This correspondence was kept up till daylight. It was the hundred and seventy-third night of his captivity, and these signals, he was informed, had been made every night for four months. But any one might notice and understand the signs; that very night a system of abbreviations was agreed upon. A series of three rapid flashes was to stand for the duchess, four for the prince, two for Count Mosca. Two quick flashes, followed by two slow ones, was to mean “escape.” It was settled that for the future they would use the ancient alphabet “alla monaca,” which, to baffle indiscreet curiosity, alters the usual position of the letters in the alphabet, and gives them others of its own devising. Thus, “A” becomes the tenth letter, and “B” the third; so that three successive eclipses of the lamp stand for “B,” ten for “A,” and so forth. The words were separated by a short interval of darkness. A meeting was arranged for an hour after the following midnight, and that next night the duchess came to the tower, which stood about a quarter of a league from the town. Her eyes filled with tears when she beheld signals made by Fabrizio, whom she had so often given up for dead. She signalled to him herself, with the lamp: “I love you! Courage! health! hope! Use your muscles in your room; you will want all the strength of your arms.”

“I have not seen him,” thought the duchess to herself, “since that concert when the Fausta sang, and he appeared at my drawing-room door dressed as a footman. Who could have dreamed, then, of the fate that was awaiting us!” The duchess apprised Fabrizio by signal that he would soon be rescued, “thanks to the goodness of the prince” (there was always a chance that the signals might be read). Then she began to say all sorts of tender things; she could not tear herself away from him. Nothing but the entreaties of Ludovico, whom she had made her confidential servant, because he had been useful to Fabrizio, could induce her to discontinue the signals, even close upon daybreak, when they might possibly attract the attention of some evil-disposed person. This reiterated assurance of his approaching deliverance threw Fabrizio into the deepest melancholy. Clelia remarked this next morning, and was imprudent enough to inquire its cause.

“I see I am on the point of giving the duchess serious cause for displeasure.”

“And what can she possibly ask of you that you could refuse?” exclaimed Clelia, pricked by the most eager curiosity.

“She wants me to leave this place,” he replied, “and that is what I will never consent to do.”

Clelia could not answer; she looked up at him, and burst into tears. If he could have spoken to her then at close quarters he might perhaps have induced her to confess feelings, his uncertainty concerning which often cast him into the deepest sadness. He was keenly conscious that for him life without Clelia’s love could only be a succession of bitter sorrows, or one long unbearable weariness. Life did not appear worth living if he was only to go back to those pleasures which had seemed to interest him before he had known what love really was, and although suicide has not yet become the fashion in Italy, he had thought of it as a final refuge, should fate part him from Clelia.

The next day he received a long letter from her.

“It is necessary, my friend, that you should know the truth. Very often, since you have been shut up here, the whole town of Parma has believed your last hour had come.

“It is true that you are only sentenced to twelve years in the fortress, but it is an undoubted fact, unhappily, that an all-powerful hate pursues you, and twenty times I have trembled at the thought that your days might be ended by poison. You must, therefore, snatch at every possible means of escape. You see that for your sake I fail in my most sacred duties. You may judge how imminent your danger is, by the things I dare to tell you, and which are so unfit for me to say. If it be absolutely necessary, if you can find no other means of safety, you must fly. Every instant you spend within this fortress may place your life in greater peril. Remember that there is a party at court which has never allowed its plans to be checked by any likelihood of crime. And do you not perceive that all the plans of that party are constantly foiled by Count Mosca’s superior cunning? Certain means have now been devised to insure his banishment from Parma. This throws the duchess into despair. And does not her despair become a certainty, if the young prisoner is put to death? This one fact, which is unanswerable, will enable you to gauge your own position. You say you feel affection for me. Think, in the first place, that insurmountable obstacles must prevent this feeling from ever becoming a solid one between us. We shall have met each other in our youth; we shall have held out friendly hands to one another, in a moment of misfortune. Fate will have sent me to this stern place to soften your suffering, but I should reproach myself eternally if fancies which have not, and never will have, any true foundation, led you to neglect any possible opportunity of saving your life from such a frightful peril. The cruel imprudence I committed when I exchanged some friendly signs with you, has cost me my peace of mind. If our childish games with alphabets have filled you with illusions so unjustifiable, and which may be so fatal to you, I shall never be able to justify myself in my own eyes, by recalling Barbone’s attempt upon you to my memory. I myself, even when I thought I was saving you from a momentary danger, shall have placed you in far more terrible and far more inevitable peril, and never, to all eternity, can my wrongdoing gain pardon, if it has inspired you with feelings which might lead you to neglect the counsels of the duchess. This, then, is what you force me to reiterate: Save yourself! I command you!”

The letter was a very long one. Some passages, such as that “I command you,” which we have just quoted, were full of an exquisite encouragement to Fabrizio’s love. The actual feeling of the letter struck him as being fairly tender, although its expression was remarkably prudent. At other moments he paid the penalty of his complete ignorance of this kind of warfare, and saw nothing but ordinary friendship, or even the most commonplace humanity, in Clelia’s letter. None of its contents, however, shook his resolve for a single instant. Supposing all the dangers she described to be very real, was it anything too much to purchase the daily joy of seeing her by facing some momentary risk? What would his life be if he were to find refuge, once more, at Bologna or Florence? For if he should escape from the citadel, he could never hope for leave to reside anywhere within the state of Parma. And if the prince altered his views so far as to set him at liberty—a very unlikely contingency, seeing he, Fabrizio, had become, to a powerful faction, a useful element for the overthrow of Count Mosca—what would life be, even at Parma, parted from Clelia by the bitter hatred of the two parties? Once or twice in a month, perhaps, chance might bring them both into the same drawing-room. But even then, what could the nature of their conversation be? How were they ever to recover the tone of absolute intimacy he now enjoyed for several hours every day? What would their drawing-room talk be like, compared with the intercourse they kept up through their alphabets? “What matter if I have to pay for this life of delights, this unique chance of happiness, by taking some trifling risks? And is it not happiness, again, to find this poor opportunity of proving my love to her?”

Fabrizio’s only view of Clelia’s letter, then, was that it gave him an excuse for craving an interview with her. This was the one and constant object of all his longing. He had never spoken to her but once, and only for an instant, just as he was being led to his prison. And that was more than two hundred days ago. There was a method by which a meeting with Clelia might be easily arranged. The worthy Don Cesare allowed Fabrizio to walk for half an hour every Thursday, in the daytime, on the terrace of the Farnese Tower. But on the other days his exercise, which might have been observed by all the dwellers in and around Parma, and thus seriously compromised the governor, was taken after nightfall. The only staircase by which the terrace of the Farnese Tower could be reached was that in the little bell tower of the chapel, with its gloomy black and white marble decorations, of which my reader may retain some recollection. Grillo was in the habit of taking Fabrizio into the chapel and opening the door leading to the little staircase in the tower for him to pass up it. He ought to have followed him, but the evenings were growing chilly, and the jailer allowed him to go up alone, turned the key upon the tower, which communicated with the terrace, and went back to sit in his warm room. Well, why should not Clelia and her waiting-woman meet him, some night, in the black marble chapel?

All Fabrizio’s long letter in answer to Clelia’s was written with the object of obtaining this interview. And further, with the most absolute sincerity, and as though he had been speaking of another person, he confided to her all the reasons which made him resolve not to leave the citadel.

“I would risk a thousand deaths, every day, for the happiness of talking to you with our alphabets, which do not now give us a moment’s difficulty. And you would have me commit the blunder of banishing myself to Parma, or perhaps to Bologna, or even to Florence! You expect me deliberately to remove myself farther away from you. Such an effort, let me tell you, is impossible to me. It would be vain for me to give you my word. I could not keep it.”

The result of this plea for a meeting was a disappearance on Clelia’s part, which lasted no less than five days. For five whole days she never came near the aviary, except when she knew Fabrizio would not be able to open the little shutter in his screen. Fabrizio was in despair. This absence convinced him that, in spite of some glances which had filled him with foolish hopes, he had never really inspired Clelia with any warmer feeling than one of friendship. “In that case,” thought he, “of what value is my life to me? Let the prince rid me of it. I shall be grateful to him. That is another reason for my staying in the fortress.” And it was with a sense of deep disgust that he replied to the signals flashed by the little lamp. The duchess was convinced he had gone quite crazy when, in the report of the signalled conversations which Ludovico presented to her every morning, she read the extraordinary assertion: “I do not desire to escape. I choose to die here.”

During those five days of Fabrizio’s misery, Clelia was even more wretched than he. The following idea, a very bitter one to a generous soul, had occurred to her: “It is my duty to flee to some convent far from the citadel. When Fabrizio knows I am not here—and I will take care he does know it, from Grillo and all the other jailers—he will make up his mind to attempt to escape.” But to go into a convent meant to give up all hope of ever seeing Fabrizio again. And how could she bear not to see him, now that he had given her so clear a proof that the feeling which might once have bound him to the duchess no longer existed? What more touching proof of devotion could any man have offered? After seven long months of an imprisonment which had seriously undermined his health, he refused to regain his liberty. A frivolous being, such as the courtiers had given Clelia cause to believe Fabrizio to be, would have sacrificed twenty mistresses to shorten his stay in the fortress by one day, and what would he not have done to escape from a prison where he might be poisoned at any moment!

Clelia’s courage failed her; she committed the signal mistake of not taking refuge in a convent, a step which would likewise have given her a quite natural excuse for breaking with the Marchese Crescenzi. Once this mistake was made, how could she stand out against this young man, so lovable, so natural, so devoted, who was exposing his life to the most frightful peril, simply for the sake of the happiness of looking at her out of his window? After five days of the most terrible struggle, interspersed with fits of bitter self-scorn, Clelia made up her mind to answer the letter in which Fabrizio besought her to grant him an interview in the black marble chapel. She refused the meeting, indeed, and in somewhat harsh terms; but from that instant all her peace of mind departed. Every moment her imagination showed her Fabrizio dying from the effects of poison; six or eight times a day she would go up into the aviary to satisfy her passionate need of seeing with her own eyes that he was alive.

“If he remains in the fortress,” said she to herself, “if he is still exposed to all the vile things that the Raversi party is plotting against him, in order to overthrow Count Mosca, the only reason is because my cowardice has prevented me from going into a convent. What pretext would he have had for remaining here, if he had known for certain that I had gone forever?”

This girl, with all her shyness and innate pride, even faced the risk of encountering a refusal from Grillo, the jailer. She humbled herself to the extent of sending for him, and telling him, in a voice the trembling tones of which betrayed her secret, that in a few days Fabrizio would gain his freedom; that the Duchess Sanseverina was taking the most active steps with this object; that it was frequently necessary to obtain the prisoner’s instant reply to certain proposals made to him, and that she begged him, Grillo, to allow Fabrizio to make an opening in the screen which masked the window, so that she might communicate to him, by signs, the intelligence she was receiving several times each day from the duchess.

Grillo smiled, and assured her of his respect and obedience. Clelia was intensely grateful to him for saying nothing more. It was quite clear that he was perfectly cognizant of everything that had been going on for some months.

Hardly had the jailer left her presence, when Clelia gave the signal agreed on for summoning Fabrizio on great occasions, and she confessed all she had done to him. “Your heart is set on dying by poison,” she added. “I hope to gather courage, one of these days, to leave my father, and take refuge in some distant convent. That will be my duty to you; and then, I hope, you will not oppose the plans which may be suggested to enable you to escape. As long as you are here, I must endure moments of horrible distress and perplexity. Never in my life have I done anything to harm anybody, and now it seems to me that I shall be the cause of your death. Such an idea, even concerning a person utterly unknown to me, would drive me to despair. Imagine, then, what I feel at the thought that a friend, whose folly gives me grave cause for complaint, but with whom, after all, I have had daily intercourse for so long a time, may at that very moment be in the throes of death. Now and then I feel that I must make sure for myself that you are alive.

“To save myself from this horrible anguish I have just humbled myself so low as to ask a favour from an inferior, who might have refused it, and who may yet betray me. After all, it would be happier for me, perhaps, if he did denounce me to my father. I should instantly go to my convent, and I should no longer be the very unwilling accomplice of your cruel folly. But, believe me, this state of things can not last long, and you will obey your orders from the duchess. Are you content, my cruel friend? It is I who beseech you to betray my father! Call Grillo, and give him money!”

Fabrizio was so desperately in love, the slightest expression of Clelia’s will filled him with such dread, that even this extraordinary communication did not make him feel certain he was beloved. He called Grillo, rewarded him generously for his past complaisance, and told him, as regarded the future, that for every day on which he allowed him to make use of the opening in his screen, he would give him a sequin. Grillo was delighted with this arrangement.

“Monsignore,” he said, “I am going to speak to you quite frankly. Will you make up your mind to eating a cold dinner every day? That is a very simple method of escaping the risk of poison. But I will beg you to practise the most absolute discretion; a jailer must see everything, and guess nothing. Instead of one dog, I will keep several, and you yourself shall make them taste every dish you intend to eat. As for wine, I will give you mine, and you must never touch any bottle except those out of which I have drunk. But if your Excellency wants to ruin me forever, you have only to confide these matters even to the Signorina Clelia. All women are alike, and if she should quarrel with you to-morrow, the day after, in her vengeance, she will tell the whole story to her father, whose greatest joy would be to find some excuse for hanging a jailer. Next to Barbone himself, the general is the most spiteful man in the citadel, and there lies the real danger of your position. He knows how to use poison, be sure of that, and he would not forgive me if he thought I was keeping two or three little dogs.”

There was another serenade.

Grillo now answered all Fabrizio’s questions; he had resolved, indeed, that he would be prudent, and not betray the Signorina Clelia, who, as it appeared to him, though just about to marry the Marchese Crescenzi, the richest man in the state of Parma, was nevertheless carrying on a love affair, as far as prison walls allowed, with the handsome Monsignore del Dongo. He had just been replying to Fabrizio’s questions about the serenade, and blunderingly added, “He is expected to marry her soon.” The effect of this simple sentence on Fabrizio may be imagined. That night, his only response to the lamp signals was to the effect that he was ill. The next morning, at ten o’clock, when Clelia appeared in the aviary, he asked her, with a ceremonious politeness quite unusual between them, why she had not frankly told him that she loved the Marchese Crescenzi, and was just about to marry him.

“Because none of all that is true,” she answered petulantly. The rest of her reply, indeed, was not so explicit. Fabrizio pointed this out to her, and took advantage of the occasion to make a fresh request for an interview. Clelia, who saw her good faith called in question, agreed almost at once, begging him, at the same time, to note that she would be dishonoured forever in the eyes of Grillo.

That evening, when it had grown quite dark, she appeared, with her waiting-woman, in the black marble chapel. She stopped in the middle, close by the night lamp. Grillo and the waiting-maid turned back, and stood about thirty paces off, near the door. Clelia, shaking with emotion, had made ready a fine speech; her object was not to let any compromising confession escape her. But the logic of passion is very merciless; its deep interest in discovering the truth forbids the employment of useless precautions, and its intense devotion to its object deprives it of all fear of giving offence. At first Fabrizio was dazzled by Clelia’s beauty. For over eight months he had not looked so closely at any human being save his jailers, but the name of the Marchese Crescenzi brought back all his fury, and this was increased when he clearly perceived Clelia’s answers to be full of a prudent discretion. Clelia herself recognised that she was increasing his suspicions, instead of dispelling them. The painfulness of the thought was more than she could endure.

“Would it make you very happy,” she said, with a sort of rage, and with tears standing in her eyes, “to think you have made me forget everything I owe to myself? Until the third of August last year, I never felt anything but distaste for the men who sought to please me. I had a boundless and probably exaggerated scorn for the character of all courtiers; everybody who was happy at court disgusted me. But I noticed remarkable qualities in a prisoner who was brought to the citadel on the third of August. First of all, and almost unconsciously, I endured all the torments of jealousy. The charms of an exquisite woman, whom I knew well, were so many dagger thrusts in my heart, because I believed, and I still believe it a little, that this prisoner was attached to her. Soon the persecutions of the Marchese Crescenzi, who had asked my father for my hand, increased twofold. He is a very rich man, and we have no fortune at all. I refused his advances with the most absolute independence. But my father pronounced the fatal word, ‘a convent,’ and I realized that if I left the citadel, I should not be able to watch over the life of the prisoner in whose fate I was interested. Until that moment, the chief object of my care had been to prevent his having the smallest suspicion of the terrible dangers which threatened his life.

“I had been quite resolved never to betray either my father or my secret, but the woman who protects this prisoner, a woman of the most splendid activity, a woman of superior intelligence and indomitable will, offered him, as I believe, the means of escape. He refused them, and endeavoured to persuade me he would not leave the citadel because he would not leave me. Then I committed a great fault. I struggled for five days; I ought instantly to have betaken myself to a convent, and left the fortress. That step would have provided me with a very easy method of breaking with the Marchese Crescenzi. I had not courage to leave the fortress, and I am a ruined girl. I have set my affections on a fickle man. I know what his conduct was at Naples, and what reason have I to suppose his nature has changed? During a very severe imprisonment he has paid court to the only woman he could see; she has been an amusement to him in his boredom. As he could not speak to her without a certain amount of difficulty, this amusement has taken on a false appearance of passion. The prisoner, who has made himself a reputation for courage, has taken it into his head to prove that his love is more than a mere passing fancy by risking considerable danger, so as to continue seeing the person whom he believes he loves. But once he is back in a great city, and surrounded by all the temptations of society, he will again be that which he has always been—a man of the world, addicted to dissipation and gallantry; and the poor companion of his prison will end her days in a convent, forgotten by this fickle being, and weighed down with the deadly regret of having confessed her love to him.”

This historic speech, of which we have only indicated the principal features, was, as may well be imagined, broken twenty times by Fabrizio’s interruptions. He was desperately in love, and he was perfectly convinced that before meeting Clelia he had never known what love was, and that the destiny of his whole life was bound up with her alone.

My reader will doubtless imagine all the fine things he was pouring out when the waiting-woman warned her mistress that the clock had just struck half-past eleven, and that the general might be coming in at any moment. The parting was a cruel one.

“Perhaps this is the last time I shall ever see you,” said Clelia to the prisoner. “A measure which is so evidently to the interest of the Raversi cabal may give you a terrible opportunity for proving that you are not inconstant.” Choking with sobs, and overcome with shame because she could not altogether stifle them in the presence of her maid, and more especially of the jailer, Clelia parted with Fabrizio. No second conversation would be possible until the general gave out that he was going to spend an evening in society. And as, since Fabrizio’s imprisonment, and the interest it inspired among the curious courtiers, he had thought it prudent to suffer from an almost unintermitting fit of the gout, his expeditions into the town, which were directed by the necessities of a cunning policy, were frequently not decided upon till just before he stepped into his carriage.

After that evening in the marble chapel, Fabrizio’s life was one succession of transports of joy. Great obstacles, indeed, still stood between him and his happiness, but at all events he had the supreme and unlooked-for bliss of being loved by the divine creature on whom his thoughts unceasingly dwelt. On the third day after the interview the lamp signals ended very early, close upon midnight, and just at that moment Fabrizio’s head was very nearly broken by a large leaden ball which was thrown over the upper part of his window screen, came crashing through the paper panes, and fell into his room.

This very bulky ball was by no means as heavy as its size gave reason to suppose. Fabrizio opened it with ease, and within it he found a letter from the duchess.

Through the archbishop, whom she sedulously flattered, she had won over a soldier belonging to the citadel garrison. This man, who was most skilful in the use of the catapult, had either fooled the sentries placed at the corners and on the door of the governor’s palace, or had come to an understanding with them.

“You must save yourself with ropes. I shudder as I give you this strange counsel. For a whole month I have shrunk from speaking the words. But the official horizon grows darker every day, and we may expect the worst. You must instantly begin to signal with your lamp, so that we may know you have received this dangerous letter. Show ‘P,’ ‘B,’ and ‘G,’ alla monaca—that is to say, four, twelve, and two. I shall not breathe freely until I have seen this signal. I am on the tower, and will answer by ‘N’ and ‘O,’ ‘seven’ and ‘five.’ Once you have received this answer, do not signal any more, and apply your whole mind to understanding my letter.”

Fabrizio instantly obeyed, made the signals indicated, and received the promised response. Then he resumed his perusal of the letter.

“We may expect the very worst. This has been affirmed to me by the three men in whom I have most confidence, after I had made them swear on the Gospels to tell me the truth, whatever agony it might cost me. The first of these men threatened the surgeon at Ferrara, who would have denounced you, that he would fall upon him with an open knife in his hand; the second told you, when you returned from Belgirate, that you would have been more strictly prudent if you had put a pistol shot into the man-servant who rode singing through the wood, leading a fine horse, rather too lean. The third man is unknown to you; he is a highway robber of my acquaintance, a man of action, if ever there was one, and as brave as you are yourself. That reason, above all others, induced me to ask him what you had better do. All three, without knowing that I had consulted the other two, have assured me you had far better run the risk of breaking your neck than spend another eleven years and four months in perpetual fear of a very likely dose of poison.

“For a month you must practise climbing up and down a knotted rope in your own room. Then, on a feast day, when the garrison of the citadel will have received an extra ration of wine, you will make your great effort. You will have three ropes of silk and hemp, as thick as a swan’s quill. The first, eighty feet long, to carry you down the thirty-five feet from your window to the orange grove; the second, of three hundred feet—there the difficulty comes in, on account of the weight—to carry you down the hundred and eighty feet of the great tower; and a third, of thirty feet, to take you over the rampart. I spend my whole life studying the great wall on the east—that is, on the Ferrara side; a crack caused by an earthquake has been filled up by means of a buttress which forms an inclined plane. My highway robber assures me he would undertake to get down on that side, without too much difficulty, and with no damage beyond a few grazes, simply by letting himself slip down the slope of this buttress. There are only twenty-eight feet of vertical drop quite at the bottom; this side of the citadel is the least well guarded.

“Nevertheless, taking it altogether, my robber—who has escaped from prison three times over, and whom you would like if you knew him, although he hates all men of your caste—my highway robber, I say, who is as active and nimble as you are yourself, thinks he would rather make the descent on the western side, exactly opposite that little palace which you know so well as having once been occupied by the Fausta. What makes him inclined to choose that side is that, though the slope of the wall is very slight, it is almost entirely covered with briers. There are plenty of twigs as thick as one’s little finger, which may indeed scratch and tear you if you are not careful, but which also supply an excellent hold. Only this morning I was looking at this western side, through an excellent glass. The place to choose is just below a point where a new stone was inserted in the balustrade, about two or three years ago. From this stone downward you will first of all find a bare space of about twenty feet. Down that you must move very slowly (you may imagine how my heart trembles as I write these horrible instructions, but courage consists in knowing how to choose the lesser evil, however terrible that may be); after this bare space you will find eighty or ninety feet covered with very large brambles and bushes, in which the birds fly about; then a space of about thirty feet, with nothing on it but grass, wall-flowers, and pellitories; and at last, as you get closer to the ground, twenty feet more of brambles, and some twenty-five or thirty feet which have been lately plastered.

“What would make me choose this side is that exactly below that new stone on the upper balustrade there stands a wooden hut, built by one of the soldiers, in his garden, and which the captain of engineers attached to the fortress is anxious to make him pull down. It is seventeen feet high, with a thatched roof, and the roof touches the main wall of the fortress. It is this roof which tempts me. If such a dreadful thing as an accident should happen it would break your fall. Once you get there you will be within the ramparts, but these are rather carelessly guarded. If any one should stop you there, fire off your pistols, and defend yourself for a few minutes. Your friend from Ferrara and another brave man, he whom I call the highway robber, will be provided with ladders, and will not hesitate to scale the rampart, which is not very high, and to fly to your help.

“The rampart is only twenty-three feet high, with a very gradual slope. I shall be at the foot of this last wall, with a good number of armed servants.

“I hope to be able to send you five or six letters by the same hand which brings you this one. I shall constantly reiterate the same things in different terms, so that we may be thoroughly agreed. You will guess what I feel when I tell you that the man who would have had you fire your pistol at the man-servant—who is, after all, the kindest of beings and is half killing himself with remorse—thinks you will escape with a broken arm. The highway robber, who has more experience in such expeditions, thinks that if you will come down very slowly, and above all, without hurrying yourself, your liberty should not cost you more than a few raw places. The great difficulty is to get the ropes, and that has been the one object of my thoughts during the fortnight for which this great plan has occupied every instant of my time.

“I do not reply to that piece of madness, the only foolish thing you ever said in your life, ‘I do not desire to escape.’ The man who would have had you shoot the man-servant exclaimed at once that the dulness of your life had driven you crazy. I will not conceal from you that we dread a very imminent danger, which may perhaps hasten the day of your flight. To warn you of that danger, the lamp will signal several times over:

“‘The castle is on fire.’

“You will answer:

“‘Are my books burned?’”

There were five or six more pages in this letter, all crammed with details. They were written in microscopic characters, on very thin paper.

“All that is very fine, and very well arranged,” said Fabrizio to himself, “and I owe eternal gratitude both to the duchess and to the count. Perhaps they will think I am afraid, but I will not escape. Did any man ever escape from a place where he is perfectly happy in order to cast himself into the most hideous banishment, where he will find nothing, not even air that he can breathe? What should I do at the end of the first month, if I were at Florence? I should put on a disguise and come and hover round the gate of this fortress to try to catch a glimpse of her.”

The next morning Fabrizio had a fright. He was standing at his window, toward eleven o’clock, looking out at the magnificent view and waiting for the happy moment when Clelia would appear, when Grillo, quite out of breath, bustled into his room.

“Quick, quick, monsignore! Throw yourself on your bed—pretend to be ill. Three judges are coming up; they are going to question you. Think well before you speak; they have come here to entangle you.” As Grillo spoke the words he was hastily shutting up the little trap-door in the screen. He thrust Fabrizio on to his bed, and threw two or three cloaks over him.

“Say you are in great pain, and speak as little as you can. Above all things, make them repeat their questions, so as to give yourself time to think.”

The three judges entered the room. “Three escaped convicts,” said Fabrizio to himself, as he noted their vile countenances, “not three judges at all.” They wore long black gowns; they bowed to him solemnly, and sat themselves down without a word, in the only three chairs the apartment contained.

“Signor Fabrizio del Dongo,” quoth the senior of the three. “We are distressed by the sadness of the duty we are here to fulfil. We have come to inform you of the death of His Excellency, the Marchese del Dongo, your father, late Grand Steward, Major-Domo of the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom, Knight Grand Cross of the Orders of ⸺, and so forth.” Fabrizio burst into tears. The judge proceeded:

“The Marchesa del Dongo, your mother, has sent you a letter communicating this news, but as she has added improper remarks of her own to her announcement, the court of justice yesterday decided that you were only to be given extracts from her letter, and these extracts will now be read to you by Registrar Bona.”

When the passages had been read out by this functionary, the judge came over to Fabrizio, who was still lying on his bed, and pointed out the paragraphs in his mother’s letter, copies of which had just been read to him. In the letter Fabrizio caught sight of such phrases as “unjust imprisonment,” “cruel punishment for a crime that is no crime,” and understood the motive of the judge’s visit. Nevertheless, in his scorn for these unworthy magistrates, he said nothing at all to them, except these words: “I am ill, gentlemen; I am half dead with weakness, and you must excuse my not getting up.”

The judges departed, and Fabrizio shed many more tears. At last he questioned with himself: “Am I a hypocrite? I used to think I did not care for him.”

On that day, and those following it, Clelia was very sad. She called him several times over, but she had hardly courage to say anything to him. On the morning of the fifth day from that of their first interview, she told him she was coming to the marble chapel that night.

“I can only say a few words to you,” she said as she entered. She was trembling to such an extent that she had to lean on her waiting-woman. Having sent her back to the chapel door, she spoke again, in a voice that was barely intelligible. “You will give me your word,” she said, “your sacred word of honour, that you will obey the duchess, and try to escape on the day and in the manner in which she will command you. Otherwise I shall immediately take refuge in a convent, and I swear to you, here, that I will never open my lips to you again.”

Fabrizio stood dumb.

“Promise,” said Clelia, with tears in her eyes, and almost beside herself, “or else this talk will be our very last. You have turned my life into something horrible. You are here because of me, and any day of your life here may be your last.” Clelia was so weak at this moment that she had to support herself against a huge arm-chair which had been placed in the centre of the chapel in former days for the use of the imprisoned prince. She very nearly fainted away.

“What must I promise?” said Fabrizio in a despairing voice.

“You know what.”

“Then I swear to cast myself knowingly into hideous misery, and to condemn myself to live far from everything I love in this world.”

“Promise clearly!”

“I swear I will obey the duchess, and take to flight when and how she wills. And what is to become of me when I am far away from you?”

“Swear you will save yourself, whatever happens!”

“What! Have you made up your mind to marry Crescenzi as soon as I am gone?”

“My God, what a creature you must think me!—But swear, or my soul will never know peace again!”

“Well, then, I swear I will escape from here the day the duchess commands me to do so, and whatever may come to pass beforehand.”

Once Clelia had extracted the oath, she grew so faint that she had to retire as soon as she had expressed her thankfulness to Fabrizio.

“Everything,” she said, “was ready for my flight to-morrow, if you had insisted on staying on here. At this moment I should have looked my last on you. That was my vow to the Madonna. Now, as soon as I am able to leave my room I will go and look at the wall below the new stone in the balustrade.”

The next day she looked so deadly white that it cut him to the heart. She said to him, from her aviary window:

“We must not deceive ourselves, dear friend; our affection is a sinful one, and I am sure some misfortune will overtake us. If nothing worse happens, your attempted flight will be discovered, and you will be utterly lost. Nevertheless we must obey the dictates of human prudence, and that commands us to make every effort. To get down the outside of the great tower you must have over two hundred feet of the strongest rope. With all my endeavours I have not been able, since I knew of the plan, to get together more than fifty feet. The governor has issued an order that every cord and rope found in the citadel is to be burned, and every night the ropes belonging to the wells—which are so weak that they often break even under the light weight they have to carry—are carefully removed. But you must pray God to pardon me, for I am betraying my father, and labouring, unnatural daughter that I am, to cause him mortal grief. Pray to God for me, and if your life is saved, make a vow to consecrate every instant of it to his glory.

“Here is an idea which has occurred to me. In a week from now I am to go down from the citadel to be present at the wedding of one of the Marchese Crescenzi’s sisters. I shall return at night, of course, as propriety demands. But I will use all my endeavours to come in as late as possible, and perhaps Barbone will not venture to look at me too closely. All the great ladies of the court, and among them, no doubt, the duchess, will be present at the wedding. In Heaven’s name, let one of those ladies pass me a bundle of fine rope, not too thick, and packed as small as possible. If I have to risk a thousand deaths, I will dare every means, even the most dangerous, of getting the bundle into the fortress, and so fail, woe is me, in every duty. If my father finds me out, I shall never see you again. But whatever fate awaits me, I shall be happy, as a sister may be happy, if I can help to save you.”

That very evening, by means of his nightly signals with the lamp, Fabrizio informed the duchess of the unique chance that presented itself for sending him a sufficient quantity of rope. But he besought her to keep the matter secret, even from the count, which seemed to her a most extraordinary thing.

“He is mad,” thought the duchess. “His imprisonment has altered his nature; he looks at everything from the tragic point of view.” The next morning a leaden ball, cast by the catapult, brought the prisoner news that he stood in the greatest possible danger. The individual, he was told, who had undertaken to bring in the ropes was thereby positively and absolutely saving his life. Fabrizio lost no time in apprising Clelia of this fact. The leaden ball also brought Fabrizio a very exact sketch of that portion of the western wall lying between the bastions, by which he was to descend from the top of the great tower. Once he had got so far, his escape would become fairly easy, the ramparts, as my readers are aware, being only twenty-three feet in height. The back of the plan bore a splendid sonnet, written in a small delicate hand. In these lines, some high-hearted person adjured Fabrizio to take to flight, and not to permit his soul to be debased, and his body worn out, by the eleven years of captivity which still lay before him.

And at this point a necessary detail, which partly explains how the duchess had found courage to counsel Fabrizio to attempt so dangerous an escape, obliges us to break the thread of the story of this bold enterprise for a short space.

The Raversi faction, like all parties when they are out of power, was anything but united. Cavaliere Riscara hated Chief-Justice Rassi, who, so he declared, had caused him to lose an important lawsuit, in which, as a matter of fact, Riscara had been in the wrong. Through Riscara, the prince received an anonymous warning that Fabrizio’s sentence had been officially reported to the governor of the citadel. The Marchesa Raversi, like the clever party leader she was, was exceedingly annoyed by this false step, and at once sent warning of it to her friend the Chief Justice. She thought it perfectly natural that he should have desired to get something out of Mosca, so long as Mosca remained in power. Rassi betook himself boldly to the palace, making sure a few kicks would settle the matter as far as he was concerned. The prince could not do without some clever lawyer about him, and Rassi had carefully procured the banishment, as Liberals, of a judge and a barrister, the only two men in the country who might possibly have taken his place.

The prince, in a fury, poured out a volley of abuse upon him, and was in the act of moving forward to thrash him.

“Well, well,” replied Rassi, with the most perfect calmness, “it is only some clerk’s mistake, after all. The matter is prescribed by law. It ought to have been done the very morning after Del Dongo was sent to the citadel. The zealous clerk thought he had forgotten something, and got my signature to the letter as a mere matter of form.”

“And you think you will get me to believe such clumsy lies as these!” shouted the prince, in a rage. “Why can’t you say honestly that you’ve sold yourself to that scamp Mosca, and that he has given you your decoration for doing it? But, by my soul, a thrashing shall not finish the job for you. I’ll have you tried, and you shall be dismissed in disgrace.”

“I defy you to have me tried,” answered Rassi boldly. He knew this to be a sure means of quieting the prince. “The law is on my side, and you’ve no second Rassi who will know how to elude it. You will not dismiss me, because at certain moments your nature grows severe, and then you thirst for blood, while at the same time you desire to retain the esteem of all reasonable Italians, because that esteem is essential to your ambition. At all events, you’ll recall me the first time your temper makes you hanker after some severe sentence, and, as usual, I shall provide you with a correct verdict, found by fairly honest judges, to satisfy your spite. Try and find another man in your dominions as useful to you as I.”

This said, Rassi took to flight. He had escaped with one hearty blow from a ruler and five or six kicks. He left the palace and departed straight to his country house at Riva. He was rather afraid of a dagger thrust while the prince was in his first fury. Still he was quite sure that before a fortnight was out a courier would be sent to recall him to the capital. He devoted the time he spent in the country to organizing a safe means of correspondence with Count Mosca; he was desperately in love with the title of baron, and thought the prince had too high an opinion of that whilom sublime dignity known as “noble rank” to allow of his ever conferring it upon him; whereas the count, who was very proud of his own birth, thought nothing of any nobility that could not show proofs of its existence before the year 1400.

The Chief Justice had not been mistaken in his forecast; he had hardly been a week in his country house before one of the prince’s friends paid him a chance visit, and advised him to return to Parma without delay. The prince gave him a smiling reception, but presently he turned very grave, and made him swear on the Gospels that he would keep what he was about to confide to him secret. Rassi swore in the most solemn manner, and the prince, his eyes blazing with hatred, exclaimed that so long as Fabrizio del Dongo was alive he should never be master in his own house, adding:

“I can neither drive the duchess out, nor endure her presence. Her looks defy me, and half kill me.”

After Rassi had allowed the prince to explain himself at great length, he pretended to be greatly puzzled himself, and then—

“Your Highness shall be obeyed, no doubt,” cried he. “But it is a horribly difficult business. There are no grounds for condemning a Del Dongo to death for having killed a Giletti. It is an astonishing feat, already, to have given him twelve years in a fortress for it, and besides, I have reason to suspect the duchess has laid her hand on three of the peasants who were working at the Sanguigna excavations, and were outside the ditch when that villain Giletti attacked Del Dongo.”

“And where are these witnesses?” cried the prince angrily.

“Hidden in Piedmont, I suppose. Now, we should want a conspiracy against your Highness’s life.”

“That plan has its dangerous side,” said the prince. “It stirs up the idea.”

“Well, but,” said Rassi, with an air of innocence, “there you have the whole of my official arsenal.”

“We still have poison.”

“But who would give it? That idiot of a Conti?”

“Well, according to all we have heard, it would not be his first attempt.”

“He would have to be in a rage himself,” replied Rassi, “and besides, when he got rid of the captain, he was not thirty years old, and he was desperately in love and far less of a coward than he is now. Reasons of state must, no doubt, override every other, but, taken at a disadvantage, as I am now, and at the first glance, the only person I can think of to carry out the sovereign’s orders is a man of the name of Barbone, the jail clerk in the fortress, whom Del Dongo knocked down the first day he was there.”

Once the prince was set at his ease, the conversation was endless; he closed it by giving his chief justice a month’s law. Rassi had begged for two. The next morning he received a secret gratuity of a thousand sequins. He thought the matter over for three days. On the fourth he came back to his original argument, which seemed to him quite evident. “Count Mosca is the only person who will be inclined to keep his word to me, because in making me a baron he gives me something he does not value himself. Secondo, if I warn him, I probably save myself from committing a crime the full price of which I have pretty nearly received in advance. Tertio, I avenge myself for the first humiliating blows bestowed on the Cavaliere Rassi.” The following night, he acquainted Count Mosca with the whole of his conversation with the prince.

The count was still paying his court to the duchess in secret. It is true that he did not see her more than once or twice a month in her own house, but almost every week, and whenever he could contrive any opportunity for speaking to her about Fabrizio, the duchess, attended by Cecchina, came, late in the evening, and spent a few minutes in the count’s garden. She contrived to deceive even her coachman, who was devoted to her, and who believed her to be paying a visit in a neighbouring house.

My readers will easily imagine that the moment the count had received the Chief Justice’s hideous communication he made the signal agreed on with the duchess. Though it was midnight, she sent Cecchina to beg him to come to her at once. The count, as delighted as any young lover by this appearance of intimacy, hesitated to tell the duchess the whole story. He feared he might see her go wild with grief. Yet, after having cast about for equivocations which might mitigate the fatal announcement, he ended by revealing the whole truth. He was not capable of keeping back any secret she begged him to tell her. But nine months of excessive misfortune had greatly altered her passionate soul; her nature was strengthened, and the duchess did not break out into sobs or lamentations. The next evening she caused the signal of imminent danger to be made to Fabrizio:

“The castle is on fire.”

He answered quite clearly:

“Are my books burned?”

That same night, she had the happiness of sending him a letter inside a leaden ball. A week after that day came the wedding of the Marchese Crescenzi’s sister, at which the duchess was guilty of a desperate piece of imprudence, which shall be duly related in its place.