The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER XXIV

The duchess arranged the most delightful evenings at the palace, where so much gaiety had never been seen before. Never did she make herself more attractive than during this winter, in spite of the fact that she was living in circumstances of the greatest danger. Nevertheless, through all this critical time she never gave a thought of sadness, save on one or two occasions, to the strange alteration which had taken place in Fabrizio. The young prince used to come very early to his mother’s pleasant evening parties, and she never failed to say to him:

“Do go and attend to your government duties! I am certain there are more than a score of reports lying on your table, waiting for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from you, and I do not choose to have it said all over Europe that I am trying to turn you into a ‘Roi fainéant,’ so that I may reign in your stead.”

These remarks always suffered from the drawback of being dropped at the most inopportune moment—that is to say, just when his Highness had overcome his natural shyness and was enjoying himself very much, acting some charade. Twice a week there were parties in the country, to which the princess, on the plea of reconquering the affections of his people for the young sovereign, invited the prettiest women of the middle class. The duchess, who was the soul of the merry court, was in hopes that these fair ladies, who all looked with an eye of mortal jealousy on the success of their fellow bourgeois, Rassi, would make the prince acquainted with some of that minister’s endless rascalities. For, among other childish notions, the prince claimed to possess a moral ministry.

Rassi had too much good sense not to realize how much harm these brilliant parties, managed by his enemy at the princess’s court, were likely to do him. He had not chosen to make over the perfectly legal sentence passed on Fabrizio, to Count Mosca. It had therefore become necessary that either he or the duchess should disappear from court.

On the day of that popular tumult, the existence of which it was now the correct thing to deny, money had certainly been circulated among the people. Rassi made this his starting-point. Dressed even more shabbily than was his wont, he found his way into the most wretched houses in the city, and spent whole hours in close confabulation with their poverty-stricken denizens. His efforts were richly rewarded. After a fortnight spent in this fashion, he had made certain that Ferrante Palla had been the secret leader of the insurrection, and further, that this man, who had been as poor as a great poet should be, all his life, had sent eight or ten diamonds to be sold at Genoa.

Among others, five valuable stones were mentioned, really worth more than forty thousand francs, but for which thirty-five thousand francs had been accepted ten days before the prince’s death, because, so the vendors said, the money was wanted. The minister’s transports of delight over this discovery were indescribable. He had perceived that fun was being constantly poked at him in the princess dowager’s court, and several times over, when the prince was talking business with him, he had laughed in his face, with all the artlessness of youth. Rassi, it must be confessed, had some singularly vulgar habits. For instance, as soon as he grew interested in a discussion, he would cross his legs, and take hold of his shoe. If his interest deepened he would spread out his red cotton handkerchief over his knee. The prince had laughed heartily at a joke played by one of the prettiest women of Rassi’s own class, who, well aware that she herself possessed a very pretty leg, had given him an imitation of the graceful gesture habitual to the Minister of Justice.

Rassi craved a special audience, and said to the prince:

“Would your Highness be disposed to give a hundred thousand francs to know the exact nature of your august father’s death? With that sum we should be able to bring the culprits to justice, if they exist.”

The prince’s answer was a foregone conclusion.

Within a short time, Cecchina informed the duchess that she had been offered a large sum of money if she would allow a jeweller to see her mistress’s diamonds—a proposal which she had scornfully refused. The duchess scolded her for having refused, and a week later Cecchina was able to show the diamonds. On the day fixed for their inspection, Count Mosca placed two reliable men to watch every jeweller in Parma, and toward midnight he came to tell the duchess that the inquisitive jeweller was no other than Rassi’s own brother. The duchess, who was in very gay spirits that evening (there was acting going on at the palace—a commedia dell’arte, in which each personage invents the dialogue as he proceeds, only the general plan of the play being posted up in the side scenes), the duchess, who was playing one of the parts, was to be supported, as the lover of the piece, by Count Baldi, the former friend of the Marchesa Raversi, who was present. The prince, who was the shyest man in his dominions, but very good-looking, and exceedingly soft-hearted, was under-studying Count Baldi’s part, which he desired to play at the second performance.

“I have very little time,” said the duchess to the count. “I come on in the first scene of the second act. Let us go into the guard-room.”

There, in the presence of a score of the body-guard, sharp fellows every one of them, and eagerly watching the colloquy between the Prime Minister and the mistress of the robes, the duchess said to her friend, with a laugh:

“You always scold me if I tell secrets which need not be told. It is I who brought Ernest V to the throne. I wanted to avenge Fabrizio, whom I loved much more than I do now, though very innocently, even then. I know very well you have not much belief in my innocence, but that matters little, since you love me in spite of my crimes. Well, this crime is a very real one. I gave all my diamonds to a very interesting kind of madman, by name Ferrante Palla, and I even kissed him, so as to induce him to destroy the man who wanted to have Fabrizio poisoned. Where was the harm?”

“Ah, then that’s how Ferrante got the money for his revolt!” said the count. “And you tell me all this in the guard-room!”

“I’m in a hurry, you see, and this fellow Rassi is on the track of the crime. It’s very true that I never hinted at insurrection, for I abhor Jacobins. Think it all over, and tell me your advice, after the play is over.”

“I will tell you at once that you must make the prince fall in love with you … but in all honour, of course!”

The duchess was being called for on the stage, and fled.

A few days later, the duchess received, by post, a long ridiculous letter, signed with the name of a person who had once been her waiting-maid. The woman asked for employment about the court, but at the first glance the duchess realized that neither the writing nor the style were hers. When she unfolded the sheet, to read the second page, the duchess saw a little miraculous picture of the Madonna folded within another leaf, that seemed to belong to an old printed book, flutter to her feet. After having glanced at the picture, the duchess read a few lines of the old printed leaf. Her eyes began to shine; these were the words she had read:

“The tribune took a hundred francs a month, no more. With the rest he strove to stir the sacred flame in souls which had been frozen by selfishness. The fox is on my track; that is why I made no attempt to see the adored being for the last time. I said to myself: ‘She has no love for the republic—she, who is so superior to me in mind, as in grace and beauty.’ And besides, how can I set up a republic where there are no republicans? Can I have been mistaken? In six months I shall be wandering, microscope in hand, through the small American towns. So shall I discover whether I should continue to love your sole rival in my heart. If you receive this letter, baroness, and if no profane eye has seen it before yours, cause one of the young ash trees which grow twenty paces from the spot where I first dared to address you, to be broken down. Then I will cause to be buried, under the great box tree in the garden, which you once noticed, in my happy days, a coffer containing those things which bring slander on men of my opinions. Be sure I should never have ventured to write this, but that the fox is on my track, and may possibly reach that angelic being. Look under the box tree a fortnight hence.”

“If he has a printing press at his command,” said the duchess, “we shall soon have a collection of sonnets! God knows what name he will give me in them!”

The duchess’s vanity inspired her with an experiment. She was laid up for a week, and there were no parties at court. The princess, who was very much scandalized by all that the fear of her son had forced her to do during the earlier period of her widowhood, spent that week in a convent attached to the church where the late prince had been buried. This break in the series of entertainments threw an enormous amount of time on the prince’s hands, and brought about an evident diminution in the credit of the Minister of Justice. Ernest V realized all the dulness that threatened him if the duchess should leave his court, or even cease to shed gaiety upon it. The evening parties began again, and the prince took more interest than ever in the commedia dell’arte. He was dying to play a part himself, but did not dare to acknowledge this desire. At last, one day, he said to the duchess, reddening very much, “Why should I not act, too?”

“We are all at your Highness’s command. If you will honour me with the order I will have the plan of a play made out. All your Highness’s chief scenes shall be with me, and as every beginner must hesitate a little, if your Highness will be good enough to watch me a little closely, I will suggest the answers you should make.” Thus everything was settled, and in the most skilful manner. The prince, shy as he was, was ashamed of his shyness, and the care the duchess took to prevent his suffering from this inherent nervousness impressed the young sovereign deeply.

On the day of his first appearance, the performance began earlier than usual, and when the company moved into the theatre there were not more than eight or ten elderly women in the drawing-room. Their faces caused the prince no particular alarm, and besides, they had all been brought up at Munich, in the most thoroughly monarchical principles, and applauded dutifully. The duchess, by virtue of her authority as mistress of the robes, locked the door by which the mass of the courtiers usually passed into the theatre. The prince, who had considerable literary intelligence, and was very good-looking, got through his first scenes very well, cleverly repeating the sentences he read in the duchess’s eyes, or which she suggested in an undertone. Just when the few spectators were applauding with all their might, the duchess made a sign; the great doors were thrown open, and in a moment the room was filled with all the pretty women of the court, who, thinking the prince’s face charming, and his whole demeanour thoroughly happy, burst into applause. The prince flushed with delight. He was playing the part of lover to the duchess. Far from suggesting words to him, she was soon obliged to beg him to shorten his scenes. He dilated on “love” with a fervour which frequently put the actress quite out of countenance; some of his speeches were five minutes long. The duchess was no longer the dazzling beauty she had been a year previously. Fabrizio’s imprisonment, and still more, her stay on the Lago Maggiore with the Fabrizio who had grown gloomy and silent, had added ten years to the fair Gina’s appearance. Her features had grown sharper; there was more intelligence, and less juvenility, about them. Very seldom, nowadays, did they display the sprightly humour of her youth. Yet on the stage, rouged, and with the advantage of all that art does for an actress’s appearance, she was still the prettiest woman at the court. The prince’s passionate speeches roused the courtiers’ suspicions. That evening, every man said to his neighbour, “This is the Balbi of the new reign.” The count raged within himself. When the play was over, the duchess said to the prince, before the whole court:

“Your Highness acts too well. People will begin to say you are in love with a woman of eight-and-thirty, and that will spoil my marriage with the count. So I will not act any more with your Highness unless your Highness will promise you will only address me as you would a woman of a certain age—the Marchesa Raversi, for instance.”

The performance was repeated three times over. The prince was wild with delight, but one evening he looked very much worried.

“Unless I am very much mistaken,” said the mistress of the robes to the princess, “Rassi is trying to play us some trick. I would suggest that your Highness should have some acting to-morrow night. The prince will act badly, and in his despair, he will tell you something.”

As a matter of fact the prince did act very ill; he was hardly audible, and could not contrive to wind up his sentences. By the end of the first act the tears were almost standing in his eyes. The duchess kept close beside him, but she was cold and unmoved. The prince, finding himself alone with her for a moment in the green room, went over to the door and shut it. Then he said:

“I shall never be able to get through the second and third acts. I will not submit to being applauded out of good nature. The applause I was given to-night almost broke my heart. Advise me. What am I to do?”

“I will go upon the stage; I will make a deep courtesy to her Highness, and another to the audience, and I will announce that the actor who was playing the part of Lelio has been taken suddenly ill, and that therefore the play will be wound up with a little music. Count Rusca and the little Ghisolfi will be too delighted to have a chance of showing off their thin voices before such a brilliant assembly.”

The prince seized the duchess’s hand and kissed it passionately. “Why are you not a man?” he cried. “You would give me good advice! Rassi has just laid a hundred and eighty-two depositions against the persons accused of murdering my father on my writing-table, and besides the depositions there is an indictment which covers more than two hundred pages. I shall have to read them all, and further, I have given my word not to say anything about them to the count. All this is sure to end in executions. Already he is pressing me to have Ferrante Palla, that great poet whom I admire so much, carried off from a place near Antibes, in France, where he is living under the name of Poncet.”

“From the day when your Highness hangs a Liberal, Rassi will be bound to the ministry by iron chains, and that is what he most earnestly desires. But it will not be safe for your Highness to let it be known you are going to take a drive, two hours before you start. Neither the princess nor the count shall hear, through me, of the cry of anguish which has just escaped you, but as my oath forbids me to keep any secret from the princess, I shall be glad if your Highness will tell your mother what you have just permitted me to hear.”

This idea diverted the sovereign’s mind from the distress with which his failure as an actor had overwhelmed him.

“Very good. Go and call my mother. I will go straight to her cabinet.”

The prince left the theatre, crossed the drawing-room leading to it, and haughtily dismissed the great chamberlain and the aide-de-camp in waiting, who had followed him. The princess, on her part, hastily left the auditorium. As soon as she had reached her own apartments the duchess courtesied profoundly to mother and son, and left them alone together. The excitement of the courtiers may be conceived; that is one of the things which makes a court so entertaining. In an hour’s time, the prince himself appeared at the door of the cabinet, and summoned the duchess. The princess was in tears, the prince looked very much disturbed.

“Here are two weak beings in a bad temper,” said the mistress of the robes to herself, “and looking about for some good pretext for being angry with somebody else.” To begin with, mother and son took the words out of each other’s mouth in their anxiety to relate all the details of the matter to the duchess, who, when she answered, was most careful not to put forward any idea. For two mortal hours the three actors in this wearisome scene never ceased playing the parts we have just indicated. The prince himself went to fetch the two huge portfolios Rassi had laid upon his writing-table. Coming out of his mother’s cabinet, he found the whole court waiting for him. “Take yourselves off and leave me alone!” he exclaimed with a rudeness which had never been known in him before. The prince did not choose to be seen carrying the portfolios himself—a prince must never carry anything. In the twinkling of an eye the courtiers disappeared. When the prince came back, he found nobody in the apartment except the footmen, who were putting out the candles. He packed them off in a rage, and treated poor Fontana, the aide-de-camp in waiting, who, in his zeal, had stupidly stayed behind, in the same fashion.

“Every soul is set on trying my patience this evening,” he said to the duchess crossly, as he re-entered the cabinet. He believed in her cleverness, and was furious at her evident determination not to put forward any opinion. She, on her part, was quite resolved she would say nothing unless her advice was expressly asked. Thus another full half-hour went by before the prince, who was keenly alive to his own dignity, could make up his mind to say, “But you say nothing, madam!”

“I am here to wait on the princess, and to forget everything that is said before me, instantly.”

“Very good, madam,” said the prince, reddening deeply. “I command you to give me your opinion.”

“The object of punishing crimes is to prevent a repetition of them. Was the late prince poisoned? That is very doubtful. Was he poisoned by the Jacobins? That is what Rassi pines to prove; for thenceforward he becomes indispensable to your Highness for all time. In that case your Highness, whose reign is just opening, may expect many an evening like this one. The general opinion of your subjects, and it is a perfectly true one, is that your Highness’s nature is full of kindness. So long as your Highness does not have any Liberal hanged, this reputation will remain to you, and you may be very certain that no one will think of giving you poison.”

“Your conclusion is quite clear,” exclaimed the princess peevishly. “You don’t desire to have my husband’s murderers punished.”

“Madam, that, I suppose, is because I am bound to them by ties of the tenderest friendship.”

The duchess read clearly in the prince’s eyes that he believed her to be thoroughly agreed with his mother on some line of conduct to be dictated to him. A somewhat rapid succession of bitter repartees was exchanged between the ladies, at the end of which the duchess vowed she would not say another word, and to this resolution she steadily adhered. But the prince, after a long discussion with his mother, ordered her once more to tell him her opinion.

“I can assure both your Highnesses I will do nothing of the kind.”

“But this is mere childishness!” exclaimed the prince.

“Duchess, I beg you will speak,” said the princess with much dignity.

“I beg your Highness will excuse my doing so. But,” continued the duchess, addressing herself to the prince, “your Highness reads French beautifully. To soothe our agitated feelings, would your Highness read us one of La Fontaine’s fables?”

The princess thought the expression “us” exceedingly impertinent, but she looked at once astonished and amused when the mistress of the robes, who had calmly gone over to the bookcase and opened it, came back carrying a volume of La Fontaine’s Fables. She turned over the leaves for a few minutes, and then, handing the prince the book, she said: “I beseech your Highness to read the whole fable.”


Un amateur de jardinage

Demi-bourgeois, demi-manant,

Possédait en certain village

Un jardin assez propre, et le clos attenant.

Il avait de plant vif fermé cette étendue:

Là croissaient à plaisir l’oseille et la laitue,

De quoi faire à Margot pour sa fête un bouquet,

Peu de jasmin d’Espagne et force serpolet.

Cette félicité par un lièvre troublée

Fit qu’au seigneur du bourg notre homme se plaignit.

Ce maudit animal vient prendre sa goulée

Soir et matin, dit-il, et des piéges se rit;

Les pierres, les bâtons y perdent leur crédit:

Il est sorcier, je crois.—Sorcier! je l’en défie,

Repartit le seigneur: fût-il diable, Miraut,

En dépit de ses tours, l’attrapera bientôt.

Je vous en déferai, bonhomme, sur ma vie.

—Et quand?—Et dès demain, sans tarder plus longtemps

La partie ainsi fuite, il vient avec ses gens.

—Çà, déjeunons, dit-il: vos poulets sont-ils tendres?

L’embarras des chasseurs succède au déjeuné.

Chacun s’anime et se prépare;

Les trompes et les cors font un tel tintamarre,

Que le bonhomme est étonné.

Le pis fut que l’on mit en piteux équipage

Le pauvre potager. Adieu planches, carreaux;

Adieu chicorée et poireaux;

Adieu de quoi mettre au potage.

Le bonhomme disait: Ce sont là jeux de prince.

Mais on le laissait dire; et les chiens et les gens

Firent plus de dégât en une heure de temps

Que n’en auraient fait en cent ans

Tous les lièvres de la province.

Petits princes, videz vos débats entre vous;

De recourir aux rois vous seriez de grands fous.

Il ne les faut jamais engager dans vos guerres,

Ni les faire entrer sur vos terres.

After the reading a long silence ensued. The prince put the book back in its place himself, and began to walk up and down the room.

“Well, madam,” said the princess, “will you deign to speak?”

“No, indeed, madam; not until his Highness has appointed me his minister. If I were to speak here I should run the risk of losing my post as mistress of the robes.”

Silence fell again, for a full quarter of an hour. At last the princess bethought her of the part once played by Marie de Medicis, mother of Louis XIII. Every day, for some time previously, the mistress of the robes had caused Mons. Bazin’s excellent History of Louis XIII to be read to her Highness. The princess, vexed though she was, considered that the duchess might very likely leave the country, and that then Rassi, of whom she was horribly afraid, would quite possibly follow Richelieu’s example, and induce her son to banish her. At that moment the princess would have given anything she had on earth to be able to humiliate her mistress of the robes. But she was powerless. She rose from her seat, and with a smile which had a touch of exaggeration about it she took the duchess’s hand, and said:

“Come, madam, prove your affection for me by speaking!”

“Two words then, and no more. All the papers collected by that viper Rassi should be burned in this fireplace, and he must never know they have been burned.” Whispering in the princess’s ear, she added, with a familiar air:

“Rassi may be a Richelieu.”

“But, devil take it,” cried the prince, much vexed, “these papers have cost me more than eighty thousand francs!”

“Prince,” replied the duchess passionately, “now you see what it costs you to employ low-born rogues! Would to God you might lose a million rather than that you should ever place your faith in the vile scoundrels who robbed your father of his peaceful sleep for the last six years of his reign!”

The word low-born had given great pleasure to the princess, who held that the count and his friend were somewhat too exclusive in their esteem for intelligence—always nearly related to Jacobinism.

During the short moment of deep silence filled up by the princess’s reflections, the castle clock struck three. The princess rose, courtesied profoundly to her son, and said: “My health will not permit me to prolong this discussion any further. Never employ a low-born minister! You will never convince me that Rassi has not stolen half the money he made you spend on espionage.” The princess took two tapers out of the candlesticks, and set them in the fireplace, so that they still remained alight. Then, drawing nearer to her son, she added: “In my case, La Fontaine’s fable over-rides my just longing to avenge my husband. Will your Highness give me leave to burn these writings?”

The prince stood motionless.

“He really has a stupid face,” said the duchess to herself. “The count is quite right, the late prince would never have kept us till three o’clock in the morning before he could make up his mind.”

The princess, who was still standing, continued:

“That lawyer-fellow would be very proud if he knew his papers, all of them crammed with lies, and cooked up to secure his own advancement, had kept the two greatest personages in the state awake all night!”

The prince flew at the portfolios like a fury, and emptied their contents on to the hearth. The weight of the papers very nearly stifled the two candles; the room was filled with smoke. The princess saw in her son’s eyes that he was sorely tempted to seize a water-bottle, and save the documents that had cost him a hundred thousand francs.

She called to the duchess sharply, “Why don’t you open the window?” The duchess hastened to obey. Instantly all the papers flamed up together; there was a great roar in the chimney, and soon it became evident that it, too, had caught fire.

In all money matters, the prince was a mean man. He fancied he saw his palace blazing, and all the treasures it contained destroyed. Rushing to the window, he shouted for the Guard, and his tone was quite wild. At the sound of the prince’s voice, the soldiers ran tumultuously into the court. He came back to the fireplace, up which the air from the open window was rushing, with a noise that was really alarming. He lost his temper, swore, took two or three turns up and down the room, like a man beside himself, and finally ran out of it.

The princess and her mistress of the robes were left standing, facing each other, in the deepest silence.

“Is she going to be in a rage again?” said the duchess to herself. “Well, my cause is won, at any rate!” and she was just making up her mind to return very impertinent answers, when a thought flashed across her—she had noticed the second portfolio standing untouched. “No, my cause is only half won,” she thought, and she addressed the princess, somewhat coldly, “Have I your Highness’s commands to burn the rest of these papers?”

“And where will you burn them, pray?” inquired the princess crossly.

“In the drawing-room fireplace. If I throw them in one after the other there will be no danger.”

The duchess thrust the portfolio, bursting with papers, under her arm, took a candle in her hand, and went into the adjoining drawing-room. She gave herself time to make sure that this particular portfolio held the depositions, hid five or six packets of papers under her shawl, burned the rest very carefully, and slipped out without taking leave of the princess.

“Here’s a fine piece of impertinence,” she said with a laugh. “But with her affectations of inconsolable widowhood, she very nearly brought my head to the scaffold.”

When the princess heard the noise of the duchess’s carriage, she was filled with anger against her mistress of the robes.

In spite of the lateness of the hour, the duchess sent for the count. He had gone to the fire at the palace, but he soon appeared, bringing news that it was all over. “The young prince really showed a great deal of courage, and I paid him my heartiest compliments.”

“Look quickly over these depositions, and let us burn them as fast as we can.”

The count read and turned pale.

“Upon my word, they had got very near the truth. The investigation has been most skilfully conducted. They are quite on Ferrante Palla’s track, and if he speaks, we shall have a difficult card to play.”

“But he won’t speak,” cried the duchess. “That man is a man of honour! Now into the fire with them!”

“Not yet. Let me take down the names of ten or fifteen dangerous witnesses, whom I shall take the liberty of spiriting away, if Rassi ever attempts to begin again.”

“Let me remind your Excellency that the prince has given his word not to tell the Minister of Justice anything about our nocturnal performance.”

“And he will keep it, out of cowardice, and because he hates a scene.”

“Now, my dear friend, this night’s work has done a great deal to hasten on our marriage. I never would have brought you a trial in the criminal courts as my dowry, more especially for a wrong I did on account of my interest in another person.”

The count was in love. He caught her hand protestingly; tears stood in his eyes.

“Before you leave me, pray give me some advice about my behaviour to the princess. I am worn out with fatigue. I have been acting for an hour on the stage, and for five hours in her Highness’s cabinet.”

“The impertinent manner of your departure has avenged you amply for the princess’s disagreeable remarks, which were only a proof of weakness. When you see her to-morrow, take the same tone as that you used this morning. Rassi is neither an exile nor a prisoner yet, nor have we torn up Fabrizio’s sentence.

“You pressed the princess to make a decision; that always puts princes, and even prime ministers, out of temper. And besides, after all, you are her mistress of the robes; in other words, her humble servant. A revulsion of feeling which is invariable with weak natures will make Rassi’s favour higher than ever within three days. He will strive to ruin somebody, but until he has compromised the prince, he can be sure of nothing.

“There was a man hurt at the fire to-night—a tailor. Upon my soul, he showed the most extraordinary courage. To-morrow I will suggest that the prince should walk out, leaning on my arm, and pay a visit to that tailor. I shall be armed to the teeth, and I will keep a sharp lookout. And, indeed, so far, no one hates this young prince. I want to give him the habit of walking about in the streets—a trick I shall play on Rassi, who will certainly succeed me, and who will not be able to allow him to do anything so imprudent. On our way back from the tailor’s house, I’ll bring the prince past his father’s statue; he’ll see how the stones have broken the skirt of the Roman tunic with which the fool of a sculptor has adorned the figure, and he must be a prince of very limited intelligence indeed if he is not inspired with the remark, ‘This is what one gets by hanging Jacobins,’ to which I shall reply, ‘You must either hang ten thousand, or not a single one; the massacre of St. Bartholomew destroyed Protestantism in France.’

“To-morrow, dearest friend, before I start on my expedition, you must wait upon the prince, and say to him: ‘Last night I acted as your minister; I gave you advice, and in obeying your orders I incurred the displeasure of the princess. You must reward me.’ He will think you are going to ask him for money, and will begin to knit his brows. You must leave him to struggle with this unpleasant thought as long as possible. Then you will say: ‘I entreat your Highness to give orders that Fabrizio shall be tried after hearing both parties—that is to say, that Fabrizio himself shall be present—by the twelve most respected judges in your dominions,’ and without losing a moment you will beg his signature to a short order written by your own fair hand, which I will now dictate to you. Of course I shall insert a clause to the effect that the first sentence is annulled. To this there is only one objection, but if you carry the business through quickly, it will not occur to the prince.

“He may say, ‘Fabrizio must give himself up again at the fortress.’ You will reply, ‘He will give himself up at the city jail’ (you know I am master there, and your nephew will be able to come and see you every evening). If the prince answers, ‘No; his flight has smirched the honour of my citadel, and as a matter of form, I insist on his going back to the room he occupied there,’ you in your turn will say, ‘No; for there he would be at the mercy of my enemy Rassi,’ and by one of those womanly hints you know so well how to insinuate, you will make him understand that to work on Rassi, you might possibly inform him as to this night’s auto da fé. If the prince persists, you will say you are going away to your house at Sacca for ten days.

“You must send for Fabrizio, and consult with him about this step, which may bring him back into his prison. We must foresee everything, and if, while he is under lock and key, Rassi loses patience, and has me poisoned, Fabrizio might be in danger. But this is not very probable.

“You know I have brought over a French cook, who is the cheeriest of men, always making puns; now, punning is incompatible with murder. I have already told our Fabrizio that I have discovered all the witnesses of his brave and noble behaviour. It is quite clear it was Giletti who tried to murder him. I had not mentioned these witnesses to you, because I wanted to give you a surprise. But the plan has failed; I could not get the prince’s signature. I told our Fabrizio I would certainly procure him some high ecclesiastical position, but I shall find that very difficult if his enemies at the court of Rome can put forward an accusation of murder against him. Do you realize, madam, that if he is not tried in the most formal manner, the name of Giletti will be a bugbear to him all the days of his life? It would be a very cowardly thing to avoid a trial when one is quite sure of one’s innocence. Besides, if he were guilty I would have him acquitted. When I mentioned the subject, the eager young fellow would not let me finish my story; he laid hands on the official list, and together we chose out the twelve most upright and learned of the judges. When the list was complete we struck out six of the names, and replaced them by those of six lawyers who are my personal enemies, and as we could only discover two of these, we made up the number with four rascals who are devoted to Rassi.”

The count’s remarks filled the duchess with deadly and not unreasonable alarm. At last she submitted to reason, and wrote the order appointing the judges, at the minister’s dictation.

It was six o’clock in the morning before the count left her. She tried to sleep, but all in vain. At nine she was breakfasting with Fabrizio, whom she found consumed with longing to be tried; at ten she waited on the princess, who was not visible; at eleven she saw the prince, who was holding his lever, and who signed the order without making the slightest objection. The duchess sent off the order to the count, and went to bed.

I might give an entertaining account of Rassi’s fury when the count obliged him, in the prince’s presence, to countersign the order the prince himself had signed earlier in the morning. But events press too thickly upon us.

The count discussed the merits of each judge, and offered to change the names. But my readers may possibly be growing as weary of my details of legal procedure as of all these court intrigues. From all of them we may draw this moral—that the man who comes to close quarters with a court imperils his happiness, if he is happy, and in any case, risks his whole future on the intrigues of a waiting-woman.

On the other hand, in a republic, such as America, he must bore himself from morning to night by paying solemn court to the shopkeepers in the street, and grow as dull as they are, and then, over there, there is no opera for him to go to.

When the duchess left her bed that evening, she endured a moment of extreme anxiety. Fabrizio was not to be found. At last, toward midnight, during the performance of a play at the palace, she received a letter from him. Instead of giving himself up at the city jail, which was under the count’s jurisdiction, he had gone back to his old room in the fortress, too delighted to find himself once more in Clelia’s neighbourhood.

This was an immensely important incident, for in that place he was more than ever exposed to the danger of poison. This piece of folly drove the duchess to despair, but she forgave its cause—her nephew’s wild love for Clelia—because that young lady was certainly to be married, within a few days, to the wealthy Marchese Crescenzi. By this mad act Fabrizio recovered all his former influence over the duchess.

“That cursed paper I made the prince sign will bring about Fabrizio’s death! What idiots men are, with their notions of honour! As if there were any necessity for thinking about honour under an absolute government in a country where a man like Rassi is Minister of Justice! We ought simply and solely to have accepted the pardon which the prince would have given, just as willingly as he gave the order convoking this extraordinary court. What matter is it, after all, whether a man of Fabrizio’s birth is accused, more or less, of having killed a strolling player like Giletti with his own hand and his own sword?”

No sooner had the duchess received Fabrizio’s note, than she hurried to the count. She found him looking quite pale.

“Good God, my dear friend!” he cried. “I certainly bring bad luck to this poor boy, and you will be frantic with me again. I can give you proofs that I sent for the keeper of the city jail yesterday evening. Your nephew would have come to drink tea with you every day. The awful thing is that it is impossible for either you or me to tell the prince we are afraid of poison, and poison administered by Rassi. He would regard such a suspicion as immoral to the last degree. Nevertheless, if you insist upon it, I am ready to go to the palace. But I know what answer I shall receive. I will say more; I will offer you a means which I would not use for myself. Since I have held power in this country I have never caused a single man to perish, and you know I am so weak-minded in that particular, that when evening falls I sometimes think of those two spies I had shot, a trifle hastily, in Spain. Well, do you wish me to rid you of Rassi? There is no limit to Fabrizio’s danger at his hands. Therein he holds a certain means of driving me to take my departure.”

The suggestion was exceedingly pleasing to the duchess, but she did not adopt it.

“I do not choose,” said she to the count, “that in our retirement under the beautiful Neapolitan sky your evenings should be darkened by sad thoughts.”

“But, dearest friend, it seems to me we have nothing but sad thoughts to choose from. What will become of you, what is to become of me, if Fabrizio is carried off by illness?”

There was a fresh discussion over this idea. The duchess closed it with these words: “Rassi owes his life to the fact that I love you better than I do Fabrizio. No; I will not poison every evening of the old age we are going to spend together.”

The duchess hurried to the fortress. General Fabio Conti was delighted to have to refuse her admittance, in obedience to the formal provisions of military law, whereby no one can enter a state prison without an order signed by the prince.

“But the Marchese Crescenzi and his musicians come into the citadel every day.”

“That is because I have obtained a special order for them from the prince.”

The poor duchess was unaware of the extent of her misfortune. General Fabio Conti had taken Fabrizio’s escape as a personal slight upon himself. He had no business to admit him when he saw him enter the citadel, for he had no orders to that effect.

“But,” thought he, “Heaven has sent him to me, to repair my honour, and save me from the ridicule which would have blighted my military career. I must not lose my chance. He will be acquitted—there is no doubt of that—and I have only a few days in which to wreak my vengeance.”