The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER XXV

Our hero’s arrival threw Clelia into a condition of despair. The poor girl, earnestly pious and thoroughly honest with herself, could not blink the fact that she could never know happiness apart from Fabrizio. But when her father had been half poisoned, she had made a vow to the Madonna that she would sacrifice herself to him by marrying the marchese. She had also vowed she would never see Fabrizio again, and she was already torn by the most cruel remorse, on account of the admission into which she had slipped in her letter to Fabrizio the night before his flight. How shall I describe the feelings that swelled that shadowed heart when, as she sadly watched her birds fluttering hither and thither, she raised her eyes, instinctively, and lovingly, to the window whence Fabrizio had once gazed at her, and saw him stand there once again, and greet her with the tenderest respect.

At first she thought it was a vision, which Heaven had sent her as a punishment. At last the hideous truth forced itself on her mind. “They have taken him,” she thought, “and now he is lost!” She remembered the language used within the fortress after his escape—the very humblest jailer had felt himself mortally humiliated by it. Clelia looked at Fabrizio, and in spite of herself, her eyes spoke all the passion that was driving her to despair. “Can you believe,” she seemed to say to Fabrizio, “that I shall find happiness in the sumptuous palace that is being prepared for me? My father tells me, till I am sick of hearing it, that you are as poor as we are. Heavens! how gladly would I share that poverty! But, alas, we must never see each other again!”

Clelia had not the strength to make any use of the alphabets. Even as she gazed at Fabrizio, she turned faint, and dropped upon a chair beside the window. Her head rested upon the window ledge, and as she had striven to look at him till the last moment her face, turned toward Fabrizio, was fully exposed to his gaze. When, after a few moments, she opened her eyes, her first glance sought Fabrizio. Tears stood in his eyes, but they were tears of utter happiness. He saw that absence had not made her forget him. For some time the two poor young creatures remained as though bewitched by the sight of each other. Fabrizio ventured to say a few words, as though singing to a guitar, something to this effect: “It is to see you again that I have come back to prison; I am to be tried.”

These words seemed to stir all Clelia’s sense of virtue. She rose swiftly to her feet, covered her eyes, and endeavoured to make him understand, by the most earnest gestures, that she must never see him again. This had been her promise to the Madonna, which she had forgotten when she had looked at him. When Fabrizio still ventured to give expression to his love, Clelia fled indignantly, swearing to herself that she would never see him again. For these were the exact terms of her vow to the Madonna: “My eyes shall never look on him again.” She had written them on a slip of paper which her uncle Cesare had allowed her to burn on the altar, at the moment of the elevation, while he was saying mass.

But in spite of every vow, Fabrizio’s presence in the Farnese Tower drove Clelia back into all her former habits. She now generally spent her whole day alone in her room, but hardly had she recovered from the state of agitation into which Fabrizio’s appearance had thrown her, than she began to move about the palace, and renew acquaintance, so to speak, with all her humbler friends. A very talkative old woman, who worked in the kitchens, said to her, with a look of mystery, “Signor Fabrizio will not get out of the citadel this time.”

“He will not commit the crime of getting over the walls,” said Clelia, “but he will go out by the gate if he is acquitted.”

“I tell your Excellency, and I know what I am saying, that he will never go out till he is carried out feet foremost.”

Clelia turned deadly pale; the old woman remarked it, and her eloquence was checked. She felt she had committed an imprudence in speaking thus before the daughter of the governor, whose duty it would be to tell every one Fabrizio had died of illness. As Clelia was going back to her rooms she met the prison doctor, an honest, timid kind of man, who told her, with a look of alarm, that Fabrizio was very ill. Clelia could hardly drag herself along; she hunted high and low for her uncle, the good priest Cesare, and found him at last in the chapel, praying fervently; his face betrayed the greatest distress. The dinner bell rang. Not a word was exchanged between the two brothers at table, but toward the end of the meal the general addressed some very tart remark to his brother. This latter looked at the servants, who left the room.

“General,” said Don Cesare to the governor, “I have the honour to inform you that I am about to leave the citadel. I give you my resignation.”

“Bravo! Bravissimo!… to cast suspicion on me! And your reason, may I inquire?”

“My conscience.”

“Pooh! you’re nothing but a shaveling priest. You know nothing about honour.”

“Fabrizio is killed!” said Clelia to herself. “They’ve poisoned him at his dinner, or else they’ll do it to-morrow.” She flew to her aviary, determined to sing and accompany herself on the piano. “I will confess it all,” said she to herself. “I shall be given absolution for breaking my vow to save a man’s life.” What was her consternation, on reaching the aviary, to perceive that the screens had been replaced by boards, fastened to the iron bars. Half distracted, she endeavoured to warn the prisoner by a few words, which she screamed rather than sang. There was no answer of any sort. A deathlike silence already reigned within the Farnese Tower. “It’s all over,” she thought. Distraught, she ran down the stairs, then ran back again, to fetch what money she had, and her little diamond earrings. As she went by she snatched up the bread remaining from dinner, which had been put on a sideboard. “If he is still alive, it is my duty to save him.” With a haughty air she moved toward the little door in the tower. The door was open, and eight soldiers had only just been stationed in the pillared hall on the ground floor. She looked boldly at the soldiers. Clelia had intended to speak to the sergeant who should have been in charge, but the man was not there. Clelia hurried up the little iron staircase which wound round one of the pillars; the soldiers stared at her, very much astonished, but presumably on account of her lace shawl, and her bonnet, they dared not say anything to her. There was nobody at all on the first floor, but on the second, at the entrance to the passage, which, as my readers may recollect, was closed by three iron-barred doors, and led to Fabrizio’s room, she found a turnkey, a stranger to her, who said, with a startled look:

“He hasn’t dined yet.”

“I know that quite well,” said Clelia loftily. The man did not venture to stop her. Twenty paces farther on, Clelia found, sitting on the first of the six wooden steps leading up to Fabrizio’s room, another turnkey, very elderly, and exceedingly red in the face, who said to her firmly, “Signorina, have you an order from the governor?”

“Do you not know who I am?”

At that moment Clelia was possessed by a sort of supernatural strength. She was quite beside herself. “I am going to save my husband,” she said to herself.

While the old turnkey was calling out, “But my duty will not permit me,” Clelia ran swiftly up the six steps. She threw herself against the door. A huge key was in the lock; it took all her strength to turn it. At that moment the old turnkey, who was half drunk, snatched at the bottom of her skirt. She dashed into the room, slammed the door, tearing her gown, and, as the turnkey pushed at it, to get in after her, she shot a bolt which she found just under her hand. She looked into the room and saw Fabrizio sitting at a very small table, on which his dinner was laid. She rushed at the table, overturned it, and, clutching Fabrizio’s arm, she cried, “Hast thou eaten?”

This use of the second person singular filled Fabrizio with joy. For the first time in her agitation, Clelia had forgotten her womanly reserve and betrayed her love.

Fabrizio had been on the point of beginning his fatal meal. He clasped her in his arms, and covered her with kisses. “This food has been poisoned,” thought he to himself. “If I tell her I have not touched it, religion will reassert its rights, and Clelia will take to flight. But if she looks upon me as a dying man I shall persuade her not to leave me. She is longing to find a means of escape from her hateful marriage; chance has brought us this one. The jailers will soon collect; they will break in the door, and then there will be such a scandal that the Marchese Crescenzi will take fright, and break off his marriage.”

During the momentary silence consequent on these reflections, Fabrizio felt that Clelia was already endeavouring to free herself from his embrace.

“I feel no pain as yet,” he said to her, “but soon I shall lie at thy feet in agony. Help me to die!”

“Oh, my only friend,” she answered, “I will die with thee!” and she clasped her arms about him with a convulsive pressure.

Half dressed as she was, and half wild with passion, she was so beautiful that Fabrizio could not restrain an almost involuntary gesture. He met with no resistance.

In the gush of passion and generous feeling which follows on excessive happiness, he said to her boldly: “The first instants of our happiness shall not be soiled by a vile lie. But for thy courage I should now be nothing but a corpse, or struggling in the most hideous tortures. But at thy entrance I was only about to dine; I had not touched any of the dishes.”

Fabrizio dilated on the frightful picture, so as to soften the indignation he already perceived in Clelia’s eyes. Torn by violent and conflicting feelings, she looked at him for an instant, and then threw herself into his arms. A great noise arose in the passage, the iron doors were roughly opened and violently banged, and there was talking and shouting.

“Oh, if only I was armed!” exclaimed Fabrizio. “They took my arms away before they would let me come in. No doubt they are coming to make an end of me. Farewell, my Clelia! I bless my death, since it has brought me my happiness!” Clelia kissed him, and gave him a little ivory-handled dagger, with a blade not much longer than that of a penknife.

“Do not let them kill thee,” she said. “Defend thyself to the last moment. If my uncle hears the noise—he is brave and virtuous—he will save thee. I am going to speak to them!” and as she said the words, she rushed toward the door.

“If thou art not killed,” she said feverishly, with her hand on the bolt and her head turned toward him, “starve rather than touch any food that is brought thee. Keep this bread about thy person always.” The noise was drawing nearer. Fabrizio caught hold of her, took her place by the door, and throwing it open violently, rushed down the six wooden steps. The ivory-handled dagger was in his hand, and he was just about to drive it into the waistcoat of General Fontana, the prince’s aide-de-camp, who started back in alarm, and exclaimed, “But I have come to save you, Signor del Dongo!”

Fabrizio turned back, up the six steps, said, within the room, “Fontana has come to save me,” then, returning to the general, on the wooden steps, he conversed calmly with him, begging him, in many words, to forgive him his angry impulse. “There has been an attempt to poison me; that dinner you see laid out there is poisoned. I had the sense not to touch it, but I will confess to you that the incident annoyed me. When I heard you coming up the stairs, I thought they were coming to finish me with daggers.… General, I request you will give orders that nobody shall enter my room. Somebody would take away the poison, and our good prince must be informed of everything.”

The general, very pale, and very much horrified, transmitted the order suggested by Fabrizio to the specially selected jailers, who had followed him. These gentry, very much crestfallen at seeing the poison discovered, lost no time in getting downstairs. They made as though they were going in front, to get out of the way of the prince’s aide-de-camp on the narrow staircase; as a matter of fact, they were panting to escape and disappear. To General Fontana’s great astonishment, Fabrizio halted for more than a quarter of an hour at the little iron staircase that ran round the pillar on the ground floor. He wanted to give Clelia time to conceal herself on the first floor.

It was the duchess who, after doing several wild things, had succeeded in getting General Fontana sent to the citadel. This success had been the result of chance. Leaving Count Mosca, who was as much alarmed as herself, she hurried to the palace. The princess, who had a strong dislike to energy, which always struck her as being vulgar, thought she was mad, and did not show the least disposition to attempt any unusual step to help her. The duchess, distracted, was weeping bitterly. All she could do was to repeat, over and over again, “But, madam, within a quarter of an hour Fabrizio will be dead of poison!”

When the duchess perceived the princess’s perfect indifference, her grief drove her mad. That moral reflection, which would certainly have occurred to any woman educated in one of those northern religions which permit of self-examination—“I was the first to use poison, and now it is by poison that I am destroyed”—never occurred to her. In Italy such considerations, in moments of deep passion, would seem as commonplace as a pun would appear to a Parisian, under parallel circumstances.

In her despair, the duchess chanced to go into the drawing-room, where she found the Marchese Crescenzi, who was in waiting that day. When the duchess had returned to Parma he had thanked her fervently for his post as lord in waiting, to which, but for her, he could never have aspired. There had been no lack of asseverations of devotion on his part. The duchess addressed him in the following words:

“Rassi is going to have Fabrizio, who is in the citadel, poisoned. Put some chocolate and a bottle of water, which I will give you, into your pocket. Go up to the citadel, and save my life by telling General Fabio Conti that if he does not allow you to give Fabrizio the chocolate and the water yourself, you will break off your marriage with his daughter.”

The marchese turned pale, and his features, instead of kindling into animation, expressed the most miserable perplexity. He “could not believe that so hideous a crime could be committed in so well-ordered a city as Parma, ruled over by so great a prince,” and so forth. And to make it worse, he enunciated all these platitudes exceedingly slowly. In a word, the duchess found she had to deal with a man who was upright enough, but weak beyond words, and quite unable to make up his mind to act. After a score of remarks of this kind, all of them interrupted by her impatient exclamations, he hit on an excellent excuse. His oath as lord in waiting forbade him to take part in any machinations against the government.

My readers will imagine the anxiety and despair of the duchess, who felt the time was slipping by.

“But see the governor, at all events, and tell him I will hunt Fabrizio’s murderers into hell!”

Despair had quickened the duchess’s eloquence. But all her fervour only added to the marchese’s alarm, and doubled his natural irresolution. At the end of an hour he was even less inclined to do anything than he had been at first.

The unhappy woman, who had reached the utmost limit of distraction, and was thoroughly convinced the governor would never refuse anything to so rich a son-in-law, went so far as to throw herself at his feet. This seemed only to increase the Marchese Crescenzi’s cowardice—the strange sight filled him with an unconscious fear that he himself might be compromised. But then a strange thing happened. The marchese, a kind-hearted man at bottom, was touched when he saw so beautiful and, above all, so powerful a woman, kneeling at his feet.

“I myself, rich and noble as I am,” thought he, “may one day be forced to kneel at the feet of some republican.”

The marchese began to cry, and at last it was agreed that the duchess, as mistress of the robes, should introduce him to the princess, who would give him leave to convey a small basket, of the contents of which he would declare himself ignorant, to Fabrizio.

The previous night, before the duchess had become aware of Fabrizio’s folly in giving himself up to the citadel, a commedia dell’arte had been acted at court, and the prince, who always kept the lovers’ parts for himself, and played them with the duchess, had spoken to her so passionately of his love that had such a thing been possible, in Italy, to any passionate man, or any prince, he would have looked ridiculous.

The prince, who, shy as he was, took his love-affairs very seriously, was walking along one of the corridors of the palace, when he met the duchess, hurrying the Marchese Crescenzi, who looked very much flustered, into the princess’s presence. He was so surprised and dazzled by the beauty and the emotion with which despair had endued the mistress of the robes, that for the first time in his life he showed some decision of character. With a gesture that was more than imperious, he dismissed the marchese, and forthwith made a formal declaration of his love to the duchess. No doubt the prince had thought it all over beforehand, for it contained some very sensible remarks.

“Since my rank forbids me the supreme happiness of marrying you, I will swear to you on the Holy Wafer that I will never marry without your written consent. I know very well,” he added, “that I shall cause you to lose the hand of the Prime Minister—a clever and very charming man—but, after all, he is fifty-six years old, and I am not yet twenty-two. I should feel I was insulting you, and should deserve your refusal, if I spoke to you of advantages apart from my love. But every soul about my court who cares about money speaks with admiration of the proof of love the count gives you, by leaving everything he possesses in your hands. I shall be only too happy to imitate him in this respect. You will use my fortune much better than I, and you will have the entire disposal of the annual sum which my ministers pay over to the lord steward of the crown. Thus it will be you, duchess, who will decide what sums I may expend each month.”

The duchess thought all these details very long-winded. The sense of Fabrizio’s peril was tearing at her heart.

“But don’t you know, sir,” she exclaimed, “that Fabrizio is at this moment being poisoned in your citadel. Save him! I believe everything!” The arrangement of her sentence was thoroughly awkward. At the word poison all the confidence, all the good faith which had been evident in the poor, well-meaning prince’s conversation, disappeared like a flash. The duchess only noticed her blunder when it was too late to remedy it, and this increased her despair—a thing she had thought impossible. “If I had not mentioned poison,” said she to herself, “he would have granted me Fabrizio’s liberty. Oh, dear Fabrizio,” she added, “I am fated to ruin you by my folly!”

It took the duchess a long time, and she was forced to employ many wiles, before she could win the prince back to his passionate declarations of affection. But he was still thoroughly scared. It was only his mind that spoke; his heart had been frozen—first of all by the idea of poison, and then by another, as displeasing to him as the first had been terrible. “Poison is being administered in my dominions without my being told anything about it. Rassi, then, is bent on dishonouring me in the eyes of Europe. God alone knows what I shall read in the French newspapers next month.”

Suddenly, timid as the young man was, his heart was silent, and an idea started up in his mind.

“Dear duchess,” he cried, “you know how deeply I am attached to you. I would fain believe your terrible notion about poison is quite unfounded. But, indeed, it set me thinking, too, and for a moment it almost made me forget my passionate love for you, the only one I have ever felt in my life. I feel I am not very lovable; I am nothing but a boy, very desperately in love. But put me to the test, at all events!”

As the prince spoke he grew very eager.

“Save Fabrizio, and I will believe everything! No doubt I am carried away by a foolish mother’s fears. But send instantly to fetch Fabrizio from the citadel, and let me see him. If he is still alive, send him from the palace to the city jail, and keep him there for months and months, until he has been tried, if that be your Highness’s will!”

The duchess noticed with despair that the prince, instead of granting so simple a petition with a word, had grown gloomy. He was very much flushed; he looked at the duchess, then dropped his eyes, and his cheeks grew pale. The idea of poison she had so unluckily put forward had inspired him with a thought worthy of his own father, or of Philip II. But he did not dare to express it.

“Listen, madam,” he said at last, as though with an effort, and in a tone that was not particularly gracious. “You look down upon me as a boy, and further, as a creature possessing no attraction. Well, I am going to say something horrible to you, which has been suggested to me, this instant, by the real and deep passion I feel for you. If I had the smallest belief in the world in this poison story, I should have taken steps at once; my duty would have made that a law. But I take your request to be nothing but a wild fancy, the meaning of which, you will allow me to say, I may not fully grasp. You expect me, who have hardly reigned three months, to act without consulting my ministers. You ask me to make an exception to a general rule, which, I confess, seems to me a very reasonable one. At this moment it is you, madam, who are absolute sovereign here; you inspire me with hope in a matter which is all in all to me. But within an hour, when this nightmare of yours, this fancy about poison, has faded away, my presence will become a weariness to you, and you will drive me away, madam. Therefore I want an oath. Swear to me, madam, that if Fabrizio is restored to you, safe and sound, you will grant me, within three months, all the happiness that my love can crave; that you will ensure the bliss of my whole life by placing one hour of yours at my disposal, and that you will be mine!”

At that moment the castle clock struck two. “Ah, perhaps it is too late now!” thought the duchess.

“I swear it,” she cried, and her eyes were wild.

Instantly the prince became a different man. Running to the aide-de-camp’s room at the end of the gallery—

“General Fontana,” he cried, “gallop at full speed to the citadel; hurry as fast as you can to the room where Signor del Dongo is confined, and bring him to me. I must speak to him within twenty minutes—within fifteen, if that be possible.”

“Ah, general!” exclaimed the duchess, who had followed on the prince’s heels. “My whole life may depend on one moment. A report—a false one, no doubt—has made me fear Fabrizio may be poisoned. The moment you are within earshot, call out to him not to eat. If he has touched food, you must make him sick; say I insist upon it—use violence if necessary. Tell him I am following close after you, and believe I shall be indebted to you all my life!”

“My lady duchess, my horse is saddled; I am thought a good rider; I will gallop as hard as I can go, and I shall be at the citadel eight minutes before you.”

The aide-de-camp vanished. He was a man whose one merit was that he knew how to ride.

Before he had well closed the door the young prince, who apparently knew his own mind now, seized the duchess’s hand. “Madam,” he said, and there was passion in his tone, “deign to come with me to the chapel.” Taken aback for the first time in her life, the duchess followed him without a word. She and the prince ran down the whole length of the great gallery of the palace, at the far end of which the chapel was situated. When they were inside the chapel the prince cast himself on his knees, as much before the duchess as before the altar.

“Repeat your oath!” he exclaimed passionately. “If you had been just, if the misfortune of my being a prince had not injured my cause, you would have granted me, out of pity for my love, that which you owe me now, because you have sworn it.”

“If I see Fabrizio again, and he has not been poisoned—if he is alive within a week from now—if your Highness appoints him coadjutor to Archbishop Landriani, and his ultimate successor—I will trample everything, my honour, my womanly dignity, beneath my feet, and I will give myself to your Highness.”

“But, dearest friend,” said the prince, with a comical mixture of nervous anxiety and tenderness, “I am afraid of some pitfall I do not understand, and which may destroy all my happiness; that would kill me. If the archbishop makes some ecclesiastical difficulty which will drag the business out for years, what is to become of me? I am acting, you see, in perfect good faith; are you going to treat me like a Jesuit?”

“No, in all good faith. If Fabrizio is saved, and if you do all in your power to make him coadjutor and future archbishop, I will dishonour myself, and give myself to you. Your Highness will undertake to write ‘approved’ on the margin of a request which the archbishop will present within the week?”

“I will sign you a blank sheet of paper! You shall rule me and my dominions!” Reddening with happiness, and thoroughly beside himself, he insisted on a second oath. So great was his emotion that it made him forget his natural timidity, and in that palace chapel where they were alone together, he whispered things which, if he had said them three days previously, would have altered the duchess’s opinion of him. But in her heart, despair concerning Fabrizio’s danger had now been replaced by horror at the promise which had been torn from her.

The duchess was overwhelmed by the thought of what she had done. If she was not yet conscious of the frightful bitterness of what she had said, it was because her attention was still strained by anxiety as to whether General Fontana would reach the citadel in time.

To stem the boy’s wild love talk, and turn the conversation, she praised a famous picture by Parmegiano, which adorned the high altar in the chapel.

“Do me the kindness of allowing me to send it to you,” said the prince.

“I accept it,” replied the duchess. “But give me leave to hurry to meet Fabrizio.”

With a bewildered look she told her coachman to make his horses into a gallop. On the bridge that spanned the fortress moat she met General Fontana and Fabrizio coming out on foot.

“Have you eaten?”

“No, by some miracle.”

The duchess threw herself on Fabrizio’s breast, and fell into a swoon, which lasted for an hour, and engendered fears, first for her life, and afterward for her reason.

At the sight of General Fontana, General Fabio Conti had grown white with rage. He dallied so much about obeying the prince’s order, that the aide-de-camp, who concluded the duchess was about to occupy the position of reigning mistress, had ended by losing his temper. The governor had intended to make Fabrizio’s illness last two or three days, and “now,” said he to himself, “this general, a man about the court, will find the impudent fellow struggling in the agonies which are to avenge me for his flight.”

Greatly worried, Fabio Conti stopped in the guard-room of the Farnese Tower, and hastily dismissed the soldiers in it. He did not care to have any witnesses of the approaching scene.

Five minutes afterwards, he was petrified with astonishment by hearing Fabrizio’s voice, and seeing him well and hearty, describing the prison to General Fontana. He swiftly disappeared.

At his interview with the prince, Fabrizio behaved like a perfect gentleman. In the first place, he had no intention of looking like a child who is frightened by a mere nothing. The prince inquired kindly how he felt.

“Like a man, your Serene Highness, who is starving with hunger, because, by good luck, he has neither breakfasted nor dined.”

After having had the honour of thanking the prince, he requested permission to see the archbishop, before proceeding to the city jail.

The prince had turned exceedingly pale when the conviction that the poison had not been altogether a phantom of the duchess’s imagination had forced itself upon his childish brain. Absorbed by the cruel thought, he did not at first reply to Fabrizio’s request that he might see the archbishop. Then he felt obliged to atone for his inattention by excessive graciousness.

“You can go out alone, sir, and move through the streets of my capital without any guard. Toward ten or eleven o’clock you will repair to the prison, and I trust you will not have to stay there long.”

On the morrow of that great day, the most remarkable in his whole life, the prince thought himself a young Napoleon. That great man, he had read, had received favours from several of the most beautiful women of his court. Now that he too was a Napoleon by his success in love, he recollected that he had also been a Napoleon under fire. His soul was still glowing with delight over the firmness of his treatment of the duchess. The sense that he had achieved something difficult made quite another man of him. For a whole fortnight he became accessible to generous-minded argument; he showed some resolution of character.

He began, that very day, by burning the patent creating Rassi a count, which had been lying on his writing-table for the last month. He dismissed General Fabio Conti, and commanded Colonel Lange, his successor, to tell him the truth about the poison. Lange, a brave Polish soldier, terrified the jailers, and found out that Signor del Dongo was to have been poisoned at his breakfast, but that too many persons would have had to have been let into the secret. At his dinner, measures had been more carefully taken, and but for General Fontana’s arrival, Monsignore del Dongo would have died. The prince was thrown into consternation. But, desperately in love as he was, it was a consolation to him to be able to think, “It turns out that I really have saved Monsignore del Dongo’s life, and the duchess will not dare to break the word she has given me.” From this thought another proceeded: “My way of life is much more difficult than I supposed. Every one agrees that the duchess is an exceedingly clever woman. In this case my interest and my heart agree. What divine happiness it would be for me, if she would become my Prime Minister!”

So worried was the prince by the horrors he had discovered, that he would have nothing to do with the acting that evening.

“It would be too great a happiness for me,” said he to the duchess, “if you would rule my dominions, even as you rule my heart. To begin with, I am going to tell you how I have spent my day.” And he began to relate everything very exactly. How he had burned Rassi’s patent, his appointment of Lange, Lange’s report on the attempted poisoning, and so forth.

“I feel I am a very inexperienced ruler. The count’s jokes humiliate me. Even at the council-table he jokes, and in general society he says things which you will say are not true. He declares I am a child, and that he leads me wherever he chooses. Though I am a prince, madam, I am a man as well, and such remarks are very vexatious. To cast doubt on the stories Mosca put about, I was induced to appoint that dangerous scoundrel Rassi to the ministry. And now here I have General Fabio Conti, who still believes him to be so powerful that he dares not confess whether it was he or the Raversi who suggested his making away with your nephew. I have a good mind to have General Fabio Conti tried. The judges would soon find out whether he is guilty of the attempted poisoning.”

“But have you any judges, sir?”

“What!” said the prince, astounded.

“You have learned lawyers, sir, who look very solemn as they walk through the streets. But their verdicts will always follow the will of the dominant party at your court.”

While the young prince, thoroughly scandalized, was saying a number of things which proved his candour to be far greater than his wisdom, the duchess was thinking to herself.

“Will it answer my purpose to have Conti dishonoured? Certainly not, for then his daughter’s marriage with that worthy commonplace individual Crescenzi becomes impossible.”

An endless conversation followed on this subject between the duchess and the prince. The prince’s admiration quite blinded him. Out of consideration for Clelia’s marriage with the Marchese Crescenzi, but on this account solely, as he angrily informed the ex-governor, the prince overlooked his attempt to poison a prisoner. But, advised by the duchess, he sent him into banishment until the date of his daughter’s marriage. The duchess believed she no longer loved Fabrizio, but she was passionately anxious to see Clelia married to the marchese. This came of her vague hope that she might thus see Fabrizio grow less absent-minded.

In his delight, the prince would have disgraced Rassi openly that very night. The duchess said to him laughingly:

“Do not you know a saying of Napoleon’s, that a man in a high position, on whom all men’s eyes are fixed, must never allow himself to act in anger? But it is too late to do anything to-night. Let us put off all business until to-morrow.”

She wanted to get time to consult the count, to whom she faithfully repeated the whole of the evening’s conversation, only suppressing the prince’s frequent references to a promise the thought of which poisoned her existence. The duchess hoped to make herself so indispensable that she would be able to get the matter indefinitely adjourned by saying to the prince, “If you are so barbarous as to make me endure such a humiliation, which I should never forgive, I will leave your state the next morning.”

The count, when the duchess consulted with him as to Rassi’s fate, behaved like a true philosopher. Rassi and General Fabio Conti travelled to Piedmont together.

A very peculiar difficulty arose in connection with Fabrizio’s trial. The judges wanted to acquit him by acclamation at their very first sitting.

The count was obliged to use threats to make the trial last a week, and insure the hearing of all the witnesses. “These people are all alike,” said he to himself.

The day after his acquittal, Fabrizio del Dongo took possession, at last, of his post as grand vicar to the good Archbishop Landriani. On that same day the prince signed the despatches necessary to insure Fabrizio’s appointment as the archbishop’s coadjutor and ultimate successor, and within less than two months, he was installed in this position.

Everybody complimented the duchess on her nephew’s serious bearing. As a matter of fact, he was in utter despair.

Immediately after his deliverance, which had been followed by General Fabio Conti’s disgrace and banishment, and the duchess’s accession to the highest favour, Clelia had taken refuge in the house of her aunt, the Countess Cantarini, a very rich and very aged woman, who never thought of anything but her health. Clelia might have seen Fabrizio, but any one acquainted with her former engagements, and seeing her present mode of behaviour, would have concluded that her regard for her lover had departed when the danger in which he stood had disappeared. Fabrizio not only walked past the Palazzo Cantarini as often as he decently could; he had also succeeded, after endless trouble, in hiring a small lodging opposite the first floor of the mansion. Once, when Clelia had thoughtlessly stationed herself at the window, to watch a procession pass by, she had started back, as though terror-struck. She had caught sight of Fabrizio, dressed in black, but as a very poor workman, looking at her out of one of his garret windows, filled with oiled paper, like those of his room in the Farnese Tower. Fabrizio would have been very thankful to persuade himself that Clelia was avoiding him on account of her father’s disgrace, which public rumour ascribed to the duchess. But he was only too well acquainted with another cause for her retirement, and nothing could cheer his sadness.

Neither his acquittal, nor his important functions, the first he had been called on to perform, nor his fine social position, nor even the assiduous court paid him by all the clergy and devout persons in the diocese, touched him in the least. His charming rooms in the Palazzo Sanseverina were no longer large enough. The duchess, to her great delight, was obliged to give him the whole of the second floor of her palace, and two fine rooms on the first floor, which were always full of people waiting to pay their duty to the youthful coadjutor. The clause insuring his succession to the archbishopric had created an extraordinary effect in the country. Those resolute qualities in Fabrizio’s character, which had once so scandalized the needy and foolish courtiers, were now ascribed to him as virtues.

It was a great lesson in philosophy to Fabrizio to find himself so utterly indifferent to all these honours, and far more unhappy in his splendid rooms, with half a score of lackeys dressed in his liveries, than he had been in his wooden chamber in the Farnese Tower, with hideous jailers all about him, and in perpetual terror for his life. His mother and his sister, the Duchess V⸺, who had travelled to Parma to see him in his glory, were struck by his deep melancholy. So greatly did it alarm the Marchesa del Dongo, who had become the most unromantic of women, that she thought he must have been given some slow poison in the Farnese Tower. Discreet as she was, she felt it her duty to speak to him about his extraordinary depression, and Fabrizio’s tears were his only answer.

The innumerable advantages arising out of his brilliant position produced no impression on him, save one of vexation. His brother, that vainest of mortals, eaten up with the vilest selfishness, wrote him an almost formal letter of congratulation, and with this letter he received a bank bill for fifty thousand francs, to enable him, so the new marchese wrote, to purchase horses and carriages worthy of his name. Fabrizio sent the money to his younger sister, who had made a poor marriage.

Count Mosca had caused a fine Italian translation to be made of the Latin genealogy of the Valserra del Dongo family, originally published by Fabrizio, Archbishop of Parma. This he had splendidly printed, with the Latin text on the opposite page; the engravings had been reproduced by magnificent lithographs, done in Paris. By the duchess’s desire a fine portrait of Fabrizio was inserted, opposite that of the late archbishop. This translation was published as Fabrizio’s work, executed during his first imprisonment. But in our hero’s heart every feeling was dead, even the vanity inherent in every human creature. He did not condescend to read one page of the volume attributed to him. His social position made it incumbent on him to present a magnificently bound copy of it to the prince, who, thinking he owed him some amends for having brought him so near an agonizing death, granted him his “grandes entrĂ©es” to the sovereign’s apartment—an honour which confers the title of “Eccellenza.”