The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER XXVIII

So rapidly have events followed one on the other, that we have had no time to give any sketch of the comical race of courtiers that swarmed at the Parmesan court, and indulged in the strangest comments on the incidents we have been relating. In that country, the qualifications necessary to enable some small sprig of nobility, with his yearly income of two or three thousand francs, to figure in black stockings at the prince’s levers was, first and foremost, that he never should have read Rousseau or Voltaire; this condition is not difficult of fulfilment. In the second place, it was essential to be able to refer with emotion to the sovereign’s cold, or to the last case of mineralogical specimens sent him from Saxony. If, besides all this, our gentleman religiously attended mass every day of his life, and if he could reckon two or three fat monks among his intimate friends, the prince would condescend to speak to him once in every year, either a fortnight before, or a fortnight after, the first of January. This endowed the person so honoured with great importance in his own parish, and the tax-collector dared not worry him overmuch, if he should happen to fall into arrears with the annual tax of one hundred francs imposed on his modest property.

Signor Gonzo was a sorry wight of this description, an individual of very noble birth, and who, besides his own small fortune, held, thanks to the credit of the Marchese Crescenzi, a magnificent post which brought him in the princely sum of one hundred and fifty francs a year. This gentleman might have dined at home if he had chosen. But he had a mania. He was never happy and easy in his mind unless he was sitting in the room of some great personage who said to him every now and then: “Hold your tongue, Gonzo; you are nothing but a fool.” This verdict was always the outcome of bad temper, for Gonzo almost always showed more wit than the great person in question. He talked, and talked fairly well, about everything, and further, he was ready to change his opinion if the master of the house only pulled a wry face. As a matter of fact, though full of cunning as regarded his own interests, he had not a single idea in his head, and if the prince did not happen to have a cold, he was sometimes very much puzzled what to say on entering a drawing-room.

Gonzo had earned himself a reputation at Parma by means of a splendid three-cornered hat, adorned with a somewhat dishevelled plume, which he wore even when he was in morning dress. But my readers should have seen the fashion in which he carried that plume, whether upon his head or in his hand—therein lay his talent and his importance. He would inquire with real anxiety after the health of the marchesa’s little dog, and if the Palazzo Crescenzi had caught fire he would have risked his life to save any one of those splendid arm-chairs covered with gold brocade, on which his black silk knee-breeches had caught for so many years whenever he ventured to sit himself down for a moment.

Every evening toward seven o’clock, several individuals of this type made their appearance in the marchesa’s drawing-room. Before they had well seated themselves, a lackey—splendidly attired in a pale-yellow livery, covered, as was the red waistcoat which completed its magnificence, with silver embroidery—relieved the poor gentlemen of their hats and canes. Close on his steps came a servant, carrying very small cups of coffee, set in cases of silver filigree, and every half-hour a steward, wearing a sword and a gorgeous coat in the French style, handed round ices.

Half an hour after the arrival of the threadbare little courtiers, came five or six officers of the most military appearance, who talked very loud, and generally discussed the number of buttons a soldier must wear on his coat if the general commanding him was to win battles. It would not have been prudent to quote a French newspaper in that drawing-room, for even if the news imparted had been pleasant—as, for instance, that fifty Liberals had been shot in Spain—the person telling the story would still have stood convicted of having perused the French publication. The acme of skill, as recognised by these people, consisted in getting their pensions increased, once in ten years, by the sum of a hundred and fifty francs. In this fashion does the prince share the delight of reigning over all peasants, and over the middle classes, with his nobles.

The chief figure in the Crescenzi drawing-room was, without any contradiction, a Cavaliere Foscarini, a perfectly straightforward gentleman, who had consequently been in prison more or less under every régime. He had been a member of that famous Chamber of Deputies at Milan which threw out Napoleon’s law of registration—a very uncommon occurrence in history. The Cavaliere Foscarini, who had been the devoted friend of the marchese’s mother for twenty years, had retained his influence in the family. He always had some entertaining story to tell; but nothing escaped him, and the young marchesa, who felt herself guilty at the bottom of her heart, trembled in his presence.

As Gonzo was possessed by a real passion for great folks who abused him and made him weep once or twice a year, he had a mania for rendering them small services. And but for the paralysis caused by habits engendered by excessive poverty, he might occasionally have succeeded, for he was not devoid of a certain amount of cunning, and a far greater amount of effrontery.

This Gonzo, even as we know him, rather despised the Marchesa Crescenzi, for she had never said an uncivil word to him in his life. But, after all, she was the wife of that powerful Marchese Crescenzi, lord in waiting to the princess, who would say to Gonzo once or twice a month, “Hold your tongue, Gonzo, you are nothing but a fool.”

Gonzo noticed that all the talk about little Annetta Marini roused the marchesa, for an instant, out of the state of reverie and indifference in which she usually sat, until the clock struck eleven. When that happened, she would make tea, and offer it to every man present, addressing him by name. After which, just before she retired to her own rooms, she would seem to brighten up for a moment, and this was the time always chosen by her guests to recite satirical sonnets to her.

Excellent sonnets of this kind are produced in Italy. It is the only form of literature in which some life still stirs. It must be acknowledged that they are not submitted to the censure, and the courtiers of the Casa Crescenzi always prefaced their sonnet with the words, “Will the Signora Marchesa give us leave to recite a very poor sonnet?” Then, when every one had laughed at the lines, and they had been repeated two or three times over, one of the officers was sure to exclaim, “The Minister of Police ought really to see about hanging a few of the authors of these vile performances.” In middle-class society, on the contrary, the sonnets were received with the frankest admiration, and many copies were sold by the lawyers’ clerks.

The curiosity betrayed by the marchesa led Gonzo to augur that too much had been said about the beauty of Signorina Marini, who owned a fortune of a million francs to boot, and that his hostess was jealous. As Gonzo, with his never-failing smile and his utter insolence with regard to everything that was not nobly born, went whithersoever he would, he made his appearance, the very next day, in the marchesa’s drawing-room, wearing his plumed hat with a certain triumphant cock, in which he only indulged once or twice a year, when the prince had said to him “Addio, Gonzo.”

Having respectfully greeted the marchesa, Gonzo did not retire, as was his custom, to the chair which had been put forward for his accommodation. He stood himself in the middle of the circle, and brusquely exclaimed: “I have seen the picture of Monsignore del Dongo.” Clelia was so taken aback that she was obliged to support herself on the arms of the chair; she strove to make head against the storm, but finally she was obliged to leave the drawing-room.

“My poor dear Gonzo,” haughtily exclaimed one of the officers who was just finishing his fourth ice, “you certainly do blunder in the most extraordinary manner. How comes it that you do not know that the coadjutor, who was one of the bravest colonels in Napoleon’s army, once played a vile trick on the marchesa’s father, by getting out of the citadel where General Conti was commanding, just as he might have got out of the Steccata (the principal church in Parma)?”

“Indeed, my dear captain, I am ignorant of many things, and I am a poor idiot who makes mistakes all day long.”

This reply, which was quite in the Italian style, raised a laugh at the gay officer’s expense. Soon the marchesa came back; she had armed herself with courage, and was not without some vague hope that she might have a chance of herself admiring Fabrizio’s portrait, which was said to be excellent. She praised the talents of Hayez, who had painted it. All unconsciously, she smiled delightfully at Gonzo, who looked slyly at the officer. As all the other household courtiers indulged in the same pleasure, the officer departed, but not without vowing a mortal hatred against Gonzo. Gonzo was triumphant, and that evening when he took his leave he was invited to dinner on the following day.

“Here’s a fresh story,” exclaimed Gonzo the next day, after dinner, when the servants had retired. “It really would seem as if our coadjutor had fallen in love with the little Marini girl.” The tumult in Clelia’s heart, on hearing so extraordinary an assertion, may be conceived; the marchese himself was disturbed.

“But, Gonzo, my dear fellow, you are talking nonsense, as you generally do. And you really should speak with a little more respect of a man who has had the honour of playing whist with his Highness eleven times over.”

“Very good, Signor Marchese,” said Gonzo, with the coarseness of men of his kidney. “I’ll dare swear he would be very glad to play with the little Marini too. But for me it is enough that these details should offend you. As far as I am concerned, they have no further existence. For, above all things, I desire not to shock my dearest marchese.”

The marchese always retired to take a siesta after his dinner. This day he was willing to go without it. But Gonzo would rather have cut out his tongue than have said another word about Annetta Marini; and every moment he would begin some speech calculated to rouse the marchese’s hopes of hearing him revert to the young lady’s love-affairs. Gonzo possessed, in the highest degree, that Italian instinct which delights in holding back the longed-for word. The poor marchese, who was dying of curiosity, was reduced to making advances. He told Gonzo that when he had the pleasure of dining in his company he always ate twice as much as usual. Gonzo would not understand. He began to give an account of a splendid gallery of pictures collected by the Marchesa Balbi, the late prince’s mistress. He mentioned Hayez two or three times, lingering over his name with an accent of the deepest admiration. “Good,” said the marchese to himself; “now he’s coming to little Annetta’s picture.” But Gonzo took care to do nothing of the kind. Five o’clock struck at last, to the great vexation of the marchese, who was in the habit of getting into his carriage at half past five, after his siesta, and driving to the Corso.

“Just like you and your stupidity,” he exclaimed to Gonzo. “You will make me, the princess’s lord in waiting, get to the Corso after her, and she may have orders to give me. Come, be quick about it; tell me shortly, if you are capable of that, all about these pretended love-affairs of the coadjutor’s.”

But Gonzo intended to keep that story for the marchesa, who had asked him to dinner. Very curtly, therefore, he despatched the tale, and the marchese, half asleep, went off to take his siesta. With the poor marchesa Gonzo followed quite a different system. So youthful and so simple had she remained, in spite of all her riches, that she thought herself obliged to atone for the roughness with which the marchese had just spoken to Gonzo. Delighted with his success, the little man recovered all his eloquence, and made it his pleasure, no less than his duty, to supply her with endless details.

Little Annetta Marini paid as much as a sequin for every place kept for her at the sermons. She always attended them with two of her aunts, and her father’s old bookkeeper. The seats, which she had kept for her overnight, were generally opposite the pulpit, rather toward the high altar, for she had remarked that the coadjutor frequently turned toward the high altar. Now, what the public had also remarked, was that, not unfrequently, the young preacher’s speaking eyes rested complacently on the youthful heiress, in her piquant beauty, and apparently, too, with some attention. For once his eyes were fixed on her, his discourse became learned; it bristled with quotations, the emotional note in his eloquence disappeared, and the ladies, whose interest in the sermon instantly disappeared likewise, began to look at Annetta, and speak evil of her.

Three times over Clelia made him repeat these extraordinary details. At the end of the third time she grew very thoughtful. She was reckoning up that it was just fourteen months since she had seen Fabrizio.

“Would it be very wrong,” said she to herself, “if I spent an hour in a church, not to see Fabrizio, but to listen to a famous preacher? Besides, I would sit far away from the pulpit, and I would only look at Fabrizio once when I came in, and another time at the end of his sermon.… No,” she added, “it is not to see Fabrizio that I am going, it is to hear this extraordinary preacher.” In the midst of all these arguments the marchesa was pricked with remorse. She had behaved so well for fourteen months! “Well,” she thought at last, to pacify herself a little, “if the first woman who comes this evening has been to hear Monsignore del Dongo preach I will go too; if she has not been, I will refrain.”

Once she had made up her mind, the marchesa filled Gonzo with delight by saying to him:

“Will you try to find out what day the coadjutor is going to preach, and in what church? This evening, before you leave, I may perhaps have a commission for you.”

Hardly had Gonzo departed for the Corso than Clelia went out into the palace garden. The objection that she had never set her foot in it for ten months did not occur to her. She was eager and animated, the colour had come back to her face. That evening, as each tiresome guest entered her drawing-room, her heart throbbed with emotion. Gonzo was announced at last, and he instantly perceived that for the next week he was destined to be the one indispensable person. “The marchesa is jealous of the little Marini girl, and on my soul,” he thought, “a comedy in which she will play the leading part, with little Annetta for the soubrette, and Monsignore del Dongo for the lover, will be something worth seeing. Faith, I’d go so far as to pay two francs for my place.” He was beside himself with delight, and the whole evening he kept taking the words out of everybody’s mouth and telling the most preposterous tales (as, for instance, that of the Marquis de Pecquiny and the famous actress, which he had heard the night before from a French traveller). The marchesa, on her part, could not sit quiet; she walked about the drawing-room, she moved into the adjacent gallery, into which the marchese would admit no picture which had not cost more than twenty thousand francs. That evening those pictures spoke so clearly to her that they made her heart ache with emotion. At last she heard the great doors thrown open, and hurried back to the drawing-room. It was the Marchesa Raversi. But when Clelia endeavoured to receive her with the usual compliments, she felt her voice fail her. Twice over the marchesa had to make her repeat the question, “What do you think of this fashionable preacher?” which she had not caught at first.

“I did look upon him as a little schemer, the very worthy nephew of the illustrious Countess Mosca. But the last time he preached, look you, at the Church of the Visitation, opposite your house, he was so sublime that all my hatred died down, and I consider him the most eloquent man I have ever heard in my life.”

“Then you have attended at his sermons?” said Clelia, shaking with happiness.

“Why, weren’t you listening to me?” said the marchesa, laughing. “I would not miss them for anything on earth. They say his lungs are affected, and that soon he won’t preach any more.”

The moment the marchesa had departed Clelia beckoned Gonzo into the gallery.

“I have almost made up my mind,” she said, “to hear this much-admired preacher. When will he preach?”

“On Monday next—that is, three days hence; and one might almost fancy he had guessed your Excellency’s plan, for he is coming to preach in the Church of the Visitation.”

Further explanation was indispensable. But Clelia’s voice had quite failed her. She walked up and down the gallery five or six times without uttering a word. Meanwhile Gonzo was saying to himself: “Now revenge is working in her soul. How can any man have the insolence to escape out of prison, especially when he has the honour of being kept under watch and ward by such a hero as General Fabio Conti!”

“And, indeed,” he added, with skilful irony, “there is no time to be lost. His lungs are affected; I heard Dr. Rambo say he would not live a year. God is punishing him for having broken his arrest … by his treacherous escape from the citadel.”

The marchesa seated herself on the couch in the gallery, and signed to Gonzo to follow her example. After a few moments she gave him a little purse, into which she had put a few sequins. “Have four places kept for me.”

“Might your poor Gonzo be permitted to follow in your Excellency’s train?”

“Of course; tell them to keep five places.… I do not at all care,” she said, “to be near the pulpit, but I should like to see the Signorina Marini, whom every one tells me is so pretty.”

During the three days that were still to elapse before the Monday on which the sermon was to be preached, the marchesa was in an agony. Gonzo, who felt it the most excessive honour to be seen in public in the following of so great a lady, had put on his French coat and his sword. Nor was this all. Taking advantage of the close neighbourhood of the palace, he had a magnificent gilt arm-chair carried into the church for the marchesa’s use—a proceeding which was looked on as a piece of the greatest insolence by the middle-class portion of the audience. The feelings of the poor marchesa, when she beheld this arm-chair, which had been set immediately opposite the pulpit, may easily be imagined. Shrinking, with downcast eyes, into the corner of the huge chair, Clelia, in her confusion, had not even courage to look at Annetta Marini, whom Gonzo pointed out to her with a coolness which perfectly astounded her. In the eyes of the true courtier, people who are not of noble birth have no existence at all.

Fabrizio appeared in the pulpit. So pale and thin was he, so devoured with grief, that the tears instantly welled up in Clelia’s eyes. Fabrizio spoke a few words, and then stopped short, as if his voice had suddenly failed him. Vainly he strove to bring out one or two sentences. At last he turned and took up a written sheet.

“My brethren,” said he, “a most unhappy being, and very deserving of all your pity, beseeches you, through me, to pray for the conclusion of his torture, which can only end with his own life.”

Fabrizio read the rest of the document very slowly, but so expressive was his voice that, before he reached the middle of the prayer, everybody, even Gonzo himself, was in tears. “At least nobody will notice me,” said the marchesa to herself, as she wept.

While Fabrizio was reading this written paper, two or three ideas concerning the condition of the unhappy man on whose behalf he had just asked for the prayers of the faithful, occurred to him. Thoughts soon came crowding on him thickly. Though he seemed to be addressing the public at large, it was to the marchesa that he really spoke. He brought his sermon to a close a little earlier than usual, because, in spite of all his efforts, his own tears came so fast that he could no longer speak intelligibly. The best judges considered the sermon a strange one, but equal, at all events, in its pathetic qualities, to the famous discourse preached among the lighted tapers. As for Clelia, before she had heard the first ten lines of Fabrizio’s prayer, she felt it was an atrocious crime to have been able to spend fourteen months without seeing him. When she went home she retired to bed, so that she might be able to think about Fabrizio in peace; and the next morning, tolerably early, Fabrizio received a note in the following terms:

“The writer depends on your honour. Find four ‘bravos’ on whose discretion you can rely, and to-morrow, when midnight strikes at the Steccata, be close to a little door marked No. 19, in the Street of St. Paul. Remember that you may be attacked, and do not come alone.”

When Fabrizio recognised that adored handwriting he fell on his knees and burst into tears.

“At last,” he cried, “at last, after fourteen months and eight days! Farewell to preaching!”

The description of all the wild feelings which raged that day in Fabrizio’s heart and Clelia’s would be a long one. The little door mentioned in the note was no other than that of the orangery of the Palazzo Crescenzi, and a dozen times that day Fabrizio found means to look at it. A little before midnight he armed himself, and was walking quickly, and alone, past the door, when to his inexpressible joy he heard a well-known voice say very low:

“Come in hither, beloved of my heart.” Very cautiously Fabrizio entered, and found himself within the orangery, indeed, but opposite a window strongly grated, and raised some three or four feet above the ground. It was exceedingly dark. Fabrizio had heard some noise in the window, and was feeling over the grating with his hand, when he felt another hand slipped through the bars, that took hold of his, and carried it to lips which pressed a kiss upon it.

“It is I,” said a beloved voice, “who have come here to tell you that I love you, and to ask you if you will obey me.”

My readers will imagine Fabrizio’s answer, his joy, his astonishment. When the first transports had subsided, Clelia said: “I have vowed to the Madonna, as you know, that I will never see you. That is why I receive you now in the dark. I am very anxious you should know that if you ever oblige me to look at you in daylight everything will be over between us. But to begin with, I will not have you preach before Annetta Marini; and do not think it was I who committed the folly of having an arm-chair carried into the house of God.”

“My dearest angel! I shall never preach again before anybody. The only reason I preached was my hope that by so doing I might some day see you.”

“You must not speak to me like that! Remember that I am forbidden to see you.”

At this point I will ask my readers’ permission to pass in silence over a period of three years. When our story begins afresh, Count Mosca has long been back at Parma as Prime Minister, with greater power than ever.

After these three years of exquisite happiness, a whim of Fabrizio’s heart altered everything. The marchesa had a beautiful little boy two years old, Sandrino. He was always with her, or on the marchese’s knee. But Fabrizio hardly ever saw him. He did not choose that the boy should grow into the habit of loving another father, and conceived the idea of carrying off the child before his memories were very distinct.

During the long daylight hours, when the marchesa might not see her lover, Sandrino’s presence was her consolation. For we must here confess a fact which will seem strange to dwellers on the northern side of the Alps. In spite of her failings, she had remained faithful to her vow. She had promised the Madonna that she would never see Fabrizio; those had been her exact words. Consequently she had never received him except at night, and there was never any light in her chamber.

But every evening Fabrizio visited his mistress, and it was a very admirable thing that, in the midst of a court which was eaten up by curiosity and boredom, his precautions had been so skilfully taken that this amicizia, as people call it in Lombardy, had never even been suspected. Their love was too intense not to be disturbed by occasional quarrels. Clelia was very subject to jealousy. But their disagreements almost always arose from a different cause—Fabrizio having taken unfair advantage of some public ceremony to introduce himself near the marchesa and look at her; she would then seize some pretext for instant departure, and would banish her friend for many days.

Residents at the court of Parma were astonished at never being able to discover any intrigue on the part of a woman so remarkable for beauty and intelligence. She inspired several passions which led to many mad actions, and very often Fabrizio, too, was jealous.

The good Archbishop Landriani had long been dead. Fabrizio’s piety, his eloquence, and his exemplary life, had wiped out his predecessor’s memory. His elder brother was dead, and all the family wealth had devolved on him. From that time forward he divided the hundred and odd thousand francs which formed the income of the archbishopric of Parma between the priests and curates of his diocese.

It would have been difficult to conceive a more honoured, a more honourable and useful existence, than that Fabrizio had built up for himself when this unlucky fancy of his came to disturb it all.

“According to your vow, which I respect, and which, nevertheless, makes my life miserable, since you will not see me in daylight,” said he one day to Clelia, “I am forced to live perpetually alone, with no relaxation of any kind except my work, and even my work fails me sometimes. In the midst of this stern and dreary manner of spending the long hours of each day, an idea had come into my head, which torments me incessantly, and against which I have struggled in vain for the last six months. My son will never love me; he never hears my name. Brought up, as he is, in all the pleasing luxury of the Palazzo Crescenzi, he hardly even knows me by sight. On the rare occasions when I do see him, I think of his mother, for he reminds me of her heavenly beauty, at which I am not allowed to look, and he must think my face solemn, which, to a child’s eyes, means gloomy.”

“Well,” said the marchesa, “whither does all this alarming talk of yours tend?”

“To this: I want my son back. I want him to live with me. I want to see him every day. I want him to learn to love me. I want to love him myself, at my ease. Since a fate such as never overtook any other man has deprived me of the happiness which so many loving souls enjoy—since I must not spend my whole life with all I worship—I desire, at all events, to have one being with me who shall remind my heart of you, and, in a certain sense, replace you. In my enforced solitude, business and men alike weary me. You know that ever since the moment when I had the happiness of being locked up by Barbone, ambition has been to me an empty word, and in the melancholy that overwhelms me when I am far from you, everything which is unconnected with the deep feelings of my heart seems preposterous to me.”

My readers will realize the lively sorrow with which the thought of her lover’s suffering filled poor Clelia’s soul. And her grief was all the deeper because she felt there was a certain reason in what Fabrizio said. She even went so far as to debate with herself whether she ought not to seek release from her vow: then she could have seen Fabrizio in the light, like any other member of society, and her reputation was too well established for any one to have found fault with her for doing so. She told herself that by dint of spending a great deal of money she might obtain release from her vow, but she felt that this thoroughly worldly arrangement would not ease her own conscience, and feared that Heaven, in its anger, might punish her for this fresh crime.

On the other hand, if she consented to grant Fabrizio’s very natural desire, if she endeavoured to avoid fresh misery for the tender-hearted being whom she knew so well, and whose peace was already so strangely imperilled by her own peculiar vow, what chance was there of carrying off the only son of one of the greatest gentlemen in Italy without the fraud being discovered? The Marchese Crescenzi would lavish huge sums of money, would put himself at the head of the searchers, and sooner or later, the abduction would be known. There was only one means of avoiding this danger—to send the child far away, to Edinburgh, for instance, or to Paris. But this alternative her mother’s heart could not face. The other method, which Fabrizio suggested, and which was indeed the most reasonable, had something threatening about it, which made it almost still more dreadful in the agonized mother’s eyes. There must be a feigned sickness, Fabrizio declared; the child must grow worse and worse, and must die, at last, while the Marchese Crescenzi was away from home.

Clelia’s repugnance to this plan, which amounted to absolute terror, caused a rupture which could not last long.

Clelia declared that they must not tempt God; that this dearly loved child was the fruit of a sin, and that if anything more was done to stir the divine wrath, God would surely take the child back to himself. Fabrizio recurred to the subject of his own peculiar fate. “The state of life to which chance has brought me, and my love for you, force me to live in perpetual solitude. I can not enjoy the sweetness of an intimate companionship, like most of my fellow men, because you will never receive me except in the dark, and thus the portion of my life I can spend with you is reduced, so to speak, to minutes.”

Many tears were shed, and Clelia fell ill. But she loved Fabrizio too dearly to refuse to make the frightful sacrifice he asked of her. To all appearances Sandrino fell sick. The marchese hastened to send for the most famous doctors, and Clelia found herself confronted by a terrible difficulty which she had not foreseen. She had to prevent this idolized child from taking any of the remedies prescribed by the physicians, and that was no easy matter.

The child, kept in bed more than was good for his health, fell really ill. How was she to tell the doctor the real cause of the trouble? Torn asunder by these conflicting interests, both so near her heart, Clelia very nearly lost her reason. Fabrizio, on his side, could neither forgive himself the violence he was doing to the feelings of his mistress, nor relinquish his plan. He had found means of nightly access to the sick child’s room, and this brought about another complication. The marchesa was nursing her son, and sometimes Fabrizio could not help seeing her by the light of the tapers. This, to Clelia’s poor sick heart, seemed a horrible wickedness, and an augury of Sandrino’s death. In vain had the most famous casuists, when consulted as to the necessity of keeping a vow in cases where such obedience would evidently do harm, replied that no breaking of a vow could be considered criminal, so long as the person bound by a promise toward God failed, not for the sake of mere fleshly pleasure, but so as not to cause some evident harm. The marchesa’s despair did not diminish, and Fabrizio saw that his strange fancy would soon bring about both Clelia’s death and her child’s.

He appealed to his intimate friend, Count Mosca, who, hardened old minister as he was, was touched by this love story, of the greater part of which he had been quite unaware.

“I will have the marchese sent away for five or six days at least. When shall it be?”

Within a short time Fabrizio came to the count with the news that everything was prepared to take advantage of the marchese’s absence.

Two days later, while the marchese was riding home from one of his properties in the neighbourhood of Mantua, a band of ruffians, who appeared to be in the pay of a private individual, carried him off, without ill-treating him in any way, and put him into a boat which took three days to drop down the river Po—exactly the same journey Fabrizio had performed after his terrible business with Giletti. On the fourth day the ruffians landed the marchese on a lonely island in the river, having previously and carefully emptied his pockets, without leaving him any money or valuable of any kind. It was two whole days before the marchese could get back to his palace at Parma. When he arrived he found it all hung with black, and the whole household in the deepest grief.

The result of this abduction, skilfully as it had been carried out, was melancholy in the extreme. Sandrino, who had been secretly removed to a large and handsome house in which the marchesa came to see him almost every day, was dead before many months were out. Clelia fancied that a just punishment had come upon her, because she had been faithless to her vow to the Madonna—she had so often seen Fabrizio by candlelight, and twice even in broad daylight, and with the most passionate tenderness, during Sandrino’s illness! She only survived her much-loved child a few months. But she had the comfort of dying in her lover’s arms.

Fabrizio was too desperately in love, and too faithful a believer, to have recourse to suicide. He hoped to meet Clelia again in a better world, but he was too intelligent not to feel that there was much for which he must first atone.

A few days after Clelia’s death he signed several deeds, whereby he insured a pension of a thousand francs a year to each of his servants, and reserved a like income for himself. He made over lands, bringing in almost a hundred thousand francs a year, to the Countess Mosca, a like sum to the Marchesa del Dongo, his mother, and the residue of his patrimony to one of his sisters, who had made a poor marriage. The next day, having sent his resignation of his archbishopric, and of all the posts which had been showered upon him by the favour of Ernest V and the affection of his Prime Minister, to the proper quarter, he retired to the Chartreuse de Parme, which stands in the woods, close to the river Po, two leagues from Sacca.

The Countess Mosca had fully approved her husband’s reassumption of the ministry, when that had taken place, but nothing would ever induce her to set her foot within Ernest V’s dominions; and she held her court at Vignano, a quarter of a league from Casal Maggiore, on the left bank of the Po, and consequently within Austrian territory. In the magnificent palace which the count had built her at Vignano, she received the élite of Parmese society every Thursday, and saw her numerous friends on every other day. Fabrizio would never let a day pass without going to Vignano. In a word, the countess apparently possessed every ingredient of happiness. But she only lived a very short time longer than Fabrizio, whom she adored, and who spent only one year in his chartreuse.

The prisons of Parma stood empty. The count was immensely rich, and Ernest V was worshipped by his subjects, who compared his government with that of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany.