The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER VII

Any history of the four years that now elapsed would have to be filled up with small court details, as insignificant as those we have just related. Every spring the marchesa and her daughters came to spend two months either at the Palazzo Sanseverina or at the duchess’s country house at Sacca, on the banks of the Po. These were very delightful visits, during which there was much talk of Fabrizio. But the count would never allow him to appear at Parma. The duchess and the Prime Minister found it necessary to repair an occasional blunder, but on the whole Fabrizio followed the line of conduct mapped out for him with tolerable propriety. He was the great nobleman studying theology, who did not reckon absolutely upon his virtue to insure his advancement. At Naples he had taken a strong fancy to antiquarian studies. He made excavations, and this passion almost took the place of his fondness for horses. He sold his English horses so as to continue his researches at Miseno, where he found a bust of the youthful Tiberius, which soon ranked as one of the finest known relics of antiquity. The discovery of this bust was almost the keenest pleasure Fabrizio knew while he was at Naples. He was too proud-spirited to imitate other young men, and, for instance, to play the lover’s part with a certain amount of gravity. He had mistresses, certainly, but they were of no real consequence to him, and in spite of his youth he might have been said not to know what love was. This only made the women love him more. There was nothing to prevent him from behaving with the most perfect coolness, for in his case one young and pretty woman was always as good as any other young and pretty woman; only the one whose acquaintance he had last made seemed to him the most attractive. During the last year of his sojourn, one of the most admired beauties in Naples had committed imprudences for his sake. This had begun by amusing him, and ended by boring him to death; and that to such a point that one of the joys connected with his departure was that it delivered him from the pursuit of the charming Duchess of ⸺. It was in 1821 that, his examination having been passed with tolerable success, the director of his studies received a decoration and a pecuniary acknowledgment, and he himself started, at last, to see that city of Parma of which he had often dreamed. He was a monsignore, and had four horses to his carriage. At the last posting station before Parma he took two horses instead, and when he reached the town he stopped before the Church of St. John. It contained the splendid tomb of the Archbishop Ascanio del Dongo, his great-great-uncle, author of the Latin Genealogy. He prayed beside the tomb, and then went on foot to the palace of the duchess, who did not expect him till several days later. Her drawing-room was very full. Soon she was left alone.

“Well, are you pleased with me?” he said, and threw himself into her arms. “Thanks to you, I have been spending four fairly happy years at Naples, instead of boring myself at Novara with the mistress the police authorized me to take.”

The duchess could not get over her astonishment; she would not have known him if she had met him in the street. She thought him, what he really was, one of the best-looking men in Italy. It was his expression, especially, that was so charming.

When she had sent him to Naples he had looked a reckless daredevil; the riding-whip which never left his hand seemed an inherent portion of his being. Now, when strangers were present, his manner was the most dignified and guarded imaginable, and when they were alone she recognised all the fiery ardour of his early youth. Here was a diamond which had lost nothing in the cutting. Hardly an hour after Fabrizio’s arrival Count Mosca made his appearance; he had come a little too soon. The young man spoke so correctly about the Parmesan order conferred on his tutor, and expressed his lively gratitude for other benefits to which he dared not refer in so open a manner with such perfect propriety, that at the first glance the minister judged him correctly. “This nephew of yours,” he murmured to the duchess, “is born to adorn all the dignities to which you may ultimately desire to raise him.” Up to this point all had gone marvellously well. But when the minister, who had been very much pleased with Fabrizio, and until then had given his whole attention to his behaviour and gestures, looked at the duchess, the expression in her eyes struck him as strange.

“This young man makes an unusual impression here,” said he to himself. The thought was a bitter one. The count had passed his fiftieth year—a cruel word, the full meaning of which can only be realized, perhaps, by a man who is desperately in love. He was exceedingly kind-hearted, very worthy to be loved, except for his official severity. But in his eyes that cruel phrase, my fiftieth year, cast a black cloud over all his life, and might even have driven him to be cruel on his own account. During the five years which had elapsed since he had persuaded the duchess to settle in Parma, she had often roused his jealousy, more especially in the earlier days. But she had never given him any cause for real complaint. He even believed, and he was right, that it was with the object of tightening her hold upon his heart that the duchess had bestowed apparent favour on certain of the young beaux about the court. He was sure, for instance, that she had refused the advances of the prince, who, indeed, had dropped an instructive remark on the occasion.

“But,” the duchess had objected laughingly, “if I accepted your Highness’s attentions, how should I ever dare to face the count again?”

“I should be almost as much put out of countenance as you. The poor dear count—my friend! But that is a difficulty very easily surmounted, and which I have already considered. The count should be shut up in the citadel for the rest of his life!”

At the moment of Fabrizio’s arrival, the duchess was so transported with delight that she gave no thought at all to the ideas her looks might stir in the count’s brain. Their effect was deep, and his consequent suspicion ineradicable.

Two hours after his arrival Fabrizio was received by the prince. The duchess, foreseeing the good effect of this impromptu audience on the public mind, had been soliciting it for two months beforehand. This favour placed Fabrizio, from the very outset, above the heads of all his equals. The pretext had been that he was only passing through Parma on his way to see his mother in Piedmont. Just at the very moment when a charming little note from the duchess brought the prince the information that Fabrizio was waiting on his pleasure, his Highness was feeling bored. “Now,” said he to himself, “I shall behold a very silly little saint; he will be either empty-headed or sly.” The commandant of the fortress had already reported the preliminary visit to the archbishop uncle’s tomb. The prince saw a tall young man enter his presence; but for his violet stockings he would have taken him for a young officer.

This little surprise drove away his boredom. “Here,” thought he to himself, “is a fine-looking fellow, for whom I shall be asked God knows what favours—all and any that are at my disposal. He has just arrived; he must feel some emotion. I’ll try a little Jacobinism, and we shall see what kind of answers he’ll give.”

After the first few gracious words spoken by the prince, “Well, monsignore,” said he to Fabrizio, “are the inhabitants of Naples happy? Is the King beloved?”

“Most Serene Highness,” replied Fabrizio, without a moment’s hesitation, “as I passed along the streets I used to admire the excellent demeanour of the soldiers of his Majesty’s various regiments. All good society is respectful, as it should be, to its masters; but I confess I have never in my life permitted people of the lower class to speak to me of anything but the labour for which I pay them.”

“The deuce!” thought the prince; “what a priestling! Here’s a well-trained bird! The Sanseverina’s own wit!” Thoroughly piqued, the prince used all his skill to draw Fabrizio into talk upon this risky subject. The young man, stimulated by the danger of his position, was lucky enough to find admirable answers. “To put forward one’s love for one’s king,” said he, “is almost an insolence. What we owe him is blind obedience.” The sight of so much prudence almost made the prince angry. “This young man from Naples seems to be a clever fellow, and I don’t like the breed. It’s all very well for a clever man to behave according to the best principles, and even to believe in them honestly—somehow or other he is always sure to be first cousin to Voltaire and Rousseau!”

The prince felt there was a sort of defiance of himself in the correct manners and unassailable answers of this youth just leaving college; things were by no means turning out as he had foreseen. In the twinkling of an eye he changed his tone to one of simple good-nature, and going back, in a few words, to the great principles of society and government, he reeled off, applying them to the occasion, certain sentences from FĂ©nelon which had been taught him in his childhood for use at public audiences.

“These principles surprise you, young man,” said he to Fabrizio (he had addressed him as monsignore at the beginning of the audience, and proposed to repeat the title when he dismissed him, but during the course of the conversation he considered it more skilful and more favourable to the development of the feelings to use a more intimate and friendly term), “these principles, young man, surprise you. I confess they have no close resemblance with the slices of absolutism (he used the very words) which are served up every day in my official newspaper. But, good God! why do I quote that to you? You know nothing of the writers in that paper!”

“I beg your Most Serene Highness’s pardon. Not only do I read the Parma newspaper, which seems to me fairly well written, but I share its opinion, that everything which has been done since the death of Louis XIV in 1715, is at once a folly and a crime. Man’s foremost interest is his own salvation—there can not be two opinions on that score—and that bliss is to last for all eternity. The words liberty, justice, happiness of the greatest number, are infamous and criminal; they give men’s minds a habit of discussion and disbelief. A Chamber of Deputies mistrusts what those people call the ministry. Once that fatal habit of distrust is contracted, human weakness applies it to everything. Man ends by distrusting the Bible, the commands of the Church, tradition, etc., and thenceforward he is lost. Even supposing—and it is horribly false and criminal to say it—this distrust of the authority of the princes set up by God could insure happiness during the twenty or thirty years of life on which each of us may reckon, what is half a century, or even a whole century, compared with an eternity of torment?”

The manner in which Fabrizio spoke showed that he was endeavouring to arrange his ideas so that his auditor might grasp them as easily as possible. He was evidently not repeating a lesson by rote.

Soon the prince ceased to care about coping with the young man, whose grave and simple manner made him feel uncomfortable.

“Farewell, monsignore,” he said abruptly. “I see that the education given in the Ecclesiastical Academy at Naples is an admirable one, and it is quite natural that when these excellent teachings are sown in so distinguished an intelligence, brilliant results should be obtained. Farewell!” And he turned his back on him.

“That fool is not pleased with me,” said Fabrizio to himself.

“Now,” thought the prince, as soon as he was alone, “it remains to be seen whether that handsome young fellow is susceptible of any passion for anything; in that case he will be perfect. Could he possibly have repeated his aunt’s lessons more cleverly? I could have fancied I heard her speaking! If there was a revolution here it would be she who would edit the Moniteur, just as the San Felice did it in old days at Naples. But, in spite of her five-and-twenty years and her beauty, the San Felice was hanged for good and all—a warning to ladies who are too clever!”

When the prince took Fabrizio for his aunt’s pupil he made a mistake. Clever folk born on the throne, or close behind it, soon lose all their delicacy of touch. They proscribe all freedom of conversation around them, taking it for coarseness; they will not look at anything but masks, and yet claim to be judges of complexion; and the comical thing is that they believe themselves to be full of tact. In this particular case, for instance, Fabrizio did believe very nearly everything we have heard him say. It is quite true that he did not bestow a thought on those great principles more than twice in a month. He had lively tastes, he had intelligence, but he also had faith.

The taste for liberty, the fashion for and worship of the happiness of the greatest number, which is one of the manias of the nineteenth century, was in his eyes no more than a heresy, which would pass away like others, after slaying many souls, just as the plague, while it rages in any particular region, kills many bodies. And in spite of all this, Fabrizio delighted in reading the French newspapers, and even committed imprudences for the sake of procuring them.

When Fabrizio returned, rather in a flutter, from his audience at the palace, and began to relate the prince’s various attacks upon him to his aunt, “You must call at once,” she said, “on Father Landriani, our excellent archbishop. Go to his house on foot, slip quietly up the stairs, don’t make much stir in the antechamber, and if you have to wait, all the better—a thousand times better. Be apostolic, in a word.”

“I understand,” said Fabrizio; “the man is a Tartuffe.”

“Not the least in the world; he is the very embodiment of virtue.”

“Even after what he did at the time of Count Palanza’s execution?” returned Fabrizio in astonishment.

“Yes, my friend, even after what he did then. Our archbishop’s father was a clerk in the Ministry of Finance, quite a humble, middle-class person; that explains everything. Monsignore Landriani is a man of intelligence, lively, far-reaching, and profound. He is sincere, he loves virtue. I am convinced that if the Emperor Decius were to come back to earth he would cheerfully endure martyrdom, like Polyeuctus, in the opera that was performed here last week. There you have the fair side of the medal; here is the reverse: The moment he enters the sovereign’s presence, or even the presence of his Prime Minister, he is dazzled by so much grandeur, he flushes, grows confused, and it becomes physically impossible to him to say ‘No.’ This accounts for the things he has done and which have earned him his cruel reputation all over Italy. But what is not generally known is that when public opinion opened his eyes as to Count Palanza’s trial, he voluntarily imposed on himself the penance of living on bread and water for thirteen weeks—as many weeks as there are letters in the name Davide Palanza. There is at this court an exceedingly clever rascal of the name of Rassi, the prince’s chief justice, or head of the Law Department, who, at the period of Count Palanza’s death, completely bewitched Father Landriani. While he was doing his thirteen weeks’ penance, Count Mosca, out of pity, and a little out of spite, used to invite him to dinner once or twice a week. To please his host the good archbishop ate his dinner like anybody else—he would have thought it rebellion and Jacobinism to parade his repentance of an action approved by his sovereign. But it was quite well known that for every dinner which his duty as a faithful subject had forced him to eat like everybody else, he endured a self-imposed penance of two days on bread and water. Monsignore Landriani, though his mind is superior and his knowledge first-class, has one weakness—he likes to be loved. You must look at him tenderly, therefore, and at your third visit you must be frankly fond of him. This, together with your birth, will make him adore you at once. Show no surprise if he accompanies you back to the head of the stairs; look as if you were accustomed to his ways—he is a man who was born on his knees before the nobility. For the rest, be simple, apostolic—no wit, no brilliancy, no swift repartee. If you do not startle him he will delight in your company. Remember, it is on his own initiative that he must appoint you his grand vicar; the count and I will appear surprised, and even vexed, at your too rapid promotion. That is essential on account of the sovereign.”

Fabrizio hurried to the archiepiscopal palace.

By remarkable good luck the good prelate’s servant, who was a trifle deaf, did not catch the name of Del Dongo. He announced a young priest called Fabrizio. The archbishop was engaged with a priest of not very exemplary morals, whom he had summoned in order to reprimand him. He was in the act of administering a reproof—a very painful effort to him, and did not care to carry the trouble about with him any longer. He therefore kept the great-nephew of the famous Archbishop Ascanio del Dongo waiting for three quarters of an hour.

How shall I reproduce his excuses and his despair when, having conducted the parish priest as far as the outermost antechamber, he inquired, as he passed back toward his apartment, what he could do for the young man who stood waiting, caught sight of his violet stockings, and heard the name Fabrizio del Dongo?

The matter struck our hero in so comic a light that even on this first visit he ventured, in a passion of tenderness, to kiss the saintly prelate’s hand. It was worth something to hear the archbishop reiterating in his despair “That a Del Dongo should have waited in my antechamber!” He felt obliged, in his own excuse, to relate the whole story of the parish priest, his offences, his replies, and so forth.

“Can that really be the man,” said Fabrizio to himself, as he returned to the Palazzo Sanseverina, “who hurried on the execution of that poor Count Palanza?”

“What does your Excellency think?” said Count Mosca laughingly, as he entered the duchess’s room. (The count would not allow Fabrizio to call him “your Excellency.”)

“I am utterly amazed! I know nothing about human nature. I would have wagered, if I had not known his name, that this man could not bear to see a chicken bleed.”

“And you would have won,” replied the count. “But when he is in the prince’s presence, or even in mine, he can not say ‘No.’ As a matter of fact, I must have my yellow ribbon across my coat if I am to produce my full effect upon him; in morning dress he would contradict me, and I always put on my uniform before I receive him. It is no business of ours to destroy the prestige of power—the French newspapers are demolishing it quite fast enough. The respectful mania will hardly last out our time, and you, nephew, you’ll outlive respect—you’ll be a good-natured man.”

Fabrizio delighted in the count’s society. He was the first superior man who had condescended to converse with him seriously, and, further, they had a taste in common—that for antiques and excavations. The count, on his side, was flattered by the extreme deference with which the young man listened to him, but there was one capital objection—Fabrizio occupied rooms in the Palazzo Sanseverina; he spent his life with the duchess, and let it appear, in all innocence, that this intimacy constituted his great happiness, and Fabrizio’s eyes and skin were distressingly brilliant.

For a long time Ranuzio-Ernest IV, who seldom came across an unaccommodating fair, had been nettled by the fact that the duchess, whose virtue was well known at court, had made no exception in his favour. As we have seen, Fabrizio’s intelligence and presence of mind had displeased him from the very outset; he looked askance at the extreme affection, somewhat imprudently displayed, between aunt and nephew. He listened with excessive attention to the comments of his courtiers, which were endless. The young man’s arrival, and the extraordinary audience granted him, were the talk and astonishment of the court for a good month. Whereupon the prince had an idea.

In his guard there was a private soldier who could carry his wine in the most admirable manner. This man spent his life in taverns, and reported the general spirit of the military direct to the sovereign. Carlone lacked education, otherwise he would long ago have been promoted. His orders were to be in the palace every day when the great clock struck noon.

The prince himself went a little before noon to arrange something about the sun-blind in a room on the mezzanine connected with the apartment in which his Highness dressed. He returned to this room a little after noon had struck, and found the soldier there. The prince had a sheet of paper and an ink-bottle in his pocket. He dictated the following note to the soldier:

“Your Excellency is a very clever man, no doubt, and it is thanks to your deep wisdom that we see this state so well governed. But, my dear count, such great successes can not be obtained without rousing a little envy, and I greatly fear there may be some laughter at your expense, if your sagacity does not guess that a certain handsome young man has had the good fortune to inspire, in spite of himself, it may be, a most extraordinary passion. This fortunate mortal is, we are told, only twenty-three years of age, and, dear count, what complicates the question is that you and I are much more than double that. In the evening, and at a certain distance, the count is delightful, sprightly, a man of wit, as charming as he can be; but in the morning, and in close intimacy, the newcomer may, if we look at matters closely, prove more attractive. Now, we women think a great deal of that freshness of youth, especially when we ourselves are past thirty. Is there not talk already of settling the charming young man at our court in some great position? and who may the person be who most constantly mentions the subject to your Excellency?”

The prince took the letter and gave the soldier two crowns.

“These over and above your pay,” he said, with a gloomy look. “You will keep absolute silence to everybody, or you will go to the dampest of the lower dungeons in the citadel.”

In his writing-table the prince kept a collection of envelopes addressed to the majority of the people about his court by the hand of this same soldier, who was supposed not to know how to write, and never did write even his police reports. The prince chose out the envelope he wanted.

A few hours later Count Mosca received a letter through the post. The probable hour of its arrival had been carefully calculated, and at the moment when the postman, who had been seen to go in with a letter in his hand, emerged from the minister’s palace, Mosca was summoned to the presence of his Highness. Never had the favourite appeared wrapped in so black a melancholy. To enjoy it more thoroughly the prince called out as he entered: “I want to divert myself by gossiping with my friend, not to work with my minister. I am enjoying the most frightful headache to-night, and I feel depressed into the bargain.”

Must I describe the abominable temper that raged in the breast of Count Mosca della Rovere, Prime Minister of Parma, when he was at last permitted to take leave of his august master? Ranuzio-Ernest IV possessed a finished skill in the art of torturing the human heart, and I should not do him much injustice if I were to compare him here with a tiger who delights in playing with his victim.

The count had himself driven home at a gallop, called out that not a soul was to be admitted, sent word to the auditor in waiting that he was dismissed (the very thought of a human being within hearing distance of his voice was odious to him), and shut himself up in his great picture gallery. There, at last, he could give rein to all his fury, and there he spent his evening, walking to and fro in the dark, like a man beside himself. He tried to silence his heart, so as to concentrate all the strength of his attention on the course he should pursue. Plunged in an anguish which would have stirred the pity of his bitterest enemy, he mused: “The man I hate lives with the duchess, spends every moment of his time with her. Must I try to make one of her women speak? Nothing could be more dangerous—she is so kind, she pays them well, they adore her (and who, great God! does not adore her?). Here lies the question,” he began again passionately. “Must I let her guess the jealousy which devours me, or must I hide it?

“If I hold my peace, no attempt at concealment will be made. I know Gina; she is a woman who always follows her first impulse; her behaviour is unforeseen even by herself; if she tries to trace out a plan beforehand, she grows confused; at the moment of action some new idea always occurs to her, which she follows delightedly as being the best in the world, and which ruins everything.

“If I say nothing of my martyrdom, then nothing is hidden from me, and I see everything which may happen.

“Yes, but if I speak, I call other circumstances into existence; I make them reflect, I prevent many of the horrible things which may happen.… Perhaps he will be sent away” (the count drew a breath). “Then I shall almost have won my cause. Even if there were a little temper at first, I could calm that down.… And if there were temper, what could be more natural? … She has loved him like a son for the last fifteen years. There lies all my hope—like a son! … But she has not seen him since he ran away to Waterloo; but when he came back from Naples, to her, especially, he was a different man! A different man!” he reiterated furiously, “and a charming man, too! Above all, he has that tender look and smiling eye which give so much promise of happiness. And the duchess can not be accustomed to seeing such eyes at our court. Their place is taken here by glances that are either dreary or sardonic. I myself, worried by business, ruling by sheer influence only, over a man who would fain turn me into ridicule—what eyes must I often have! Ah, whatever care I take, it is my eyes, after all, that must have grown old. Is not my very laughter always close on irony? … I will go further—for here I must be sincere—does not my merriment betray its close association with absolute power and … wickedness? Do not I say to myself, sometimes—especially when I am exasperated—‘I can do what I choose’? And I even add a piece of foolishness—‘I must be happier than others, because in three matters out of four I possess what others have not, sovereign power.…’ Well, then, let me be just. This habit of thought must spoil my smile—must give me a look of satisfied selfishness.… And how charming is that smile of his! It breathes the easy happiness of early youth, and sheds that happiness around him.”

Unfortunately for the count, the weather that evening was hot, oppressive, close on a thunder-storm—the sort of weather, in a word, which in those countries inclines men to extreme resolves. How can I reproduce all the arguments, all the views of what had happened to him, which for three mortal hours tortured the passionate-hearted man? At last prudent counsels prevailed, solely as a result of this reflection: “In all probability I am out of my mind. When I think I am arguing I am not arguing at all. I am only turning about in search of a less cruel position, and I may pass by some decisive reason without perceiving it. As the excess of my suffering blinds me, let me follow that rule approved by all wise men, which is called prudence.

“Besides, once I have spoken the fatal word jealousy, my line is marked out for good and all. If, on the contrary, I say nothing to-day, I can always speak to-morrow, and everything remains in my hands.” The excitement had been too violent; the count would have lost his reason if it had lasted. He had a moment’s relief—his attention had just fixed itself on the anonymous letter. Whence could it come? Hereupon supervened a search for names, and a verdict on each as it occurred, which created a diversion. At last the count recollected the spiteful flash in the sovereign’s eye when he had said, toward the close of the audience: “Yes, dear friend, there can be no doubt that the pleasures and cares of the most fortunate ambition, and even of unlimited power, are nothing compared with the inner happiness to be found in the relations of a tender and loving intercourse. Myself, I am a man before I am a prince, and when I am so happy as to love, it is the man, and not the prince, that my mistress knows.”

The count compared that twinkle of spiteful pleasure with the words in the letter, “It is thanks to your deep wisdom that we see this state so well governed.”

“The prince wrote that sentence!” he exclaimed. “It is too gratuitously imprudent for any courtier. The letter comes from his Highness.”

That problem once solved, the flush of satisfaction caused by the pleasure of guessing it soon faded before the cruel picture of Fabrizio’s charms, which once more rose up before him. It was as though a huge weight had fallen back upon the heart of the unhappy man. “What matters it who wrote the anonymous letter?” he cried in his fury. “Does it make the fact it reveals to me any less true? This whim may change my whole life,” he added, as though to excuse his own excitement. “At any moment, if she cares for him in a certain way, she may start off with him to Belgirate, to Switzerland, or to any other corner of the world. She is rich, and, besides, if she had only a few louis a year to live on, what would that matter to her? Did she not tell me, only a week ago, that she was tired of her palace, well arranged and magnificent as it is? That youthful nature must have novelty! And how simply this new happiness offers itself to her! She will be swept away before she has thought of the danger—before she has thought of pitying me! and yet I am so wretched!” he exclaimed, bursting into tears.

He had sworn he would not go to see the duchess that evening, but he could not resist the temptation. Never had his eyes so thirsted for the sight of her. About midnight he entered her rooms. He found her alone with her nephew. At ten o’clock she had dismissed all her company and closed her doors.

At the sight of the tender intimacy between the two, and the unaffected delight of the duchess, a frightful difficulty, and an unexpected one, rose up before the count’s eyes; he had not thought of it during his lengthy ponderings in the picture gallery. How was he to conceal his jealousy?

Not knowing what pretext to adopt, he pretended he had found the prince exceedingly prejudiced against him that evening, contradicting everything he said, and so forth. He had the pain of perceiving that the duchess hardly listened to him, and paid no attention to circumstances which only two nights before would have led her into a whole train of argument. The count looked at Fabrizio. Never had that handsome Lombard countenance seemed to him so simple and so noble. Fabrizio was paying much more attention than the duchess to the difficulties he was relating.

“Really,” said he to himself, “that face combines extreme kind-heartedness with a certain expression of tender and artless delight which is quite irresistible. It seems to say, ‘The only serious matters in this world are love and the happiness it brings.’ And yet if any detail which demands intelligence occurs, his eye kindles, and one is quite astonished and amazed.

“In his eyes everything is simple, because everything is sent from above. My God, how am I to struggle against such an enemy? And after all, what will my life be without Gina’s love? With what delight she seems to listen to the charming sallies of that young intellect, which, to a woman’s mind, must seem unique!”

A frightful thought clutched the count like a cramp. “Shall I stab him there, in her sight, and kill myself afterward?” He walked up and down the room; his legs were shaking under him, but his hand closed convulsively upon the handle of his dagger. Neither of the others were paying any attention to him. He said he was going to give an order to his servant. They did not even hear him; the duchess was laughing fondly at something Fabrizio had just said to her. The count went under a lamp in the outer drawing-room, and looked to see whether the point of his dagger was sharp. “My manner to the young man must be gracious and perfectly polite,” he thought, as he returned and drew close to them.

His brain was boiling. They seemed to him to be bending forward and exchanging kisses there in his very sight. “That is not possible under my eyes,” he thought. “My reason is going. I must compose myself. If I am rough the duchess is capable, out of sheer pique to her vanity, of following him to Belgirate, and there, or during the journey, a chance word may give a name to what they feel for each other; and then, in a moment, all the consequences must come.

“Solitude will make that one word decisive, and besides, what is to become of me once the duchess is far away from me? And if, after a great many difficulties with the prince, I should go and show my aged and careworn face at Belgirate, what part should I play between those two in their delirious happiness?

“Even here, what am I but the terzo incommodo (our beautiful Italian language was made for the purposes of love)! Terzo incommodo (the third party, in the way)! What anguish for a man of parts to feel himself in this vile position, and not to have strength of mind to get up and go away!”

The count was on the point of breaking out, or at all events of betraying his suffering by the disorder of his countenance. As he walked round the drawing-room, finding himself close to the door, he took to flight, calling out, in good-natured and friendly fashion, “Good-bye, you two!—I must not shed blood,” he murmured to himself.

On the morrow of that horrible evening, after a night spent partly in revolving Fabrizio’s advantages, and partly in the agonizing paroxysms of the most cruel jealousy, it occurred to the count to send for a young man-servant of his own. This man was making love to a girl named Cecchina, one of the duchess’s waiting-maids, and her favourite. By good luck, this young servant was exceedingly steady in his conduct, even stingy, and was anxious to be appointed doorkeeper in one of the public buildings at Parma. The count ordered this man to send instantly for Cecchina. The man obeyed, and an hour later the count appeared unexpectedly in the room occupied by the girl and her lover. The count alarmed them both by the quantity of gold coins he gave them; then, looking into the trembling Cecchina’s eyes, he addressed her in the following words: “Are there love passages between the duchess and monsignore?”

“No,” said the girl, making up her mind after a moment’s silence. “No, not yet; but he often kisses the signora’s hands. He laughs, I know, but he kisses them passionately.”

This testimony was borne out by a hundred answers to as many questions put by the distracted count. His passionate anxiety ensured the poor folks honest earning of the money he had given them. He ended by believing what they told him, and felt less wretched. “If ever the duchess suspects this conversation of ours,” he said to Cecchina, “I will send your lover to spend twenty years in the fortress, and you will never see him again till his hair is white.”

A few days went by, during which it became Fabrizio’s turn to lose all his cheerfulness.

“I assure you,” he kept saying to the duchess, “Count Mosca has an antipathy to me.”

“So much the worse for his Excellency!” she replied with a touch of peevishness.

This was not the real cause of the anxiety which had driven away Fabrizio’s gaiety. “The position,” he mused, “in which chance has placed me is untenable. I am quite sure she will never speak—a too significant word would be as horrifying to her as an act of incest. But supposing that one evening, after a day of imprudence and folly, she should examine her own conscience! What will my position be if she believes I have guessed at the inclination she seems to feel toward me? I shall simply be the casto Giuseppe” (an Italian proverb alluding to Joseph’s ridiculous position with regard to the wife of the eunuch Potiphar).

“Shall I make her understand by confiding to her frankly that I am quite incapable of any serious passion? My ideas are not sufficiently well ordered to enable me to express the fact so as to prevent its appearing a piece of deliberate impertinence. My only other resource is to simulate a great devotion for a lady left behind me in Naples, and in that case I must go back there for four-and-twenty hours. This plan is a wise one, but what a trouble it will be! I might try some obscure little love affair here at Parma. This might cause displeasure, but anything is preferable to the horrible position of the man who will not understand. This last expedient may, indeed, compromise my future. I must try to diminish that danger by my prudence, and by buying discretion.” The cruel thought, amid all these considerations, was that Fabrizio really cared for the duchess far more than he did for anybody else in the world. “I must be awkward indeed,” said he to himself angrily, “if I am so afraid of not being able to convince her of what is really true.”

He had not wit to extricate himself from the difficulty, and he soon grew gloomy and morose. “What would become of me, great heavens, if I were to quarrel with the only being on earth to whom I am passionately attached?”

On the other hand, Fabrizio could not make up his mind to disturb so delightful a condition of felicity by an imprudent word. His position was so full of enjoyment, his intimate relations with so charming and so pretty a woman were so delightful! As regarded the more trivial aspects of life, her protection insured him such an agreeable position at the court, the deep intrigues of which, thanks to the explanations she gave him, amused him like a stage play. “But at any moment,” he reflected, “I may be wakened as by a thunderclap. If one of these evenings, so cheerful and affectionate, spent alone with this fascinating woman, should lead to anything more fervent, she will expect to find a lover in me. She will look for raptures and wild transports, and all I can ever give her is the liveliest affection, without any love. Nature has bereft me of the capacity for that sort of sublime madness. What reproaches I have had to endure on that score already! I fancy I still hear the Duchess of A⸺, and I could laugh at the duchess! But she will think that I fail in love for her, whereas it is love which fails in me; and she never will understand me. Often, when she has told me some story about the court, with all the grace and frolicsomeness that she alone possesses—and a story, besides, which it is indispensable for me to know—I kiss her hands and sometimes her cheek as well. What should I do if her hand pressed mine in one particular way?”

Fabrizio showed himself daily in the most esteemed and dullest houses in Parma. Guided by his aunt’s wise counsels, he paid skilful court to the two princes, father and son, to the Princess Clara Paolina, and to the archbishop. Success came to him, but this did not console him for his mortal terror of a misunderstanding with the duchess.