The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER XXI

About a year before the period of her misfortunes, the duchess had made acquaintance with a strange being. One day, when, as they say in that country, “aveva la luna,” she had betaken herself, quite unexpectedly, toward evening, to her country house on the hill overlooking the Po, at Sacca, beyond Colorno. She delighted in making improvements in the place; she loved the huge forest that crowns the hill and grows close up to the house. She was having paths cut through it to various picturesque spots.

“You’ll be carried off by brigands, fair lady,” said the prince to her one day. “A forest where you are known to walk can not possibly remain deserted.” The prince cast an eye on the count, whose jealousy he was always trying to kindle.

“I have no fears, Most Serene Highness,” replied the duchess, with an air of innocence. “When I walk about in my woods, I reassure myself with the thought that I have never done any one any harm; therefore, who should there be to hate me?” The remark struck the hearers as a bold one; it recalled the insulting language employed by the Liberals of the country, a most impudent set of people.

On the day of which we speak, the duchess was reminded of the prince’s remark by the sight of a very poorly dressed man, who was following her, at a distance, through the trees. In the course of her walk she made an unexpected turn, which brought her so close to the stranger that she was frightened. Her first impulse was to call to her gamekeeper, whom she had left about a thousand paces off, in the flower-garden, close to the house. But the stranger had time to approach her, and cast himself at her feet. He was young, very handsome, miserably clad—there were rents a foot long in his garments—but his eyes blazed with the fire of an ardent soul.

“I am condemned to death; I am Dr. Ferrante Palla; I am starving, and so are my five children.”

The duchess had noticed that he was frightfully thin, but his eyes were so beautiful, and their expression at once so fervent and so tender, that any idea of crime never occurred to her. “Pallagi,” thought she to herself, “should have given such eyes to the St. John in the Desert he has just placed in the cathedral.” The thought of St. John had been suggested by Ferrante’s incredible thinness. The duchess gave him the only three sequins she had in her purse, apologizing for the smallness of the gift, on the score that she had just paid her gardener’s account. Ferrante thanked her fervently. “Alas!” he said, “in old days I lived in cities; I saw beautiful women. Since I have been condemned to death for performing my duties as a citizen I have dwelt in the woods, and I was following you, just now, not to rob you, nor to ask for alms, but, like some savage, fascinated by a dainty beauty. It is long since I have seen two fair white hands.”

“But pray rise,” said the duchess, for he was still kneeling.

“Let me stay where I am,” answered Ferrante. “The position makes me realize I am not stealing at this moment, and that thought calms me. For you must know that since I have been prevented from following my profession, I have lived by theft. But at this moment I am only a humble mortal adoring a sublime beauty.” The duchess realized that the man was a little mad, but she was not frightened, she read the poor fellow’s fervent and kindly soul in his eyes, and besides, she was not at all averse to people of extraordinary appearance.

“I am a doctor, then, and I made love to the wife of Sarasine, the apothecary at Parma. He discovered us, and drove her out, with three children whom he suspected, and justly, to be mine, and not his own. She has borne me two more since then. The mother and her five children live in the deepest poverty about a league from here, in a sort of hut in the wood, which I built with my own hands. For I must keep out of the gendarmes’ way, and the poor woman will not be parted from me. I was condemned to death, and very justly, too, for I was a conspirator; I loathe the prince, who is a tyrant. I could not take to flight, for I had no money. But my misfortunes have grown far greater now, and if I had killed myself it would have been better for me, a thousand times. I have no love, now, for the unhappy woman who has borne me these five children, and sacrificed everything for me. I love another. But if I kill myself, the five children and the mother must literally die of hunger.” There was truth in the man’s voice.

“But how do you live?” exclaimed the duchess, greatly affected.

“The children’s mother spins; the eldest girl is fed by a farmer of Liberal opinions, whose sheep she tends. As for me, I rob on the highway between Piacenza and Genoa.”

“How can you reconcile robbery with your Liberal principles?”

“I keep note of the people whom I rob, and if ever I have anything of my own, I will return the sums I have stolen from them. I reckon that a tribune of the people, such as I, performs a work, considering its danger, well worth a hundred francs a month, and I take care not to steal more than twelve hundred francs a year. But I am mistaken; I steal a little more than that, and the overplus enables me to pay for the printing of my works.”

“What works?”

“Will the ⸺ ever have a chamber and a budget?”

“What!” cried the duchess in astonishment. “Then you, sir, are one of the most famous poets of our century, the renowned Ferrante Palla!”

“Renowned, that may be; but most unhappy, that is sure.”

“And a man of such powers, sir, is forced to live by theft!”

“Perhaps that is the very reason why I have some talent. Up till now all our best-known authors have been paid either by the government or by the faith they were endeavouring to undermine. Now, in my case, first of all, I carry my life in my hand, and secondly, consider, madam, the thoughts that stir within me when I set out to rob! ‘Am I doing right?’ I say to myself. ‘Are my services as a tribune really worth a hundred francs a month?’ I’ve two shirts, the coat you see upon me, some poor weapons, and I shall certainly end by being hanged. I venture to think I am disinterested. I should be happy, but for the fatal love which prevents my finding anything but misery in the company of the mother of my children. The ugliness of my poverty is what makes me suffer. I love rich dresses, white hands”—and he began to look at the duchess’s hands in a way that frightened her.

“Farewell, sir,” she said. “Can I serve you in any matter at Parma?”

“Give a thought, sometimes, to this question: His profession is to stir men’s hearts, and prevent them from falling asleep in that false and utterly material happiness which monarchies bestow. Is the service he renders his fellow-citizens worth a hundred francs a month?—My misfortune,” he added very gently, “is that I love. For nearly two years you have filled all my soul, but until this day I had looked at you without causing you any fear,” and he took to flight with a rapidity so prodigious that it both astonished and reassured the duchess. “The gendarmes would find it difficult to catch him,” she thought. “He certainly is mad.”

“He is mad,” her servants told her. “We have all known for ever so long that the poor man is desperately in love with the signora. When she is here, we see him wandering about in the upper parts of the wood, and as soon as she is gone he never fails to come down and sit wherever she has stopped. He carefully picks up any flowers which may have fallen from her nosegay, and carries them about for a long time, fastened to his shabby hat.”

“And you never told me of these follies?” said the duchess, almost reproachfully.

“We were afraid the Signora Duchessa might tell Count Mosca. Poor Ferrante is such a good fellow, he never does any one any harm, and because he loves our Napoleon, he has been condemned to death.”

Not a word did she say to the minister about this meeting, and as it was the first secret she had kept from him for over four years, she found herself stopped short in the middle of a sentence at least ten times over. When she went back to Sacca she brought gold with her, but Ferrante did not appear. A fortnight later she went again. Ferrante, after having followed her for some time, bounding along in the wood about a hundred paces from her, bore down upon her as swiftly as a sparrow-hawk and cast himself at her knees, as on the first occasion.

“Where were you a fortnight ago?”

“In the mountains beyond Novi, robbing some muleteers on their way back from Milan, where they had been selling oil.”

“Accept this purse.”

Ferrante opened the purse, took out a single sequin, which he kissed and thrust into his bosom, and then gave the purse back to her.

“You give me back this purse—you, who are a robber!”

“No doubt about that. My rule is that I must never have more than a hundred francs. Now, at this moment, the mother of my children has eighty francs and I have twenty-five; I am out of my reckoning by five francs, and if I were to be hanged at this moment I should be stung by remorse. I have taken one sequin, because it comes from you, and I love you!”

The tone in which these simple words were spoken was perfect. “He really does love!” thought the duchess to herself.

That day he seemed quite off his balance. He said there were some people at Parma who owed him six hundred francs, and with that sum he would repair his hut, in which his poor children were now constantly catching cold.

“But I will advance the six hundred francs to you,” exclaimed the duchess, greatly moved.

“But, then, would not my political opponents slander me, and say that I, a public man, am selling myself?”

The duchess, deeply touched, offered to conceal him at Parma if he would swear to her that for the moment he would not exercise his functions in the town, and above all that he would not carry out any of the death sentences which he declared he had in petto.

“And if I am hanged as the result of my imprudence,” said Ferrante seriously, “all those wretches who do the people so much harm will live for years and years, and whose fault will that be? What would my father say to me when I meet him up yonder?”

The duchess talked to him a great deal about his little children, who would very likely die of the damp. At last he accepted her offer of a hiding-place in Parma.

During the one and only half-day which the Duke Sanseverina had spent at Parma after his marriage, he had shown the duchess a very curious secret chamber in the southern corner of the palace which bore his name. The outer wall, which dates from the middle ages, is eight feet thick. It has been hollowed out within, and a chamber has been thus formed, some twenty feet high, and only two wide. Just beside it is that much-admired “reservoir,” quoted by all travellers—a famous piece of twelfth-century work, erected during the siege of Parma by the Emperor Sigismund, and included, at a later period, within the inclosure of the Palazzo Sanseverina.

To enter the hiding-place, a huge block of stone, set toward its centre on an iron pivot, must be swung aside. So deeply touched was the duchess by Ferrante’s condition of madness and the melancholy fate of his children, for whom he obstinately refused to accept any gift of value, that for some considerable time she allowed him to make use of this chamber. About a month later she saw him again, still in the woods at Sacca, and, being a trifle calmer on that occasion, he recited one of his sonnets, which struck her as being equal, if not superior, to all the finest things produced in Italy during the two previous centuries. Ferrante was granted several interviews. But his passion grew more ardent and importunate, and the duchess perceived that it was following the laws of every love which is allowed the smallest opportunity for conceiving a gleam of hope. She sent him back to his woods, and forbade him to speak to her. He obeyed her instantly, with the most perfect gentleness.

Thus matters stood when Fabrizio was arrested. Three days afterward, just at nightfall, a Capuchin friar knocked at the door of the Palazzo Sanseverina. He had, he said, an important secret, which he desired to communicate to the mistress of the mansion. She was so wretched that she admitted him to her presence. It was Ferrante. “A fresh iniquity is taking place here—one with which the tribune of the people must concern himself. Moreover, as a private individual, all I have to give the Duchess Sanseverina is my life, and that I offer her.”

This heartfelt devotion on the part of a thief and a madman touched the duchess deeply. For a long time she conversed with this man, held to be the greatest poet of northern Italy, and she shed many tears. “This man understands my heart,” said she to herself. The next day, at the Ave Maria, he reappeared, disguised as a liveried servant.

“I have not left Parma. I have heard a horrible thing which my lips shall never repeat—but here I am. Consider, madam, what it is that you refuse! The being you see before you is no court puppet, but a man.” He knelt as he spoke the words, as though to increase their weight, and added: “Yesterday I said to myself, ‘She wept in my presence, therefore she is a thought less wretched!’”

“But, sir, think of the risks you are running. You will be arrested in this city.”

“The tribune, madam, will reply, ‘What is life when duty calls?’ The unhappy man whose penance it is that he feels no passion for virtue since he has been consumed by love, will add: ‘Madam, Fabrizio, a brave-hearted man, is perhaps about to perish. Do not drive away another brave man who offers you his service. Here you have a frame of steel and a heart that fears nothing in the world save your displeasure!’”

“If you mention your feelings to me again, I will close my doors to you forever.”

It did occur to the duchess, that evening, to tell Ferrante she would provide a small income for his children. But she was afraid he might go out from her presence and destroy himself.

Hardly had he left her, when, haunted as she was by gloomy forebodings, she began to muse. “I, too, may die—would to God it might be so, and soon! If I could only find a man worthy of the name, to whom I might confide my poor Fabrizio!”

An idea flashed across the duchess. She took a sheet of paper, and in a document into which she introduced all the few law terms with which she was acquainted, she acknowledged that she had received the sum of twenty thousand francs from Signor Ferrante Palla, on the express condition that she should pay a yearly pension of fifteen hundred francs to Signora Sarasine and her five children. The duchess added: “I further leave a yearly income of three hundred francs to each of her five children, on condition that Ferrante Palla shall professionally attend my nephew Fabrizio del Dongo, and be as a brother to him—I implore him to do this!” She signed the paper, antedated it by a year, and put it away.

Two days later Ferrante reappeared. It was just at the moment when the whole town was stirred by reports of Fabrizio’s approaching execution. Was this gloomy ceremony to take place within the citadel, or under the tree in the public square? Many men of the humbler classes walked up and down in front of the citadel gates that evening, to try and see whether the scaffold was being built. This sight had moved Ferrante. He found the duchess dissolved in tears, and quite unable to speak. She greeted him with her hand, and pointed him to a seat. Ferrante, who was disguised, that day, as a Capuchin friar, behaved magnificently. Instead of seating himself, he knelt down, and began to pray devoutly in an undertone. Seizing a moment when the duchess was a little calmer, and without changing his position, he broke off his prayer for an instant, with the words: “Once again he offers his life.”

“Consider what you say,” exclaimed the duchess, and in her eye there was that wild look which follows upon tears, and warns us that rage is getting the better of emotion.

“He offers his life to place an obstacle in the way of Fabrizio’s fate, or to avenge it.”

“There is a circumstance,” replied the duchess, “in which I might accept the sacrifice of your life.”

She was looking at him, closely and sternly. A flash of joy shone in his eyes; he rose swiftly to his feet and stretched out his arms toward heaven. The duchess fetched a document hidden in a secret drawer in her walnut-wood cabinet. “Read it,” said she to Ferrante. It was the gift in his children’s favour, of which we have just spoken.

Tears and sobs prevented Ferrante from reading to the end; he fell on his knees.

“Give me back that paper,” said the duchess, and she burned it at the taper before his eyes.

“My name must not appear if you are taken and executed,” she added, “for this matter affects your very life.”

“It is a joy to me to die by injuring the tyrant; it is a much greater joy to die for you. Now that is said, and clearly understood, do me the kindness not to speak of money again. It gives me a painful feeling that you may doubt me.”

“If you are compromised I may be so too,” replied the duchess, “and Fabrizio after me. For that reason, and not at all because I doubt your courage, I insist that the man who will pierce my heart shall be poisoned, and not stabbed. For the same reason, a most important one to me, I command you to do everything in the world to save yourself.”

“I will perform all—faithfully, punctually, and prudently. I foresee, madam, that my vengeance will be bound up with yours. Even if it were otherwise, I would still obey—faithfully, punctually, and prudently. I may not succeed, but I will strive with all the strength a man can use.”

“Fabrizio’s murderer must be poisoned.”

“I had guessed it; and during the seven-and-twenty months of this wandering and hateful life of mine, I have often thought of committing such an action on my own account.”

“If I am detected and condemned as your accomplice,” continued the duchess, and there was pride in her voice, “I do not choose to have it imputed to me that I have tempted you. I command you to make no attempt to see me before the moment of our vengeance. There is to be no question of his being put to death until I give you the signal. At this moment, for instance, his death, far from being a service, would be a misfortune to me. His death will probably not have to take place for several months, but it will take place! I insist that he shall die by poison, and I would rather let him live on than see him killed by a bullet. For reasons which I do not choose to explain, I insist that your life shall be saved.”

The tone of authority the duchess used to him filled Ferrante with delight. A mighty joy shone in his eyes. As we have said, he was frightfully thin, but it was easy to see that he had been exceedingly handsome in his early youth, and he fancied he still was what he had been in former days. “Am I mad?” he thought, “or does the duchess intend, some day, when I shall have given her this proof of my devotion, to make me the happiest of all living men? And why not, after all? Am I not quite as good as that puppet Mosca, who has not been able to do anything for her in her need—not even to help Monsignore Fabrizio to escape?”

“I may desire his death even to-morrow,” continued the duchess, still in the same authoritative tone. “You know that huge reservoir of water, at the corner of the palace, close by the hiding-place you have occasionally occupied? There are secret means whereby all that water can be turned into the street. Well, that shall be the signal for my vengeance. If you are at Parma you will see, if you are living in your woods you will hear, that the great reservoir at the Sanseverina Palace has burst. Act then, at once! But use poison, and, above all things, risk your own life as little as may be. Let no one ever know that I have had a finger in the matter.”

“Words are useless,” replied Ferrante, with ill-restrained enthusiasm. “I have already decided on the means I shall employ. That man’s life becomes more odious to me than before, since as long as he lives I shall not dare to look on you again. I shall await the signal of the reservoir bursting on to the street.” He bowed swiftly, and went out. The duchess watched him go.

When he had reached the next apartment she called him back. “Ferrante,” she cried, “noble fellow!”

He returned, as though impatient at being delayed; at that moment there was something magnificent about his face.

“And your children?”

“Madam, they will be richer than I. You will perhaps grant them some trifling income.”

“Here,” said the duchess, holding out a sort of large olive-wood case, “here are all the diamonds I have left. They are worth fifty thousand francs.”

“Ah, madam, you humiliate me,” exclaimed Ferrante, with a horrified gesture, and his whole countenance changed.

“I shall never see you again before the thing is done. Take this, I desire it,” added the duchess, with a haughty expression which crushed Ferrante. He slipped the case into his pocket and retired.

He had closed the door behind him when the duchess called him back, and he returned, wearing an anxious expression. The duchess was standing in the middle of the drawing-room. She threw herself into his arms. After a moment Ferrante almost fainted from sheer happiness. The duchess freed herself from his embrace, and glanced meaningly at the door.

“This is the only man who has ever understood me,” said the duchess to herself. “Fabrizio would have behaved like that if he could have understood me.”

The duchess possessed two special characteristics. What she had desired once she desired always, and she never deliberated a second time concerning anything she had once decided. In this last connection she would quote a remark made by her first husband, the kind-hearted General Pietranera. “What an insolence to my own self! Why should I think I am cleverer to-day than I was when I made the decision?”

From that moment a sort of cheerfulness reappeared in the duchess’s temper. Before that fatal resolution was taken, at every step her mind took, at every new point she noticed, she had felt her own inferiority to the prince, her weakness, and the vile fashion in which she had been tricked. The prince, as she held, had shamefully deceived her, and Count Mosca, as the result of his courtier-like instinct, had, though innocently, seconded the prince’s efforts. Once vengeance was decided on, she felt her own strength, and every fresh working of her mind brought her happiness. I am rather disposed to think that the immoral delight the Italian nature finds in vengeance is connected with the strength of the national imagination. The natives of other countries do not, strictly speaking, forgive—they forget.

The duchess did not see Palla again till toward the end of Fabrizio’s prison days. He it was, as my readers may perhaps have guessed, who suggested the idea of the escape. In the woods, about two leagues from Sacca, stood a half-ruined tower, dating from the middle ages, and over a hundred feet high. Before mentioning the idea of flight a second time to the duchess, Ferrante besought her to send Ludovico with some trusty men, to set a succession of ladders against this tower. In the presence of the duchess he climbed to the top by the ladders, and came down simply on a knotted rope. Three times over he made the experiment, and then set forth his notion again. A week afterward Ludovico also came down from the top of the tower on a knotted rope. Then it was that the duchess suggested the idea to Fabrizio.

During the last days before the attempt, which might possibly, and that in more than one fashion, result in the prisoner’s death, the duchess never knew an instant’s repose, except when Ferrante was with her. The man’s courage stirred her own, but it will be easily understood that she felt obliged to hide this strange connection from the count. She was not afraid of his being horrified by it, but she would have been worried by his objections, which would have doubled her own anxiety. “What! choose an acknowledged madman, sentenced to death, to be her closest counsellor!” “And,” the duchess would add, talking to herself, “a man capable, in the future, of doing such strange things!” Ferrante was in the duchess’s drawing-room when the count entered it to inform her of the prince’s conversation with Rassi. She had much ado, after the count’s departure, in preventing Ferrante from proceeding instantly to the execution of his terrible project.

“I am strong now,” cried the crazy fellow. “I have no doubt at all as to the legitimacy of my action.”

“But in the moment of rage which must inevitably follow, Fabrizio would be put to death.”

“Well, then he would be spared the danger of his descent. It is possible, it is even easy,” he added, “but the young man has had no practice.”

The marriage of the Marchese Crescenzi’s sister was duly celebrated, and at the fĂȘte given on that occasion, the duchess was able to meet Clelia, and talk to her, without rousing the suspicions of well-bred lookers-on. In the garden, whither the two ladies had betaken themselves to get a moment’s breath of air, the duchess herself gave Clelia the packet of ropes.

These ropes, most carefully made of hemp and wool mixed, and knotted, were very slight, and fairly flexible. Ludovico had tested their strength, and every yard of them would safely carry eight hundred-weight. They had been compressed into several packets, exactly resembling quarto volumes. Clelia took possession of them, and promised the duchess she would do everything that was humanly possible to get them into the Farnese Tower.

“But your natural timidity alarms me; and besides,” added the duchess politely, “what interest can you feel in a man you do not know?”

“Monsignore del Dongo is unfortunate, and I promise you that he shall be saved by me.”

But the duchess, who had no particular confidence in the presence of mind of a young lady of twenty, had taken other precautions, which she took care not to reveal to the governor’s daughter. As may naturally be supposed, the said governor was present at the festivities in honour of the marriage of the Marchese Crescenzi’s sister. The duchess said to herself that if she could give him a strong narcotic, it might be concluded, on the first blush, that he had been seized with a fit of apoplexy, and then, instead of putting him into his carriage to take him back to the citadel, she might, by dint of some little cunning, contrive to have him carried in a litter, which should chance to be in the house in which the guests were assembled. There, too, should be found intelligent men, dressed as workmen employed about the festivities, who, in the general confusion, should obligingly offer themselves to carry the sick man up to his palace on the height. These men, headed by Ludovico, carried a considerable quantity of rope, skilfully concealed about their persons. It will be observed that since she had been seriously considering the subject of Fabrizio’s flight, the duchess had quite lost her head. The peril in which that beloved being stood was more than she could bear, and above all, it had lasted too long. By the very excess of her precautions, as we shall see, she almost brought about the failure of his escape. Everything was carried out as she had planned, with this single exception—that the effect of the narcotic was far too powerful. Every one, even professional men, believed the general had an attack of apoplexy.

Fortunately Clelia, in her despair, never for a moment suspected the duchess’s criminal attempt. So great was the confusion, when the litter in which the general lay half dead was borne into the citadel, that no objection was made to the entrance of Ludovico and his men, and they were only subjected to a purely formal search on the “Bridge of the Slave.” When they had carried the general to his bed, they were taken to the servants’ quarters, and hospitably entertained. But after the meal, which did not end till toward morning, they were informed that according to the rules of the prison, they must be locked up for the remainder of the night in one of the lower rooms of the palace. After daylight the next morning they would be set at liberty by the governor’s lieutenant.

The men had contrived to convey the ropes they had been carrying to Ludovico. But Ludovico found great difficulty in attracting Clelia’s attention for a moment. At last, as she was passing out of one room into another, he made her see that he was laying the packets of rope in a dark corner in one of the drawing-rooms on the first floor. Clelia was profoundly impressed by this strange incident, and horrible suspicions at once started up in her mind.

“Who are you?” said she to Ludovico, and when he gave her a very ambiguous answer she added:

“I ought to have you arrested. Either you or those employing you have poisoned my father.… Tell me, this instant, what poison you have used, so that the doctor of the citadel may give him the proper remedies! Confess instantly, or else neither you nor your accomplices shall ever leave this citadel again.”

“The signora does wrong to be alarmed,” replied Ludovico, with the most perfect grace and civility. “There is no question of poison at all. Some one has imprudently given the general a dose of laudanum, and the servant commissioned to commit this crime has apparently put a few drops too many into the glass. This will cause us eternal remorse. But the signora may rest assured that—thank Heaven for it!—there is no danger of any sort. The governor must be treated for having taken an overdose of laudanum by mistake. But I have the honour of assuring the signorina, once more, that the footman employed about the crime used no real poisons, such as those used by Barbone when he tried to make away with Monsignore Fabrizio. There has been no attempt to avenge the danger run by Monsignore Fabrizio; all the clumsy footman was given was a flask of laudanum. I swear that to the signorina on my oath. But of course she understands that if I were cross-questioned officially I should deny everything. Besides, if the signorina were to speak to any one, even to the good Don Cesare, either of laudanum or of poison, Fabrizio would be slain by the signorina’s own hand. She would make any attempt at flight impossible, and the signorina knows, better than I, that the people who desire to poison Monsignore will not use laudanum only, and she knows, too, that a certain person has only granted one month’s grace, and that more than one week has already passed by since the fatal order was received. Therefore, if she has me arrested, or if she even says a single word to Don Cesare, or any other person, she will throw back all our undertakings for much more than a month, and I speak the truth when I say that she will be killing Monsignore Fabrizio with her own hand.”

Clelia was terrified by the strange calm with which Ludovico spoke.

“So here I am,” she thought, “in close conversation with a man who has poisoned my father, and who addresses me with the utmost politeness; and it is love which has led me into all these crimes!”

So great was her remorse that she had hardly strength to speak. She said to Ludovico:

“I am going to lock you up in this room. I must run and tell the doctor that the illness is caused by laudanum. But, great heavens! how am I to tell him that I have found it out myself! Then I will come back and release you. But,” said Clelia, hurrying back from the door, “did Fabrizio know anything about this laudanum?”

“No, indeed, signorina. He never would have consented. And besides, what was the good of confiding in an unnecessary person? We act with the strictest caution; our object is to save Monsignore Fabrizio, who will be poisoned within three weeks. The order has been given by a person whose will meets, as a rule, with no obstacles. But if the signorina must know all, it is believed that the duty has been confided to the terrible Chief-Justice Rassi!”

Clelia fled in horror. She had such confidence in Don Cesare’s perfect uprightness that she ventured to tell him, with a certain amount of reticence, that the general had been given laudanum, and nothing more. Without replying, without asking a question, Don Cesare hastened to the doctor.

Clelia returned to the drawing-room into which she had locked Ludovico, intending to ply him with questions concerning the laudanum. She did not find him there; he had contrived to escape. Lying on a table, she perceived a purse of sequins and a little box containing several sorts of poisons. The sight of the poison made her shudder. “How can I be sure,” she thought, “that nothing but laudanum has been administered to my father, and that the duchess has not tried to avenge herself for the attempt made by Barbone?

“Great God!” she exclaimed, “I am holding intercourse with my father’s poisoners, and I have allowed them to escape. And perhaps, if that man had been closely questioned, he would have confessed to something more than laudanum.”

Bursting into tears, Clelia instantly fell upon her knees, and prayed fervently to the Madonna.

Meanwhile the doctor of the citadel, greatly astonished by the information conveyed to him by Don Cesare, according to which laudanum was the cause of all the trouble, administered suitable remedies, which soon removed the most alarming symptoms. At daybreak the general came to his senses a little. His first act on returning to consciousness was to pour volleys of abuse on the colonel, his second in command of the citadel, who had ventured, while the general lay unconscious, to give a few orders of the most simple description.

The governor then flew into a violent rage with a kitchen maid who had brought him a bowl of broth, and who ventured to pronounce the word “apoplexy.”

“Is a man of my age,” he exclaimed, “likely to have an apoplexy? Only my bitterest enemies could possibly take pleasure in putting such a story about. Besides, have I been bled, so as to give even slanderers a right to talk about apoplexy?”

Fabrizio, deep in preparations for his own departure, could not conceive the meaning of the strange noises that filled the citadel when the governor was carried back to it half dead. At first he fancied his sentence had been altered, and that he was about to be put to death. Then, when nobody appeared in his room, he concluded that Clelia had been betrayed, that the ropes which she had probably been conveying back into the fortress had been taken from her, and that, in fact, all the plans for his escape had been rendered impossible. At dawn the following morning he saw an unknown man enter his room, and, without uttering a word, set down a basket of fruit. Under the fruit was hidden a letter, couched in the following terms:

“Filled with the bitterest remorse for what has been done—not, thank Heaven, by my consent, but in consequence of an idea of mine—I have made a vow to the Most Holy Virgin that if, by her blessed intercession, my father’s life is saved, I will never again refuse to obey an order of his. I shall marry the marchese as soon as he requires me to do it, and I shall never see you again.

“Nevertheless, I believe it to be my duty to carry through that which has been begun. On Sunday next, when you come back from mass, to which you will be taken at my request—forget not to prepare your soul for death; you may lose your life in your difficult undertaking—when you come back from mass, I say, do all you can to delay the moment when you re-enter your room. There you will find that which is indispensable for your intended enterprise. If you perish it will break my heart! Will you be able to accuse me of having had a hand in your death? Has not the duchess herself told me, over and over again, that the Raversi faction is winning the day? It is bent on binding the prince to it by an act of cruelty which will separate him forever from Count Mosca. The duchess has sworn to me, with tears, that no resource save this remains. If you make no attempt you will certainly perish. I can not look at you again; I have made my vow. But if, toward the evening on Sunday, you see me at the usual window, dressed entirely in black, it will be a sign that on the following night everything will be ready, as far as my feeble powers will permit. After eleven o’clock—perhaps at midnight, or one in the morning—a little lamp will stand in my window. That will be the decisive moment; commend your soul to your patron saint, put on the priestly habit with which you are provided, and depart.

“Farewell, Fabrizio! I shall be at my prayers, and shedding the bitterest tears, you may be sure of that, while you are running these terrible risks. If you perish I shall not survive you—great God, what have I said? But if you succeed, I shall never see your face again. On Sunday, after mass, you will find in your prison the money, the poisons, the ropes sent you by that terrible woman who loves you so passionately, and who has told me, three times over, that this thing must be done. May God and the blessed Madonna preserve you!”

Fabio Conti was a jailer whose soul was always anxious, miserable, wretched, constantly dreaming that some prisoner was escaping from his clutches. He was loathed by every soul in the citadel. But misfortune inspires all men with the same sentiments, and the unhappy prisoners, even those chained up in dungeons three feet high and wide, and eight feet long, in which they could neither stand nor sit upright—all the prisoners, even these, I say, joined in having a Te Deum sung at their expense, when they heard that the governor was out of danger. Two or three of the poor wretches even wrote sonnets in honour of Fabio Conti. Such is the effect of misery upon mankind. Let that man blame them whose fate has condemned him to spend a year in a dungeon three feet high, with eight ounces of bread a day, and fasting on Fridays!

Clelia, who never left her father’s room except to say her prayers in the chapel, announced that the governor had decided that the rejoicings were not to take place until the Sunday. On that Sunday morning, Fabrizio was present at the mass and the Te Deum. In the evening there were fireworks, and the soldiers in the lower halls of the castle received wine, four times as much as the quantity authorized by the governor. Some unknown person had even sent in several barrels of brandy, which the soldiers broached. The soldiers who were drinking themselves drunk were too good-natured to allow their five comrades, who were doing sentry duty on the palace, to suffer from that fact. As fast as they reached their sentry-boxes a trusty servant gave them wine. Further, some unknown hand provided those on duty from midnight onward with a glass of brandy, and (as was ultimately proved at the trial) at each glass the brandy bottle was forgotten in the sentry-box.

The merry-making lasted longer than Clelia had expected, and it was not till toward one o’clock that Fabrizio, who, more than a week previously, had sawn through the bars of the window which did not look toward the aviary, began to take down the wooden screen. He was working almost over the heads of the sentries on the governor’s palace, but they heard nothing. All he had done to the immensely long rope necessary for carrying him down the terrible descent of a hundred and eighty feet was to make a few fresh knots. He had slung this line over his shoulder; it was very much in his way, on account of its bulk; the knots prevented it from falling together, and it stood out more than eighteen inches from his body. “This will be my great difficulty,” said Fabrizio to himself.

Having arranged this rope as best he could, Fabrizio took the length which he intended should carry him down the thirty-five feet between his window and the terrace on which the governor’s palace stood. But seeing he could hardly, drunk though the sentinels were, come down on the very tops of their heads, he got out, as we have already said, by the second window of his room, which looked on to the roof of a sort of huge guard-room. Some sick whim of General Fabio Conti’s had filled this old guard-room, which had not been used for a century, with a couple of hundred soldiers, whom he ordered up as soon as he could speak. He declared that the people who had tried to poison him would murder him in his bed, and that these two hundred soldiers must protect him. The effect of this unexpected measure on Clelia’s feelings may be imagined. The pious-hearted girl was very deeply conscious of the extent to which she was deceiving her father, and a father who had just been very nearly poisoned in the interests of the prisoner whom she loved. The unexpected advent of these two hundred men almost struck her as a decree of Providence, forbidding her to go forward, and restore Fabrizio to liberty.

But the prisoner’s approaching death was the universal topic of conversation in Parma. Even at the festivities in honour of the marriage of Signorina Julia Crescenzi, the melancholy subject had been discussed. Since a man of Fabrizio’s birth, imprisoned for such a trifle as an unlucky sword thrust given to an actor, was not set at liberty after nine months’ detention, although he was favoured by the Prime Minister, there must be something political about his story. That being so, it was said, there was no use in thinking more about it. If it did not suit the authorities to put him to death in the public square, he would soon die of sickness.

A locksmith who had been sent for to do some work in General Fabio Conti’s palace referred to Fabrizio as a prisoner who had been put to death long since, and whose death was concealed for reasons of policy. When Clelia heard that man speak, she made up her mind.