The Chartreuse of Parma CHAPTER XXVII

This serious conversation took place the day after Fabrizio’s return to the Palazzo Sanseverina. The duchess still felt sore at the sight of Fabrizio’s evident happiness. “So,” said she to herself, “that pious little minx has deceived me! She has not been able to hold out against her lover for even three months.”

The certain expectation of happiness had given that cowardly being, the young prince, courage to love. He heard a rumour of the preparations for departure at the Palazzo Sanseverina, and his French valet de chambre, who had but scant faith in any fine lady’s virtue, inspired him with courage as to the duchess. Ernest V ventured on a step that was severely blamed by the princess, and by all sensible people about the court. In the eyes of the populace, it set the seal on the astounding favour the duchess enjoyed. The prince went to see her in her palace.

“You are going!” said he, and there was a gravity about his tone which made it hateful to the duchess. “You are going! You mean to deceive me, and break your oath. And yet, if I had delayed ten minutes about granting you Fabrizio’s pardon, he would have died! And you would leave me behind you in misery! But for your oaths I never should have dared to love you as I do. Have you no honour?”

“Consider well, my prince. Have you ever been so happy, all your life long, as during the four months which have just gone by? Your glory as a sovereign, and, I venture to think, your happiness as a kind-hearted man, have never reached such a point before. This is the arrangement I propose to you. If you condescend to accept it, I will not be your mistress for a passing moment, and in virtue of an oath extorted from me by fear, but I will devote every instant of my life to making you happy. I will be to you, always, what I have been for the last four months, and perhaps, some day, love may crown friendship. I would not say that might never be.”

“Well,” said the prince, overjoyed, “be something else, and something more! Rule me and my dominions, both at once. Be my Prime Minister. I offer you such a marriage as the necessities of my rank permit me. We have an instance of the kind quite near us—the King of Naples has just married the Duchess of Partana. I offer you all I can—a marriage of the same kind. I will add a piece of shabby policy, to convince you that I am no longer a child, and that I have thought of everything. I will not lay stress on the position I thus impose on myself, of being the last sovereign of my race, nor on the grief of seeing the great powers dispose of my succession during my lifetime. I hail these drawbacks—very real ones—as a blessing, since they provide me with a further means of showing you my regard and passionate devotion.”

The duchess did not feel a moment’s hesitation. The prince bored her, and she thought the count perfectly charming. There was only one man in the world whom she could have preferred to him. And besides that, she ruled the count, and the prince, as the natural outcome of his rank, would more or less have ruled her. Finally, he might grow inconstant and take mistresses. Before many years were out, their difference of age would almost appear to give him a right to do so.

From the very first, the prospect of being bored had settled the whole question. Nevertheless the duchess, in her desire to be charming, asked to be allowed to think it over.

Space will not permit me to repeat the almost tender expressions, and the infinitely gracious terms, in which she wrapped her refusal. The prince got into a rage; he saw all his happiness slipping through his fingers. What was he to do with himself after the duchess had left his court? And then there was the humiliation of being rebuffed; and besides, “What will my French servant say when I tell him I have failed.”

The duchess was artful enough to calm the prince, and little by little, to bring the negotiation back to its proper limits.

“If your Highness will only consent not to insist on the result of a fatal promise, which fills me with horror, because it makes me despise myself, I will spend my whole life at your court, and that court shall always be what it has been this winter. Every instant of my life shall be devoted to increasing your happiness as a man, and your glory as a sovereign. But if your Highness insists on my keeping my oath, you will have blighted the rest of my life, and you will see me depart from your dominions that instant, never to return. The day on which I lose my honour will be the last day on which I shall ever look upon you.”

But, like all pusillanimous men, the prince was obstinate; and besides, her refusal of his hand had stung his pride as a man and as a sovereign. He thought of all the difficulties he would have had to surmount to insure the acceptance of this marriage, and which, nevertheless, he had been resolved to overcome. For three hours the same arguments were repeated on each side, and frequently interlarded with very bitter expressions. The prince exclaimed: “Do you then want to make me believe, madam, that you have no honour? If I had hesitated as long that day, when General Fabio Conti was poisoning Fabrizio, you would be building his tomb now in some church in Parma.”

“No, not in Parma indeed—a country of poisoners!”

“Very well, madam,” retorted the prince angrily. “You can depart and take my scorn with you.”

As he was going out the duchess said in a low tone: “Well, sire, come here at ten o’clock to-night, in the most absolute incognito, and you will make a fool’s bargain. You will see me for the last time in your life—and I would have devoted the whole of mine to making you as happy as an absolute sovereign can be, in this Jacobin century. And pray consider what your court will be like when I am no longer there to drag it out of its natural dulness and spitefulness!”

“On your part, you refuse the crown of Parma, and something better than a crown. For you would not have been an every-day princess, married out of policy, and without love. My heart is wholly yours, and you would have been absolute mistress of my actions, and of my government, forever.”

“Yes, but the princess, your mother, would have had the right to despise me as a vile schemer.”

“Pooh! I would have given the princess an income, and banished her.”

Three quarters of an hour were spent in sharp rejoinders. The prince, who was a fastidious-minded man, could neither make up his mind to insist on his rights, nor to allow the duchess to depart. He had been told that once the first victory was won, no matter how, women always came round.

Dismissed in anger by the offended duchess, he ventured to reappear, trembling and very miserable, at three minutes before ten o’clock. At half past ten the duchess got into her carriage and started for Bologna. As soon as she was beyond the boundary of the prince’s dominions she wrote to the count:

“The sacrifice is accomplished. Do not expect me to be cheerful for a month. I shall never see Fabrizio again. I am waiting for you at Bologna, and I will be the Countess Mosca whenever you choose. One thing, only, I ask of you: never force me to reappear in the country I am now leaving; and remember always that instead of a hundred and fifty thousand francs a year, you are going to have thirty or forty thousand at the outside. All the fools about you have stared at you open-mouthed, and now your whole reputation will depend upon how far you choose to condescend to understand their small ideas—‘Tu l’as voulu, Georges Dandin!’”

A week later, the marriage took place at Perugia, in a church which contains the tombs of the count’s ancestors. The prince was in despair. He had sent the duchess three or four couriers, and she had carefully sent him back envelopes which covered his letters, with the seals unbroken. Ernest V had conferred a splendid income on the count, and had given Fabrizio the ribbon of his Order.

“That was what pleased me most about our farewells,” said the count to the new Countess Mosca della Rovere. “We parted the best friends in the world. He gave me a Spanish Order, and diamonds which are worth quite as much as the Order. He told me he would make me a duke, only that he wanted to keep that method of drawing you back to his dominions in his own hands; consequently I am commissioned to inform you (and it is a fine mission for a husband!) that if you will condescend to return to Parma, even for a month, I shall be made a duke, with any title you choose, and you will be given a fine property.”

All this the duchess refused with a sort of horror.

After that scene at the court ball, tolerably decisive as it had appeared, Clelia betrayed no recollection of the love she had momentarily seemed to share. The most vehement remorse had surged over that virtuous and pious nature. Fabrizio understood this very well, and in spite of all the hope he tried to feel, a gloomy sadness overcame his soul. This time, however, his misery did not force him into retirement, as at the period of Clelia’s marriage.

The count had begged his nephew to keep him exactly informed of everything that happened at court, and Fabrizio, who was beginning to realize all he owed him, had resolved to fulfil this mission faithfully. Like every one in the city and at court, Fabrizio had no doubt that his friend nursed the project of returning to the ministry, and wielding greater power than he had ever held before. The count’s forecasts were soon verified. Within six weeks of his departure, Rassi was Prime Minister. Fabio Conti was appointed Minister of War, and the prisons, which the count had well-nigh emptied, began to fill again. When the prince summoned these men to power he fancied he would thereby avenge himself on the duchess. He was crazed by passion, and he hated Mosca as his rival.

Fabrizio had a great deal on his hands. Archbishop Landriani, now seventy-two years old, had fallen into a very weak condition, and hardly ever went beyond his palace doors. His coadjutor was obliged to represent him on almost every occasion.

The Marchesa Crescenzi, overwhelmed by remorse, and terrified by what her religious director said to her, had hit upon an excellent plan for keeping out of Fabrizio’s sight. On the plea that her first confinement was approaching, she had shut herself up within her own palace; but to this palace a huge garden was attached.

To this garden Fabrizio contrived to find access, and along Clelia’s favourite walk he placed nosegays of flowers, arranged in an order which constituted a language, like those she had sent him every evening during the last days of his imprisonment in the Farnese Tower.

This attempt caused the marchesa great annoyance. Her heart throbbed, sometimes with remorse, and then again with passion. For several months she would not go into the palace garden at all; she even scrupled to cast a glance in that direction.

Fabrizio began to believe he was parted from her forever, and despair was taking possession of his soul. The society in which he spent his life was hateful to him, and if he had not been convinced in his heart that the count would never find peace of mind out of office, he would have retired to his little rooms in the archiepiscopal palace. It would have been a comfort to him to live alone with his thoughts, and never to hear a human voice except when he was performing his ecclesiastical functions. “But,” said he to himself, “no one but I can serve the interests of Count and Countess Mosca.”

The prince still treated him with a respect which insured him the foremost rank at court, and this favour was largely owing to his own behaviour. Fabrizio’s extreme reserve, the result of an indifference to all the affections and petty passions that fill the lives of ordinary men, which amounted to positive disgust, had piqued the young prince’s vanity. He would often remark that Fabrizio was as clever as his aunt. The prince’s candid nature had realized half the truth, that no one else about him possessed the same methods of feeling as Fabrizio. A fact which could escape no one, not even the most ordinary courtier, was that Fabrizio’s credit was by no means that of an ordinary coadjutor, but even exceeded the consideration displayed by the sovereign for the archbishop. Fabrizio wrote word to the count that if ever the prince should be clever enough to perceive the muddle into which such ministers as Rassi, Fabio Conti, Zurla, and others of the same calibre had brought his affairs, he, Fabrizio, would be the natural channel whereby the sovereign might make some friendly demonstration, without too great a risk to his own vanity.

“But for the recollection of the fatal words, ‘that child,’” he wrote to Countess Mosca, “applied by a man of genius to an august personage, that august personage would already have exclaimed ‘Come back at once, and rid me of all these vagabonds.’ Even now, if the wife of the man of genius would condescend to any step, even the slightest, the count would be recalled with the greatest joy. But if he will wait till the fruit is thoroughly ripe he will return in far more brilliant fashion. And indeed, the princess’s receptions have grown deadly dull; the only amusement they afford consists in the ridiculous behaviour of Rassi, who, now he is a count, has developed a mania for noble birth. Strict orders have just been issued that no person who can not prove eight quarterings of noble descent is to dare to appear at the princess’s evening receptions. These are the exact terms of the edict. The men who have hitherto had the right to go into the great gallery in the morning, and be present when the sovereign passes through to mass, are to continue in the enjoyment of this privilege. But all new arrivals will have to prove their eight quarterings. À propos of which somebody said, ‘It’s very clear that Rassi knows no quarter.’”

My readers will readily imagine that such letters as these were not confided to the ordinary post. Countess Mosca wrote back from Naples: “We have a concert every Thursday, and a party every Sunday. Our rooms are absolutely crowded. The count is delighted with his excavations; he sets apart a thousand francs a month for them, and has just brought down labourers from the mountains of the Abruzzi, who only cost him twenty-three sous a day. You really ought to come and see us. This is more than the twentieth time that I have summoned you, ungrateful boy!”

Fabrizio had no intention of obeying the summons. Even his daily letter to the count or countess was an almost unendurable weariness to him. My readers will forgive him when they learn that a whole year had thus passed away without his being able to address a single word to the marchesa. All his attempts to enter into some kind of correspondence with her were repulsed with horror. The habitual silence which, out of sheer weariness of life, Fabrizio kept everywhere, except at court, and when performing his religious functions, added to the perfect purity of his morals, had won him such extraordinary veneration that he made up his mind, at last, to follow his aunt’s advice.

“The prince,” she wrote, “venerates you so deeply that you must expect to fall into disgrace shortly. Then he will shower marks of neglect upon you, and the vile scorn of the courtiers will follow on his. All these small despots, however honest-hearted they may be, change like the fashions, and on the same account—out of boredom. The only way in which you can insure yourself support against the sovereign’s whims is by preaching. You improvise poetry so well! Try to talk, for half an hour, about religion! You will talk heresy at first, but pay a learned and discreet theologian to listen to your sermons, and point out their faults to you, and the next time you preach you can correct them.”

The misery of mind engendered by a crossed love makes any effort requiring attention and activity an odious burden. But Fabrizio reminded himself that his influence over the populace, if he acquired any, might some day be useful to his aunt and to the count, for whom his admiration daily increased, in proportion to his own knowledge of life and the wickedness of men. So he made up his mind to preach, and his success, the way to which had been prepared by his emaciation and his threadbare coat, was unexampled. His sermons breathed a deep sadness, which, combined with his handsome face, and the stories of the high favour in which he stood at court, conquered every woman’s heart. The ladies discovered that he had been one of the bravest captains in Napoleon’s army, and before long, this ridiculous story was absolutely believed. The seats in the churches in which he was to preach were kept beforehand; the poorer folk would take possession of them at five o’clock in the morning, and turn money by the speculation.

So great was Fabrizio’s success, that at last an idea which changed his every feeling flashed across his brain. Might not the Marchesa Crescenzi come some day, were it out of mere curiosity, to hear him preach? And of a sudden the delighted public perceived that his eloquence increased twofold. In moments of excitement he ventured on word-pictures, the boldness of which would have made the most practised orators tremble. Occasionally, quite forgetting himself, he would be swept away by a wave of passionate inspiration, and the whole of his audience would be melted into tears, but in vain did his aggrottato[6] eye scan every face turned toward the pulpit, in search of that one being whose presence would have meant so much to him.

“But if ever that happiness does come to me,” he thought, “I shall either faint away, or I shall stop dead short in my discourse.” To protect himself from this last difficulty, he composed a sort of tender and passionate prayer, which he always laid on a stool in his pulpit. His intention was to begin to read this composition if the marchesa’s presence should ever make it impossible for him to improvise a word.

One day he heard, through those of the marchesa’s servants who were in his pay, that orders had been given to make the box belonging to the Casa Crescenzi, at the principal theatre, ready for the next evening. It was more than a year since the marchesa had appeared in any theatre, and she was breaking her habit now, in order to hear a tenor who had created a furore, and crammed the building every evening. Fabrizio’s first feeling was one of the greatest joy. “At last I shall be able to look at her for a whole evening. They say she has grown very pale.” And he tried to fancy how that lovely head must look, with all its tints dulled by the struggle that had passed within its owner’s soul. His faithful Ludovico, quite alarmed by what he called his master’s madness, secured, though with much difficulty, a box on the fourth tier, almost opposite the marchesa’s. An idea occurred to Fabrizio. “I hope I may put it into her head to come and listen to my sermon, and I will choose a very small church, so that I may be able to see her well.” Fabrizio usually preached at three o’clock. Early in the morning of the day on which the marchesa was to go to the theatre he announced that as some duty connected with his office would keep him at the archiepiscopal palace the whole day long, he would preach, as an exception, at half past eight, that night, in the little Church of Santa Maria della Visitazione, which stood just opposite one of the wings of the Palazzo Crescenzi. He sent Ludovico to the Nuns of the Visitation with an enormous quantity of tapers, and begged them to light their church up brilliantly. He obtained a whole company of grenadiers of the guard, and a sentry, with fixed bayonet, was set on each chapel, to prevent any thieving. His sermon was not to begin until half past eight, but at two o’clock in the day the church was completely filled. My readers will conceive what a stir there was in the usually quiet street overlooked by the noble outlines of the Palazzo Crescenzi. Fabrizio had given out that, in honour of Our Lady of Pity, his subject would be the pity which a generous heart should feel for a person in misfortune, even if that person be a guilty one.

Disguised with every possible care, Fabrizio entered his box at the theatre as soon as the doors were opened, and before it was lighted up. Toward eight o’clock the performance began, and a few minutes afterward he experienced a joy which no one who has not felt it can conceive. He saw the door of the Crescenzi box open, and very soon the marchesa entered it. He had not obtained such a good view of her since the day when she had given him her fan. Fabrizio thought he would have choked with joy. His sensations were so extraordinary that he said to himself: “Perhaps I am going to die. What a blessed ending to my sad life! Perhaps I shall fall down in this box. The good people waiting for me in the Church of the Visitation will wait in vain, and to-morrow they will hear their future archbishop has been found in an opera box, disguised as a servant, and dressed in livery. Farewell, then, to all my reputation! And what care I for my reputation?”

However, toward a quarter to nine Fabrizio made a great effort, and leaving his box on the fourth tier, he proceeded on foot, and with the greatest difficulty, to the place where he was to change his undress livery for more appropriate habiliments. He did not reach the Church of the Visitation till near nine o’clock, and then, so white and weak did he appear, that a report spread through the church that the coadjutor would not be able to preach that night. My readers will imagine all the attentions that were lavished on him by the nuns, through the grating of their inner parlour, in which he had taken refuge. The good ladies talked a great deal. Fabrizio asked them to leave him alone for a few minutes, and then he hurried off to his pulpit. One of his faithful adherents had told him, about three o’clock, that the church was quite full, but full of people of the lowest class, apparently attracted by the sight of the lighted tapers. When Fabrizio entered the pulpit he was agreeably surprised to find all the chairs occupied by young people of fashion, and older ones holding the most important positions in the city. He began his sermon with a few apologetic sentences, which were received with suppressed exclamations of admiration. Then came a passionate description of the unhappy being whom all men must pity if they would worthily honour the Madonna of Pity, who herself suffered so sorely upon earth. The orator was very much agitated; at times he could hardly speak so as to make himself heard in the far corners of the little church. In the eyes of all the women, and many of the men, his own excessive pallor made him look like the unhappy being they were called upon to pity. A very few minutes after the words of excuse with which his sermon opened, his audience perceived that he was not in his ordinary condition. His sadness, that evening, was deeper and more tender than it generally was; at one moment tears were visible in his eyes, and the whole audience broke into a sob, so loud that it quite interrupted his discourse.

This first interruption was followed by half a score. There were cries of admiration, bursts of tears, and incessant exclamations, such as “O Holy Madonna!” “O great God!” So general and so inexpressible was the emotion of this select audience, that nobody was ashamed to cry out, and the people who did so were not considered ridiculous by their neighbours.

During the rest which is usually taken in the middle of a sermon, Fabrizio was told that not a soul remained in the theatre. Only one lady, the Marchesa Crescenzi, was still in her box. During this interval of rest, a great noise suddenly rose in the building; the faithful were voting a statue to the coadjutor. The reception of the later half of his discourse was so extraordinary, and unrestrained outbursts of Christian repentance were so frequently replaced by exclamations of admiration which were utterly profane, that before he left the pulpit he felt himself obliged to address a sort of reprimand to his auditors. Whereupon every one walked out of the church in a sedate and formal manner, and, once the street was reached, indulged in an outburst of fervent applause, and shouts of “Evviva del Dongo!”

Fabrizio hastily looked at his watch, and rushed to a little grated window which lighted the narrow passage from the organ to the convent. As a civility to the incredible and unusual crowd which filled the street, the porter of the Palazzo Crescenzi had garnished the iron hands which we often see projecting from the walls of palaces built in the middle ages, with a dozen torches. After a few moments, and long before the shouting had ceased, the event which Fabrizio was awaiting with so much anxiety occurred—the marchesa’s carriage, bringing her back from the theatre, appeared in the street. The coachman was obliged to pull up, and it was only at a foot’s pace and by dint of much shouting that he was able to bring the vehicle to the door.

The marchesa’s heart, like that of any person in sorrow, had been touched by the noble music. But the utter solitude of the theatre, once she had learned its cause, had affected her far more. In the middle of the second act, and while the splendid tenor was on the stage, even the people in the pit had suddenly left their seats to go and try their chance of getting inside the Church of the Visitation. When the crowd stopped the marchesa before she could get to her own door, she broke into tears. “I had not chosen ill!” said she to herself.

But just on account of this moment of emotion, she steadily repulsed the suggestions of the marchese, and all the habitués of the house, who could not conceive why she did not go to hear such an astonishing preacher. “Why,” they cried, “he triumphs over the finest tenor in Italy!”

“If I once see him I am lost!” said the marchesa to herself.

In vain did Fabrizio, whose powers seemed to grow more brilliant every day, preach again, several times over, in the little church near the Palazzo Crescenzi. He never beheld Clelia, who, indeed, ended by being seriously vexed, at last, by his affectation in coming to disturb her quiet street, after having driven her out of her garden.

Fabrizio, as his eyes ran over the faces of the women listening to him, had for some time noticed a very pretty dark-complexioned countenance, and a pair of eyes that blazed. These splendid eyes were generally swimming in tears by the time he had reached the eighth or tenth sentence in his sermon. When Fabrizio was obliged to say things that were lengthy and wearisome to himself, he was rather fond of looking at this pretty head, the youth of which attracted him. He found out that the young lady was called Annetta Marini, the only child and heiress of the richest clothier in Parma, who had died some months previously.

Soon the name of Annetta Marini was on every one’s lips. She had fallen desperately in love with Fabrizio. When these wonderful sermons had begun, it had been already settled that she was to marry Giacomo Rassi, the eldest son of the Minister of Justice, a young man who had appeared by no means displeasing to her. But when she had heard Monsignore Fabrizio preach twice, she vowed she would not marry at all, and when she was asked the reason of this strange alteration, she replied that it was not worthy of any honest girl to marry one man when she felt she was desperately in love with another. At first her family vainly sought to discover who that other might be.

But the scalding tears Annetta shed during Fabrizio’s sermons put them on the track. When her mother and uncles asked her whether she loved Monsignore Fabrizio, she answered boldly, that, as the truth had been found out, she would not soil herself by telling a lie. She added that as she had no hope of marrying the man she adored, she was at all events resolved her eyes should no longer be offended by the sight of young Count Rassi’s ridiculous figure. Within two days the scorn thus cast on the son of a man who was the envy of the entire middle class was the talk of the whole town. Annetta Marini’s answer was reckoned delightful, and every soul repeated it. It was talked of at the Palazzo Crescenzi, as everywhere else.

Clelia took good care never to open her lips on such a subject in her drawing-room. But she questioned her waiting-woman, and on the following Sunday, after she had heard mass in the chapel within her palace, she took her waiting-woman with her in her carriage, and went to a second mass in the Signorina Marini’s parish church. Here she found all the fine gentlemen in the town, attracted by the same object. They were standing round the door. Soon a great stir among them convinced the marchesa that Signorina Marini was entering the church. From the place she occupied she could see her very well, and, pious though she was, she did not pay very much attention to the mass. Clelia thought this middle-class beauty wore a resolute look, which to her mind would only have been appropriate in a married woman of several years’ standing. Otherwise her figure and waist were admirably neat; and her eyes, as they say in Lombardy, seemed to hold conversations with everything they looked at.

Before mass was over the marchesa slipped out.

The very next day the habitués of the Palazzo Crescenzi, who came there every evening, were retailing another story of Annetta Marini’s absurdities. As her mother, fearing she might do something foolish, kept her very short of money, Annetta had gone to see the famous painter Hayez, who was then at Parma, decorating the drawing-room of the Palazzo Crescenzi, and had offered him a magnificent diamond ring given her by her father if he would paint her Monsignore del Dongo’s picture. But she desired the monsignore might be represented in ordinary black, and not in priestly garb. Consequently, on the previous evening, the fair Annetta’s mother had been greatly surprised and sorely scandalized at discovering a splendid picture of Fabrizio del Dongo, in the finest gold frame that had been gilded at Parma for the last twenty years, in her daughter’s chamber.

[6] Raised in a frown from intensity of search.