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This novel was written in the year 1830, in a place some three hundred leagues from Paris. Many years before that, when our armies were pouring across Europe, I chanced to be billeted in the house of a canon. It was at Padua—a fortunate city, where, as in Venice, men’s pleasure is their chief business, and leaves them little time for anger with their neighbours. My stay was of some duration, and a friendship sprang up between the canon and myself. Passing through Padua again, in 1830, I hurried to the good canon’s house. He was dead, I knew, but I had set my heart on looking once more upon the room in which we had spent many a pleasant evening, sadly remembered in later days. I found the canon’s nephew, and his wife, who both received me like an old friend. A few acquaintances dropped in, and the party did not break up till a late hour. The nephew had an excellent sambaglione fetched from the Café Pedrocchi. But what especially caused us to linger was the story of the Duchess Sanseverina, to which some chance allusion was made, and the whole of which the nephew was good enough to relate, for my benefit. “ In the country whither I am bound,” said I to my friends, “I am very unlikely to find a house like this one. To while away the long evenings I will write a novel on the life of your charming Duchess Sanseverina. I will follow in the steps of that old story-teller of yours, Bandello, Bishop of Agen, who would have thought it a crime to overlook the true incidents of his tale, or add others to it.” “ In that case,” quoth the nephew, “I will lend you my uncle’s diaries. Under the head of Parma he mentions some of the court intrigues of that place, at the period when the influence of the duchess was supreme. But beware! it is anything but a moral tale, and now that you French people pique yourselves on your Gospel purity, it may earn you a highly criminal reputation.”
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LIFE OF STENDHAL
CHAPTER I MILAN IN 1796
Marie Henri Beyle, who called himself Stendhal, was born at Grenoble on the 23d of January, 1783. His father, Joseph Chérubin Beyle, was a lawyer and a member of the parliament of Dauphiné. His childhood and boyhood, excited by echoes of the Revolution, but repressed in the bosom of a royalist and conservative family, were turbulent and distressing; in later years Grenoble was to him “like the recollection of an abominable indigestion.” He escaped from it in 1799, and spent a short time in the War Office in Paris. In 1800 he went off to the wars, saw Italy for the first time, was present at the battle of Marengo, and fought his first duel at Milan. From 1801 to 1806 Beyle was in Paris and Grenoble, much occupied with affairs of the heart. In the latter year he entered Napoleon’s army, and remained in it until after the retreat from Moscow in 1814. He was made “intendant militaire,” and his zeal commended him to the Emperor. On one occasion, called upon to raise five million francs from a German state, Beyle produced seven millions. He seems to have been one of the few officers who kept their heads in the flood of disaster; during the retreat from Russia he was always clean-shaved and perfectly dressed. But the fatigues of 1814 shattered his health, and the ruin of Napoleon his hopes; he was obliged to withdraw to Como to recover his composure. He refused an administrative post in Paris under the new government, and settled definitely at Milan. His career of violent action had exhausted his spirits; he now adopted the mode of life of a dilettante. He gave himself up to music, books, and love. His first work, the “Letters Written from Vienna,” appeared in 1814; this essay, a musical criticism, was followed in 1817 by the “History of Italian Painting,” and “Rome, Naples, and Florence.” He became poor, and in 1821, being suspected of Italianism, was expelled from Milan by the Austrian police; he took refuge in Paris. Stendhal’s essay on “Love,” the earliest of his really remarkable books, was published in 1822, but attracted no attention whatever; in eleven years only seventeen copies of it were sold. His first novel, “Armance,” belongs to 1827. In 1830 he was appointed consul at Trieste, and while he was there the great novel, “Le Rouge et le Noir,” appeared in Paris without attracting any attention. Stendhal was so miserable at Trieste that he contrived to exchange his consulate for that of Civita Vecchia, which he held until he died. In spite of the complete and astonishing failures of each of his successive books, he continued to add to their number. He had but “one hundred readers” in all Europe, but these he continued to address. In 1838 he published a mystification, the supposed “Memoirs in France” of a commercial traveller. Stendhal did not taste literary success in any degree whatever until, in 1839, and at the age of fifty-six, he produced “La Chartreuse de Parme.” This novel gave him fame, but he did not long enjoy it. On the 23d of March, 1842, having reached his sixtieth year, he died in Paris, after a stroke of paralysis. He lies buried at Montmartre, under the epitaph, in Italian, which he had written for the purpose: “Here lies Arrigo Beyle, the Milanese. Lived, Wrote, Died.” The life of Stendhal was obscure and isolated throughout; but since his death he has excited boundless curiosity, and his influence has been steadily advancing. He said of himself that he could afford to wait, that he would certainly be appreciated in 1880. He proved himself a true prophet, for it was just forty years after his death that his reputation reached its highest pinnacle, and that, with the discovery of his Correspondence, Stendhal entered into his glory.
This novel was written in the year 1830, in a place some three hundred leagues from Paris. Many years before that, when our armies were pouring across Europe, I chanced to be billeted in the house of a canon. It was at Padua—a fortunate city, where, as in Venice, men’s pleasure is their chief business, and leaves them little time for anger with their neighbours. My stay was of some duration, and a friendship sprang up between the canon and myself.
Passing through Padua again, in 1830, I hurried to the good canon’s house. He was dead, I knew, but I had set my heart on looking once more upon the room in which we had spent many a pleasant evening, sadly remembered in later days. I found the canon’s nephew, and his wife, who both received me like an old friend. A few acquaintances dropped in, and the party did not break up till a late hour. The nephew had an excellent sambaglione fetched from the Café Pedrocchi. But what especially caused us to linger was the story of the Duchess Sanseverina, to which some chance allusion was made, and the whole of which the nephew was good enough to relate, for my benefit.
“ In the country whither I am bound,” said I to my friends, “I am very unlikely to find a house like this one. To while away the long evenings I will write a novel on the life of your charming Duchess Sanseverina. I will follow in the steps of that old story-teller of yours, Bandello, Bishop of Agen, who would have thought it a crime to overlook the true incidents of his tale, or add others to it.”
“ In that case,” quoth the nephew, “I will lend you my uncle’s diaries. Under the head of Parma he mentions some of the court intrigues of that place, at the period when the influence of the duchess was supreme. But beware! it is anything but a moral tale, and now that you French people pique yourselves on your Gospel purity, it may earn you a highly criminal reputation.”
I send forth my novel without having made any change in the manuscript written in 1830. This course may present two drawbacks:
The first affects the reader. The characters, being Italian, may not interest him, for the hearts and souls of that nation are very different from the hearts and souls of Frenchmen. The Italians are a sincere and worthy folk, who, except when they are offended, say what they think. Vanity only attacks them in fits. Then it becomes a passion, and is known as puntiglio. And, further, among this nation poverty is not considered a cause of ridicule.
The second drawback is connected with the author.
I will avow that I have been bold enough to leave my personages in possession of the natural roughnesses of their various characters. But to atone for this—and I proclaim it loudly—I cast blame of the most highly moral nature upon many of their actions. Where would be the use of my endowing them with the high morality and pleasing charm of the French, who love money above every other thing, and are seldom led into sin either by love or hate? The Italians of my novel are of a very different stamp. And, indeed, it appears to me that every stage of six hundred miles northward from the regions of the South brings us to a different landscape, and to a different kind of novel. The old canon’s charming niece had known the duchess, and had even been very much attached to her. She has begged me not to alter anything concerning these adventures of her friend, which are certainly open to censure.
On the 15th of May, 1796, General Bonaparte marched into the city of Milan, at the head of the youthful army which had just crossed the Bridge of Lodi, and taught the world that, after the lapse of centuries, Cæsar and Alexander had found a successor at last.
The prodigies of genius and daring witnessed by Italy in the course of a few months, roused her people from their slumbers. But one week before the arrival of the French, the Milanese still took them for a horde of brigands, whose habit it was to fly before the troops of his Royal and Imperial Majesty. Such, at all events, was the information repeated three times a week in their little newspaper, no bigger than a man’s hand, and printed on dirty-looking paper.
In the middle ages, the Milanese had been as brave as the French of the Revolution, and their courage earned the complete destruction of their city by the German emperor. But their chief occupation, since they had become his “faithful subjects,” was to print sonnets on pink silk handkerchiefs whenever any rich or well-born young lady was given in marriage. Two or three years after that great epoch in her life the said young lady chose herself a cavaliere servente; the name of this cicisbeo, selected by the husband’s family, occasionally held an honoured place in the marriage contract. Between such effeminate habits and the deep emotions stirred by the unexpected arrival of the French army, a great gulf lay. Before long a new and passionate order of things had supervened. On May 15, 1796, a whole people became aware that all it had hitherto respected was supremely ridiculous, and occasionally hateful, to boot. The departure of the last Austrian regiment marked the downfall of the old ideas. To expose one’s life became the fashionable thing. People perceived, after these centuries of hypocrisy and insipidities, that the only chance of happiness lay in loving with real passion, and knowing how to risk one’s life upon occasion. The continuance of the watchful despotism of Charles V and Philip II had plunged the Lombards into impenetrable darkness. They overthrew these rulers’ statues, and forthwith found themselves bathed in light. For fifty years, while Voltaire’s Encyclopédie was appearing in France, the monks had been assuring the good folk of Milan that to learn to read, or to learn anything on earth, was idle vexation of the spirit, and that if they would only pay their priest’s dues honestly, and tell him all their small sins faithfully, they were almost certain to secure a comfortable place in paradise. To complete the emasculation of this whilom doughty people, the Austrian had sold them, on moderate terms, the privilege of not furnishing recruits to the imperial army.
In 1796, the Milanese army consisted of eighty “facchini” in red coats, who kept guard over the town, assisted by four splendid Hungarian regiments. Morals were exceedingly loose, but real passion excessively rare. Apart from the inconvenience of being obliged to tell everything to his priest, the Milanese of the period of 1790 really did not know the meaning of any vehement desire. The worthy citizens were still trammelled by certain monarchical bonds, which had their vexatious side. For instance, the archduke, who resided in the city and governed it in the Emperor’s name, had pitched on the very lucrative notion of dealing in corn stuffs. Consequently, no peasant could sell his crops until his Imperial Highness had filled up his granaries.
In May, 1796, three days after the entry of the French, a young miniature painter of the name of Gros, rather a mad fellow—he has since become famous—who had arrived with the troops, heard somebody at the Café dei Servi, then a fashionable resort, relate the doings of the archduke, who was a very fat man. Seizing the list of ices, printed on a slip of common yellowish paper, he sketched on its blank side the portly archduke, with immoderate quantities of corn, instead of blood, pouring out of the hole in his stomach, made by a French soldier’s bayonet. In this land of crafty despotism, that which we call jest or caricature was unknown. The drawing left by Gros on the café table acted like a miracle from heaven. During the night the sketch was engraved; on the morrow twenty thousand copies of it were sold.
That same day the walls were posted with the proclamation of a war tax of six millions of francs, levied for the support of the French army, which, though it had just won six battles and conquered twenty provinces, was short of shoes, pantaloons, coats, and hats.
So great was the volume of happiness and pleasure which poured into Lombardy with these Frenchmen, poor as they were, that nobody, save the priests and a few nobles, perceived the weight of the tax, which was soon followed by many others. The French soldiers laughed and sang from morning till night. They were all of them under five-and-twenty, and their general in chief, who numbered twenty-seven years, was said to be the oldest man in his command. All this youth and mirth and gay carelessness made cheery answer to the furious sermons of the monks, who for six months past had been asserting from the pulpit of every sacred edifice that these Frenchmen were all monsters, forced, on pain of death, to burn down everything, and cut off every head, and that for this last purpose a guillotine was borne at the head of every regiment.
In country places the French soldier was to be seen sitting at cottage doors rocking the owner’s baby; and almost every evening some drummer would tune up his violin, and dancing would begin. The French square dances were far too difficult and complicated to be taught to the peasant women by the soldiers, who, indeed, knew but little about them. So it was the women who taught the Frenchmen the monferino, the saltarello, and other Italian dances.
The officers had been billeted, as far as possible, upon rich families. They were in sore need of an opportunity to retrieve past losses. A lieutenant named Robert, for instance, was billeted in the palace of the Marchesa del Dongo. When this officer, a tolerably handy young recruit, entered into occupation of his apartment, his sole worldly wealth consisted of a six-franc piece, which had been paid him at Piacenza. After the passage of the Bridge of Lodi he had stripped a handsome Austrian officer, killed by a round shot, of a splendid new pair of nankeen pantaloons. Never did garment appear at a more appropriate moment! His officer’s epaulets were woollen, and the cloth of his coat was sewed to the sleeve linings, to keep the bits together. A yet more melancholy circumstance was that the soles of his shoes were composed of portions of hats, picked up on the battle-field beyond the Bridge of Lodi. These improvised soles were bound to his shoes by strings, which were aggressively visible—so much so, in fact, that when the major-domo of the household made his appearance in Robert’s room, to invite him to dine with the marchesa, the lieutenant was cast into a state of mortal confusion. He and his orderly spent the two hours intervening before the dreaded repast in trying to stitch the coat together, and dye the unlucky shoe-strings with ink. At last the awful moment struck. “Never in all my life did I feel so uncomfortable,” said Lieutenant Robert to me. “The ladies thought I was going to frighten them—but I trembled much more than they! I kept my eyes on my shoes, and could not contrive to move with ease or grace.
“ The Marchesa del Dongo,” he added, “was then in the heyday of her beauty. You know what she was, with her lovely eyes, angelic in their gentleness, and the pretty, fair hair, which made so perfect a frame for the oval of her charming face. In my room there was an Herodia, by Leonardo da Vinci, which might have been her portrait. God willed that her supernatural beauty should so overwhelm my senses as to make me quite forget my own appearance. For two years I had been in the Genoese mountains, looking at nothing but ugliness and misery. I ventured to say a few words about my delight.
“ But I had too much good sense to dally long with compliments. While I was making mine, I perceived in a palatial marble dining hall some dozen lackeys and men servants, dressed in what then appeared to me the height of magnificence. Think of it! The rascals not only wore good shoes, but silver buckles into the bargain! Out of the corner of my eye I could see their stupid gaze riveted on my coat, and perhaps, too—and this wrung my heart—upon my shoes. With one word I could have terrified the whole set, but how was I to put them in their place without running the risk of alarming the ladies? For to give herself a little courage, the marchesa—she has told me so a hundred times over since—had sent to the convent, where she was then at school, for her husband’s sister, Gina del Dongo, who afterward became that charming Contessa Pietranera. No woman was ever more gay and lovable in prosperity, and none ever surpassed her in courage and serenity under Fortune’s frowns.
“ Gina, who may then have been thirteen, but looked eighteen, frank and lively, as you know, was so afraid of bursting out laughing at my dress that she dared not even eat. The marchesa, on the contrary, overwhelmed me with stiff civilities; she read my impatience and discomfort in my eyes. In a word, I cut a sorry figure. I was chewing the cud of scorn, which no Frenchman is supposed to be capable of doing. At last Heaven sent me a brilliant notion. I began to tell the ladies about my poverty and the misery we had suffered during those two years in the Genoese mountains, where the folly of our old generals had kept us. ‘There,’ said I, ‘they gave us assignats which the people would not take in payment, and three ounces of bread a day.’ Before I had been talking for two minutes the kind marchesa’s eyes were full of tears and Gina had grown quite serious. ‘What, lieutenant!’ she cried, ‘three ounces of bread?’
“‘ Yes, mademoiselle. But, on the other hand, the supply failed three times in the week, and as the peasants with whom we lived were even poorer than ourselves, we used to give them a little of our bread.’
“ When we rose from table I offered the marchesa my arm, escorted her as far as the drawing-room door, then, hastily retracing my steps, presented the servant who had waited upon me at dinner with the solitary coin on the spending of which I had built such castles in the air.
“ A week later,” Robert went on, “when it had become quite clear that the French did not guillotine anybody, the Marchese del Dongo returned from Grianta, his country house on Lake Como, where he had valiantly taken refuge when the army drew near, leaving his young and lovely wife and his sister to the chances of war. The marchese’s hatred of us was only equalled by his dread. Both were immeasurable. It used to amuse me to see his large, pale, hypocritical face when he was trying to be polite to me. The day after his return to Milan I received three ells of cloth and two hundred francs out of the six millions. I put on fresh plumage and became the ladies cavalier, for ball giving began.”
Lieutenant Robert’s story was very much that of all the French soldiers. Instead of laughing at the brave fellows’ poverty, people pitied them and learned to love them. This period of unforeseen happiness and rapture lasted only two short years. So excessive and so general was the frolic that I can not possibly convey an idea of it, unless it be by means of the following profound historic reflection: This nation had been bored for a century!
The sensuality natural to southern countries had formerly reigned at the courts of those famous Milanese dukes, the Sforza and the Visconti. But since the year 1624, when the Spaniards had seized the province, and held it under the proud, taciturn, distrustful sway of masters who suspected revolt in every corner, merriment had fled away, and the populace, aping its rulers’ habits, was much more prone to avenge the slightest insult with a dagger thrust, than to enjoy the moment as it passed.
But between May 15, 1796, when the French entered Milan, and April, 1799, when they were driven out of the city by the battle of Cassano, wild merriment, gaiety, voluptuous pleasure, and oblivion of every sad, or even rational sentiment, reached such a pitch that old millionaire merchants, usurers, and notaries were actually quoted by name as having forgotten their morose and money-getting habits during that period. One might have found a few families of the highest rank that had retired to their country places to sulk at the general cheerfulness and universal joy. And it is a fact, further, that these families had been honoured with a disagreeable amount of attention by the authorities in charge of the war tax, levied for the benefit of the French troops.
The Marchese del Dongo, disgusted at the sight of so much gaiety, had been one of the first to return to his magnificent country seat at Grianta, beyond Como, whither the ladies of his family conducted Lieutenant Robert. This castle, standing in what is probably a unique position, on a plateau some one hundred and fifty feet above the splendid lake, and commanding a great portion of it, had once been a fortress. It had been built, as the numerous marble slabs bearing the family arms attested, during the fifteenth century. The drawbridges were still to be seen, and the deep moats—now dry, to be sure. Still, with its walls eighty feet high and six feet thick, the castle was safe from a coup de main, and this fact endeared it to the suspicious marchese. Living there, surrounded by five-and-twenty or thirty servants, whom he believed to be devoted to him—apparently because he never spoke to them without abusing them—he was less harried by fear than at Milan.
This alarm was not entirely unwarranted. The marchese was in active correspondence with an Austrian spy stationed on the Swiss frontier, three leagues from Grianta, to assist the escape of prisoners taken in battle, and the French generals might have taken this exchange of notes very seriously.
The marchese had left his young wife at Milan to manage the family affairs. She it was who had to find means of supplying the contributions levied on the Casa del Dongo, as it was locally called, and to endeavour to get them reduced, which involved the necessity of her seeing the noblemen who had accepted public positions, and even some very influential persons who were not noble at all. A great event occurred in the family. The marchese had arranged a marriage for his young sister Gina with a gentleman of great wealth and the very highest descent. But he powdered his head. Wherefore Gina received him with shrieks of laughter, and shortly committed the folly of marrying Count Pietranera. He, too, was a high-born gentleman, and very good-looking as well, but he was ruined, as his father had been before him, and—crowning disgrace!—he was an eager partisan of the modern ideas! The marchese’s despair was completed by the fact that Pietranera was a lieutenant in the Italian Legion.
After two years of extravagance and bliss, the Paris Directorate, which took on all the airs of a well-established sovereignty, began to manifest a mortal hatred of everything that rose above mediocrity. The incapable generals sent to the Army of Italy lost a series of battles on those very plains of Verona which but two years previously had witnessed the feats of Arcola and Lonato. The Austrians approached Milan; Lieutenant Robert, now a major, was wounded at the battle of Cassano, and came back for the last time to the house of his friend the Marchesa del Dongo. It was a sad farewell. Robert departed with Count Pietranera, who was following the French retreat on Novi. The young countess, whose brother had refused to give up her fortune, followed the retreating army in a cart.
Then began that period of reaction and return to the old ideas which the Milanese call “i tredici mesi” (the thirteen months) because their lucky star did not permit this relapse into imbecility to last beyond the battle of Marengo. Everything that was old, bigoted, morose, and gloomy came back to the head of affairs and of society. Before long, those who had remained faithful to the old order were telling the villagers that Napoleon had met the fate he so richly deserved, and had been hanged by the Mamelukes in Egypt.
Among the men who had retired to sulk in their country houses, and who now came back, thirsting for vengeance, the Marchese del Dongo distinguished himself by his eagerness. His zeal naturally bore him to the head of the party. The gentlemen composing it, very amiable fellows when they were not in a fright, but who were still in a state of trepidation, contrived to circumvent the Austrian general, who, though rather of a kindly disposition, allowed himself to be persuaded that severity was a mark of statesmanship, and ordered the arrest of a hundred and fifty patriots. They were the best men Italy then possessed.
Soon they were all deported to the Bocche de Cattaro, and cast into subterranean dungeons, where damp and, especially, starvation wreaked prompt and thorough justice on the villains.
The Marchese del Dongo was appointed to an important post; and as the meanest avarice accompanied his numerous other noble qualities, he publicly boasted that he had not sent a single crown to his sister, the Countess Pietranera. This lady, still fathoms deep in love, would not forsake her husband, and was starving with him in France. The kind-hearted marchesa was in despair. At last she contrived to abstract a few small diamonds from her jewel-case, which her husband took from her every night and locked up in an iron box under his bed. She had brought him a dowry of eight hundred thousand francs, and he allowed her eighty francs a month for her personal expenses. During the thirteen months of the absence of the French from Milan, this woman, timid as she was, found pretexts of one sort or another which enabled her always to dress in black.
It must be confessed here that, after the example of many serious authors, we have begun the story of our hero a year before his birth. This important personage is no other, in fact, than Fabrizio Valserra, Marchesino del Dongo, as he would be called at Milan. He had just condescended to come into the world when the French were driven out, the chances of his birth making him the second son of that most noble Marchese del Dongo, with whose large, pallid countenance, deceitful smile, and boundless hatred of the new order of ideas, my readers are already acquainted. The whole of the family fortune was entailed on the eldest boy, Ascanio del Dongo, the perfect image of his father. He was eight years old, and Fabrizio two, when, like a flash, that General Bonaparte whom all well-born folk believed to have been hanged long since, descended from Mount St. Bernard. He made his entry into Milan; the event is still unique in history. Conceive a whole population over head and ears in love! A few days later Napoleon won the battle of Marengo. I need not tell the rest. The rapture of the Milanese overflowed the cup. But this time it was mingled with thoughts of vengeance. A good-natured folk had been taught to hate. Soon the remnant of the patriots exiled to Cattaro reappeared, and their return was celebrated by national festivities. Their pale faces, great startled eyes, and emaciated limbs, contrasted strangely with the joy that reigned on every side. Their arrival was the signal for the departure of the families most concerned in their banishment. The Marchese del Dongo was one of the first to flee to his house at Grianta. The heads of the great families were filled with rage and terror, but their wives and daughters, remembering the delights of the first French occupation, sighed regretfully for Milan and the gay balls which, once Marengo was over, were given at the Casa Tanzi. A few days after the victory the French general charged with the duty of maintaining quiet in Lombardy became aware that all the tenants of the noble families, and all the old women in the country, far from dwelling on the wonderful victory which had changed the fate of Italy, and reconquered thirteen fortresses in one day, were thinking of nothing but the prophecy of San Giovità, the chief patron saint of Brescia, according to which sacred pronouncement the prosperity of Napoleon and of the French nation was to end just thirteen weeks after Marengo. Some slight excuse for the Marchese del Dongo and all the sulky country nobility is to be found in the fact that they really and truly did believe in this prophecy. None of these people had read four books in his life. They openly prepared to return to Milan at the end of the thirteenth week, but as time went on, it was marked by fresh successes on the French side. Napoleon, who had returned to Paris, saved the revolution from within by his wise decrees, even as he had saved it from foreign attack at Marengo. Then the Lombard nobles in their country refuges discovered that they had misunderstood the prediction of the patron saint of Brescia. He must have meant thirteen months instead of thirteen weeks! But the thirteen months slipped by, and the prosperity of France seemed to rise higher day by day.
We pass over the ten years of happiness and progress between 1800 and 1810. Fabrizio spent the earliest of them at Grianta, where he dealt out many hard knocks among the little peasant boys, and received them back with interest, but learned nothing—not even to read. Later he was sent to the Jesuit school at Milan. The marchese, his father, insisted that he should learn Latin, not out of those ancient authors who are always holding forth about republics, but out of a splendid tome enriched with more than a hundred and fifty engravings, a masterpiece of seventeenth-century art, the Latin Genealogy of the Valserra, Marchesi del Dongo, published by Fabrizio del Dongo, Archbishop of Parma, in the year 1650. The Valserra were essentially a fighting race, and these engravings represented numerous battles, in which some hero of the name was always depicted as laying about mightily with his sword.
This book was a great delight to young Fabrizio. His mother, who adored him, was allowed now and then to go to Milan to see him, but her husband never offered to pay the cost of these journeys. The money was always lent her by her sister-in-law, the charming Countess Pietranera, who, after the return of the French, had become one of the most brilliant of the ladies at the court of the Viceroy of Italy, Prince Eugène.
After Fabrizio had made his first communion, the countess persuaded the marchese, who still lived in voluntary exile, to allow the boy to pay her occasional visits. He struck her as being out of the common, clever, very serious, but handsome, and no discredit to a fashionable lady’s drawing-room—though he was utterly ignorant, and hardly knew how to write. The countess, who carried her characteristic enthusiasm into everything she did, promised her protection to the head of the Jesuit house if only her nephew Fabrizio made astonishing progress in his studies, and won several prizes at the close of the year. To put him in the way of earning such rewards, she sent for him every Saturday night, and frequently did not restore him to his teachers till the Wednesday or Thursday following. Though the Jesuits were tenderly cherished by the Viceroy, their presence in Italy was forbidden by the laws of the kingdom, and the Superior of the college, a clever man, realized all the benefits that might accrue from his relations with a lady who was all-powerful at court. He was too wise to complain of Fabrizio’s absences, and at the end of the year five first prizes were conferred on the youth, who was more ignorant than ever. In the circumstances, the brilliant Countess Pietranera, attended by her husband, then general in command of one of the divisions of the Guard, and five or six of the most important personages about the Viceroy’s court, attended the distribution of prizes in the Jesuit school. The Superior received the congratulations of the heads of his order.
The countess was in the habit of taking her nephew to all the gay fêtes which enlivened the kindly Viceroy’s too short reign. She had made him an officer of hussars, on her own authority, and the twelve-year-old boy wore his uniform. One day the countess, delighted with his handsome looks, asked the prince to make him a page, which would have been tantamount, of course, to an acknowledgment of adherence to the new order of things of the Del Dongo family. The next morning she was fain to use all her influence to induce the Viceroy kindly to forget her request, which lacked nothing but the consent of the father of the future page—a consent which would have been loudly refused. As a result of this piece of folly, which made him shiver, the sulky marchese coined some pretext for recalling young Fabrizio to Grianta. The countess nursed a sovereign contempt for her brother, whom she regarded as a dreary fool, who would be spiteful if he ever had the power. But she doted on Fabrizio, and after ten years of silence she wrote to the marchese, to beg that she might have her nephew with her. Her letter remained unanswered.
When Fabrizio returned to the formidable pile built by the most warlike of his ancestors he knew nothing about anything in the world except drill, and riding on horseback. Count Pietranera, who had been as fond of the child as his wife, had taught him to ride, and taken him with him on parade.
When the boy reached Grianta, with eyes still reddened by the tears he had shed on leaving his aunt’s splendid apartments, his only greeting was that of his mother, who covered him with passionate caresses, and of his sisters. The marchese was shut up in his study with his eldest son, the Marchesino Ascanio. They were busy writing letters in cipher, which were to have the honour of being sent to Vienna, and they were only visible at mealtimes. The marchese ostentatiously declared that he was teaching his natural successor to keep the accounts of the revenues of each of his estates by double entry, but in reality he was far too jealous by nature to mention such matters to the son on whom these properties were absolutely entailed. He really employed him to translate into cipher the despatches of fifteen or twenty pages which he sent, two or three times a week, across the Swiss frontier, whence they were conveyed to Vienna. The marchese claimed that he thus kept his legitimate sovereign informed as to the internal conditions of the kingdom of Italy—a subject about which he himself knew nothing at all. His letters, however, won him great credit, and for the following reason: He was in the habit of employing some trusty agent to count up the numbers of any French or Italian regiment that marched along the high-road when changing its place of garrison, and in making his report to Vienna he always carefully diminished the number of men reported present by a full fourth. These letters, then, ridiculous as they otherwise were, had the merit of contradicting others of a more truthful nature, and thus gave pleasure in high quarters. Consequently, not long before Fabrizio’s return to Grianta, the marchese had received the star of a famous order—the fifth that adorned his chamberlain’s coat. It is true, indeed, that he had to endure the grief of never wearing the said coat outside the walls of his own study, but, on the other hand, he never ventured to dictate any despatch without first enduing his person with the richly embroidered garment, hung with all his orders. Any other course would have seemed to him a failure in respect.
The marchesa was delighted with her boy’s charms. But she had kept up the habit of writing, twice or thrice in the year, to General Comte d’A⸺ (the name then borne by Lieutenant Robert). She had a horror of lying to those she loved; she questioned her son, and was startled by his ignorance.
“ If,” she argued, “he appears ill-instructed to me, who know nothing, Robert, who knows so much, would think his education an utter failure; and nowadays some merit is indispensable to success!” Another peculiarity, which almost equally astounded her, was that Fabrizio had taken all the religious teaching given him by the Jesuits quite seriously. Though herself a very pious woman, her child’s fanaticism made her shiver. “If the marchese has the sense to suspect this means of influencing my son, he will rob me of his love!” She wept many tears, and her passionate love for Fabrizio deepened.
Life in the great country house, with its thirty or forty servants, was very dull; and Fabrizio spent all his days hunting, or skimming over the waters of the lake in a boat. He was soon the sworn ally of all the coachmen and stable assistants—every one of them a vehement partisan of the French—who made open sport of the highly religious valets attached to the persons of the marchese and his elder son. The great joke against these individuals was that, like their masters, they wore powder in their hair.
 The habit of the country, borrowed from that of Germany, is that all the sons of a marchese should be called marchesino. The son of a count is known as contino; each of his daughters is a contessina.
… “ Alors que Vesper vient embrunir nos yeux
Tout épris de l’avenir, je contemple les cieux,
En qui Dieu nous escrit, par notes non obscures
Les sorts et les destins de toutes créatures.
Car lui, du fond des cieux regardant un humain,
Parfois, mû de pitié, lui montre le chemin;
Par les astres du ciel, qui sont ses caractères,
Les choses nous prèdit, et bonnes et contraires;
Mais les hommes, chargés de terre et de trépas,
Méprisent tel écrit, et ne le lisent pas.”—Ronsard.
The marchese professed a hearty hatred of knowledge. “Ideas,” he said, “have been the ruin of Italy.” He was somewhat puzzled to reconcile this holy horror of information with his desire that Fabrizio should perfect the education so brilliantly begun under the auspices of the Jesuits.
To minimize the risk as far as possible, he commissioned the worthy priest of Grianta, Father Blanès, to carry on the boy’s Latin studies. To this end the priest should himself have been acquainted with the language. But he thoroughly despised it. His knowledge of it was restricted to the prayers in his missal, which he knew by rote, and the sense of which, or something near it, he was capable of imparting to his flock. None the less was the father respected, and even feared, all over the canton. He had always averred that the famous prophecy of San Giovità, patron saint of Brescia, would not be accomplished either in thirteen weeks or thirteen months. He would confide to his trusted friends that if he dared speak openly he could give the proper interpretation of the number thirteen, and that it would cause general astonishment (1813).
The fact is that Father Blanès—a man of primitive virtue and honesty, and a clever one into the bargain—spent most of his nights on the top of his church tower. He had a mania for astrology, and, after calculating the positions and conjunctions of the stars all day, would pass the greater part of his nights in tracing them in the sky. So poor was he that his only instrument was a telescope with a long cardboard tube. My reader will conceive the scorn for linguistic study nursed by a man who spent his life in discovering the precise moment at which empires were to fall, and revolutions, destined to change the face of the whole world, were to begin. “What more do I know about a horse,” he would say to Fabrizio, “because somebody tells me its Latin name is Equus?”
The peasants dreaded the priest as a mighty magician, and he, through the fear inspired by his tarryings on the top of his tower, prevented them from thieving. His brother priests of the neighbouring parishes envied him his influence, and hated him accordingly. The marchese frankly despised him, because he reasoned too much for a person in so humble a position. Fabrizio worshipped him. To please him he would sometimes spend whole evenings over huge sums in addition or multiplication. And then he would climb up into the tower. This was a great favour—one the priest had never bestowed on any other person. But he loved the boy for the sake of his simplicity. “If you don’t become a hypocrite,” he would say, “you may turn into a man!”
Twice or thrice in every year, Fabrizio, who was bold and passionate in the pursuit of his pleasures, ran serious risks of drowning in the lake. He was the head and front of all the great expeditions of the peasant boys of Grianta and Cadenabbia. These urchins had provided themselves with a collection of small keys, and when the very dark nights came, they did their best to open the padlocks on the chains by which the fishermen moored their boats to some big stone or tree close to the shore. It must be explained that on the Lake of Como the fisherman puts down his lines at a considerable distance from the edge of the lake. The upper end of each line is fastened to a lath lined with cork, to which is fixed a very flexible hazel rod bearing a little bell, which tinkles as soon as the fish takes the bait and shakes the float.
The great object of the nocturnal raids, in which Fabrizio acted as commander in chief, was to get to these lines before the fishermen heard the tinkling of their little bells. The boys chose stormy seasons, and embarked on their risky enterprises early in the morning, an hour before dawn. They felt convinced, when they got into their boats, that they were rushing into terrible danger—this constituted the splendid aspect of their undertaking—and, like their fathers, they always devoutly recited an Ave Maria. Now, it frequently would happen that at the very moment of the start, and the instant after the recital of the Ave Maria, Fabrizio would be struck by an omen. This was the fruit, as affecting him, of his friend the priest’s astrology, in the actual predictions of which he had no belief at all. To his juvenile imagination these omens were a certain indication of success or failure, and as he was more resolute than any of his comrades, the whole band gradually grew so accustomed to accept such signs that if, just as the boat was shoving off, a priest was seen on the coast line, or a raven flew away on the left, the padlock was hastily put back upon the chain and every boy went home to bed. Thus, though Father Blanès had not imparted his somewhat recondite science to Fabrizio, he had imbued him, all unconsciously, with an unlimited confidence in those signs and portents which may unveil the future.
The marchese was conscious that an accident to his secret correspondence might place him at his sister’s mercy. Every year, therefore, when the St. Angela (the Countess Pietranera’s feast day) came around, Fabrizio was allowed to spend a week at Milan. All through the year he lived on the hope, or the regretful memory, of those seven days. On so great an occasion, and to defray the expenses of this politic journey, the marchese would give his son four crowns. To his wife, who went with the boy, he gave, as usual, nothing at all. But a cook, six lackeys, and a coachman and pair of horses started for Como the night before the travellers, and while the marchesa was at Milan her carriage was at her disposal, and dinner for twelve persons was served every day.
The sullen retirement in which the Marchese del Dongo elected to live was certainly not an amusing form of existence. But it had one advantage, that of permanently enriching the coffers of the families who chose to adopt it. The marchese owned a revenue of more than two hundred thousand francs; he did not spend a quarter of it. He lived on hope. During the years between 1800 and 1813 he remained in the firm and unceasing expectation that Napoleon would be overthrown before the next six months were out. His joy when he received the news of the catastrophe of the Beresina, in the spring of 1813, may consequently be imagined. The capture of Paris and the fall of Napoleon almost drove him wild with joy, and he ventured on behaviour of the most insulting nature, both to his wife and his sister. At last, after fourteen years of waiting, he tasted the inexpressible delight of seeing the Austrian troops re-enter Milan. The general in command, obeying orders sent from Vienna, received the Marchese del Dongo with a courtesy which almost amounted to respect. One of the highest offices connected with the Government was at once offered him, and he accepted it as the discharge of a just debt. His eldest son was made a lieutenant in one of the finest of the imperial regiments, but Fabrizio would never have anything to do with the cadet’s commission which was offered for his acceptance. The marchese’s triumph, which he enjoyed with peculiar insolence, lasted but a few months, and was followed by a most humiliating reverse. He had never possessed any business aptitude, and his fourteen years of country life, surrounded by his servants, his notary, and his doctor, coupled with the ill humour which had crept upon him with advancing years, had developed his incapacity to the extremest point. In Austria no important post can be held for long by any person lacking that particular talent demanded by the slow and complicated, but essentially logical, system of administration peculiar to that ancient monarchy. The marchese’s blunders scandalized the clerks of his department, and even hampered the progress of business, while his ultra-monarchical vapourings irritated a populace which it was important to lull back into its former state of slumbrous indifference. So, one fine day, he was informed that his Majesty was graciously pleased to accept his resignation of his office, and simultaneously appointed him second grand major-domo of the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom. The marchese was furious at the abominable injustice of which he was the victim. In spite of his horror of the free press, he printed a Letter to a Friend. Then he wrote to the Emperor, assuring his Majesty that his ministers were playing him false, and were no better than Jacobins. This done, he betook himself sadly back to his home at Grianta. One consolation he possessed. After the downfall of Napoleon certain powerful individuals at Milan had organized a brutal attack on Count Prina, a man of first-class worth, who had acted as minister in the service of the King of Italy. Pietranera risked his own life to save that of the unhappy man, who was thrashed to death with umbrellas, and lingered in agony for five hours. If a certain priest, the Marchese del Dongo’s own confessor, had chosen to open the iron gate of the Church of San Giovanni, in front of which Prina had been dragged (and, indeed, he had at one moment been left lying in the gutter running along the middle of the street), the victim might have been saved. But the cleric scornfully refused to unlock the gate, and within six months his patron enjoyed the happiness of securing him a handsome piece of preferment.
The marchese detested his brother-in-law, Count Pietranera, who, though his yearly income did not amount to fifty louis, dared to be fairly merry, ventured to cling faithfully to that which he had loved all his life, and was so insolent as to proclaim that spirit of impersonal justice which Del Dongo was pleased to define as vile Jacobinism. The count had refused to enter the Austrian service. The attention of the authorities was drawn to this refusal on his part, and a few months after the death of Prina the same men who had paid for his assassination procured an order for the imprisonment of General Pietranera. Upon this, his wife sent for a passport and ordered post horses to take her to Vienna, so that she might tell the Emperor the truth. Prina’s assassins took fright, and at midnight, just one hour before the countess was to have started for Vienna, one of them, a cousin of her own, brought her the order for her husband’s release. The following morning the Austrian general sent for Count Pietranera, received him with every possible respect, and assured him that his retiring pension would shortly be paid on the most satisfactory scale. The worthy General Bubna, who was both a clever and a kind-hearted man, looked thoroughly ashamed of Prina’s murder and the count’s imprisonment.
After this angry squall had blown over, calmed by Countess Pietranera’s firmness, the couple lived in tolerable comfort on the retiring pension, which, thanks to General Bubna’s influence, was shortly granted them.
It was a fortunate circumstance that for five or six years previously the countess had lived on terms of great friendship with an exceedingly wealthy young man, who was also her husband’s intimate friend, and who placed the finest pair of English horses then to be seen at Milan, his box at the Scala Theatre, and his country house entirely at their service. But the count was conscious of his own valour; he had a generous soul, he was easily moved to anger, and on such occasions indulged in somewhat unusual behaviour. He was out hunting one day with some young men, when one of them, who had served under a different flag, ventured on some joke concerning the courage of the soldiers of the Cisalpine Republic. The count boxed his ears, there was a fracas then and there, and Pietranera, whose opinion found no support among the company present, was killed. This duel, if so it could be called, made a great stir; the persons concerned in it found it more prudent to journey into Switzerland.
That ridiculous kind of courage which men entitle resignation—the courage of the fool, who allows himself to be hanged without opening his lips—was not a quality possessed by the countess. In her rage at her husband’s death she would have had Limercati, the wealthy young man who was her faithful adorer, instantly take his way to Switzerland, and there punish Pietranera’s murderer either with a rifle bullet or with a hearty cuffing. But Limercati regarded the plan as simply ridiculous, and forthwith the countess realized that, in her case, love had been killed by scorn.
She grew kinder than ever to Limercati. Her aim was to rekindle his love, and that done, to forsake him and leave him in despair. To explain this plan of vengeance to the French mind, I should say that in Milan, a country far distant from our own, love does still drive men to despair. The countess, whose beauty, heightened by her mourning robes, eclipsed that of all her rivals, set herself to coquette with the best-born young men of the city, and one of them, Count N⸺, who had always said that Limercati’s qualities struck him as being too heavy and stiff to attract so brilliant a woman, fell desperately in love with her. Then she wrote to Limercati:
“ Would you like to behave, for once, like a clever man? Imagine that you have never known me. I am, with a touch of scorn, perhaps,
“ Your very humble servant,
“ Gina Pietranera.”
When Limercati received this note he departed to one of his country houses; his passion blazed, he lost his head, and talked of shooting himself—an unusual course in countries which acknowledge the existence of a hell.
The very morning after his arrival in the country he wrote to the countess to offer her his hand and his two hundred thousand francs a year. She sent him back his letter, with the seal unbroken, by Count N⸺’s groom; whereupon Limercati spent three years on his estates, coming back to Milan every two months, but never finding courage to stay there, and boring all his friends with the story of his passionate adoration of the lady and the circumstantial recital of the favour she had formerly shown him. In the earlier months of this period he added that Count N⸺ would ruin her, and that she dishonoured herself by contracting such an intimacy.
As a matter of fact, the countess had no love of any kind for N⸺, and of this fact she apprised him as soon as she was quite certain of Limercati’s despair. The count, who knew the world, only begged her not to divulge the sad truth she had confided to him. “If,” he added, “you will have the extreme kindness to continue receiving me with all the external distinctions generally granted to the reigning lover, I may, perhaps, attain a suitable position.”
After this heroic declaration the countess would make no further use of Count N⸺’s horses and opera box. But for fifteen years she had been accustomed to a life of the greatest ease. She was now driven to solve the difficult, or rather impossible, problem of living at Milan on a yearly pension of fifteen hundred francs. She quitted her palace, hired two fifth-floor rooms, and dismissed all her servants, even to her maid, whom she replaced by a poor old char-woman. The sacrifice was really less heroic and less painful than it appears. No ridicule attaches to poverty in Milan, and therefore people do not shrink from it in terror, as the worst of all possible evils. After some months spent in this proud penury, bombarded by perpetual letters from Limercati, and even from Count N⸺, who also desired to marry her, it came to pass that the Marchese del Dongo, whose stinginess was usually abominable, was struck by the notion that his own enemies might perhaps be rejoicing over his sister’s sufferings. What! Was a Del Dongo to be reduced to existing on the pension granted by the Viennese court, against which he had so great a grievance, to its generals’ widows?
He wrote that an apartment and an income worthy of his sister awaited her at Grianta. The versatile-minded countess welcomed the idea of this new life with enthusiasm. It was twenty years since she had lived in the venerable pile which rose so proudly among the old chestnut trees planted in the days of the Sforzas. “There,” she reflected, “I shall find peace; and at my age, is that not happiness?” (As she had arrived at the age of one-and-thirty, she believed that the hour of her retirement had struck.) “I shall find a happy and peaceful life at last, on the shores of the noble lake beside which I was born.”
Whether she was mistaken I know not, but it is certain that this eager-hearted creature, who had just so unhesitatingly refused two huge fortunes, carried happiness with her into the Castle of Grianta. Her two nieces were beside themselves with delight. “You have brought the beautiful days of my youth back to me!” said the marchesa as she kissed her. “The night before you arrived I felt a hundred years old.”
In Fabrizio’s company the countess went about revisiting all those enchanting spots near Grianta which travellers have made so famous: the Villa Melzi, on the other side of the lake, opposite the castle, and one of the chief objects in the view therefrom; the sacred wood of the Sfondrata; and the bold promontory which divides the branches of the lake, that of Como, so rich in its beauty, and that which runs toward Lecco, of aspect far more severe—a sublime and graceful prospect, equalled, perhaps, but not surpassed, by the most famous view in all the world, that of the Bay of Naples. The countess found the most exquisite delight in calling up memories of her early days, and comparing them with her present sensations. “The Lake of Como,” she said to herself, “is not hemmed in, like the Lake of Geneva, by great tracts of land, carefully hedged and cultivated on the best system, reminding one of money and speculation. Here, on every side, I see hills of unequal height, covered with clumps of trees, growing as chance has scattered them, and which have not yet been ruined, and forced to bring in an income, by the hand of man. Amid these hills, with their beautiful shapes and their curious slopes that drop toward the lake, I can carry on all the illusions of the descriptions of Tasso and Ariosto. It is all noble and tender, it all speaks of love; nothing recalls the hideousness of civilization. The villages set half-way up the hills are sheltered by great trees, and above the tree tops rise the charming outlines of their pretty church spires. Where some little field, fifty paces wide, shows itself here and there among the chestnuts and wild-cherry trees my pleased eye notes plants of more vigorous and willing growth than can be seen elsewhere. Beyond the hills, on whose deserted crests a happy hermit existence might be spent, the wondering eye rests on the Alpine peaks, covered with eternal snows, and their stern severity reminds one sufficiently of life’s misfortunes, to increase one’s sense of present delight. The imagination is stirred by the distant sound of the church bells of some little village hidden among the trees. Their tone softens as it floats over the water, with a touch of gentle melancholy and resignation, which seems to say, ‘Life slips by. Do not, then, look so coldly on the happiness that comes to you. Make haste to enjoy.’”
The influence of these enchanting spots, unequalled on earth for loveliness, made the countess feel a girl once more. She could not conceive how she had been able to spend so many years without returning to the lake. “Can it be,” she wondered, “that true happiness belongs to the beginning of old age?” She purchased a boat, and adorned it with her own hands, assisted by Fabrizio and the marchesa, for no money was to be had, though the household was kept up with the utmost splendour. Since his fall the Marchese del Dongo had doubled his magnificence. For instance, to gain ten paces of ground on the shore of the lake, close to the famous avenue of plane trees leading toward Cadenabbia, he was building an embankment which was to cost eighty thousand francs. At the end of this embankment was rising a chapel, constructed entirely of enormous blocks of granite, after drawings by the celebrated Cagnola, and within the chapel, Marchesi, the fashionable Milanese sculptor, was erecting a tomb on which the noble deeds of the marchese’s ancestors were to be represented in numerous bas-reliefs.
Fabrizio’s elder brother, the Marchesino Ascanio, tried to join the ladies in their expeditions, but his aunt splashed water over his powdered head, and was forever playing some fresh prank on his solemnity. At last he relieved the merry party of the sight of his heavy sallow countenance. They dared not laugh when he was present, feeling that he was the spy of the marchese, his father, and that it was wise to keep on terms with the stern despot, who had never recovered his temper since his forced resignation.
Ascanio swore to be avenged on Fabrizio.
One day there was a storm, and the boat was in some danger. Though money was scarce enough, the two boatmen were liberally bribed to prevent their saying anything to the marchese, who was very angry already because his daughters had been taken out. Then came a second hurricane. On this beautiful lake storms are both terrible and unexpected. Violent squalls sweep suddenly down the mountain gorges on opposite sides of the shore, and battle over the water. This time, in the midst of the whirlwind and the thunderclaps, the countess insisted on landing; she declared that if she could stand on a lonely rock, as large as a small room, which lay in the middle of the lake, she would enjoy a strange spectacle, and see her stronghold lashed on every side by the furious waves. But, as she sprang from the boat, she fell into the water. Fabrizio plunged in after her, and they were both carried a considerable distance. Drowning is certainly not an attractive death, but boredom, at all events, fled astonished from the feudal castle. The countess had fallen in love with Father Blanès’s primitive qualities, and astrological studies. The little money remaining to her after the purchase of her boat had been spent on a small second-hand telescope, and almost every night she mounted, with Fabrizio and her nieces, to the top of one of the Gothic towers of the castle. Fabrizio was the learned member of the party, which would thus spend several very cheerful hours, far from prying eyes.
It must be acknowledged that there were days during which the countess never spoke to anybody, and might be seen walking up and down under the great chestnut trees, plunged in gloomy reverie. She was too clever a woman not to suffer, now and then, from the weariness of never being able to exchange an idea. But the next day she would be laughing again, as she had laughed the day before. It was the lamentations of her sister-in-law which occasionally cast a gloom over her naturally elastic nature. “Are we doomed to spend all the youth left to us in this dreary house?” the marchesa would cry. Before the arrival of the countess she had not even had courage to feel such repinings.
Thus the winter of 1814 to 1815 wore on. Twice, in spite of her poverty, did the countess spend a few days in Milan. She went to see a magnificent ballet by Vigano, produced at the Scala, and the marchese did not forbid his wife to accompany her sister-in-law. The quarterly payments of the little pension were drawn, and it was the poor widow of the Cisalpine general who lent a few sequins to the wealthy Marchesa del Dongo. These expeditions were delightful; the ladies invited their old friends to dinner, and consoled themselves by laughing at everything, like real children. Their light-hearted Italian gaiety helped them to forget the melancholy gloom which the marchese and his elder son shed over everything at Grianta. Fabrizio, then hardly sixteen years old, represented the head of the family in a very satisfactory manner.
On the 17th of March, 1815, the ladies, very lately returned from a delightful little trip to Milan, were walking up and down under the fine avenue of plane trees which had lately been extended down to the very edge of the lake. A boat appeared, coming from the direction of Como, and made some peculiar signals. One of the marchese’s agents sprang ashore. Napoleon had just landed in the Gulf of Juan! Europe in general was simple enough to be surprised at this event, which did not astonish the Marchese del Dongo. He wrote his sovereign a letter full of heartfelt expressions of devotion, placed his talents and several millions of money at his service, and reaffirmed that his ministers were all Jacobins, and in league with the Parisian leaders.
On the 8th of March, at six o’clock in the morning, the marchese, adorned with all his insignia, was writing the rough draft of a third political despatch from his son’s dictation. Solemnly he transcribed it in his large, careful handwriting, on paper the watermark of which bore his sovereign’s effigy. At that very moment Fabrizio was entering the presence of his aunt, the Countess Pietranera.
“ I am off!” he cried. “I am going to join the Emperor! He is King of Italy as well! How he loved your husband! I shall go through Switzerland. Last night my friend Vasi, the barometer dealer at Menagio, gave me his passport. Now do you give me a few napoleons, for I have only two of my own. But if it comes to that, I’ll walk!”
The countess was weeping with terror and delight. “Good God!” she cried, as she seized Fabrizio’s hands, “how did such an idea come into your head?”
She rose from her seat, and from the linen chest, where it had been carefully concealed, took a little bead-embroidered purse, containing all her earthly wealth.
“ Take it,” she said to her nephew, “but in God’s name do not get yourself killed! What would be left to your unhappy mother and to me if you were taken from us? As for Napoleon’s success, that, my poor child, is impossible. Did not you hear the story, a week ago, when we were at Milan, of the three-and-twenty well-laid plots for his assassination which he only escaped by a miracle? And in those days he was all powerful! And you have seen it is not the will to destroy him which our enemies lack. France has been nothing since he left her!”
The voice of the countess trembled with the liveliest emotion as she spoke to Fabrizio of Napoleon’s future fate. “When I consent to your going to join them,” she said, “I sacrifice, for his sake, what I hold dearest in this world!” Fabrizio’s eyes grew moist, and his tears fell as he embraced his aunt. But not for an instant did he waver in his determination to depart. He eagerly explained to this beloved friend the reasons which had decided him—reasons which we take the liberty of thinking somewhat comical.
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