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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Princess Sanseverina’s Interview
By Stendhal (1783–1842)
 
From ‘La Chartreuse de Parme’

WHILE Fabrice was gone a-hunting after love adventures in a small village close by Parma, the Fiscal General, Rassi, unaware that he was so near, continued to treat his case as though he had been a Liberal. The witnesses for the defense he pretended that he could not find, or rather that he had frightened them off; and finally, after nearly a year of such sharp practice, and about two months after Fabrice’s last return to Bologna, on a certain Friday, the Marquise Raversi, intoxicated with joy, stated publicly in her salon that on the following day “the sentence which had just been passed upon that little Del Dongo would be presented to the Prince for signature, and would be approved by him.” Shortly afterwards the Duchess learned these remarks of her enemy.  1
  “The Count must be very poorly served by his agents,” she said to herself: “only this morning he was sure that sentence could not be passed inside of a week: perhaps he would not be sorry to have my young Grand Vicar removed from Parma some day. But,” she added, “we shall see him come back, and he shall be our Archbishop.” The Duchess rang.  2
  “Summon all the servants to the waiting-room,” she said to her valet-de-chambre, “even the cooks; go and obtain from the officer in command the requisite permit for four post-horses; and see that in less than half an hour these horses are attached to my landau.” All her women were soon busied in packing the trunks: the Duchess hastily donned a traveling dress, without once sending word to the Count; the idea of amusing herself at his expense filled her with joy.  3
  “My friend,” she said to the assembled servants, “is about to suffer condemnation by default for having had the audacity to defend his life against a madman; it was Giletti who meant to kill him. You have all been able to see how gentle and inoffensive Fabrice’s character is. Justly incensed at this atrocious injury, I am starting for Florence. I shall leave ten years’ wages for each of you; if you are unhappy, write to me; and so long as I have a sequin, there shall be something for you.”  4
  The Duchess felt exactly as she spoke, and at her last words the servants burst into tears; she herself had moist eyes. She added in a voice of emotion:—“Pray to God for me and for Monsigneur Fabrice del Dongo, first Grand Vicar of this Diocese, who will be condemned to-morrow morning to the galleys, or what would be less stupid, to the penalty of death.”  5
  The tears of the servants redoubled, and little by little changed into cries which were very nearly seditious. The Duchess entered her carriage and drove directly to the palace of the Prince. In spite of the untimely hour, she solicited an audience, through General Fontana, acting aide-de-camp. She was nowise in full court toilette, a fact which threw that aide-de-camp into a profound stupor.  6
  The Prince, for his part, was by no means surprised, still less annoyed, at this request for an audience. “We are going to see tears shed by lovely eyes,” said he, rubbing his hands; “she is coming to ask for grace; at last that proud beauty has to humble herself! Really she has been too insupportable with her little independent airs! Those eloquent eyes always seemed to be saying to me, at the least thing which annoyed her, ‘Naples or Milan would be an abode offering very different attractions from those of your small town of Parma.’ True enough, I do not reign over Naples or Milan; but all the same, this fine lady has come to ask me something which depends exclusively upon me, and which she is burning to obtain. I always thought the coming of that nephew would give me some hold upon her.”  7
  While the Prince was smiling over his thoughts, and giving himself up to all these agreeable anticipations, he was striding up and down his cabinet, at the door of which General Fontana still remained standing, erect and stiff as a soldier at carry-arms. Seeing the Prince’s flashing eye and recalling the Duchess’s traveling dress, he prepared for a dissolution of the monarchy. His confusion knew no bounds when he heard the Prince’s order: “Beg Madame the Duchess to wait a small quarter of an hour.” The general-aide-de-camp executed a right-about-face, like a soldier on parade; the Prince still smiled. “Fontana is not accustomed,” he said to himself, “to see our proud Duchess kept waiting. The astonished face with which he has gone to tell her ‘to wait that small quarter of an hour’ will pave the way for those touching tears which this cabinet is about to witness.” This small quarter of an hour was delicious to the Prince; he paced the floor with a firm and measured step, he reigned. “The important thing now is to say nothing which is not perfectly in keeping. It will not do to forget that she is one of the highest ladies of my court. How would Louis XIV. have spoken to the princesses his daughters when he had occasion to be displeased with them?” and his eyes sought the portrait of the great king.  8
  The amusing part of the matter was that the Prince did not even think of asking himself whether he would show clemency to Fabrice, and how far such clemency would go. Finally, at the end of twenty minutes, the faithful Fontana presented himself anew at the door, but without uttering a word. “The Duchess Sanseverina may enter,” cried the Prince with a theatrical air. “The tears are about to commence,” he told himself, and as if to be prepared for such a spectacle, he drew out his handkerchief.  9
  Never had the Duchess appeared so gay and charming; she did not look twenty-five. The poor aide-de-camp, seeing that her light and rapid footstep barely seemed to skim the carpet, was on the point of losing his reason once for all.  10
  “I must crave many pardons of your Most Serene Highness,” said the Duchess in her soft tones of careless gayety: “I have taken the liberty of presenting myself in a toilette which is not altogether appropriate; but your Highness has so accustomed me to his favors that I have ventured to hope that he would accord me this additional grace.”  11
  The Duchess spoke quite slowly, so as to give herself time to enjoy the expression of the Prince. It was delicious, on account of his profound astonishment, and that remnant of grand airs which the pose of his head and arms still betrayed. The Prince had remained as if struck by a thunderbolt; from time to time, he exclaimed, in his high-pitched voice, shrill and perturbed, as though articulating with difficulty: “How is this? how is this?” After concluding her compliment, the Duchess, as though from respect, afforded him ample time to reply; then she added:—  12
  “I venture to hope that your Most Serene Highness will deign to pardon the incongruity of my costume:” but as she spoke, her mocking eyes flashed with so bright a gleam that the Prince could not meet them. He looked at the ceiling, a sign with him of the most extreme embarrassment.  13
  “How is this? how is this?” he said to himself again; then by good luck, he found a phrase: “Madame la Duchesse, pray be seated,” and he himself pushed forward a chair, with fairly good grace. The Duchess was by no means insensible to this attention, and she moderated the petulance of her glance.  14
  “How is this? how is this?” still repeated the Prince inwardly, shifting so uneasily in his chair that one would have said that he could not find a secure position.  15
  “I am going to take advantage of the freshness of the night to travel post,” resumed the Duchess, “and as my absence may be of some duration, I was unwilling to leave the territory of your Most Serene Highness without expressing my thanks for all the favors which for five years your Highness has deigned to show me.” At these words the Prince at last understood; he turned pale. It was as man of the world that he felt it most keenly, on finding himself mistaken in his predictions. Then he assumed a grand air, in every way worthy of the portrait of Louis XIV., which was before his eyes. “Admirable,” said the Duchess to herself, “there is a man.”  16
  “And what is the motive of this sudden departure?” asked the Prince, in a fairly firm tone.  17
  “I have contemplated leaving, for some time,” replied the Duchess, “and a slight insult which has been shown to Monsignor del Dongo, who is to be condemned to-morrow to death or to the galleys makes me hasten my departure.”  18
  “And to what city are you going?”  19
  “To Naples, I think.” As she arose, she added, “It only remains for me to take leave of your Most Serene Highness, and to thank him very humbly for all his earlier kindnesses.” She, on her part, spoke with so firm an air that the Prince saw clearly that in a few seconds all would be finished. He knew that if a triumphant departure was once effected, all compromise would be impossible. She was not the woman to retrace her steps. He hastened after her.  20
  “But you know very well, Madame la Duchesse,” he said, taking her hand, “that I have always regarded you with a friendship to which it needed only a word from you to give another name. But a murder has been committed; there is no way of denying that. I have intrusted the conduct of the case to my best judges….”  21
  At these words the Duchess drew herself up to her full height: All semblance of respect, or even of urbanity, disappeared in a flash. The outraged woman was clearly revealed, the outraged woman addressing herself to the one whom she knows to be of bad faith. It was with an expression of keenest anger and even of contempt that she said to the Prince, dwelling upon every word:—  22
  “I am leaving forever the States of your Most Serene Highness, in order that I shall never again hear mentioned the Fiscal Rassi, or the other infamous assassins who have condemned my nephew and so many others to death. If your Most Serene Highness does not wish to mingle a tinge of bitterness with the last moments which I am to pass with a prince who is both polite and entertaining when he is not misled, I beg him very humbly not to recall the thought of those infamous judges who sell themselves for a thousand crowns or a decoration.”  23
  The admirable accent, and above all the tone of sincerity, with which these words were uttered, made the Prince tremble; for an instant he feared to see his dignity compromised by a still more direct accusation. On the whole, however, his sensations quickly culminated in one of pleasure. He admired the Duchess, and at this moment her entire person attained a sublime beauty.  24
  “Heavens! how beautiful she is,” the Prince said to himself: “one may well overlook something in so unique a woman, one whose like perhaps is not to be found in all Italy.—Well, with a little diplomacy it might not be altogether impossible to make her mine.—There is a wide difference between such a being and that doll of a Marquise Balbi; besides, the latter steals at least three hundred thousand francs a year from my poor subjects.—But did I understand her aright?” he thought all of a sudden: “she said, ‘condemned my nephew and so many others.’” His anger came to the surface, and it was with a haughtiness worthy of supreme rank that the Prince said, “And what must be done to keep Madame from leaving?”  25
  “Something of which you are not capable,” replied the Duchess, with an accent of the bitterest irony and the most thinly disguised contempt.  26
  The Prince was beside himself, but thanks to his long practice of the profession of absolute sovereign, he found the strength to resist his first impulse. “That woman must be mine,” he said to himself. “I owe myself at least that; then I must let her perish under my contempt. If she leaves this room, I shall never see her again.” But, intoxicated as he was at this moment with wrath and hatred, how was he to find words which would at once satisfy what was due to himself and induce the Duchess not to desert his court on the instant? “A gesture,” he thought, “is something which can neither be repeated nor turned into ridicule,” and he went and placed himself between the Duchess and the door of his cabinet. Just then he heard a slight tapping at this door.  27
  “Who is this jackanapes?” he cried, at the top of his lungs, “who is this jackanapes who comes here, thrusting his idiotic presence upon me?” Poor General Fontana showed his face, pale and in evident discomfiture, and with the air of a man at his last gasp, indistinctly pronounced these words:—“His Excellency Count Mosca solicits the honor of being admitted.”  28
  “Let him enter,” said the Prince in a loud voice; and as Mosca made his salutation, greeted him with:—  29
  “Well, sir, here is Madame the Duchess Sanseverina, who declares that she is on the point of leaving Parma to go and settle at Naples, and has made me saucy speeches into the bargain.”  30
  “How is this?” said Mosca, turning pale.  31
  “What, then you knew nothing of this project of departure?”  32
  “Not the first word. At six o’clock I left Madame joyous and contented.”  33
  This speech produced an incredible effect upon the Prince. First he glanced at Mosca, whose growing pallor proved that he spoke the truth and was in no way the accomplice of the Duchess’s sudden freak. “In that case,” he said to himself, “I am losing her forever. Pleasure and vengeance, everything is escaping me at once. At Naples she will make epigrams with her nephew Fabrice, about the great wrath of the little Prince of Parma.” He looked at the Duchess; anger and the most violent contempt were struggling in her heart; her eyes were fixed at that moment upon Count Mosca, and the fine lines of that lovely mouth expressed the most bitter disdain. The entire expression of her face seemed to say, “Vile courtier!” “So,” thought the Prince, after having examined her, “I have lost even this means of calling her back to our country. If she leaves the room at this moment, she is lost to me. And the Lord only knows what she will say in Naples of my judges, and with that wit and divine power of persuasion with which heaven has endowed her, she will make the whole world believe her. I shall owe her the reputation of being a ridiculous tyrant, who gets up in the middle of the night to look under his bed!”  34
  Then, by an adroit movement, and as if striving to work off his agitation by striding up and down, the Prince placed himself anew before the door of his cabinet. The count was on his right, pale, unnerved, and trembling so that he had to lean for support upon the back of the chair which the Duchess had occupied at the beginning of the audience, and which the Prince, in a moment of wrath, had hurled to a distance. The Count was really in love. “If the Duchess goes away, I shall follow her,” he told himself; “but will she tolerate my company? that is the question.”  35
  On the left of the Prince stood the Duchess, her arms crossed and pressed against her breast, looking at him with superb intolerance; a complete and profound pallor had succeeded the glowing colors which just before had animated those exquisite features.  36
  The Prince, in contrast with both the others, had a high color and an uneasy air; his left hand played in a nervous fashion with the cross attached to the grand cordon of his order, which he wore beneath his coat; with his right hand he caressed his chin.  37
  “What is to be done?” he said to the Count, not altogether realizing what he was doing himself, but yielding to his habit of consulting the latter about everything.  38
  “Indeed, Most Serene Highness, I know nothing about it,” answered the Count, with the air of a man who is rendering up his final sigh; he could hardly utter the words of his response. His tone of voice gave the Prince the first consolation which his wounded pride had found during the interview, and this slight satisfaction helped him to a phrase which was comforting to his self-esteem:—  39
  “Well,” said he, “I am the most reasonable of all three; I am quite ready to leave my position in the world entirely out of consideration. I am going to speak as a friend,” and he added with a charming smile of condescension, a fine imitation of the happy times of Louis XIV., “as a friend speaking to friends: Madame la Duchesse,” he continued, “what are we to do to make you forget your untimely resolution?”  40
  “Really, I am at a loss to say,” replied the Duchess, with a deep sigh, “really, I am at a loss to say: I have such a horror of Parma!” There was no attempt at epigram in this speech; one could see that she spoke in all sincerity.  41
  The Count turned sharply away from her; his courtier’s soul was scandalized. Then he cast a supplicating glance at the Prince. With much dignity and self-possession the latter allowed a moment to pass; then, addressing himself to the Count, “I see,” said he, “that your charming friend is altogether beside herself. It is perfectly simple, she adores her nephew;” and turning towards the Duchess, he added with the most gallant glance, and at the same time with the air which one assumes in borrowing a phrase from a comedy: “What must we do to find favor in these lovely eyes?”  42
  The Duchess had had time to reflect: She answered in a firm, slow tone, as if she were dictating her ultimatum:—  43
  “His Highness might write me a gracious letter, such as he knows so well how to write: he might say to me, that being by no means convinced of the guilt of Fabrice del Dongo, First Grand Vicar of the Archbishop, he will refuse to sign the sentence when they come to present it to him, and that this unjust procedure shall have no consequence in the future.”  44
  “How is that? Unjust!” cried the Prince, coloring to the whites of his eyes, and with renewed anger.  45
  “That is not all,” replied the Duchess with truly Roman pride, “this very evening—and,” she interposed, glancing at the clock, “it is already a quarter past eleven—this very evening, his Most Serene Highness will send word to the Marquise Raversi that he advises her to go into the country to recuperate from the fatigues which she must have suffered from a certain trial which she was discussing in her salon early in the evening.” The Prince strode up and down his cabinet, like a madman. “Did one ever see such a woman?” he exclaimed. “She is lacking in respect for me.”  46
  The Duchess replied with perfect grace:—  47
  “I have never in my life dreamed of lacking respect for his Most Serene Highness; His Highness has had the extreme condescension to say that he was speaking as a friend to friends. What is more, I have not the smallest desire to remain in Parma,” she added, glancing at the Count with the last degree of contempt. This glance decided the Prince, who up to that moment had been quite uncertain, notwithstanding that his words had seemed to imply a promise; he had a fine contempt for words.  48
  There were still a few more words exchanged; but at last Count Mosca received the order to write the gracious note solicited by the Duchess. He omitted the phrase “this unjust procedure shall have no consequence in the future.” “It is sufficient,” said the Count to himself, “if the Prince promises not to sign the sentence which is to be presented to him.” The Prince thanked him by a glance, as he signed.  49
  The Count made a great mistake; the Prince was wearied and would have signed the whole. He thought that he was getting out of the scene well, and the whole affair was dominated, in his eyes, by the thought—“If the Duchess leaves, I shall find my court a bore inside of a week.” The Count observed that his master corrected the date, and substituted that of the next day. He looked at the clock; it indicated almost midnight. The minister saw, in this altered date, nothing more than a pedantic desire to afford proof of exactitude and good government. As to the exile of the Marquise Raversi, the Prince did not even frown; the Prince had a special weakness for exiling people.  50
  “General Fontana!” he cried, half opening the door.  51
  The General appeared, with such an astonished and curious a face that a glance of amusement passed between the Duchess and the Count, and this glance established peace.  52
  “General Fontana,” said the Prince, “you are to take my carriage, which is waiting under the colonnade; you will go to the house of Mme. Raversi, and have yourself announced: if she is in bed, you will add that you are my representative, and when admitted to her chamber, you will say precisely these words, and no others:—‘Mme. la Marquise Raversi, his Most Serene Highness requires that you shall depart before eight o’clock to-morrow morning, for your château of Valleja. His Highness will notify you when you may return to Parma.’”  53
  The Prince’s eyes sought those of the Duchess, but the latter, omitting the thanks which he had expected, made him an extremely respectful reverence, and rapidly left the room.  54
  “What a woman!” said the Prince, turning towards Count Mosca.  55
 
 
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