Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

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

ONE day—Fabrice had been a captive nearly three months, had had absolutely no communication with the outside world, and yet was not unhappy—Grillo had remained hanging about the cell until a late hour of the morning. Fabrice could think of no way of getting rid of him, and was on pins and needles; half-past twelve had struck when at last he was enabled to open the little trap in the hateful shutter.  1
  Clélia was standing at the window of the aviary in an expectant attitude, an expression of profound despair on her contracted features. As soon as she saw Fabrice she signaled to him that all was lost; then, hurrying to her piano, and adapting her words to the accompaniment of a recitative from a favorite opera, in accents tremulous with her emotion and the fear of being overheard by the sentry beneath, she sang:—  2
  “Ah, do I see you still alive? Praise God for his infinite mercy! Barbone, the wretch whose insolence you chastised the day of your arrival here, disappeared some time ago and for a few days was not seen about the citadel. He returned day before yesterday, and since then I have reason to fear he has a design of poisoning you. He has been seen prowling about the kitchen of the palace where your meals are prepared. I can assert nothing positively, but it is my maid’s belief that his skulking there bodes you no good. I was frightened this morning, not seeing you at the usual time; I thought you must be dead. Until you hear more from me, do not touch the food they give you; I will try to manage to convey a little chocolate to you. In any case, if you have a cord, or can make one from your linen, let it down from your window among the orange-trees this evening at nine o’clock. I will attach a stronger cord to it, and with its aid you can draw up the bread and chocolate I will have in readiness.”  3
  Fabrice had carefully preserved the bit of charcoal he had found in the stove; taking advantage of Clélia’s more softened mood, he formed on the palm of his hand a number of letters in succession, which taken together made up these words:—  4
  “I love you, and life is dear to me only when I can see you. Above all else, send me paper and a pencil.”  5
  As Fabrice had hoped and expected, the extreme terror visible in the young girl’s face operated to prevent her from terminating the interview on receipt of this audacious message; she only testified her displeasure by her looks. Fabrice had the prudence to add:—“The wind blows so hard to-day that I couldn’t catch quite all you said; and then, too, the sound of the piano drowns your voice. You were saying something about poison, weren’t you—what was it?”  6
  At these words the young girl’s terror returned in all its violence; she hurriedly set to work to describe with ink a number of large capital letters on the leaves she tore from one of her books, and Fabrice was delighted to see her at last adopt the method of correspondence that he had been vainly advocating for the last three months. But this system, although an improvement on the signals, was less desirable than a regular exchange of letters, so Fabrice constantly feigned to be unable to decipher the words of which she exhibited the component letters.  7
  A summons from her father obliged her to leave the aviary. She was in great alarm lest he might come to look for her there; his suspicious nature would have been likely to scent danger in the proximity of his daughter’s window to the prisoner’s. It had occurred to Clélia a short time before, while so anxiously awaiting Fabrice’s appearance, that pebbles might be made factors in their correspondence, by wrapping the paper on which the message was written round them and throwing them up so they should fall within the open upper portion of the screen. The device would have worked well unless Fabrice’s keeper chanced to be in the room at the time.  8
  Our prisoner proceeded to tear one of his shirts into narrow strips, forming a sort of ribbon. Shortly after nine o’clock that evening he heard a tapping on the boxes of the orange-trees under his window; he cautiously lowered his ribbon, and on drawing it up again found attached to its free end a long cord by means of which he hauled up a supply of chocolate, and, to his inexpressible satisfaction, a package of note-paper and a pencil. He dropped the cord again, but to no purpose; perhaps the sentries on their rounds had approached the orange-trees. But his delight was sufficient for one evening. He sat down and wrote a long letter to Clélia; scarcely was it ended when he fastened it to the cord and let it down. For more than three hours he waited in vain for some one to come and take it; two or three times he drew it up and made alterations in it. “If Clélia does not get my letter to-night,” he said to himself, “while those ideas of poison are troubling her brain, it is more than likely that to-morrow she will refuse to receive it.”  9
  The fact was that Clélia had been obliged to drive to the city with her father. Fabrice knew how matters stood when he heard the General’s carriage enter the court about half-past twelve; he knew it was the General’s carriage by the horses’ step. What was his delight when, shortly after hearing the jingle of the General’s spurs as he crossed the esplanade, and the rattle of muskets as the sentries presented arms, he felt a gentle tug at the cord, the end of which he had kept wrapped around his wrist! Something heavy was made fast to the cord; two little jerks notified him to haul up. He had some difficulty in landing the object over a cornice that projected under his window.  10
  The article that he had secured at expense of so much trouble proved to be a carafe of water wrapped in a shawl. The poor young man, who had been living for so long a time in such complete solitude, covered the shawl with rapturous kisses. But words are inadequate to express his emotion when, after so many days of vain waiting, he discovered a scrap of paper pinned to the shawl.  11
  “Drink no water but this; satisfy your hunger with chocolate,” said this precious missive. “To-morrow I will try to get some bread to you; I will mark the crust at top and bottom with little crosses made with ink. It is a frightful thing to say, but you must know it:—I believe others are implicated in Barbone’s design to poison you. Could you not have understood that the subject you spoke of in your letter in pencil is displeasing to me? I should not think of writing to you were it not for the great peril that is hanging over us. I have seen the Duchess; she is well, as is the Count, but she is very thin. Write no more on that subject which you know of: would you wish to make me angry?”  12
  It cost Clélia an effort to write the last sentence but one of the above note. It was in everybody’s mouth in court circles that Mme. Sanseverina was manifesting a great deal of friendly interest in Count Baldi, that extremely handsome man and quondam friend of the Marquise Raversi. The one thing certain was that he and the Marquise had separated, and he was alleged to have behaved most shamefully toward the lady who for six years had been to him a mother and given him his standing in society….  13
  The next morning, long before the sun was up, Grillo entered Fabrice’s cell, laid down what seemed to be a pretty heavy package, and vanished without saying a word. The package contained a good-sized loaf of bread, plentifully ornamented with little crosses made with a pen. Fabrice covered them with kisses. Why? Because he was in love. Beside the loaf lay a rouleau incased in many thicknesses of paper; it contained six thousand francs in sequins. Finally, Fabrice discovered a handsome brand-new prayer-book: these words, in a writing he was beginning to be acquainted with, were written on the fly-leaf:—  14
  “Poison! Beware the water, the wine, everything; confine yourself to chocolate. Give the untasted dinner to the dog; it will not do to show distrust; the enemy would have recourse to other methods. For God’s sake, be cautious! no rashness!”  15
  Fabrice made haste to remove the telltale writing which might have compromised Clélia, and to tear out a number of leaves from the prayer-book, with which he made several alphabets; each letter was neatly formed with powdered charcoal moistened with wine. The alphabets were quite dry when at a quarter to twelve Clélia appeared at the window of the aviary. “The main thing now is to persuade her to use them,” said Fabrice to himself. But as it happened, fortunately, she had much to say to the young prisoner in regard to the plan to poison him (a dog belonging to one of the kitchen-maids had died after eating a dish cooked for Fabrice), so that Clélia not only made no objection to the use of the alphabets, but had herself prepared one in the highest style of art with ink. Under this method, which did not work altogether smoothly at the beginning, the conversation lasted an hour and a half, which was as long as Clélia dared remain in the aviary. Two or three times, when Fabrice trespassed on forbidden ground and alluded to matters that were taboo, she made no answer and walked away to feed her birds.  16
  Fabrice requested that when she sent him his supply of water at evening she would accompany it with one of her alphabets, which, being traced in ink, were legible at a greater distance. He did not fail to write her a good long letter, and was careful to put in it no soft nonsense—at least, of a nature to offend.  17
  The next day, in their alphabetical conversation, Clélia had no reproach to make him. She informed him that there was less to be apprehended from the poisoners. Barbone had been waylaid and nearly murdered by the lovers of the Governor’s scullery-maids; he would scarcely venture to show his face in the kitchens again. She owned up to stealing a counter-poison from her father; she sent it to him with directions how to use it, but the main thing was to reject at once all food that seemed to have an unnatural taste.  18
  Clélia had subjected Don Cesare to a rigorous examination, without succeeding in discovering whence came the six thousand francs received by Fabrice. In any case, it was a good sign: it showed that the severity of his confinement was relaxing.  19
  The poison episode had a very favorable effect on our hero’s amatory enterprise: still, he could never extort anything at all resembling a confession of love; but he had the felicity of living on terms of intimacy with Clélia. Every morning, and often at evening also, there was a long conversation with the alphabets; every evening at nine o’clock Clélia received a lengthy letter, and sometimes accorded it a few brief words of answer; she sent him the daily paper and an occasional new book; finally, the rugged Grillo had been so far tamed as to keep Fabrice supplied with bread and wine, which were handed him daily by Clélia’s maid. This led honest Grillo to conclude that the Governor was not of the same mind as those who had engaged Barbone to poison the young Monsignor; at which he rejoiced exceedingly, as did his comrades, for there was a saying current in the prison—“You have only to look Monsignor del Dongo in the face; he is certain to give you money.”  20
  Fabrice was very pale; lack of exercise was injuring his health: but for all that he had never been so happy. The tone of the conversation between Clélia and him was familiar and often gay. The only moments of the girl’s life not beset with dark forebodings and remorse were those spent in conversing with him. She was so thoughtless as to remark one day:—  21
  “I admire your delicacy: because I am the Governor’s daughter you have nothing to say to me of the pleasures of freedom!”  22
  “That’s because I am not so absurd as to have aspirations in that direction,” replied Fabrice. “How often could I hope to see you if I were living in Parma, a free man again? And life would not be worth living if I could not tell you all my thoughts—no, not that exactly: you take precious good care I don’t tell you all my thoughts! But in spite of your cruel tyranny, to live without seeing you daily would be a far worse punishment than captivity; in all my life I was never so happy! Isn’t it strange to think happiness was awaiting me in a prison?”  23
  “There is a good deal to be said on that point,” rejoined Clélia, with an air that all at once became very serious, almost threatening.  24
  “What!” exclaimed Fabrice, in alarm, “am I in danger of losing the small place I have won in your heart, my sole joy in this world?”  25
  “Yes,” she replied. “Although your reputation in society is that of a gentleman and gallant man, I have reason to believe you are not acting ingenuously toward me. But I don’t wish to discuss this matter to-day.”  26
  This strange exordium cast an element of embarrassment into the conversation, and tears were often in the eyes of both.  27

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