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Pellico of course was very incredulous; but his fellowcaptive went on to asseverate that he was in very deed Louis XVII., and that his uncle, Louis XVIII., was the usurper of his rights."
"But why did you not assert these rights at the time of the restoration of the Bourbons?"
"I was then mortally ill at Bologna. As soon as I recovered, I flew to France. I presented myself to the high allied powers; but what was done, was done. My iniquitous uncle would not acknowledge me, and my sister (the Duchess of Angouleme) united with him to oppress me. The good Prince de Conde' alone received me with open arms, but his friendship could do nothing for me. One night I was assaulted in the streets of Paris by ruffians, from whose daggers I escaped with difficulty. After having wandered for some time in Normandy, I returned into Italy, and fixed myself at Modena; thence writing incessantly to the monarchs of Europe, and particularly to the Emperor Alexander, who answered me with the greatest politeness, I did not despair of finally obtaining justice ; or if, for policy, they were determined to sacrifice my rights to the throne of France, I thought at least they would assign me a decent appanage. At last I was arrested, conducted to the frontiers of the Duchy of Modena, and given up to the Austrian government. I have now been buried here eight months, and God knows when I shall get out!"
Such was the strange narrative, at least as well as Pellico could remember it after his own ten years of imprisonment and torture. "He related this story," says the poet, "with an astonishing air of truth: though I could not believe it, I was forced to admire it. All the facts of the French revolution were most familiar to him; he spoke of that event with a great deal of spontaneous eloquence, and repeated a number of apposite and most curious anecdotes bearing upon it. There was something of the roughness of the soldier in his way of speaking, but yet it never was wanting in that elegance which is obtained by frequenting refined society.
"' You will permit me,' said I, 'to treat you without ceremony, and drop titles?'
"' That is what I wish,' replied he: 'I have at least derived this benefit from adversity—I can smile at all pomps and vanities; I assure you I value myself more as a man than as being a king.'
"Morning and evening," continues Pellico, "we held long conversations together; and in spite of what I considered a farce in him, his mind seemed to me upright, candid, and desirous of every moral good. Several times I was on the point of saying to him—' Pardon me, I would fain believe that you are Louis XVII., but in sincerity I must confess that a conviction to the contrary is too strong for me; be, then, so frank as to give up this imposture.' But I put it off from day to day, always waiting for an increase of our intimacy, and I never had courage to say what I intended."
After reproaching himself for this weakness, or pusillanimity, as he calls it, Pellico goes on to say—" The turnkeys of the prison were all inclined to believe that he was really Louis XVII.; and as they had seen so many changes of political fortune, they were not without hopes that he would one day ascend the throne of France and remember their devoted service to him. With the exception of favouring his escape, they treated him with all the kindness and respect he could desire. It was to this I was indebted for the honour of once seeing the great personage: he was of middling stature, apparently between forty and forty-five years of age, rather fat, and of an essentially Bourbonic physiognomy. It is probable that an accidental resemblance to the Bourbons had induced him to play this miserable part."
In the course of their melancholy conversations, which were carried on through the bars of their cell-windows, without their being able to see each other, they occasionally spoke of ethics and religion; and Pellico says the soi-disant duke was a man of religious feelings, though not altogether a good Catholic.
From this very curious account it will appear that, let him have been what he might, the prisoner of Milan was no common impostor. But he becomes still more interesting, and his story more involved or mysterious, from the following facts, which have been related to us by an Italian gentleman now resident in England, who knew the man well at Modena.
In the spring of 1819, our friend, having come from his residence in the country to spend some time at the capital of the little state of which he was a subject, went one evening to the theatre at Modena, and took his seat behind a person of most gentlemanly appearance, who was taking a lively interest in the comedy, though evidently not an Italian, but a foreigner. In the course of the evening they fell into conversation. The stranger not only spoke excellent Tuscan or pure Italian, but talked with the greatest facility in the patois or peculiar dialect of the place. From something, however, that fell
from him, Signor was given to understand (what,
at first, he could scarcely credit) that the stranger was a Frenchman; and they then conversed for some time in French. The conversation, suggested by the place they were in, turned chiefly on the drama and poetry, on which subjects the Frenchman spoke with a fine critical taste, extensive knowledge, and an unusual degree of liberality and emancipation from national prejudices: his conversation was superior to his manner and appearance; it was that not merely of a refined gentleman, but of an accomplished scholar.
Signor was so struck with all this, that at the
end of the performance he followed the stranger out of the theatre, and, as it had come on to rain heavily, offered him the shelter of his umbrella, which the Frenchman accepted. Their roads lay in different directions, but our friend politely insisted on seeing him to his own door, which he did; and, on parting, named the hotel in which he was staying to the stranger, who thereon said that he knew it well and had lived there himself.
Signor , full of the curious meeting of the
evening, and with an uncertain sort of recollection ot having seen the stranger somewhere before, on reaching the hotel, asked the people of the house what they knew of such a person (describing his dress and personal appearance) who had been their guest. Their answer was hesitating and rather mysterious. They knew little of the gentleman, except that he had come from Corsica a short time before; that his name was De Bourlon; but they hinted that he must be a person of consideration, as he had been seen in familiar conversation with some of the greatest personages of Modena, and was allowed the use of one of the Count di , the governor's, carrages.
The next morning the stranger called to thank Signor
for his civility. Seen by daylight, and without
his hat, his most striking likeness to the Bourbon family instantly struck the Italian, who was now indeed puzzled to know what to make of his new acquaintance. After conversing for some time, the two went out for a walk. In the principal street of Modena they met the military governor, who bowed to the Frenchman in a most respectful manner. On the bastions they met the Grand Duke of Modena himself, who saluted the stranger as sovereigns salute persons of the very highest rank, and went aside with him for several minutes of conversation.
During this walk, Signor observed that the
Frenchman was lame, that he seemed occasionally to be in pain, and that his countenance, the general expression of which was frank and open, was now and then clouded and agitated. On separating from his mysterious companion, Signor went to , the chief magistrate of the city, and asked him, as an old and confidential friend, to tell him what he knew about the stranger.
The magistrate knew, or pretended to know, little enough: but he used these remarkable words: " C/iisa se rum ablnamo qui un altra storia delV uomo ddla maschera di ferro f" (who knows whether we have not got here another story of the Man with the Iron-Mask ?)
and he hinted that it would be'as well if Signor
shunned the Frenchman.
In spite of this, however, our friend's curiosity and all possible respect. These instructions came from the Grand Duke in person, who, moreover, supplied the captive's table from his own palace.
When he was first arrested, the keeper of the hotel, with his family, waiters, and other servants, and the people of the house where he last lived, were all summoned before the commissaries of police, and questioned as to the persons who had intimately associated with the French gentleman. Having revealed the very little they had to tell on this head,—for the stranger's associates had been few and most respectable, they were dismissed, and advised to hold their tongues as to what had
Men who have passed all their lives in a free country like England, can hardly understand it; but those who have lived any time in despotic countries, and particularly under the smaller and more prying and timid despotisms
of Italy, will easily conceive why Signor was
made uneasy by the foregoing intelligence. As the best step he could take, he went at once to his acquaintance the magistrate, avowed that he had cultivated an intimacy with one who was now a state-prisoner, and that he could hardly have expected there was an impropriety in his so doing, after he had seen the stranger honoured by the first personages of Modena, and even by the sovereign himself. The magistrate reassured him: there was no cause for uneasiness; this was a mystery—a curious story, perhaps a serious one—but it neither concerned the Duke of Modena nor his subjects. Meanwhile, the prisoner had been carried across the frontiers, and (as related before in the words of Silvio Pellico^ had been given over to the Austrians, who conveyed nim to the fortress of Mantua. For some time, even the Austrians treated him with the greatest respect; but then, in consequence of sudden orders from Vienna, he was removed from the fortress of Mantua to the gaol of Milan, and subjected to the treatment of a common criminal and cut-purse. It was here that Pellico formed his curious acquaintance with him, and here Signor ''s own knowledge of
his adventures ends.