by Prosper Merimee
Translated By The Lady Mary Loyd
"Pe far la to vendetta,
Sta sigur', vasta anche ella."
--Vocero du Niolo.
Early in the month of October, 181-, Colonel Sir Thomas Nevil, a
distinguished Irish officer of the English army, alighted with his
daughter at the Hotel Beauveau, Marseilles, on their return from a
tour in Italy. The perpetual and universal admiration of enthusiastic
travellers has produced a sort of reaction, and many tourists, in
their desire to appear singular, now take the nil admirari of Horace
for their motto. To this dissatisfied class the colonel's only
daughter, Miss Lydia, belonged. "The Transfiguration" has seemed to
her mediocre, and Vesuvius in eruption an effect not greatly superior
to that produced by the Birmingham factory chimneys. Her great
objection to Italy, on the whole, was its lack of local colour and
character. My readers must discover the sense of these expressions as
best they may. A few years ago I understood them very well myself, but
at the present time I can make nothing of them. At first, Miss Lydia
had flattered herself she had found things on the other side of the
Alps which nobody had ever before seen, about which she could converse
avec les honnetes gens, as M. Jourdain calls them. But soon,
anticipated in every direction by her countrymen, she despaired of
making any fresh discoveries, and went over to the party of the
opposition. It is really very tiresome not to be able to talk abut the
wonders of Italy without hearing somebody say "Of course you know the
Raphael in the Palazzo---- at ----? It is the finest thing in Italy!"
and just the thing you happen to have overlooked! As it would take
too long to see everything, the simplest course is to resort to
deliberate and universal censure.
At the Hotel Beauveau Miss Lydia met with a bitter disappointment. She
had brought back a pretty sketch of the Pelasgic or Cyclopean Gate at
Segni, which, as she believed, all other artists had completely
overlooked. Now, at Marseilles, she met Lady Frances Fenwick, who
showed her her album, in which appeared, between a sonnet and a dried
flower, the very gate in question, brilliantly touched in with sienna.
Miss Lydia gave her drawing to her maid--and lost all admiration for
This unhappy frame of mind was shared by Colonel Nevil, who, since the
death of his wife, looked at everything through his daughter's eyes.
In his estimation, Italy had committed the unpardonable sin of boring
his child, and was, in consequence, the most wearisome country on the
face of the earth. He had no fault to find, indeed, with the pictures
and statues, but he was in a position to assert that Italian sport was
utterly wretched, and that he had been obliged to tramp ten leagues
over the Roman Campagna, under a burning sun, to kill a few worthless
The morning after his arrival at Marseilles he invited Captain Ellis--
his former adjutant, who had just been spending six weeks in Corsica--
to dine with him. The captain told Miss Lydia a story about bandits,
which had the advantage of bearing no resemblance to the robber tales
with which she had been so frequently regaled, on the road between
Naples and Rome, and he told it well. At dessert, the two men, left
alone over their claret, talked of hunting--and the colonel learned
that nowhere is there more excellent sport, or game more varied and
abundant, than in Corsica. "There are plenty of wild boars," said
Captain Ellis. "And you have to learn to distinguish them from the
domestic pigs, which are astonishingly like them. For if you kill a
pig, you find yourself in difficulties with the swine-herds. They rush
out of the thickets (which they call maquis) armed to the teeth,
make you pay for their beasts, and laugh at you besides. Then there is
the mouflon, a strange animal, which you will not find anywhere else--
splendid game, but hard to get--and stags, deer, pheasants, and
partridges--it would be impossible to enumerate all the kinds with
which Corsica swarms. If you want shooting, colonel, go to Corsica!
There, as one of my entertainers said to me, you can get a shot at
every imaginable kind of game, from a thrush to a man!"
At tea, the captain once more delighted Lydia with the tale of a
vendetta transversale (A vendetta in which vengeance falls on a more
or less distant relation of the author of the original offence.), even
more strange than his first story, and he thoroughly stirred her
enthusiasm by his descriptions of the strange wild beauty of the
country, the peculiarities of its inhabitants, and their primitive
hospitality and customs. Finally, he offered her a pretty little
stiletto, less remarkable for its shape and copper mounting than for
its origin. A famous bandit had given it to Captain Ellis, and had
assured him it had been buried in four human bodies. Miss Lydia thrust
it through her girdle, laid it on the table beside her bed, and
unsheathed it twice over before she fell asleep. Her father meanwhile
was dreaming he had slain a mouflon, and that its owner insisted on
his paying for it, a demand to which he gladly acceded, seeing it was
a most curious creature, like a boar, with stag's horns and a
"Ellis tells me there's splendid shooting in Corsica," said the
colonel, as he sat at breakfast, alone with his daughter. "If it
hadn't been for the distance, I should like to spend a fortnight
"Well," replied Miss Lydia, "why shouldn't we go to Corsica? While you
are hunting I can sketch--I should love to have that grotto Captain
Ellis talked about, where Napoleon used to go and study when he was a
child, in my album."
It was the first time, probably, that any wish expressed by the
colonel had won his daughter's approbation. Delighted as he was by the
unexpected harmony on their opinions, he was nevertheless wise enough
to put forward various objections, calculated to sharpen Miss Lydia's
welcome whim. In vain did he dwell on the wildness of the country, and
the difficulties of travel there for a lady. Nothing frightened her;
she liked travelling on horseback of all things; she delighted in the
idea of bivouacking in the open; she even threatened to go as far as
Asia Minor--in short, she found an answer to everything. No
Englishwoman had ever been to Corsica; therefore she must go. What a
pleasure it would be, when she got back to St. James's Place, to
exhibit her album! "But, my dear creature, why do you pass over that
delightful drawing?" "That's only a trifle--just a sketch I made of a
famous Corsican bandit who was our guide." "What! you don't mean to
say you have been to Corsica?"
As there were no steamboats between France and Corsica, in those days,
inquiries were made for some ship about to sail for the island Miss
Lydia proposed to discover. That very day the colonel wrote to Paris,
to countermand his order for the suite of apartments in which he was
to have made some stay, and bargained with the skipper of a Corsican
schooner, just about to set sail for Ajaccio, for two poor cabins, but
the best that could be had. Provisions were sent on board, the skipper
swore that one of his sailors was an excellent cook, and had not his
equal for bouilleabaisse; he promised mademoiselle should be
comfortable, and have a fair wind and a calm sea.
The colonel further stipulated, in obedience to his daughter's wishes,
that no other passenger should be taken on board, and that the captain
should skirt the coast of the island, so that Miss Lydia might enjoy
the view of the mountains.
On the day of their departure everything was packed and sent on board
early in the morning. The schooner was to sail with the evening
breeze. Meanwhile, as the colonel and his daughter were walking on the
Canebiere, the skipper addressed them, and craved permission to take
on board one of his relations, his eldest son's godfather's second
cousin, who was going back to Corsica, his native country, on
important business, and could not find any ship to take him over.
"He's a charming fellow," added Captain Mattei, "a soldier, an officer
in the Infantry of the Guard, and would have been a colonel already if
the other (meaning Napoleon) had still been emperor!"
"As he is a soldier," began the colonel--he was about to add, "I shall
be very glad he should come with us," when Miss Lydia exclaimed in
"An infantry officer!" (Her father had been in the cavalry, and she
consequently looked down on every other branch of the service.) "An
uneducated man, very likely, who would be sea-sick, and spoil all the
pleasure of our trip!"
The captain did not understand a word of English, but he seemed to
catch what Miss Lydia was saying by the pursing up of her pretty
mouth, and immediately entered upon an elaborate panegyric of his
relative, which he wound up by declaring him to be a gentleman,
belonging to a family of corporals, and that he would not be in the
very least in the colonel's way, for that he, the skipper, would
undertake to stow him in some corner, where they should not be aware
of his presence.
The colonel and Miss Nevil thought it peculiar that there should be
Corsican families in which the dignity of corporal was handed down
from father to son. But, as they really believed the individual in
question to be some infantry corporal, they concluded he was some poor
devil whom the skipper desired to take out of pure charity. If he had
been an officer, they would have been obliged to speak to him and live
with him; but there was no reason why they should put themselves out
for a corporal--who is a person of no consequence unless his
detachment is also at hand, with bayonets fixed, ready to convey a
person to a place to which he would rather not be taken.
"Is your kinsman ever sea-sick?" demanded Miss Nevil sharply.
"Never, mademoiselle, he is as steady as a rock, either on sea or
"Very good then, you can take him," said she.
"You can take him!" echoed the colonel, and they passed on their way.
Toward five o'clock in the evening Captain Mattei came to escort them
on board the schooner. On the jetty, near the captain's gig, they met
a tall young man wearing a blue frock-coat, buttoned up to his chin;
his face was tanned, his eyes were black, brilliant, wide open, his
whole appearance intelligent and frank. His shoulders, well thrown
back, and his little twisted mustache clearly revealed the soldier--
for at that period mustaches were by no means common, and the National
Guard had not carried the habits and appearance of the guard-room into
the bosom of every family.
When the young man saw the colonel he doffed his cap, and thanked him
in excellent language, and without the slightest shyness, for the
service he was rendering him.
"Delighted to be of use to you, my good fellow!" said the colonel,
with a friendly nod, and he stepped into the gig.
"He's not very ceremonious, this Englishman of yours," said the young
man in Italian, and in an undertone, to the captain.
The skipper laid his forefinger under his left eye, and pulled down
the corners of his mouth. To a man acquainted with the language of
signs, this meant that the Englishman understood Italian, and was an
oddity into the bargain. The young man smiled slightly and touched his
forehead, in answer to Mattei's sign, as though to indicate that every
Englishman had a bee in his bonnet. Then he sat down beside them, and
began to look very attentively, though not impertinently, at his
"These French soldiers all have a good appearance," remarked the
colonel in English to his daughter, "and so it is easy to turn them
into officers." Then addressing the young man in French, he said,
"Tell me, my good man, what regiment have you served in?" The young
man nudged his second cousin's godson's father gently with his elbow,
and suppressing an ironic smile, replied that he had served in the
Infantry of the Guard, and that he had just quitted the Seventh
Regiment of Light Infantry.
"Were you at Waterloo? You are very young!"
"I beg your pardon, colonel, that was my only campaign."
"It counts as two," said the colonel.
The young Corsican bit his lips.
"Papa," said Miss Lydia in English, "do ask him if the Corsicans are
very fond of their Buonaparte."
Before the colonel could translate her question into French, the young
man answered in fairly good English, though with a marked accent:
"You know, mademoiselle, that no man is ever a prophet in his own
country. We, who are Napoleon's fellow-countrymen, are perhaps less
attached to him than the French. As for myself, though my family was
formerly at enmity with his, I both love and admire him."
"You speak English!" exclaimed the colonel.
"Very ill, as you may perceive!"
Miss Lydia, though somewhat shocked by the young man's easy tone,
could not help laughing at the idea of a personal enmity between a
corporal and an emperor. She took this as a foretaste of Corsican
peculiarities, and made up her mind to note it down in her journal.
"Perhaps you were a prisoner in England?" asked the colonel.
"No, colonel, I learned English in France, when I was very young, from
a prisoner of your nation."
Then, addressing Miss Nevil:
"Mattei tells me you have just come back from Italy. No doubt,
mademoiselle, you speak the purest Tuscan--I fear you'll find it
somewhat difficult to understand our dialect."
"My daughter understands every Italian dialect," said the colonel.
"She has the gift of languages. She doesn't get it from me."
"Would mademoiselle understand, for instance, these lines from one of
our Corsican songs in which a shepherd says to his shepherdess:
"S'entrassi 'ndru paradisu santu, santu,
E nun truvassi a tia, mi n'escriria."
("If I entered the holy land of paradise
and found thee not, I would depart!")
--Serenata di Zicavo.
Miss Lydia did understand. She thought the quotation bold, and the
look which accompanied it still bolder, and replied, with a blush,
"And are you going back to your own country on furlough?" inquired the
"No, colonel, they have put me on half-pay, because I was at Waterloo,
probably, and because I am Napoleon's fellow-countryman. I am going
home, as the song says, low in hope and low in purse," and he looked
up to the sky and sighed.
The colonel slipped his hand into his pocket, and tried to think of
some civil phrase with which he might slip the gold coin he was
fingering into the palm of his unfortunate enemy.
"And I too," he said good-humouredly, "have been put on half-pay, but
your half-pay can hardly give you enough to buy tobacco! Here,
corporal!" and he tried to force the gold coin into the young man's
closed hand, which rested on the gunwale of the gig.
The young Corsican reddened, drew himself up, bit his lips, and
seemed, for a moment, on the brink of some angry reply. Then suddenly
his expression changed and he burst out laughing. The colonel,
grasping his gold piece still in his hand, sat staring at him.
"Colonel," said the young man, when he had recovered his gravity,
"allow me to offer you two pieces of advice--the first is never to
offer money to a Corsican, for some of my fellow-countrymen would be
rude enough to throw it back in your face; the second is not to give
people titles they do not claim. You call me 'corporal,' and I am a
lieutenant--the difference is not very great, no doubt, still----"
"Lieutenant! Lieutenant!" exclaimed Sir Thomas. "But the skipper told
me you were a corporal, and that your father and all your family had
been corporals before you!"
At these words the young man threw himself back and laughed louder
than ever, so merrily that the skipper and his two sailors joined the
"Forgive me, colonel!" he cried at last. "The mistake is so comical,
and I have only just realized it. It is quite true that my family
glories in the fact that it can reckon many corporals among its
ancestors--but our Corsican corporals never wore stripes upon their
sleeves! Toward the year of grace 1100 certain villages revolted
against the tyranny of the great mountain nobles, and chose leaders of
their own, whom they called corporals. In our island we think a
great deal of being descended from these tribunes."
"I beg your pardon, sir," exclaimed the colonel, "I beg your pardon a
thousand times! As you understand the cause of my mistake, I hope you
will do me the kindness of forgiving it!" and he held out his hand.
"It is the just punishment of my petty pride," said the young man,
still laughing, and cordially shaking the Englishman's hand. "I am not
at all offended. As my friend Mattei has introduced me so
unsuccessfully, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Orso della
Rebbia; I am a lieutenant on half-pay; and if, as the sight of those
two fine dogs of yours leads me to believe, you are coming to Corsica
to hunt, I shall be very proud to do you the honours of our mountains
and our maquis--if, indeed, I have not forgotten them altogether!"
he added, with a sigh.
At this moment the gig came alongside the schooner, the lieutenant
offered his hand to Miss Lydia, and then helped the colonel to swing
himself up on deck. Once there, Sir Thomas, who was still very much
ashamed of his blunder, and at a loss to know what he had better do to
make the man whose ancestry dated from the year 1100 forget it,
invited him to supper, without waiting for his daughter's consent, and
with many fresh apologies and handshakes. Miss Lydia frowned a little,
but, after all, she was not sorry to know what a corporal really was.
She rather liked there guest, and was even beginning to fancy there
was something aristocratic about him--only she thought him too frank
and merry for a hero of romance.
"Lieutenant della Rebbia," said the colonel, bowing to him, English
fashion, over a glass of Madeira, "I met a great many of your
countrymen in Spain--they were splendid sharp-shooters."
"Yes, and a great many of them have stayed in Spain," replied the
young lieutenant gravely.
"I shall never forget the behaviour of a Corsican battalion at the
Battle of Vittoria," said the colonel; "I have good reason to remember
it, indeed," he added, rubbing his chest. "All day long they had been
skirmishing in the gardens, behind the hedges, and had killed I don't
know how many of our horses and men. When the retreat was sounded,
they rallied and made off at a great pace. We had hoped to take our
revenge on them in the open plain, but the scoundrels--I beg your
pardon, lieutenant; the brave fellows, I should have said--had formed
a square, and there was no breaking it. In the middle of the square--I
fancy I can see him still--rode an officer on a little black horse. He
kept close beside the standard, smoking his cigar as coolly as if he
had been in a café. Every now and then their bugles played a flourish,
as if to defy us. I sent my two leading squadrons at them. Whew!
Instead of breaking the front of the square, my dragoons passed along
the sides, wheeled, and came back in great disorder, and with several
riderless horses--and all the time those cursed bugles went on
playing. When the smoke which had hung over the battalion cleared
away, I saw the officer still puffing at his cigar beside his eagle. I
was furious, and led a final charge myself. Their muskets, foul with
continual firing, would not go off, but the men had drawn up, six
deep, with their bayonets pointed at the noses of our horses; you
might have taken them for a wall. I was shouting, urging on my
dragoons, and spurring my horse forward, when the officer I have
mentioned, at length throwing away his cigar, pointed me out to one of
his men, and I heard him say something like "Al capello bianco!"--I
wore a white plume. Then I did not hear any more, for a bullet passed
through my chest. That was a splendid battalion, M. della Rebbia, that
first battalion of the Eighteenth--all of them Corsicans, as I was
"Yes," said Orso, whose eyes had shone as he listened to the story.
"They covered the retreat, and brought back their eagle. Two thirds of
those brave fellows are sleeping now on the plains of Vittoria!"
"And, perhaps, you can tell me the name of the officer in command?"
"It was my father--he was then a major in the Eighteenth, and was
promoted colonel for his conduct on that terrible day."
"Your father! Upon my word, he was a brave man! I should be glad to
see him again, and I am certain I should recognise him. Is he still
"No, colonel," said the young man, turning slightly pale.
"Was he at Waterloo?"
"Yes, colonel; but he had not the happiness of dying on the field of
battle. He died in Corsica two years ago. How beautiful the sea is! It
is ten years since I have seen the Mediterranean! Don't you think the
Mediterranean much more beautiful than the ocean, mademoiselle?"
"I think it too blue, and its waves lack grandeur."
"You like wild beauty then, mademoiselle! In that case, I am sure you
will be delighted with Corsica."
"My daughter," said the colonel, "delights in everything that is out
of the common, and for that reason she did not care much for Italy."
"The only place in Italy that I know," said Orso, "is Pisa, where I
was at school for some time. But I can not think, without admiration,
of the Campo-Santo, the Duomo, and the Leaning Tower--especially of
the Campo-Santo. Do you remember Orcagna's 'Death'? I think I could
draw every line of it--it is so graven on my memory."
Miss Lydia was afraid the lieutenant was going to deliver an
"It is very pretty," she said, with a yawn. "Excuse me, papa, my head
aches a little; I am going down to my cabin."
She kissed her father on the forehead, inclined her head majestically
to Orso, and disappeared. Then the two men talked about hunting and
war. They discovered that at Waterloo they had been posted opposite
each other, and had no doubt exchanged many a bullet. This knowledge
strengthened their good understanding. Turning about, they criticised
Napoleon, Wellington, and Blucher, and then they hunted buck, boar,
and mountain sheep in company. At last, when night was far advanced,
and the last bottle of claret had been emptied, the colonel wrung the
lieutenant's hand once more and wished him good-night, expressing his
hope that an acquaintance, which had begun in such ridiculous fashion,
might be continued. They parted, and each went to bed.
It was a lovely night. The moonlight was dancing on the waves, the
ship glided smoothly on before a gentle breeze. Miss Lydia was not
sleepy, and nothing but the presence of an unpoetical person had
prevented her from enjoying those emotions which every human being
possessing a touch of poetry must experience at sea by moonlight. When
she felt sure the young lieutenant must be sound asleep, like the
prosaic creature he was, she got up, took her cloak, woke her maid,
and went on deck. Nobody was to be seen except the sailor at the helm,
who was singing a sort of dirge in the Corsican dialect, to some wild
and monotonous tune. In the silence of the night this strange music
had its charm. Unluckily Miss Lydia did not understand perfectly what
the sailor was singing. Amid a good deal that was commonplace, a
passionate line would occasionally excite her liveliest curiosity. But
just at the most important moment some words of patois would occur,
the sense of which utterly escaped her. Yet she did make out that the
subject was connected with a murder. Curses against the assassin,
threats of vengeance, praise of the dead were all mingled confusedly.
She remembered some of the lines. I will endeavour to translate them
. . . "Neither cannon nor bayonets . . .
Brought pallor to his brow. . .
As serene on the battlefield . . . as a summer sky.
He was the falcon--the eagle's friend . . .
Honey of the sand to his friends . . .
To his enemies, a tempestuous sea. . . .
. . . Prouder than the sun . . . gentler than the moon
. . . He for whom the enemies of France . . .
never waited . . . Murderers in his own land
. . . struck him from behind . . .
As Vittolo slew Sampiero Corso . . .
Never would they have dared to look him in
The face . . . Set up on the wall
Before my bed . . . my well-earned cross of honour
. . . red is its ribbon . . . redder is my
shirt! . . . For my son, my son in a far country
. . . keep my cross and my blood-stained shirt! . . .
. . . He will see two holes in it . . . For each
hole a hole in another shirt! . . . But will that accomplish
the vengeance? . . . I must have the hand
that fired, the eye that aimed . . . the heart
that planned!" . . .
Suddenly the sailor stopped short.
"Why don't you go on, my good man?" inquired Miss Nevil.
The sailor, with a jerk of his head, pointed to a figure appearing
through the main hatchway of the schooner: it was Orso, coming up to
enjoy the moonlight. "Pray finish your song," said Miss Lydia. "It
interests me greatly!"
The sailor leaned toward her, and said, in a very low tone, "I don't
give the rimbecco to anybody!"
The sailor, without replying, began to whistle.
"I have caught you admiring our Mediterranean, Miss Nevil," said Orso,
coming toward her. "You must allow you never see a moon like this
"I was not looking at it, I was altogether occupied in studying
Corsican. That sailor, who has been singing a most tragic dirge,
stopped short at the most interesting point."
The sailor bent down, as if to see the compass more clearly, and
tugged sharply at Miss Nevil's fur cloak. It was quite evident his
lament could not be sung before Lieutenant Orso.
"What were you singing, Paolo France?" said Orso. "Was it a ballata
or a vocero? Mademoiselle understands you, and would like to hear
"I have forgotten it, Ors' Anton'," said the sailor.
And instantly he began a hymn to the Virgin, at the top of his voice.
Miss Lydia listened absent-mindedly to the hymn, and did not press the
singer any further--though she was quite resolved, in her own mind, to
find out the meaning of the riddle later. But her maid, who, being a
Florentine, could not understand the Corsican dialect any better than
her mistress, was as eager as Miss Lydia for information, and, turning
to Orso, before the English lady could warn her by a nudge, she said:
"Captain what does giving the rimbecco mean?"
"The rimbecco!" said Orso. "Why, it's the most deadly insult that can
be offered to a Corsican. It means reproaching him with not having
avenged his wrong. Who mentioned the rimbecco to you?"
"Yesterday, at Marseilles," replied Miss Lydia hurriedly, "the captain
of the schooner used the word."
"And whom was he talking about?" inquired Orso eagerly.
"Oh, he was telling us some odd story about the time--yes, I think it
was about Vannina d'Ornano."
"I suppose, mademoiselle, that Vannina's death has not inspired you
with any great love for our national hero, the brave Sampiero?"
"But do you think his conduct was so very heroic?"
"The excuse for his crime lies in the savage customs of the period.
And then Sampiero was waging deadly war against the Genoese. What
confidence could his fellow-countrymen have felt in him if he had not
punished his wife, who tried to treat with Genoa?"
"Vannina," said the sailor, "had started off without her husband's
leave. Sampiero did quite right to wring her neck!"
"But," said Miss Lydia, "it was to save her husband, it was out of
love for him, that she was going to ask his pardon from the Genoese."
"To ask his pardon was to degrade him!" exclaimed Orso.
"And then to kill her himself!" said Miss Lydia. "What a monster he
must have been!"
"You know she begged as a favour that she might die by his hand. What
about Othello, mademoiselle, do you look on him, too, as a monster?"
"There is a difference; he was jealous. Sampiero was only vain!"
"And after all is not jealousy a kind of vanity? It is the vanity of
love; will you not excuse it on account of its motive?"
Miss Lydia looked at him with an air of great dignity, and turning to
the sailor, inquired when the schooner would reach port.
"The day after to-morrow," said he, "if the wind holds."
"I wish Ajaccio were in sight already, for I am sick of this ship."
She rose, took her maid's arm, and walked a few paces on the deck.
Orso stood motionless beside the helm, not knowing whether he had
better walk beside her, or end a conversation which seemed displeasing
"Blood of the Madonna, what a handsome girl!" said the sailor. "If
every flea in my bed were like her, I shouldn't complain of their
Miss Lydia may possibly have overheard this artless praise of her
beauty and been startled by it; for she went below almost immediately.
Shortly after Orso also retired. As soon as he had left the deck the
maid reappeared, and, having cross-questioned the sailor, carried back
the following information to her mistress. The ballata which had
been broken off on Orso's appearance had been composed on the occasion
of the death of his father, Colonel della Rebbia, who had been
murdered two years previously. The sailor had no doubt at all that
Orso was coming back to Corsica per fare la vendetta, such was his
expression, and he affirmed that before long there would be fresh
meat to be seen in the village of Pietranera. This national
expression, being interpreted, meant that Signor Orso proposed to
murder two or three individuals suspected of having assassinated his
father--individuals who had, indeed, been prosecuted on that account,
but had come out of the trial as white as snow, for they were hand and
glove with the judges, lawyers, prefect, and gendarmes.
"There is no justice in Corsica," added the sailor, "and I put much
more faith in a good gun than in a judge of the Royal Court. If a man
has an enemy he must choose one of the three S's." (A national
expression meaning schioppetto, stiletto, strada--that is,
gun, dagger, or flight.
These interesting pieces of information wrought a notable change in
Miss Lydia's manner and feeling with regard to Lieutenant della
Rebbia. From that moment he became a person of importance in the
romantic Englishwoman's eyes.
His careless air, his frank and good humour, which had at first
impressed her so unfavourably, now seemed to her an additional merit,
as being proofs of the deep dissimulation of a strong nature, which
will not allow any inner feeling to appear upon the surface. Orso
seemed to her a sort of Fieschi, who hid mighty designs under an
appearance of frivolity, and, though it is less noble to kill a few
rascals than to free one's country, still a fine deed of vengeance is
a fine thing, and besides, women are rather glad to find their hero is
not a politician. Then Miss Nevil remarked for the first time that the
young lieutenant had large eyes, white teeth, an elegant figure, that
he was well-educated, and possessed the habits of good society. During
the following day she talked to him frequently, and found his
conversation interesting. He was asked many questions about his own
country, and described it well. Corsica, which he had left when young,
to go first to college, and then to the Ecole militaire, had remained
in his imagination surrounded with poetic associations. When he talked
of its mountains, its forests, and the quaint customs of its
inhabitants he grew eager and animated. As may be imagined, the word
vengeance occurred more than once in the stories he told--for it is
impossible to speak of the Corsicans without either attacking or
justifying their proverbial passion. Orso somewhat surprised Miss
Nevil by his general condemnation of the undying hatreds nursed by his
fellow-countrymen. As regarded the peasants, however, he endeavoured
to excuse them, and claimed that the vendetta is the poor man's
duel. "So true is this," he said, "that no assassination takes place
till a formal challenge has been delivered. 'Be on your guard
yourself, I am on mine!' are the sacramental words exchanged, from
time immemorial, between two enemies, before they begin to lie in wait
for each other. There are more assassinations among us," he added,
"than anywhere else. But you will never discover an ignoble cause for
any of these crimes. We have many murderers, it is true, but not a
When he spoke about vengeance and murder Miss Lydia looked at him
closely, but she could not detect the slightest trace of emotion on
his features. As she had made up her mind, however, that he possessed
sufficient strength of mind to be able to hide his thoughts from every
eye (her own, of course, excepted), she continued in her firm belief
that Colonel della Rebbia's shade would not have to wait long for the
atonement it claimed.
The schooner was already within sight of Corsica. The captain pointed
out the principal features of the coast, and, though all of these were
absolutely unknown to Miss Lydia, she found a certain pleasure in
hearing their names; nothing is more tiresome than an anonymous
landscape. From time to time the colonel's telescope revealed to her
the form of some islander clad in brown cloth, armed with a long gun,
bestriding a small horse, and galloping down steep slopes. In each of
these Miss Lydia believed she beheld either a brigand or a son going
forth to avenge his father's death. But Orso always declared it was
some peaceful denizen of a neighbouring village travelling on
business, and that he carried a gun less from necessity than because
it was the fashion, just as no dandy ever takes a walk without an
elegant cane. Though a gun is a less noble and poetic weapon than a
stiletto, Miss Lydia thought it much more stylish for a man than any
cane, and she remembered that all Lord Byron's heroes died by a
bullet, and not by the classic poniard.
After three days' sailing, the ship reached Les Sanguinaires (The
Bloody Islands), and the magnificent panorama of the Gulf of Ajaccio
was unrolled before our travellers' eyes. It is compared, with
justice, to the Bay of Naples, and just as the schooner was entering
the harbour a burning maquis, which covered the Punta di Girato,
brought back memories of Vesuvius and heightened the resemblance. To
make it quite complete, Naples should be seen after one of Attila's
armies had devastated its suburbs--for round Ajaccio everything looks
dead and deserted. Instead of the handsome buildings observable on
every side from Castellamare to Cape Misena, nothing is to be seen in
the neighbourhood of the Gulf of Ajaccio but gloomy maquis with bare
mountains rising behind them. Not a villa, not a dwelling of any kind
--only here and there, on the heights about the town, a few isolated
white structures stand out against a background of green. These are
mortuary chapels or family tombs. Everything in this landscape is
gravely and sadly beautiful.
The appearance of the town, at that period especially, deepened the
impression caused by the loneliness of its surroundings. There was no
stir in the streets, where only a few listless idlers--always the same
--were to be seen; no women at all, except an odd peasant come in to
sell her produce; no loud talk, laughter, and singing, as in the
Italian towns. Sometimes, under the shade of a tree on the public
promenade, a dozen armed peasants will play at cards or watch each
other play; they never shout or wrangle; if they get hot over the
game, pistol shots ring out, and this always before the utterance of
any threat. The Corsican is grave and silent by nature. In the
evening, a few persons come out to enjoy the cool air, but the
promenaders on the Corso are nearly all of them foreigners; the
islanders stay in front of their own doors; each one seems on the
watch, like a falcon over its nest.
When Miss Lydia had visited the house in which Napoleon was born, and
had procured, by means more or less moral, a fragment of the wall-
paper belonging to it, she, within two days of her landing in Corsica,
began to feel that profound melancholy which must overcome every
foreigner in a country whose unsociable inhabitants appear to condemn
him or her to a condition of utter isolation. She was already
regretting her headstrong caprice; but to go back at once would have
been to risk her reputation as an intrepid traveller, so she made up
her mind to be patient, and kill time as best she could. With this
noble resolution, she brought out her crayons and colours, sketched
views of the gulf, and did the portrait of a sunburnt peasant, who
sold melons, like any market-gardener on the Continent, but who wore a
long white beard, and looked the fiercest rascal that had ever been
seen. As all that was not enough to amuse her, she determined to turn
the head of the descendant of the corporals, and this was no difficult
matter, since, far from being in a hurry to get back to his village,
Orso seemed very happy at Ajaccio, although he knew nobody there.
Furthermore, Miss Lydia had a lofty purpose in her mind; it was
nothing less than to civilize this mountain bear, and induce him to
relinquish the sinister design which had recalled him to his island.
Since she had taken the trouble to study the young man, she had told
herself it would be a pity to let him rush upon his ruin, and that it
would be a glorious thing to convert a Corsican.
Our travellers spent the day in the following manner: Every morning
the colonel and Orso went out shooting. Miss Lydia sketched or wrote
letters to her friends, chiefly for the sake of dating them from
Ajaccio. Toward six o'clock the gentlemen came in, laden with game.
Then followed dinner. Miss Lydia sang, the colonel went to sleep, and
the young people sat talking till very late.
Some formality or other, connected with his passports, had made it
necessary for Colonel Nevil to call on the prefect. This gentleman,
who, like most of his colleagues, found his life very dull, had been
delighted to hear of the arrival of an Englishman who was rich, a man
of the world, and the father of a pretty daughter. He had, therefore,
given him the most friendly reception, and overwhelmed him with offers
of service; further, within a very few days, he came to return his
visit. The colonel, who had just dined, was comfortably stretched out
upon his sofa, and very nearly asleep. His daughter was singing at a
broken-down piano; Orso was turning over the leaves of her music, and
gazing at the fair singer's shoulders and golden hair. The prefect was
announced, the piano stopped, the colonel got up, rubbed his eyes, and
introduced the prefect to his daughter.
"I do not introduce M. della Rebbia to you," said he, "for no doubt
you know him already."
"Is this gentleman Colonel della Rebbia's son?" said the prefect,
looking a trifle embarrassed.
"Yes, monsieur," replied Orso.
"I had the honour of knowing your father."
The ordinary commonplaces of conversation were soon exhausted. The
colonel, in spite of himself, yawned pretty frequently. Orso, as a
liberal, did not care to converse with a satellite of the Government.
The burden of the conversation fell on Miss Lydia. The prefect, on his
side, did not let it drop, and it was clear that he found the greatest
pleasure in talking of Paris, and of the great world, to a woman who
was acquainted with all the foremost people in European society. As he
talked, he now and then glanced at Orso, with an expression of
"Was it on the Continent that you made M. della Rebbia's
acquaintance?" he inquired.
Somewhat embarrassed, Miss Lydia replied that she had made his
acquaintance on the ship which had carried them to Corsica.
"He is a very gentlemanly young fellow," said the prefect, in an
undertone; "and has he told you," he added, dropping his voice still
lower, "why he has returned to Corsica?"
Miss Lydia put on her most majestic air and answered:
"I have not asked him," she said. "You may do so."
The prefect kept silence, but, an instant later, hearing Orso speak a
few words of English to the colonel, he said:
"You seem to have travelled a great deal, monsieur. You must have
forgotten Corsica and Corsican habits."
"It is quite true that I was very young when I went away."
"You still belong to the army?"
"I am on half-pay, monsieur."
"You have been too long in the French army not to have become a
thorough Frenchman, I have no doubt?"
The last words of the sentence were spoken with marked emphasis.
The Corsicans are not particularly flattered at being reminded that
they belong to the "Great Nations." They claim to be a people apart,
and so well do they justify their claim that it may very well be
Somewhat nettled, Orso replied: "Do you think, M. le Prefet, that a
Corsican must necessarily serve in the French army to become an
"No, indeed," said the prefect, "that is not my idea at all; I am only
speaking of certain customs belonging to this country, some of which
are not such as a Government official would like to see."
He emphasized the word customs, and put on as grave an expression as
his features could assume. Soon after he got up and took his leave,
bearing with him Miss Lydia's promise that she would go and call on
his wife at the prefecture.
When he had departed: "I had to come to Corsica," said Miss Lydia, "to
find out what a prefect is like. This one strikes me as rather
"For my part," said Orso, "I can't say as much. He strikes me as a
very queer individual, with his airs of emphasis and mystery."
The colonel was extremely drowsy. Miss Lydia cast a glance in his
direction, and, lowering her voice:
"And I," she said, "do not think him so mysterious as you pretend; for
I believe I understood him!"
"Then you are clear-sighted indeed, Miss Nevil. If you have seen any
wit in what he has just said you must certainly have put it there
"It is the Marquis de Mascarille, I think, who says that, M. della
Rebbia. But would you like me to give you a proof of my clear-
sightedness? I am something of a witch, and I can read the thoughts of
people I have seen only twice."
"Good heavens! you alarm me. If you really can read my thoughts I
don't know whether I should be glad or sorry."
"M. della Rebbia," went on Miss Lydia, with a blush, "we have only
known each other for a few days. But at sea, and in savage countries
(you will excuse me, I hope)--in savage countries friendships grow
more quickly than they do in society . . . so you must not be
astonished if I speak to you, as a friend, upon private matters, with
which, perhaps, a stranger ought not to interfere."
"Ah, do not say that word, Miss Nevil. I like the other far better."
"Well, then, monsieur, I must tell you that without having tried to
find out your secrets, I have learned some of them, and they grieve
me. I have heard, monsieur, of the misfortune which has overtaken your
family. A great deal has been said to me about the vindictive nature
of your fellow-countrymen, and the fashion in which they take their
vengeance. Was it not to that the prefect was alluding?"
"Miss Lydia! Can you believe it!" and Orso turned deadly pale.
"No, M. della Rebbia," she said, interrupting him, "I know you to be a
most honourable gentleman. You have told me yourself that it was only
the common people in your country who still practised the vendetta--
which you are pleased to describe as a kind of duel."
"Do you, then, believe me capable of ever becoming a murderer?"
"Since I have mentioned the subject at all, Monsieur Orso, you must
clearly see that I do not suspect you, and if I have spoken to you at
all," she added, dropping her eyes, "it is because I have realized
that surrounded, it may be, by barbarous prejudices on your return
home, you will be glad to know that there is somebody who esteems you
for having the courage to resist them. Come!" said she, rising to her
feet, "don't let us talk again of such horrid things, they make my
head ache, and besides it's very late. You are not angry with me, are
you? Let us say good-night in the English fashion," and she held out
Orso pressed it, looking grave and deeply moved.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "do you know that there are moments when the
instincts of my country wake up within me. Sometimes, when I think of
my poor father, horrible thoughts assail me. Thanks to you, I am rid
of them forever. Thank you! thank you!"
He would have continued, but Miss Lydia dropped a teaspoon, and the
noise woke up the colonel.
"Della Rebbia, we'll start at five o'clock to-morrow morning. Be
The next day, a short time before the sportsmen came back, Miss Nevil,
returning with her maid from a walk along the seashore, was just about
to enter the inn, when she noticed a young woman, dressed in black,
riding into the town on a small but strong horse. She was followed by
a sort of peasant, also on horseback, who wore a brown cloth jacket
cut at the elbows. A gourd was slung over his shoulder and a pistol
was hanging at his belt, his hand grasped a gun, the butt of which
rested in a leathern pocket fastened to his saddle-bow--in short, he
wore the complete costume of a brigand in a melodrama, or of the
middle-class Corsican on his travels. Miss Nevil's attention was first
attracted by the woman's remarkable beauty. She seemed about twenty
years of age; she was tall and pale, with dark blue eyes, red lips,
and teeth like enamel. In her expression pride, anxiety, and sadness
were all legible. On her head she wore a black silk veil called a
mezzaro, which the Genoese introduced into Corsica, and which is so
becoming to women. Long braids of chestnut hair formed a sort of
turban round her head. Her dress was neat, but simple in the extreme.
Miss Nevil had plenty of time to observe her, for the lady in the
mezzaro had halted in the street, and was questioning somebody on a
subject which, to judge from the expression of her eyes, must have
interested her exceedingly. Then, as soon as she received an answer,
she touched her mount with her riding-switch, and, breaking into a
quick trot, never halted till she reached the door of the hotel in
which Sir Thomas Nevil and Orso were staying. There, after exchanging
a few words with the host, the girl sprang nimbly from her saddle and
seated herself on a stone bench beside the entrance door, while her
groom led the horses away to the stable. Miss Lydia, in her Paris
gown, passed close beside the stranger, who did not raise her eyes. A
quarter of an hour later she opened her window, and saw the lady in
the mezzaro still sitting in the same place and in the same
attitude. Not long afterward the colonel and Orso returned from
hunting. Then the landlord said a few words to the young lady in
mourning, and pointed to della Rebbia with his finger. She coloured
deeply, rose eagerly, went a few paces forward, and then stopped
short, apparently much confused. Orso was quite close to her, and was
looking at her curiously.
"Are you Orso Antonio della Rebbia?" said she in a tremulous voice. "I
"Colomba!" cried Orso.
And taking her in his arms he kissed her tenderly, somewhat to the
surprise of the colonel and his daughter--but in England people do not
kiss each other in the street.
"Brother," said Colomba, "you must forgive me for having come without
your permission. But I heard from our friends that you had arrived,
and it is such a great consolation to me to see you."
Again Orso kissed her. Then, turning to the colonel:
"This is my sister," said he, "whom I never should have recognised if
she had not told me her name--Colomba--Colonel Sir Thomas Nevil--
colonel, you will kindly excuse me, but I can not have the honour of
dining with you to-day. My sister--"
"But, my dear fellow, where the devil do you expect to dine? You know
very well there is only one dinner in this infernal tavern, and we
have bespoken it. It will afford my daughter great pleasure if this
young lady will join us."
Colomba looked at her brother, who did not need much pressing, and
they all passed together into the largest room in the inn, which the
colonel used as his sitting and dining room. Mademoiselle della
Rebbia, on being introduced to Miss Nevil, made her a deep courtesy,
but she did not utter a single word. It was easy to see that she was
very much frightened at finding herself, perhaps for the first time in
her life, in the company of strangers belonging to the great world.
Yet there was nothing provincial in her manners. The novelty of her
position excused her awkwardness. Miss Nevil took a liking to her at
once, and, as there was no room disengaged in the hotel, the whole of
which was occupied by the colonel and his attendants, she offered,
either out of condescension or curiosity, to have a bed prepared in
her own room for Mademoiselle della Rebbia.
Colomba stammered a few words of thanks, and hastened after Miss
Nevil's maid, to make such changes in her toilet as were rendered
necessary by a journey on horseback in the dust and heat.
When she re-entered the sitting-room, she paused in front of the
colonel's guns, which the hunters had left in a corner.
"What fine weapons," said she. "Are they yours, brother?"
"No, they are the colonel's English guns--and they are as good as they
"How much I wish you had one like them!" said Colomba.
"One of those three certainly does belong to della Rebbia," exclaimed
the colonel. "He really shoots almost too well! To-day he fired
fourteen shots, and brought down fourteen head of game."
A friendly dispute at once ensued, in which Orso was vanquished, to
his sister's great satisfaction, as it was easy to perceive from the
childish expression of delight which illumined her face, so serious a
"Choose, my dear fellow," said the colonel; but Orso refused.
"Very well, then. Your sister shall choose for you."
Colomba did not wait for a second invitation. She took up the plainest
of the guns, but it was a first-rate Manton of large calibre.
"This one," she said, "must carry a ball a long distance."
Her brother was growing quite confused in his expressions of
gratitude, when dinner appeared, very opportunely, to help him out of
Miss Lydia was delighted to notice that Colomba, who had shown
considerable reluctance to sit down with them, and had yielded only at
a glance from her brother, crossed herself, like a good Catholic,
before she began to eat.
"Good!" said she to herself, "that is primitive!" and she anticipated
acquiring many interesting facts by observing this youthful
representative of ancient Corsican manners. As for Orso, he was
evidently a trifle uneasy, fearing, doubtless, that his sister might
say or do something which savoured too much of her native village. But
Colomba watched him constantly, and regulated all her own movements by
his. Sometimes she looked at him fixedly, with a strange expression of
sadness, and then, if Orso's eyes met hers, he was the first to turn
them away, as though he would evade some question which his sister was
mentally addressing to him, the sense of which he understood only too
well. Everybody talked French, for the colonel could only express
himself very badly in Italian. Colomba understood French, and even
pronounced the few words she was obliged to exchange with her
entertainers tolerably well.
After dinner, the colonel, who had noticed the sort of constraint
which existed between the brother and sister, inquired of Orso, with
his customary frankness, whether he did not wish to be alone with
Mademoiselle Colomba, offering, in that case, to go into the next room
with his daughter. But Orso hastened to thank him, and to assure him
they would have plenty of time to talk at Pietranera--this was the
name of the village where he was to take up his abode.
The colonel then resumed his customary position on the sofa, and Miss
Nevil, after attempting several subjects of conversation, gave up all
hope of inducing the fair Colomba to talk, and begged Orso to read her
a canto out of Dante, her favourite poet. Orso chose the canto of the
Inferno, containing the episode of Francesca da Rimini, and began to
read, as impressively as he was able, the glorious tiercets which so
admirably express the risk run by two young persons who venture to
read a love-story together. As he read on Colomba drew nearer to the
table, and raised her head, which she had kept lowered. Her wide-open
eyes, shone with extraordinary fire, she grew red and pale by turns,
and stirred convulsively in her chair. How admirable is the Italian
organization, which can understand poetry without needing a pedant to
explain its beauties!
When the canto was finished:
"How beautiful that is!" she exclaimed. "Who wrote it, brother?"
Orso was a little disconcerted, and Miss Lydia answered with a smile
that it was written by a Florentine poet, who had been dead for
"You shall read Dante," said Orso, "when you are at Pietranera."
"Good heavens, how beautiful it is!" said Colomba again, and she
repeated three or four tiercets which she had remembered, speaking at
first in an undertone; then, growing excited, she declaimed them
aloud, with far more expression than her brother had put into his
Miss Lydia was very much astonished.
"You seem very fond of poetry," she said. "How I envy you the delight
you will find in reading Dante for the first time!"
"You see, Miss Nevil," said Orso, "what a power Dante's lines must
have, when they so move a wild young savage who knows nothing but her
Pater. But I am mistaken! I recollect now that Colomba belongs to
the guild. Even when she was quite a little child she used to try her
hand at verse-making, and my father used to write me word that she was
the best voceratrice in Pietranera, and for two leagues round
Colomba cast an imploring glance at her brother. Miss Nevil had heard
of the Corsican improvisatrici, and was dying to hear one. She
begged Colomba, then, to give her a specimen of her powers. Very much
vexed now at having made any mention of his sister's poetic gifts,
Orso interposed. In vain did he protest that nothing was so insipid as
a Corsican ballata, and that to recite the Corsican verses after
those of Dante was like betraying his country. All he did was to
stimulate Miss Nevil's curiosity, and at last he was obliged to say to
"Well! well! improvise something--but let it be short!"
Colomba heaved a sigh, looked fixedly for a moment, first at the
table-cloth, and then at the rafters of the ceiling; at last, covering
her eyes with her hand like those birds that gather courage, and fancy
they are not seen when they no longer see themselves, she sang, or
rather declaimed, in an unsteady voice, the following serenata:
"THE MAIDEN AND THE TURTLE-DOVE
"In the valley, far away among the mountains, the sun only shines for
an hour every day. In the valley there stands a gloomy house, and
grass grows on its threshold. Doors and windows are always shut. No
smoke rises from the roof. But at noon, when the sunshine falls, a
window opens, and the orphan girl sits spinning at her wheel. She
spins, and as she works, she sings--a song of sadness. But no other
song comes to answer hers! One day--a day in spring-time--a turtle-
dove settled on a tree hard by, and heard the maiden's song. 'Maiden,'
it said, 'thou art not the only mourner! A cruel hawk has snatched my
mate from me!' 'Turtle-dove, show me that cruel hawk; were it to soar
higher than the clouds I would soon bring it down to earth! But who
will restore to me, unhappy that I am, my brother, now in a far
country?' 'Maiden, tell me, where thy brother is, and my wings shall
bear me to him.' "
"A well-bred turtle-dove, indeed!" exclaimed Orso, and the emotion
with which he kissed his sister contrasted strongly with the jesting
tone in which he spoke.
"Your song is delightful," said Miss Lydia. "You must write it in my
album; I'll translate it into English, and have it set to music."
The worthy colonel, who had not understood a single word, added his
compliments to his daughter's and added: "Is this dove you speak of
the bird we ate broiled at dinner to-day?"
Miss Nevil fetched her album, and was not a little surprised to see
the improvisatrice write down her song, with so much care in the
matter of economizing space.
The lines, instead of being separate, were all run together, as far as
the breadth of the paper would permit, so that they did not agree with
the accepted definition of poetic composition--"short lines of unequal
length, with a margin on each side of them." Mademoiselle Colomba's
somewhat fanciful spelling might also have excited comment. More than
once Miss Nevil was seen to smile, and Orso's fraternal vanity
Bedtime came, and the two young girls retired to their room. There,
while Miss Lydia unclasped her necklace, ear-rings, and bracelets, she
watched her companion draw something out of her gown--something as
long as a stay-busk, but very different in shape. Carefully, almost
stealthily, Colomba slipped this object under her mezzaro, which she
laid on the table. Then she knelt down, and said her prayers devoutly.
Two minutes afterward she was in her bed. Miss Lydia, naturally very
inquisitive, and as slow as every Englishwoman is about undressing
herself, moved over to the table, pretended she was looking for a pin,
lifted up the mezzaro, and saw a long stiletto--curiously mounted in
silver and mother-of-pearl. The workmanship was remarkably fine. It
was an ancient weapon, and just the sort of one an amateur would have
prized very highly.
"Is it the custom here," inquired Miss Nevil, with a smile, "for young
ladies to wear such little instruments as these in their bodices?"
"It is," answered Colomba, with a sigh. "There are so many wicked
"And would you really have the courage to strike with it, like this?"
And Miss Nevil, dagger in hand, made a gesture of stabbing from above,
as actors do on the stage.
Yes," said Colomba, in her soft, musical voice, "if I had to do it to
protect myself or my friends. But you must not hold it like that, you
might wound yourself if the person you were going to stab were to draw
back." Then, sitting up in bed, "See," she added, "you must strike
like this--upward! If you do so, the thrust is sure to kill, they say.
Happy are they who never need such weapons."
She sighed, dropped her head back on the pillow, and closed her eyes.
A more noble, beautiful, virginal head it would be impossible to
imagine. Phidias would have asked no other model for Minerva.
It is in obedience to the precept of Horace that I have begun by
plunging in media res. Now that every one is asleep--the beautiful
Colomba, the colonel, and his daughter--I will seize the opportunity
to acquaint my reader with certain details of which he must not be
ignorant, if he desires to follow the further course of this veracious
history. He is already aware that Colonel della Rebbia, Orso's father,
had been assassinated. Now, in Corsica, people are not murdered, as
they are in France, by the first escaped convict who can devise no
better means of relieving a man of his silver-plate. In Corsica a man
is murdered by his enemies--but the reason he has enemies is often
very difficult to discover. Many families hate each other because it
has been an old-standing habit of theirs to hate each other; but the
tradition of the original cause of their hatred may have completely
The family to which Colonel della Rebbia belonged hated several other
families, but that of the Barricini particularly. Some people asserted
that in the sixteenth century a della Rebbia had seduced a lady of the
Barricini family, and had afterward been poniarded by a relative of
the outraged damsel. Others, indeed, told the story in a different
fashion, declaring that it was a della Rebbia who had been seduced,
and a Barricini who had been poniarded. However that may be, there
was, to use the time-honoured expression, "blood between the two
houses." Nevertheless, and contrary to custom, this murder had not
resulted in others; for the della Rebbia and the Barricini had been
equally persecuted by the Genoese Government, and as the young men had
all left the country, the two families were deprived, during several
generations, of their more energetic representatives. At the close of
the last century, one of the della Rebbias, an officer in the
Neapolitan service, quarrelled, in a gambling hell, with some
soldiers, who called him a Corsican goatherd, and other insulting
names. He drew his sword, but being only one against three, he would
have fared very ill if a stranger, who was playing in the same room,
had not exclaimed, "I, too, am a Corsican," and come to his rescue.
This stranger was one of the Barricini, who, for that matter, was not
acquainted with his countryman. After mutual explanations, they
interchanged courtesies and vowed eternal friendship. For on the
Continent, quite contrary to their practice in their own island,
Corsicans quickly become friends. This fact was clearly exemplified on
the present occasion. As long as della Rebbia and Barricini remained
in Italy they were close friends. Once they were back in Corsica, they
saw each other but very seldom, although they both lived in the same
village; and when they died, it was reported that they had not spoken
to each other for five or six years. Their sons lived in the same
fashion--"on ceremony," as they say in the island; one of them
Ghilfuccio, Orso's father, was a soldier; the other Giudice Barricini,
was a lawyer. Having both become heads of families, and being
separated by their professions, they scarcely ever had an opportunity
of seeing or hearing of each other.
One day, however, about the year 1809, Giudice read in a newspaper at
Bastia that Captain Ghilfuccio had just been decorated, and remarked,
before witnesses, that he was not at all surprised, considering that
the family enjoyed the protection of General -----. This remark was
reported at Vienna to Ghilfuccio, who told one of his countrymen that,
when he got back to Corsica, he would find Giudice a very rich man,
because he made more money out of the suits he lost than out of those
he won. It was never known whether he meant this as an insinuation
that the lawyer cheated his clients, or as a mere allusion to the
commonplace truth that a bad cause often brings a lawyer more profit
than a good one. However that may have been, the lawyer Barricini
heard of the epigram, and never forgot it. In 1812 he applied for the
post of mayor of his commune, and had every hope of being appointed,
when General ----- wrote to the prefect, to recommend one of
Ghilfuccio's wife's relations. The prefect lost no time in carrying
out the general's wish, and Barricini felt no doubt that he owed his
failure to the intrigues of Ghilfuccio. In 1814, after the emperor's
fall, the general's protégé was denounced as a Bonapartist, and his
place was taken by Barricini. He, in his turn, was dismissed during
the Hundred Days, but when the storm had blown over, he again took
possession, with great pomp, of the mayoral seal and the municipal
From this moment his star shone brighter than ever. Colonel della
Rebbia, now living on half-pay at Pietranera, had to defend himself
against covert and repeated attacks due to the pettifogging malignity
of his enemy. At one time he was summoned to pay for the damage his
horse had done to the mayor's fences, at another, the latter, under
pretence of repairing the floor of the church, ordered the removal of
a broken flagstone bearing the della Rebbia arms, which covered the
grave of some member of the family. If the village goats ate the
colonel's young plants, the mayor always protected their owners. The
grocer who kept the post-office at Pietranera, and the old maimed
soldier who had been the village policeman--both of them attached to
the della Rebbia family--were turned adrift, and their places filled
by Barricini's creatures.
The colonel's wife died, and her last wish was that she might be
buried in the middle of the little wood in which she had been fond of
walking. Forthwith the mayor declared she should be buried in the
village cemetery, because he had no authority to permit burial in any
other spot. The colonel, in a fury, declared that until the permit
came, his wife would be interred in the spot she had chosen. He had
her grave dug there. The mayor, on his side, had another grave dug in
the cemetery, and sent for the police, that the law, so he declared,
might be duly enforced. On the day of the funeral, the two parties
came face to face, and, for a moment, there was reason to fear a
struggle might ensue for the possession of Signora della Rebbia's
corpse. Some forty well-armed peasants, mustered by the dead woman's
relatives, forced the priest, when he issued from the church, to take
the road to the wood. On the other hand, the mayor, at the head of his
two sons, his dependents, and the gendarmes, advanced to oppose their
march. When he appeared, and called on the procession to turn back, he
was greeted with howls and threats. The advantage of numbers was with
his opponents, and they seemed thoroughly determined. At sight of him
several guns were loaded, and one shepherd is even said to have
levelled his musket at him, but the colonel knocked up the barrel, and
said, "Let no man fire without my orders!" The mayor, who, like
Panurge, had "a natural fear of blows," refused to give battle, and
retired, with his escort. Then the funeral procession started,
carefully choosing the longest way, so as to pass in front of the
mayor's house. As it was filing by, an idiot, who had joined its
ranks, took it into his head to shout, "Vive l'Empereur!" Two or three
voices answered him, and the Rebbianites, growing hotter, proposed
killing one of the mayor's oxen, which chanced to bar their way.
Fortunately the colonel stopped this act of violence.
It is hardly necessary to mention that an official statement was at
once drawn up, or that the mayor sent the prefect a report, in his
sublimest style, describing the manner in which all laws, human and
divine, had been trodden under foot--how the majesty of himself, the
mayor, and of the priest had been flouted and insulted, and how
Colonel della Rebbia had put himself at the head of a Bonapartist
plot, to change the order of succession to the throne, and to excite
peaceful citizens to take arms against one another--crimes provided
against by Articles 86 and 91 of the Penal Code.
The exaggerated tone of this complaint diminished its effect. The
colonel wrote to the prefect and to the public prosecutor. One of his
wife's kinsmen was related to one of the deputies of the island,
another was cousin to the president of the Royal Court. Thanks to this
interest, the plot faded out of sight, Signora della Rebbia was left
quiet in the wood, and the idiot alone was sentenced to a fortnight's
Lawyer Barricini, dissatisfied with the result of this affair, turned
his batteries in a different direction. He dug out some old claim,
whereby he undertook to contest the colonel's ownership of a certain
water-course which turned a mill-wheel. A lawsuit began and dragged
slowly along. At the end of twelve months, the court was about to give
its decision, and according to all appearances in favour of the
colonel, when Barricini placed in the hands of the public prosecutor a
letter, signed by a certain Agostini, a well-known bandit, threatening
him, the mayor, with fire and sword if he did not relinquish his
pretensions. It is well known that in Corsica the protection of these
brigands is much sought after, and that, to oblige their friends, they
frequently intervene in private quarrels. The mayor was deriving
considerable advantage from this letter, when the business was further
complicated by a fresh incident. Agostini, the bandit, wrote to the
public prosecutor, to complain that his handwriting had been
counterfeited, and his character aspersed, by some one who desired to
represent him as a man who made a traffic of his influence. "If I can
discover the forger," he said at the end of his letter, "I will make a
striking example of him."
It was quite clear that Agostini did not write the threatening letter
to the mayor. The della Rebbia accused the Barricini of it and vice
versa. Both parties broke into open threats, and the authorities did
not know where to find the culprit.
In the midst of all this Colonel Ghilfuccio was murdered. Here are the
facts, as they were elicited at the official inquiry. On the 2d of
August, 18--, toward nightfall, a woman named Maddalena Pietri, who
was carrying corn to Pietranera, heard two shots fired, very close
together, the reports, as it seemed to her, coming from the deep lane
leading to the village, about a hundred and fifty paces from the spot
on which she stood. Almost immediately afterward she saw a man
running, crouching along a footpath among the vines, and making for
the village. The man stopped for a minute, and turned round, but the
distance prevented the woman Pietri from seeing his features, and
besides, he had a vine-leaf in his mouth, which hid almost the whole
of his face. He made a signal with his head to some comrade, whom the
witness could not see, and then disappeared among the vines.
The woman Pietri dropped her burden, ran up the path, and found
Colonel della Rebbia, bathed in his own blood from two bullet wounds,
but still breathing. Close beside him lay his gun, loaded and cocked,
as if he had been defending himself against a person who had attacked
him in front, just when another had struck him from behind. Although
the rattle was in his throat, he struggled against the grip of death,
but he could not utter a word--this the doctors explained by the
nature of the wounds, which had cut through his lungs: the blood was
choking him, it flowed slowly, like red froth. In vain did the woman
lift him up, and ask him several questions. She saw plainly enough
that he desired to speak, but he could not make himself understood.
Noticing that he was trying to get his hand to his pocket, she quickly
drew out of it a little note-book, which she opened and gave to him.
The wounded man took the pencil out of the note-book and tried to
write. In fact, the witness saw him form several letters, but with
great difficulty. As she could not read, however, she was unable to
understand their meaning. Exhausted by the effort, the colonel left
the note-book in the woman's hand, which he squeezed tightly, looking
at her strangely, as if he wanted to say (these are the witness's own
words): "It is important--it is my murderer's name!"
Maddalena Pietri was going up to the village, when she met Barricini,
the mayor, with his son Vincentello. It was then almost dark. She told
them what she had seen. The mayor took the note-book, hurried up to
his house, put on his sash, and fetched his secretary and the
gendarmes. Left alone with young Vincentello, Maddalena Pietri
suggested that he should go to the colonel's assistance, in case he
was still alive, but Vincentello replied that if he were to go near a
man who had been the bitter enemy of his family, he would certainly be
accused of having killed him. A very short time afterward the mayor
arrived, found the colonel dead, had the corpse carried away, and drew
up his report.
In spite of the agitation so natural on such an occasion, Monsieur
Barricini had hastened to place the colonel's note-book under seal,
and to make all the inquiries in his power, but none of them resulted
in any discovery of importance.
When the examining magistrate arrived the note-book was opened, and on
a blood-stained page were seen letters written in a trembling hand,
but still quite legible; the sheet bore the word Agosti--and the
judge did not doubt that the colonel had intended to point out
Agostini as his murderer. Nevertheless, Colomba della Rebbia, who had
been summoned by the magistrate, asked leave to examine the note-book.
After turning the leaves for a few moments, she stretched out her hand
toward the mayor and cried, "There stands the murderer!" Then with a
precision and a clearness which were astonishing, considering the
passion of sorrow that shook her, she related that, a few days
previously, her father had received a letter from his son, which he
had burned, but that before doing so he had written Orso's address (he
had just changed his garrison) in the note-book with his pencil. Now,
his address was no longer in the note-book, and Colomba concluded that
the mayor had torn out the leaf on which it was written, which
probably was that on which her father had traced the murderer's name,
and for that name the mayor, according to Colomba, had substituted
Agostini's. The magistrate, in fact, noticed that one sheet was
missing from the quire on which the name was written, but he remarked
also that leaves were likewise missing from other quires in the same
note-book, and certain witnesses testified that the colonel had a
habit of tearing out pages when he wanted to light a cigar--therefore
nothing was more probable than that, by an oversight, he had burned
the address he had copied. Further, it was shown that the mayor could
not have read the note-book on receiving it from Maddalena Pietri, on
account of the darkness, and it was proved that he had not stopped an
instant before he went into his house, that the sergeant of the
gendarmes had gone there with him, and had seen him light a lamp and
put the note-book into an envelope which he had sealed before his
When this officer had concluded his deposition, Colomba, half-
distracted, cast herself at his feet, and besought him, by all he held
most sacred, to say whether he had not left the mayor alone for a
single moment. After a certain amount of hesitation, the man, who was
evidently affected by the young girl's excitement, admitted that he
had gone into the next room to fetch a sheet of foolscap, but that he
had not been away a minute, and that the mayor had talked to him all
the time he was groping for the paper in a drawer. Moreover, he
deposed that when he came back the blood-stained note-book was still
on the table, in the very place where the mayor had thrown it when he
first came in.
Monsieur Barricini gave his evidence with the utmost coolness. He made
allowances, he said, for Mademoiselle della Rebbia's excitement, and
was ready to condescend to justify himself. He proved that he had
spent his whole evening in the village, that his son Vincentello had
been with him in front of the house at the moment when the crime was
committed, and that his son Orlanduccio, who had had an attack of
fever that very day, had never left his bed. He produced every gun in
his house, and not one of them had been recently discharged. He added,
that, as regarded the note-book, he had at once realized its
importance; that he had sealed it up, and placed it in the hands of
his deputy, foreseeing that he himself might be suspected, on account
of his quarrel with the colonel. Finally, he reminded the court that
Agostini had threatened to kill the man who had written a letter in
his name, and he insinuated that this ruffian had probably suspected
the colonel, and murdered him. Such a vengeance, for a similar reason,
is by no means unprecedented in the history of brigandage.
Five days after Colonel della Rebbia's death, Agostini was surprised
by a detachment of riflemen, and killed, fighting desperately to the
last. On his person was found a letter from Colomba, beseeching him to
declare whether he was guilty of the murder imputed to him, or not. As
the bandit had sent no answer, it was pretty generally concluded that
he had not the courage to tell a daughter he had murdered her father.
Yet those who claimed to know Agostini's nature thoroughly, whispered
that if he had killed the colonel, he would have boasted of the deed.
Another bandit, known by the name of Brandolaccio, sent Colomba a
declaration in which he bore witness "on his honour" to his comrade's
innocence--but the only proof he put forward was that Agostini had
never told him that he suspected the colonel.
The upshot was that the Barricini suffered no inconvenience, the
examining magistrate was loud in his praise of the mayor, and the
mayor, on his side, crowned his handsome behaviour by relinquishing
all his claims over the stream, concerning which he had brought the
lawsuit against Colonel della Rebbia.
According to the custom of her country, Colomba improvised a ballata
in presence of her father's corpse, and before his assembled friends.
In it she poured out all her hatred against the Barricini, formally
charged them with the murder, and threatened them with her brother's
vengeance. It was this same ballata, which had grown very popular,
that the sailor had sung before Miss Lydia. When Orso, who was in the
north of France, heard of his father's death, he applied for leave,
but failed to obtain it. A letter from his sister led him to believe
at first in the guilt of the Barricini, but he soon received copies of
all the documents connected with the inquiry and a private letter from
the judge, which almost convinced him that the bandit Agostini was the
only culprit. Every three months Colomba had written to him,
reiterating her suspicions, which she called her "proofs." In spite of
himself, these accusations made his Corsican blood boil, and sometimes
he was very near sharing his sister's prejudices. Nevertheless, every
time he wrote to her he repeated his conviction that her allegations
possessed no solid foundation, and were quite unworthy of belief. He
even forbade her, but always vainly, to mention them to him again.
Thus two years went by. At the end of that time Orso was placed on
half-pay, and then it occurred to him to go back to his own country--
not at all for the purpose of taking vengeance on people whom he
believed innocent, but to arrange a marriage for his sister, and the
sale of his own small property--if its value should prove sufficient
to enable him to live on the Continent.
Whether it was that the arrival of his sister had reminded Orso
forcibly of his paternal home, or that Colomba's unconventional dress
and manners made him feel shy before his civilized friends, he
announced, the very next day, his determination to leave Ajaccio, and
to return to Pietranera. But he made the colonel promise that when he
went to Bastia he would come and stay in his modest manor-house, and
undertook, in return, to provide him with plenty of buck, pheasant,
boar, and other game.
On the day before that of his departure Orso proposed that, instead of
going out shooting, they should all take a walk along the shores of
the gulf. With Miss Lydia on his arm he was able to talk in perfect
freedom--for Colomba had stayed in the town to do her shopping, and
the colonel was perpetually leaving the young people to fire shots at
sea-gulls and gannets, greatly to the astonishment of the passers-by,
who could not conceive why any man should waste his powder on such
They were walking along the path leading to the Greek Chapel, which
commands the finest view to be had of the bay, but they paid no
attention to it.
"Miss Lydia," said Orso, after a silence which had lasted long enough
to become embarrassing, "tell me frankly, what do you think of my
"I like her very much," answered Miss Nevil. "Better than you," she
added, with a smile; "for she is a true Corsican, and you are rather
too civilized a savage!"
"Too civilized! Well, in spite of myself, I feel that I am growing a
savage again, since I have set my foot on the island! A thousand
horrid thoughts disturb and torment me, and I wanted to talk with you
a little before I plunge into my desert!"
"You must be brave, monsieur! Look at your sister's resignation; she
sets you an example!"
"Ah! do not be deceived! Do not believe in her resignation. She has
not said a word to me as yet, but every look of hers tells me what she
expects of me."
"What does she expect of you, then?"
"Oh, nothing! Except that I should try whether your father's gun will
kill a man as surely as it kills a partridge."
"What an idea! You can actually believe that, when you have just
acknowledged that she has said nothing to you yet? It really is too
dreadful of you!"
"If her thoughts were not fixed on vengeance, she would have spoken to
me at once about our father; she has never done it. She would have
mentioned the names of those she considers--wrongly, I know--to be his
murderers. But no; not a word! That is because we Corsicans, you see,
are a cunning race. My sister realizes that she does not hold me
completely in her power, and she does not choose to startle me while I
may still escape her. Once she has led me to the edge of the
precipice, and once I turn giddy there, she will thrust me into the
Then Orso gave Miss Nevil some details of his father's death, and
recounted the principal proofs which had culminated in his belief that
Agostini was the assassin.
"Nothing," he added, "has been able to convince Colomba. I saw that by
her last letter. She has sworn the Barricini shall die, and--you see,
Miss Nevil, what confidence I have in you!--they would not be alive
now, perhaps, if one of the prejudices for which her uncivilized
education must be the excuse had not convinced her that the execution
of this vengeance belongs to me, as head of her family, and that my
honour depends upon it!"
"Really and truly, Monsieur della Rebbia!" said Miss Nevil, "you
slander your sister!"
"No. As you have said it yourself, she is a Corsican; she thinks as
they all think. Do you know why I was so sad yesterday?"
"No. But for some time past you have been subject to these fits of
sadness. You were much pleasanter in the earlier days of our
"Yesterday, on the contrary, I was more cheery and happy than I
generally am. I had seen how kind, how indulgent, you were to my
sister. The colonel and I were coming home in a boat. Do you know what
one of the boatmen said to me in his infernal patois? 'You've killed
a deal of game, Ors' Anton', but you'll find Orlanduccio Barricini a
better shot than you!' "
"Well, what was there so very dreadful in that remark? Are you so very
much set upon being considered a skilful sportsman?"
"But don't you see the ruffian was telling me I shouldn't have courage
to kill Orlanduccio!"
"Do you know, M. della Rebbia, you frighten me! The air of this island
of yours seems not only to give people fevers, but to drive them mad.
Luckily we shall be leaving it soon!"
"Not without coming to Pietranera--you have promised my sister that."
"And if we were to fail in that promise, we should bring down some
terrible vengeance on our heads, no doubt!"
"Do you remember that story your father was telling us, the other day,
about the Indians who threatened the company's agents that, if they
would not grant their prayer, they would starve themselves to death?"
"That means that you would starve yourself to death! I doubt it very
much! You would go hungry for one day and then Mademoiselle Colomba
would bring you such a tempting bruccio[*] that you would quite
relinquish your plan."
[*] A sort of baked cream cheese, a national dish in Corsica.
"Your jests are cruel, Miss Nevil. You might spare me. Listen, I am
alone here; I have no one but you to prevent me from going mad, as you
call it. You have been my guardian angel, and now----!"
"Now," said Miss Lydia gravely, "to steady this reason of yours, which
is so easily shaken, you have the honour of a soldier and a man, and,"
she added, turning away to pluck a flower, "if that will be any help
to you, you have the memory of your guardian angel, too!"
"Ah, Miss Nevil, if I could only think you really take some interest!"
"Listen, M. della Rebbia," said Miss Nevil, with some emotion. "As you
are a child, I will treat you as I would treat a child. When I was a
little girl my mother gave me a beautiful necklace, which I had longed
for greatly; but she said to me, 'Every time you put on this necklace,
remember you do not know French yet.' The necklace lost some of its
value in my eyes, it was a source of constant self-reproach. But I
wore it, and in the end I knew French. Do you see this ring? It is an
Egyptian scarabaeus, found, if you please, in a pyramid. That strange
figure, which you may perhaps take for a bottle, stands for 'human
life.' There are certain people in my country to whom this
hieroglyphic should appear exceedingly appropriate. This, which comes
after it, is a shield upon an arm, holding a lance; that means
'struggle, battle.' Thus the two characters, together, form this
motto, which strikes me as a fine one, 'Life is a battle.' Pray do
not fancy I can translate hieroglyphics at sight! It was a man learned
in such matters who explained these to me. Here, I will give you my
scarabaeus. Whenever you feel some wicked Corsican thought stir in
you, look at my talisman, and tell yourself you must win the battle
our evil passions wage against us. Why, really, I don't preach at all
"I shall think of you, Miss Nevil, and I shall say to myself----"
"Say to yourself you have a friend who would be in despair at the idea
of your being hanged--and besides it would be too distressing for your
ancestors the corporals!"
With these words she dropped Orso's arm, laughing and running to her
"Papa," she said, "do leave those poor birds alone, and come and make
up poetry with us, in Napoleon's grotto!"
There is always a certain solemnity about a departure, even when the
separation is only to be a short one. Orso and his sister were to
start very early in the morning, and he had taken his leave of Miss
Lydia the night before--for he had no hope that she would disturb her
indolent habits on his account. Their farewells had been cold and
grave. Since that conversation on the sea-shore, Miss Lydia had been
afraid she had perhaps shown too strong an interest in Orso, and on
the other hand, her jests, and more especially her careless tone, lay
heavy on Orso's heart. At one moment he had thought the young
Englishwoman's manner betrayed a budding feeling of affection, but
now, put out of countenance by her jests, he told himself she only
looked on him as a mere acquaintance, who would be soon forgotten.
Great, therefore, was his surprise, next morning, when, as he sat at
coffee with the colonel, he saw Miss Lydia come into the room,
followed by his sister. She had risen at five o'clock, and for an
Englishwoman, and especially for Miss Nevil, the effort was so great
that it could not but give him some cause for vanity.
"I am so sorry you should have disturbed yourself so early," said
Orso. "No doubt my sister woke you up in spite of my injunctions, and
you must hate us heartily! Perhaps you wish I was hanged already!"
"No," said Miss Lydia, very low and in Italian, evidently so that her
father might not hear her, "but you were somewhat sulky with me
yesterday, because of my innocent jokes, and I would not have you
carry away an unpleasant recollection of your humble servant. What
terrible people you are, you Corsicans! Well, good-bye! We shall meet
soon, I hope."
And she held out her hand.
A sigh was the only answer Orso could find. Colomba came to his side,
led him into a window, and spoke to him for a moment in an undertone,
showing him something she held under her mezzaro.
"Mademoiselle," said Orso to Miss Nevil, "my sister is anxious to give
you a very odd present, but we Corsicans have not much to offer--
except our affection--which time never wipes out. My sister tells me
you have looked with some curiosity at this dagger. It is an ancient
possession in our family. It probably hung, once upon a time, at the
belt of one of those corporals, to whom I owe the honour of your
acquaintance. Colomba thinks it so precious that she has asked my
leave to give it to you, and I hardly know if I ought to grant it, for
I am afraid you'll laugh at us!"
"The dagger is beautiful," said Miss Lydia. "But it is a family
weapon, I can not accept it!"
"It's not my father's dagger," exclaimed Colomba eagerly; "it was
given to one of mother's ancestors by King Theodore. If the signorina
will accept it, she will give us great pleasure."
"Come, Miss Lydia," said Orso, "don't scorn a king's dagger!"
To a collector, relics of King Theodore are infinitely more precious
than those of the most powerful of monarchs. The temptation was a
strong one, and already Miss Lydia could see the effect the weapon
would produce laid out on a lacquered table in her room at St. James's
"But," said she, taking the dagger with the hesitating air of one who
longs to accept, and casting one of her most delightful smiles on
Colomba, "dear Signorina Colomba . . . I can not . . . I should not
dare to let you depart thus, unarmed."
"My brother is with me," said Colomba proudly, "and we have the good
gun your father has given us. Orso, have you put a bullet in it?"
Miss Nevil kept the dagger, and to avert the danger consequent on
giving instruments that cut or pierce to a friend, Colomba insisted
on receiving a soldo in payment.
A start had to be made at last. Yet once again Orso pressed Miss
Nevil's hand, Colomba kissed her, and then held up her rosy lips to
the colonel, who was enchanted with this Corsican politeness. From the
window of the drawing-room Miss Lydia watched the brother and sister
mount their horses. Colomba's eyes shone with a malignant joy which
she had never remarked in them before. The sight of this tall strong
creature, with her fanatical ideas of savage honour, pride written on
her forehead, and curled in a sardonic smile upon her lips, carrying
off the young man with his weapons, as though on some death-dealing
errand, recalled Orso's fears to her, and she fancied she beheld his
evil genius dragging him to his ruin. Orso, who was already in the
saddle, raised his head and caught sight of her. Either because he had
guessed her thought, or desired to send her a last farewell, he took
the Egyptian ring, which he had hung upon a ribbon, and carried it to
his lips. Blushing, Miss Lydia stepped back from the window, then
returning to it almost at once, she saw the two Corsicans cantering
their little ponies rapidly toward the mountains. Half an hour later
the colonel showed them to her, through his glasses, riding along the
end of the bay, and she noticed that Orso constantly turned his head
toward the town. At last he disappeared behind the marshes, the site
of which is now filled by a flourishing nursery garden.
Miss Lydia glanced at herself in the glass, and thought she looked
"What must that young man think of me," said she, "and what did I
think of him? And why did I think about him? . . . A travelling
acquaintance! . . . What have I come to Corsica for? . . . Oh! I don't
care for him! . . . No! no! and besides the thing is impossible . . .
And Colomba . . . Fancy me sister-in-law to a voceratrice, who wears
a big dagger!"
And she noticed she was still holding King Theodore's dagger in her
hand. She tossed it on to her toilette table. "Colomba, in London,
dancing at Almacks! . . . Good heavens! what a lion[*] that would be,
to show off! . . . Perhaps she'd make a great sensation! . . . He
loves me, I'm certain of it! He is the hero of a novel, and I have
interrupted his adventurous career. . . . But did he really long to
avenge his father in true Corsican fashion? . . . He was something
between a Conrad and a dandy . . . I've turned him into nothing but a
dandy! . . . And a dandy with a Corsican tailor! . . . "
[*] At this period this name was used in England for people who were
the fashion because they had something extraordinary about them.
She threw herself on her bed, and tried to sleep--but that proved an
impossibility, and I will not undertake to continue her soliloquy,
during which she declared, more than a hundred times over, that Signor
della Rebbia had not been, was not, and never should be, anything to
Meanwhile Orso was riding along beside his sister. At first the speed
at which their horses moved prevented all conversation, but when the
hills grew so steep that they were obliged to go at a foot's pace,
they began to exchange a few words about the friends from whom they
had just parted. Colomba spoke with admiration of Miss Nevil's beauty,
of her golden hair, and charming ways. Then she asked whether the
colonel was really as rich as he appeared, and whether Miss Lydia was
his only child.
"She would be a good match," said she. "Her father seems to have a
great liking for you----"
And as Orso made no response, she added: "Our family was rich, in days
gone by. It is still one of the most respected in the island. All
these signori about us are bastards. The only noble blood left is in
the families of the corporals, and as you know, Orso, your ancestors
were the chief corporals in the island. You know our family came from
beyond the hills, and it was the civil wars that forced us over to
this side. If I were you, Orso, I shouldn't hesitate--I should ask
Colonel Nevil for his daughter's hand." Orso shrugged his shoulders.
"With her fortune, you might buy the Falsetta woods, and the vineyards
below ours. I would build a fine stone house, and add a story to the
old tower in which Sambucuccio killed so many Moors in the days of
Count Henry, il bel Missere."
"Colomba, you're talking nonsense," said Orso, cantering forward.
"You are a man, Ors' Anton', and of course you know what you ought to
do better than any woman. But I should very much like to know what
objection that Englishman could have to the marriage. Are there any
corporals in England?"
After a somewhat lengthy ride, spent in talking in this fashion, the
brother and sister reached a little village, not far from Bocognano,
where they halted to dine and sleep at a friend's house. They were
welcomed with a hospitality which must be experienced before it can be
appreciated. The next morning, their host, who had stood godfather to
a child to whom Madame della Rebbia had been godmother, accompanied
them a league beyond his house.
"Do you see those woods and thickets?" said he to Orso, just as they
were parting. "A man who had met with a misfortune might live there
peacefully for ten years, and no gendarme or soldier would ever come
to look for him. The woods run into the Vizzavona forest, and anybody
who had friends at Bocognano or in the neighbourhood would want for
nothing. That's a good gun you have there. It must carry a long way.
Blood of the Madonna! What calibre! You might kill better game than
boars with it!"
Orso answered, coldly, that his gun was of English make, and carried
"the lead" a long distance. The friends embraced, and took their
Our travellers were drawing quite close to Pietranera, when, at the
entrance of a little gorge, through which they had to pass, they
beheld seven or eight men, armed with guns, some sitting on stones,
others lying on the grass, others standing up, and seemingly on the
lookout. Their horses were grazing a little way off. Colomba looked at
them for a moment, through a spy-glass which she took out of one of
the large leathern pockets all Corsicans wear when on a journey.
"Those are our men!" she cried, with a well-pleased air. "Pieruccio
had done his errand well!"
"What men?" inquired Orso.
"Our herdsmen," she replied. "I sent Pieruccio off yesterday evening
to call the good fellows together, so that they may attend you home.
It would not do for you to enter Pietranera without an escort, and
besides, you must know the Barricini are capable of anything!"
"Colomba," said Orso, and his tone was severe, "I have asked you, over
and over again, not to mention the Barricini and your groundless
suspicions to me. I shall certainly not make myself ridiculous by
riding home with all these loafers behind me, and I am very angry with
you for having sent for them without telling me."
"Brother, you have forgotten the ways of your own country. It is my
business to protect you, when your own imprudence exposes you to
danger. It was my duty to do what I have done."
Just at that moment the herdsmen, who had caught sight of them,
hastened to their horses, and galloped down the hill to meet them.
"Evvviva Ors' Anton'!" shouted a brawny, white-bearded old fellow,
wrapped, despite the heat, in a hooded cloak of Corsican cloth,
thicker than the skins of his own goats. "The image of his father,
only taller and stronger! What a splendid gun! There'll be talk about
that gun, Ors' Anton'!"
"Evvviva Ors' Anton'!" chorused the herdsmen. "We were sure you'd come
back, at last!"
"Ah! Ors' Anton'!" cried a tall fellow, with a skin tanned brick red.
"How happy your father would be, if he were here to welcome you! The
dear, good man! You would have seen him now, if he would have listened
to me--if he would have let me settle Guidice's business! . . . But he
wouldn't listen to me, poor fellow! He knows I was right, now!"
"Well, well!" said the old man. "Guidice will lose nothing by
"Evvviva Ors' Anton'!" And the reports of a dozen guns capped the
Very much put out, Orso sat in the midst of the group of mounted men,
all talking at once, and crowding round to shake hands with him. For
some time he could not make himself heard. At last, with the air he
put on when he used to reprimand the men of his company, or send one
of them to the guard-room, he said:
"I thank you, friends, for the affection you show for me, and for that
which you felt for my father! But I do not want advice from any of
you, and you must not offer it. I know my own duty."
"He's right! He's right!" cried the herdsmen. "You know you may reckon
"Yes, I do reckon on you. But at this moment I need no help, and no
personal danger threatens me. Now face round at once, and be off with
you to your goats. I know my way to Pietranera, and I want no guides."
"Fear nothing, Ors' Anton'," said the old man. "They would never dare
to show their noses to-day. The mouse runs back to its hole when the
tom-cat comes out!"
"Tom-cat yourself, old gray-beard!" said Orso. "What's your name?"
"What! don't you remember me, Ors' Anton'? I who have so often taken
you up behind me on that biting mule of mine! You don't remember Polo
Griffo? I'm an honest fellow, though, and with the della Rebbia, body
and soul. Say but the word, and when that big gun of yours speaks,
this old musket of mine, as old as its master, shall not be dumb. Be
sure of that, Ors' Anton'!"
"Well, well! But be off with you now, in the devil's name, and let us
go on our way!"
At last the herdsmen departed, trotting rapidly off toward the
village, but they stopped every here and there, at all the highest
spots on the road, as though they were looking out for some hidden
ambuscade, always keeping near enough to Orso and his sister to be
able to come to their assistance if necessary. And old Polo Griffo
said to his comrades:
"I understand him! I understand him! He'll not say what he means to
do, but he'll do it! He's the born image of his father. Ah! you may
say you have no spite against any one, my boy! But you've made your
vow to Saint Nega.[*] Bravo! I wouldn't give a fig for the mayor's
hide--there won't be the makings of a wineskin in it before the month
[*] This saint is not mentioned in the calendar. To make a vow to
Saint Nega means to deny everything deliberately.
Preceded by this troop of skirmishers, the last descendant of the
della Rebbia entered the village, and proceeded to the old mansion of
his forefathers, the corporals. The Rebbianites, who had long been
leaderless, had gathered to welcome him, and those dwellers in the
village who observed a neutral line of conduct all came to their
doorsteps to see him pass by. The adherents of the Barricini remained
inside their houses, and peeped out of the slits in their shutters.
The village of Pietranera is very irregularly built, like most
Corsican villages--for indeed, to see a street, the traveller must
betake himself to Cargese, which was built by Monsieur de Marboeuf.
The houses, scattered irregularly about, without the least attempt at
orderly arrangement, cover the top of a small plateau, or rather of a
ridge of the mountain. Toward the centre of the village stands a great
evergreen oak, and close beside it may be seen a granite trough, into
which the water of a neighbouring spring is conveyed by a wooden pipe.
This monument of public utility was constructed at the common expense
of the della Rebbia and Barricini families. But the man who imagined
this to be a sign of former friendship between the two families would
be sorely mistaken. On the contrary, it is the outcome of their mutual
jealousy. Once upon a time, Colonel della Rebbia sent a small sum of
money to the Municipal Council of his commune to help to provide a
fountain. The lawyer Barricini hastened to forward a similar gift, and
to this generous strife Pietranera owes its water supply. Round about
the evergreen oak and the fountain there is a clear space, known as
"the Square," on which the local idlers gather every night. Sometimes
they play at cards, and once a year, in Carnival-time, they dance. At
the two ends of the square stands two edifices, of greater height than
breadth, built of a mixture of granite and schist. These are the
Towers of the two opposing families, the Barricini and the della
Rebbia. Their architecture is exactly alike, their height is similar,
and it is quite evident that the rivalry of the two families has never
been absolutely decided by any stroke of fortune in favor of either.
It may perhaps be well to explain what should be understood by this
word, "Tower." It is a square building, some forty feet in height,
which in any other country would be simply described as a pigeon-
house. A narrow entrance-door, eight feet above the level of the
ground, is reached by a very steep flight of steps. Above the door is
a window, in front of which runs a sort of balcony, the floor of which
is pierced with openings, like a machicolation, through which the
inhabitants may destroy an unwelcome visitor without any danger to
themselves. Between the window and the door are two escutcheons,
roughly carved. One of these bears what was originally a Genoese
cross, now so battered that nobody but an antiquary could recognise
it. On the other are chiselled the arms of the family to whom the
Tower belongs. If the reader will complete this scheme of decoration
by imagining several bullet marks on the escutcheons and on the window
frames, he will have a fair idea of a Corsican mansion, dating from
the middle ages. I had forgotten to add that the dwelling-house
adjoins the tower, and is frequently connected with it by some
The della Rebbia house and tower stand on the northern side of the
square at Pietranera. The Barricini house and tower are on the
southern side. Since the colonel's wife had been buried, no member of
either family had ever been seen on any side of the square, save that
assigned by tacit agreement to its own party. Orso was about to ride
past the mayor's house when his sister checked him, and suggested his
turning down a lane that would take them to their own dwelling without
crossing the square at all.
"Why should we go out of our way?" said Orso. "Doesn't the square
belong to everybody?" and he rode on.
"Brave heart"! murmured Colomba. ". . . My father! you will be
When they reached the square, Colomba put herself between her brother
and the Barricini mansion, and her eyes never left her enemy's
windows. She noticed that they had been lately barricaded and provided
with archere. Archere is the name given to narrow openings like
loopholes, made between the big logs of wood used to close up the
lower parts of the windows. When an onslaught is expected, this sort
of barricade is used, and from behind the logs the attacked party can
fire at its assailants with ease and safety.
"The cowards!" said Colomba. "Look, brother, they have begun to
protect themselves! They have put up barricades! But some day or other
they'll have to come out."
Orso's presence on the southern side of the square made a great
sensation at Pietranera, and was taken to be a proof of boldness
savouring of temerity. It was subject of endless comment on the part
of the neutrals, when they gathered around the evergreen oak, that
"It is a good thing," they said, "that Barricini's sons are not back
yet, for they are not so patient as the lawyer, and very likely they
would not have let their enemy set his foot on their ground without
making him pay for his bravado."
"Remember what I am telling you, neighbour," said an old man, the
village oracle. "I watched Colomba's face to-day. She had some idea in
her head. I smell powder in the air. Before long, butcher's meat will
be cheap in Pietranera!"
Orso had been parted from his father at so early an age that he had
scarcely had time to know him. He had left Pietranera to pursue his
studies at Pisa when he was only fifteen. Thence he had passed into
the military school, and Ghilfuccio, meanwhile, was bearing the
Imperial Eagles all over Europe. On the mainland, Orso only saw his
father at rare intervals, and it was not until 1815 that he found
himself in the regiment he commanded. But the colonel, who was an
inflexible disciplinarian, treated his son just like any other sub-
lieutenant--in other words, with great severity. Orso's memories of
him were of two kinds: He recollected him, at Pietranera, as the
father who would trust him with his sword, and would let him fire off
his gun when he came in from a shooting expedition, or who made him
sit down, for the first time, tiny urchin as he was, at the family
dinner-table. Then he remembered the Colonel della Rebbia who would
put him under arrest for some blunder, and who never called him
anything but Lieutenant della Rebbia.
"Lieutenant della Rebbia, you are not in your right place on parade.
You will be confined to barracks three days."
"Your skirmishers are five yards too far from your main body--five
days in barracks."
"It is five minutes past noon, and you are still in your forage-cap--a
week in barracks."
Only once, at Quatre-Bras, he had said to him, "Well done, Orso! But
But, after all, these later memories were not connected in his mind
with Pietranera. The sight of the places so familiar to him in his
childish days, of the furniture he had seen used by his mother, to
whom he had been fondly attached, filled his soul with a host of
tender and painful emotions. Then the gloomy future that lay before
him, the vague anxiety he felt about his sister, and, above all other
things, the thought that Miss Nevil was coming to his house, which now
struck him as being so small, so poor, so unsuited to a person
accustomed to luxury--the idea that she might possibly despise it--all
these feelings made his brain a chaos, and filled him with a sense of
At supper he sat in the great oaken chair, blackened with age, in
which his father had always presided at the head of the family table,
and he smiled when he saw that Colomba hesitated to sit down with him.
But he was grateful to her for her silence during the meal, and for
her speedy retirement afterward. For he felt he was too deeply moved
to be able to resist the attack she was no doubt preparing to make
upon him. Colomba, however, was dealing warily with him, and meant to
give him time to collect himself. He sat for a long time motionless,
with his head on his hand, thinking over the scenes of the last
fortnight of his life. He saw, with alarm, how every one seemed to be
watching what would be his behaviour to the Barricini. Already he
began to perceive that the opinion of Pietranera was beginning to be
the opinion of all the world to him. He would have to avenge himself,
or be taken for a coward! But on whom was he to take vengeance? He
could not believe the Barricini to be guilty of murder. They were his
family enemies, certainly, but only the vulgar prejudice of his
fellow-countrymen could accuse them of being murderers. Sometimes he
would look at Miss Nevil's talisman, and whisper the motto "Life is a
battle!" over to himself. At last, in a resolute voice, he said, "I
will win it!" Strong in that thought, he rose to his feet, took up the
lamp, and was just going up to his room, when he heard a knock at the
door of the house. It was a very unusual hour for any visitor to
appear. Colomba instantly made her appearance, followed by the woman
who acted as their servant.
"It's nothing!" she said, hurrying to the door.
Yet before she opened it she inquired who knocked. A gentle voice
answered, "It is I."
Instantly the wooden bar across the door was withdrawn, and Colomba
reappeared in the dining-room, followed by a little ragged, bare-
footed girl of about ten years old, her head bound with a shabby
kerchief, from which escaped long locks of hair, as black as the
raven's wing. The child was thin and pale, her skin was sunburnt, but
her eyes shone with intelligence. When she saw Orso she stopped shyly,
and courtesied to him, peasant fashion--then she said something in an
undertone to Colomba, and gave her a freshly killed pheasant.
"Thanks, Chili," said Colomba. "Thank your uncle for me. Is he well?"
"Very well, signorina, at your service. I couldn't come sooner because
he was late. I waited for him in the maquis for three hours."
"And you've had no supper?"
"Why no, signorina! I've not had time."
"You shall have some supper here. Has your uncle any bread left?"
"Very little, signorina. But what he is most short of is powder. Now
the chestnuts are in, the only other thing he wants is powder."
"I will give you a loaf for him, and some powder, too. Tell him to use
it sparingly--it is very dear."
"Colomba," said Orso in French, "on whom are you bestowing your
"On a poor bandit belonging to this village," replied Colomba in the
same language. "This little girl is his niece."
"It strikes me you might place your gifts better. Why should you send
powder to a ruffian who will use it to commit crimes? But for the
deplorable weakness every one here seems to have for the bandits, they
would have disappeared out of Corsica long ago."
"The worst men in our country are not those who are 'in the
"Give them bread, if it so please you. But I will not have you supply
them with ammunition."
"Brother," said Colomba, in a serious voice, "you are master here, and
everything in this house belongs to you. But I warn you that I will
give this little girl my mezzaro, so that she may sell it; rather
than refuse powder to a bandit. Refuse to give him powder! I might
just as well make him over to the gendarmes! What has he to protect
him against them, except his cartridges?"
All this while the little girl was ravenously devouring a bit of
bread, and carefully watching Colomba and her brother, turn about,
trying to read the meaning of what they were saying in their eyes.
"And what has this bandit of yours done? What crime has driven him
into the maquis?"
"Brandolaccio has not committed any crime," exclaimed Colomba. "He
killed Giovan' Oppizo, who murdered his father while he was away
serving in the army!"
Orso turned away his head, took up the lamp, and, without a word,
departed to his bedroom. Then Colomba gave the child food and
gunpowder, and went with her as far as the house-door, saying over and
"Mind your uncle takes good care of Orso!"
It was long before Orso fell asleep, and as a consequence he woke late
--late for a Corsican, at all events. When he left his bed, the first
object that struck his gaze was the house of his enemies, and the
archere with which they had furnished it. He went downstairs and
asked for his sister.
"She is in the kitchen, melting bullets," answered Saveria, the woman-
So he could not take a step without being pursued by the image of war.
He found Colomba sitting on a stool, surrounded by freshly cast
bullets, and cutting up strips of lead.
"What the devil are you doing?" inquired her brother.
"You had no bullets for the colonel's gun," she answered, in her soft
voice. "I found I had a mould for that calibre, and you shall have
four-and-twenty cartridges to-day, brother."
"I don't need them, thank God!"
"You mustn't be taken at a disadvantage, Ors' Anton'. You have
forgotten your country, and the people who are about you."
"If I had forgotten, you would soon have reminded me. Tell me, did not
a big trunk arrive here some days ago?"
"Yes, brother. Shall I take it up to your room?"
"You take it up! Why, you'd never be strong enough even to lift it!
. . . Is there no man about who can do it?"
"I'm not so weak as you think!" said Colomba, turning up her sleeves,
and displaying a pair of round white arms, perfect in shape, but
looking more than ordinarily strong. "Here, Saveria," said she to the
servant; "come and help me!"
She was already lifting the trunk alone, when Orso came hastily to her
"There is something for you in this trunk, my dear Colomba," said he.
"You must excuse the modesty of my gifts. A lieutenant on half-pay
hasn't a very well-lined purse!"
As he spoke, he opened the trunk, and took out of it a few gowns, a
shawl, and some other things likely to be useful to a young girl.
"What beautiful things!" cried Colomba. "I'll put them away at once,
for fear they should be spoiled. I'll keep them for my wedding," she
added, with a sad smile, "for I am in mourning now!"
And she kissed her brother's hand.
"It looks affected, my dear sister, to wear your mourning for so
"I have sworn an oath," said Colomba resolutely, "I'll not take off my
mourning. . . ." And her eyes were riveted on the Barricini mansion.
"Until your wedding day?" said Orso, trying to avoid the end of her
"I shall never marry any man," said Colomba, "unless he has done three
things . . ." And her eyes still rested gloomily on the house of the
"You are so pretty, Colomba, that I wonder you are not married
already! Come, you must tell me about your suitors. And besides, I'm
sure to hear their serenades. They must be good ones to please a great
voceratrice like you."
"Who would seek the hand of a poor orphan girl? . . . And then, the
man for whom I would change my mourning-dress will have to make the
women over there put on mourning!"
"This is becoming a perfect mania," said Orso to himself. But to avoid
discussion he said nothing at all.
"Brother," said Colomba caressingly, "I have something to give you,
too. The clothes you are wearing are much too grand for this country.
Your fine cloth frock-coat would be in tatters in two days, if you
wore it in the maquis. You must keep it for the time when Miss Nevil
Then, opening a cupboard, she took out a complete hunting dress.
"I've made you a velvet jacket, and here's a cap, such as our smart
young men wear. I embroidered it for you, ever so long ago. Will you
try them on?" And she made him put on a loose green velvet jacket,
with a huge pocket at the back. On his head she set a pointed black
velvet cap, embroidered with jet and silk of the same colour, and
finished with a sort of tassel
"Here is our father's carchera"[*] she said. "His stiletto is in the
pocket of the jacket. I'll fetch you his pistol."
[*] Carchera, a belt for cartridges. A pistol is worn fastened to the
left side of it.
"I look like a brigand at the Ambigu-Comique," said Orso, as he looked
at himself in the little glass Saveria was holding up for him.
"Indeed, you look first-rate, dressed like that, Ors' Anton'," said
the old servant, "and the smartest pinsuto[*] in Bocognano or
Bastelica is not braver."
[*] Pinsuto, the name given to men who wear the pointed cap, barreta
Orso wore his new clothes at breakfast, and during that meal he told
his sister that his trunk contained a certain number of books, that he
was going to send to France and Italy for others, and intended she
should study a great deal.
"For it really is disgraceful, Colomba," he added, "that a grown-up
girl like you should still be ignorant of things that children on the
mainland know as soon as they are weaned."
"You are right, brother," said Colomba. "I know my own shortcomings
quite well, and I shall be too glad to learn--especially if you are
kind enough to teach me."
Some days went by, and Colomba never mentioned the name of Barricini.
She lavished care and attention on her brother, and often talked to
him about Miss Nevil. Orso made her read French and Italian books, and
was constantly being surprised either by the correctness and good
sense of her comments, or by her utter ignorance on the most ordinary
One morning, after breakfast, Colomba left the room for a moment, and
instead of returning as usual, with a book and some sheets of paper,
reappeared with her mezzaro on her head. The expression of her
countenance was even more serious than it generally was.
"Brother," she said, "I want you to come out with me."
"Where do you want me to go with you?" said Orso, holding out his arm.
"I don't want your arm, brother, but take your gun and your cartridge-
pouch. A man should never go abroad without his arms."
"So be it. I must follow the fashion. Where are we going?"
Colomba, without answering, drew her mezzaro closer about her head,
called the watch-dog, and went out followed by her brother. Striding
swiftly out of the village, she turned into a sunken road that wound
among the vineyards, sending on the dog, to whom she made some
gesture, which he seemed to understand, in front of her. He instantly
began to run zigzag fashion, through the vines, first on one side and
then on the other, always keeping within about fifty paces of his
mistress, and occasionally stopping in the middle of the road and
wagging his tail. He seemed to perform his duties as a scout in the
most perfect fashion imaginable.
"If Muschetto begins to bark, brother," said Colomba, "cock your gun,
and stand still."
Half a mile beyond the village, after making many detours, Colomba
stopped short, just where there was a bend in the road. On that spot
there rose a little pyramid of branches, some of them green, some
withered, heaped about three feet high. Above them rose the top of a
wooden cross, painted black. In several of the Corsican cantons,
especially those among the mountains, a very ancient custom,
connected, it may be with some pagan superstition, constrains every
passer-by to cast either a stone or a branch on the spot whereon a man
has died a violent death. For years and years--as long as the memory
of his tragic fate endures--this strange offering goes on accumulating
from day to day.
This is called the dead man's pile--his "mucchio."
Colomba stopped before the heap of foliage, broke off an arbutus
branch, and cast it on the pile.
"Orso," she said, "this is where your father died. Let us pray for his
And she knelt down. Orso instantly followed her example. At that
moment the village church-bell tolled slowly for a man who had died
during the preceding night. Orso burst into tears.
After a few minutes Colomba rose. Her eyes were dry, but her face was
eager. She hastily crossed herself with her thumb, after the fashion
generally adopted by her companions, to seal any solemn oath, then,
hurrying her brother with her, she took her way back to the village.
They re-entered their house in silence. Orso went up to his room. A
moment afterward Colomba followed him, carrying a small casket which
she set upon the table. Opening it, she drew out a shirt, covered with
great stains of blood.
"Here is your father's shirt, Orso!"
And she threw it across his knees. "Here is the lead that killed him!"
And she laid two blackened bullets on the shirt.
"Orso! Brother!" she cried, throwing herself into his arms and
clasping him desperately to her. "Orso, you will avenge him!"
In a sort of frenzy she kissed him, then kissed the shirt and the
bullets, and went out of the room, leaving her brother sitting on his
chair, as if he had been turned to stone. For some time Orso sat
motionless, not daring to put the terrible relics away. At last, with
an effort, he laid them back in their box, rushed to the opposite end
of his room, and threw himself on his bed, with his face turned to the
wall, and his head buried in his pillow, as though he were trying to
shut out the sight of some ghost. His sister's last words rang
unceasingly in his ears, like the words of an oracle, fatal,
inevitable, calling out to him for blood, and for innocent blood! I
shall not attempt to depict the unhappy young man's sensations, which
were as confused as those that overwhelm a madman's brain. For a long
time he lay in the same position, without daring to turn his head. At
last he got up, closed the lid of the casket, and rushed headlong out
of the house, into the open country, moving aimlessly forward, whither
he knew not.
By degrees, the fresh air did him good. He grew calmer, and began to
consider his position, and his means of escape from it, with some
composure. He did not, as my readers already know, suspect the
Barricini of the murder, but he did accuse them of having forged
Agostini's letter, and this letter, he believed, at any rate, had
brought about his father's death. He felt it was impossible to
prosecute them for the forgery. Now and then, when the prejudices or
the instincts of his race assailed him, and suggested an easy
vengeance--a shot fired at the corner of some path--the thought of his
brother-officers, of Parisian drawing-rooms, and above all, of Miss
Nevil, made him shrink from them in horror. Then his mind dwelt on his
sister's reproaches, and all the Corsican within him justified her
appeal, and even intensified its bitterness. One hope alone remained
to him, in this battle between his conscience and his prejudices--the
hope that, on some pretext or other, he might pick a quarrel with one
of the lawyer's sons, and fight a duel with him. The idea of killing
the young man, either by a bullet or a sword-thrust reconciled his
French and Corsican ideas. This expedient adopted, he began to
meditate means for its execution, and was feeling relieved already of
a heavy burden, when other and gentler thoughts contributed still
further to calm his feverish agitation. Cicero, in his despair at the
death of his daughter Tullia, forgot his sorrow when he mused over all
the fine things he might say about it. Mr. Shandy consoled himself by
discourses of the same nature for the loss of his son. Orso cooled his
blood by thinking that he would depict his state of mind to Miss
Nevil, and that such a picture could not fail to interest that fair
He was drawing near the village, from which he had unconsciously
travelled a considerable distance, when he heard the voice of a little
girl, who probably believed herself to be quite alone, singing in a
path that ran along the edge of the maquis. It was one of those
slow, monotonous airs consecrated to funeral dirges, and the child was
singing the words:
"And when my son shall see again the dwelling of his father,
Give him that murdered father's cross; show him my shirt blood-
"What's that you're singing, child?" said Orso, in an angry voice, as
he suddenly appeared before her.
"Is that you, Ors' Anton'?" exclaimed the child, rather startled. "It
is Signorina Colomba's song."
"I forbid you to sing it!" said Orso, in a threatening voice.
The child kept turning her head this way and that, as though looking
about for a way of escape, and she would certainly have run off had
she not been held back by the necessity of taking care of a large
bundle which lay on the grass, at her feet.
Orso felt ashamed of his own vehemence. "What are you carrying there,
little one?" said he, with all the gentleness he could muster. And as
Chilina hesitated, he lifted up the linen that was wrapped round the
bundle, and saw it contained a loaf of bread and other food.
"To whom are you bringing the loaf, my dear?" he asked again.
"You know quite well, Ors' Anton': to my uncle."
"And isn't your uncle a bandit?"
"At your service, Ors' Anton'."
"If you met the gendarmes, they would ask you where you were
going . . ."
"I should tell them," the child replied, at once, "that I was taking
food to the men from Lucca who were cutting down the maquis."
"And if you came across some hungry hunter who insisted on dining at
your expense, and took your provisions away from you?"
"Nobody would dare! I would say they are for my uncle!"
"Well! he's not the sort of man to let himself be cheated of his
dinner! . . . Is your uncle very fond of you?"
"Oh, yes, Ors' Anton'. Ever since my father died, he has taken care of
my whole family--my mother and my little sister, and me. Before mother
was ill, he used to recommend her to rich people, who gave her
employment. The mayor gives me a frock every year, and the priest has
taught me my catechism, and how to read, ever since my uncle spoke to
them about us. But your sister is kindest of all to us!"
Just at this moment a dog ran out on the pathway. The little girl put
two of her fingers into her mouth and gave a shrill whistle, the dog
came to her at once, fawned upon her, and then plunged swiftly into
the thicket. Soon two men, ill-dressed, but very well armed, rose up
out of a clump of young wood a few paces from where Orso stood. It was
as though they had crawled up like snakes through the tangle of
cytisus and myrtle that covered the ground.
"Oh, Ors' Anton', you're welcome!" said the elder of the two men.
"Why, don't you remember me?"
"No!" said Orso, looking hard at him.
"Queer how a beard and a peaked cap alter a man! Come, monsieur, look
at me well! Have you forgotten your old Waterloo men? Don't you
remember Brando Savelli, who bit open more than one cartridge
alongside of you on that unlucky day?"
"What! Is it you?" said Orso. "And you deserted in 1816!"
"Even so, sir. Faith! soldiering grows tiresome, and besides, I had a
job to settle over in this country. Aha, Chili! You're a good girl!
Give us our dinner at once, we're hungry. You've no notion what an
appetite one gets in the maquis. Who sent us this--was it Signorina
Colomba or the mayor?"
"No, uncle, it was the miller's wife. She gave me this for you, and a
blanket for my mother."
"What does she want of me?"
"She says the Lucchesi she hired to clear the maquis are asking her
five-and-thirty sous, and chestnuts as well--because of the fever in
the lower parts of Pietranera."
"The lazy scamps! . . . I'll see to them! . . . Will you share our
dinner, monsieur, without any ceremony? We've eaten worse meals
together, in the days of that poor compatriot of ours, whom they have
discharged from the army."
"No, I thank you heartily. They have discharged me, too!"
"Yes, so I heard. But I'll wager you weren't sorry for it. You have
your own account to settle too. . . . Come along, cure," said the
bandit to his comrade. "Let's dine! Signor Orso, let me introduce the
cure. I'm not quite sure he is a cure. But he knows as much as any
priest, at all events!"
"A poor student of theology, monsieur," quoth the second bandit, "who
has been prevented from following his vocation. Who knows,
Brandolaccio, I might have been Pope!"
"What was it that deprived the Church of your learning?" inquired
"A mere nothing--a bill that had to be settled, as my friend
Brandolaccio puts it. One of my sisters had been making a fool of
herself, while I was devouring book-lore at Pisa University. I had to
come home, to get her married. But her future husband was in too great
a hurry; he died of fever three days before I arrived. Then I called,
as you would have done in my place, on the dead man's brother. I was
told he was married. What was I to do?"
"It really was puzzling! What did you do?"
"It was one of those cases in which one has to resort to the
"In other words?"
"I put a bullet in his head," said the bandit coolly.
Orso made a horrified gesture. Nevertheless, curiosity, and, it may
be, his desire to put off the moment when he must return home, induced
him to remain where he was, and continue his conversation with the two
men, each of whom had at least one murder on his conscience.
While his comrade was talking, Brandolaccio was laying bread and meat
in front of him. He helped himself--then he gave some food to this
dog, whom he introduced to Orso under the name of Brusco, as an animal
possessing a wonderful instinct for recognising a soldier, whatever
might be the disguise he had assumed. Lastly, he cut off a hunch of
bread and a slice of raw ham, and gave them to his niece. "Oh, the
merry life a bandit lives!" cried the student of theology, after he
had swallowed a few mouthfuls. "You'll try it some day, perhaps,
Signor della Rebbia, and you'll find out how delightful it is to
acknowledge no master save one's own fancy!"
Hitherto the bandit had talked Italian. He now proceeded in French.
"Corsica is not a very amusing country for a young man to live in--but
for a bandit, there's the difference! The women are all wild about us.
I, as you see me now, have three mistresses in three different
villages. I am at home in every one of them, and one of the ladies is
married to a gendarme!"
"You know many languages, monsieur!" said Orso gravely.
"If I talk French, 'tis because, look you, maxima debetur pueris
reverentia! We have made up our minds, Brandolaccio and I, that the
little girl shall turn out well, and go straight."
"When she is turned fifteen," remarked Chilina's uncle, "I'll find a
good husband for her. I have one in my eye already."
"Shall you make the proposal yourself?" said Orso.
"Of course! Do you suppose that any well-to-do man in this
neighbourhood, to whom I said, 'I should be glad to see a marriage
between your son and Michilina Savelli,' would require any pressing?"
"I wouldn't advise him to!" quoth the other bandit. "Friend
Brandolaccio has rather a heavy hand!"
"If I were a rogue," continued Brandolaccio, "a blackguard, a forger,
I should only have to hold my wallet open, and the five-franc pieces
would rain into it."
"Then is there something inside your wallet that attracts them?" said
"Nothing. But if I were to write to a rich man, as some people have
written, 'I want a hundred francs,' he would lose no time about
sending them to me. But I'm a man of honour, monsieur."
"Do you know, Signor della Rebbia," said the bandit whom his comrade
called the cure, "do you know that in this country, with all its
simple habits, there are some wretches who make use of the esteem our
passports" (and he touched his gun) "insure us, to draw forged bills
in our handwriting?"
"I know it," said Orso, in a gruff tone; "but what bills?"
"Six months ago," said the bandit, "I was taking my walks abroad near
Orezza, when a sort of lunatic came up to me, pulling off his cap to
me even in the distance, and said: 'Oh, M. le Cure' (they always call
me that), 'please excuse me--give me time. I have only been able to
get fifty-five francs together! Honour bright, that's all I've been
able to scrape up.' I, in my astonishment, said, 'Fifty-five francs!
What do you mean, you rascal!' 'I mean sixty-five,' he replied; 'but
as for the hundred francs you asked me to give you, it's not
possible.' 'What! you villain! I ask you for a hundred francs? I don't
know who you are.' Then he showed me a letter, or rather a dirty rag
of paper, whereby he was summoned to deposit a hundred francs on a
certain spot, on pain of having his house burned and his cows killed
by Giocanto Castriconi--that's my name. And they had been vile enough
to forge my signature! What annoyed me most was that the letter was
written in patois, and was full of mistakes in spelling--I who won
every prize at the university! I began by giving my rascal a cuff that
made him twist round and round. 'Aha! You take me for a thief,
blackguard that you are!' I said, and I gave him a hearty kick, you
know where. Then feeling rather better, I went on, 'When are you to
take the money to the spot mentioned in the letter?' 'This very day.'
'Very good, then take it there!' It was at the foot of a pine-tree,
and the place had been exactly described. He brought the money, buried
it at the foot of the tree, and came and joined me. I had hidden
myself close by. There I stayed, with my man, for six mortal hours, M.
della Rebbia. I'd have staid three days, if it had been necessary. At
the end of six hours a Bastiaccio, a vile money-lender, made his
appearance. As he bent down to take up the money, I fired, and I had
aimed so well that, as he fell, his head dropped upon the coins he was
unearthing. 'Now, rascal,' said I to the peasant, 'take your money,
and never dare to suspect Giocanto Castriconi of a mean trick again!'
"The poor devil, all of a tremble, picked up his sixty-five francs
without taking the trouble to wipe them. He thanked me, I gave him a
good parting kick, and he may be running away still, for all I know."
"Ah, cure!" said Brandolaccio, "I envy you that shot! How you must
"I had hit the money-lender in the temple," the bandit went on, "and
that reminded me of Virgil's lines:
. . . " 'Liquefacto tempora plumbo
Diffidit, ac multa porrectum, extendit arena.'
"Liquefacto! Do you think, Signor Orso, that the rapidity with which
a bullet flies through the air will melt it? You who have studied
projectiles, tell me whether you think that idea is truth or fiction?"
Orso infinitely preferred discussing this question of physics to
arguing with the licentiate as to the morality of his action.
Brandolaccio, who did not find their scientific disquisition
entertaining, interrupted it with the remark that the sun was just
going to set.
"As you would not dine with us, Ors' Anton'," he said, "I advise you
not to keep Mademoiselle Colomba waiting any longer. And then it is
not always wise to be out on the roads after sunset. Why do you come
out without a gun? There are bad folk about here--beware of them! You
have nothing to fear to-day. The Barricini are bringing the prefect
home with them. They have gone to meet him on the road, and he is to
stop a day at Pietranera, before he goes on to Corte, to lay what they
call a corner-stone--such stupid nonsense! He will sleep to-night with
the Barricini; but to-morrow they'll be disengaged. There is
Vincentello, who is a good-for-nothing fellow, and Orlanduccio, who is
not much better. . . . Try to come on them separately, one to-day, the
other to-morrow. . . . But be on the lookout, that's all I have to say
"Thanks for the warning," said Orso. "But there is no quarrel between
us. Until they come to look for me, I shall have nothing to say to
The bandit stuck his tongue in his cheek, and smacked it ironically,
but he made no reply. Orso got up to go away.
"By the way," said Brandolaccio, "I haven't thanked you for your
powder. It came just when I needed it. Now I have everything I want
. . . at least I do still want shoes . . . but I'll make myself a pair
out of the skin of a moufflon one of these days."
Orso slipped two five-franc pieces into the bandit's hand.
"It was Colomba who sent you the powder. This is to buy the shoes."
"Nonsense, Lieutenant!" cried Brandolaccio, handing him back the two
coins. "D'ye take me for a beggar? I accept bread and powder, but I
won't have anything else!"
"We are both old soldiers, so I thought we might have given each other
a lift. Well, good-bye to you!"
But before he moved away he had slipped the money into he bandit's
wallet, unperceived by him.
"Good-bye, Ors' Anton'," quoth the theologian. "We shall meet again in
the maquis, some day, perhaps, and then we'll continue our study of
Quite a quarter of an hour after Orso had parted company with these
worthies, he heard a man running after him, as fast as he could go. It
"This is too bad, lieutenant!" he shouted breathlessly, "really it is
too bad! I wouldn't overlook the trick, if any other man had played it
on me. Here are your ten francs. All my respects to Mademoiselle
Colomba. You have made me run myself quite out of breath. Good-night!"
Orso found Colomba in a state of considerable anxiety because of his
prolonged absence. But as soon as she saw him she recovered her usual
serene, though sad, expression. During the evening meal the
conversation turned on trivial subjects, and Orso, emboldened by his
sister's apparent calm, related his encounter with the bandits, and
even ventured on a joke or two concerning the moral and religious
education that was being imparted to little Chilina, thanks to the
care of her uncle and of his worthy colleague Signor Castriconi.
"Brandolaccio is an upright man," said Colomba; "but as to Castriconi,
I have heard he is quite unprincipled."
"I think," said Orso, "that he is as good as Brandolaccio, and
Brandolaccio is as good as he. Both of them are at open war with
society. Their first crime leads them on to fresh ones, every day, and
yet they are very likely not half so guilty as many people who don't
live in the maquis."
A flash of joy shone in his sister's eyes. "Yes," he continued, "these
wretches have a code of honour of their own. It is a cruel prejudice,
not a mean instinct of greed, that has forced them into the life they
There was a silence.
"Brother," said Colomba, as she poured out his coffee, "perhaps you
have heard that Carlo-Battista Pietri died last night. Yes, he died of
"Who is Pietri?"
"A man belonging to this village, the husband of Maddalena, who took
the pocket-book out of our father's hand as he was dying. His widow
has been here to ask me to join the watchers, and sing something. You
ought to come, too. They are our neighbours, and in a small place like
this we can not do otherwise than pay them this civility."
"Confound these wakes, Colomba! I don't at all like my sister to
perform in public in this way."
"Orso," replied Colomba, "every country pays honour to its dead after
its own fashion. The ballata has come down to us from our
forefathers, and we must respect it as an ancient custom. Maddalena
does not possess the 'gift,' and old Fiordispina, the best
voceratrice in the country, is ill. They must have somebody for the
"Do you believe Carlo-Battista won't find his way safely into the next
world unless somebody sings bad poetry over his bier? Go if you
choose, Colomba--I'll go with you, if you think I ought. But don't
improvise! It really is not fitting at your age, and--sister, I beg
you not to do it!"
"Brother, I have promised. It is the custom here, as you know, and, I
tell you again, there is nobody but me to improvise."
"An idiotic custom it is!"
"It costs me a great deal to sing in this way. It brings back all our
own sorrows to me. I shall be ill after it, to-morrow. But I must do
it. Give me leave to do it. Brother, remember that when we were at
Ajaccio, you told me to improvise to amuse that young English lady who
makes a mock of our old customs. So why should I not do it to-day for
these poor people, who will be grateful to me, and whom it will help
to bear their grief?"
"Well, well, as you will. I'll go bail you've composed your ballata
already, and don't want to waste it."
"No, brother, I couldn't compose it beforehand. I stand before the
dead person, and I think about those he has left behind him. The tears
spring into my eyes, and then I sing whatever comes into my head."
All this was said so simply that it was quite impossible to suspect
Signorina Colomba of the smallest poetic vanity. Orso let himself be
persuaded, and went with his sister to Pietri's house. The dead man
lay on a table in the largest room, with his face uncovered. All the
doors and windows stood open, and several tapers were burning round
the table. At the head stood the widow, and behind her a great many
women, who filled all one side of the room. On the other side were the
men, in rows, bareheaded, with their eyes fixed on the corpse, all in
the deepest silence. Each new arrival went up to the table, kissed the
dead face, bowed his or her head to the widow and her son, and joined
the circle, without uttering a word. Nevertheless, from time to time
one of the persons present would break the solemn silence with a few
words, addressed to the dead man.
"Why has thou left thy good wife?" said one old crone. "Did she not
take good care of thee? What didst thou lack? Why not have waited
another month? Thy daughter-in-law would have borne thee a grandson!"
A tall young fellow, Pietri's son, pressed his father's cold hand and
cried: "Oh! why hast thou not died of the mala morte?[*] Then we
could have avenged thee!"
[*] La mala morte, a violent death.
These were the first words to fall on Orso's ear as he entered the
room. At the sight of him the circle parted, and a low murmur of
curiosity betrayed the expectation roused in the gathering by the
voceratrice's presence. Colomba embraced the widow, took one of her
hands, and stood for some moments wrapped in meditation, with her
eyelids dropped. Then she threw back her mezzaro, gazed fixedly at
the corpse, and bending over it, her face almost as waxen as that of
the dead man, she began thus:
"Carlo-Battista! May Christ receive thy soul! . . . To live is to
suffer! Thou goest to a place . . . where there is neither sun nor
cold. . . . No longer dost thou need thy pruning-hook . . . nor thy
heavy pick. . . . There is no more work for thee! . . . Henceforward
all thy days are Sundays! . . . Carlo-Battista! May Christ receive thy
soul! . . . Thy son rules in thy house. . . . I have seen the oak
fall, . . . dried up by the libeccio. . . . I thought it was dead
indeed, . . . but when I passed it again, its root . . . had thrown up
a sapling. . . . The sapling grew into an oak . . . of mighty shade.
. . . Under its great branches, Maddele, rest thee well! . . . And
think of the oak that is no more!"
Here Maddalena began to sob aloud, and two or three men who, on
occasion, would have shot at a Christian as coolly as at a partridge,
brushed big tears off their sunburnt faces.
For some minutes Colomba continued in this strain, addressing herself
sometimes to the corpse, sometimes to the family, and sometimes, by a
personification frequently employed in the ballata, making the dead
man himself speak words of consolation or counsel to his kinsfolk. As
she proceeded, her face assumed a sublime expression, a delicate pink
tinge crept over her features, heightening the brilliancy of her white
teeth and the lustre of her flashing eyes. She was like a Pythoness on
her tripod. Save for a sigh here and there, or a strangled sob, not
the slightest noise rose from the assembly that crowded about her.
Orso, though less easily affected than most people by this wild kind
of poetry, was soon overcome by the general emotion. Hidden in a dark
corner of the room, he wept as heartily as Pietri's own son.
Suddenly a slight stir was perceptible among the audience. The circle
opened, and several strangers entered. The respect shown them, and the
eagerness with which room was made for them, proved them to be people
of importance, whose advent was a great honour to the household.
Nevertheless, out of respect for the ballata, nobody said a word to
them. The man who had entered first seemed about forty years of age.
From his black coat, his red rosette, his confident air, and look of
authority, he was at once guessed to be the prefect. Behind him came a
bent old man with a bilious-looking complexion, whose furtive and
anxious glance was only partially concealed by his green spectacles.
He wore a black coat, too large for him, and which, though still quite
new, had evidently been made several years previously. He always kept
close beside the prefect and looked as though he would fain hide
himself under his shadow. Last of all, behind him, came two tall young
men, with sunburnt faces, their cheeks hidden by heavy whiskers, proud
and arrogant-looking, and showing symptoms of an impertinent
curiosity. Orso had had time to forget the faces of his village
neighbours; but the sight of the old man in green spectacles instantly
called up old memories in his mind. His presence in attendance on the
prefect sufficed to insure his recognition. This was Barricini, the
lawyer, mayor of Pietranera, who had come, with his two sons, to show
the prefect what a ballata was. It would be difficult exactly to
describe what happened within Orso's soul at that moment, but the
presence of his father's foe filled him with a sort of horror, and
more than ever he felt inclined to yield to the suspicions with which
he had been battling for so long.
As to Colomba, when she saw the man against whom she had sworn a
deadly hatred, her mobile countenance assumed a most threatening
aspect. She turned pale, her voice grew hoarse, the line she had begun
to declaim died on her lips. But soon, taking up her ballata afresh,
she proceeded with still greater vehemence.
"When the hawk bemoans himself . . . beside his harried nest, . . .
the starlings flutter round him . . . insulting his distress."
A smothered laugh was heard. The two young men who had just come in
doubtless considered the metaphor too bold.
"The falcon will rouse himself. . . . He will spread his wings. . . .
He will wash his beak in blood! . . . Now, to thee, Carlo-Battista,
let thy friends . . . bid an eternal farewell! . . . Long enough have
their tears flowed! . . . Only the poor orphan girl will not weep for
thee! . . . Wherefore should she moan? . . . Thou has fallen asleep,
full of years, . . . in the midst of thine own kin. . . . ready to
appear . . . in the presence of the Almighty. . . . The orphan weeps
for her father . . . overtaken by vile murderers, . . . struck from
behind. . . . For her father, whose blood lies red . . . beneath the
heaped-up green leaves. . . . But she has gathered up this blood,
. . . this innocent and noble blood! . . . She has poured it out over
Pietranera . . . that it may become a deadly poison. . . . And the
mark shall be on Pietranera . . . until the blood of the guilty . . .
shall have wiped out the blood of the innocent man!"
As Colomba pronounced the last words, she dropped into a chair, drew
her mezzaro over her face, and was heard sobbing beneath it. The
weeping women crowded round the improvisatrice; several of the men
were casting savage glances at the mayor and his sons; some of the
elders began to protest against the scandal to which their presence
had given rise. The dead man's son pushed his way through the throng,
and was about to beg the mayor to clear out with all possible speed.
But this functionary had not waited for the suggestion. He was on his
way to the door, and his two sons were already in the street. The
prefect said a few words of condolence to young Pietri, and followed
them out, almost immediately. Orso went to his sister's side, took her
arm, and drew her out of the room.
"Go with them," said young Pietri to some of his friends. "Take care
no harm comes to them!"
Hastily two or three young men slipped their stilettos up the left
sleeves of their jackets and escorted Orso and his sister to their own
Panting, exhausted, Colomba was utterly incapable of uttering a single
word. Her head rested on her brother's shoulder, and she clasped one
of his hands tightly between her own. Orso, though secretly somewhat
annoyed by her peroration, was too much alarmed to reprove her, even
in the mildest fashion. He was silently waiting till the nervous
attack from which she seemed to be suffering should have passed, when
there was a knock at the door, and Saveria, very much flustered,
announced the prefect. At the words, Colomba rose, as though ashamed
of her weakness, and stood leaning on a chair, which shook visibly
beneath her hand.
The prefect began with some commonplace apology for the unseasonable
hour of his visit, condoled with Mademoiselle Colomba, touched on the
danger connected with strong emotions, blamed the custom of composing
funeral dirges, which the very talent of the voceratrice rendered
the more harrowing to her auditors, skilfully slipped in a mild
reproof concerning the tendency of the improvisation just concluded,
and then, changing his tone--
"M. della Rebbia," he said, "I have many messages for you from your
English friends. Miss Nevil sends her affectionate regards to your
sister. I have a letter for you from her."
"A letter from Miss Nevil!" cried Orso.
"Unluckily I have not got it with me. But you shall have it within
five minutes. Her father has not been well. For a little while we were
afraid he had caught one of our terrible fevers. Luckily he is all
right again, as you will observe for yourself, for I fancy you will
see him very soon."
"Miss Nevil must have been very much alarmed!"
"Fortunately she did not become aware of the danger till it was quite
gone by. M. della Rebbia, Miss Nevil has talked to me a great deal
about you and about your sister."
"She has a great affection for you both. Under her charming
appearance, and her apparent frivolity, a fund of good sense lies
"She is a very fascinating person," said Orso.
"I have come here, monsieur, almost at her prayer. Nobody is better
acquainted than I with a fatal story which I would fain not have to
recall to you. As M. Barricini is still the mayor of Pietranera, and
as I am prefect of the department, I need hardly tell you what weight
I attach to certain suspicions which, if I am rightly informed, some
incautious individuals have communicated to you, and which you, I
know, have spurned with the indignation your position and your
character would have led me to expect."
"Colomba," said Orso, moving uneasily to his chair. "You are very
tired. You had better go to bed."
Colomba shook her head. She had recovered all her usual composure, and
her burning eyes were fixed on the prefect.
"M. Barricini," the prefect continued, "is exceedingly anxious to put
an end to the sort of enmity . . . or rather, the condition of
uncertainty, existing between yourself and him. . . . On my part, I
should be delighted to see you both in those relations of friendly
intercourse appropriate to people who certainly ought to esteem each
"Monsieur," replied Orso in a shaking voice, "I have never charged
Barricini with my father's murder. But he committed an act which must
always prevent me from having anything to do with him. He forged a
threatening letter, in the name of a certain bandit, or at least he
hinted in an underhand sort of way that it was forged by my father.
That letter, monsieur, was probably the indirect cause of my father's
The prefect sat thinking for a moment.
"That your father should have believed that, when his own hasty nature
led him into a lawsuit with Signor Barricini, is excusable. But such
blindness on your part really can not be admitted. Pray consider that
Barricini could have served no interest of his own by forging the
letter. I will not talk to you about his character, for you are not
acquainted with it, and are prejudiced against it; but you can not
suppose that a man conversant with the law----"
"But, monsieur," said Orso, rising to his feet, "be good enough to
recollect that when you tell me the letter was not Barricini's work,
you ascribe it to my father. And my father's honour, monsieur, is
"No man on earth, sir, is more convinced of Colonel della Rebbia's
honour than myself! But the writer of the letter is now known."
"Who wrote it?" exclaimed Colomba, making a step toward the prefect.
"A villain, guilty of several crimes--such crimes as you Corsicans
never pardon--a thief, one Tomaso Bianchi, at present confined in the
prison at Bastia, has acknowledged that he wrote the fatal letter."
"I know nothing of the man," said Orso. "What can have been his
"He belongs to this neighbourhood," said Colomba. "He is brother to a
man who was our miller--a scamp and a liar, unworthy of belief."
"You will soon see what his interest in the matter was," continued the
prefect. "The miller of whom your sister speaks--I think his name was
Teodoro--was the tenant of a mill belonging to the colonel, standing
on the very stream the ownership of which M. Barricini was disputing
with your father. The colonel, always a generous man, made very little
profit out of the mill. Now Tomaso thought that if Barricini got
possession of the stream there would be a heavy rent to pay, for it is
well known that Barricini is rather fond of money. In short, to oblige
his brother, Tomaso forged the letter from the bandit--and there's the
whole story. You know that in Corsica the strength of the family tie
is so great that it does sometimes lead to crime. Please read over
this letter to me from the attorney-general. It confirms what I have
just told you."
Orso looked through the letter, which gave a detailed relation of
Tomaso's confession, and Colomba read it over his shoulder.
When she had come to the end of it she exclaimed:
"Orlanduccio Barricini went down to Bastia a month ago, when it became
known that my brother was coming home. He must have seen Tomaso, and
bought this lie of him!"
"Signorina," said the prefect, out of patience, "you explain
everything by odious imputations! Is that the way to find out the
truth? You, sir, can judge more coolly. Tell me what you think of the
business now? Do you believe, like this young lady, that a man who has
only a slight sentence to fear would deliberately charge himself with
forgery, just to oblige a person he doesn't know?"
Orso read the attorney-general's letter again, weighing every word
with the greatest care--for now that he had seen the old lawyer, he
felt it more difficult to convince himself than it would have been a
few days previously. At last he found himself obliged to admit that
the explanation seemed to him to be satisfactory. But Colomba cried
"Tomaso Bianchi is a knave! He'll not be convicted, or he'll escape
from prison! I am certain of it!"
The prefect shrugged his shoulders.
"I have laid the information I have received before you, monsieur. I
will now depart, and leave you to your own reflections. I shall wait
till your own reason has enlightened you, and I trust it may prove
stronger than your sister's suppositions."
Orso, after saying a few words of excuse for Colomba, repeated that he
now believed Tomaso to be the sole culprit.
The prefect had risen to take his leave.
"If it were not so late," said he, "I would suggest your coming over
with me to fetch Miss Nevil's letter. At the same time you might
repeat to M. Barricini what you have just said to me, and the whole
thing would be settled."
"Orso della Rebbia will never set his foot inside the house of a
Barricini!" exclaimed Colomba impetuously.
"This young lady appears to be the tintinajo[*] of the family!"
remarked the prefect, with a touch of irony.
[*] This is the name given to the ram or he-goat which wears a bell
and leads the flock, and it is applied, metaphorically, to any
member of a family who guides it in all important matters.
"Monsieur," replied Colomba resolutely, "you are deceived. You do not
know the lawyer. He is the most cunning and knavish of men. I beseech
you not to make Orso do a thing that would overwhelm him with
"Colomba!" exclaimed Orso, "your passion has driven you out of your
"Orso! Orso! By the casket I gave you, I beseech you to listen to me!
There is blood between you and the Barricini. You shall not go into
"No, brother, you shall not go! Or I will leave this house, and you
will never see me again! Have pity on me, Orso!" and she fell on her
"I am grieved," said the prefect, "to find Mademoiselle Colomba so
unreasonable. You will convince her, I am sure."
He opened the door and paused, seeming to expect Orso to follow him.
"I can not leave her now," said Orso. "To-morrow, if----"
"I shall be starting very early," said the prefect.
"Brother," cried Colomba, clasping her hands, "wait till to-morrow
morning, in any case. Let me look over my father's papers. You can not
refuse me that!"
"Well, you shall look them over to-night. But at all events you shall
not torment me afterward with your violent hatreds. A thousand
pardons, monsieur! I am so upset myself to-night--it had better be
"The night brings counsel," said the prefect, as he went out. "I hope
all your uncertainty will have disappeared by to-morrow."
"Saveria," Colomba called, "take the lantern and attend the Signor
Prefetto. He will give you a letter to bring back to my brother."
She added a few words which reached Saveria's ear alone.
"Colomba," said Orso, when the prefect was gone, "you have distressed
me very much. Will no evidence convince you?"
"You have given me till to-morrow," she replied. "I have very little
time; but I still have some hope."
Then she took a bunch of keys and ran up to a room on the upper story.
There he could hear her pulling open drawers, and rummaging in the
writing-desk in which Colonel della Rebbia had kept his business
Saveria was a long time away, and when she at last reappeared,
carrying a letter, and followed by little Chilina, rubbing her eyes,
and evidently just waked out of her beauty sleep, Orso was wound up to
the highest possible pitch of impatience.
"Chili," said Orso, "what are you doing here at this hour?"
"The signorina sent for me," replied Chilina.
"What the devil does she want with her?" thought Orso to himself. But
he was in a hurry to open Miss Lydia's letter, and while he was
reading it Chilina went upstairs to his sister's room.
"My father, dear sir, has not been well," Miss Nevil wrote, "and he
is so indolent, besides, that I am obliged to act as his
secretary. You remember that, instead of admiring the landscape
with you and me the other day, he got his feet wet on the sea-shore
--and in your delightful island, that is quite enough to give one a
fever! I can see the face you are making! No doubt you are feeling
for your dagger. But I will hope you have none now. Well, my father
had a little fever, and I had a great fright. The prefect, whom I
persist in thinking very pleasant, sent us a doctor, also a very
pleasant man, who got us over our trouble in two days. There has
been no return of the attack, and my father would like to begin to
shoot again. But I have forbidden that. How did you find matters
in your mountain home? Is your North Tower still in its old place?
Are there any ghosts about it? I ask all these questions because
my father remembers you have promised him buck and boar and
moufflon--is that the right name for those strange creatures? We
intend to crave your hospitality on our way to Bastia, where we
are to embark, and I trust the della Rebbia Castle, which you
declare is so old and tumble-down, will not fall in upon our
heads! Though the prefect is so pleasant that subjects of
conversation are never lacking to us--I flatter myself, by the
way, that I have turned his head--we have been talking about your
worshipful self. The legal people at Bastia have sent him certain
confessions, made by a rascal they have under lock and key, which
are calculated to destroy your last remaining suspicions. The
enmity which sometimes alarmed me for you must therefore end at
once. You have no idea what a pleasure this has been to me! When
you started hence with the fair voceratrice, with your gun in
hand, and your brow lowering, you struck me as being more Corsican
than ever--too Corsican indeed! Basta! I write you this long
letter because I am dull. The prefect, alas! is going away. We
will send you a message when we start for your mountains, and I
shall take the liberty of writing to Signorina Colomba to ask her
to give me a bruccio, ma solenne! Meanwhile, give her my love. I
use her dagger a great deal to cut the leaves of a novel I brought
with me. But the doughty steel revolts against such usage, and
tears my book for me, after a most pitiful fashion. Farewell, sir!
My father sends you 'his best love.' Listen to what the prefect
says. He is a sensible man, and is turning out of his way, I
believe, on your account. He is going to lay a foundation-stone at
Corte. I should fancy the ceremony will be very imposing, and I am
very sorry not to see it. A gentleman in an embroidered coat and
silk stockings and a white scarf, wielding a trowel--and a speech!
And at the end of the performance manifold and reiterated shouts
of 'God save the King.' I say again, sir, it will make you very
vain to think I have written you four whole pages, and on that
account I give you leave to write me a very long letter. By the
way, I think it very odd of you not to have let me hear of your
safe arrival at the Castle of Pietranera!
"P.S.--I beg you will listen to the prefect, and do as he bids you.
We have agreed that this is the course you should pursue, and I
shall be very glad if you do it."
Orso read the letter three or four times over, making endless mental
comments each time as he read. Then he wrote a long answer, which he
sent by Saveria's hand to a man in the village, who was to go down to
Ajaccio the very next day. Already he had almost dismissed the idea of
discussing his grievance, true or false, against the Barricini, with
his sister. Miss Lydia's letter had cast a rose-coloured tint over
everything about him. He felt neither hatred nor suspicion now. He
waited some time for his sister to come down, and finding she did not
reappear, he went to bed, with a lighter heart than he had carried for
many a day. Colomba, having dismissed Chilina with some secret
instructions, spent the greater part of the night in reading old
papers. A little before daybreak a few tiny pebbles rattled against
the window-pane. At the signal, she went down to the garden, opened a
back door, and conducted two very rough men into her house. Her first
care was to bring them into the kitchen and give them food. My readers
will shortly learn who these men were.
Toward six o'clock next morning one of the prefect's servants came and
knocked at the door of Orso's house. He was received by Colomba, and
informed her the prefect was about to start, and was expecting her
brother. Without a moment's hesitation Colomba replied that her
brother had just had a fall on the stairs, and sprained his foot; and
he was unable to walk a single step, that he begged the prefect to
excuse him, and would be very grateful if he would condescend to take
the trouble of coming over to him. A few minutes after this message
had been despatched, Orso came downstairs, and asked his sister
whether the prefect had not sent for him.
With the most perfect assurance she rejoined:
"He begs you'll wait for him here."
Half an hour went by without the slightest perceptible stir in the
Barricini dwelling. Meanwhile Orso asked Colomba whether she had
discovered anything. She replied that she proposed to make her
statement when the prefect came. She affected an extreme composure.
But her colour and her eyes betrayed her state of feverish excitement.
At last the door of the Barricini mansion was seen to open. The
prefect came out first, in travelling garb; he was followed by the
mayor and his two sons. What was the stupefaction of the inhabitants
of the village of Pietranera, who had been on the watch since sunrise
for the departure of the chief magistrate of their department, when
they saw him go straight across the square and enter the della Rebbia
dwelling, accompanied by the three Barricini. "They are going to make
peace!" exclaimed the village politicians.
"Just as I told you," one old man went on. "Ors' Anton' has lived too
much on the mainland to carry things through like a man of mettle."
"Yet," responded a Rebbianite, "you may notice it is the Barricini who
have gone across to him. They are suing for mercy."
"It's the prefect who had wheedled them all round," answered the old
fellow. "There is no such thing as courage nowadays, and the young
chaps make no more fuss about their father's blood than if they were
The prefect was not a little astounded to find Orso up and walking
about with perfect ease. In the briefest fashion Colomba avowed her
own lie, and begged him to forgive it.
"If you had been staying anywhere else, monsieur, my brother would
have gone to pay his respects to you yesterday."
Orso made endless apologies, vowing he had nothing to do with his
sister's absurd stratagem, by which he appeared deeply mortified. The
prefect and the elder Barricini appeared to believe in the sincerity
of his regret, and indeed this belief was justified by his evident
confusion and the reproaches he addressed to his sister. But the
mayor's two sons did not seem satisfied.
"We are being made to look like fools," said Orlanduccio audibly.
"If my sister were to play me such tricks," said Vincentello, "I'd
soon cure her fancy for beginning them again."
The words, and the tone in which they were uttered, offended Orso, and
diminished his good-will. Glances that were anything but friendly were
exchanged between him and the two young men.
Meanwhile, everybody being seated save Colomba, who remained standing
close to the kitchen door, the prefect took up his parable, and after
a few common-places as to local prejudices, he recalled the fact that
the most inveterate enmities generally have their root in some mere
misunderstanding. Next, turning to the mayor, he told him that Signor
della Rebbia had never believed the Barricini family had played any
part, direct or indirect, in the deplorable event which had bereft him
of his father; that he had, indeed, nursed some doubts as to one
detail in the lawsuit between the two families; that Signor Orso's
long absence, and the nature of the information sent him, excused the
doubt in question; that in the light of recent revelations he felt
completely satisfied, and desired to re-open friendly and neighbourly
relations with Signor Barricini and his sons.
Orso bowed stiffly. Signor Barricini stammered a few words that nobody
could hear, and his sons stared steadily at the ceiling rafters. The
prefect was about to continue his speech, and address the counterpart
of the remarks he had made to Signor Barricini, to Orso, when Colomba
stepped gravely forward between the contracting parties, at the same
time drawing some papers from beneath her neckerchief.
"I should be happy indeed," she said, "to see the quarrel between our
two families brought to an end. But if the reconciliation is to be
sincere, there must be a full explanation, and nothing must be left in
doubt. Signor Prefetto, Tomaso Bianchi's declaration, coming from a
man of such vile report, seemed to me justly open to doubt. I said
your sons had possibly seen this man in the prison at Bastia."
"It's false!" interrupted Orlanduccio; "I didn't see him!"
Colomba cast a scornful glance at him, and proceeded with great
"You explained Tomaso's probable interest in threatening Signor
Barricini, in the name of a dreaded bandit, by his desire to keep his
brother Teodoro in possession of the mill which my father allowed him
to hire at a very low rent."
"That's quite clear," assented the prefect.
"Where was Tomaso Bianchi's interest?" exclaimed Colomba triumphantly.
"His brother's lease had run out. My father had given him notice on
the 1st of July. Here is my father's account-book; here is his note of
warning given to Teodoro, and the letter from a business man at
Ajaccio suggesting a new tenant."
As she spoke she gave the prefect the papers she had been holding in
There was an astonished pause. The mayor turned visibly pale. Orso,
knitting his brows, leaned forward to look at the papers, which the
prefect was perusing most attentively.
"We are being made to look like fools!" cried Orlanduccio again,
springing angrily to his feet. "Let us be off, father! We ought never
to have come here!"
One instant's delay gave Signor Barricini time to recover his
composure. He asked leave to see the papers. Without a word the
prefect handed them over to him. Pushing his green spectacles up to
his forehead, he looked through them with a somewhat indifferent air,
while Colomba watched him with the eyes of a tigress who sees a buck
drawing near to the lair where she had hidden her cubs.
"Well," said Signor Barricini, as he pulled down his spectacles and
returned the documents, "knowing the late colonel's kind heart, Tomaso
thought--most likely he thought--that the colonel would change his
mind about the notice. As a matter of fact, Bianchi is still at the
"It was I," said Colomba, and there was scorn in her voice, "who left
him there. My father was dead, and situated as I was, I was obliged to
treat my brother's dependents with consideration."
"Yet," quoth the prefect, "this man Tomaso acknowledges that he wrote
the letter. That much is clear."
"The thing that is clear to me," broke in Orso, "is that there is some
vile infamy underneath this whole business."
"I have to contradict another assertion made by these gentlemen," said
She threw open the door into the kitchen and instantly Brandolaccio,
the licentiate in theology, and Brusco, the dog, marched into the
room. The two bandits were unarmed--apparently, at all events; they
wore their cartridge belts, but the pistols, which are their necessary
complement, were absent. As they entered the room they doffed their
The effect produced by their sudden appearance may be conceived. The
mayor almost fell backward. His sons threw themselves boldly in front
of him, each one feeling for his dagger in his coat pocket. The
prefect made a step toward the door, and Orso, seizing Brandolaccio by
the collar, shouted:
"What have you come here for, you villain?"
"This is a trap!" cried the mayor, trying to get the door open. But,
by the bandits' orders, as was afterward discovered, Saveria had
locked it on the outside.
"Good people," said Brandolaccio, "don't be afraid of me. I'm not such
a devil as I look. We mean no harm at all. Signor Prefetto, I'm your
very humble servant. Gently, lieutenant! You're strangling me! We're
here as witnesses! Now then, Padre, speak up! Your tongue's glib
"Signor Prefetto," quoth the licentiate, "I have not the honour of
being known to you. My name is Giocanto Castriconi, better known as
the Padre. Aha, it's coming back to you! The signorina here, whom I
have not the pleasure of knowing either, has sent to ask me to supply
some information about a fellow of the name of Tomaso Bianchi, with
whom I chanced to be shut up, about three weeks ago, in the prison at
Bastia. This is what I have to tell you."
"Spare yourself the trouble," said the prefect. "I can not listen to
anything from such a man as you. Signor della Rebbia, I am willing to
believe you have had nothing to do with this detestable plot. But are
you master in your own house? Will you have the door opened? Your
sister may have to give an account of the strange relations in which
she lives with a set of bandits."
"Signor Prefetto!" cried Colomba, "I beseech you to listen to what
this man has to say! You are here to do justice to everybody, and it
is your duty to search out the truth. Speak, Giocanto Castriconi!"
"Don't listen to him," chorused the three Barricini.
"If everybody talks at once," remarked the bandit, with a smile,
"nobody can contrive to hear what anybody says. Well, in the prison at
Bastia I had as my companion--not as my friend--this very man, Tomaso.
He received frequent visits from Signor Orlanduccio."
"You lie!" shouted the two brothers together.
"Two negatives make an affirmative," pursued Castriconi coolly.
"Tomaso had money, he ate and drank of the best. I have always been
fond of good cheer (that's the least of my failings), and in spite of
my repugnance to rubbing shoulders with such a wretch, I let myself be
tempted, several times over, into dining with him. Out of gratitude, I
proposed he should escape with me. A young person--to whom I had shown
some kindness--had provided me with the necessary means. I don't
intend to compromise anybody. Tomaso refused my offer, telling me he
was certain to be all right, as lawyer Barricini had spoken to all the
judges for him, and he was sure to get out of prison with a character
as white as snow, and with money in his pocket, too. As for me, I
thought it better to get into the fresh air. Dixi."
"Everything that fellow has said is a heap of lies," reiterated
Orlanduccio stoutly. "If we were in the open country, and each of us
had his gun, he wouldn't talk in that way."
"Here's a pretty folly!" cried Brandolaccio. "Don't you quarrel with
the Padre, Orlanduccio!"
"Will you be good enough to allow me to leave this room, Signor della
Rebbia," said the prefect, and he stamped his foot in his impatience.
"Saveria! Saveria!" shouted Orso, "open the door, in the devil's
"One moment," said Brandolaccio. "We have to slip away first, on our
side. Signor Prefetto, the custom, when people meet in the house of a
mutual friend, is to allow each other half an hour's law, after
The prefect cast a scornful glance at him.
"Your servant, signorina, and gentlemen all!" said Brandolaccio. Then
stretching out his arm, "Hi, Brusco," he cried to his dog, "jump for
the Signor Prefetto!"
The dog jumped; the bandits swiftly snatched up their arms in the
kitchen, fled across the garden, and at a shrill whistle the door of
the room flew open as though by magic.
"Signor Barricini," said Orso, and suppressed fury vibrated in his
voice, "I hold you to be a forger! This very day I shall charge you
before the public prosecutor with forgery and complicity with Bianchi.
I may perhaps have a still more terrible accusation to bring against
"And I, Signor della Rebbia," replied the mayor, "shall lay my charge
against you for conspiracy and complicity with bandits. Meanwhile the
prefect will desire the gendarmes to keep an eye upon you."
"The prefect will do his duty," said that gentleman sternly. "He will
see the public order is not disturbed at Pietranera; he will take care
justice is done. I say this to you all, gentlemen!"
The mayor and Vincentello were outside the room already, and
Orlanduccio was following them, stepping backward, when Orso said to
him in an undertone:
"Your father is an old man. One cuff from me would kill him. It is
with you and with your brother that I intend to deal."
Orlanduccio's only response was to draw his dagger and fly like a
madman at Orso. But before he could use his weapon Colomba caught hold
of his arm and twisted it violently, while Orso gave him a blow in the
face with his fist, which made him stagger several paces back, and
come into violent collision with the door frame. Orlanduccio's dagger
dropped from his hand. But Vincentello had his ready, and was rushing
back into the room, when Colomba, snatching up a gun convinced him
that the struggle must be unequal. At the same time the prefect threw
himself between the combatants.
"We shall soon meet, Ors' Anton'!" shouted Orlanduccio, and slamming
the door of the room violently, he turned the key in the lock, so as
to insure himself time to retreat.
For a full quarter of an hour Orso and the prefect kept their places
in dead silence, at opposite ends of the room. Colomba, the pride of
triumph shining on her brow, gazed first at one and then at the other,
as she leaned on the gun that had turned the scale of victory.
"What a country! Oh, what a country!" cried the prefect at last,
rising hastily from his chair. "Signor della Rebbia, you did wrong!
You must give me your word of honour to abstain from all violence, and
to wait till the law settles this cursed business."
"Yes, Signor Prefetto, I was wrong to strike that villain. But I did
strike him, after all, and I can't refuse him the satisfaction he has
demanded of me."
"Pooh! no! He doesn't want to fight you! But supposing he murders you?
You've done everything you could to insure it."
"We'll protect ourselves," said Colomba.
"Orlanduccio," said Orso, "strikes me as being a plucky fellow, and I
think better of him than that, monsieur. He was very quick about
drawing his dagger. But perhaps I should have done the same thing in
his place, and I'm glad my sister has not an ordinary fine lady's
"You are not to fight," exclaimed the prefect. "I forbid it!"
"Allow me to say, monsieur, that in matters that affect my honour the
only authority I acknowledge is that of my own conscience."
"You sha'n't fight, I tell you!"
"You can put me under arrest, monsieur--that is, if I let you catch
me. But if you were to do that, you would only delay a thing that has
now become inevitable. You are a man of honour yourself, monsieur; you
know there can be no other course."
"If you were to have my brother arrested," added Colomba, "half the
village would take his part, and we should have a fine fusillade."
"I give you fair notice, monsieur, and I entreat you not to think I am
talking mere bravado. I warn you that if Signor Barricini abuses his
authority as mayor, to have me arrested, I shall defend myself."
"From this very day," said the prefect, "Signor Barricini is
suspended. I trust he will exculpate himself. Listen to me, my young
gentleman, I have a liking for you. What I ask of you is nothing to
speak of. Just to stay quietly at home till I get back from Corte. I
shall only be three days away. I'll bring back the public prosecutor
with me, and then we'll sift this wretched business to the bottom.
Will you promise me you will abstain from all hostilities till then?"
"I can not promise that, monsieur, if, as I expect, Orlanduccio asks
me to meet him."
"What, Signor della Rebbia! Would you--a French officer--think of
going out with a man you suspect of being a forger?"
"I struck him, monsieur!"
"But supposing you struck a convict, and he demanded satisfaction of
you, would you fight him? Come, come, Signor Orso! But I'll ask you to
do even less, do nothing to seek out Orlanduccio. I'll consent to your
fighting him if he asks you for a meeting."
"He will ask for it, I haven't a doubt of that. But I'll promise I
won't give him fresh cuffs to induce him to do it."
"What a country!" cried the prefect once more, as he strode to and
fro. "Shall I never get back to France?"
"Signor Prefetto," said Colomba in her most dulcet tones, "it is
growing very late. Would you do us the honour of breakfasting here?"
The prefect could not help laughing.
"I've been here too long already--it may look like partiality. And
there is that cursed foundation-stone. I must be off. Signorina della
Rebbia! what calamities you may have prepared this day!"
"At all events, Signor Prefetto, you will do my sister the justice of
believing her convictions are deeply rooted--and I am sure, now, that
you yourself believe them to be well-founded."
"Farewell, sir!" said the prefect, waving his hand. "I warn you that
the sergeant of gendarmes will have orders to watch everything you
When the prefect had departed--
"Orso, said Colomba, "this isn't the Continent. Orlanduccio knows
nothing about your duels, and besides, that wretch must not die the
death of a brave man."
"Colomba, my dear, you are a clever woman. I owe you a great deal from
having saved me from a hearty knife-thrust. Give me your little hand
to kiss! But, hark ye, let me have my way. There are certain matters
that you don't understand. Give me my breakfast. And as soon as the
prefect had started off send for little Chilina, who seems to perform
all the commissions she is given in the most wonderful fashion. I
shall want her to take a letter for me."
While Colomba was superintending the preparation of his breakfast,
Orso went up to his own room and wrote the following note:
"You must be in a hurry to meet me, and I am no less eager. We can
meet at six o'clock to-morrow morning in the valley of Acquaviva.
I am a skilful pistol-shot, so I do not suggest that weapon to
you. I hear you are a good shot with a gun. Let us each take a
double-barrelled gun. I shall be accompanied by a man from this
village. If your brother wishes to go with you, take a second
witness, and let me know. In that case only, I should bring two
"ORSO ANTONIO DELLA REBBIA."
After spending an hour with the deputy-mayor, and going into the
Barricini house for a few minutes, the prefect, attended by a single
gendarme, started for Corte. A quarter of an hour later, Chilina
carried over the letter my readers have just perused, and delivered it
into Orlanduccio's own hands.
The answer was not prompt, and did not arrive till evening. It bore
the signature of the elder Barricini, and informed Orso that he was
laying the threatening letter sent to his son before the public
prosecutor. His missive concluded thus: "Strong in the sense of a
clear conscience, I patiently wait till the law has pronounced on your
Meanwhile five or six herdsmen, summoned by Colomba, arrived to
garrison the della Rebbia Tower. In spite of Orso's protests,
archere were arranged in the windows looking onto the square, and
all through the evening offers of service kept coming in from various
persons belonging to the village. There was even a letter from the
bandit-theologian, undertaking, for himself and Brandolaccio, that in
the event of the mayor's calling on the gendarmes, they themselves
would straightway intervene. The following postscript closed the
"Dare I ask you what the Signor Prefetto thinks of the excellent
education bestowed by my friend on Brusco, the dog? Next to
Chilina, he is the most docile and promising pupil I have ever
The following day went by without any hostile demonstration. Both
sides kept on the defensive. Orso did not leave his house, and the
door of the Barricini dwelling remained closely shut. The five
gendarmes who had been left to garrison Pietranera were to be seen
walking about the square and the outskirts of the village, in company
with the village constable, the sole representative of the urban
police force. The deputy-mayor never put off his sash. But there was
no actual symptom of war, except the loopholes in the two opponents'
houses. Nobody but a Corsican would have noticed that the group round
the evergreen oak in the middle of the square consisted solely of
At supper-time Colomba gleefully showed her brother a letter she had
just received from Miss Nevil.
"My dear Signorina Colomba," it ran, "I learn with great pleasure,
through a letter from your brother, that your enmities are all at
an end. I congratulate you heartily. My father can not endure
Ajaccio now your brother is not there to talk about war and go out
shooting with him. We are starting to-day, and shall sleep at the
house of your kinswoman, to whom we have a letter. The day after
to-morrow, somewhere about eleven o'clock, I shall come and ask
you to let me taste that mountain bruccio of yours, which you
say is so vastly superior to what we get in the town.
"Farewell, dear Signorina Colomba.
"Then she hasn't received my second letter!" exclaimed Orso.
"You see by the date of this one that Miss Lydia must have already
started when your letter reached Ajaccio. But did you tell her not to
"I told her we were in a state of siege. That does not seem to me a
condition that permits of our receiving company."
"Bah! These English people are so odd. The very last night I slept in
her room she told me she would be sorry to leave Corsica without
having seen a good vendetta. If you choose, Orso, you might let her
see an assault on our enemies' house."
"Do you know, Colomba," said Orso, "Nature blundered when she made you
a woman. You'd have made a first-rate soldier."
"Maybe. Anyhow, I'm going to make my bruccio."
"Don't waste your time. We must send somebody down to warn them and
stop them before they start."
"Do you mean to say you would send a messenger out in such weather, to
have him and your letter both swept away by a torrent? How I pity
those poor bandits in this storm! Luckily they have good piloni
(thick cloth cloaks with hoods). Do you know what you ought to do,
Orso. If the storm clears you should start off very early to-morrow
morning, and get to our kinswoman's house before they leave it. That
will be easy enough, for Miss Lydia always gets up so late. You can
tell them everything that has happened here, and if they still persist
in coming, why! we shall be very glad to welcome them."
Orso lost no time in assenting to this plan, and after a few moments'
silence, Colomba continued:
"Perhaps, Orso, you think I was joking when I talked of an assault on
the Barricini's house. Do you know we are in force--two to one at the
very least? Now that the prefect has suspended the mayor, every man in
the place is on our side. We might cut them to pieces. It would be
quite easy to bring it about. If you liked, I could go over to the
fountain and begin to jeer at their women folk. They would come out.
Perhaps--they are such cowards!--they would fire at me through their
loopholes. They wouldn't hit me. Then the thing would be done. They
would have begun the attack, and the beaten party must take its
chance. How is anybody to know which person's aim has been true, in a
scuffle? Listen to your own sister, Orso! These lawyers who are coming
will blacken lots of paper, and talk a great deal of useless stuff.
Nothing will come of it all. That old fox will contrive to make them
think they see stars in broad midday. Ah! if the prefect hadn't thrown
himself in front of Vincentello, we should have had one less to deal
All this was said with the same calm air as that with which she had
spoken, an instant previously, of her preparations for making the
Orso, quite dumfounded, gazed at his sister with an admiration not
unmixed with alarm.
"My sweet Colomba," he said, as he rose from the table, "I really am
afraid you are the very devil. But make your mind easy. If I don't
succeed in getting the Barricini hanged, I'll contrive to get the
better of them in some other fashion. 'Hot bullet or cold steel'--you
see I haven't forgotten my Corsican."
"The sooner the better," said Colomba, with a sigh. "What horse will
you ride to-morrow, Ors' Anton'?"
"The black. Why do you ask?"
"So as to make sure he has some barley."
When Orso went up to his room, Colomba sent Saveria and the herdsmen
to their beds, and sat on alone in the kitchen, where the bruccio
was simmering. Now and then she seemed to listen, and was apparently
waiting very anxiously for her brother to go to bed. At last, when she
thought he was asleep, she took a knife, made sure it was sharp,
slipped her little feet into thick shoes, and passed noiselessly out
into the garden.
This garden, which was inclosed by walls, lay next to a good-sized
piece of hedged ground, into which the horses were turned--for
Corsican horses do not know what a stable means. They are generally
turned loose into a field, and left to themselves, to find pasture and
shelter from cold winds, as best they may.
Colomba opened the garden gate with the same precaution, entered the
inclosure, and whistling gently, soon attracted the horses, to whom
she had often brought bread and salt. As soon as the black horse came
within reach, she caught him firmly by the mane, and split his ear
open with her knife. The horse gave a violent leap, and tore off with
that shrill cry which sharp pain occasionally extorts from his kind.
Quite satisfied, Colomba was making her way back into the garden, when
Orso threw open his window and shouted, "Who goes there?" At the same
time she heard him cock his gun. Luckily for her the garden-door lay
in the blackest shadow, and was partly screened by a large fig-tree.
She very soon gathered, from the light she saw glancing up and down in
her brother's room, that he was trying to light his lamp. She lost no
time about closing the garden-door, and slipping along the wall, so
that the outline of her black garments was lost against the dark
foliage of the fruit-trees, and succeeded in getting back into the
kitchen a few moments before Orso entered it.
"What's the matter?" she inquired.
"I fancied I heard somebody opening the garden-door," said Orso.
"Impossible! The dog would have barked. But let us go and see!"
Orso went round the garden, and having made sure that the outer door
was safely secured, he was going back to his room, rather ashamed of
his false alarm.
"I am glad, brother," remarked Colomba, "that you are learning to be
prudent, as a man in your position ought to be."
"You are training me well," said Orso. "Good-night!"
By dawn the next morning Orso was up and ready to start. His style of
dress betrayed the desire for smartness felt by every man bound for
the presence of the lady he would fain please, combined with the
caution of a Corsican in vendetta. Over a blue coat, that sat
closely to his figure, he wore a small tin case full of cartridges,
slung across his shoulder by a green silk cord. His dagger lay in his
side pocket, and in his hand he carried his handsome Manton, ready
loaded. While he was hastily swallowing the cup of coffee Colomba had
poured out for him, one of the herdsmen went out to put the bridle and
saddle on the black horse. Orso and his sister followed close on his
heels and entered the field. The man had caught the horse, but he had
dropped both saddle and bridle, and seemed quite paralyzed with
horror, while the horse, remembering the wound it had received during
the night, and trembling for its other ear, was rearing, kicking, and
neighing like twenty fiends.
"Now then! Make haste!" shouted Orso.
"Ho, Ors' Anton'! Ho, Ors' Anton'!" yelled the herdsman. "Holy
Madonna!" and he poured out a string of imprecations, numberless,
endless, and most of them quite untranslatable.
"What can be the matter?" inquired Colomba. They all drew near to the
horse, and at the sight of the creature's bleeding head and split ear
there was a general outcry of surprise and indignation. My readers
must know that among the Corsicans to mutilate an enemy's horse is at
once a vengeance, a challenge, and a mortal threat. "Nothing but a
bullet-wound can expiate such a crime."
Though Orso, having lived so long on the mainland, was not so
sensitive as other Corsicans to the enormity of the insult, still, if
any supporter of the Barricini had appeared in his sight at that
moment, he would probably have taken vengeance on him for the outrage
he ascribed to his enemies.
"The cowardly wretches!" he cried. "To avenge themselves on a poor
brute, when they dare not meet me face to face!"
"What are we waiting for?" exclaimed Colomba vehemently. "They come
here and brave us! They mutilate our horses! and we are not to make
any response? Are you men?"
"Vengeance!" shouted the herdsmen. "Let us lead the horse through the
village, and attack their house!"
"There's a thatched barn that touches their Tower," said old Polo
Griffo; "I'd set fire to it in a trice."
Another man wanted to fetch the ladders out of the church steeple. A
third proposed they should break in the doors of the house with a
heavy beam intended for some house in course of building, which had
been left lying in the square. Amid all the angry voices Colomba was
heard telling her satellites that before they went to work she would
give each man of them a large glass of anisette.
Unluckily, or rather luckily, the impression she had expected to
produce by her own cruel treatment of the poor horse was largely lost
on Orso. He felt no doubt that the savage mutilation was due to one of
his foes, and he specially suspected Orlanduccio; but he did not
believe that the young man, whom he himself had provoked and struck,
had wiped out his shame by slitting a horse's ear. On the contrary,
this mean and ridiculous piece of vengeance had increased Orso's scorn
for his opponents, and he now felt, with the prefect, that such people
were not worthy to try conclusions with himself. As soon as he was
able to make himself heard, he informed his astonished partisans that
they would have to relinquish all their bellicose intentions, and that
the power of the law, which would shortly be on the spot, would amply
suffice to avenge the hurt done to a horse's ear.
"I'm master here!" he added sternly; "and I insist on being obeyed.
The first man who dares to say anything more about killing or burning,
will quite possibly get a scorching at my hands! Be off! Saddle me the
"What's this, Orso?" said Colomba, drawing him apart. "You allow these
people to insult us? No Barricini would have dared to mutilate any
beast of ours in my father's time."
"I promise you they shall have reason to repent it. But it is
gendarme's and jailer's work to punish wretches who only venture to
raise their hands against brute beasts. I've told you already, the law
will punish them; and if not, you will not need to remind me whose son
"Patience!" answered Colomba, with a sigh.
"Remember this, sister," continued Orso; "if I find, when I come back,
that any demonstration whatever has been made against the Barricini I
shall never forgive you." Then, in a gentler tone, he added, "Very
possibly--very probably--I shall bring the colonel and his daughter
back with me. See that their rooms are well prepared, and that the
breakfast is good. In fact, let us make our guests as comfortable as
we can. It's a very good thing to be brave, Colomba, but a woman must
know how to manage her household, as well. Come, kiss me, and be good!
Here's the gray, ready saddled."
"Orso," said Colomba, "you mustn't go alone."
"I don't need anybody," replied Orso; "and I'll promise you nobody
shall slit my ear."
"Oh, I'll never consent to your going alone, while there is a feud.
Here! Polo Griffo! Gian' Franco! Memmo! Take your guns; you must go
with my brother."
After a somewhat lively argument, Orso had to give in, and accept an
escort. From the most excited of the herdsmen he chose out those who
had been loudest in their desire to commence hostilities; then, after
laying fresh injunctions on his sister and the men he was leaving
behind, he started, making a detour, this time, so as to avoid the
They were a long way from Pietranera, and were travelling along at a
great pace, when, as they crossed a streamlet that ran into a marsh,
Polo Griffo noticed several porkers wallowing comfortably in the mud,
in full enjoyment at once of the warmth of the sun and the coolness of
the water. Instantly he took aim at the biggest, fired at its head,
and shot it dead. The dead creature's comrades rose and fled with
astonishing swiftness, and though another herdsman fired at them they
reached a thicket and disappeared into it, safe and sound.
"Idiots!" cried Orso. "You've been taking pigs for wild boars!"
"Not a bit, Ors' Anton'," replied Polo Griffo. "But that herd belongs
to the lawyer, and I've taught him, now, to mutilate our horses."
"What! you rascal!" shouted Orso, in a perfect fury. "You ape the vile
behaviour of our enemies! Be off, villains! I don't want you! You're
only fit to fight with pigs. I swear to God that if you dare follow me
I'll blow your brains out!"
The herdsmen stared at each other, struck quite dumb. Orso spurred his
horse, galloped off, and was soon out of sight.
"Well, well!" said Polo Griffo. "Here's a pretty thing. You devote
yourself to people, and then this is how they treat you. His father,
the colonel, was angry with you long ago, because you levelled your
gun at the lawyer. Great idiot you were, not to shoot. And now here is
his son. You saw what I did for him. And he talks about cracking my
skull, just as he would crack a gourd that lets the wine leak out.
That's what people learn on the mainland, Memmo!"
"Yes, and if any one finds out it was you who killed that pig there'll
be a suit against you, and Ors' Anton' won't speak to the judges, nor
buy off the lawyer for you. Luckily nobody saw, and you have Saint
Nega to help you out."
After a hasty conclave, the two herdsmen concluded their wisest plan
was to throw the dead pig into a bog, and this project they carefully
executed, after each had duly carved himself several slices out of the
body of this innocent victim of the feud between the Barricini and the
Once rid of his unruly escort, Orso proceeded calmly on his way, far
more absorbed by the prospective pleasure of seeing Miss Nevil than
stirred by any fear of coming across his enemies.
"The lawsuit I must bring against these Barricini villains," he mused,
"will necessitate my going down to Bastia. Why should I not go there
with Miss Nevil? And once at Bastia, why shouldn't we all go together
to the springs of Orezza?"
Suddenly his childish recollections of that picturesque spot rose up
before him. He fancied himself on the verdant lawn that spreads
beneath the ancient chestnut-trees. On the lustrous green sward,
studded with blue flowers like eyes that smiled upon him, he saw Miss
Lydia seated at his side. She had taken off her hat, and her fair
hair, softer and finer than any silk, shone like gold in the sunlight
that glinted through the foliage. Her clear blue eyes looked to him
bluer than the sky itself. With her cheek resting on one hand, she was
listening thoughtfully to the words of love he poured tremblingly into
her ear. She wore the muslin gown in which she had been dressed that
last day at Ajaccio. From beneath its folds peeped out a tiny foot,
shod with black satin. Orso told himself that he would be happy indeed
if he might dare to kiss that little foot--but one of Miss Lydia's
hands was bare and held a daisy. He took the daisy from her, and
Lydia's hand pressed his, and then he kissed the daisy, and then he
kissed her hand, and yet she did not chide him. . . . and all these
thoughts prevented him from paying any attention to the road he was
travelling, and meanwhile he trotted steadily onward. For the second
time, in his fancy, he was about to kiss Miss Nevil's snow-white hand,
when, as his horse stopped short, he very nearly kissed its head, in
stern reality. Little Chilina had barred his way, and seized his
"Where are you going to, Ors' Anton'?" she said. "Don't you know your
enemy is close by?"
"My enemy!" cried Orso, furious at being interrupted at such a
delightful moment. "Where is he?"
"Orlanduccio is close by, he's waiting for you! Go back, go back!"
"Ho! Ho! So he's waiting for me! Did you see him?"
"Yes, Ors' Anton'! I was lying down in the heather when he passed by.
He was looking round everywhere through his glass."
"And which way did he go?"
"He went down there. Just where you were going!"
"Ors' Anton', hadn't you better wait for my uncle? He must be here
soon--and with him you would be safe."
"Don't be frightened, Chili. I don't need your uncle."
"If you would let me, I would go in front of you."
"No, thanks! No, thanks!"
And Orso, spurring his horse, rode rapidly in the direction to which
the little girl had pointed.
His first impulse had been one of blind fury, and he had told himself
that fortune was offering him an excellent opportunity of punishing
the coward who had avenged the blow he had received by mutilating a
horse. But as he moved onward the thought of his promise to the
prefect, and, above all, his fear of missing Miss Nevil's visit,
altered his feelings, and made him almost wish he might not come upon
Orlanduccio. Soon, however, the memory of his father, the indignity
offered to his own horse, and the threats of the Barricini, stirred
his rage afresh, and incited him to seek his foe, and to provoke and
force him to a fight. Thus tossed by conflicting feelings, he
continued his progress, though now he carefully scrutinized every
thicket and hedge, and sometimes even pulled up his horse to listen to
the vague sounds to be heard in any open country. Ten minutes after he
had left little Chilina (it was then about nine o'clock in the
morning) he found himself on the edge of an exceedingly steep
declivity. The road, or rather the very slight path, which he was
following, ran through a maquis that had been lately burned. The
ground was covered with whitish ashes, and here and there some shrubs,
and a few big trees, blackened by the flames, and entirely stripped of
their leaves, still stood erect--though life had long since departed
out of them. The sight of a burned maquis is enough to make a man
fancy he has been transported into midwinter in some northern clime,
and the contrast between the barrenness of the ground over which the
flames have passed, with the luxuriant vegetation round about it,
heightens this appearance of sadness and desolation. But at that
moment the only thing that struck Orso in this particular landscape
was one point--an important one, it is true, in his present
circumstances. The bareness of the ground rendered any kind of ambush
impossible, and the man who has reason to fear that at any moment he
may see a gun-barrel thrust out of a thicket straight at his own
chest, looks on a stretch of smooth ground, with nothing on it to
intercept his view, as a kind of oasis. After this burned maquis
came a number of cultivated fields, inclosed, according to the fashion
of that country, with breast-high walls, built of dry stones. The path
ran between these fields, producing, from a distance, the effect of a
The steepness of the declivity made it necessary for Orso to dismount.
He was walking quickly down the hill, which was slippery with ashes
(he had thrown the bridle on his horse's neck), and was hardly five-
and-twenty paces from one of these stone fences, when, just in front
of him, on the right-hand side of the road, he perceived first of all
the barrel of a gun, and then a head, rising over the top of the wall.
The gun was levelled, and he recognised Orlanduccio, just ready to
fire. Orso swiftly prepared for self-defence, and the two men, taking
deliberate aim, stared at each other for several seconds, with that
thrill of emotion which the bravest must feel when he knows he must
either deal death or endure it.
"Vile coward!" shouted Orso.
The words were hardly out of his mouth when he saw the flash of
Orlanduccio's gun, and almost at the same instant a second shot rang
out on his left from the other side of the path, fired by a man whom
he had not noticed, and who was aiming at him from behind another
wall. Both bullets struck him. The first, Orlanduccio's, passed
through his left arm, which Orso had turned toward him as he aimed.
The second shot struck him in the chest, and tore his coat, but coming
in contact with the blade of his dagger, it luckily flattened against
it, and only inflicted a trifling bruise. Orso's left arm fell
helpless at his side, and the barrel of his gun dropped for a moment,
but he raised it at once, and aiming his weapon with his right hand
only, he fired at Orlanduccio. His enemy's head, which was only
exposed to the level of the eyes, disappeared behind the wall. Then
Orso, swinging round to the left, fired the second barrel at a man in
a cloud of smoke whom he could hardly see. This face likewise
disappeared. The four shots had followed each other with incredible
swiftness; no trained soldiers ever fired their volleys in quicker
succession. After Orso's last shot a great silence fell. The smoke
from his weapon rose slowly up into the sky. There was not a movement,
not the slightest sound from behind the wall. But for the pain in his
arm, he could have fancied the men on whom he had just fired had been
phantoms of his own imagination.
Fully expecting a second volley, Orso moved a few steps, to place
himself behind one of the burned trees that still stood upright in the
maquis. Thus sheltered, he put his gun between his knees, and
hurriedly reloaded it. Meanwhile his left arm began to hurt him
horribly, and felt as if it were being dragged down by a huge weight.
What had become of his adversaries? He could not understand. If they
had taken to flight, if they had been wounded, he would certainly have
heard some noise, some stir among the leaves. Were they dead, then?
Or, what was far more likely, were they not waiting behind their wall
for a chance of shooting at him again. In his uncertainty, and feeling
his strength fast failing him, he knelt down on his right knee, rested
his wounded arm upon the other, and took advantage of a branch that
protruded from the trunk of the burned tree to support his gun. With
his finger on the trigger, his eye fixed on the wall, and his ear
strained to catch the slightest sound, he knelt there, motionless, for
several minutes, which seemed to him a century. At last, behind him,
in the far distance, he heard a faint shout, and very soon a dog flew
like an arrow down the slope, and stopped short, close to him, wagging
its tail. It was Brusco, the comrade and follower of the bandits--the
herald, doubtless, of his master's approach. Never was any honest man
more impatiently awaited. With his muzzle in the air, and turned
toward the nearest fence, the dog sniffed anxiously. Suddenly he gave
vent to a low growl, sprang at a bound over the wall, and almost
instantly reappeared upon its crest, whence he gazed steadily at Orso
with eyes that spoke surprise as clearly as a dog's may do it. Then he
sniffed again, this time toward the other inclosure, the wall of which
he also crossed. Within a second he was back on the top of that, with
the same air of astonishment and alarm, and straightway he bounded
into the thicket with his tail between his legs, still gazing at Orso,
and retiring from him slowly, and sideways, until he had put some
distance between them. Then off he started again, tearing up the slope
almost as fast as he had come down it, to meet a man, who, in spite of
its steepness, was rapidly descending.
"Help, Brando!" shouted Orso, as soon as he thought he was within
"Hallo! Ors' Anton'! are you wounded?" inquired Brandolaccio, as he
ran up panting. "Is it in your body or your limbs?"
"In the arm."
"The arm--oh, that's nothing! And the other fellow?"
"I think I hit him."
Brandolaccio ran after the dog to the nearest field and leaned over to
look at the other side of the wall, then pulling off his cap--
"Signor Orlanduccio, I salute you!" said he, then turning toward Orso,
he bowed to him, also, gravely.
"That," he remarked, "is what I call a man who has been properly done
"Is he still alive?" asked Orso, who could hardly breathe.
"Oh! he wouldn't wish it! he'd be too much vexed about the bullet you
put into his eye! Holy Madonna! What a hole! That's a good gun, upon
my soul! what a weight! That spatters a man's brains for you! Hark ye,
Ors' Anton'! when I heard the first piff, piff, says I to myself:
'Dash it, they're murdering my lieutenant!' Then I heard boum, boum.
'Ha, ha!' says I, 'that's the English gun beginning to talk--he's
firing back.' But what on earth do you want with me, Brusco?"
The dog guided him to the other field.
"Upon my word," cried Brandolaccio, utterly astonished, "a right and
left, that's what it is! Deuce take it! Clear enough, powder must be
dear, for you don't waste it!"
"What do you mean, for God's sake?" asked Orso.
"Come, sir, don't try to humbug me; you bring down the dame, and then
you want somebody to pick it up for you. Well! there's one man who'll
have a queer dessert to-day, and that's Lawyer Barricini!--you want
butcher's meat, do you? Well, here you have it. Now, who the devil
will be the heir?"
"What! is Vincentello dead too?"
"Dead as mutton. Salute a noi! The good point about you is that you
don't let them suffer. Just come over and look at Vincentello; he's
kneeling here with his head against the wall, as if he were asleep.
You may say he sleeps like lead, this time, poor devil."
Orso turned his head in horror.
"Are you certain he's dead?"
"You're like Sampiero Corso, who never had to fire more than once.
Look at it there, in his chest, on the left--just where Vincileone was
hit at Waterloo. I'll wager that bullet isn't far from his heart--a
right and left! Ah! I'll never talk about shooting again. Two with two
shots, and bullets at that! The two brothers! If he'd had a third shot
he'd have killed their papa. Better luck next time. What a shot! Ors'
Anton'! And to think that an honest poor chap like me will never get
the chance of a right and a left two gendarmes!"
As he talked the bandit was scanning Orso's arm, and splitting up his
sleeve with his dagger.
"This is nothing," said he. "But this coat of yours will give
Signorina Colomba work to do. Ha! what's this I see? this gash upon
your chest? Nothing went in there, surely? No! you wouldn't be so
brisk as you are! Come, try to move your finger. Do you feel my teeth
when I bite your little finger? Not very well? Never mind! It won't be
much. Let me take your handkerchief and your neckcloth. Well, your
coat's spoilt, anyhow! What the devil did you make yourself so smart
for? Were you going to a wedding? There! drink a drop of wine. Why on
earth don't you carry a flask? Does any Corsican ever go out without a
Then again he broke off the dressing of the wound to exclaim:
"A right and left! Both of them stone dead! How the Padre will laugh!
A right and left! Oh, here's that little dawdle Chilina at last!"
Orso made no reply--he was as pale as death and shaking in every limb.
"Chili!" shouted Brandolaccio, "go and look behind that wall!"
The child, using both hands and feet, scrambled onto the wall, and the
moment she caught sight of Orlanduccio's corpse she crossed herself.
"That's nothing," proceeded the bandit; "go and look farther on, over
The child crossed herself again.
"Was it you, uncle?" she asked timidly.
"Me! Don't you know I've turned into a useless old fellow! This,
Chili, is the signor's work; offer him your compliments."
"The signorina will be greatly rejoiced," said Chilina, "and she will
be very much grieved to know you are wounded, Ors' Anton'."
"Now then, Ors' Anton'," said the bandit, when he had finished binding
up the wound. "Chilina, here, has caught your horse. You must get on
his back, and come with me to the Stazzona maquis. It would be a sly
fellow who'd lay his hand on you there. When we get to the Cross of
Santa Christina, you'll have to dismount. You'll give over your horse
to Chilina, who'll go off and warn the signorina. You can say anything
to the child, Ors' Anton'. She would let herself be cut in pieces
rather than betray her friends," and then, fondly, he turned to the
little girl, "That's it, you little hussy; a ban on you, a curse on
you--you jade!" For Brandolaccio, who was superstitious, like most
bandits, feared he might cast a spell on a child if he blessed it or
praised it, seeing it is a well-known fact that the mysterious powers
that rule the Annocchiatura[*] have a vile habit of fulfilling our
wishes in the very opposite sense to that we give them.
[*] Annocchiatura, an involuntary spell cast either by the eye or by
"Where am I to go, Brando?" queried Orso in a faint voice.
"Faith! you must choose; either to jail or to the maquis. But no
della Rebbia knows the path that leads him to the jail. To the
maquis, Ors' Anton'."
"Farewell, then, to all my hopes!" exclaimed the wounded man, sadly.
"Your hopes? Deuce take it! Did you hope to do any better with a
double-barrelled gun? How on earth did the fellows contrive to hit
you? The rascals must have been as hard to kill as cats."
"They fired first," said Orso.
"True, true; I'd forgotten that!--piff, piff--boum, boum! A right
and left, and only one hand! If any man can do better, I'll go hang
myself. Come! now you're safely mounted! Before we start, just give a
glance at your work. It isn't civil to leave one's company without
Orso spurred his horse. He would not have looked at the two poor
wretches he had just destroyed, for anything on earth.
"Hark ye, Ors' Anton'," quoth the bandit, as he caught hold of the
horse's bridle, "shall I tell you the truth? Well, no offence to you!
I'm sorry for those poor young fellows! You'll pardon me, I hope; so
good-looking, so strong, so young. Orlanduccio, I've shot with him so
often! Only four days ago he gave me a bundle of cigars, and
Vincentello--he was always so cheery. Of course you've only done what
you had to do, and indeed the shot was such a splendid one, nobody
could regret it. But I, you see, had nothing to do with your
vengeance. I know you're perfectly in the right. When one has an enemy
one must get rid of him. But the Barricini were an old family. Here's
another of them wiped out, and by a right and left too! It's
As he thus spoke his funeral oration over the Barricini, Brandolaccio
hastily guided Orso, Chilina, and Brusco, the dog, toward the Stazzona
Meanwhile, very shortly after Orso's departure, Colomba's spies had
warned her that the Barricini were out on the warpath, and from that
moment she was racked by the most intense anxiety. She was to be seen
moving hither and thither all over the house, between the kitchen and
the rooms that were being made ready for her guests, doing nothing,
yet always busy, and constantly stopping to look out of a window for
any unusual stir in the village. Toward eleven o'clock, a somewhat
numerous cavalcade rode into Pietranera. This was the colonel, with
his daughter, their servants, and their guide. Colomba's first word,
as she welcomed them, was "Have you seen my brother?" Then she
questioned the guide as to the road they had taken, and the hour of
their departure, and having heard his answers, she could not
understand why they had not met him.
"Perhaps," said the guide, "your brother took the higher path; we came
by the lower one."
But Colomba only shook her head and asked more questions. In spite of
her natural firmness of character, increased as it was by her proud
desire to conceal any sign of weakness before strangers, she could not
hide her anxiety, and as soon as she had informed them of the
attempted reconciliation, and of its unfortunate issue, this was
shared by the colonel and Miss Lydia. Miss Nevil became very uneasy,
and wanted to have messengers sent off in every direction, and her
father offered to remount at once and set out with the guide in search
of Orso. Her guests' alarm recalled Colomba to a sense of her duties
as a hostess. She strove to force a smile as she pressed the colonel
to come to table, and suggested twenty plausible reasons, which she
herself demolished within an instant, to account for her brother's
delay. The colonel, feeling it to be his duty, as a man, to reassure
the ladies, put forward his own explanation.
"I'll wager," he said, "that della Rebbia has come across some game or
other. He has not been able to stand out against that temptation, and
we shall soon see him come in with a heavy bag. 'Pon my soul," he went
on, "we did hear four shots fired on the road. Two of them were louder
than the others, and I said to my girl, 'I'll bet anything that's
della Rebbia out shooting! My gun is the only one that would make that
Colomba turned pale, and Lydia, who was watching her closely, had no
difficulty in guessing the suspicions with which the colonel's
conjecture had inspired her. After a few minutes' silence, Colomba
eagerly inquired whether the two louder reports had been heard before
or after the others. But neither the colonel, his daughter, nor the
guide had paid much attention to this all-important detail.
Toward one o'clock, as none of Colomba's messengers had yet returned,
she gathered all her courage, and insisted that her guests should sit
down to table with her. But, except the colonel, none of them could
eat. At the slightest sound in the square, Colomba ran to the window.
Then drearily she returned to her place, and struggled yet more
drearily to carry on a trivial conversation, to which nobody paid the
slightest attention, and which was broken by long intervals of
silence. All at once they heard a horse's gallop.
"Ah! That must be my brother at last!" said Colomba, rising from her
chair. But when she saw Chilina astride on Orso's horse--"My brother
is dead!" she cried, in a heart-rending voice.
The colonel dropped his glass. Miss Lydia screamed. They all rushed to
the door of the house. Before Chilina could jump off her steed, she
was snatched up like a feather by Colomba, who held her so tight that
she almost choked her. The child understood her agonized look, and her
first words were those of the chorus in Othello: "He lives!" Colomba's
grasp relaxed, and nimbly as a kitten Chilina dropped upon the ground.
"The others?" queried Colomba hoarsely. Chilina crossed herself with
her first and middle finger. A deep flush instantly replaced the
deadly pallor of Colomba's face. She cast one fierce look at the
Barricini dwelling, and then, with a smile, she turned to her guests.
"Let us go in and drink our coffee," she said.
The story the bandit's Iris had to tell was a long one. Her narrative,
translated literally into Italian by Colomba, and then into English by
Miss Nevil, wrung more than one oath from the colonel, more than one
sigh from the fair Lydia. But Colomba heard it all unmoved. Only she
twisted her damask napkin till it seemed as if she must tear it in
pieces. She interrupted the child, five or six times over, to make her
repeat again that Brandolaccio had said the wound was not dangerous,
and that he had seen many worse. When she had finished her tale,
Chilina announced that Orso earnestly begged he might be sent writing
materials, and that he desired his sister would beseech a lady who
might be staying in his house not to depart from it, until she had
received a letter from him.
"That is what was worrying him most," the child added; "and even after
I had started he called me back, to bid me not forget the message. It
was the third time he had given it to me." When Colomba heard of her
brother's injunction she smiled faintly, and squeezed the fair
Englishwoman's hand. That young lady burst into tears, and did not
seem to think it advisable to translate that particular part of the
story to her father.
"Yes, my dear," cried Colomba, kissing Miss Nevil. "You shall stay
with me, and you shall help us."
Then, taking a pile of old linen out of a cupboard, she began to cut
it up, to make lint and bandages. Any one who saw her flashing eyes,
her heightened colour, her alternate fits of anxiety and composure,
would have found it hard to say whether distress at her brother's
wound, or delight at the extinction of her foes, were most affecting
her. One moment she was pouring out the colonel's coffee, and telling
him how well she made it, the next she was setting Miss Lydia and
Chilina to work, exhorting them to sew bandages, and roll them up.
Then, for the twentieth time, she would ask whether Orso's wound was
very painful. She constantly broke off her own work to exclaim to the
"Two such cunning men, such dangerous fellows! And he alone, wounded,
with only one arm! He killed the two of them! What courage, colonel!
Isn't he a hero? Ah, Miss Nevil! How good it is to live in a peaceful
country like yours! I'm sure you did not really know my brother till
now! I said it--'The falcon will spread his wings!' You were deceived
by his gentle look! That's because with you, Miss Nevil--Ah! if he
could see you working for him now! My poor Orso!"
Miss Lydia was doing hardly any work, and could not find a single word
to say. Her father kept asking why nobody went to lay a complaint
before a magistrate. He talked about a coroner's inquest, and all
sorts of other proceedings quite unknown to Corsican economy. And then
he begged to be told whether the country house owned by that worthy
Signor Brandolaccio, who had brought succour to the wounded man, was
very far away from Pietranera, and whether he could not go there
himself, to see his friend.
And Colomba replied, with her usual composure, that Orso was in the
maquis; that he was being taken care of by a bandit; that it would
be a great risk for him to show himself until he was sure of the line
the prefect and the judges were likely to take; and, finally, that she
would manage to have him secretly attended by a skilful surgeon.
"Above all things, colonel," she added, "remember that you heard the
four shots, and that you told me Orso fired last."
The colonel could make neither head nor tail of the business, and his
daughter did nothing but heave sighs and dry her eyes.
The day was far advanced, when a gloomy procession wended its way into
the village. The bodies of his two sons were brought home to Lawyer
Barricini, each corpse thrown across a mule, which was led by a
peasant. A crowd of dependents and idlers followed the dreary
cortege. With it appeared the gendarmes, who always came in too
late, and the deputy-mayor, throwing up his hands, and incessantly
repeating, "What will Signor Prefetto say!" Some of the women, among
them Orlanduccio's foster-mother, were tearing their hair and
shrieking wildly. But their clamorous grief was less impressive than
the dumb despair of one man, on whom all eyes were fixed. This was the
wretched father, who passed from one corpse to the other, lifting up
the earth-soiled heads, kissing the blackened lips, supporting the
limbs that were stiff already, as if he would save them from the
jolting of the road. Now and then he opened his mouth as though about
to speak, but not a cry came, not a word. His eyes never left the dead
bodies, and as he walked, he knocked himself against the stones,
against the trees, against every obstacle that chanced to lie in his
The women's lamentations grew louder, and the men's curses deeper,
when Orso's house appeared in sight. When some shepherds of the della
Rebbia party ventured on a triumphant shout, their enemy's indignation
became ungovernable. "Vengeance! Vengeance!" exclaimed several voices.
Stones were thrown, and two shots, fired at the windows of the room in
which Colomba and her guests were sitting, pierced the outside
shutters, and carried splinters of wood on to the table at which the
two ladies were working. Miss Lydia screamed violently, the colonel
snatched up a gun, and Colomba, before he could stop her, rushed to
the door of the house and threw it violently open. There, standing
high on the threshold, with her two hands outstretched to curse her
"Cowards!" she cried. "You fire on women and on foreigners! Are you
Corsicans? Are you men? Wretches, who can only murder a man from
behind. Come on! I defy you! I am alone! My brother is far away! Come!
kill me, kill my guests! It would be worthy of you! . . . But you dare
not, cowards that you are! You know we avenge our wrongs! Away with
you! Go, weep like women, and be thankful we do not ask you for more
There was something terrible and imposing in Colomba's voice and mien.
At the sight of her the crowd recoiled as though it beheld one of
those evil fairies of which so many tales are told on long winter
evenings, in Corsica. The deputy-mayor, the gendarmes, and a few women
seized the opportunity, and threw themselves between the two factions;
for the della Rebbia herdsmen were already loading their guns, and for
a moment a general fight in the middle of the square had appeared
imminent. But the two parties were both leaderless, and Corsicans,
whose rage is always subject to discipline, seldom come to blows
unless the chief authors of their internecine quarrels are present.
Besides, Colomba, who had learned prudence from victory, restrained
her little garrison.
"Let the poor folks weep in peace," she said. "Let the old man carry
his own flesh home. What is the good of killing an old fox who has no
teeth left to bite with, . . . Giudice Barricini! Remember the 2d of
August! Remember the blood-stained pocket-book in which you wrote with
your forger's hand! My father had written down your debt! Your sons
have paid it. You may go free, old Barricini!"
With folded arms and a scornful smile upon her lips, Colomba watched
the bearers carry the corpses of her enemies into their home, and the
crowd without it melt gradually away. Then she closed her own door,
and, going back into the dining-room, she said to the colonel:
"I beg, sir, you will forgive my fellow-countrymen! I never could have
believed that any Corsican would have fired on a house that sheltered
strangers, and I am ashamed of my country."
That night, when Miss Lydia had gone up to her room, the colonel
followed her, and inquired whether they had not better get out of a
village where they ran incessant risk of having a bullet through their
heads, the very next morning, and leave this country, seething with
treachery and murder, as soon as possible.
Miss Nevil did not answer for some time, and her father's suggestion
evidently caused her considerable perplexity. At last she said:
"How can we leave this poor young creature, just when she is so much
in need of consolation? Don't you think that would be cruel, father?"
"I only spoke on your account, child," said the colonel. "And I assure
you that if I once felt you were safe in the hotel at Ajaccio, I
should be very sorry to leave this cursed island myself, without
shaking that plucky fellow della Rebbia's hand again."
"Well then, father, let us wait a while, and before we start let us
make quite sure we can not be of any use to them."
"Kind soul!" said the colonel, as he kissed his daughter's forehead.
"It is a pleasure to see you sacrifice yourself for the sake of
softening other people's suffering. Let us stay on. We shall never
have to repent having done right."
Miss Lydia tossed sleeplessly to and fro in her bed. Sometimes she
took the vague night sounds for preparations for an attack on the
house. Sometimes, less alarmed on her own account, she thought of poor
wounded Orso, who was probably lying on the cold earth, with no help
beyond what she might expect from a bandit's charity. She fancied him
covered with blood, and writhing in hideous suffering; and the
extraordinary thing was that whenever Orso's image rose up before her
mind's eye, she always beheld him as she had seen him when he rode
away, pressing the talisman she had bestowed upon him to his lips.
Then she mused over his courage. She told herself he had exposed
himself to the frightful danger he had just escaped on her account,
just for the sake of seeing her a little sooner. A very little more,
and she would have persuaded herself that Orso had earned his broken
arm in her defence! She reproached herself with being the cause of his
wound. But she admired him for it all the more, and if that celebrated
right and left was not so splendid a feat in her sight as in
Brandolaccio's or Colomba's, still she was convinced few heroes of
romance could ever had behaved with such intrepidity and coolness, in
so dangerous a pinch.
Her room was that usually occupied by Colomba. Above a kind of oaken
prie-dieu, and beside a sprig of blessed palm, a little miniature of
Orso, in his sub-lieutenant's uniform, hung on the wall. Miss Nevil
took the portrait down, looked at it for a long time, and laid it at
last on the table by her bed, instead of hanging it up again in its
place. She did not fall asleep till daybreak, and when she woke the
sun had travelled high above the horizon. In front of her bed she
beheld Colomba, waiting, motionless, till she should open her eyes.
"Well, dear lady, are you not very uncomfortable in this poor house of
ours?" said Colomba to her. "I fear you have hardly slept at all."
"Have you any news, dear friend?" cried Miss Nevil, sitting up in bed.
Her eye fell on Orso's picture, and she hastily tossed her
handkerchief upon it.
"Yes, I have news," said Colomba, with a smile.
Then she took up the picture.
"Do you think it like him? He is better looking than that!"
"Really," stammered Miss Nevil, quite confused, "I took down that
picture in a fit of absence! I have a horrid habit of touching
everything and never putting anything back! How is your brother?"
"Fairly well. Giocanto came here before four o'clock this morning. He
brought me a letter for you, Miss Lydia. Orso hasn't written anything
to me! It is addressed to Colomba, indeed, but underneath that he has
written 'For Miss N.' But sisters are never jealous! Giocanto says it
hurt him dreadfully to write. Giocanto, who writes a splendid hand,
offered to do it at his dictation. But he would not let him. He wrote
it with a pencil, lying on his back. Brandolaccio held the paper for
him. My brother kept trying to raise himself, and then the very
slightest movement gave him the most dreadful agony in his arm.
Giocanto says it was pitiful. Here is his letter."
Miss Nevil read the letter, which, as an extra precaution, no doubt,
was written in English. Its contents were as follows:
"MADEMOISELLE: An unhappy fate has driven me on. I know not what my
enemies will say, what slanders they will invent. I care little,
so long as you, mademoiselle, give them no credence! Ever since I
first saw you I have been nursing wild dreams. I needed this
catastrophe to show me my own folly.
"I have come back to my senses now. I know the future that lies
before me, and I shall face it with resignation. I dare not keep
this ring you gave me, and which I believed to be a lucky
talisman. I fear, Miss Nevil, you may regret your gift has been so
ill-bestowed. Or rather, I fear it may remind me of the days of my
own madness. Colomba will give it to you. Farewell, mademoiselle!
You are about to leave Corsica, and I shall never see you again.
But tell my sister, at least, that I still possess your esteem--
and I tell you, confidently, that I am still worthy of it.
Miss Lydia had turned away while she read the letter, and Colomba, who
was watching her closely, gave her the Egyptian ring, with an
inquiring glance as to what it all meant. But Miss Lydia dared not
raise her head, and looked dejectedly at the ring, alternately putting
it on her finger and pulling it off again.
"Dear Miss Nevil," said Colomba, "may I not know what my brother says
to you? Does he say anything about his health?"
"Indeed," said Miss Lydia, colouring, "he doesn't mention it. His
letter is in English. He desires me to tell my father-- He hopes the
prefect will be able to arrange----"
With a mischievous smile, Colomba sat down on the bed, took hold of
both Miss Nevil's hands, and, looking at her with her piercing eyes--
"Will you be kind?" she said. "Won't you answer my brother's letter?
You would do him so much good! For a moment I thought of waking you
when his letter came, and then I didn't dare!"
"You did very wrong," replied Miss Nevil. "If a word from me could--"
"I can't send him any letter now. The prefect has arrived, and
Pietranera is full of his policemen. Later on, we'll see what we can
do. Oh, Miss Nevil, if you only knew my brother, you would love him as
dearly as I do. He's so good! He's so brave! Just think of what he has
done! One man against two, and wounded as well!"
The prefect had returned. Warned by an express messenger sent by the
deputy-mayor, he had brought over the public prosecutor, the
registrar, and all their myrmidons, to investigate the fresh and
terrible catastrophe which had just complicated, or it may be ended,
the warfare between the chief families of Pietranera. Shortly after
his arrival, he saw the colonel and his daughter, and did not conceal
his fear that the business might take on an ugly aspect.
"You know," he said, "that the fight took place without witnesses, and
the reputation of these two unhappy men stood so high, both for
bravery and cunning, that nobody will believe Signor della Rebbia can
have killed them without the help of the bandits with whom he is now
supposed to have taken refuge."
"It's not possible," said the colonel. "Orso della Rebbia is a most
honourable fellow. I'll stake my life on that."
"I believe you," said the prefect. "But the public prosecutor (those
gentry always are suspicious) does not strike me as being particularly
well disposed toward him. He holds one bit of evidence which goes
rather against our friend--a threatening letter to Orlanduccio, in
which he suggests a meeting, and is inclined to think that meeting was
"That fellow Orlanduccio refused to fight it out like a gentleman."
"That is not the custom here. In this country, people lie in ambush,
and kill each other from behind. There is one deposition in his favour
--that of a child, who declares she heard four reports, two of which
were louder than the others, and produced by a heavy weapon, such as
Signor della Rebbia's gun. Unluckily, the child is the niece of one of
the bandits suspected of being his accomplices, and has probably been
taught her lesson."
"Sir," broke in Miss Lydia, reddening to the roots of her hair, "we
were on the road when those shots were fired, and we heard the same
"Really? That's most important! And you, colonel, no doubt you
remarked the very same thing?"
"Yes," responded Miss Lydia quickly. "It was my father, who is so
accustomed to firearms, who said to me, 'There's Signor della Rebbia
shooting with my gun!' "
"And you are sure those shots you recognised were the last?"
"The two last, weren't they, papa?"
Memory was not the colonel's strong point, but as a standing rule, he
knew better than to contradict his daughter.
"I must mention this to the public prosecutor at once, colonel. And
besides, we expect a surgeon this evening, who will make an
examination of the two bodies, and find out whether the wounds were
caused by that particular weapon."
"I gave it to Orso," said the colonel, "and I wish I knew it was at
the bottom of the sea. At least---- Plucky boy! I'm heartily glad he
had it with him, for I don't quite know how he would have got off if
it hadn't been for my Manton."
It was rather late when the surgeon put in an appearance. On his road
up he had met with an adventure of his own. He had been stopped by
Giocanto Castriconi, who, with the most scrupulous politeness, called
on him to come and attend a wounded man. He had been conducted to
Orso's retreat, and had applied the first dressings to his wound. The
bandit had then accompanied the doctor some distance on his way, and
had greatly edified him by his talk concerning the most celebrated
professors at Pisa, whom he described as his intimate friends.
"Doctor," said the theologian, as they parted, "you have inspired me
with such a feeling of respect that I think it hardly necessary to
remind you that a physician should be as discreet as a confessor." And
as he said the words he clicked the trigger of his gun. "You have
quite forgotten the spot at which we have had the honour of meeting.
Fare you well! I'm delighted to have made your acquaintance."
Colomba besought the colonel to be present at the post-mortem
"You know my brother's gun better than anybody," she said, "and your
presence will be most valuable. Besides there are so many wicked
people here that we should run a great risk if there were nobody
present to protect our interests."
When she was left alone with Miss Lydia, she complained that her head
ached terribly, and proposed that they should take a walk just outside
"The fresh air will do me good," she said. "It is so long since I've
been out of doors."
As they walked along she talked about her brother, and Miss Lydia, who
found the subject tolerably interesting, did not notice that they had
travelled a long way from Pietranera. The sun was setting when she
became aware of this fact, and she begged Colomba to return. Colomba
said she knew a cross-cut which would greatly shorten the walk back,
and turning out of the path, she took another, which seemed much less
frequented. Soon she began to climb a hill, so steep that to keep her
balance she was continually obliged to catch hold of branches with one
hand, while she pulled her companion up after her with the other.
After about twenty minutes of this trying ascent, they found
themselves on a small plateau, clothed with arbutus and myrtle,
growing round great granite boulders that jutted above the soil in
every direction. Miss Lydia was very tired, there was no sign of the
village, and it was almost quite dark.
"Do you know, Colomba, my dear," she said, "I'm afraid we've lost our
"No fear!" answered Colomba. "Let us get on. You follow me."
"But I assure you we're going wrong. The village can't be over there.
I'm certain we're turning our backs on it. Why, look at those lights,
far away. Pietranera must be in that direction."
"My dear soul," said Colomba, and she looked very much agitated,
"you're perfectly right. But in the maquis--less than a hundred
yards from here--"
"My brother is lying. If you choose, I might see him, and give him one
Miss Nevil made a gesture of astonishment.
"I got out of Pietranera without being noticed," continued Colomba,
"because I was with you, otherwise I should have been followed. To be
so close to him, and not to see him! Why shouldn't you come with me to
see my poor brother? You would make him so happy!"
"But, Colomba-- That wouldn't be at all proper on my part----"
"I see. With you women who live in towns, your great anxiety is to be
proper. We village women only think of what is kind."
"But it's so late! And then what will your brother think of me?"
"He'll think his friends have not forsaken him, and that will give him
courage to bear his sufferings."
"And my father? He'll be so anxious!"
"He knows you are with me. Come! Make up your mind. You were looking
at his picture this morning," she added, with a sly smile.
"No! Really and truly, I don't dare, Colomba! Think of the bandits who
"Well, what matter? The bandits don't know you. And you were longing
to see some."
"Come, signorina, settle something. I can't leave you alone here. I
don't know what might happen to you. Let us go on to see Orso, or else
let us go back to the village together. I shall see my brother again.
God knows when--never, perhaps!"
"What's that you are saying, Colomba? Well, well, let us go! But only
for a minute, and then we'll get home at once."
Colomba squeezed her hand, and without making any reply walked on so
quickly that Miss Lydia could hardly keep up with her. She soon
halted, luckily, and said to her companion:
"We won't go any farther without warning them. We might have a bullet
flying at our heads."
She began to whistle through her fingers. Soon they heard a dog bark,
and the bandits' advanced sentry shortly came in sight. This was our
old acquaintance Brusco, who recognised Colomba at once and undertook
to be her guide. After many windings through the narrow paths in the
maquis they were met by two men, armed to the teeth.
"Is that you, Brandolaccio?" inquired Colomba. "Where is my brother?"
"Just over there," replied the bandit. "But go quietly. He's asleep,
and for the first time since his accident. Zounds, it's clear that
where the devil gets through, a woman will get through too!"
The two girls moved forward cautiously, and beside a fire, the blaze
of which was carefully concealed by a little wall of stones built
round it, they beheld Orso, lying on a pile of heather, and covered
with a pilone. He was very pale, and they could hear his laboured
breathing. Colomba sat down near him, and gazed at him silently, with
her hands clasped, as though she were praying in her heart. Miss Lydia
hid her face in her handkerchief, and nestled close against her
friend, but every now and then she lifted her head to take a look at
the wounded man over Colomba's shoulder. Thus a quarter of an hour
passed by without a word being said by anybody. At a sign from the
theologian, Brandolaccio had plunged with him into the maquis, to
the great relief of Miss Lydia, who for the first time fancied the
local colour of the bandits' wild beards and warlike equipment was a
trifle too strong.
At last Orso stirred. Instantly, Colomba bent over him, and kissed him
again and again, pouring out questions anent his wound, his suffering,
and his needs. After having answered that he was doing as well as
possible, Orso inquired, in his turn, whether Miss Nevil was still at
Pietranera, and whether she had written to him. Colomba, bending over
her brother, completely hid her companion from his sight, and indeed
the darkness would have made any recognition difficult. She was
holding one of Miss Nevil's hands. With the other she slightly raised
her wounded brother's head.
"No, brother," she replied. "She did not give me any letter for you.
But are you still thinking about Miss Nevil? You must love her very
"Love her, Colomba!--But--but now she may despise me!"
At this point Miss Nevil made a struggle to withdraw her fingers. But
it was no easy matter to get Colomba to slacken her grasp. Small and
well-shaped though her hand was, it possessed a strength of which we
have already noticed certain proofs.
"Despise you!" cried Colomba. "After what you've done? No, indeed! She
praises you! Oh, Orso, I could tell you so many things about her!"
Lydia's hand was still struggling for its freedom, but Colomba kept
drawing it closer to Orso.
"But after all," said the wounded man, "why didn't she answer me? If
she had sent me a single line, I should have been happy."
By dint of pulling at Miss Nevil's hand, Colomba contrived at last to
put it into her brother's. Then, moving suddenly aside, she burst out
"Orso," she cried, "mind you don't speak evil of Miss Lydia--she
understands Corsican quite well."
Miss Lydia took back her hand at once and stammered some
unintelligible words. Orso thought he must be dreaming.
"You here, Miss Nevil? Good heavens! how did you dare? Oh, how happy
you have made me!"
And raising himself painfully, he strove to get closer to her.
"I came with your sister," said Miss Lydia, "so that nobody might
suspect where she was going. And then I--I wanted to make sure for
myself. Alas! how uncomfortable you are here!"
Colomba had seated herself behind Orso. She raised him carefully so
that his head might rest on her lap. She put her arms round his neck
and signed to Miss Lydia to come near him.
"Closer! closer!" she said. "A sick man mustn't talk too loud." And
when Miss Lydia hesitated, she caught her hand and forced her to sit
down so close to Orso that her dress touched him, and her hand, still
in Colomba's grasp, lay on the wounded man's shoulder.
"Now he's very comfortable!" said Colomba cheerily. "Isn't it good to
lie out in the maquis on such a lovely night? Eh, Orso?"
"How you must be suffering!" exclaimed Miss Lydia.
"My suffering is all gone now," said Orso, "and I should like to die
here!" And his right hand crept up toward Miss Lydia's, which Colomba
still held captive.
"You really must be taken to some place where you can be properly
cared for, Signor della Rebbia," said Miss Nevil. "I shall never be
able to sleep in my bed, now that I have seen you lying here, so
uncomfortable, in the open air."
"If I had not been afraid of meeting you, Miss Nevil, I should have
tried to get back to Pietranera, and I should have given myself up to
"And why were you afraid of meeting her, Orso?" inquired Colomba.
"I had disobeyed you, Miss Nevil, and I should not have dared to look
at you just then."
"Do you know you make my brother do everything you choose, Miss
Lydia?" said Colomba, laughing. "I won't let you see him any more."
"I hope this unlucky business will soon be cleared up, and that you
will have nothing more to fear," said Miss Nevil. "I shall be so
happy, when we go away, to know justice has been done you, and that
both your loyalty and your bravery have been acknowledged."
"Going away, Miss Nevil! Don't say that word yet!"
"What are we to do? My father can not spend his whole life shooting.
He wants to go."
Orso's hand, which had been touching Miss Lydia's, dropped away, and
there was silence for a moment.
"Nonsense!" said Colomba. "We won't let you go yet. We have plenty of
things to show you still at Pietranera. Besides, you have promised to
paint my picture, and you haven't even begun it so far. And then I've
promised to compose you a serenata, with seventy-five verses. And
then--but what can Brusco be growling about? And here's Brandolaccio
running after him. I must go and see what's amiss."
She rose at once, and laying Orso's head, without further ceremony, on
Miss Lydia's lap, she ran after the bandits.
Miss Nevil, somewhat startled at finding herself thus left in sole
charge of a handsome young Corsican gentleman in the middle of a
maquis, was rather puzzled what to do next.
For she was afraid that any sudden movement on her part might hurt the
wounded man. But Orso himself resigned the exquisite pillow on which
his sister had just laid his head, and raising himself on his right
arm, he said:
"So you will soon be gone, Miss Lydia? I never expected your stay in
this unhappy country would have been a long one. And yet since you
have come to me here, the thought that I must bid you farewell has
grown a hundred times more bitter to me. I am only a poor lieutenant.
I had no future--and now I am an outlaw. What a moment in which to
tell you that I love you, Miss Lydia! But no doubt this is my only
chance of saying it. And I think I feel less wretched now I have
unburdened my heart to you."
Miss Lydia turned away her head, as if the darkness were not dark
enough to hide her blushes.
"Signor della Rebbia," she said, and her voice shook, "should I have
come here at all if----" and as she spoke she laid the Egyptian
talisman in Orso's hand. Then, with a mighty effort to recover her
usual bantering tone--"It's very wrong of you, Signor Orso, to say
such things! You know very well that here, in the middle of the
maquis, and with your bandits all about me, I should never dare to
be angry with you."
Orso made an attempt to kiss the hand that held out the talisman. Miss
Lydia drew it quickly back; he lost his balance, and fell on his
wounded arm. He could not stifle a moan of pain.
"Oh, dear, you've hurt yourself, and it was my fault!" she cried, as
she raised him up. "Forgive me!" They talked for some time longer,
very low, and very close together.
Colomba, running hastily up, found them in the very same position in
which she had left them.
"The soldiers!" she cried. "Orso! try to get up and walk! I'll help
"Leave me!" said Orso. "Tell the bandits to escape. What do I care if
I am taken? But take away Miss Lydia. For God's sake, don't let
anybody see her here!"
"I won't leave you," said Brandolaccio, who had come up on Colomba's
"The sergeant in charge is the lawyer's godson. He'll shoot you
instead of arresting you, and then he'll say he didn't do it on
Orso tried to rise; he even took a few steps. But he soon halted. "I
can't walk," he said. "Fly, all of you! Good-bye, Miss Nevil! Give me
your hand! Farewell!"
"We won't leave you!" cried the two girls.
"If you can't walk," said Brandolaccio, "I must carry you. Come, sir,
a little courage! We shall have time to slip away by the ravine. The
Signor Padre will keep them busy."
"No, leave me!" said Orso, lying down on the ground. "Colomba, take
Miss Nevil away!--for God's sake!"
"You're strong, Signorina Colomba," said Brandolaccio. "Catch hold of
his shoulders; I'll take his feet. That's it! Now, then march!"
In spite of his protests, they began to carry him rapidly along. Miss
Lydia was following them, in a terrible fright, when a gun was fired,
and five or six other reports instantly responded. Miss Lydia screamed
and Brandolaccio swore an oath, but he doubled his pace, and Colomba,
imitating him, tore through the thicket without paying the slightest
heed to the branches that slashed her face and tore her dress.
"Bend down, bend down, dear!" she called out to her companion. "You
may be hit by some stray bullet!"
They had walked, or rather run, some five hundred paces in this
fashion when Brandolaccio vowed he could go no further, and dropped on
the ground, regardless of all Colomba's exhortations and reproaches.
"Where is Miss Nevil?" was Orso's one inquiry.
Terrified by the firing, checked at every step by the thick growth of
the maquis, Miss Nevil had soon lost sight of the fugitives, and
been left all alone in a state of the most cruel alarm.
"She has been left behind," said Brandolaccio, "but she'll not be lost
--women always turn up again. Do listen to the row the Padre is making
with your gun, Ors' Anton'! Unluckily, it's as black as pitch, and
nobody takes much harm from being shot at in the dark."
"Hush!" cried Colomba. "I hear a horse. We're saved!"
Startled by the firing, a horse which had been wandering through the
maquis, was really coming close up to them.
"Saved, indeed!" repeated Brandolaccio. It did not take the bandit
more than an instant to rush up to the creature, catch hold of his
mane, and with Colomba's assistance, bridle him with a bit of knotted
"Now we must warn the Padre," he said. He whistled twice; another
distant whistle answered the signal, and the loud voice of the Manton
gun was hushed. Then Brandolaccio sprang on the horse's back. Colomba
lifted her brother up in front of the bandit, who held him close with
one hand and managed his bridle with the other.
In spite of the double load, the animal, urged by a brace of hearty
kicks, started off nimbly, and galloped headlong down a steep
declivity on which anything but a Corsican steed would have broken its
neck a dozen times.
Then Colomba retraced her steps, calling Miss Nevil at the top of her
voice; but no answering cry was heard.
After walking hither and thither for some time, trying to recover the
path, she stumbled on two riflemen, who shouted, "Who goes there?"
"Well, gentlemen," cried Colomba jeeringly, "here's a pretty racket!
How many of you are killed?"
"You were with the bandits!" said one of the soldiers. "You must come
"With pleasure!" she replied. "But there's a friend of mine somewhere
close by, and we must find her first."
"You friend is caught already, and both of you will sleep in jail
"In jail, you say? Well, that remains to be seen. But take me to her,
The soldiers led her to the bandits' camp, where they had collected
the trophies of their raid--to wit, the cloak which had covered Orso,
an old cooking-pot, and a pitcher of cold water. On the same spot she
found Miss Nevil, who had fallen among the soldiers, and, being half
dead with terror, did nothing but sob in answer to their questions as
to the number of the bandits, and the direction in which they had
Colomba threw herself into her arms and whispered in her ear, "They
are safe!" Then, turning to the sergeant, she said: "Sir, you can see
this young lady knows none of the things you are trying to find out
from her. Give us leave to go back to the village, where we are
"You'll be taken there, and faster than you like, my beauty," rejoined
the sergeant. "And you'll have to explain what you were after at this
time of night with the ruffians who have just got away. I don't know
what witchcraft those villains practise, but they certainly do bewitch
the women--for wherever there are bandits about, you are dead certain
to find pretty girls."
"You're very flattering, sergeant!" said Colomba, "but you'll do well
to be careful what you say. This young lady is related to the prefect,
and you'd better be careful of your language before her."
"A relation of the prefect's," whispered one of the soldiers to his
chief. "Why, she does wear a hat!"
"Hats have nothing to do with it," said the sergeant. "They were both
of them with the Padre--the greatest woman-wheedler in the whole
country, so it's my business to march them off. And, indeed, there's
nothing more for us to do here. But for that d----d Corporal Taupin--
the drunken Frenchman showed himself before I'd surrounded the
maquis--we should have had them all like fish in a net."
"Are there only seven of you here?" inquired Colomba. "It strikes me,
gentlemen, that if the three Poli brothers--Gambini, Sarocchi, and
Teodoro--should happen to be at the Cross of Santa Christina, with
Brandolaccio and the Padre, they might give you a good deal of corn to
grind. If you mean to have a talk with the Commandante della Campagna,
I'd just as soon not be there. In the dark, bullets don't show any
respect for persons."
The idea of coming face to face with the dreaded bandits mentioned by
Colomba made an evident impression on the soldiers. The sergeant,
still cursing Corporal Taupin--"that dog of a Frenchman"--gave the
order to retire, and his little party moved toward Pietranera,
carrying the pilone and the cooking-pot; as for the pitcher, its
fate was settled with a kick.
One of the men would have laid hold of Miss Lydia's arm, but Colomba
instantly pushed him away.
"Let none of you dare to lay a finger on her!" she said. "Do you fancy
we want to run away? Come, Lydia, my dear, lean on me, and don't cry
like a baby. We've had an adventure, but it will end all right. In
half an hour we shall be at our supper, and for my part I'm dying to
get to it."
"What will they think of me!" Miss Nevil whispered.
"They'll think you lost your way in the maquis, that's all."
"What will the prefect say? Above all, what will my father say?"
"The prefect? You can tell him to mind his own business! Your father?
I should have thought, from the way you and Orso were talking, that
you had something to say to your father."
Miss Nevil squeezed her arm, and answered nothing.
"Doesn't my brother deserve to be loved?" whispered Colomba in her
ear. "Don't you love him a little?"
"Oh, Colomba!" answered Miss Nevil, smiling in spite of her blushes,
"you've betrayed me! And I trusted you so!"
Colomba slipped her arm round her, and kissed her forehead.
"Little sister," she whispered very low, "will you forgive me?"
"Why, I suppose I must, my masterful sister," answered Lydia, as she
kissed her back.
The prefect and the public prosecutor were staying with the deputy-
mayor, and the colonel, who was very uneasy about his daughter, was
paying them his twentieth call, to ask if they had heard of her, when
a rifleman, whom the sergeant had sent on in advance, arrived with the
full story of the great fight with the brigands--a fight in which
nobody had been either killed or wounded, but which had resulted in
the capture of a cooking-pot, a pilone, and two girls, whom the man
described as the mistresses, or the spies, of the two bandits.
Thus heralded, the two prisoners appeared, surrounded by their armed
My readers will imagine Colomba's radiant face, her companion's
confusion, the prefect's surprise, the colonel's astonishment and joy.
The public prosecutor permitted himself the mischievous entertainment
of obliging poor Lydia to undergo a kind of cross-examination, which
did not conclude until he had quite put her out of countenance.
"It seems to me," said the prefect, "that we may release everybody.
These young ladies went out for a walk--nothing is more natural in
fine weather. They happened to meet a charming young man, who has been
lately wounded--nothing could be more natural, again." Then, taking
"Signorina," he said, "you can send word to your brother that this
business promises to turn out better than I had expected. The post-
mortem examination and the colonel's deposition both prove that he
only defended himself, and that he was alone when the fight took
place. Everything will be settled--only he must leave the maquis and
give himself up to the authorities."
It was almost eleven o'clock when the colonel, his daughter, and
Colomba sat down at last to their supper, which had grown cold.
Colomba ate heartily, and made great fun of the prefect, the public
prosecutor, and the soldiers. The colonel ate too, but never said a
word, and gazed steadily at his daughter, who would not lift her eyes
from her plate. At last, gently but seriously, he said in English:
"Lydia, I suppose you are engaged to della Rebbia?"
"Yes, father, to-day," she answered, steadily, though she blushed.
Then she raised her eyes, and reading no sign of anger in her father's
face, she threw herself into his arms and kissed him, as all well-
brought-up young ladies do on such occasions.
"With all my heart!" said the colonel. "He's a fine fellow. But, by
G--d, we won't live in this d---d country of his, or I'll refuse my
"I don't know English," said Colomba, who was watching them with an
air of the greatest curiosity, "but I'll wager I've guessed what you
"We are saying," quoth the colonel, "that we are going to take you for
a trip to Ireland."
"Yes, with pleasure; and I'll be the Surella Colomba. Is it settled,
colonel? Shall we shake hands on it?"
"In such a case," remarked the colonel, "people exchanges kisses!"
One afternoon, a few months after the double shot which, as the
newspapers said, "plunged the village of Pietranera into a state of
consternation," a young man with his left arm in a sling, rode out of
Bastia, toward the village of Cardo, celebrated for its spring, which
in summer supplies the more fastidious inhabitants of the town with
delicious water. He was accompanied by a young lady, tall and
remarkably handsome, mounted on a small black horse, the strength and
shape of which would have attracted the admiration of a connoisseur,
although, by some strange accident, one of its ears had been
lacerated. On reaching the village, the girl sprang nimbly to the
ground, and, having helped her comrade to dismount, she unfastened the
somewhat heavy wallets strapped to his saddle-bow. The horses were
left in charge of a peasant. The girl, laden with the wallets, which
she had concealed under her mezzaro, and the young man, carrying a
double-barrelled gun, took their way toward the mountain, along a very
steep path that did not appear to lead to any dwelling. When they had
climbed to one of the lower ridges of the Monte Querico, they halted,
and sat down on the grass. They were evidently expecting somebody, for
they kept perpetually looking toward the mountain, and the young lady
often consulted a pretty gold watch--as much, it may be, for the
pleasure of admiring what appeared a somewhat newly acquired trinket,
as in order to know whether the hour appointed for some meeting or
other had come. They had not long to wait. A dog ran out of the
maquis, and when the girl called out "Brusco!" it approached at
once, and fawned upon them. Presently two bearded men appeared, with
guns under their arms, cartridge-belts round their waists, and pistols
hanging at their sides. Their torn and patched garments contrasted
oddly with their weapons, which were brilliantly polished, and came
from a famous Continental factory. In spite of the apparent inequality
of their positions, the four actors in this scene greeted one another
in terms of old and familiar friendship.
"Well, Ors' Anton'," said the elder bandit to the young man, "so your
business is settled--the indictment against you has fallen through? I
congratulate you. I'm sorry the lawyer has left the island. I'd like
to see his rage. And how's your arm?"
"They tell me I shall get rid of my sling in a fortnight," said the
young man. "Brando, my good friend, I'm going to Italy to-morrow--I
wanted to say good-bye to you and to the cure. That's why I asked you
to come here."
"You're in a fine hurry," said Brandolaccio. "Only acquitted
yesterday, and you're off to-morrow."
"Business must be attended to," said the young lady merrily.
"Gentlemen, I've brought some supper. Fall to, if you please, and
don't you forget my friend Brusco."
"You spoil Brusco, Mademoiselle Colomba. But he's a grateful dog. You
shall see. Here, Brusco," and he held out his gun horizontally, "jump
for the Barricini!"
The dog stood motionless, licking his chops, and staring at his
"Jump for the della Rebbia!" And he leaped two feet higher than he
need have done.
"Look here, my friends," said Orso, "you're plying a bad trade; and
even if you don't end your career on that square below us,[*] the best
you can look for is to die in the maquis by some gendarme's bullet."
[*] The square at Bastia on which executions take place.
"Well, well," said Castriconi, "that's no more than death, anyhow; and
it's better than being killed in your bed by a fever, with your heirs
snivelling more or less honestly all round you. To men who are
accustomed to the open air like us, there's nothing so good as to die
'in your shoes,' as the village folk say."
"I should like to see you get out of this country," said Orso, "and
lead a quieter life. For instance, why shouldn't you settle in
Sardinia, as several of your comrades have done? I could make the
matter easy for you."
"In Sardinia!" cried Brandolaccio. "Istos Sardos! Devil take them
and their lingo! We couldn't live in such bad company."
"Sardinia's a country without resources," added the theologian. "For
my part, I despise the Sardinians. They keep mounted men to hunt their
bandits. That's a stigma on both the bandits and the country.[*] Out
upon Sardinia, say I! The thing that astounds me, Signor della Rebbia,
is that you, who are a man of taste and understanding, should not have
taken to our life in the maquis, after having once tried it, as you
[*] I owe this criticism of Sardinia to an ex-bandit of my
acquaintance, and he alone must bear the responsibility of it. He
means that bandits who let themselves be caught by horse soldiers
are idiots, and that soldiers who try to catch bandits on
horseback have very little chance of getting at them.
"Well," said Orso, with a smile, "when I was lucky enough to be your
guest, I wasn't in very good case for enjoying the charms of your
position, and my ribs still ache when I think of the ride I took one
lovely night, thrown like a bundle across an unsaddled horse that my
good friend Brandolaccio guided."
"And the delight of escaping from your pursuers," rejoined Castriconi;
"is that nothing to you? How can you fail to realize the charm of
absolute freedom in such a beautiful climate as ours? With this to
insure respect," and he held up his gun, "we are kings of everything
within its range. We can give orders, we can redress wrongs. That's a
highly moral entertainment, monsieur, and a very pleasant one, which
we don't deny ourselves. What can be more beautiful than a knight-
errant's life, when he has good weapons, and more common sense than
Don Quixote had? Listen! The other day I was told that little Lilla
Luigi's uncle--old miser that he is--wouldn't give her a dowry. So I
wrote to him. I didn't use threats--that's not my way. Well, well, in
one moment the man was convinced. He married his niece, and I made two
people happy. Believe me, Orso, there's no life like the bandit's
life! Pshaw! You'd have joined us, perhaps, if it hadn't been for a
certain young Englishwoman whom I have scarcely seen myself, but about
whose beauty every one in Bastia is talking."
"My future sister-in-law doesn't like the maquis," laughed Colomba.
"She got too great a fright in one of them."
"Well," said Orso, "you are resolved to stay here? So be it! But tell
me whether there is anything I can do for you?"
"Nothing," said Brandolaccio. "You've heaped kindnesses upon us.
Here's little Chilina with her dowry ready, so that there'll be no
necessity for my friend the cure to write one of his persuasive
letters to insure her marrying well. We know the man on your farm will
give us bread and powder whenever we need them. So fare you well! I
hope we shall see you back in Corsica one of these days."
"In case of pressing need," said Orso, "a few gold coins are very
useful. Now we are such old friends, you won't refuse this little
cartouche.[*] It will help you to provide cartridges of another
[*] Cartouche means a collection of gold pieces as well as a
"No money between you and me, sir," said Brandolaccio resolutely.
"In the world money is everything," remarked Castriconi, "but in the
maquis, all a man need care for is a brave heart, and a gun that
"I don't want to leave you without giving you something to remember me
by," persisted Orso. "Come, Brandolaccio, what can I leave with you?"
The bandit scratched his head and cast a sidelong glance at Orso's
"By my faith, if I dared--but no! you're too fond of it."
"What would you like?"
"Nothing! 'Tisn't anything at all. It's knowing how to use it as well.
I keep thinking of that devil of a double-shot of yours--and with only
one hand, too! Oh! that never could happen twice over!"
"Is it the gun you fancy? I bought it for you. But see you don't use
it more than you are obliged."
"Oh, I won't promise to make as good use of it as you. But make your
mind easy. When any other man has it, you may be certain it's all over
with Brando Savelli."
"And you, Castriconi--what am I to give you?"
"Since you really insist on giving me some tangible keepsake, I'll
simply ask you to send me the smallest Horace you can get. It will
amuse me, and prevent me from forgetting all my Latin. There's a
little woman who sells cigars on the jetty at Bastia. If you give it
to her, she'll see I get it."
"You shall have an Elzevir, my erudite friend. There just happens to
be one among some books I was going to take away with me. Well, good
friends, we must part! Give me your hands. If you should ever think of
Sardinia write to me. Signor N., the notary, will give you my address
on the mainland."
"To-morrow, lieutenant," said Brando, "when you get out in the
harbour, look up to this spot on the mountain-side. We shall be here,
and we'll wave our handkerchiefs to you."
And so they parted. Orso and his sister took their way back to Cardo,
and the bandits departed up the mountain.
One lovely April morning, Sir Thomas Nevil, his daughter, a newly made
bride--Orso, and Colomba, drove out of Pisa to see a lately discovered
Etruscan vault to which all strangers who came to that part of the
country paid a visit.
Orso and his wife went down into the ancient building, pulled out
their pencils, and began to sketch the mural paintings. But the
colonel and Colomba, who neither of them cared much for archaeology,
left them to themselves, and walked about in the neighbourhood.
"My dear Colomba," said the colonel, "we shall never get back to Pisa
in time for lunch. Aren't you hungry? There are Orso and his wife
buried in their antiquities; when once they begin sketching together,
it lasts forever!"
"Yes," remarked Colomba. "And yet they never bring the smallest sketch
home with them."
"I think," proceeded the colonel, "our best plan would be to make our
way to that little farm-house yonder. We should find bread there, and
perhaps some aleatico. Who knows, we might even find strawberries
and cream! And then we should be able to wait patiently for our
"You are quite right, colonel. You and I are the reasonable members of
this family. We should be very foolish if we let ourselves by
martyrized by that pair of lovers, who live on poetry! Give me your
arm! Don't you think I'm improving? I lean on people's arms, wear
fashionable hats and gowns and trinkets--I'm learning I don't know how
many fine things--I'm not at all a young savage any more. Just observe
the grace with which I wear this shawl. That fair-haired spark--that
officer belonging to your regiment who came to the wedding--oh, dear!
I can't recollect his name!--a tall, curly-headed man, whom I could
knock over with one hand----"
"Chatsworth?" suggested the colonel.
"That's it!--but I never shall be able to say it!--Well, you know he's
over head and ears in love with me!"
"O Colomba, you're growing a terrible flirt! We shall have another
wedding before long."
"I! Marry! And then who will there be to bring up my nephew--when Orso
provides me with a nephew? And who'll teach him to talk Corsican? Yes,
he shall talk Corsican, and I'll make him a peaked cap, just to vex
"Well, well, wait till you have your nephew, and then you shall teach
him to use a dagger, if you choose."
"Farewell to daggers!" said Colomba merrily. "I have a fan now, to rap
your fingers with when you speak ill of my country."
Chatting thus, they reached the farm-house, where they found wine,
strawberries, and cream. Colomba helped the farmer's wife to gather
the strawberries, while the colonel drank his aleatico. At the
turning of a path she caught sight of an old man, sitting in the sun,
on a straw chair. He seemed ill, his cheeks were fallen in, his eyes
were hollow, he was frightfully thin; as he sat there, motionless,
pallid, staring fixedly in front of him, he looked more like a corpse
than like a living creature. Colomba watched him for some minutes, and
with a curiosity so great that it attracted the woman's attention.
"That poor old fellow is a countryman of yours," she said. "For I know
you are from Corsica by the way you talk, signorina! He has had great
trouble in his own country. His children met with some terrible death.
They say--you'll excuse me, signorina--that when they quarrel, your
compatriots don't show each other very much mercy. Then the poor old
gentleman, being left all alone, came over to Pisa, to a distant
relation of his, who owns this farm. Between his misfortunes and his
sorrow, the good man is a little cracked. . . . The lady found him
troublesome--for she sees a great deal of company. So she sent him out
here. He's very gentle--no worry at all. He doesn't speak three words
the whole day long. In fact, his brain's quite gone. The doctor comes
to see him every week. He says he won't live long."
"There's no hope for him, then!" said Colomba. "In such a case, death
will be a mercy."
"You might say a word to him in Corsican, signorina. Perhaps it would
cheer him up to hear the speech of his own country."
"I'll see!" said Colomba, and her smile was mysterious.
She drew nearer to the old man, till her shadow fell across his chair.
Then the poor idiot lifted his head and stared at Colomba, while she
looked at him, smiling still. After a moment, the old man passed his
hand across his forehead, and closed his eyes, as though he would have
shut out the sight of Colomba. He opened them again, desperately wide
this time. His lips began to work, he tried to stretch out his hands,
but, fascinated by Colomba's glance, he sat, nailed, as it were, to
his chair, unable to move or utter a word. At last great tears dropped
from his eyes, and a few sobs escaped from his heaving chest.
" 'Tis the first time I've seen him like this," said the good woman.
"This signorina belongs to your own country; she has come to see you,"
said she to the old man.
"Mercy!" he cried in a hoarse voice. "Mercy! Are you not content? The
leaf I burned. How did you read it? But why did you take them both?
Orlanduccio! You can't have read anything against him! You should have
left me one, only one! Orlanduccio--you didn't read his name!"
"I had to have them both!" answered Colomba, speaking low and in the
Corsican dialect. "The branches are topped off! If the stem had not
been rotten, I would have torn it up! Come! make no moan. You will not
suffer long! I suffered for two years!"
The old man cried out, and then his head dropped on his breast.
Colomba turned her back on him, and went slowly into the house,
humming some meaningless lines out of a ballata:
"I must have the hand
that fired, the eye that aimed, the heart
While the farmer's wife ran to attend on the old man, Colomba, with
blazing eyes and brilliant cheeks, sat down to luncheon opposite the
"What's the matter with you?" he said. "You look just as you did that
day at Pietranera, when they fired at us while we were at dinner."
"Old Corsican memories had come back to me. But all that's done with.
I shall be godmother, sha'n't I? Oh! what fine names I'll give him!
The farmer's wife came back into the room.
"Well?" inquired Colomba, with the most perfect composure. "Is he
dead, or had he only fainted?"
"It was nothing, signorina. But it's curious what an effect the sight
of you had on him."
"And the doctor says he won't last long?"
"Not two months, very likely."
"He'll be no great loss!" remarked Colomba.
"What the devil are you talking about?" inquired the colonel.
"About an idiot from my own country, who is boarded out here. I'll
send from time to time to find out how he is. Why, Colonel Nevil,
aren't you going to leave any strawberries for Lydia and my brother?"
When Colomba left the farm-house and got into the carriage, the
farmer's wife looked after her for a while. Then, turning to her
"Dost see that pretty young lady yonder?" she said. "Well, I'm certain
she has the evil eye!"