Infomotions, Inc.Colomba / érimée, Prosper, 1803-1870



Author: érimée, Prosper, 1803-1870
Title: Colomba
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): orso; colomba; della rebbia; barricini; rebbia; miss nevil; miss lydia; nevil; lydia; prefect; della; corsican; colonel; ors' anton'; miss; colonel della; signor della; miss nevil's
Contributor(s): Loyd, Lady Mary Sophia (Hely-Hutchinson), 1853-1936 [Translator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 51,349 words (really short) Grade range: 8-11 (high school) Readability score: 65 (easy)
Identifier: etext2708
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Title: Columba

Author: Prosper Merimee

Release Date: March 28, 2006 [EBook #2708]

Language: English

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK COLUMBA ***




Produced by Dagny; Emma Dudding; John Bickers





COLOMBA

By Prosper Merimee




Translated By The Lady Mary Loyd




CHAPTER I


     "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 Pelasgic
structures.

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
red-legged partridges.

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 pheasant's tail.

"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 there."

"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.



CHAPTER II

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
English:

"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 land!"

"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 pretty
fellow-traveller.

"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, "Capisco."

"And are you going back to your own country on furlough?" inquired the
colonel.

"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 chorus.

"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
cafe. 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 afterward told!"

"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 alive?"

"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
enthusiastic tirade.

"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.



CHAPTER III

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 here.

. . . "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 what?"

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
anywhere else!"

"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 the
end."

"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 to her.

"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 biting me!"

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 single thief."

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.



CHAPTER IV

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 singular
curiosity.

"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 granted them.

Somewhat nettled, Orso replied: "Do you think, M. le Prefet, that
a Corsican must necessarily serve in the French army to become an
honourable man?"

"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 amiable."

"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 yourself."

"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 her hand.

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
punctual!"

"Yes, colonel."



CHAPTER V

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
am Colomba."

"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
are handsome."

"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
moment before.

"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 his
embarrassment.

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
centuries.

"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 reading.

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 about."

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 his sister:

"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 suffered
tortures.

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 people
about!"

"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.



CHAPTER VI

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 disappeared.

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 protege 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 registers.

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 imprisonment.

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 eyes.

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.



CHAPTER VII

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
paltry game.

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 sister?"

"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 abyss."

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
acquaintance."

"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 badly!"

"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
father.

"Papa," she said, "do leave those poor birds alone, and come and make up
poetry with us, in Napoleon's grotto!"



CHAPTER VIII

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 Place.

"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 pale.

"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
her.



CHAPTER IX

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
different ways.

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 waiting."

"Evvviva Ors' Anton'!" And the reports of a dozen guns capped the
plaudit.

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
on us!"

"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 is out!"

     [*] 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 interior passage.

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 avenged!"

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 night.

"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!"



CHAPTER X

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 be
cautious!"

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 deep discouragement.

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
charity?"

"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 country.'"

"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 over again:

"Mind your uncle takes good care of Orso!"



CHAPTER XI

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-servant.

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
assistance.

"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 long."

"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
sentence.

"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
enemy.

"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 comes."

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 pinsuta_.

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 subjects.

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
soul!"

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 lady deeply.

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-
     spattered."

"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 Orso.

"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 gunflint."

"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
Orso.

"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 have
laughed!"

"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 to
you!"

"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
them."

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
Virgil."

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
was Brandolaccio.

"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!"



CHAPTER XII

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
are leading."

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 the
marsh-fever."

"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 _ballata_."

"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
door.



CHAPTER XIII

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."

Orso bowed.

"She has a great affection for you both. Under her charming appearance,
and her apparent frivolity, a fund of good sense lies hidden."

"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 other."

"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 death."

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 mine!"

"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 object?"

"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 out
vehemently:

"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
dishonour!"

"Colomba!" exclaimed Orso, "your passion has driven you out of your
senses!"

"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
their house!"

"Sister!"

"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 knees.

"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 to-morrow."

"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 papers.



CHAPTER XIV

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!

"LYDIA.

"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.



CHAPTER XV

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 all
bastards."

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 apparent
composure.

"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 her
hand.

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 mill,
so--"

"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
Colomba.

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 caps
respectfully.

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 enough!"

"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 name!"

"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
departure."

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 you!"

"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 wrist."

"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 do."

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 with me.

"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 calumnies."

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 letter:

"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 come across."



CHAPTER XVI

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 women.

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.

"Your affectionate

"LYDIA NEVIL."


"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
come?"

"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 with."

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
_bruccio_.

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 gray
horse!"

"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 I am."

"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 Barricinis'
dwelling.

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
della Rebbia.



CHAPTER XVII

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 bridle.

"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!"

"Thank you!"

"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 thick wood.

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
hearing.

"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
for."

"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 flask?"

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
there!"

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 spoken words.

"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 saying
good-bye."

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 striking."

As he thus spoke his funeral oration over the Barricini, Brandolaccio
hastily guided Orso, Chilina, and Brusco, the dog, toward the Stazzona
_maquis_.



CHAPTER XVIII

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 noise.'"

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 colonel:

"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 path.

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 enemies:

"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 blood!"

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.

"O.D.R."


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 a trap."

"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 thing."

"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."



CHAPTER XIX

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
examination.

"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 village.

"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
way!"

"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--"

"Well?"

"My brother is lying. If you choose, I might see him, and give him one
kiss."

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
are there."

"Well, what matter? The bandits don't know you. And you were longing to
see some."

"Oh, dear!"

"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 much!"

"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
laughing.

"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
the authorities."

"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
you!"

"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
heels.

"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 purpose."

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 rope.

"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 us."

"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
to-night!"

"In jail, you say? Well, that remains to be seen. But take me to her,
meanwhile."

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 gone.

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 anxiously
expected."

"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
escort.

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 Colomba
aside--

"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
consent."

"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 are
saying!"

"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!"



CHAPTER XX

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 master.

"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
did."

     [*] 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 kind."

     [*] _Cartouche_ means a collection of gold pieces as well as
     a cartridge.

"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
carries true."

"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 gun.

"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.



CHAPTER XXI

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 artists."

"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
you."

"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
     that planned."

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
colonel.

"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!
Ghilfuccio--Tomaso--Orso--Leone!"

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 daughter:

"Dost see that pretty young lady yonder?" she said. "Well, I'm certain
she has the evil eye!"





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