Part 1 out of 3
Etext prepared by Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emma Dudding, email@example.com
and John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
by PROSPER MERIMEE
The Lady Mary Loyd
"Pe far la to vendetta,
Sta sigur', vasta anche ella."
--Vocero du Niolo.
Early in the month of October, 181-, Colonel Sir Thomas Nevil, a
distinguished Irish officer of the English army, alighted with his
daughter at the Hotel Beauveau, Marseilles, on their return from a
tour in Italy. The perpetual and universal admiration of enthusiastic
travellers has produced a sort of reaction, and many tourists, in
their desire to appear singular, now take the /nil admirari/ of Horace
for their motto. To this dissatisfied class the colonel's only
daughter, Miss Lydia, belonged. "The Transfiguration" has seemed to
her mediocre, and Vesuvius in eruption an effect not greatly superior
to that produced by the Birmingham factory chimneys. Her great
objection to Italy, on the whole, was its lack of local colour and
character. My readers must discover the sense of these expressions as
best they may. A few years ago I understood them very well myself, but
at the present time I can make nothing of them. At first, Miss Lydia
had flattered herself she had found things on the other side of the
Alps which nobody had ever before seen, about which she could converse
/avec les honnetes gens/, as M. Jourdain calls them. But soon,
anticipated in every direction by her countrymen, she despaired of
making any fresh discoveries, and went over to the party of the
opposition. It is really very tiresome not to be able to talk abut the
wonders of Italy without hearing somebody say "Of course you know the
Raphael in the Palazzo---- at ----? It is the finest thing in Italy!"
and just the thing /you/ happen to have overlooked! As it would take
too long to see everything, the simplest course is to resort to
deliberate and universal censure.
At the Hotel Beauveau Miss Lydia met with a bitter disappointment. She
had brought back a pretty sketch of the Pelasgic or Cyclopean Gate at
Segni, which, as she believed, all other artists had completely
overlooked. Now, at Marseilles, she met Lady Frances Fenwick, who
showed her her album, in which appeared, between a sonnet and a dried
flower, the very gate in question, brilliantly touched in with sienna.
Miss Lydia gave her drawing to her maid--and lost all admiration for
This unhappy frame of mind was shared by Colonel Nevil, who, since the
death of his wife, looked at everything through his daughter's eyes.
In his estimation, Italy had committed the unpardonable sin of boring
his child, and was, in consequence, the most wearisome country on the
face of the earth. He had no fault to find, indeed, with the pictures
and statues, but he was in a position to assert that Italian sport was
utterly wretched, and that he had been obliged to tramp ten leagues
over the Roman Campagna, under a burning sun, to kill a few worthless
The morning after his arrival at Marseilles he invited Captain Ellis--
his former adjutant, who had just been spending six weeks in Corsica--
to dine with him. The captain told Miss Lydia a story about bandits,
which had the advantage of bearing no resemblance to the robber tales
with which she had been so frequently regaled, on the road between
Naples and Rome, and he told it well. At dessert, the two men, left
alone over their claret, talked of hunting--and the colonel learned
that nowhere is there more excellent sport, or game more varied and
abundant, than in Corsica. "There are plenty of wild boars," said
Captain Ellis. "And you have to learn to distinguish them from the
domestic pigs, which are astonishingly like them. For if you kill a
pig, you find yourself in difficulties with the swine-herds. They rush
out of the thickets (which they call /maquis/) armed to the teeth,
make you pay for their beasts, and laugh at you besides. Then there is
the mouflon, a strange animal, which you will not find anywhere else--
splendid game, but hard to get--and stags, deer, pheasants, and
partridges--it would be impossible to enumerate all the kinds with
which Corsica swarms. If you want shooting, colonel, go to Corsica!
There, as one of my entertainers said to me, you can get a shot at
every imaginable kind of game, from a thrush to a man!"
At tea, the captain once more delighted Lydia with the tale of a
/vendetta transversale/ (A vendetta in which vengeance falls on a more
or less distant relation of the author of the original offence.), even
more strange than his first story, and he thoroughly stirred her
enthusiasm by his descriptions of the strange wild beauty of the
country, the peculiarities of its inhabitants, and their primitive
hospitality and customs. Finally, he offered her a pretty little
stiletto, less remarkable for its shape and copper mounting than for
its origin. A famous bandit had given it to Captain Ellis, and had
assured him it had been buried in four human bodies. Miss Lydia thrust
it through her girdle, laid it on the table beside her bed, and
unsheathed it twice over before she fell asleep. Her father meanwhile
was dreaming he had slain a mouflon, and that its owner insisted on
his paying for it, a demand to which he gladly acceded, seeing it was
a most curious creature, like a boar, with stag's horns and a
"Ellis tells me there's splendid shooting in Corsica," said the
colonel, as he sat at breakfast, alone with his daughter. "If it
hadn't been for the distance, I should like to spend a fortnight
"Well," replied Miss Lydia, "why shouldn't we go to Corsica? While you
are hunting I can sketch--I should love to have that grotto Captain
Ellis talked about, where Napoleon used to go and study when he was a
child, in my album."
It was the first time, probably, that any wish expressed by the
colonel had won his daughter's approbation. Delighted as he was by the
unexpected harmony on their opinions, he was nevertheless wise enough
to put forward various objections, calculated to sharpen Miss Lydia's
welcome whim. In vain did he dwell on the wildness of the country, and
the difficulties of travel there for a lady. Nothing frightened her;
she liked travelling on horseback of all things; she delighted in the
idea of bivouacking in the open; she even threatened to go as far as
Asia Minor--in short, she found an answer to everything. No
Englishwoman had ever been to Corsica; therefore she must go. What a
pleasure it would be, when she got back to St. James's Place, to
exhibit her album! "But, my dear creature, why do you pass over that
delightful drawing?" "That's only a trifle--just a sketch I made of a
famous Corsican bandit who was our guide." "What! you don't mean to
say you have been to Corsica?"
As there were no steamboats between France and Corsica, in those days,
inquiries were made for some ship about to sail for the island Miss
Lydia proposed to discover. That very day the colonel wrote to Paris,
to countermand his order for the suite of apartments in which he was
to have made some stay, and bargained with the skipper of a Corsican
schooner, just about to set sail for Ajaccio, for two poor cabins, but
the best that could be had. Provisions were sent on board, the skipper
swore that one of his sailors was an excellent cook, and had not his
equal for /bouilleabaisse/; he promised mademoiselle should be
comfortable, and have a fair wind and a calm sea.
The colonel further stipulated, in obedience to his daughter's wishes,
that no other passenger should be taken on board, and that the captain
should skirt the coast of the island, so that Miss Lydia might enjoy
the view of the mountains.
On the day of their departure everything was packed and sent on board
early in the morning. The schooner was to sail with the evening
breeze. Meanwhile, as the colonel and his daughter were walking on the
Canebiere, the skipper addressed them, and craved permission to take
on board one of his relations, his eldest son's godfather's second
cousin, who was going back to Corsica, his native country, on
important business, and could not find any ship to take him over.
"He's a charming fellow," added Captain Mattei, "a soldier, an officer
in the Infantry of the Guard, and would have been a colonel already if
/the other/ (meaning Napoleon) had still been emperor!"
"As he is a soldier," began the colonel--he was about to add, "I shall
be very glad he should come with us," when Miss Lydia exclaimed in
"An infantry officer!" (Her father had been in the cavalry, and she
consequently looked down on every other branch of the service.) "An
uneducated man, very likely, who would be sea-sick, and spoil all the
pleasure of our trip!"
The captain did not understand a word of English, but he seemed to
catch what Miss Lydia was saying by the pursing up of her pretty
mouth, and immediately entered upon an elaborate panegyric of his
relative, which he wound up by declaring him to be a gentleman,
belonging to a family of /corporals/, and that he would not be in the
very least in the colonel's way, for that he, the skipper, would
undertake to stow him in some corner, where they should not be aware
of his presence.
The colonel and Miss Nevil thought it peculiar that there should be
Corsican families in which the dignity of corporal was handed down
from father to son. But, as they really believed the individual in
question to be some infantry corporal, they concluded he was some poor
devil whom the skipper desired to take out of pure charity. If he had
been an officer, they would have been obliged to speak to him and live
with him; but there was no reason why they should put themselves out
for a corporal--who is a person of no consequence unless his
detachment is also at hand, with bayonets fixed, ready to convey a
person to a place to which he would rather not be taken.
"Is your kinsman ever sea-sick?" demanded Miss Nevil sharply.
"Never, mademoiselle, he is as steady as a rock, either on sea or
"Very good then, you can take him," said she.
"You can take him!" echoed the colonel, and they passed on their way.
Toward five o'clock in the evening Captain Mattei came to escort them
on board the schooner. On the jetty, near the captain's gig, they met
a tall young man wearing a blue frock-coat, buttoned up to his chin;
his face was tanned, his eyes were black, brilliant, wide open, his
whole appearance intelligent and frank. His shoulders, well thrown
back, and his little twisted mustache clearly revealed the soldier--
for at that period mustaches were by no means common, and the National
Guard had not carried the habits and appearance of the guard-room into
the bosom of every family.
When the young man saw the colonel he doffed his cap, and thanked him
in excellent language, and without the slightest shyness, for the
service he was rendering him.
"Delighted to be of use to you, my good fellow!" said the colonel,
with a friendly nod, and he stepped into the gig.
"He's not very ceremonious, this Englishman of yours," said the young
man in Italian, and in an undertone, to the captain.
The skipper laid his forefinger under his left eye, and pulled down
the corners of his mouth. To a man acquainted with the language of
signs, this meant that the Englishman understood Italian, and was an
oddity into the bargain. The young man smiled slightly and touched his
forehead, in answer to Mattei's sign, as though to indicate that every
Englishman had a bee in his bonnet. Then he sat down beside them, and
began to look very attentively, though not impertinently, at his
"These French soldiers all have a good appearance," remarked the
colonel in English to his daughter, "and so it is easy to turn them
into officers." Then addressing the young man in French, he said,
"Tell me, my good man, what regiment have you served in?" The young
man nudged his second cousin's godson's father gently with his elbow,
and suppressing an ironic smile, replied that he had served in the
Infantry of the Guard, and that he had just quitted the Seventh
Regiment of Light Infantry.
"Were you at Waterloo? You are very young!"
"I beg your pardon, colonel, that was my only campaign."
"It counts as two," said the colonel.
The young Corsican bit his lips.
"Papa," said Miss Lydia in English, "do ask him if the Corsicans are
very fond of their Buonaparte."
Before the colonel could translate her question into French, the young
man answered in fairly good English, though with a marked accent:
"You know, mademoiselle, that no man is ever a prophet in his own
country. We, who are Napoleon's fellow-countrymen, are perhaps less
attached to him than the French. As for myself, though my family was
formerly at enmity with his, I both love and admire him."
"You speak English!" exclaimed the colonel.
"Very ill, as you may perceive!"
Miss Lydia, though somewhat shocked by the young man's easy tone,
could not help laughing at the idea of a personal enmity between a
corporal and an emperor. She took this as a foretaste of Corsican
peculiarities, and made up her mind to note it down in her journal.
"Perhaps you were a prisoner in England?" asked the colonel.
"No, colonel, I learned English in France, when I was very young, from
a prisoner of your nation."
Then, addressing Miss Nevil:
"Mattei tells me you have just come back from Italy. No doubt,
mademoiselle, you speak the purest Tuscan--I fear you'll find it
somewhat difficult to understand our dialect."
"My daughter understands every Italian dialect," said the colonel.
"She has the gift of languages. She doesn't get it from me."
"Would mademoiselle understand, for instance, these lines from one of
our Corsican songs in which a shepherd says to his shepherdess:
"S'entrassi 'ndru paradisu santu, santu,
E nun truvassi a tia, mi n'escriria."
("If I entered the holy land of paradise
and found thee not, I would depart!")
--/Serenata di Zicavo/.
Miss Lydia did understand. She thought the quotation bold, and the
look which accompanied it still bolder, and replied, with a blush,
"And are you going back to your own country on furlough?" inquired the
"No, colonel, they have put me on half-pay, because I was at Waterloo,
probably, and because I am Napoleon's fellow-countryman. I am going
home, as the song says, low in hope and low in purse," and he looked
up to the sky and sighed.
The colonel slipped his hand into his pocket, and tried to think of
some civil phrase with which he might slip the gold coin he was
fingering into the palm of his unfortunate enemy.
"And I too," he said good-humouredly, "have been put on half-pay, but
your half-pay can hardly give you enough to buy tobacco! Here,
corporal!" and he tried to force the gold coin into the young man's
closed hand, which rested on the gunwale of the gig.
The young Corsican reddened, drew himself up, bit his lips, and
seemed, for a moment, on the brink of some angry reply. Then suddenly
his expression changed and he burst out laughing. The colonel,
grasping his gold piece still in his hand, sat staring at him.
"Colonel," said the young man, when he had recovered his gravity,
"allow me to offer you two pieces of advice--the first is never to
offer money to a Corsican, for some of my fellow-countrymen would be
rude enough to throw it back in your face; the second is not to give
people titles they do not claim. You call me 'corporal,' and I am a
lieutenant--the difference is not very great, no doubt, still----"
"Lieutenant! Lieutenant!" exclaimed Sir Thomas. "But the skipper told
me you were a corporal, and that your father and all your family had
been corporals before you!"
At these words the young man threw himself back and laughed louder
than ever, so merrily that the skipper and his two sailors joined the
"Forgive me, colonel!" he cried at last. "The mistake is so comical,
and I have only just realized it. It is quite true that my family
glories in the fact that it can reckon many corporals among its
ancestors--but our Corsican corporals never wore stripes upon their
sleeves! Toward the year of grace 1100 certain villages revolted
against the tyranny of the great mountain nobles, and chose leaders of
their own, whom they called /corporals/. In our island we think a
great deal of being descended from these tribunes."
"I beg your pardon, sir," exclaimed the colonel, "I beg your pardon a
thousand times! As you understand the cause of my mistake, I hope you
will do me the kindness of forgiving it!" and he held out his hand.
"It is the just punishment of my petty pride," said the young man,
still laughing, and cordially shaking the Englishman's hand. "I am not
at all offended. As my friend Mattei has introduced me so
unsuccessfully, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Orso della
Rebbia; I am a lieutenant on half-pay; and if, as the sight of those
two fine dogs of yours leads me to believe, you are coming to Corsica
to hunt, I shall be very proud to do you the honours of our mountains
and our /maquis/--if, indeed, I have not forgotten them altogether!"
he added, with a sigh.
At this moment the gig came alongside the schooner, the lieutenant
offered his hand to Miss Lydia, and then helped the colonel to swing
himself up on deck. Once there, Sir Thomas, who was still very much
ashamed of his blunder, and at a loss to know what he had better do to
make the man whose ancestry dated from the year 1100 forget it,
invited him to supper, without waiting for his daughter's consent, and
with many fresh apologies and handshakes. Miss Lydia frowned a little,
but, after all, she was not sorry to know what a corporal really was.
She rather liked there guest, and was even beginning to fancy there
was something aristocratic about him--only she thought him too frank
and merry for a hero of romance.
"Lieutenant della Rebbia," said the colonel, bowing to him, English
fashion, over a glass of Madeira, "I met a great many of your
countrymen in Spain--they were splendid sharp-shooters."
"Yes, and a great many of them have stayed in Spain," replied the
young lieutenant gravely.
"I shall never forget the behaviour of a Corsican battalion at the
Battle of Vittoria," said the colonel; "I have good reason to remember
it, indeed," he added, rubbing his chest. "All day long they had been
skirmishing in the gardens, behind the hedges, and had killed I don't
know how many of our horses and men. When the retreat was sounded,
they rallied and made off at a great pace. We had hoped to take our
revenge on them in the open plain, but the scoundrels--I beg your
pardon, lieutenant; the brave fellows, I should have said--had formed
a square, and there was no breaking it. In the middle of the square--I
fancy I can see him still--rode an officer on a little black horse. He
kept close beside the standard, smoking his cigar as coolly as if he
had been in a café. Every now and then their bugles played a flourish,
as if to defy us. I sent my two leading squadrons at them. Whew!
Instead of breaking the front of the square, my dragoons passed along
the sides, wheeled, and came back in great disorder, and with several
riderless horses--and all the time those cursed bugles went on
playing. When the smoke which had hung over the battalion cleared
away, I saw the officer still puffing at his cigar beside his eagle. I
was furious, and led a final charge myself. Their muskets, foul with
continual firing, would not go off, but the men had drawn up, six
deep, with their bayonets pointed at the noses of our horses; you
might have taken them for a wall. I was shouting, urging on my
dragoons, and spurring my horse forward, when the officer I have
mentioned, at length throwing away his cigar, pointed me out to one of
his men, and I heard him say something like /"Al capello bianco!"/--I
wore a white plume. Then I did not hear any more, for a bullet passed
through my chest. That was a splendid battalion, M. della Rebbia, that
first battalion of the Eighteenth--all of them Corsicans, as I was
"Yes," said Orso, whose eyes had shone as he listened to the story.
"They covered the retreat, and brought back their eagle. Two thirds of
those brave fellows are sleeping now on the plains of Vittoria!"
"And, perhaps, you can tell me the name of the officer in command?"
"It was my father--he was then a major in the Eighteenth, and was
promoted colonel for his conduct on that terrible day."
"Your father! Upon my word, he was a brave man! I should be glad to
see him again, and I am certain I should recognise him. Is he still
"No, colonel," said the young man, turning slightly pale.
"Was he at Waterloo?"
"Yes, colonel; but he had not the happiness of dying on the field of
battle. He died in Corsica two years ago. How beautiful the sea is! It
is ten years since I have seen the Mediterranean! Don't you think the
Mediterranean much more beautiful than the ocean, mademoiselle?"
"I think it too blue, and its waves lack grandeur."
"You like wild beauty then, mademoiselle! In that case, I am sure you
will be delighted with Corsica."
"My daughter," said the colonel, "delights in everything that is out
of the common, and for that reason she did not care much for Italy."
"The only place in Italy that I know," said Orso, "is Pisa, where I
was at school for some time. But I can not think, without admiration,
of the Campo-Santo, the Duomo, and the Leaning Tower--especially of
the Campo-Santo. Do you remember Orcagna's 'Death'? I think I could
draw every line of it--it is so graven on my memory."
Miss Lydia was afraid the lieutenant was going to deliver an
"It is very pretty," she said, with a yawn. "Excuse me, papa, my head
aches a little; I am going down to my cabin."
She kissed her father on the forehead, inclined her head majestically
to Orso, and disappeared. Then the two men talked about hunting and
war. They discovered that at Waterloo they had been posted opposite
each other, and had no doubt exchanged many a bullet. This knowledge
strengthened their good understanding. Turning about, they criticised
Napoleon, Wellington, and Blucher, and then they hunted buck, boar,
and mountain sheep in company. At last, when night was far advanced,
and the last bottle of claret had been emptied, the colonel wrung the
lieutenant's hand once more and wished him good-night, expressing his
hope that an acquaintance, which had begun in such ridiculous fashion,
might be continued. They parted, and each went to bed.
It was a lovely night. The moonlight was dancing on the waves, the
ship glided smoothly on before a gentle breeze. Miss Lydia was not
sleepy, and nothing but the presence of an unpoetical person had
prevented her from enjoying those emotions which every human being
possessing a touch of poetry must experience at sea by moonlight. When
she felt sure the young lieutenant must be sound asleep, like the
prosaic creature he was, she got up, took her cloak, woke her maid,
and went on deck. Nobody was to be seen except the sailor at the helm,
who was singing a sort of dirge in the Corsican dialect, to some wild
and monotonous tune. In the silence of the night this strange music
had its charm. Unluckily Miss Lydia did not understand perfectly what
the sailor was singing. Amid a good deal that was commonplace, a
passionate line would occasionally excite her liveliest curiosity. But
just at the most important moment some words of /patois/ would occur,
the sense of which utterly escaped her. Yet she did make out that the
subject was connected with a murder. Curses against the assassin,
threats of vengeance, praise of the dead were all mingled confusedly.
She remembered some of the lines. I will endeavour to translate them
. . . "Neither cannon nor bayonets . . .
Brought pallor to his brow. . .
As serene on the battlefield . . . as a summer sky.
He was the falcon--the eagle's friend . . .
Honey of the sand to his friends . . .
To his enemies, a tempestuous sea. . . .
. . . Prouder than the sun . . . gentler than the moon
. . . He for whom the enemies of France . . .
never waited . . . Murderers in his own land
. . . struck him from behind . . .
As Vittolo slew Sampiero Corso . . .
Never would they have dared to look him in
The face . . . Set up on the wall
Before my bed . . . my well-earned cross of honour
. . . red is its ribbon . . . redder is my
shirt! . . . For my son, my son in a far country
. . . keep my cross and my blood-stained shirt! . . .
. . . He will see two holes in it . . . For each
hole a hole in another shirt! . . . But will that accomplish
the vengeance? . . . I must have the hand
that fired, the eye that aimed . . . the heart
that planned!" . . .
Suddenly the sailor stopped short.
"Why don't you go on, my good man?" inquired Miss Nevil.
The sailor, with a jerk of his head, pointed to a figure appearing
through the main hatchway of the schooner: it was Orso, coming up to
enjoy the moonlight. "Pray finish your song," said Miss Lydia. "It
interests me greatly!"
The sailor leaned toward her, and said, in a very low tone, "I don't
give the /rimbecco/ to anybody!"
The sailor, without replying, began to whistle.
"I have caught you admiring our Mediterranean, Miss Nevil," said Orso,
coming toward her. "You must allow you never see a moon like this
"I was not looking at it, I was altogether occupied in studying
Corsican. That sailor, who has been singing a most tragic dirge,
stopped short at the most interesting point."
The sailor bent down, as if to see the compass more clearly, and
tugged sharply at Miss Nevil's fur cloak. It was quite evident his
lament could not be sung before Lieutenant Orso.
"What were you singing, Paolo France?" said Orso. "Was it a /ballata/
or a /vocero/? Mademoiselle understands you, and would like to hear
"I have forgotten it, Ors' Anton'," said the sailor.
And instantly he began a hymn to the Virgin, at the top of his voice.
Miss Lydia listened absent-mindedly to the hymn, and did not press the
singer any further--though she was quite resolved, in her own mind, to
find out the meaning of the riddle later. But her maid, who, being a
Florentine, could not understand the Corsican dialect any better than
her mistress, was as eager as Miss Lydia for information, and, turning
to Orso, before the English lady could warn her by a nudge, she said:
"Captain what does /giving the rimbecco/ mean?"
"The rimbecco!" said Orso. "Why, it's the most deadly insult that can
be offered to a Corsican. It means reproaching him with not having
avenged his wrong. Who mentioned the rimbecco to you?"
"Yesterday, at Marseilles," replied Miss Lydia hurriedly, "the captain
of the schooner used the word."
"And whom was he talking about?" inquired Orso eagerly.
"Oh, he was telling us some odd story about the time--yes, I think it
was about Vannina d'Ornano."
"I suppose, mademoiselle, that Vannina's death has not inspired you
with any great love for our national hero, the brave Sampiero?"
"But do you think his conduct was so very heroic?"
"The excuse for his crime lies in the savage customs of the period.
And then Sampiero was waging deadly war against the Genoese. What
confidence could his fellow-countrymen have felt in him if he had not
punished his wife, who tried to treat with Genoa?"
"Vannina," said the sailor, "had started off without her husband's
leave. Sampiero did quite right to wring her neck!"
"But," said Miss Lydia, "it was to save her husband, it was out of
love for him, that she was going to ask his pardon from the Genoese."
"To ask his pardon was to degrade him!" exclaimed Orso.
"And then to kill her himself!" said Miss Lydia. "What a monster he
must have been!"
"You know she begged as a favour that she might die by his hand. What
about Othello, mademoiselle, do you look on him, too, as a monster?"
"There is a difference; he was jealous. Sampiero was only vain!"
"And after all is not jealousy a kind of vanity? It is the vanity of
love; will you not excuse it on account of its motive?"
Miss Lydia looked at him with an air of great dignity, and turning to
the sailor, inquired when the schooner would reach port.
"The day after to-morrow," said he, "if the wind holds."
"I wish Ajaccio were in sight already, for I am sick of this ship."
She rose, took her maid's arm, and walked a few paces on the deck.
Orso stood motionless beside the helm, not knowing whether he had
better walk beside her, or end a conversation which seemed displeasing
"Blood of the Madonna, what a handsome girl!" said the sailor. "If
every flea in my bed were like her, I shouldn't complain of their
Miss Lydia may possibly have overheard this artless praise of her
beauty and been startled by it; for she went below almost immediately.
Shortly after Orso also retired. As soon as he had left the deck the
maid reappeared, and, having cross-questioned the sailor, carried back
the following information to her mistress. The /ballata/ which had
been broken off on Orso's appearance had been composed on the occasion
of the death of his father, Colonel della Rebbia, who had been
murdered two years previously. The sailor had no doubt at all that
Orso was coming back to Corsica /per fare la vendetta/, such was his
expression, and he affirmed that before long there would be /fresh
meat/ to be seen in the village of Pietranera. This national
expression, being interpreted, meant that Signor Orso proposed to
murder two or three individuals suspected of having assassinated his
father--individuals who had, indeed, been prosecuted on that account,
but had come out of the trial as white as snow, for they were hand and
glove with the judges, lawyers, prefect, and gendarmes.
"There is no justice in Corsica," added the sailor, "and I put much
more faith in a good gun than in a judge of the Royal Court. If a man
has an enemy he must choose one of the three S's." (A national
expression meaning /schioppetto/, /stiletto/, /strada/--that is,
/gun/, /dagger/, or /flight/.
These interesting pieces of information wrought a notable change in
Miss Lydia's manner and feeling with regard to Lieutenant della
Rebbia. From that moment he became a person of importance in the
romantic Englishwoman's eyes.
His careless air, his frank and good humour, which had at first
impressed her so unfavourably, now seemed to her an additional merit,
as being proofs of the deep dissimulation of a strong nature, which
will not allow any inner feeling to appear upon the surface. Orso
seemed to her a sort of Fieschi, who hid mighty designs under an
appearance of frivolity, and, though it is less noble to kill a few
rascals than to free one's country, still a fine deed of vengeance is
a fine thing, and besides, women are rather glad to find their hero is
not a politician. Then Miss Nevil remarked for the first time that the
young lieutenant had large eyes, white teeth, an elegant figure, that
he was well-educated, and possessed the habits of good society. During
the following day she talked to him frequently, and found his
conversation interesting. He was asked many questions about his own
country, and described it well. Corsica, which he had left when young,
to go first to college, and then to the Ecole militaire, had remained
in his imagination surrounded with poetic associations. When he talked
of its mountains, its forests, and the quaint customs of its
inhabitants he grew eager and animated. As may be imagined, the word
/vengeance/ occurred more than once in the stories he told--for it is
impossible to speak of the Corsicans without either attacking or
justifying their proverbial passion. Orso somewhat surprised Miss
Nevil by his general condemnation of the undying hatreds nursed by his
fellow-countrymen. As regarded the peasants, however, he endeavoured
to excuse them, and claimed that the /vendetta/ is the poor man's
duel. "So true is this," he said, "that no assassination takes place
till a formal challenge has been delivered. 'Be on your guard
yourself, I am on mine!' are the sacramental words exchanged, from
time immemorial, between two enemies, before they begin to lie in wait
for each other. There are more assassinations among us," he added,
"than anywhere else. But you will never discover an ignoble cause for
any of these crimes. We have many murderers, it is true, but not a
When he spoke about vengeance and murder Miss Lydia looked at him
closely, but she could not detect the slightest trace of emotion on
his features. As she had made up her mind, however, that he possessed
sufficient strength of mind to be able to hide his thoughts from every
eye (her own, of course, excepted), she continued in her firm belief
that Colonel della Rebbia's shade would not have to wait long for the
atonement it claimed.
The schooner was already within sight of Corsica. The captain pointed
out the principal features of the coast, and, though all of these were
absolutely unknown to Miss Lydia, she found a certain pleasure in
hearing their names; nothing is more tiresome than an anonymous
landscape. From time to time the colonel's telescope revealed to her
the form of some islander clad in brown cloth, armed with a long gun,
bestriding a small horse, and galloping down steep slopes. In each of
these Miss Lydia believed she beheld either a brigand or a son going
forth to avenge his father's death. But Orso always declared it was
some peaceful denizen of a neighbouring village travelling on
business, and that he carried a gun less from necessity than because
it was the fashion, just as no dandy ever takes a walk without an
elegant cane. Though a gun is a less noble and poetic weapon than a
stiletto, Miss Lydia thought it much more stylish for a man than any
cane, and she remembered that all Lord Byron's heroes died by a
bullet, and not by the classic poniard.
After three days' sailing, the ship reached Les Sanguinaires (The
Bloody Islands), and the magnificent panorama of the Gulf of Ajaccio
was unrolled before our travellers' eyes. It is compared, with
justice, to the Bay of Naples, and just as the schooner was entering
the harbour a burning /maquis/, which covered the Punta di Girato,
brought back memories of Vesuvius and heightened the resemblance. To
make it quite complete, Naples should be seen after one of Attila's
armies had devastated its suburbs--for round Ajaccio everything looks
dead and deserted. Instead of the handsome buildings observable on
every side from Castellamare to Cape Misena, nothing is to be seen in
the neighbourhood of the Gulf of Ajaccio but gloomy /maquis/ with bare
mountains rising behind them. Not a villa, not a dwelling of any kind
--only here and there, on the heights about the town, a few isolated
white structures stand out against a background of green. These are
mortuary chapels or family tombs. Everything in this landscape is
gravely and sadly beautiful.
The appearance of the town, at that period especially, deepened the
impression caused by the loneliness of its surroundings. There was no
stir in the streets, where only a few listless idlers--always the same
--were to be seen; no women at all, except an odd peasant come in to
sell her produce; no loud talk, laughter, and singing, as in the
Italian towns. Sometimes, under the shade of a tree on the public
promenade, a dozen armed peasants will play at cards or watch each
other play; they never shout or wrangle; if they get hot over the
game, pistol shots ring out, and this always before the utterance of
any threat. The Corsican is grave and silent by nature. In the
evening, a few persons come out to enjoy the cool air, but the
promenaders on the Corso are nearly all of them foreigners; the
islanders stay in front of their own doors; each one seems on the
watch, like a falcon over its nest.
When Miss Lydia had visited the house in which Napoleon was born, and
had procured, by means more or less moral, a fragment of the wall-
paper belonging to it, she, within two days of her landing in Corsica,
began to feel that profound melancholy which must overcome every
foreigner in a country whose unsociable inhabitants appear to condemn
him or her to a condition of utter isolation. She was already
regretting her headstrong caprice; but to go back at once would have
been to risk her reputation as an intrepid traveller, so she made up
her mind to be patient, and kill time as best she could. With this
noble resolution, she brought out her crayons and colours, sketched
views of the gulf, and did the portrait of a sunburnt peasant, who
sold melons, like any market-gardener on the Continent, but who wore a
long white beard, and looked the fiercest rascal that had ever been
seen. As all that was not enough to amuse her, she determined to turn
the head of the descendant of the corporals, and this was no difficult
matter, since, far from being in a hurry to get back to his village,
Orso seemed very happy at Ajaccio, although he knew nobody there.
Furthermore, Miss Lydia had a lofty purpose in her mind; it was
nothing less than to civilize this mountain bear, and induce him to
relinquish the sinister design which had recalled him to his island.
Since she had taken the trouble to study the young man, she had told
herself it would be a pity to let him rush upon his ruin, and that it
would be a glorious thing to convert a Corsican.
Our travellers spent the day in the following manner: Every morning
the colonel and Orso went out shooting. Miss Lydia sketched or wrote
letters to her friends, chiefly for the sake of dating them from
Ajaccio. Toward six o'clock the gentlemen came in, laden with game.
Then followed dinner. Miss Lydia sang, the colonel went to sleep, and
the young people sat talking till very late.
Some formality or other, connected with his passports, had made it
necessary for Colonel Nevil to call on the prefect. This gentleman,
who, like most of his colleagues, found his life very dull, had been
delighted to hear of the arrival of an Englishman who was rich, a man
of the world, and the father of a pretty daughter. He had, therefore,
given him the most friendly reception, and overwhelmed him with offers
of service; further, within a very few days, he came to return his
visit. The colonel, who had just dined, was comfortably stretched out
upon his sofa, and very nearly asleep. His daughter was singing at a
broken-down piano; Orso was turning over the leaves of her music, and
gazing at the fair singer's shoulders and golden hair. The prefect was
announced, the piano stopped, the colonel got up, rubbed his eyes, and
introduced the prefect to his daughter.
"I do not introduce M. della Rebbia to you," said he, "for no doubt
you know him already."
"Is this gentleman Colonel della Rebbia's son?" said the prefect,
looking a trifle embarrassed.
"Yes, monsieur," replied Orso.
"I had the honour of knowing your father."
The ordinary commonplaces of conversation were soon exhausted. The
colonel, in spite of himself, yawned pretty frequently. Orso, as a
liberal, did not care to converse with a satellite of the Government.
The burden of the conversation fell on Miss Lydia. The prefect, on his
side, did not let it drop, and it was clear that he found the greatest
pleasure in talking of Paris, and of the great world, to a woman who
was acquainted with all the foremost people in European society. As he
talked, he now and then glanced at Orso, with an expression of
"Was it on the Continent that you made M. della Rebbia's
acquaintance?" he inquired.
Somewhat embarrassed, Miss Lydia replied that she had made his
acquaintance on the ship which had carried them to Corsica.
"He is a very gentlemanly young fellow," said the prefect, in an
undertone; "and has he told you," he added, dropping his voice still
lower, "why he has returned to Corsica?"
Miss Lydia put on her most majestic air and answered:
"I have not asked him," she said. "You may do so."
The prefect kept silence, but, an instant later, hearing Orso speak a
few words of English to the colonel, he said:
"You seem to have travelled a great deal, monsieur. You must have
forgotten Corsica and Corsican habits."
"It is quite true that I was very young when I went away."
"You still belong to the army?"
"I am on half-pay, monsieur."
"You have been too long in the French army not to have become a
thorough Frenchman, I have no doubt?"
The last words of the sentence were spoken with marked emphasis.
The Corsicans are not particularly flattered at being reminded that
they belong to the "Great Nations." They claim to be a people apart,
and so well do they justify their claim that it may very well be
Somewhat nettled, Orso replied: "Do you think, M. le Prefet, that a
Corsican must necessarily serve in the French army to become an
"No, indeed," said the prefect, "that is not my idea at all; I am only
speaking of certain /customs/ belonging to this country, some of which
are not such as a Government official would like to see."
He emphasized the word /customs/, and put on as grave an expression as
his features could assume. Soon after he got up and took his leave,
bearing with him Miss Lydia's promise that she would go and call on
his wife at the prefecture.
When he had departed: "I had to come to Corsica," said Miss Lydia, "to
find out what a prefect is like. This one strikes me as rather
"For my part," said Orso, "I can't say as much. He strikes me as a
very queer individual, with his airs of emphasis and mystery."
The colonel was extremely drowsy. Miss Lydia cast a glance in his
direction, and, lowering her voice:
"And I," she said, "do not think him so mysterious as you pretend; for
I believe I understood him!"
"Then you are clear-sighted indeed, Miss Nevil. If you have seen any
wit in what he has just said you must certainly have put it there
"It is the Marquis de Mascarille, I think, who says that, M. della
Rebbia. But would you like me to give you a proof of my clear-
sightedness? I am something of a witch, and I can read the thoughts of
people I have seen only twice."
"Good heavens! you alarm me. If you really can read my thoughts I
don't know whether I should be glad or sorry."
"M. della Rebbia," went on Miss Lydia, with a blush, "we have only
known each other for a few days. But at sea, and in savage countries
(you will excuse me, I hope)--in savage countries friendships grow
more quickly than they do in society . . . so you must not be
astonished if I speak to you, as a friend, upon private matters, with
which, perhaps, a stranger ought not to interfere."
"Ah, do not say that word, Miss Nevil. I like the other far better."
"Well, then, monsieur, I must tell you that without having tried to
find out your secrets, I have learned some of them, and they grieve
me. I have heard, monsieur, of the misfortune which has overtaken your
family. A great deal has been said to me about the vindictive nature
of your fellow-countrymen, and the fashion in which they take their
vengeance. Was it not to that the prefect was alluding?"
"Miss Lydia! Can you believe it!" and Orso turned deadly pale.
"No, M. della Rebbia," she said, interrupting him, "I know you to be a
most honourable gentleman. You have told me yourself that it was only
the common people in your country who still practised the /vendetta/--
which you are pleased to describe as a kind of duel."
"Do you, then, believe me capable of ever becoming a murderer?"
"Since I have mentioned the subject at all, Monsieur Orso, you must
clearly see that I do not suspect you, and if I have spoken to you at
all," she added, dropping her eyes, "it is because I have realized
that surrounded, it may be, by barbarous prejudices on your return
home, you will be glad to know that there is somebody who esteems you
for having the courage to resist them. Come!" said she, rising to her
feet, "don't let us talk again of such horrid things, they make my
head ache, and besides it's very late. You are not angry with me, are
you? Let us say good-night in the English fashion," and she held out
Orso pressed it, looking grave and deeply moved.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "do you know that there are moments when the
instincts of my country wake up within me. Sometimes, when I think of
my poor father, horrible thoughts assail me. Thanks to you, I am rid
of them forever. Thank you! thank you!"
He would have continued, but Miss Lydia dropped a teaspoon, and the
noise woke up the colonel.
"Della Rebbia, we'll start at five o'clock to-morrow morning. Be
The next day, a short time before the sportsmen came back, Miss Nevil,
returning with her maid from a walk along the seashore, was just about
to enter the inn, when she noticed a young woman, dressed in black,
riding into the town on a small but strong horse. She was followed by
a sort of peasant, also on horseback, who wore a brown cloth jacket
cut at the elbows. A gourd was slung over his shoulder and a pistol
was hanging at his belt, his hand grasped a gun, the butt of which
rested in a leathern pocket fastened to his saddle-bow--in short, he
wore the complete costume of a brigand in a melodrama, or of the
middle-class Corsican on his travels. Miss Nevil's attention was first
attracted by the woman's remarkable beauty. She seemed about twenty
years of age; she was tall and pale, with dark blue eyes, red lips,
and teeth like enamel. In her expression pride, anxiety, and sadness
were all legible. On her head she wore a black silk veil called a
/mezzaro/, which the Genoese introduced into Corsica, and which is so
becoming to women. Long braids of chestnut hair formed a sort of
turban round her head. Her dress was neat, but simple in the extreme.
Miss Nevil had plenty of time to observe her, for the lady in the
/mezzaro/ had halted in the street, and was questioning somebody on a
subject which, to judge from the expression of her eyes, must have
interested her exceedingly. Then, as soon as she received an answer,
she touched her mount with her riding-switch, and, breaking into a
quick trot, never halted till she reached the door of the hotel in
which Sir Thomas Nevil and Orso were staying. There, after exchanging
a few words with the host, the girl sprang nimbly from her saddle and
seated herself on a stone bench beside the entrance door, while her
groom led the horses away to the stable. Miss Lydia, in her Paris
gown, passed close beside the stranger, who did not raise her eyes. A
quarter of an hour later she opened her window, and saw the lady in
the /mezzaro/ still sitting in the same place and in the same
attitude. Not long afterward the colonel and Orso returned from
hunting. Then the landlord said a few words to the young lady in
mourning, and pointed to della Rebbia with his finger. She coloured
deeply, rose eagerly, went a few paces forward, and then stopped
short, apparently much confused. Orso was quite close to her, and was
looking at her curiously.
"Are you Orso Antonio della Rebbia?" said she in a tremulous voice. "I
"Colomba!" cried Orso.
And taking her in his arms he kissed her tenderly, somewhat to the
surprise of the colonel and his daughter--but in England people do not
kiss each other in the street.
"Brother," said Colomba, "you must forgive me for having come without
your permission. But I heard from our friends that you had arrived,
and it is such a great consolation to me to see you."
Again Orso kissed her. Then, turning to the colonel:
"This is my sister," said he, "whom I never should have recognised if
she had not told me her name--Colomba--Colonel Sir Thomas Nevil--
colonel, you will kindly excuse me, but I can not have the honour of
dining with you to-day. My sister--"
"But, my dear fellow, where the devil do you expect to dine? You know
very well there is only one dinner in this infernal tavern, and we
have bespoken it. It will afford my daughter great pleasure if this
young lady will join us."
Colomba looked at her brother, who did not need much pressing, and
they all passed together into the largest room in the inn, which the
colonel used as his sitting and dining room. Mademoiselle della
Rebbia, on being introduced to Miss Nevil, made her a deep courtesy,
but she did not utter a single word. It was easy to see that she was
very much frightened at finding herself, perhaps for the first time in
her life, in the company of strangers belonging to the great world.
Yet there was nothing provincial in her manners. The novelty of her
position excused her awkwardness. Miss Nevil took a liking to her at
once, and, as there was no room disengaged in the hotel, the whole of
which was occupied by the colonel and his attendants, she offered,
either out of condescension or curiosity, to have a bed prepared in
her own room for Mademoiselle della Rebbia.
Colomba stammered a few words of thanks, and hastened after Miss
Nevil's maid, to make such changes in her toilet as were rendered
necessary by a journey on horseback in the dust and heat.
When she re-entered the sitting-room, she paused in front of the
colonel's guns, which the hunters had left in a corner.
"What fine weapons," said she. "Are they yours, brother?"
"No, they are the colonel's English guns--and they are as good as they
"How much I wish you had one like them!" said Colomba.
"One of those three certainly does belong to della Rebbia," exclaimed
the colonel. "He really shoots almost too well! To-day he fired
fourteen shots, and brought down fourteen head of game."
A friendly dispute at once ensued, in which Orso was vanquished, to
his sister's great satisfaction, as it was easy to perceive from the
childish expression of delight which illumined her face, so serious a
"Choose, my dear fellow," said the colonel; but Orso refused.
"Very well, then. Your sister shall choose for you."
Colomba did not wait for a second invitation. She took up the plainest
of the guns, but it was a first-rate Manton of large calibre.
"This one," she said, "must carry a ball a long distance."
Her brother was growing quite confused in his expressions of
gratitude, when dinner appeared, very opportunely, to help him out of
Miss Lydia was delighted to notice that Colomba, who had shown
considerable reluctance to sit down with them, and had yielded only at
a glance from her brother, crossed herself, like a good Catholic,
before she began to eat.
"Good!" said she to herself, "that is primitive!" and she anticipated
acquiring many interesting facts by observing this youthful
representative of ancient Corsican manners. As for Orso, he was
evidently a trifle uneasy, fearing, doubtless, that his sister might
say or do something which savoured too much of her native village. But
Colomba watched him constantly, and regulated all her own movements by
his. Sometimes she looked at him fixedly, with a strange expression of
sadness, and then, if Orso's eyes met hers, he was the first to turn
them away, as though he would evade some question which his sister was
mentally addressing to him, the sense of which he understood only too
well. Everybody talked French, for the colonel could only express
himself very badly in Italian. Colomba understood French, and even
pronounced the few words she was obliged to exchange with her
entertainers tolerably well.
After dinner, the colonel, who had noticed the sort of constraint
which existed between the brother and sister, inquired of Orso, with
his customary frankness, whether he did not wish to be alone with
Mademoiselle Colomba, offering, in that case, to go into the next room
with his daughter. But Orso hastened to thank him, and to assure him
they would have plenty of time to talk at Pietranera--this was the
name of the village where he was to take up his abode.
The colonel then resumed his customary position on the sofa, and Miss
Nevil, after attempting several subjects of conversation, gave up all
hope of inducing the fair Colomba to talk, and begged Orso to read her
a canto out of Dante, her favourite poet. Orso chose the canto of the
Inferno, containing the episode of Francesca da Rimini, and began to
read, as impressively as he was able, the glorious tiercets which so
admirably express the risk run by two young persons who venture to
read a love-story together. As he read on Colomba drew nearer to the
table, and raised her head, which she had kept lowered. Her wide-open
eyes, shone with extraordinary fire, she grew red and pale by turns,
and stirred convulsively in her chair. How admirable is the Italian
organization, which can understand poetry without needing a pedant to
explain its beauties!
When the canto was finished:
"How beautiful that is!" she exclaimed. "Who wrote it, brother?"
Orso was a little disconcerted, and Miss Lydia answered with a smile
that it was written by a Florentine poet, who had been dead for
"You shall read Dante," said Orso, "when you are at Pietranera."
"Good heavens, how beautiful it is!" said Colomba again, and she
repeated three or four tiercets which she had remembered, speaking at
first in an undertone; then, growing excited, she declaimed them
aloud, with far more expression than her brother had put into his
Miss Lydia was very much astonished.
"You seem very fond of poetry," she said. "How I envy you the delight
you will find in reading Dante for the first time!"
"You see, Miss Nevil," said Orso, "what a power Dante's lines must
have, when they so move a wild young savage who knows nothing but her
/Pater/. But I am mistaken! I recollect now that Colomba belongs to
the guild. Even when she was quite a little child she used to try her
hand at verse-making, and my father used to write me word that she was
the best /voceratrice/ in Pietranera, and for two leagues round
Colomba cast an imploring glance at her brother. Miss Nevil had heard
of the Corsican /improvisatrici/, and was dying to hear one. She
begged Colomba, then, to give her a specimen of her powers. Very much
vexed now at having made any mention of his sister's poetic gifts,
Orso interposed. In vain did he protest that nothing was so insipid as
a Corsican /ballata/, and that to recite the Corsican verses after
those of Dante was like betraying his country. All he did was to
stimulate Miss Nevil's curiosity, and at last he was obliged to say to
"Well! well! improvise something--but let it be short!"
Colomba heaved a sigh, looked fixedly for a moment, first at the
table-cloth, and then at the rafters of the ceiling; at last, covering
her eyes with her hand like those birds that gather courage, and fancy
they are not seen when they no longer see themselves, she sang, or
rather declaimed, in an unsteady voice, the following /serenata/:
"THE MAIDEN AND THE TURTLE-DOVE
"In the valley, far away among the mountains, the sun only shines for
an hour every day. In the valley there stands a gloomy house, and
grass grows on its threshold. Doors and windows are always shut. No
smoke rises from the roof. But at noon, when the sunshine falls, a
window opens, and the orphan girl sits spinning at her wheel. She
spins, and as she works, she sings--a song of sadness. But no other
song comes to answer hers! One day--a day in spring-time--a turtle-
dove settled on a tree hard by, and heard the maiden's song. 'Maiden,'
it said, 'thou art not the only mourner! A cruel hawk has snatched my
mate from me!' 'Turtle-dove, show me that cruel hawk; were it to soar
higher than the clouds I would soon bring it down to earth! But who
will restore to me, unhappy that I am, my brother, now in a far
country?' 'Maiden, tell me, where thy brother is, and my wings shall
bear me to him.' "
"A well-bred turtle-dove, indeed!" exclaimed Orso, and the emotion
with which he kissed his sister contrasted strongly with the jesting
tone in which he spoke.
"Your song is delightful," said Miss Lydia. "You must write it in my
album; I'll translate it into English, and have it set to music."
The worthy colonel, who had not understood a single word, added his
compliments to his daughter's and added: "Is this dove you speak of
the bird we ate broiled at dinner to-day?"
Miss Nevil fetched her album, and was not a little surprised to see
the /improvisatrice/ write down her song, with so much care in the
matter of economizing space.
The lines, instead of being separate, were all run together, as far as
the breadth of the paper would permit, so that they did not agree with
the accepted definition of poetic composition--"short lines of unequal
length, with a margin on each side of them." Mademoiselle Colomba's
somewhat fanciful spelling might also have excited comment. More than
once Miss Nevil was seen to smile, and Orso's fraternal vanity
Bedtime came, and the two young girls retired to their room. There,
while Miss Lydia unclasped her necklace, ear-rings, and bracelets, she
watched her companion draw something out of her gown--something as
long as a stay-busk, but very different in shape. Carefully, almost
stealthily, Colomba slipped this object under her /mezzaro/, which she
laid on the table. Then she knelt down, and said her prayers devoutly.
Two minutes afterward she was in her bed. Miss Lydia, naturally very
inquisitive, and as slow as every Englishwoman is about undressing
herself, moved over to the table, pretended she was looking for a pin,
lifted up the /mezzaro/, and saw a long stiletto--curiously mounted in
silver and mother-of-pearl. The workmanship was remarkably fine. It
was an ancient weapon, and just the sort of one an amateur would have
prized very highly.
"Is it the custom here," inquired Miss Nevil, with a smile, "for young
ladies to wear such little instruments as these in their bodices?"
"It is," answered Colomba, with a sigh. "There are so many wicked
"And would you really have the courage to strike with it, like this?"
And Miss Nevil, dagger in hand, made a gesture of stabbing from above,
as actors do on the stage.
Yes," said Colomba, in her soft, musical voice, "if I had to do it to
protect myself or my friends. But you must not hold it like that, you
might wound yourself if the person you were going to stab were to draw
back." Then, sitting up in bed, "See," she added, "you must strike
like this--upward! If you do so, the thrust is sure to kill, they say.
Happy are they who never need such weapons."
She sighed, dropped her head back on the pillow, and closed her eyes.
A more noble, beautiful, virginal head it would be impossible to
imagine. Phidias would have asked no other model for Minerva.
It is in obedience to the precept of Horace that I have begun by
plunging /in media res/. Now that every one is asleep--the beautiful
Colomba, the colonel, and his daughter--I will seize the opportunity
to acquaint my reader with certain details of which he must not be
ignorant, if he desires to follow the further course of this veracious
history. He is already aware that Colonel della Rebbia, Orso's father,
had been assassinated. Now, in Corsica, people are not murdered, as
they are in France, by the first escaped convict who can devise no
better means of relieving a man of his silver-plate. In Corsica a man
is murdered by his enemies--but the reason he has enemies is often
very difficult to discover. Many families hate each other because it
has been an old-standing habit of theirs to hate each other; but the
tradition of the original cause of their hatred may have completely
The family to which Colonel della Rebbia belonged hated several other
families, but that of the Barricini particularly. Some people asserted
that in the sixteenth century a della Rebbia had seduced a lady of the
Barricini family, and had afterward been poniarded by a relative of
the outraged damsel. Others, indeed, told the story in a different
fashion, declaring that it was a della Rebbia who had been seduced,
and a Barricini who had been poniarded. However that may be, there
was, to use the time-honoured expression, "blood between the two
houses." Nevertheless, and contrary to custom, this murder had not
resulted in others; for the della Rebbia and the Barricini had been
equally persecuted by the Genoese Government, and as the young men had
all left the country, the two families were deprived, during several
generations, of their more energetic representatives. At the close of
the last century, one of the della Rebbias, an officer in the
Neapolitan service, quarrelled, in a gambling hell, with some
soldiers, who called him a Corsican goatherd, and other insulting
names. He drew his sword, but being only one against three, he would
have fared very ill if a stranger, who was playing in the same room,
had not exclaimed, "I, too, am a Corsican," and come to his rescue.
This stranger was one of the Barricini, who, for that matter, was not
acquainted with his countryman. After mutual explanations, they
interchanged courtesies and vowed eternal friendship. For on the
Continent, quite contrary to their practice in their own island,
Corsicans quickly become friends. This fact was clearly exemplified on
the present occasion. As long as della Rebbia and Barricini remained
in Italy they were close friends. Once they were back in Corsica, they
saw each other but very seldom, although they both lived in the same
village; and when they died, it was reported that they had not spoken
to each other for five or six years. Their sons lived in the same
fashion--"on ceremony," as they say in the island; one of them
Ghilfuccio, Orso's father, was a soldier; the other Giudice Barricini,
was a lawyer. Having both become heads of families, and being
separated by their professions, they scarcely ever had an opportunity
of seeing or hearing of each other.
One day, however, about the year 1809, Giudice read in a newspaper at
Bastia that Captain Ghilfuccio had just been decorated, and remarked,
before witnesses, that he was not at all surprised, considering that
the family enjoyed the protection of General -----. This remark was
reported at Vienna to Ghilfuccio, who told one of his countrymen that,
when he got back to Corsica, he would find Giudice a very rich man,
because he made more money out of the suits he lost than out of those
he won. It was never known whether he meant this as an insinuation
that the lawyer cheated his clients, or as a mere allusion to the
commonplace truth that a bad cause often brings a lawyer more profit
than a good one. However that may have been, the lawyer Barricini
heard of the epigram, and never forgot it. In 1812 he applied for the
post of mayor of his commune, and had every hope of being appointed,
when General ----- wrote to the prefect, to recommend one of
Ghilfuccio's wife's relations. The prefect lost no time in carrying
out the general's wish, and Barricini felt no doubt that he owed his
failure to the intrigues of Ghilfuccio. In 1814, after the emperor's
fall, the general's protégé was denounced as a Bonapartist, and his
place was taken by Barricini. He, in his turn, was dismissed during
the Hundred Days, but when the storm had blown over, he again took
possession, with great pomp, of the mayoral seal and the municipal
From this moment his star shone brighter than ever. Colonel della
Rebbia, now living on half-pay at Pietranera, had to defend himself
against covert and repeated attacks due to the pettifogging malignity
of his enemy. At one time he was summoned to pay for the damage his
horse had done to the mayor's fences, at another, the latter, under
pretence of repairing the floor of the church, ordered the removal of
a broken flagstone bearing the della Rebbia arms, which covered the
grave of some member of the family. If the village goats ate the
colonel's young plants, the mayor always protected their owners. The
grocer who kept the post-office at Pietranera, and the old maimed
soldier who had been the village policeman--both of them attached to
the della Rebbia family--were turned adrift, and their places filled
by Barricini's creatures.
The colonel's wife died, and her last wish was that she might be
buried in the middle of the little wood in which she had been fond of
walking. Forthwith the mayor declared she should be buried in the
village cemetery, because he had no authority to permit burial in any
other spot. The colonel, in a fury, declared that until the permit
came, his wife would be interred in the spot she had chosen. He had
her grave dug there. The mayor, on his side, had another grave dug in
the cemetery, and sent for the police, that the law, so he declared,
might be duly enforced. On the day of the funeral, the two parties
came face to face, and, for a moment, there was reason to fear a
struggle might ensue for the possession of Signora della Rebbia's
corpse. Some forty well-armed peasants, mustered by the dead woman's
relatives, forced the priest, when he issued from the church, to take
the road to the wood. On the other hand, the mayor, at the head of his
two sons, his dependents, and the gendarmes, advanced to oppose their
march. When he appeared, and called on the procession to turn back, he
was greeted with howls and threats. The advantage of numbers was with
his opponents, and they seemed thoroughly determined. At sight of him
several guns were loaded, and one shepherd is even said to have
levelled his musket at him, but the colonel knocked up the barrel, and
said, "Let no man fire without my orders!" The mayor, who, like
Panurge, had "a natural fear of blows," refused to give battle, and
retired, with his escort. Then the funeral procession started,
carefully choosing the longest way, so as to pass in front of the
mayor's house. As it was filing by, an idiot, who had joined its
ranks, took it into his head to shout, "Vive l'Empereur!" Two or three
voices answered him, and the Rebbianites, growing hotter, proposed
killing one of the mayor's oxen, which chanced to bar their way.
Fortunately the colonel stopped this act of violence.
It is hardly necessary to mention that an official statement was at
once drawn up, or that the mayor sent the prefect a report, in his
sublimest style, describing the manner in which all laws, human and
divine, had been trodden under foot--how the majesty of himself, the
mayor, and of the priest had been flouted and insulted, and how
Colonel della Rebbia had put himself at the head of a Bonapartist
plot, to change the order of succession to the throne, and to excite
peaceful citizens to take arms against one another--crimes provided
against by Articles 86 and 91 of the Penal Code.
The exaggerated tone of this complaint diminished its effect. The
colonel wrote to the prefect and to the public prosecutor. One of his
wife's kinsmen was related to one of the deputies of the island,
another was cousin to the president of the Royal Court. Thanks to this
interest, the plot faded out of sight, Signora della Rebbia was left
quiet in the wood, and the idiot alone was sentenced to a fortnight's
Lawyer Barricini, dissatisfied with the result of this affair, turned
his batteries in a different direction. He dug out some old claim,
whereby he undertook to contest the colonel's ownership of a certain
water-course which turned a mill-wheel. A lawsuit began and dragged
slowly along. At the end of twelve months, the court was about to give
its decision, and according to all appearances in favour of the
colonel, when Barricini placed in the hands of the public prosecutor a
letter, signed by a certain Agostini, a well-known bandit, threatening
him, the mayor, with fire and sword if he did not relinquish his
pretensions. It is well known that in Corsica the protection of these
brigands is much sought after, and that, to oblige their friends, they
frequently intervene in private quarrels. The mayor was deriving
considerable advantage from this letter, when the business was further
complicated by a fresh incident. Agostini, the bandit, wrote to the
public prosecutor, to complain that his handwriting had been
counterfeited, and his character aspersed, by some one who desired to
represent him as a man who made a traffic of his influence. "If I can
discover the forger," he said at the end of his letter, "I will make a
striking example of him."
It was quite clear that Agostini did not write the threatening letter
to the mayor. The della Rebbia accused the Barricini of it and /vice
versa/. Both parties broke into open threats, and the authorities did
not know where to find the culprit.
In the midst of all this Colonel Ghilfuccio was murdered. Here are the
facts, as they were elicited at the official inquiry. On the 2d of
August, 18--, toward nightfall, a woman named Maddalena Pietri, who
was carrying corn to Pietranera, heard two shots fired, very close
together, the reports, as it seemed to her, coming from the deep lane
leading to the village, about a hundred and fifty paces from the spot
on which she stood. Almost immediately afterward she saw a man
running, crouching along a footpath among the vines, and making for
the village. The man stopped for a minute, and turned round, but the
distance prevented the woman Pietri from seeing his features, and
besides, he had a vine-leaf in his mouth, which hid almost the whole
of his face. He made a signal with his head to some comrade, whom the
witness could not see, and then disappeared among the vines.
The woman Pietri dropped her burden, ran up the path, and found
Colonel della Rebbia, bathed in his own blood from two bullet wounds,
but still breathing. Close beside him lay his gun, loaded and cocked,
as if he had been defending himself against a person who had attacked
him in front, just when another had struck him from behind. Although
the rattle was in his throat, he struggled against the grip of death,
but he could not utter a word--this the doctors explained by the
nature of the wounds, which had cut through his lungs: the blood was
choking him, it flowed slowly, like red froth. In vain did the woman
lift him up, and ask him several questions. She saw plainly enough
that he desired to speak, but he could not make himself understood.
Noticing that he was trying to get his hand to his pocket, she quickly
drew out of it a little note-book, which she opened and gave to him.
The wounded man took the pencil out of the note-book and tried to
write. In fact, the witness saw him form several letters, but with
great difficulty. As she could not read, however, she was unable to
understand their meaning. Exhausted by the effort, the colonel left
the note-book in the woman's hand, which he squeezed tightly, looking
at her strangely, as if he wanted to say (these are the witness's own
words): "It is important--it is my murderer's name!"
Maddalena Pietri was going up to the village, when she met Barricini,
the mayor, with his son Vincentello. It was then almost dark. She told
them what she had seen. The mayor took the note-book, hurried up to
his house, put on his sash, and fetched his secretary and the
gendarmes. Left alone with young Vincentello, Maddalena Pietri
suggested that he should go to the colonel's assistance, in case he
was still alive, but Vincentello replied that if he were to go near a
man who had been the bitter enemy of his family, he would certainly be
accused of having killed him. A very short time afterward the mayor
arrived, found the colonel dead, had the corpse carried away, and drew
up his report.
In spite of the agitation so natural on such an occasion, Monsieur
Barricini had hastened to place the colonel's note-book under seal,
and to make all the inquiries in his power, but none of them resulted
in any discovery of importance.
When the examining magistrate arrived the note-book was opened, and on
a blood-stained page were seen letters written in a trembling hand,
but still quite legible; the sheet bore the word /Agosti/--and the
judge did not doubt that the colonel had intended to point out
Agostini as his murderer. Nevertheless, Colomba della Rebbia, who had
been summoned by the magistrate, asked leave to examine the note-book.
After turning the leaves for a few moments, she stretched out her hand
toward the mayor and cried, "There stands the murderer!" Then with a
precision and a clearness which were astonishing, considering the
passion of sorrow that shook her, she related that, a few days
previously, her father had received a letter from his son, which he
had burned, but that before doing so he had written Orso's address (he
had just changed his garrison) in the note-book with his pencil. Now,
his address was no longer in the note-book, and Colomba concluded that
the mayor had torn out the leaf on which it was written, which
probably was that on which her father had traced the murderer's name,
and for that name the mayor, according to Colomba, had substituted
Agostini's. The magistrate, in fact, noticed that one sheet was
missing from the quire on which the name was written, but he remarked
also that leaves were likewise missing from other quires in the same
note-book, and certain witnesses testified that the colonel had a
habit of tearing out pages when he wanted to light a cigar--therefore
nothing was more probable than that, by an oversight, he had burned
the address he had copied. Further, it was shown that the mayor could
not have read the note-book on receiving it from Maddalena Pietri, on
account of the darkness, and it was proved that he had not stopped an
instant before he went into his house, that the sergeant of the
gendarmes had gone there with him, and had seen him light a lamp and
put the note-book into an envelope which he had sealed before his
When this officer had concluded his deposition, Colomba, half-
distracted, cast herself at his feet, and besought him, by all he held
most sacred, to say whether he had not left the mayor alone for a
single moment. After a certain amount of hesitation, the man, who was
evidently affected by the young girl's excitement, admitted that he
had gone into the next room to fetch a sheet of foolscap, but that he
had not been away a minute, and that the mayor had talked to him all
the time he was groping for the paper in a drawer. Moreover, he
deposed that when he came back the blood-stained note-book was still
on the table, in the very place where the mayor had thrown it when he
first came in.
Monsieur Barricini gave his evidence with the utmost coolness. He made
allowances, he said, for Mademoiselle della Rebbia's excitement, and
was ready to condescend to justify himself. He proved that he had
spent his whole evening in the village, that his son Vincentello had
been with him in front of the house at the moment when the crime was
committed, and that his son Orlanduccio, who had had an attack of
fever that very day, had never left his bed. He produced every gun in
his house, and not one of them had been recently discharged. He added,
that, as regarded the note-book, he had at once realized its
importance; that he had sealed it up, and placed it in the hands of
his deputy, foreseeing that he himself might be suspected, on account
of his quarrel with the colonel. Finally, he reminded the court that
Agostini had threatened to kill the man who had written a letter in
his name, and he insinuated that this ruffian had probably suspected
the colonel, and murdered him. Such a vengeance, for a similar reason,
is by no means unprecedented in the history of brigandage.
Five days after Colonel della Rebbia's death, Agostini was surprised
by a detachment of riflemen, and killed, fighting desperately to the
last. On his person was found a letter from Colomba, beseeching him to
declare whether he was guilty of the murder imputed to him, or not. As
the bandit had sent no answer, it was pretty generally concluded that
he had not the courage to tell a daughter he had murdered her father.
Yet those who claimed to know Agostini's nature thoroughly, whispered
that if he had killed the colonel, he would have boasted of the deed.
Another bandit, known by the name of Brandolaccio, sent Colomba a
declaration in which he bore witness "on his honour" to his comrade's
innocence--but the only proof he put forward was that Agostini had
never told him that he suspected the colonel.
The upshot was that the Barricini suffered no inconvenience, the
examining magistrate was loud in his praise of the mayor, and the
mayor, on his side, crowned his handsome behaviour by relinquishing
all his claims over the stream, concerning which he had brought the
lawsuit against Colonel della Rebbia.
According to the custom of her country, Colomba improvised a /ballata/
in presence of her father's corpse, and before his assembled friends.
In it she poured out all her hatred against the Barricini, formally
charged them with the murder, and threatened them with her brother's
vengeance. It was this same /ballata/, which had grown very popular,
that the sailor had sung before Miss Lydia. When Orso, who was in the
north of France, heard of his father's death, he applied for leave,
but failed to obtain it. A letter from his sister led him to believe
at first in the guilt of the Barricini, but he soon received copies of
all the documents connected with the inquiry and a private letter from
the judge, which almost convinced him that the bandit Agostini was the
only culprit. Every three months Colomba had written to him,
reiterating her suspicions, which she called her "proofs." In spite of
himself, these accusations made his Corsican blood boil, and sometimes
he was very near sharing his sister's prejudices. Nevertheless, every
time he wrote to her he repeated his conviction that her allegations
possessed no solid foundation, and were quite unworthy of belief. He
even forbade her, but always vainly, to mention them to him again.
Thus two years went by. At the end of that time Orso was placed on
half-pay, and then it occurred to him to go back to his own country--
not at all for the purpose of taking vengeance on people whom he
believed innocent, but to arrange a marriage for his sister, and the
sale of his own small property--if its value should prove sufficient
to enable him to live on the Continent.
Whether it was that the arrival of his sister had reminded Orso
forcibly of his paternal home, or that Colomba's unconventional dress
and manners made him feel shy before his civilized friends, he
announced, the very next day, his determination to leave Ajaccio, and
to return to Pietranera. But he made the colonel promise that when he
went to Bastia he would come and stay in his modest manor-house, and
undertook, in return, to provide him with plenty of buck, pheasant,
boar, and other game.
On the day before that of his departure Orso proposed that, instead of
going out shooting, they should all take a walk along the shores of
the gulf. With Miss Lydia on his arm he was able to talk in perfect
freedom--for Colomba had stayed in the town to do her shopping, and
the colonel was perpetually leaving the young people to fire shots at
sea-gulls and gannets, greatly to the astonishment of the passers-by,
who could not conceive why any man should waste his powder on such
They were walking along the path leading to the Greek Chapel, which
commands the finest view to be had of the bay, but they paid no
attention to it.
"Miss Lydia," said Orso, after a silence which had lasted long enough
to become embarrassing, "tell me frankly, what do you think of my
"I like her very much," answered Miss Nevil. "Better than you," she
added, with a smile; "for she is a true Corsican, and you are rather
too civilized a savage!"
"Too civilized! Well, in spite of myself, I feel that I am growing a
savage again, since I have set my foot on the island! A thousand
horrid thoughts disturb and torment me, and I wanted to talk with you
a little before I plunge into my desert!"
"You must be brave, monsieur! Look at your sister's resignation; she
sets you an example!"
"Ah! do not be deceived! Do not believe in her resignation. She has
not said a word to me as yet, but every look of hers tells me what she
expects of me."
"What does she expect of you, then?"
"Oh, nothing! Except that I should try whether your father's gun will
kill a man as surely as it kills a partridge."
"What an idea! You can actually believe that, when you have just
acknowledged that she has said nothing to you yet? It really is too
dreadful of you!"
"If her thoughts were not fixed on vengeance, she would have spoken to
me at once about our father; she has never done it. She would have
mentioned the names of those she considers--wrongly, I know--to be his
murderers. But no; not a word! That is because we Corsicans, you see,
are a cunning race. My sister realizes that she does not hold me
completely in her power, and she does not choose to startle me while I
may still escape her. Once she has led me to the edge of the
precipice, and once I turn giddy there, she will thrust me into the
Then Orso gave Miss Nevil some details of his father's death, and
recounted the principal proofs which had culminated in his belief that
Agostini was the assassin.
"Nothing," he added, "has been able to convince Colomba. I saw that by
her last letter. She has sworn the Barricini shall die, and--you see,
Miss Nevil, what confidence I have in you!--they would not be alive
now, perhaps, if one of the prejudices for which her uncivilized
education must be the excuse had not convinced her that the execution
of this vengeance belongs to me, as head of her family, and that my
honour depends upon it!"
"Really and truly, Monsieur della Rebbia!" said Miss Nevil, "you
slander your sister!"
"No. As you have said it yourself, she is a Corsican; she thinks as
they all think. Do you know why I was so sad yesterday?"
"No. But for some time past you have been subject to these fits of
sadness. You were much pleasanter in the earlier days of our
"Yesterday, on the contrary, I was more cheery and happy than I
generally am. I had seen how kind, how indulgent, you were to my
sister. The colonel and I were coming home in a boat. Do you know what
one of the boatmen said to me in his infernal /patois/? 'You've killed
a deal of game, Ors' Anton', but you'll find Orlanduccio Barricini a
better shot than you!' "
"Well, what was there so very dreadful in that remark? Are you so very
much set upon being considered a skilful sportsman?"
"But don't you see the ruffian was telling me I shouldn't have courage
to kill Orlanduccio!"
"Do you know, M. della Rebbia, you frighten me! The air of this island
of yours seems not only to give people fevers, but to drive them mad.
Luckily we shall be leaving it soon!"
"Not without coming to Pietranera--you have promised my sister that."
"And if we were to fail in that promise, we should bring down some
terrible vengeance on our heads, no doubt!"
"Do you remember that story your father was telling us, the other day,
about the Indians who threatened the company's agents that, if they
would not grant their prayer, they would starve themselves to death?"
"That means that you would starve yourself to death! I doubt it very
much! You would go hungry for one day and then Mademoiselle Colomba
would bring you such a tempting /bruccio/[*] that you would quite
relinquish your plan."
[*] A sort of baked cream cheese, a national dish in Corsica.
"Your jests are cruel, Miss Nevil. You might spare me. Listen, I am
alone here; I have no one but you to prevent me from going mad, as you
call it. You have been my guardian angel, and now----!"
"Now," said Miss Lydia gravely, "to steady this reason of yours, which
is so easily shaken, you have the honour of a soldier and a man, and,"
she added, turning away to pluck a flower, "if that will be any help
to you, you have the memory of your guardian angel, too!"
"Ah, Miss Nevil, if I could only think you really take some interest!"
"Listen, M. della Rebbia," said Miss Nevil, with some emotion. "As you
are a child, I will treat you as I would treat a child. When I was a
little girl my mother gave me a beautiful necklace, which I had longed
for greatly; but she said to me, 'Every time you put on this necklace,
remember you do not know French yet.' The necklace lost some of its
value in my eyes, it was a source of constant self-reproach. But I
wore it, and in the end I knew French. Do you see this ring? It is an
Egyptian scarabaeus, found, if you please, in a pyramid. That strange
figure, which you may perhaps take for a bottle, stands for '/human
life/.' There are certain people in my country to whom this
hieroglyphic should appear exceedingly appropriate. This, which comes
after it, is a shield upon an arm, holding a lance; that means
'/struggle/, /battle/.' Thus the two characters, together, form this
motto, which strikes me as a fine one, '/Life is a battle/.' Pray do
not fancy I can translate hieroglyphics at sight! It was a man learned
in such matters who explained these to me. Here, I will give you my
scarabaeus. Whenever you feel some wicked Corsican thought stir in
you, look at my talisman, and tell yourself you must win the battle
our evil passions wage against us. Why, really, I don't preach at all
"I shall think of you, Miss Nevil, and I shall say to myself----"
"Say to yourself you have a friend who would be in despair at the idea
of your being hanged--and besides it would be too distressing for your
ancestors the corporals!"
With these words she dropped Orso's arm, laughing and running to her
"Papa," she said, "do leave those poor birds alone, and come and make
up poetry with us, in Napoleon's grotto!"
There is always a certain solemnity about a departure, even when the
separation is only to be a short one. Orso and his sister were to
start very early in the morning, and he had taken his leave of Miss
Lydia the night before--for he had no hope that she would disturb her
indolent habits on his account. Their farewells had been cold and
grave. Since that conversation on the sea-shore, Miss Lydia had been
afraid she had perhaps shown too strong an interest in Orso, and on
the other hand, her jests, and more especially her careless tone, lay
heavy on Orso's heart. At one moment he had thought the young
Englishwoman's manner betrayed a budding feeling of affection, but
now, put out of countenance by her jests, he told himself she only
looked on him as a mere acquaintance, who would be soon forgotten.
Great, therefore, was his surprise, next morning, when, as he sat at
coffee with the colonel, he saw Miss Lydia come into the room,
followed by his sister. She had risen at five o'clock, and for an
Englishwoman, and especially for Miss Nevil, the effort was so great
that it could not but give him some cause for vanity.
"I am so sorry you should have disturbed yourself so early," said
Orso. "No doubt my sister woke you up in spite of my injunctions, and
you must hate us heartily! Perhaps you wish I was hanged already!"
"No," said Miss Lydia, very low and in Italian, evidently so that her
father might not hear her, "but you were somewhat sulky with me
yesterday, because of my innocent jokes, and I would not have you
carry away an unpleasant recollection of your humble servant. What
terrible people you are, you Corsicans! Well, good-bye! We shall meet
soon, I hope."
And she held out her hand.
A sigh was the only answer Orso could find. Colomba came to his side,
led him into a window, and spoke to him for a moment in an undertone,
showing him something she held under her /mezzaro/.
"Mademoiselle," said Orso to Miss Nevil, "my sister is anxious to give
you a very odd present, but we Corsicans have not much to offer--
except our affection--which time never wipes out. My sister tells me
you have looked with some curiosity at this dagger. It is an ancient
possession in our family. It probably hung, once upon a time, at the
belt of one of those corporals, to whom I owe the honour of your
acquaintance. Colomba thinks it so precious that she has asked my
leave to give it to you, and I hardly know if I ought to grant it, for
I am afraid you'll laugh at us!"
"The dagger is beautiful," said Miss Lydia. "But it is a family
weapon, I can not accept it!"
"It's not my father's dagger," exclaimed Colomba eagerly; "it was
given to one of mother's ancestors by King Theodore. If the signorina
will accept it, she will give us great pleasure."
"Come, Miss Lydia," said Orso, "don't scorn a king's dagger!"
To a collector, relics of King Theodore are infinitely more precious
than those of the most powerful of monarchs. The temptation was a
strong one, and already Miss Lydia could see the effect the weapon
would produce laid out on a lacquered table in her room at St. James's
"But," said she, taking the dagger with the hesitating air of one who
longs to accept, and casting one of her most delightful smiles on
Colomba, "dear Signorina Colomba . . . I can not . . . I should not
dare to let you depart thus, unarmed."
"My brother is with me," said Colomba proudly, "and we have the good
gun your father has given us. Orso, have you put a bullet in it?"
Miss Nevil kept the dagger, and to avert the danger consequent on
/giving/ instruments that cut or pierce to a friend, Colomba insisted
on receiving a soldo in payment.
A start had to be made at last. Yet once again Orso pressed Miss
Nevil's hand, Colomba kissed her, and then held up her rosy lips to
the colonel, who was enchanted with this Corsican politeness. From the
window of the drawing-room Miss Lydia watched the brother and sister
mount their horses. Colomba's eyes shone with a malignant joy which
she had never remarked in them before. The sight of this tall strong
creature, with her fanatical ideas of savage honour, pride written on
her forehead, and curled in a sardonic smile upon her lips, carrying
off the young man with his weapons, as though on some death-dealing
errand, recalled Orso's fears to her, and she fancied she beheld his
evil genius dragging him to his ruin. Orso, who was already in the
saddle, raised his head and caught sight of her. Either because he had
guessed her thought, or desired to send her a last farewell, he took
the Egyptian ring, which he had hung upon a ribbon, and carried it to
his lips. Blushing, Miss Lydia stepped back from the window, then
returning to it almost at once, she saw the two Corsicans cantering
their little ponies rapidly toward the mountains. Half an hour later
the colonel showed them to her, through his glasses, riding along the
end of the bay, and she noticed that Orso constantly turned his head
toward the town. At last he disappeared behind the marshes, the site
of which is now filled by a flourishing nursery garden.
Miss Lydia glanced at herself in the glass, and thought she looked
"What must that young man think of me," said she, "and what did I
think of him? And why did I think about him? . . . A travelling
acquaintance! . . . What have I come to Corsica for? . . . Oh! I don't
care for him! . . . No! no! and besides the thing is impossible . . .
And Colomba . . . Fancy me sister-in-law to a /voceratrice/, who wears
a big dagger!"
And she noticed she was still holding King Theodore's dagger in her
hand. She tossed it on to her toilette table. "Colomba, in London,
dancing at Almacks! . . . Good heavens! what a lion[*] that would be,
to show off! . . . Perhaps she'd make a great sensation! . . . He
loves me, I'm certain of it! He is the hero of a novel, and I have
interrupted his adventurous career. . . . But did he really long to
avenge his father in true Corsican fashion? . . . He was something
between a Conrad and a dandy . . . I've turned him into nothing but a
dandy! . . . And a dandy with a Corsican tailor! . . . "
[*] At this period this name was used in England for people who were
the fashion because they had something extraordinary about them.
She threw herself on her bed, and tried to sleep--but that proved an
impossibility, and I will not undertake to continue her soliloquy,
during which she declared, more than a hundred times over, that Signor
della Rebbia had not been, was not, and never should be, anything to
Meanwhile Orso was riding along beside his sister. At first the speed
at which their horses moved prevented all conversation, but when the
hills grew so steep that they were obliged to go at a foot's pace,
they began to exchange a few words about the friends from whom they
had just parted. Colomba spoke with admiration of Miss Nevil's beauty,
of her golden hair, and charming ways. Then she asked whether the
colonel was really as rich as he appeared, and whether Miss Lydia was
his only child.
"She would be a good match," said she. "Her father seems to have a
great liking for you----"
And as Orso made no response, she added: "Our family was rich, in days
gone by. It is still one of the most respected in the island. All
these /signori/ about us are bastards. The only noble blood left is in
the families of the corporals, and as you know, Orso, your ancestors
were the chief corporals in the island. You know our family came from
beyond the hills, and it was the civil wars that forced us over to
this side. If I were you, Orso, I shouldn't hesitate--I should ask
Colonel Nevil for his daughter's hand." Orso shrugged his shoulders.
"With her fortune, you might buy the Falsetta woods, and the vineyards
below ours. I would build a fine stone house, and add a story to the
old tower in which Sambucuccio killed so many Moors in the days of
Count Henry, /il bel Missere/."
"Colomba, you're talking nonsense," said Orso, cantering forward.
"You are a man, Ors' Anton', and of course you know what you ought to
do better than any woman. But I should very much like to know what
objection that Englishman could have to the marriage. Are there any
corporals in England?"
After a somewhat lengthy ride, spent in talking in this fashion, the
brother and sister reached a little village, not far from Bocognano,
where they halted to dine and sleep at a friend's house. They were
welcomed with a hospitality which must be experienced before it can be
appreciated. The next morning, their host, who had stood godfather to
a child to whom Madame della Rebbia had been godmother, accompanied
them a league beyond his house.
"Do you see those woods and thickets?" said he to Orso, just as they
were parting. "A man who had met with a misfortune might live there
peacefully for ten years, and no gendarme or soldier would ever come
to look for him. The woods run into the Vizzavona forest, and anybody
who had friends at Bocognano or in the neighbourhood would want for
nothing. That's a good gun you have there. It must carry a long way.
Blood of the Madonna! What calibre! You might kill better game than
boars with it!"
Orso answered, coldly, that his gun was of English make, and carried
"the lead" a long distance. The friends embraced, and took their
Our travellers were drawing quite close to Pietranera, when, at the
entrance of a little gorge, through which they had to pass, they
beheld seven or eight men, armed with guns, some sitting on stones,
others lying on the grass, others standing up, and seemingly on the
lookout. Their horses were grazing a little way off. Colomba looked at
them for a moment, through a spy-glass which she took out of one of
the large leathern pockets all Corsicans wear when on a journey.
"Those are our men!" she cried, with a well-pleased air. "Pieruccio
had done his errand well!"
"What men?" inquired Orso.
"Our herdsmen," she replied. "I sent Pieruccio off yesterday evening
to call the good fellows together, so that they may attend you home.
It would not do for you to enter Pietranera without an escort, and
besides, you must know the Barricini are capable of anything!"
"Colomba," said Orso, and his tone was severe, "I have asked you, over
and over again, not to mention the Barricini and your groundless
suspicions to me. I shall certainly not make myself ridiculous by
riding home with all these loafers behind me, and I am very angry with
you for having sent for them without telling me."
"Brother, you have forgotten the ways of your own country. It is my
business to protect you, when your own imprudence exposes you to
danger. It was my duty to do what I have done."
Just at that moment the herdsmen, who had caught sight of them,
hastened to their horses, and galloped down the hill to meet them.
"Evvviva Ors' Anton'!" shouted a brawny, white-bearded old fellow,
wrapped, despite the heat, in a hooded cloak of Corsican cloth,
thicker than the skins of his own goats. "The image of his father,
only taller and stronger! What a splendid gun! There'll be talk about
that gun, Ors' Anton'!"
"Evvviva Ors' Anton'!" chorused the herdsmen. "We were sure you'd come
back, at last!"
"Ah! Ors' Anton'!" cried a tall fellow, with a skin tanned brick red.
"How happy your father would be, if he were here to welcome you! The
dear, good man! You would have seen him now, if he would have listened
to me--if he would have let me settle Guidice's business! . . . But he
wouldn't listen to me, poor fellow! He knows I was right, now!"
"Well, well!" said the old man. "Guidice will lose nothing by
"Evvviva Ors' Anton'!" And the reports of a dozen guns capped the
Very much put out, Orso sat in the midst of the group of mounted men,
all talking at once, and crowding round to shake hands with him. For
some time he could not make himself heard. At last, with the air he
put on when he used to reprimand the men of his company, or send one
of them to the guard-room, he said:
"I thank you, friends, for the affection you show for me, and for that
which you felt for my father! But I do not want advice from any of
you, and you must not offer it. I know my own duty."
"He's right! He's right!" cried the herdsmen. "You know you may reckon
"Yes, I do reckon on you. But at this moment I need no help, and no
personal danger threatens me. Now face round at once, and be off with
you to your goats. I know my way to Pietranera, and I want no guides."
"Fear nothing, Ors' Anton'," said the old man. "They would never dare
to show their noses to-day. The mouse runs back to its hole when the
tom-cat comes out!"
"Tom-cat yourself, old gray-beard!" said Orso. "What's your name?"
"What! don't you remember me, Ors' Anton'? I who have so often taken
you up behind me on that biting mule of mine! You don't remember Polo
Griffo? I'm an honest fellow, though, and with the della Rebbia, body
and soul. Say but the word, and when that big gun of yours speaks,
this old musket of mine, as old as its master, shall not be dumb. Be
sure of that, Ors' Anton'!"
"Well, well! But be off with you now, in the devil's name, and let us
go on our way!"
At last the herdsmen departed, trotting rapidly off toward the
village, but they stopped every here and there, at all the highest
spots on the road, as though they were looking out for some hidden
ambuscade, always keeping near enough to Orso and his sister to be
able to come to their assistance if necessary. And old Polo Griffo
said to his comrades:
"I understand him! I understand him! He'll not say what he means to
do, but he'll do it! He's the born image of his father. Ah! you may
say you have no spite against any one, my boy! But you've made your
vow to Saint Nega.[*] Bravo! I wouldn't give a fig for the mayor's
hide--there won't be the makings of a wineskin in it before the month
[*] This saint is not mentioned in the calendar. To make a vow to
Saint Nega means to deny everything deliberately.
Preceded by this troop of skirmishers, the last descendant of the
della Rebbia entered the village, and proceeded to the old mansion of
his forefathers, the corporals. The Rebbianites, who had long been
leaderless, had gathered to welcome him, and those dwellers in the
village who observed a neutral line of conduct all came to their
doorsteps to see him pass by. The adherents of the Barricini remained
inside their houses, and peeped out of the slits in their shutters.
The village of Pietranera is very irregularly built, like most
Back to Full Books