Part 3 out of 3
They were a long way from Pietranera, and were travelling along at a
great pace, when, as they crossed a streamlet that ran into a marsh,
Polo Griffo noticed several porkers wallowing comfortably in the mud,
in full enjoyment at once of the warmth of the sun and the coolness of
the water. Instantly he took aim at the biggest, fired at its head,
and shot it dead. The dead creature's comrades rose and fled with
astonishing swiftness, and though another herdsman fired at them they
reached a thicket and disappeared into it, safe and sound.
"Idiots!" cried Orso. "You've been taking pigs for wild boars!"
"Not a bit, Ors' Anton'," replied Polo Griffo. "But that herd belongs
to the lawyer, and I've taught him, now, to mutilate our horses."
"What! you rascal!" shouted Orso, in a perfect fury. "You ape the vile
behaviour of our enemies! Be off, villains! I don't want you! You're
only fit to fight with pigs. I swear to God that if you dare follow me
I'll blow your brains out!"
The herdsmen stared at each other, struck quite dumb. Orso spurred his
horse, galloped off, and was soon out of sight.
"Well, well!" said Polo Griffo. "Here's a pretty thing. You devote
yourself to people, and then this is how they treat you. His father,
the colonel, was angry with you long ago, because you levelled your
gun at the lawyer. Great idiot you were, not to shoot. And now here is
his son. You saw what I did for him. And he talks about cracking my
skull, just as he would crack a gourd that lets the wine leak out.
That's what people learn on the mainland, Memmo!"
"Yes, and if any one finds out it was you who killed that pig there'll
be a suit against you, and Ors' Anton' won't speak to the judges, nor
buy off the lawyer for you. Luckily nobody saw, and you have Saint
Nega to help you out."
After a hasty conclave, the two herdsmen concluded their wisest plan
was to throw the dead pig into a bog, and this project they carefully
executed, after each had duly carved himself several slices out of the
body of this innocent victim of the feud between the Barricini and the
Once rid of his unruly escort, Orso proceeded calmly on his way, far
more absorbed by the prospective pleasure of seeing Miss Nevil than
stirred by any fear of coming across his enemies.
"The lawsuit I must bring against these Barricini villains," he mused,
"will necessitate my going down to Bastia. Why should I not go there
with Miss Nevil? And once at Bastia, why shouldn't we all go together
to the springs of Orezza?"
Suddenly his childish recollections of that picturesque spot rose up
before him. He fancied himself on the verdant lawn that spreads
beneath the ancient chestnut-trees. On the lustrous green sward,
studded with blue flowers like eyes that smiled upon him, he saw Miss
Lydia seated at his side. She had taken off her hat, and her fair
hair, softer and finer than any silk, shone like gold in the sunlight
that glinted through the foliage. Her clear blue eyes looked to him
bluer than the sky itself. With her cheek resting on one hand, she was
listening thoughtfully to the words of love he poured tremblingly into
her ear. She wore the muslin gown in which she had been dressed that
last day at Ajaccio. From beneath its folds peeped out a tiny foot,
shod with black satin. Orso told himself that he would be happy indeed
if he might dare to kiss that little foot--but one of Miss Lydia's
hands was bare and held a daisy. He took the daisy from her, and
Lydia's hand pressed his, and then he kissed the daisy, and then he
kissed her hand, and yet she did not chide him. . . . and all these
thoughts prevented him from paying any attention to the road he was
travelling, and meanwhile he trotted steadily onward. For the second
time, in his fancy, he was about to kiss Miss Nevil's snow-white hand,
when, as his horse stopped short, he very nearly kissed its head, in
stern reality. Little Chilina had barred his way, and seized his
"Where are you going to, Ors' Anton'?" she said. "Don't you know your
enemy is close by?"
"My enemy!" cried Orso, furious at being interrupted at such a
delightful moment. "Where is he?"
"Orlanduccio is close by, he's waiting for you! Go back, go back!"
"Ho! Ho! So he's waiting for me! Did you see him?"
"Yes, Ors' Anton'! I was lying down in the heather when he passed by.
He was looking round everywhere through his glass."
"And which way did he go?"
"He went down there. Just where you were going!"
"Ors' Anton', hadn't you better wait for my uncle? He must be here
soon--and with him you would be safe."
"Don't be frightened, Chili. I don't need your uncle."
"If you would let me, I would go in front of you."
"No, thanks! No, thanks!"
And Orso, spurring his horse, rode rapidly in the direction to which
the little girl had pointed.
His first impulse had been one of blind fury, and he had told himself
that fortune was offering him an excellent opportunity of punishing
the coward who had avenged the blow he had received by mutilating a
horse. But as he moved onward the thought of his promise to the
prefect, and, above all, his fear of missing Miss Nevil's visit,
altered his feelings, and made him almost wish he might not come upon
Orlanduccio. Soon, however, the memory of his father, the indignity
offered to his own horse, and the threats of the Barricini, stirred
his rage afresh, and incited him to seek his foe, and to provoke and
force him to a fight. Thus tossed by conflicting feelings, he
continued his progress, though now he carefully scrutinized every
thicket and hedge, and sometimes even pulled up his horse to listen to
the vague sounds to be heard in any open country. Ten minutes after he
had left little Chilina (it was then about nine o'clock in the
morning) he found himself on the edge of an exceedingly steep
declivity. The road, or rather the very slight path, which he was
following, ran through a /maquis/ that had been lately burned. The
ground was covered with whitish ashes, and here and there some shrubs,
and a few big trees, blackened by the flames, and entirely stripped of
their leaves, still stood erect--though life had long since departed
out of them. The sight of a burned /maquis/ is enough to make a man
fancy he has been transported into midwinter in some northern clime,
and the contrast between the barrenness of the ground over which the
flames have passed, with the luxuriant vegetation round about it,
heightens this appearance of sadness and desolation. But at that
moment the only thing that struck Orso in this particular landscape
was one point--an important one, it is true, in his present
circumstances. The bareness of the ground rendered any kind of ambush
impossible, and the man who has reason to fear that at any moment he
may see a gun-barrel thrust out of a thicket straight at his own
chest, looks on a stretch of smooth ground, with nothing on it to
intercept his view, as a kind of oasis. After this burned /maquis/
came a number of cultivated fields, inclosed, according to the fashion
of that country, with breast-high walls, built of dry stones. The path
ran between these fields, producing, from a distance, the effect of a
The steepness of the declivity made it necessary for Orso to dismount.
He was walking quickly down the hill, which was slippery with ashes
(he had thrown the bridle on his horse's neck), and was hardly five-
and-twenty paces from one of these stone fences, when, just in front
of him, on the right-hand side of the road, he perceived first of all
the barrel of a gun, and then a head, rising over the top of the wall.
The gun was levelled, and he recognised Orlanduccio, just ready to
fire. Orso swiftly prepared for self-defence, and the two men, taking
deliberate aim, stared at each other for several seconds, with that
thrill of emotion which the bravest must feel when he knows he must
either deal death or endure it.
"Vile coward!" shouted Orso.
The words were hardly out of his mouth when he saw the flash of
Orlanduccio's gun, and almost at the same instant a second shot rang
out on his left from the other side of the path, fired by a man whom
he had not noticed, and who was aiming at him from behind another
wall. Both bullets struck him. The first, Orlanduccio's, passed
through his left arm, which Orso had turned toward him as he aimed.
The second shot struck him in the chest, and tore his coat, but coming
in contact with the blade of his dagger, it luckily flattened against
it, and only inflicted a trifling bruise. Orso's left arm fell
helpless at his side, and the barrel of his gun dropped for a moment,
but he raised it at once, and aiming his weapon with his right hand
only, he fired at Orlanduccio. His enemy's head, which was only
exposed to the level of the eyes, disappeared behind the wall. Then
Orso, swinging round to the left, fired the second barrel at a man in
a cloud of smoke whom he could hardly see. This face likewise
disappeared. The four shots had followed each other with incredible
swiftness; no trained soldiers ever fired their volleys in quicker
succession. After Orso's last shot a great silence fell. The smoke
from his weapon rose slowly up into the sky. There was not a movement,
not the slightest sound from behind the wall. But for the pain in his
arm, he could have fancied the men on whom he had just fired had been
phantoms of his own imagination.
Fully expecting a second volley, Orso moved a few steps, to place
himself behind one of the burned trees that still stood upright in the
/maquis/. Thus sheltered, he put his gun between his knees, and
hurriedly reloaded it. Meanwhile his left arm began to hurt him
horribly, and felt as if it were being dragged down by a huge weight.
What had become of his adversaries? He could not understand. If they
had taken to flight, if they had been wounded, he would certainly have
heard some noise, some stir among the leaves. Were they dead, then?
Or, what was far more likely, were they not waiting behind their wall
for a chance of shooting at him again. In his uncertainty, and feeling
his strength fast failing him, he knelt down on his right knee, rested
his wounded arm upon the other, and took advantage of a branch that
protruded from the trunk of the burned tree to support his gun. With
his finger on the trigger, his eye fixed on the wall, and his ear
strained to catch the slightest sound, he knelt there, motionless, for
several minutes, which seemed to him a century. At last, behind him,
in the far distance, he heard a faint shout, and very soon a dog flew
like an arrow down the slope, and stopped short, close to him, wagging
its tail. It was Brusco, the comrade and follower of the bandits--the
herald, doubtless, of his master's approach. Never was any honest man
more impatiently awaited. With his muzzle in the air, and turned
toward the nearest fence, the dog sniffed anxiously. Suddenly he gave
vent to a low growl, sprang at a bound over the wall, and almost
instantly reappeared upon its crest, whence he gazed steadily at Orso
with eyes that spoke surprise as clearly as a dog's may do it. Then he
sniffed again, this time toward the other inclosure, the wall of which
he also crossed. Within a second he was back on the top of that, with
the same air of astonishment and alarm, and straightway he bounded
into the thicket with his tail between his legs, still gazing at Orso,
and retiring from him slowly, and sideways, until he had put some
distance between them. Then off he started again, tearing up the slope
almost as fast as he had come down it, to meet a man, who, in spite of
its steepness, was rapidly descending.
"Help, Brando!" shouted Orso, as soon as he thought he was within
"Hallo! Ors' Anton'! are you wounded?" inquired Brandolaccio, as he
ran up panting. "Is it in your body or your limbs?"
"In the arm."
"The arm--oh, that's nothing! And the other fellow?"
"I think I hit him."
Brandolaccio ran after the dog to the nearest field and leaned over to
look at the other side of the wall, then pulling off his cap--
"Signor Orlanduccio, I salute you!" said he, then turning toward Orso,
he bowed to him, also, gravely.
"That," he remarked, "is what I call a man who has been properly done
"Is he still alive?" asked Orso, who could hardly breathe.
"Oh! he wouldn't wish it! he'd be too much vexed about the bullet you
put into his eye! Holy Madonna! What a hole! That's a good gun, upon
my soul! what a weight! That spatters a man's brains for you! Hark ye,
Ors' Anton'! when I heard the first /piff, piff/, says I to myself:
'Dash it, they're murdering my lieutenant!' Then I heard /boum, boum/.
'Ha, ha!' says I, 'that's the English gun beginning to talk--he's
firing back.' But what on earth do you want with me, Brusco?"
The dog guided him to the other field.
"Upon my word," cried Brandolaccio, utterly astonished, "a right and
left, that's what it is! Deuce take it! Clear enough, powder must be
dear, for you don't waste it!"
"What do you mean, for God's sake?" asked Orso.
"Come, sir, don't try to humbug me; you bring down the dame, and then
you want somebody to pick it up for you. Well! there's one man who'll
have a queer dessert to-day, and that's Lawyer Barricini!--you want
butcher's meat, do you? Well, here you have it. Now, who the devil
will be the heir?"
"What! is Vincentello dead too?"
"Dead as mutton. /Salute a noi!/ The good point about you is that you
don't let them suffer. Just come over and look at Vincentello; he's
kneeling here with his head against the wall, as if he were asleep.
You may say he sleeps like lead, this time, poor devil."
Orso turned his head in horror.
"Are you certain he's dead?"
"You're like Sampiero Corso, who never had to fire more than once.
Look at it there, in his chest, on the left--just where Vincileone was
hit at Waterloo. I'll wager that bullet isn't far from his heart--a
right and left! Ah! I'll never talk about shooting again. Two with two
shots, and bullets at that! The two brothers! If he'd had a third shot
he'd have killed their papa. Better luck next time. What a shot! Ors'
Anton'! And to think that an honest poor chap like me will never get
the chance of a right and a left two gendarmes!"
As he talked the bandit was scanning Orso's arm, and splitting up his
sleeve with his dagger.
"This is nothing," said he. "But this coat of yours will give
Signorina Colomba work to do. Ha! what's this I see? this gash upon
your chest? Nothing went in there, surely? No! you wouldn't be so
brisk as you are! Come, try to move your finger. Do you feel my teeth
when I bite your little finger? Not very well? Never mind! It won't be
much. Let me take your handkerchief and your neckcloth. Well, your
coat's spoilt, anyhow! What the devil did you make yourself so smart
for? Were you going to a wedding? There! drink a drop of wine. Why on
earth don't you carry a flask? Does any Corsican ever go out without a
Then again he broke off the dressing of the wound to exclaim:
"A right and left! Both of them stone dead! How the Padre will laugh!
A right and left! Oh, here's that little dawdle Chilina at last!"
Orso made no reply--he was as pale as death and shaking in every limb.
"Chili!" shouted Brandolaccio, "go and look behind that wall!"
The child, using both hands and feet, scrambled onto the wall, and the
moment she caught sight of Orlanduccio's corpse she crossed herself.
"That's nothing," proceeded the bandit; "go and look farther on, over
The child crossed herself again.
"Was it you, uncle?" she asked timidly.
"Me! Don't you know I've turned into a useless old fellow! This,
Chili, is the signor's work; offer him your compliments."
"The signorina will be greatly rejoiced," said Chilina, "and she will
be very much grieved to know you are wounded, Ors' Anton'."
"Now then, Ors' Anton'," said the bandit, when he had finished binding
up the wound. "Chilina, here, has caught your horse. You must get on
his back, and come with me to the Stazzona /maquis/. It would be a sly
fellow who'd lay his hand on you there. When we get to the Cross of
Santa Christina, you'll have to dismount. You'll give over your horse
to Chilina, who'll go off and warn the signorina. You can say anything
to the child, Ors' Anton'. She would let herself be cut in pieces
rather than betray her friends," and then, fondly, he turned to the
little girl, "That's it, you little hussy; a ban on you, a curse on
you--you jade!" For Brandolaccio, who was superstitious, like most
bandits, feared he might cast a spell on a child if he blessed it or
praised it, seeing it is a well-known fact that the mysterious powers
that rule the /Annocchiatura/[*] have a vile habit of fulfilling our
wishes in the very opposite sense to that we give them.
[*] /Annocchiatura/, an involuntary spell cast either by the eye or by
"Where am I to go, Brando?" queried Orso in a faint voice.
"Faith! you must choose; either to jail or to the /maquis/. But no
della Rebbia knows the path that leads him to the jail. To the
/maquis/, Ors' Anton'."
"Farewell, then, to all my hopes!" exclaimed the wounded man, sadly.
"Your hopes? Deuce take it! Did you hope to do any better with a
double-barrelled gun? How on earth did the fellows contrive to hit
you? The rascals must have been as hard to kill as cats."
"They fired first," said Orso.
"True, true; I'd forgotten that!--/piff, piff--boum, boum/! A right
and left, and only one hand! If any man can do better, I'll go hang
myself. Come! now you're safely mounted! Before we start, just give a
glance at your work. It isn't civil to leave one's company without
Orso spurred his horse. He would not have looked at the two poor
wretches he had just destroyed, for anything on earth.
"Hark ye, Ors' Anton'," quoth the bandit, as he caught hold of the
horse's bridle, "shall I tell you the truth? Well, no offence to you!
I'm sorry for those poor young fellows! You'll pardon me, I hope; so
good-looking, so strong, so young. Orlanduccio, I've shot with him so
often! Only four days ago he gave me a bundle of cigars, and
Vincentello--he was always so cheery. Of course you've only done what
you had to do, and indeed the shot was such a splendid one, nobody
could regret it. But I, you see, had nothing to do with your
vengeance. I know you're perfectly in the right. When one has an enemy
one must get rid of him. But the Barricini were an old family. Here's
another of them wiped out, and by a right and left too! It's
As he thus spoke his funeral oration over the Barricini, Brandolaccio
hastily guided Orso, Chilina, and Brusco, the dog, toward the Stazzona
Meanwhile, very shortly after Orso's departure, Colomba's spies had
warned her that the Barricini were out on the warpath, and from that
moment she was racked by the most intense anxiety. She was to be seen
moving hither and thither all over the house, between the kitchen and
the rooms that were being made ready for her guests, doing nothing,
yet always busy, and constantly stopping to look out of a window for
any unusual stir in the village. Toward eleven o'clock, a somewhat
numerous cavalcade rode into Pietranera. This was the colonel, with
his daughter, their servants, and their guide. Colomba's first word,
as she welcomed them, was "Have you seen my brother?" Then she
questioned the guide as to the road they had taken, and the hour of
their departure, and having heard his answers, she could not
understand why they had not met him.
"Perhaps," said the guide, "your brother took the higher path; we came
by the lower one."
But Colomba only shook her head and asked more questions. In spite of
her natural firmness of character, increased as it was by her proud
desire to conceal any sign of weakness before strangers, she could not
hide her anxiety, and as soon as she had informed them of the
attempted reconciliation, and of its unfortunate issue, this was
shared by the colonel and Miss Lydia. Miss Nevil became very uneasy,
and wanted to have messengers sent off in every direction, and her
father offered to remount at once and set out with the guide in search
of Orso. Her guests' alarm recalled Colomba to a sense of her duties
as a hostess. She strove to force a smile as she pressed the colonel
to come to table, and suggested twenty plausible reasons, which she
herself demolished within an instant, to account for her brother's
delay. The colonel, feeling it to be his duty, as a man, to reassure
the ladies, put forward his own explanation.
"I'll wager," he said, "that della Rebbia has come across some game or
other. He has not been able to stand out against that temptation, and
we shall soon see him come in with a heavy bag. 'Pon my soul," he went
on, "we did hear four shots fired on the road. Two of them were louder
than the others, and I said to my girl, 'I'll bet anything that's
della Rebbia out shooting! My gun is the only one that would make that
Colomba turned pale, and Lydia, who was watching her closely, had no
difficulty in guessing the suspicions with which the colonel's
conjecture had inspired her. After a few minutes' silence, Colomba
eagerly inquired whether the two louder reports had been heard before
or after the others. But neither the colonel, his daughter, nor the
guide had paid much attention to this all-important detail.
Toward one o'clock, as none of Colomba's messengers had yet returned,
she gathered all her courage, and insisted that her guests should sit
down to table with her. But, except the colonel, none of them could
eat. At the slightest sound in the square, Colomba ran to the window.
Then drearily she returned to her place, and struggled yet more
drearily to carry on a trivial conversation, to which nobody paid the
slightest attention, and which was broken by long intervals of
silence. All at once they heard a horse's gallop.
"Ah! That must be my brother at last!" said Colomba, rising from her
chair. But when she saw Chilina astride on Orso's horse--"My brother
is dead!" she cried, in a heart-rending voice.
The colonel dropped his glass. Miss Lydia screamed. They all rushed to
the door of the house. Before Chilina could jump off her steed, she
was snatched up like a feather by Colomba, who held her so tight that
she almost choked her. The child understood her agonized look, and her
first words were those of the chorus in Othello: "He lives!" Colomba's
grasp relaxed, and nimbly as a kitten Chilina dropped upon the ground.
"The others?" queried Colomba hoarsely. Chilina crossed herself with
her first and middle finger. A deep flush instantly replaced the
deadly pallor of Colomba's face. She cast one fierce look at the
Barricini dwelling, and then, with a smile, she turned to her guests.
"Let us go in and drink our coffee," she said.
The story the bandit's Iris had to tell was a long one. Her narrative,
translated literally into Italian by Colomba, and then into English by
Miss Nevil, wrung more than one oath from the colonel, more than one
sigh from the fair Lydia. But Colomba heard it all unmoved. Only she
twisted her damask napkin till it seemed as if she must tear it in
pieces. She interrupted the child, five or six times over, to make her
repeat again that Brandolaccio had said the wound was not dangerous,
and that he had seen many worse. When she had finished her tale,
Chilina announced that Orso earnestly begged he might be sent writing
materials, and that he desired his sister would beseech a lady who
might be staying in his house not to depart from it, until she had
received a letter from him.
"That is what was worrying him most," the child added; "and even after
I had started he called me back, to bid me not forget the message. It
was the third time he had given it to me." When Colomba heard of her
brother's injunction she smiled faintly, and squeezed the fair
Englishwoman's hand. That young lady burst into tears, and did not
seem to think it advisable to translate that particular part of the
story to her father.
"Yes, my dear," cried Colomba, kissing Miss Nevil. "You shall stay
with me, and you shall help us."
Then, taking a pile of old linen out of a cupboard, she began to cut
it up, to make lint and bandages. Any one who saw her flashing eyes,
her heightened colour, her alternate fits of anxiety and composure,
would have found it hard to say whether distress at her brother's
wound, or delight at the extinction of her foes, were most affecting
her. One moment she was pouring out the colonel's coffee, and telling
him how well she made it, the next she was setting Miss Lydia and
Chilina to work, exhorting them to sew bandages, and roll them up.
Then, for the twentieth time, she would ask whether Orso's wound was
very painful. She constantly broke off her own work to exclaim to the
"Two such cunning men, such dangerous fellows! And he alone, wounded,
with only one arm! He killed the two of them! What courage, colonel!
Isn't he a hero? Ah, Miss Nevil! How good it is to live in a peaceful
country like yours! I'm sure you did not really know my brother till
now! I said it--'The falcon will spread his wings!' You were deceived
by his gentle look! That's because with you, Miss Nevil--Ah! if he
could see you working for him now! My poor Orso!"
Miss Lydia was doing hardly any work, and could not find a single word
to say. Her father kept asking why nobody went to lay a complaint
before a magistrate. He talked about a coroner's inquest, and all
sorts of other proceedings quite unknown to Corsican economy. And then
he begged to be told whether the country house owned by that worthy
Signor Brandolaccio, who had brought succour to the wounded man, was
very far away from Pietranera, and whether he could not go there
himself, to see his friend.
And Colomba replied, with her usual composure, that Orso was in the
/maquis/; that he was being taken care of by a bandit; that it would
be a great risk for him to show himself until he was sure of the line
the prefect and the judges were likely to take; and, finally, that she
would manage to have him secretly attended by a skilful surgeon.
"Above all things, colonel," she added, "remember that you heard the
four shots, and that you told me Orso fired last."
The colonel could make neither head nor tail of the business, and his
daughter did nothing but heave sighs and dry her eyes.
The day was far advanced, when a gloomy procession wended its way into
the village. The bodies of his two sons were brought home to Lawyer
Barricini, each corpse thrown across a mule, which was led by a
peasant. A crowd of dependents and idlers followed the dreary
/cortege/. With it appeared the gendarmes, who always came in too
late, and the deputy-mayor, throwing up his hands, and incessantly
repeating, "What will Signor Prefetto say!" Some of the women, among
them Orlanduccio's foster-mother, were tearing their hair and
shrieking wildly. But their clamorous grief was less impressive than
the dumb despair of one man, on whom all eyes were fixed. This was the
wretched father, who passed from one corpse to the other, lifting up
the earth-soiled heads, kissing the blackened lips, supporting the
limbs that were stiff already, as if he would save them from the
jolting of the road. Now and then he opened his mouth as though about
to speak, but not a cry came, not a word. His eyes never left the dead
bodies, and as he walked, he knocked himself against the stones,
against the trees, against every obstacle that chanced to lie in his
The women's lamentations grew louder, and the men's curses deeper,
when Orso's house appeared in sight. When some shepherds of the della
Rebbia party ventured on a triumphant shout, their enemy's indignation
became ungovernable. "Vengeance! Vengeance!" exclaimed several voices.
Stones were thrown, and two shots, fired at the windows of the room in
which Colomba and her guests were sitting, pierced the outside
shutters, and carried splinters of wood on to the table at which the
two ladies were working. Miss Lydia screamed violently, the colonel
snatched up a gun, and Colomba, before he could stop her, rushed to
the door of the house and threw it violently open. There, standing
high on the threshold, with her two hands outstretched to curse her
"Cowards!" she cried. "You fire on women and on foreigners! Are you
Corsicans? Are you men? Wretches, who can only murder a man from
behind. Come on! I defy you! I am alone! My brother is far away! Come!
kill me, kill my guests! It would be worthy of you! . . . But you dare
not, cowards that you are! You know we avenge our wrongs! Away with
you! Go, weep like women, and be thankful we do not ask you for more
There was something terrible and imposing in Colomba's voice and mien.
At the sight of her the crowd recoiled as though it beheld one of
those evil fairies of which so many tales are told on long winter
evenings, in Corsica. The deputy-mayor, the gendarmes, and a few women
seized the opportunity, and threw themselves between the two factions;
for the della Rebbia herdsmen were already loading their guns, and for
a moment a general fight in the middle of the square had appeared
imminent. But the two parties were both leaderless, and Corsicans,
whose rage is always subject to discipline, seldom come to blows
unless the chief authors of their internecine quarrels are present.
Besides, Colomba, who had learned prudence from victory, restrained
her little garrison.
"Let the poor folks weep in peace," she said. "Let the old man carry
his own flesh home. What is the good of killing an old fox who has no
teeth left to bite with, . . . Giudice Barricini! Remember the 2d of
August! Remember the blood-stained pocket-book in which you wrote with
your forger's hand! My father had written down your debt! Your sons
have paid it. You may go free, old Barricini!"
With folded arms and a scornful smile upon her lips, Colomba watched
the bearers carry the corpses of her enemies into their home, and the
crowd without it melt gradually away. Then she closed her own door,
and, going back into the dining-room, she said to the colonel:
"I beg, sir, you will forgive my fellow-countrymen! I never could have
believed that any Corsican would have fired on a house that sheltered
strangers, and I am ashamed of my country."
That night, when Miss Lydia had gone up to her room, the colonel
followed her, and inquired whether they had not better get out of a
village where they ran incessant risk of having a bullet through their
heads, the very next morning, and leave this country, seething with
treachery and murder, as soon as possible.
Miss Nevil did not answer for some time, and her father's suggestion
evidently caused her considerable perplexity. At last she said:
"How can we leave this poor young creature, just when she is so much
in need of consolation? Don't you think that would be cruel, father?"
"I only spoke on your account, child," said the colonel. "And I assure
you that if I once felt you were safe in the hotel at Ajaccio, I
should be very sorry to leave this cursed island myself, without
shaking that plucky fellow della Rebbia's hand again."
"Well then, father, let us wait a while, and before we start let us
make quite sure we can not be of any use to them."
"Kind soul!" said the colonel, as he kissed his daughter's forehead.
"It is a pleasure to see you sacrifice yourself for the sake of
softening other people's suffering. Let us stay on. We shall never
have to repent having done right."
Miss Lydia tossed sleeplessly to and fro in her bed. Sometimes she
took the vague night sounds for preparations for an attack on the
house. Sometimes, less alarmed on her own account, she thought of poor
wounded Orso, who was probably lying on the cold earth, with no help
beyond what she might expect from a bandit's charity. She fancied him
covered with blood, and writhing in hideous suffering; and the
extraordinary thing was that whenever Orso's image rose up before her
mind's eye, she always beheld him as she had seen him when he rode
away, pressing the talisman she had bestowed upon him to his lips.
Then she mused over his courage. She told herself he had exposed
himself to the frightful danger he had just escaped on her account,
just for the sake of seeing her a little sooner. A very little more,
and she would have persuaded herself that Orso had earned his broken
arm in her defence! She reproached herself with being the cause of his
wound. But she admired him for it all the more, and if that celebrated
right and left was not so splendid a feat in her sight as in
Brandolaccio's or Colomba's, still she was convinced few heroes of
romance could ever had behaved with such intrepidity and coolness, in
so dangerous a pinch.
Her room was that usually occupied by Colomba. Above a kind of oaken
/prie-dieu/, and beside a sprig of blessed palm, a little miniature of
Orso, in his sub-lieutenant's uniform, hung on the wall. Miss Nevil
took the portrait down, looked at it for a long time, and laid it at
last on the table by her bed, instead of hanging it up again in its
place. She did not fall asleep till daybreak, and when she woke the
sun had travelled high above the horizon. In front of her bed she
beheld Colomba, waiting, motionless, till she should open her eyes.
"Well, dear lady, are you not very uncomfortable in this poor house of
ours?" said Colomba to her. "I fear you have hardly slept at all."
"Have you any news, dear friend?" cried Miss Nevil, sitting up in bed.
Her eye fell on Orso's picture, and she hastily tossed her
handkerchief upon it.
"Yes, I have news," said Colomba, with a smile.
Then she took up the picture.
"Do you think it like him? He is better looking than that!"
"Really," stammered Miss Nevil, quite confused, "I took down that
picture in a fit of absence! I have a horrid habit of touching
everything and never putting anything back! How is your brother?"
"Fairly well. Giocanto came here before four o'clock this morning. He
brought me a letter for you, Miss Lydia. Orso hasn't written anything
to me! It is addressed to Colomba, indeed, but underneath that he has
written 'For Miss N.' But sisters are never jealous! Giocanto says it
hurt him dreadfully to write. Giocanto, who writes a splendid hand,
offered to do it at his dictation. But he would not let him. He wrote
it with a pencil, lying on his back. Brandolaccio held the paper for
him. My brother kept trying to raise himself, and then the very
slightest movement gave him the most dreadful agony in his arm.
Giocanto says it was pitiful. Here is his letter."
Miss Nevil read the letter, which, as an extra precaution, no doubt,
was written in English. Its contents were as follows:
"MADEMOISELLE: An unhappy fate has driven me on. I know not what my
enemies will say, what slanders they will invent. I care little,
so long as you, mademoiselle, give them no credence! Ever since I
first saw you I have been nursing wild dreams. I needed this
catastrophe to show me my own folly.
"I have come back to my senses now. I know the future that lies
before me, and I shall face it with resignation. I dare not keep
this ring you gave me, and which I believed to be a lucky
talisman. I fear, Miss Nevil, you may regret your gift has been so
ill-bestowed. Or rather, I fear it may remind me of the days of my
own madness. Colomba will give it to you. Farewell, mademoiselle!
You are about to leave Corsica, and I shall never see you again.
But tell my sister, at least, that I still possess your esteem--
and I tell you, confidently, that I am still worthy of it.
Miss Lydia had turned away while she read the letter, and Colomba, who
was watching her closely, gave her the Egyptian ring, with an
inquiring glance as to what it all meant. But Miss Lydia dared not
raise her head, and looked dejectedly at the ring, alternately putting
it on her finger and pulling it off again.
"Dear Miss Nevil," said Colomba, "may I not know what my brother says
to you? Does he say anything about his health?"
"Indeed," said Miss Lydia, colouring, "he doesn't mention it. His
letter is in English. He desires me to tell my father-- He hopes the
prefect will be able to arrange----"
With a mischievous smile, Colomba sat down on the bed, took hold of
both Miss Nevil's hands, and, looking at her with her piercing eyes--
"Will you be kind?" she said. "Won't you answer my brother's letter?
You would do him so much good! For a moment I thought of waking you
when his letter came, and then I didn't dare!"
"You did very wrong," replied Miss Nevil. "If a word from me could--"
"I can't send him any letter now. The prefect has arrived, and
Pietranera is full of his policemen. Later on, we'll see what we can
do. Oh, Miss Nevil, if you only knew my brother, you would love him as
dearly as I do. He's so good! He's so brave! Just think of what he has
done! One man against two, and wounded as well!"
The prefect had returned. Warned by an express messenger sent by the
deputy-mayor, he had brought over the public prosecutor, the
registrar, and all their myrmidons, to investigate the fresh and
terrible catastrophe which had just complicated, or it may be ended,
the warfare between the chief families of Pietranera. Shortly after
his arrival, he saw the colonel and his daughter, and did not conceal
his fear that the business might take on an ugly aspect.
"You know," he said, "that the fight took place without witnesses, and
the reputation of these two unhappy men stood so high, both for
bravery and cunning, that nobody will believe Signor della Rebbia can
have killed them without the help of the bandits with whom he is now
supposed to have taken refuge."
"It's not possible," said the colonel. "Orso della Rebbia is a most
honourable fellow. I'll stake my life on that."
"I believe you," said the prefect. "But the public prosecutor (those
gentry always are suspicious) does not strike me as being particularly
well disposed toward him. He holds one bit of evidence which goes
rather against our friend--a threatening letter to Orlanduccio, in
which he suggests a meeting, and is inclined to think that meeting was
"That fellow Orlanduccio refused to fight it out like a gentleman."
"That is not the custom here. In this country, people lie in ambush,
and kill each other from behind. There is one deposition in his favour
--that of a child, who declares she heard four reports, two of which
were louder than the others, and produced by a heavy weapon, such as
Signor della Rebbia's gun. Unluckily, the child is the niece of one of
the bandits suspected of being his accomplices, and has probably been
taught her lesson."
"Sir," broke in Miss Lydia, reddening to the roots of her hair, "we
were on the road when those shots were fired, and we heard the same
"Really? That's most important! And you, colonel, no doubt you
remarked the very same thing?"
"Yes," responded Miss Lydia quickly. "It was my father, who is so
accustomed to firearms, who said to me, 'There's Signor della Rebbia
shooting with my gun!' "
"And you are sure those shots you recognised were the last?"
"The two last, weren't they, papa?"
Memory was not the colonel's strong point, but as a standing rule, he
knew better than to contradict his daughter.
"I must mention this to the public prosecutor at once, colonel. And
besides, we expect a surgeon this evening, who will make an
examination of the two bodies, and find out whether the wounds were
caused by that particular weapon."
"I gave it to Orso," said the colonel, "and I wish I knew it was at
the bottom of the sea. At least---- Plucky boy! I'm heartily glad he
had it with him, for I don't quite know how he would have got off if
it hadn't been for my Manton."
It was rather late when the surgeon put in an appearance. On his road
up he had met with an adventure of his own. He had been stopped by
Giocanto Castriconi, who, with the most scrupulous politeness, called
on him to come and attend a wounded man. He had been conducted to
Orso's retreat, and had applied the first dressings to his wound. The
bandit had then accompanied the doctor some distance on his way, and
had greatly edified him by his talk concerning the most celebrated
professors at Pisa, whom he described as his intimate friends.
"Doctor," said the theologian, as they parted, "you have inspired me
with such a feeling of respect that I think it hardly necessary to
remind you that a physician should be as discreet as a confessor." And
as he said the words he clicked the trigger of his gun. "You have
quite forgotten the spot at which we have had the honour of meeting.
Fare you well! I'm delighted to have made your acquaintance."
Colomba besought the colonel to be present at the post-mortem
"You know my brother's gun better than anybody," she said, "and your
presence will be most valuable. Besides there are so many wicked
people here that we should run a great risk if there were nobody
present to protect our interests."
When she was left alone with Miss Lydia, she complained that her head
ached terribly, and proposed that they should take a walk just outside
"The fresh air will do me good," she said. "It is so long since I've
been out of doors."
As they walked along she talked about her brother, and Miss Lydia, who
found the subject tolerably interesting, did not notice that they had
travelled a long way from Pietranera. The sun was setting when she
became aware of this fact, and she begged Colomba to return. Colomba
said she knew a cross-cut which would greatly shorten the walk back,
and turning out of the path, she took another, which seemed much less
frequented. Soon she began to climb a hill, so steep that to keep her
balance she was continually obliged to catch hold of branches with one
hand, while she pulled her companion up after her with the other.
After about twenty minutes of this trying ascent, they found
themselves on a small plateau, clothed with arbutus and myrtle,
growing round great granite boulders that jutted above the soil in
every direction. Miss Lydia was very tired, there was no sign of the
village, and it was almost quite dark.
"Do you know, Colomba, my dear," she said, "I'm afraid we've lost our
"No fear!" answered Colomba. "Let us get on. You follow me."
"But I assure you we're going wrong. The village can't be over there.
I'm certain we're turning our backs on it. Why, look at those lights,
far away. Pietranera must be in that direction."
"My dear soul," said Colomba, and she looked very much agitated,
"you're perfectly right. But in the /maquis/--less than a hundred
yards from here--"
"My brother is lying. If you choose, I might see him, and give him one
Miss Nevil made a gesture of astonishment.
"I got out of Pietranera without being noticed," continued Colomba,
"because I was with you, otherwise I should have been followed. To be
so close to him, and not to see him! Why shouldn't you come with me to
see my poor brother? You would make him so happy!"
"But, Colomba-- That wouldn't be at all proper on my part----"
"I see. With you women who live in towns, your great anxiety is to be
proper. We village women only think of what is kind."
"But it's so late! And then what will your brother think of me?"
"He'll think his friends have not forsaken him, and that will give him
courage to bear his sufferings."
"And my father? He'll be so anxious!"
"He knows you are with me. Come! Make up your mind. You were looking
at his picture this morning," she added, with a sly smile.
"No! Really and truly, I don't dare, Colomba! Think of the bandits who
"Well, what matter? The bandits don't know you. And you were longing
to see some."
"Come, signorina, settle something. I can't leave you alone here. I
don't know what might happen to you. Let us go on to see Orso, or else
let us go back to the village together. I shall see my brother again.
God knows when--never, perhaps!"
"What's that you are saying, Colomba? Well, well, let us go! But only
for a minute, and then we'll get home at once."
Colomba squeezed her hand, and without making any reply walked on so
quickly that Miss Lydia could hardly keep up with her. She soon
halted, luckily, and said to her companion:
"We won't go any farther without warning them. We might have a bullet
flying at our heads."
She began to whistle through her fingers. Soon they heard a dog bark,
and the bandits' advanced sentry shortly came in sight. This was our
old acquaintance Brusco, who recognised Colomba at once and undertook
to be her guide. After many windings through the narrow paths in the
/maquis/ they were met by two men, armed to the teeth.
"Is that you, Brandolaccio?" inquired Colomba. "Where is my brother?"
"Just over there," replied the bandit. "But go quietly. He's asleep,
and for the first time since his accident. Zounds, it's clear that
where the devil gets through, a woman will get through too!"
The two girls moved forward cautiously, and beside a fire, the blaze
of which was carefully concealed by a little wall of stones built
round it, they beheld Orso, lying on a pile of heather, and covered
with a /pilone/. He was very pale, and they could hear his laboured
breathing. Colomba sat down near him, and gazed at him silently, with
her hands clasped, as though she were praying in her heart. Miss Lydia
hid her face in her handkerchief, and nestled close against her
friend, but every now and then she lifted her head to take a look at
the wounded man over Colomba's shoulder. Thus a quarter of an hour
passed by without a word being said by anybody. At a sign from the
theologian, Brandolaccio had plunged with him into the /maquis/, to
the great relief of Miss Lydia, who for the first time fancied the
local colour of the bandits' wild beards and warlike equipment was a
trifle too strong.
At last Orso stirred. Instantly, Colomba bent over him, and kissed him
again and again, pouring out questions anent his wound, his suffering,
and his needs. After having answered that he was doing as well as
possible, Orso inquired, in his turn, whether Miss Nevil was still at
Pietranera, and whether she had written to him. Colomba, bending over
her brother, completely hid her companion from his sight, and indeed
the darkness would have made any recognition difficult. She was
holding one of Miss Nevil's hands. With the other she slightly raised
her wounded brother's head.
"No, brother," she replied. "She did not give me any letter for you.
But are you still thinking about Miss Nevil? You must love her very
"Love her, Colomba!--But--but now she may despise me!"
At this point Miss Nevil made a struggle to withdraw her fingers. But
it was no easy matter to get Colomba to slacken her grasp. Small and
well-shaped though her hand was, it possessed a strength of which we
have already noticed certain proofs.
"Despise you!" cried Colomba. "After what you've done? No, indeed! She
praises you! Oh, Orso, I could tell you so many things about her!"
Lydia's hand was still struggling for its freedom, but Colomba kept
drawing it closer to Orso.
"But after all," said the wounded man, "why didn't she answer me? If
she had sent me a single line, I should have been happy."
By dint of pulling at Miss Nevil's hand, Colomba contrived at last to
put it into her brother's. Then, moving suddenly aside, she burst out
"Orso," she cried, "mind you don't speak evil of Miss Lydia--she
understands Corsican quite well."
Miss Lydia took back her hand at once and stammered some
unintelligible words. Orso thought he must be dreaming.
"You here, Miss Nevil? Good heavens! how did you dare? Oh, how happy
you have made me!"
And raising himself painfully, he strove to get closer to her.
"I came with your sister," said Miss Lydia, "so that nobody might
suspect where she was going. And then I--I wanted to make sure for
myself. Alas! how uncomfortable you are here!"
Colomba had seated herself behind Orso. She raised him carefully so
that his head might rest on her lap. She put her arms round his neck
and signed to Miss Lydia to come near him.
"Closer! closer!" she said. "A sick man mustn't talk too loud." And
when Miss Lydia hesitated, she caught her hand and forced her to sit
down so close to Orso that her dress touched him, and her hand, still
in Colomba's grasp, lay on the wounded man's shoulder.
"Now he's very comfortable!" said Colomba cheerily. "Isn't it good to
lie out in the /maquis/ on such a lovely night? Eh, Orso?"
"How you must be suffering!" exclaimed Miss Lydia.
"My suffering is all gone now," said Orso, "and I should like to die
here!" And his right hand crept up toward Miss Lydia's, which Colomba
still held captive.
"You really must be taken to some place where you can be properly
cared for, Signor della Rebbia," said Miss Nevil. "I shall never be
able to sleep in my bed, now that I have seen you lying here, so
uncomfortable, in the open air."
"If I had not been afraid of meeting you, Miss Nevil, I should have
tried to get back to Pietranera, and I should have given myself up to
"And why were you afraid of meeting her, Orso?" inquired Colomba.
"I had disobeyed you, Miss Nevil, and I should not have dared to look
at you just then."
"Do you know you make my brother do everything you choose, Miss
Lydia?" said Colomba, laughing. "I won't let you see him any more."
"I hope this unlucky business will soon be cleared up, and that you
will have nothing more to fear," said Miss Nevil. "I shall be so
happy, when we go away, to know justice has been done you, and that
both your loyalty and your bravery have been acknowledged."
"Going away, Miss Nevil! Don't say that word yet!"
"What are we to do? My father can not spend his whole life shooting.
He wants to go."
Orso's hand, which had been touching Miss Lydia's, dropped away, and
there was silence for a moment.
"Nonsense!" said Colomba. "We won't let you go yet. We have plenty of
things to show you still at Pietranera. Besides, you have promised to
paint my picture, and you haven't even begun it so far. And then I've
promised to compose you a /serenata/, with seventy-five verses. And
then--but what can Brusco be growling about? And here's Brandolaccio
running after him. I must go and see what's amiss."
She rose at once, and laying Orso's head, without further ceremony, on
Miss Lydia's lap, she ran after the bandits.
Miss Nevil, somewhat startled at finding herself thus left in sole
charge of a handsome young Corsican gentleman in the middle of a
/maquis/, was rather puzzled what to do next.
For she was afraid that any sudden movement on her part might hurt the
wounded man. But Orso himself resigned the exquisite pillow on which
his sister had just laid his head, and raising himself on his right
arm, he said:
"So you will soon be gone, Miss Lydia? I never expected your stay in
this unhappy country would have been a long one. And yet since you
have come to me here, the thought that I must bid you farewell has
grown a hundred times more bitter to me. I am only a poor lieutenant.
I had no future--and now I am an outlaw. What a moment in which to
tell you that I love you, Miss Lydia! But no doubt this is my only
chance of saying it. And I think I feel less wretched now I have
unburdened my heart to you."
Miss Lydia turned away her head, as if the darkness were not dark
enough to hide her blushes.
"Signor della Rebbia," she said, and her voice shook, "should I have
come here at all if----" and as she spoke she laid the Egyptian
talisman in Orso's hand. Then, with a mighty effort to recover her
usual bantering tone--"It's very wrong of you, Signor Orso, to say
such things! You know very well that here, in the middle of the
/maquis/, and with your bandits all about me, I should never dare to
be angry with you."
Orso made an attempt to kiss the hand that held out the talisman. Miss
Lydia drew it quickly back; he lost his balance, and fell on his
wounded arm. He could not stifle a moan of pain.
"Oh, dear, you've hurt yourself, and it was my fault!" she cried, as
she raised him up. "Forgive me!" They talked for some time longer,
very low, and very close together.
Colomba, running hastily up, found them in the very same position in
which she had left them.
"The soldiers!" she cried. "Orso! try to get up and walk! I'll help
"Leave me!" said Orso. "Tell the bandits to escape. What do I care if
I am taken? But take away Miss Lydia. For God's sake, don't let
anybody see her here!"
"I won't leave you," said Brandolaccio, who had come up on Colomba's
"The sergeant in charge is the lawyer's godson. He'll shoot you
instead of arresting you, and then he'll say he didn't do it on
Orso tried to rise; he even took a few steps. But he soon halted. "I
can't walk," he said. "Fly, all of you! Good-bye, Miss Nevil! Give me
your hand! Farewell!"
"We won't leave you!" cried the two girls.
"If you can't walk," said Brandolaccio, "I must carry you. Come, sir,
a little courage! We shall have time to slip away by the ravine. The
Signor Padre will keep them busy."
"No, leave me!" said Orso, lying down on the ground. "Colomba, take
Miss Nevil away!--for God's sake!"
"You're strong, Signorina Colomba," said Brandolaccio. "Catch hold of
his shoulders; I'll take his feet. That's it! Now, then march!"
In spite of his protests, they began to carry him rapidly along. Miss
Lydia was following them, in a terrible fright, when a gun was fired,
and five or six other reports instantly responded. Miss Lydia screamed
and Brandolaccio swore an oath, but he doubled his pace, and Colomba,
imitating him, tore through the thicket without paying the slightest
heed to the branches that slashed her face and tore her dress.
"Bend down, bend down, dear!" she called out to her companion. "You
may be hit by some stray bullet!"
They had walked, or rather run, some five hundred paces in this
fashion when Brandolaccio vowed he could go no further, and dropped on
the ground, regardless of all Colomba's exhortations and reproaches.
"Where is Miss Nevil?" was Orso's one inquiry.
Terrified by the firing, checked at every step by the thick growth of
the /maquis/, Miss Nevil had soon lost sight of the fugitives, and
been left all alone in a state of the most cruel alarm.
"She has been left behind," said Brandolaccio, "but she'll not be lost
--women always turn up again. Do listen to the row the Padre is making
with your gun, Ors' Anton'! Unluckily, it's as black as pitch, and
nobody takes much harm from being shot at in the dark."
"Hush!" cried Colomba. "I hear a horse. We're saved!"
Startled by the firing, a horse which had been wandering through the
/maquis/, was really coming close up to them.
"Saved, indeed!" repeated Brandolaccio. It did not take the bandit
more than an instant to rush up to the creature, catch hold of his
mane, and with Colomba's assistance, bridle him with a bit of knotted
"Now we must warn the Padre," he said. He whistled twice; another
distant whistle answered the signal, and the loud voice of the Manton
gun was hushed. Then Brandolaccio sprang on the horse's back. Colomba
lifted her brother up in front of the bandit, who held him close with
one hand and managed his bridle with the other.
In spite of the double load, the animal, urged by a brace of hearty
kicks, started off nimbly, and galloped headlong down a steep
declivity on which anything but a Corsican steed would have broken its
neck a dozen times.
Then Colomba retraced her steps, calling Miss Nevil at the top of her
voice; but no answering cry was heard.
After walking hither and thither for some time, trying to recover the
path, she stumbled on two riflemen, who shouted, "Who goes there?"
"Well, gentlemen," cried Colomba jeeringly, "here's a pretty racket!
How many of you are killed?"
"You were with the bandits!" said one of the soldiers. "You must come
"With pleasure!" she replied. "But there's a friend of mine somewhere
close by, and we must find her first."
"You friend is caught already, and both of you will sleep in jail
"In jail, you say? Well, that remains to be seen. But take me to her,
The soldiers led her to the bandits' camp, where they had collected
the trophies of their raid--to wit, the cloak which had covered Orso,
an old cooking-pot, and a pitcher of cold water. On the same spot she
found Miss Nevil, who had fallen among the soldiers, and, being half
dead with terror, did nothing but sob in answer to their questions as
to the number of the bandits, and the direction in which they had
Colomba threw herself into her arms and whispered in her ear, "They
are safe!" Then, turning to the sergeant, she said: "Sir, you can see
this young lady knows none of the things you are trying to find out
from her. Give us leave to go back to the village, where we are
"You'll be taken there, and faster than you like, my beauty," rejoined
the sergeant. "And you'll have to explain what you were after at this
time of night with the ruffians who have just got away. I don't know
what witchcraft those villains practise, but they certainly do bewitch
the women--for wherever there are bandits about, you are dead certain
to find pretty girls."
"You're very flattering, sergeant!" said Colomba, "but you'll do well
to be careful what you say. This young lady is related to the prefect,
and you'd better be careful of your language before her."
"A relation of the prefect's," whispered one of the soldiers to his
chief. "Why, she does wear a hat!"
"Hats have nothing to do with it," said the sergeant. "They were both
of them with the Padre--the greatest woman-wheedler in the whole
country, so it's my business to march them off. And, indeed, there's
nothing more for us to do here. But for that d----d Corporal Taupin--
the drunken Frenchman showed himself before I'd surrounded the
/maquis/--we should have had them all like fish in a net."
"Are there only seven of you here?" inquired Colomba. "It strikes me,
gentlemen, that if the three Poli brothers--Gambini, Sarocchi, and
Teodoro--should happen to be at the Cross of Santa Christina, with
Brandolaccio and the Padre, they might give you a good deal of corn to
grind. If you mean to have a talk with the Commandante della Campagna,
I'd just as soon not be there. In the dark, bullets don't show any
respect for persons."
The idea of coming face to face with the dreaded bandits mentioned by
Colomba made an evident impression on the soldiers. The sergeant,
still cursing Corporal Taupin--"that dog of a Frenchman"--gave the
order to retire, and his little party moved toward Pietranera,
carrying the /pilone/ and the cooking-pot; as for the pitcher, its
fate was settled with a kick.
One of the men would have laid hold of Miss Lydia's arm, but Colomba
instantly pushed him away.
"Let none of you dare to lay a finger on her!" she said. "Do you fancy
we want to run away? Come, Lydia, my dear, lean on me, and don't cry
like a baby. We've had an adventure, but it will end all right. In
half an hour we shall be at our supper, and for my part I'm dying to
get to it."
"What will they think of me!" Miss Nevil whispered.
"They'll think you lost your way in the /maquis/, that's all."
"What will the prefect say? Above all, what will my father say?"
"The prefect? You can tell him to mind his own business! Your father?
I should have thought, from the way you and Orso were talking, that
you had something to say to your father."
Miss Nevil squeezed her arm, and answered nothing.
"Doesn't my brother deserve to be loved?" whispered Colomba in her
ear. "Don't you love him a little?"
"Oh, Colomba!" answered Miss Nevil, smiling in spite of her blushes,
"you've betrayed me! And I trusted you so!"
Colomba slipped her arm round her, and kissed her forehead.
"Little sister," she whispered very low, "will you forgive me?"
"Why, I suppose I must, my masterful sister," answered Lydia, as she
kissed her back.
The prefect and the public prosecutor were staying with the deputy-
mayor, and the colonel, who was very uneasy about his daughter, was
paying them his twentieth call, to ask if they had heard of her, when
a rifleman, whom the sergeant had sent on in advance, arrived with the
full story of the great fight with the brigands--a fight in which
nobody had been either killed or wounded, but which had resulted in
the capture of a cooking-pot, a /pilone/, and two girls, whom the man
described as the mistresses, or the spies, of the two bandits.
Thus heralded, the two prisoners appeared, surrounded by their armed
My readers will imagine Colomba's radiant face, her companion's
confusion, the prefect's surprise, the colonel's astonishment and joy.
The public prosecutor permitted himself the mischievous entertainment
of obliging poor Lydia to undergo a kind of cross-examination, which
did not conclude until he had quite put her out of countenance.
"It seems to me," said the prefect, "that we may release everybody.
These young ladies went out for a walk--nothing is more natural in
fine weather. They happened to meet a charming young man, who has been
lately wounded--nothing could be more natural, again." Then, taking
"Signorina," he said, "you can send word to your brother that this
business promises to turn out better than I had expected. The post-
mortem examination and the colonel's deposition both prove that he
only defended himself, and that he was alone when the fight took
place. Everything will be settled--only he must leave the /maquis/ and
give himself up to the authorities."
It was almost eleven o'clock when the colonel, his daughter, and
Colomba sat down at last to their supper, which had grown cold.
Colomba ate heartily, and made great fun of the prefect, the public
prosecutor, and the soldiers. The colonel ate too, but never said a
word, and gazed steadily at his daughter, who would not lift her eyes
from her plate. At last, gently but seriously, he said in English:
"Lydia, I suppose you are engaged to della Rebbia?"
"Yes, father, to-day," she answered, steadily, though she blushed.
Then she raised her eyes, and reading no sign of anger in her father's
face, she threw herself into his arms and kissed him, as all well-
brought-up young ladies do on such occasions.
"With all my heart!" said the colonel. "He's a fine fellow. But, by
G--d, we won't live in this d---d country of his, or I'll refuse my
"I don't know English," said Colomba, who was watching them with an
air of the greatest curiosity, "but I'll wager I've guessed what you
"We are saying," quoth the colonel, "that we are going to take you for
a trip to Ireland."
"Yes, with pleasure; and I'll be the Surella Colomba. Is it settled,
colonel? Shall we shake hands on it?"
"In such a case," remarked the colonel, "people exchanges kisses!"
One afternoon, a few months after the double shot which, as the
newspapers said, "plunged the village of Pietranera into a state of
consternation," a young man with his left arm in a sling, rode out of
Bastia, toward the village of Cardo, celebrated for its spring, which
in summer supplies the more fastidious inhabitants of the town with
delicious water. He was accompanied by a young lady, tall and
remarkably handsome, mounted on a small black horse, the strength and
shape of which would have attracted the admiration of a connoisseur,
although, by some strange accident, one of its ears had been
lacerated. On reaching the village, the girl sprang nimbly to the
ground, and, having helped her comrade to dismount, she unfastened the
somewhat heavy wallets strapped to his saddle-bow. The horses were
left in charge of a peasant. The girl, laden with the wallets, which
she had concealed under her /mezzaro/, and the young man, carrying a
double-barrelled gun, took their way toward the mountain, along a very
steep path that did not appear to lead to any dwelling. When they had
climbed to one of the lower ridges of the Monte Querico, they halted,
and sat down on the grass. They were evidently expecting somebody, for
they kept perpetually looking toward the mountain, and the young lady
often consulted a pretty gold watch--as much, it may be, for the
pleasure of admiring what appeared a somewhat newly acquired trinket,
as in order to know whether the hour appointed for some meeting or
other had come. They had not long to wait. A dog ran out of the
/maquis/, and when the girl called out "Brusco!" it approached at
once, and fawned upon them. Presently two bearded men appeared, with
guns under their arms, cartridge-belts round their waists, and pistols
hanging at their sides. Their torn and patched garments contrasted
oddly with their weapons, which were brilliantly polished, and came
from a famous Continental factory. In spite of the apparent inequality
of their positions, the four actors in this scene greeted one another
in terms of old and familiar friendship.
"Well, Ors' Anton'," said the elder bandit to the young man, "so your
business is settled--the indictment against you has fallen through? I
congratulate you. I'm sorry the lawyer has left the island. I'd like
to see his rage. And how's your arm?"
"They tell me I shall get rid of my sling in a fortnight," said the
young man. "Brando, my good friend, I'm going to Italy to-morrow--I
wanted to say good-bye to you and to the cure. That's why I asked you
to come here."
"You're in a fine hurry," said Brandolaccio. "Only acquitted
yesterday, and you're off to-morrow."
"Business must be attended to," said the young lady merrily.
"Gentlemen, I've brought some supper. Fall to, if you please, and
don't you forget my friend Brusco."
"You spoil Brusco, Mademoiselle Colomba. But he's a grateful dog. You
shall see. Here, Brusco," and he held out his gun horizontally, "jump
for the Barricini!"
The dog stood motionless, licking his chops, and staring at his
"Jump for the della Rebbia!" And he leaped two feet higher than he
need have done.
"Look here, my friends," said Orso, "you're plying a bad trade; and
even if you don't end your career on that square below us,[*] the best
you can look for is to die in the /maquis/ by some gendarme's bullet."
[*] The square at Bastia on which executions take place.
"Well, well," said Castriconi, "that's no more than death, anyhow; and
it's better than being killed in your bed by a fever, with your heirs
snivelling more or less honestly all round you. To men who are
accustomed to the open air like us, there's nothing so good as to die
'in your shoes,' as the village folk say."
"I should like to see you get out of this country," said Orso, "and
lead a quieter life. For instance, why shouldn't you settle in
Sardinia, as several of your comrades have done? I could make the
matter easy for you."
"In Sardinia!" cried Brandolaccio. "/Istos Sardos!/ Devil take them
and their lingo! We couldn't live in such bad company."
"Sardinia's a country without resources," added the theologian. "For
my part, I despise the Sardinians. They keep mounted men to hunt their
bandits. That's a stigma on both the bandits and the country.[*] Out
upon Sardinia, say I! The thing that astounds me, Signor della Rebbia,
is that you, who are a man of taste and understanding, should not have
taken to our life in the /maquis/, after having once tried it, as you
[*] I owe this criticism of Sardinia to an ex-bandit of my
acquaintance, and he alone must bear the responsibility of it. He
means that bandits who let themselves be caught by horse soldiers
are idiots, and that soldiers who try to catch bandits on
horseback have very little chance of getting at them.
"Well," said Orso, with a smile, "when I was lucky enough to be your
guest, I wasn't in very good case for enjoying the charms of your
position, and my ribs still ache when I think of the ride I took one
lovely night, thrown like a bundle across an unsaddled horse that my
good friend Brandolaccio guided."
"And the delight of escaping from your pursuers," rejoined Castriconi;
"is that nothing to you? How can you fail to realize the charm of
absolute freedom in such a beautiful climate as ours? With this to
insure respect," and he held up his gun, "we are kings of everything
within its range. We can give orders, we can redress wrongs. That's a
highly moral entertainment, monsieur, and a very pleasant one, which
we don't deny ourselves. What can be more beautiful than a knight-
errant's life, when he has good weapons, and more common sense than
Don Quixote had? Listen! The other day I was told that little Lilla
Luigi's uncle--old miser that he is--wouldn't give her a dowry. So I
wrote to him. I didn't use threats--that's not my way. Well, well, in
one moment the man was convinced. He married his niece, and I made two
people happy. Believe me, Orso, there's no life like the bandit's
life! Pshaw! You'd have joined us, perhaps, if it hadn't been for a
certain young Englishwoman whom I have scarcely seen myself, but about
whose beauty every one in Bastia is talking."
"My future sister-in-law doesn't like the /maquis/," laughed Colomba.
"She got too great a fright in one of them."
"Well," said Orso, "you are resolved to stay here? So be it! But tell
me whether there is anything I can do for you?"
"Nothing," said Brandolaccio. "You've heaped kindnesses upon us.
Here's little Chilina with her dowry ready, so that there'll be no
necessity for my friend the cure to write one of his persuasive
letters to insure her marrying well. We know the man on your farm will
give us bread and powder whenever we need them. So fare you well! I
hope we shall see you back in Corsica one of these days."
"In case of pressing need," said Orso, "a few gold coins are very
useful. Now we are such old friends, you won't refuse this little
/cartouche/.[*] It will help you to provide cartridges of another
[*] /Cartouche/ means a collection of gold pieces as well as a
"No money between you and me, sir," said Brandolaccio resolutely.
"In the world money is everything," remarked Castriconi, "but in the
/maquis/, all a man need care for is a brave heart, and a gun that
"I don't want to leave you without giving you something to remember me
by," persisted Orso. "Come, Brandolaccio, what can I leave with you?"
The bandit scratched his head and cast a sidelong glance at Orso's
"By my faith, if I dared--but no! you're too fond of it."
"What would you like?"
"Nothing! 'Tisn't anything at all. It's knowing how to use it as well.
I keep thinking of that devil of a double-shot of yours--and with only
one hand, too! Oh! that never could happen twice over!"
"Is it the gun you fancy? I bought it for you. But see you don't use
it more than you are obliged."
"Oh, I won't promise to make as good use of it as you. But make your
mind easy. When any other man has it, you may be certain it's all over
with Brando Savelli."
"And you, Castriconi--what am I to give you?"
"Since you really insist on giving me some tangible keepsake, I'll
simply ask you to send me the smallest Horace you can get. It will
amuse me, and prevent me from forgetting all my Latin. There's a
little woman who sells cigars on the jetty at Bastia. If you give it
to her, she'll see I get it."
"You shall have an Elzevir, my erudite friend. There just happens to
be one among some books I was going to take away with me. Well, good
friends, we must part! Give me your hands. If you should ever think of
Sardinia write to me. Signor N., the notary, will give you my address
on the mainland."
"To-morrow, lieutenant," said Brando, "when you get out in the
harbour, look up to this spot on the mountain-side. We shall be here,
and we'll wave our handkerchiefs to you."
And so they parted. Orso and his sister took their way back to Cardo,
and the bandits departed up the mountain.
One lovely April morning, Sir Thomas Nevil, his daughter, a newly made
bride--Orso, and Colomba, drove out of Pisa to see a lately discovered
Etruscan vault to which all strangers who came to that part of the
country paid a visit.
Orso and his wife went down into the ancient building, pulled out
their pencils, and began to sketch the mural paintings. But the
colonel and Colomba, who neither of them cared much for archaeology,
left them to themselves, and walked about in the neighbourhood.
"My dear Colomba," said the colonel, "we shall never get back to Pisa
in time for lunch. Aren't you hungry? There are Orso and his wife
buried in their antiquities; when once they begin sketching together,
it lasts forever!"
"Yes," remarked Colomba. "And yet they never bring the smallest sketch
home with them."
"I think," proceeded the colonel, "our best plan would be to make our
way to that little farm-house yonder. We should find bread there, and
perhaps some /aleatico/. Who knows, we might even find strawberries
and cream! And then we should be able to wait patiently for our
"You are quite right, colonel. You and I are the reasonable members of
this family. We should be very foolish if we let ourselves by
martyrized by that pair of lovers, who live on poetry! Give me your
arm! Don't you think I'm improving? I lean on people's arms, wear
fashionable hats and gowns and trinkets--I'm learning I don't know how
many fine things--I'm not at all a young savage any more. Just observe
the grace with which I wear this shawl. That fair-haired spark--that
officer belonging to your regiment who came to the wedding--oh, dear!
I can't recollect his name!--a tall, curly-headed man, whom I could
knock over with one hand----"
"Chatsworth?" suggested the colonel.
"That's it!--but I never shall be able to say it!--Well, you know he's
over head and ears in love with me!"
"O Colomba, you're growing a terrible flirt! We shall have another
wedding before long."
"I! Marry! And then who will there be to bring up my nephew--when Orso
provides me with a nephew? And who'll teach him to talk Corsican? Yes,
he shall talk Corsican, and I'll make him a peaked cap, just to vex
"Well, well, wait till you have your nephew, and then you shall teach
him to use a dagger, if you choose."
"Farewell to daggers!" said Colomba merrily. "I have a fan now, to rap
your fingers with when you speak ill of my country."
Chatting thus, they reached the farm-house, where they found wine,
strawberries, and cream. Colomba helped the farmer's wife to gather
the strawberries, while the colonel drank his /aleatico/. At the
turning of a path she caught sight of an old man, sitting in the sun,
on a straw chair. He seemed ill, his cheeks were fallen in, his eyes
were hollow, he was frightfully thin; as he sat there, motionless,
pallid, staring fixedly in front of him, he looked more like a corpse
than like a living creature. Colomba watched him for some minutes, and
with a curiosity so great that it attracted the woman's attention.
"That poor old fellow is a countryman of yours," she said. "For I know
you are from Corsica by the way you talk, signorina! He has had great
trouble in his own country. His children met with some terrible death.
They say--you'll excuse me, signorina--that when they quarrel, your
compatriots don't show each other very much mercy. Then the poor old
gentleman, being left all alone, came over to Pisa, to a distant
relation of his, who owns this farm. Between his misfortunes and his
sorrow, the good man is a little cracked. . . . The lady found him
troublesome--for she sees a great deal of company. So she sent him out
here. He's very gentle--no worry at all. He doesn't speak three words
the whole day long. In fact, his brain's quite gone. The doctor comes
to see him every week. He says he won't live long."
"There's no hope for him, then!" said Colomba. "In such a case, death
will be a mercy."
"You might say a word to him in Corsican, signorina. Perhaps it would
cheer him up to hear the speech of his own country."
"I'll see!" said Colomba, and her smile was mysterious.
She drew nearer to the old man, till her shadow fell across his chair.
Then the poor idiot lifted his head and stared at Colomba, while she
looked at him, smiling still. After a moment, the old man passed his
hand across his forehead, and closed his eyes, as though he would have
shut out the sight of Colomba. He opened them again, desperately wide
this time. His lips began to work, he tried to stretch out his hands,
but, fascinated by Colomba's glance, he sat, nailed, as it were, to
his chair, unable to move or utter a word. At last great tears dropped
from his eyes, and a few sobs escaped from his heaving chest.
" 'Tis the first time I've seen him like this," said the good woman.
"This signorina belongs to your own country; she has come to see you,"
said she to the old man.
"Mercy!" he cried in a hoarse voice. "Mercy! Are you not content? The
leaf I burned. How did you read it? But why did you take them both?
Orlanduccio! You can't have read anything against him! You should have
left me one, only one! Orlanduccio--you didn't read /his/ name!"
"I had to have them both!" answered Colomba, speaking low and in the
Corsican dialect. "The branches are topped off! If the stem had not
been rotten, I would have torn it up! Come! make no moan. You will not
suffer long! /I/ suffered for two years!"
The old man cried out, and then his head dropped on his breast.
Colomba turned her back on him, and went slowly into the house,
humming some meaningless lines out of a /ballata/:
"I must have the hand
that fired, the eye that aimed, the heart
While the farmer's wife ran to attend on the old man, Colomba, with
blazing eyes and brilliant cheeks, sat down to luncheon opposite the
"What's the matter with you?" he said. "You look just as you did that
day at Pietranera, when they fired at us while we were at dinner."
"Old Corsican memories had come back to me. But all that's done with.
I shall be godmother, sha'n't I? Oh! what fine names I'll give him!
The farmer's wife came back into the room.
"Well?" inquired Colomba, with the most perfect composure. "Is he
dead, or had he only fainted?"
"It was nothing, signorina. But it's curious what an effect the sight
of you had on him."
"And the doctor says he won't last long?"
"Not two months, very likely."
"He'll be no great loss!" remarked Colomba.
"What the devil are you talking about?" inquired the colonel.
"About an idiot from my own country, who is boarded out here. I'll
send from time to time to find out how he is. Why, Colonel Nevil,
aren't you going to leave any strawberries for Lydia and my brother?"
When Colomba left the farm-house and got into the carriage, the
farmer's wife looked after her for a while. Then, turning to her
"Dost see that pretty young lady yonder?" she said. "Well, I'm certain
she has the evil eye!"
Back to Full Books