The Corsican Brothers, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 2.

He was, as my guide had told me, a young man, between twenty and twenty-one years of age, with black hair and eyes, rather small, but admirably well made.

In his anxiety to pay his compliments to me, he had come up just as he was, that is in his riding dress, consisting of a green frock-coat, to which a cartouchière, pressing his waist, gave a certain military air, gray pantaloons trimmed inside with Russia leather, and boots with spurs; a cap in the style of those worn by our chasseurs d’Afrique completed his dress.

At his cartouchière were suspended on one side a whip, on the other a gourd.

Besides, he held in his hand an English rifle.

Notwithstanding the youth of my host, whose upper lip was hardly shaded by a light moustache, there was in his whole person a most striking air of resolution and independence.

He displayed the man educated for personal combat, accustomed to live in the midst of danger, not fearing it, but also not despising it — grave, because he is solitary — calm, because he is strong.

In a single glance he had seen all; my traveling-case, my weapons, the dress I had just quitted, and the one I had put on; his eye was rapid and sure, like that of a man whose life depends often upon a moment.

“Excuse me, if I disturb you, signor,” said he, “I do so with a good intention, that of inquiring what are your wants. I always feel uneasy when I find a gentleman arriving here from the continent, for we are yet so uncivilized in our Corsican mountains, that it is only with trembling we extend, especially towards Frenchmen, that old hospitality which will soon become only a tradition preserved to us by our fathers.

“You are wrong to fear, signor,” replied I; “it would be impossible to satisfy the wants of a traveller, more fully than Signora de Franchi has done; besides,” continued I, looking round the room, “it is not here that I could complain of this pretended want of refinement, of which, with too much modesty, you accuse yourself; and if through these windows I did not observe this most admirable prospect, I could fancy myself in a chamber of the Chaussée d’Antin.

“Ah! it was a mania of my poor brother Louis,” replied the young man; “he loved to live à la Française, but I doubt if after his return from Paris, this poor parody of the refinement which he will leave behind, will satisfy and please him as much as it did before he left us.”

“Your brother left Corsica a long time ago?” inquired I from my young interlocutor.

“About one year since, signor.”

“You expect him back soon?”

“Ah! not before three or four years.”

“That will be a long separation for two brothers who probably have never before been apart from each other?”

“Yes, and especially who loved each other as we did.”

“No doubt he will come to see you before he finishes his studies?”

“Probably; he promised us, at least.”

“At all events, nothing can prevent you from going to visit him?”

“No, I don’t leave Corsica.”

There was expressed in the tone with which he gave this answer, that love of the fatherland, which looks on the rest of the world with a general disdain.

I smiled.

“That appears strange to you,” added he after awhile, smiling also; “you are astonished that I don’t feel willing to leave a country so miserable as ours; but I cannot help it. I am as much a production of this island as its green oats, and its rose-laurels; I must have my atmosphere impregnated with the perfume of the sea, and the exhalations of its mountains. I must have my torrents to cross, my rocks to climb, and my forests to explore; I want space — I want liberty. If I was transported to a city, it seems to me that I should die there.”

“But how then can so great a moral difference exist between you and your brother?”

“You would add, and with so great a personal resemblance, if you only knew him.”

“You are very much alike, then?”

“So much so, that when we were children our parents found it necessary to put some mark upon our garments in order to distinguish us.”

“And when you grew older?”

“Then our dissimilar habits and pursuits produced a slight difference in our complexion — that’s all. All the while locked up — all the time occupied with his books and studies, my brother has become more fair, while I, constantly in the open air, always crossing the hills or the plain, grew darker.”

“I hope, said I, “that you will enable me to judge of this difference, by giving me some message for Signor de Franchi?”

“Yes, certainly, with the greatest pleasure, if you will be kind enough to trouble yourself with any thing of the kind. But excuse me, I see that you are more advanced in your toilette than I am, and in a quarter of an hour supper will be ready.”

“Is it for me that you go to the trouble of changing your dress?”

“If such was the case, it would be your fault, as you have given me the example. But at all events I am in my riding dress, and I must put on my highlander’s garments; after supper I have to take a walk where my boots and spurs would be very much in the way.”

“You are going out after supper?” asked I.

“Yes,” replied he, “I have a rendezvous.”

I smiled.

“Oh! not in the sense you take it; it is a mere business appointment.”

“Do you believe me so presumptuous as to suppose I have a right to your confidence?”

“Why not? I think every one should live so as to be able to speak openly of all his actions. I have never been in love, nor ever shall be; if my brother takes a wife and has children, it is probable that I shall not marry. If on the contrary he does not take a wife, I shall be obliged to do so; but it will only be to prevent the family from becoming extinct. I told you,” added he with a smile, “that I was a real savage; I came into this world a hundred years too late. But I continue to talk, and at supper time I shall not be ready.”

“But we can continue our conversation, your room being opposite to mine you have but to leave the door open and we can hear each other.”

“You can do still better, come into my room, and while I am dressing, as you are an amateur of weapons I presume, you can examine mine; some of them have a certain value, an historical one I mean.”

This invitation I accepted, as it enabled me to gratify the desire of comparing the rooms of the two brothers.

I followed my host, who opened the door of his room, preceding me, to show the way.

I thought I was entering a real arsenal. All the furniture belonged to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; the carved bedstead, with the canopy supported by large turned columns, was surrounded by curtains of green damask with gold flowers; the window curtains were of the same material; the walls were covered with Spanish leather, and around the walls mere pieces of furniture supporting trophies of gothic or modern arms.

I could not long be in doubt about the tendency of the occupant of this room; it was as warlike as that of his brother was peaceable.

“See here,” said he, proceeding to his toilette cabinet, “here you are in the midst of three centuries; look round, and in the mean time I will dress like a highlander, for I told you soon after supper I shall have to go out.”

“And which among these swords, arquebuses, and poniards, are the historical ones of which you spoke?”

“There are three of them; let us proceed in order. Look at the head of my bed for a single poniard, with a wide sheath, and whose handle forms a seal.”

“Here it is, go on.”

“That is Sampiero’s dagger.”

“The celebrated Sampiero, the assassin of Vanina.”

“The assassin? No — but the murderer.”

“That is the same thing, I believe.”

“In the rest of the world it is, perhaps, but not in Corsica.”

“And this dagger is authentic?”

“Look at it! it bears Sampiero’s arms, only the lily of France is not yet on it. You know that it was not until after the siege of Perpignan that Sampiero received permission to join the lily to his blazon.”

“No, I was not acquainted with that circumstance. But how did this stiletto come into your possession?”

“It has been in the family for three hundred years, and was given to Napoleon de Franchi by Sampiero himself.”

“And do you know upon what occasion?”

“Yes. Sampiero and my father fell into a Genoese ambuscade, and defended themselves like lions; the helmet of Sampiero got loose, and a Genoese on horseback was on the point of striking him with his mace, when my forefather plunged his poniard between the joints of his cuirass. The horseman feeling himself wounded, spurred his horse and flew, taking with him Napoleon de Franchi’s weapon, which was so profoundly sunk in the wound that he had not been able to take it out. And when my forefather, who highly prized this poniard, expressed some regret at his loss, Sampiero gave him his own stiletto. Napoleon lost nothing in the bargain, for this one is of Spanish manufacture, as you can see, and will pierce two five-franc pieces, one put over the other.”

“Can I try the experiment?”

“Certainly you may!”

I put two five-franc pieces upon the floor, and struck them with great force. Lucien had told me the truth, and when I took the poniard up again, the two pieces were attached to its point, pierced through and through.

“This is certainly Sampiero’s dagger,” said I, “but I am astonished, that having such a weapon in his possession, he should have used a rope to kill his wife with.”

“He did not have it at that time,” said Lucien, “as he had given it to my forefather.”

“That’s true.”

“Sampiero was over sixty years of age, at the time, when he purposely came over from Constantinople to Aix, in order to give this great lesson to the world, that it is not women’s business to interfere with the affairs of the government.”

I bowed in sign of approbation, and put the weapon in its place.

“Now, said I to Lucien,” who continued his toilette, “here is Sampiero’s poniard on its nail again, go on now to another.”

“You see two portraits, alongside of each other?”

“Yes. Paoli and Napoleon.”

“Well, near Paoli’s portrait is a sword.”

“Exactly.”

“That is his.”

“Paoli’s sword, and as authentic as Sampiero’s stiletto?”

“Certainly; for like that one, it has been given not to one of my forefathers, but to one of my foremothers. Perhaps you have heard of the woman, who, during the wars of independence, came to introduce herself at the tower of Sullacaro, accompanied by a young man?”

“No, tell me this story.”

“It is short.”

“So much the better, we have no time to gossip.”

“Well, this woman and the young man introduced themselves at the tower of Sullacaro, and asked for Paoli. But Paoli being occupied in writing, they were not admitted, and as she still insisted, the two sentinels forced them out. Meanwhile, Paoli hearing the noise, opened the door, and asked who had occasioned it.”

“I have,” said the woman, “I wanted to speak to you.”

“And what have you to say?”

“I had two sons. I was informed yesterday, that one of them had been killed in the defence of his country, and I have traveled twenty leagues to offer you the second.”

“That is a Spartan scene, which you relate?”

“Yes; it does indeed seem like it.”

“And who was that woman?”

“She was one of my ancestors. Paoli loosened his sword and gave it to her.”

“Her? I like this way of complimenting a lady.”

“Yes; it was worthy of both parties.”

“And now, this sabre?”

“Is the one which Buonaparte wore at the battle of the Pyramids.”

“No doubt it came into your family in the same way as the poniard and the sword?”

“Exactly so. After the battle, Buonaparte ordered my grandfather, who was then an officer of the Guides, to charge, with some fifty men, a number of Mamelukes who had continued to fight, keeping in their centre a wounded chief. My grandfather executed this order, dispersed the Mamelukes, made their chief a prisoner, and brought him to the first Consul. But while in the act of putting up his sabre, he found the blade so much hacked, that it would not enter the sheath; my grandfather deeming it useless, threw it aside. Buonaparte observing this act, gave him, in its place, his own sabre.”

“But,” said I, “if I were in your place, I would just as well like to have the sabre of my grandfather with all its notches, as that of the General in Chief, in all its brightness.”

“Look on the other side, and you will find that also. The first Consul took it up, got the diamond, which you see there, inserted in the handle, and then sent it to my family with an inscription, Which you will see on the blade.”

Indeed, between the two windows and half way out of its sheath, which it could not enter, I discovered the sabre, hacked and bent, with this simple inscription, “BATAILLE DES PYRAMIDES, 21 JUILLET, 1798.”

At this moment, the same servant who had received me, and had after awhile informed me of the arrival of his young master, made his appearance in the door.

“Eccellenza,” said he, speaking to Lucien, “Signora de Franchi sends me to announce that supper is waiting your presence.”

“Very well, Griffo,” replied the young man, “say to my mother that we are coming.”

He had just finished his toilette, and stood before me in his Corsican highland dress, with a round velvet jacket, breeches, and spatterdashes; he had retained nothing of his former dress but the cartouchière which encircled his waist.”

I was still occupied in examining two carabines, which hung opposite each other, and both bearing this inscription on the stock; ”21 Septembre, 1819, onze heures du matin.

“And these carabines,” asked I, “are they also historical weapons?”

“Yes,” said he, “to us at least. One belonged to my father —” He stopped.

“And the other?”

“The other!” continued he, laughing, “belongs to my mother. But come down stairs now, you know that supper waits for us.”

And walking out first to show me the way, he made a sign for me to follow.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37