The Corsican Brothers, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 6.

Griffo was waiting for us. Even before his master spoke to him, he began to search the pocket of his jacket, and drew out the pheasant. He had heard and recognized the report of his gun.

Madame de Franchi was not yet asleep, she had only retired to her room, leaving orders with Griffo, to request her son to call upon her before going to bed.

The young man inquired if I wanted any thing, and upon my answering in the negative, asked my leave to wait on his mother.

I gave him that permission with great pleasure, and retired to my own room. I entered with a certain pride. My studies on analogies had not misled me, and I was glad to have so correctly guessed the character of Louis, as I should also have divined that of Lucien. I undressed slowly, and after having chosen from the future lawyer’s library, the “Orientales,” by Victor Hugo, I laid down filled with self-satisfaction.

I had just read, for the hundredth time, the Feu du Ciel when I heard footsteps on the stairs, which soon halted softly at my door. I suspected it was my host, who came with the intention of bidding me good night, but hesitated to open the door, not knowing whether I was asleep or not.

“Come in!” said I, putting my book on the night table.

The door opened, and Lucien entered.

“Excuse me,” said he, “but upon reflection, it seemed to me that I had been so taciturn this evening, that I could not go to bed without asking your pardon. I therefore come here to make the amende honorable, and as you appear to have a great many questions on hand, I put myself now at your service.”

“A thousand thanks, said I. On the contrary, through your kindness I am informed of nearly every thing I wished to know. There is but one thing left to excite my curiosity, but which I have made up my mind not to question you about.”

“Why not?”

“That mould be truly a great indiscretion. But pray, don’t urge me, for I cannot guarantee my reserve.”

“Well, go on then: an unsatisfied curiosity is a very bad thing. It naturally awakens conjectures, and out of three conjectures there are always two, at least, more hurtful to the interested person, than the truth would be.”

“Be easy on that subject. My most injurious suspicions against you lead me simply to believe you to be a kind of sorcerer.”

The young man smiled.

“Diable,” said he, “you now make me as curious as you are; pray explain yourself.”

“Well! you have been kind enough to clear up all that was obscure to me, with the exception of only one point. You have shown me those beautiful historical weapons — which, by the by, I shall ask the permission to see again before I leave.”

“That’s one!”

“You have explained the meaning of the double inscription on the stock of those two carabines.”

“Makes two! go on.”

“You have informed me how, agreeably to the phenomenon of your birth, you feel, at three hundred leagues distance, the same emotions as your brother, who, in his turn no doubt, feels yours.”

“Makes three!”

“But when Madame de Franchi, in speaking of the sad feeling which gave you a presentiment that something disagreeable had occurred to your brother, when,” said I, “she asked you, if you were sure that he was not dead, you answered her, no! if he were dead I should have seen him —”

“Yes, that was my answer to her.”

“Well, if the explanation of these words be permitted to enter a profane ear, I pray you give it to me.”

As I spoke, the face of the young man gradually took so grave an expression, that I pronounced the last words with some hesitation. There was, even after I had finished speaking, a momentary silence between us.

“I feel that I have been indiscreet,” said I; “excuse me, and let us suppose that I have not said anything on this subject.”

“No,” replied he, “only you are a man of the world, and, consequently, a little incredulous. I therefore fear that you will consider, as an idle superstition, an old family tradition, which has existed now amongst us for four hundred years.”

“Listen, sir, if you please; I swear to you, that in respect to legends and traditions, nobody can be more credulous than myself; there are even things of this kind, which I believe implicitly; I mean impossibilities.”

“So you believe in apparitions 1”

“Will you permit me to relate what happened to myself?”

“Yes, that will encourage me.”

“My father died in 1807, consequently, at that time I was only about three years and a half old. As the physicians had declared that my suffering parent could not survive very long, I was sent to an old cousin who lived in a house situated between a yard and a garden. She had prepared a bed for me opposite hers, where she placed me at the usual hour. In spite of the misfortune which was about to befall me, and of which, by the by, I was totally unconscious, I fell asleep. Suddenly three violent and hurried knocks were heard at the door. I sprang out of bed and approached the door.

“Where are you going?” cried my cousin, who, like me, awakened by the noise of the three blows, could not suppress a certain degree of terror, knowing that the principal entry door of the street being locked, nobody could enter to knock at the door of our bedchamber.

“I am going to admit papa, who comes to bid me farewell,” said I.

She then got up and put me to bed again; but I resisted, crying very much and exclaiming — “Papa is at the door, and I must see papa before he leaves me forever.”

“Has that apparition ever made its appearance since that time?”

“No, though I have recalled it often enough. But God, perhaps, grants to a child’s purity, privileges which are refused to man’s corrupt nature.”

“Then,” said Lucien, smiling, “we are more fortunate in our family than you are.”

“Have your deceased ancestors ever shown themselves?”

“Each time that a great event is about to take place.”

“And to what do you attribute this privilege being granted to your family?”

“I am going to give you the whole tradition, such as we have preserved it. I told you that Savilia died, leaving two sons.”

“Yes, I recollect that.”

“These two sons grew up, in an attachment the most devoted, concentrating upon each other all the affection and tenderness which would have been shared with their relatives, if they had lived. They swore to each other, that nothing, not even death, should separate them: and by the aid of I know not what powerful conjuration, they wrote with their blood on a piece of parchment the reciprocal oath, that he who died first, should appear to the other at the moment of his death, and in every time of great extremity during his life. Three months after, one of the brothers was killed in an ambuscade, in the very moment when the other brother was sealing a letter written to him. As he was putting his seal on the hot wax, he heard a sigh behind him, and, turning round, he saw his brother standing there, leaning with his hand resting upon his shoulder, although he felt no weight, nor even the impression of his hand. By a mechanical impulse he presented the letter to his brother, who took it and disappeared. The night before he died he saw this apparition again.

“Without doubt, the two brothers had not only pledged their word for themselves, but also for their offspring, for since that time the apparitions have appeared not only at the time when a death was about to take place, but also upon the eve of all great events connected with the family.”

“And have you ever had a vision of this kind?”

“No; but as my father, during the night preceding his death, was informed by his brother of his approaching end, I presume that my brother and I shall enjoy the privilege of our ancestors, as we have never done any thing to make us unworthy of that favor.”

“And this privilege is only granted to the males of the family?”

“Yes.”

“That’s strange.”

“So it is.”

I looked at the young man, who, cold, grave and calm, told me a thing considered impossible, and I repeated with Hamlet —

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy!”

At Paris, I would have considered the young man as a mystifier; but in the heart of Corsica, in a little obscure village, I was constrained to look upon him as a fool who believed implicitly in the deceptions of his imagination, or a being more or less fortunate than other people.

“And now,” said he, after a long pause, “have I told you all you wished to know?”

“Yes, I thank you, I am much gratified at your confidence in me, and I promise you to keep it secret.”

“Oh!” replied he, smiling, “there is no secret in all this, and the first peasant you might meet in the village, would have told you the same story. I only hope that my brother may not have boasted at Paris of this privilege; the consequence would probably be, that the men would laugh in his face, and the women get a nervous attack.”

After these words he got up, and wishing me good night, retired to his chamber.

Notwithstanding my fatigue, it was some time before I could go to sleep, and even then my rest was disturbed and agitated. I saw confusedly in my dreams all the persons with whom I had had any intercourse during the day, but all was without order or connection. Towards daylight only, I fell into a sound sleep, and did not wake until the pealing of the church bell resounded in my ears.

I rung my bell, for my luxurious predecessor had carried his love of ease so far, as to have within reach of his hand the string of a bell, the only one of the kind, no doubt, existing in the village.

Griffo came up immediately with warm water. I saw that Signor Louis de Franchi had trained this valet-de-chambre tolerably well.

Lucien had already twice asked if I was up, declaring that if at half past nine I was not awake, he mould come into my room.

It was twenty-five minutes past nine, and so, he soon after made his appear ance.

He was dressed in the French style, and even in the style of the French élégant. He had on a black frock coat, a vest de fantaisie, and a pair of white pantaloons, for even in the beginning of March, white pantaloons were quite seasonable in Corsica.

He observed that I was looking at him with some degree of astonishment.

“You admire my dress, said he; “this is a new proof of my progress in civilization.”

“Yes, i’ faith,” answered I, “and I confess my astonishment at finding a tailor of so much taste and skill in Ajaccio. I shall, with my velvet dress, look like Jean de Paris alongside of you.”

“My toilet, sir, is pure Humann, so don’t be astonished any more. My brother and I being exactly of the same size, he has for a joke sent me a complete Parisian wardrobe, which you will understand I only use upon great occasions; as for instance, when Monsieur le Préfet passes, when Monsieur le Général, commander of the 86th department, makes his tour, or, when I receive a guest like you, sir; particularly as this happy event occurs at a time of such solemn ceremony as the one we are now about to celebrate.”

There was in this young man a continual tone of irony, controlled by a superior mind, which, although it frequently placed others in an awkward situation, never passed the bounds of decorum.

I contented myself with bowing my thanks, while he continued occupied in carefully drawing on a pair of straw colored kid gloves, measured for his hand by Boivin, or Rousseau.

Thus, completely dressed, he really looked like an elegant Parisian.

Meanwhile I was finishing my own toilet.

It struck a quarter before ten o’clock.

“Well,” said he, “if you wish to see the play, it is high time for us to take our seats, unless you should prefer taking breakfast first, which I think would be much more reasonable.”

“I thank you, I never take breakfast before eleven or twelve o’clock, so I have plenty of time for the two operations.”

“Come, then.”

I took my hat and followed him.

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