The Corsican Brothers, by Alexandre Dumas

Chapter 7.

From the top of the eight steps leading to the door of the armed castle occupied by Signora de Franchi and her son, I could overlook the whole place.

The village wore a very different aspect from what it had presented the day previous; it was crowded with people, composed, however, entirely of women, and children under twelve years of age; not a man appeared in the streets.

On the first step of the church was a man solemnly girded with a tri-colored scarf, it was the Mayor.

Under the portico, another man, dressed in black, was sitting before a table, upon which was laid a paper colored with writing. This was the Public Notary, and the paper was the deed of reconciliation.

I took my stand on one side of the table with the witnesses of Orlandini. On the other side stood the witnesses of Colonna.

Lucien, as belonging equally to both parties, stood in the centre behind the Notary.

In the choir of the church, the priests were saying mass.

The clock struck ten.

At this moment a shudder ran through the crowd, and all eyes were turned to the two opposite ends of the street, where, from the hill side, appeared Orlandini, while at the same time Colonna entered from the river side. Both of them were accompanied by their partisans. But according to the articles of agreement none of them carried arms. Had it not been for the crabbed expression of their countenances, one would have taken them for peaceable churchwardens following a procession.

The chiefs of the two parties presented a very remarkable physical contrast. Orlandini, as I have already said, was tall, thin, dark complexioned and agile.

Colonna was short, heavy and vigorous; his hair and beard were red, short, and curled.

Both chiefs carried in their hands a branch of olive tree, a symbolical emblem of the peace which they were going to conclude; this was one of the Mayor’s poetical inventions.

Colonna also carried by the feet a white hen, destined to serve as damages for the one which ten years before had given rise to the quarrel.

The hen was a living one. This point had been long discussed, and was very near causing the whole affair to be a failure — Colonna considering it a double humiliation to give back a living hen, when his aunt had thrown a dead one into the face of Orlandini’s cousin. However, by means of logical arguments, Lucien had prevailed upon Colonna to give the hen, and by the power of similar demonstrations, had determined Orlandini to accept it.

At the moment when the two enemies made their appearance, the church bells, which had been silent for some time, began to ring violently.

Upon seeing each other, both Colonna and Orlandini made a movement, which left no doubt of their mutual repulsion; nevertheless they continued to advance.

They halted directly in front of the church door, and stood opposite each other, about four steps apart.

If, three days before, these two men had met at a hundred steps’ distance, one of them would certainly have fallen on the spot.

During five minutes there reigned, not only in the two parties, but also in the whole crowd, a silence, which, notwithstanding the amicable and reconciling character of the ceremony, had nothing in it of a very peaceful expression.

The Mayor then said in a loud voice:

“Well, Colonna, you know that you have to speak first.”

Colonna made a great effort, and pronounced a few words in the Corsican dialect.

It seemed to me that he expressed his regret for having passed ten years in vendetta with his good neighbor Orlandini, and he offered him the white hen which he carried as a reparation.

Orlandini waited until the speech of his adversary was fully terminated, and promised in another few Corsican words, not to remember any thing but the solemn reconciliation which was taking place, under the auspices of the Signor Mayor, the arbitration of Signor Lucien, and the arrangement of the Signor Notary.

They then both became silent again.

“Well, signori,” said the Mayor, “it was greed upon, I believe, that you should shake hands with each other.”

By an instinctive movement, the two enemies put their hands behind them.

The Mayor descended the steps upon which he was standing, took Colonna’s hand from behind his back, then got hold of Orlandini’s hand, and after some efforts, which he tried to hide from the by-standers by smiling, he succeeded in joining their hands.

The Notary took advantage of that moment, rose, and commenced reading the following, while the Mayor still kept the two hands joined, which at first did all they could to disunite, but finally consented to remain together.

“Before us, Guiseppe-Antonio-Sarrola, Notary Royal, at Sullacaro, Province of Sartene;

“On the square of the village, in front of the church, in presence of the Signor Mayor, the witnesses and the whole population;

“Between Gaetano-Orso Orlandi, called Orlandini,

“And Marco-Vincenzio Colonna, called Schioppone,

“Has been concluded as follows, viz: From this day, March 9th of the year 1841, the vendetta existing between them for the last ten years shall cease.

“From the same day they will live together like good neighbors and companions, as their parents did before this unfortunate occurrence, which has brought disunion between their families and friends.

“In faith of which, they have signed these presents, under the portico of the village church, with Signor Paolo Arbori, Mayor of the Community, Signor Lucien de Franchi, Arbiter, the witnesses of both parties, and ourselves the Notary,

“Sullacaro, this 9th day of March, 1841.”

It gave me pleasure to observe, with what excessive prudence the Notary had avoided mentioning a single word about the hen, which placed Colonna in so bad a position before Orlandini.

After the reading of the deed, Colonna’s face brightened up, while Orlandini’s brow grew darker; he evidently looked at the hen as if he felt the most violent desire of throwing it into Colonna’s face; but a glance from Lucien de Franchi prevented the execution of this bad design.

The Mayor saw that there was no time to be lost; he stepped back, still keeping the two hands joined in each other, and not losing sight of the newly reconciled men for a single moment.

Then, in order to prevent a new discussion at the moment of signing, as either of the parties might have considered it a concession to sign first, he took the pen, signed his name, and offered it to Orlandini, thus preventing any hesitation by conferring an honor, Orlandini took the pen, signed, and presented it to Lucien, who, using the same peaceable subterfuge, passed it on in his turn to Colonna, who last of all made his cross.

At this moment solemn music was heard from the church, sounding like the Te Deum sung after a victory.

We then all signed without any distinction of rank or title, just as the nobility of France had, 123 years before, signed the protestation against the Duc du Maine.

The two heroes of the day now entered the church, and knelt down on each side of the choir, at the places which had been reserved for them.

I saw that, from this moment only, Lucien became calm. All was over, the reconciliation was sworn, not only before men, but also before God.

The remainder of divine service passed over without any occurrence worth relating.

After the mass was ended, Orlandini and Colonna walked out with the same ceremony. At the door, by the request of the Mayor, they again touched each other’s hands. Then each of them, accompanied by their several friends and relations, walked up to his own house, which for the last three years neither of them had entered.

As for Lucien and myself, we returned to Signora de Franchi, where dinner was waiting for us.

It was easy for me to see by the increased attention of which I was the object, that Lucien had read my name when I signed the deed of reconciliation, and that this name was not quite unknown to him.

In the morning I announced to Lucien, my intention of leaving immediately after dinner.

I was anxiously expected at Paris for the rehearsal of ”Un Mariage sous Louis XV,” and notwithstanding the entreaties of mother and son, firmly adhered to my first decision.

Lucien then asked the permission of writing to his brother, and Madame de Franchi, who with an appearance of classical severity still possessed all the tenderness of a mother’s heart, made me promise that I would deliver it to her son with my own hand.

This was certainly no great trouble, as Louis de Franchi, like a true Parisian, lived at No. 7, Rue du Helder.

I requested permission to see Lucien’s room once more. He took me there himself, and pointing with his hand to all its contents,

“You know, said he, “that if any thing here pleases you, you must take it, for it is yours.”

I took down a small poniard which was suspended in a corner sufficiently obscure to convince me that it was not of much value: and as I had seen him throw a glance of admiration on my hunting girdle, and heard him praise its arrangement, I begged him to accept it. He had the good sense to take it, without malting me repeat my request.

At this moment Griffo appeared at the door, to inform me that my horse was saddled, and my guide waiting for me.

I had put aside a present which I had reserved for Griffo; it was a kind of hunter’s knife, with two pistols attached to it alongside of the blade, the hammers of which were hid in the handle.

I have never seen greater delight exhibited than when I presented it to him.

I went down stairs and found Madame de Franchi waiting to bid me farewell, at the very place where she had welcomed me. I kissed her hand, with a feeling of great admiration for this woman so simple and so dignified. Lucien accompanied me to the door.

“On any other day,” said he, “I should have saddled my horse, and attended you over the mountain, but today I dare not leave Sullacaro, for fear that one or the other of our two friends might commit some folly.

“And you do very right,” replied I; “as for me, believe me, I am very happy in having witnessed at Corsica such a novel ceremony as the one in which I have taken part.”

“Yes, yes, be proud of it, for you have seen that which must have shaken the bones of our ancestors in their graves.

“I understand; with them the war was holy enough, and they would not have needed a notary to draw up an act of reconciliation.”

“Or, rather, they would not have consented to a reconciliation at all.”

He offered me his hand.

“Don’t you wish me to embrace your brother’” said I.

“Certainly I do, if it will be agreeable to you.”

“Well, then, let us embrace each other; I cannot give him what I have not received.”

We embraced each other.

“Shall I not see you again?” asked I.

“Yes, if you return to Corsica.”

“No, but when you come to Paris?”

“I shall never go there,” said Lucien.

“If you ever should, you will find my card on your brother’s chimney; don’t forget my name.”

“I promise you, that if any event should take me to the continent, I shall make you my first visit.”

“Very well, that’s all settled.”

He offered me his hand once more, and we parted. He followed me with his eyes, as long as he could see me in the street leading to the river.

The village was tolerably quiet. Only here and there I noticed that kind of agitation which follows great events, and I proceeded, fixing my eyes on each door as I passed, in the expectation of seeing Orlandini come out, who in truth owed me his thanks; but he seemed to have forgotten all about this debt.

And I passed the last house of the village without having seen any thing like him.

I thought he in reality had neglected me, but I must say, that amid the grave occupations with which Orlandini was necessarily engrossed on such a day, I sincerely forgave and excused such forgetfulness. But suddenly, while approaching the forest of Bicchisano, I saw a man come out of the wood, and place himself in the middle of the road. I recognized him immediately to be the very man whom, in my French impatience, and in my habit of Parisian consistency, I had already accused of ingratitude.

I observed that he had found time to put the same dress on again, in which I had first seen him in the ruins of Vincentello; he wore his cartouchière, from which was suspended the indispensable pistol; and he also had his gun with him.

When I was about twenty steps from him, he took off his hat, while at the same time I spurred my horse on, in order not to let him wait.

“Signor,” said he, “I did not wish you to leave Sullacaro; without thanking you for the honor you have bestowed on a poor peasant like me by serving him as a witness; and as down there I had not a heart at ease, nor a tongue at liberty, I preferred to wait for you here.”

“I am much obliged to you,” answered I, “but you should not have disturbed yourself in your occupations for that; I assure you that all the honor has been for me.”

“And then, signor,” continued the bandit, “how can I help it? No one can, in an instant, give up a habit of three years. The mountain air is strange and mighty; once having inhaled it, you suffocate in any other atmosphere. A little while ago, while in those miserable houses, I thought every moment that the roof would have fallen on my head.”

“But,” said I, “are you not going now to resume your former mode of life I understand that you have a house, a field, and a vineyard.”

“Yes — I have; but my sister took care of my house, and the Luquois were there to cultivate my field and vineyard. We Corsicans never work.”

“What is then your occupation?”

“We superintend the laborers; we walk about with a gun on our shoulders, and go hunting.”

“Well, my dear Signor Orlandini,” said I, shaking hands with him, “good luck! Remember that my honor, as well as yours, is solemnly pledged for your not shooting in future at any thing else than moufflons, deer, boars, pheasants and partridges, but never at Marco-Vincenzio Colonna, nor at any of his family or friends!”

“Ah! eccellenza,” replied he, with an expression of physiognomy which I had never seen before, but on the face of a Norman litigant, “the hen which he returned me was a very poor one!”

And without uttering another word he returned to the thicket, and immediately disappeared.

I continued my road, making some reflections upon this, as a probable reason for a new rupture between the Orlandini and the Colonna.

The same evening I slept at Albiteccia. The next day I arrived at Ajaccio. Eight days after, I reached Paris.

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