I must confess that while I walked down stairs, Lucien’s last words, “this carabine belongs to my mother,” occupied my thoughts very much. They were certainly calculated to make me regard Signora de Franchi with still greater interest, than I had done at my first interview with her.
Her son, upon entering the dining saloon, respectfully kissed her hand, which homage she received with the dignity of a queen.
“Pardon me, mother,” said Lucien,
“I fear that I have kept you waiting.”
“In that case, signora,” said I, bowing, “it would be my fault. Signor Lucien has related and shown me so many interesting things, that my endless questions have perhaps caused him to be too late.”
“Be easy on that subject,” replied she, “I have but just come down; but,” continued she, speaking to Lucien, “I was anxious to see you, to learn if you had any news from Louis.”
“Is your son suffering?” asked I of Madame de Franchi.
“Lucien is afraid of it,” replied she.
“You have then received a letter from your brother?” inquired I.
“No,” said he, “and that especially makes me uneasy.”
“But how do you know that he is suffering?”
“Because, for the last few days I have been suffering myself.”
“Excuse my never-ending inquiries, but that does not explain the cause.”
“Don’t you know that we are twins?”
“Yes, my guide told me so.”
“And that at our birth we were united at the side?”
“No, I did not know that circumstance.”
“Well then, the use of the scalpel was required to separate us, and whatever distance may lie between, we form only one body; so that every physical and moral impression which is made upon either of us, has its counter effect upon the other. For the last few days, without any reason, I have been sad, morose and gloomy. I have felt violent contractions of the heart, and it is evident to me that my brother must have some profound grief.”
I looked with astonishment at this young man, who asserted such strange things, without appearing to have the least doubt on the subject. His mother seemed likewise to have the same conviction, she smiled sadly, and said:
“The absent is in the hands of God. It is most important that you be sure he lives.”
“If he were dead,” said Lucien, calmly, “I should have seen him.”
“And you would have told me, my son?”
“Oh! the very moment, mother, I assure you.”
“Well then, pardon me, sir,” continued she, turning again towards me, “for not having suppressed my maternal anxieties in your presence. You must know that Lucien and Louis are not alone my only sons, but they are also the last of our name. Please take a seat at my right-hand side.”
“Lucien, sit down here,” said she pointing to a vacant seat on her left.
We sat down at the extremity of a long table, on the opposite side of which were six other covers, for what they call in Corsica the family, those persons who in great houses hold a station between the master and servants.
The table was spread with profusion; but I confess, that notwithstanding I felt al that moment a most violent appetite, I merely satisfied it mechanically, my prepossessed mind not permitting me to indulge in the delicate pleasure of gastronomy.
It seemed to me, in fact, that upon my arrival at this house, I had entered a new world. I appeared to live in a dream. What circumstances could be connected with this woman, who had her rifle like a soldier? What, with this young man, who felt the same pains as his brother, at a distance of three hundred leagues? How could I explain the mystery of a mother who makes her son promise to tell her, if he should see her other son dead?
There was, you must acknowledge, in all this, sufficient matter for reverie.
But observing that my continued silence bordered upon impoliteness, I raised my head, and endeavored to shake off this confusion of ideas.
Both mother and son saw at once, that I intended to take up the subject again.
“And,” began Lucien, as if he was merely continuing an uninterrupted conversation, “you concluded to visit Corsica?”
“Yes, so you see; I formed this project a long time ago, and have at last put it into execution.”
“By my soul, you have done well not to delay it longer, for in a few years, with the successive innovations of French taste and customs, those who come here to see Corsica, will find her no more.”
“At all events,” said I, “if the old national spirit retires before the advances of civilization, and finds a retreat in some remote corner of the island, it will certainly be in the Province of Sartene, and in the Valley of the Tararo.”
“You think so?” said the young man, smiling.
“Because it seems to me, that all I see before and around me, is a very fine and noble picture of the old manners and customs of Corsica.
“Yes, sir, but notwithstanding, between my mother and myself, in presence of the souvenirs of four centuries, in this same ancient house with its pinnacles and gratings, the French spirit has entered to influence my brother; has taken him away from us, and has made him go to Paris, from whence he will return a lawyer. He will then live at Ajaccio, instead of living in the house of his forefathers; he will practice law — if he has talent he will perhaps be appointed royal attorney; he will then sue the poor fellows who have made* a skin, as they say in this country; he will confound the assassin with the murderer, as you have done awhile ago; he will, in the name of the law, demand the heads of those who have done merely what their fathers would have felt themselves disgraced by not doing. He will substitute the judgments of men for the judgments of God. And in the evening, after he has given a head to the executioner, he will imagine that he has saved his country, and think he has brought his stone to the foundation of the temple of civilization, as our Préfet says. Oh God! Oh God!!”
* FAIRE UNE PEAU, literally, to make a skin, means to kill a person in what they call an honorable cause, as for instance the celebrated Corsican vendetta. T.
And the young man raised his eyes to heaven, just as Hannibal must have done after the battle of Zama.
“But,” said I, “God has balanced all things well, for if your brother has become a follower of the new principles, you have at the same time adhered more firmly to the old customs.”
“Yes; but who assures me that my son may not follow the example of his uncle, instead of following mine? and I, myself, don’t I sanction things unworthy of one of the de Franchis?”
“You?” exclaimed I, astonished.
“Ah, heaven! yes, I, myself. Will you permit me to tell you what was your object in visiting the province of Sartene?”
“You came here with the curiosity of a man of the world, of an artist, or of a poet; I know not, nor do I ask what you are. You may tell us, before we part, if it be agreeable, or you may remain silent on the subject — just as you please. Well, now, you come here in hope of seeing some village in vendetta, to be brought into contact with some real original bandit, like those whom Monsieur Mérimée has pourtrayed in his Colomba.
“Well, I think I have then been tolerably fortunate, for if I have seen right, yours is the only house in the village, that is not fortified.”
“This proves how much I have degenerated; for my father, my grandfather, or any one of my forefathers would have taken part for one or other of the two parties which have divided this village for the last ten years. Well, and do you know what I am in all this, in the midst of the report of guns, the strokes of knives, and the blows of stilettos! I am arbiter. You came to the province of Sartene to see bandits, did you not? Well, come with me this evening, and I’ll show you one.”
“How! You permit me then to accompany you?”
“Oh! yes; if it amuses you, it depends entirely upon yourself.”
“I certainly accept your invitation with great pleasure.”
“Your signoria must be very much fatigued,” said Madame de Franchi, casting a glance at her son, as if she had partaken of the shame he felt at the degeneration of Corsica.
“No, mother, no, he must come; and when in some Parisian saloon, they will speak hereafter before monsieur of these terrible vendettas, and of those cruel bandits, who yet frighten the young children at Bastia and Ajaccio, he can at least shrug his shoulders and tell them all about it.”
“But what gave rise originally to this great quarrel, which as it appears is now on the point of being settled peaceably?”
“Ah!” said Lucien, “in a quarrel, the origin is not of any consequence — but the result. If a fly, in crossing a man’s path, has occasioned his death, the man is not the less dead for that.”
I saw that he felt some reluctance to tell me the cause of this terrible mar, which had for ten years desolated the village of Sullacaro. But, as a matter of course, the more reserved I found him, the more inquisitive I became.
“But this quarrel must have had an origin,” said I. “Perhaps the reason for it is a secret?”
“Oh! no, not at all. The matter originated between the Orlandi and the Colonna.”
“On what occasion?”
“A hen escaped from the yard of the Orlandi, and flew over into that of the Colonna. The Orlandi went over to claim their hen, but the Colonna refused to give it up, claiming it as their own; the Orlandi then threatened to take them before a justice of the peace. The old mother Colonna, who kept the hen in her hands, then twisted its neck, and threw it into her neighbor’s face: saying, ‘Well then, if she belongs to you, eat her.’ One of the Orlandi then picked up the hen, and was going to strike the offender with it; but at that moment, one of the Colonna, who, unfortunately, had a loaded gun in his hand, took aim at him, and shot him dead on the spot.”
“And how many lives have now paid for this scuffle?”
“There have been nine persons killed altogether.”
“And that for a wretched hen worth only twelve sous.”
“No doubt the hen was the cause; but as I have told you already, it is not the cause, but the result which you must look at.”
“And because there have been nine persons killed, there must be a tenth victim?”
“But you see,” replied Lucien, “that this will not be the case, as I am going to be arbiter.”
“No doubt you do so, at the solicitation of one of these two families?”
“Not at all, but at the request of my brother, who has been spoken to about this affair, at the Lord Chancellor’s . Now, I ask you in confidence, what business have they at Paris, to interfere in the private transactions that take place in an obscure village in Corsica? I suspect the Préfet has played us this trick, by suggesting to them, perhaps, that if I would say one word in the matter, all this quarrelling would end like a vaudeville, with a marriage and a couplet to the public. They then probably spoke to my brother on the subject, who of course took it up warmly, and wrote to me that he had pledged his word for me. What shall I do now?” said the young man, raising his head. “Can I let them say at Paris, that a Franchi has given his word for his brother, and that that brother has failed to redeem it?”
“Then you have arranged all for a final settlement?”
“That’s what I am afraid of.”
“And me are going this evening to see the leader of one of these two parties, no doubt?”
“Exactly so; last night I visited the other.”
“And is it to an Orlandi or a Colonna that we are going?”
“To an Orlandi.”
“Is the rendezvous far from here?”
“In the ruins of the Chateau of Vincentello d’Istria.”
“Ah! is it there? I was told that these ruins are in this vicinity.”
“They are at the distance of about a league from here.”
“Then we shall be there within three quarters of an hour?”
“Yes, in about that time.”
“Lucien,” here interrupted Madame de Franchi, “remember that you speak for yourself. You can make this distance in less than that time, as well as any other highlander, but monsieur will not be able to travel the road you usually pass.”
“That’s true; — it mill then take us an hour and a half at least.”
“You have then no time to lose,” replied Madame de Franchi, with a glance at the clock.
“Mother, said Lucien, “permit us to leave you.”
She offered him her hand, which the young man kissed with the same respect as he had done when he came in.
“If, nevertheless, you should prefer finishing your supper quietly, and then retire to your own room, to warm your feet and smoke a cigar —”
“No, no, no,” exclaimed I, “diable! you have promised me a bandit, and I will have one.”
“Well, then, let us take our guns, and en route.”
I saluted Madame de Franchi respectfully, and we started, preceded by Griffo, who lighted us out of the room.
Our preparations were not long. I put round my waist a traveling girdle that I had procured, before leaving Paris, which contained my powder and shot; a hunting knife was also suspended from it.
As for Lucien, he re-appeared with his cartouchière, a double-barrelled gun of Mauton’s, and a pointed cap, a chef d’oeuvre of embroidery, made by some Penelope of Sullacaro.
“Shall I accompany your eccellenza?” asked Griffo.
“No, that is not necessary,” replied Lucien; “but loosen Diamante; he will probably hunt up some pheasants, and we can shoot in the bright moonlight as well as if it were daytime.”
A moment after, a large, splendid spaniel came jumping round us, barking with joy.
We walked about ten steps from the house —
“Apropos,"— said Lucien, turning back, “tell them in the village, if they should hear the report of guns in the hills, that we have fired them.”
“I shall do so, eccellenza.”
“Without this precaution,” said Lucien to me, “they might think perhaps that the hostilities were renewed, and we should hear the noise of our guns re-echoed from the streets of Sullacaro.”
After proceeding a few steps, we turned on our right into a narrow street, leading directly to the mountains.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53