Although it was now only the beginning of March, the weather was truly delightful, and would have been even warm, had it not been for an invigorating breeze which cooled the atmosphere, bringing with it that peculiar fresh and acrid odor of the sea.
The moon appeared, clear and brilliant, above Mount Cagna, and threw a flood of light over the whole western declivity of the mountain ridge, which here divides Corsica into two parts. This natural barrier makes, to a great degree, two different countries of the island, which are always at war, or at least in enmity with each other. As we ascended, the gorges through which the Tavaro runs, gradually disappeared in the shades of night, the obscurity of which was impenetrable to the eye, and we saw spread out on the horizon the Mediterranean, calm and bright, looking like an immense mirror of burnished steel.
Certain peculiar sounds, distinguishable only in the solemnity of night, and which made no effect upon Lucien, who was familiar with them, produced in me sensations of strange and singular surprise, filling my soul with that deep emotion which gives the highest interest to every thing we see.
We arrived at a point where the road branched off in two directions, the one of which appeared to go round the mountain, and the other to lose itself in a path, hardly visible, leading directly to the top of the hill. Lucien stopped.
“Let us see now,” said he, “have you a highlander’s foot?”
“The foot, yes, but not the eye.”
“That is to say, you become giddy?”
“Yes, the empty space attracts me irresistibly.”
“Well, then, we can take this path which will not offer us any precipices, but only some difficulties of footing.”
“Oh, as for that, I don’t care.”
“Then let us go on; this route will save us three quarters of an hour’s walk.”
“Go on, then.”
Lucien entered first a small wood of green oaks, into which I followed him. Diamante ran before us at a distance of about fifty or sixty yards, scouring the woods on the right and left, and from time to time returning to the path, gaily wagging his tail and gamboling about, seeming to assure us, that we could rely with entire confidence on his sagacious instinct, and continue our journey in safety. I saw that like the horses of those would-be fashionables, brokers in the morning and lions in the evening, who use the same animal for the saddle and the cab, Diamante was trained to hunt bipeds as well as quadrupeds, bandits and bears.
In order not to appear entirely unacquainted with Corsican manners and customs, I communicated my observation to Lucien.
“You are mistaken,” said he, ”Diamante, it is true, hunts both man and beast; it is not the bandit he pursues, but the triple breed of the gendarmes, the voltigeur and the volunteer.”
“How,” exclaimed I, ”Diamante is the dog of the bandit?”
“Just as you say. Diamante belonged formerly to an Orlandi, to whom I sent from time to time, while he lived in the country, bread, powder, bullets and some other necessaries of which a bandit is often in need. He was killed by a Colonna, and the next day I received his dog, who, being in the habit of coming to the house, soon became attached to me.”
“But it seems to me, that from my window, or rather the window of your brother’s room, I have seen another dog, chained in the yard?”
“Yes, that is Brusco; he possesses the same qualities as this dog, only I got him from a Colonna, killed by an Orlandi. Thus, whenever I go to see a Colonna I take Brusco along, and when I visit an Orlandi, Diamante accompanies me. If by any accident they should both become loose at the same time, they mould devour each other. So you see, continued Lucien laughing bitterly, that men can reconcile themselves to each other, make their peace, and go to the same communion table, but dogs will never eat out of the same dish.”
“Well, truly,” replied I, laughing also, “these are two genuine Corsican dogs. But it appears to me, that Diamante, like all modest beings, avoids hearing his own praise, for since we have been speaking of him, he has entirely disappeared.
“Oh! don’t be uneasy about that,” said Lucien, “I know where he is.”
“May I ask, where?”
“At the mucchio.”
“I was just going to hazard another question at the risk of tiring my companion, when we heard a howling, so sad, so prolonged, and so lamentable, that I started with a sudden thrill, and laid my hand on the young man’s arm.
“What is that?” demanded I.
“Nothing. It is Diamante making a lament.”
“And what is he mourning for?”
“His master. Do you think that dogs are like men, forgetful of those who have once loved them?”
“Ah! I understand.”
Diamante here uttered another howl, longer, deeper and more melancholy than the first.
“You have said,” continued I, “that his master was killed? we are then approaching the spot’”
“Exactly, and Diamante has left us to go to the mucchio.”
“The mucchio, then, is the grave?”
“Yes sir, it is the, monument formed by stones and branches of trees, which every passer by throws upon the grave of one who has been murdered. Thus, instead of disappearing like other tombs under the hand of that great leveler Time, the tomb of the victim grows continually, a symbol of that vengeance which is to survive him and grow unceasingly in the hearts of his nearest relatives.”
A third howl now rung on our ears, but this time so near, that I could not forbear shuddering, although I knew the cause of it perfectly well.
In fact, at a turn of the path, I discovered at about twenty yards from us, a heap of white stones, forming a pyramid four or five feet in height. It was the mucchio; Diamante was sitting at the foot of this strange monument, his neck stretched and his mouth wide open.
Lucien picked up a stone, and lifting his cap, approached the mucchio.
I followed his example, imitating him as closely as possible.
When we reached the pyramid, he broke off a branch from a holm-oak, and threw on the heap first the stone, and then the branch, making with his thumb that rapid sign of the cross, a habit as truly Corsican as any, and which Napoleon himself made unintentionally, under certain terrible circumstances. I imitated him to the last.
We then continued our journey, silent and pensive. Diamante remained behind.
In about ten minutes after, we heard this dismal howl for the last time, for almost immediately Diamante, with his head and tail hanging down, joined us again and renewed his duties as watchdog and hunter.
Meanwhile, as we continued to advance, just as Lucien had told me, the path became more and more steep. I put my gun over my shoulder, seeing that I should soon be in need of my two hands. As to my guide and companion, he continued to walk with the same ease as before, and seemed hardly to notice the difficulties of the road.
After some minutes, climbing up the rocks, assisted by roots and bushes, we reached a kind of platform, overhung by some walls, in ruins; these were the ruins of the Chateau of Vincentello d’Istria, the end of our journey.
In about five minutes more of steep and still more difficult climbing than at first, Lucien, standing on the upper terrace, gave me his hand and pulled me up.
“Very well — very well indeed,” said he, “you succeed tolerably well for a Parisian.”
“That is because the Parisian you have just assisted to make his last stride, has made some excursions of this kind before now.”
“Yes,” said Lucien smiling, “I was told that near Paris they have a sort of hill which they call Montmartre.”
“Just so. But besides Montmartre, which I don’t despise, I have ascended some other mountains, which are called the Righi, the Faulhorn, the Gemmi, Vesuvius, Strombolo, and Mount Etna.”
“Well, now you are going to laugh at me, for not having ascended any other mountains than our Monte-Rotondo. At all events, here we are; four hundred years ago my forefathers would have opened their doors and bade you enter their castle; now, their offspring shows you this little breach, and bids you welcome to these ruins.”
“This chateau has belonged to your family, then, ever since the death of Vincentello d’Istria?” began I again, resuming the conversation where we had left off.
“No; but before he was born, this was the residence of our common ancestor, the celebrated Savilia, widow of Lucien de Franchi.”
“Is there not in Fillipini’s work a terrible history given of this woman?”
“Yes. If it was daylight you could also see from here the ruins of the Chateau of Valle, where in former times the Lord of Guidice lived; he was as much hated as Savilia was beloved, and was as ugly as she was beautiful. He fell in love with her, but as she repulsed his advances he sent her a message that if in a given time she would not accept him for a husband, he would carry her off by force. Savilia appeared to give way, and invited Guidice to a dinner party. Forgetting, in the excess of his joy, that this flattering result had been obtained by threatening the woman he loved, he waited upon her at the appointed time, accompanied by only a few followers. As they entered, the gates were closed behind them, and a few minutes after, Guidice was a prisoner in the dungeons of Savilia’s castle.”
I advanced a few steps, and found myself in a sort of square yard. The moon shone through the crevices made by time, throwing long stripes of light upon the ground, nearly covered with rubbish. All the rest of the ruin remained in the deepest obscurity, shaded by remnants of the old walls. Lucien looked at his watch.
“Ah!” said he, “we are twenty minutes in advance. Sit down; you must be tired.”
We sat down, or rather laid down on a declivity of green turf, opposite a large breach.
“But,” resumed I, “it appears to me that is not the whole story.”
“No,” continued Lucien. “Every morning and evening Savilia came down to the dungeon next to the one in which Guidice was confined, and there, separated by an iron grate, showed herself to the prisoner. ‘Guidice,’ said she, tauntingly, ‘how could such an ugly man as you ever expect to possess these charms?’ This torture continued for three months twice every day. But at the expiration of this time, by the assistance of a chambermaid whom he had bribed, Guidice succeeded in making his escape. He then returned with all his vassals, much more numerous than those of Savilia, took the castle by storm, and made Savilia prisoner. He exposed her in a large iron cage, at a crossway in the forest of Bocca di Cilaccia, offering the key of this cage to every passer by who might be tempted by her beauty. On the evening of the third day of this public exposure, Savilia was found dead.”
“It strikes me that your ancestors understood the practice of vengeance tolerably well, and their offspring, killing each other merely with a gun or dagger, have no doubt somewhat degenerated.”
“That is not the worst; but you will see the time when they will no longer kill each other. But, at least,” continued the young man, “all that did not pass so smoothly in our family. The two sons of Savilia, who lived at Ajaccio, under the care of her uncle, had been educated as true Corsicans, and continued to make violent war against the sons of Guidice. This war continued during four centuries, and was finished only as you have seen on the carabines of my father and mother, of the 21st of September, 1819, at eleven o’clock in the morning.”
“I remember, indeed, to have seen this inscription, of which you have not given me any explanation; for when I was on the point of asking you about it we were summoned to supper.”
“I will tell you now. In 1819, there remained of the whole Guidice family only two brothers; and of the Franchis, there was left my father, who had married his cousin. Three months after their marriage the Guidices resolved to finish with us all at once. One of the brothers placed himself in ambush on the road to Olmeto, intending to intercept my father, who had gone to Sartene, while the other, taking advantage of his absence, was to attack our house. These plans were executed, but the result was very different from what the aggressors had expected. My father, informed in time of their designs, was on his guard, while my mother, also apprised of their premeditated attack, assembled our shepherds, so that when the double attack began, all was ready for their reception; my father in the mountains, and my mother in my very room. After a short fight the two brothers Guidice fell, one killed by my father, the other shot by my mother’s own hand. When he saw his enemy fall, my father took out his match; it was eleven o’clock! At the same time my mother, having destroyed her adversary, turned round to the clock; it was eleven o’clock! Their enemies had been cut off in the same moment. There was not a Guidice in existence. The race was extinct. The Franchi family, victorious, was hence undisturbed, and as they had bravely done their duty through four centuries, they took no part in new quarrels. My father got the date and hour of this strange occurrence engraved on the stocks of the two carabines that had served on the occasion, and put them up alongside of the clock, where you have seen them. Seven months after my mother gave birth to two twins, one of which is your humble servant Lucien the Corsican, and the other his brother Louis the philanthropist.”
At this moment, on that part of the platform illuminated by the moon, I saw the shadows of a man and a dog approaching. It was the bandit Orlandini, and our friend Diamante.
At the same time we heard the sound of the church clock at Sullacaro, which slowly struck nine o’clock.
Maestro Orlandini was, it appears, of the opinion of Louis XV, who established it as a principle that punctuality is a king’s politeness. It was certainly impossible to be more punctual than this king of the mountains, to whom Lucien had named the ninth hour for their rendezvous.
As he approached we both got up.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53