“You are not alone, Signor Lucien,” said the bandit.
“Don’t be uneasy about that, Orlandini. Monsieur is a friend of mine, who has heard you spoken of, and wished to pay you a visit. I did not think I ought to refuse him that pleasure.
“Monsieur is welcome to the country,” replied the bandit, bowing, at the same time advancing a few steps towards. us.
I returned his salute with the most minute politeness.
“You must have been here some time, already?” continued Orlandini.
“Yes, about twenty minutes.”
“That’s it. I heard Diamante’s voice, howling at the mucchio, and about a quarter of an hour ago he came to meet me. That’s a good and faithful animal; is he not, Signor Lucien?”
“No doubt he is good and faithful,” replied Lucien, caressing Diamante.
“But if you knew that Signor Lucien was here, why did you not come earlier?”
“Because we had our rendezvous appointed for nine o’clock,” answered the bandit, “and he is not more punctual who arrives too early, than he who arrives too late.”
“Is that a reproach you make me, Orlandini?” said Lucien, laughing.
“No, sir — you may have had your reasons for doing so; besides, you have company, and it is probably on account of monsieur that you have this time abandoned your usual custom; for you, Signor Lucien, are also very punctual, of which, thank Heaven, I have received numerous proofs.”
“This is probably the last occasion of the kind, Orlandini.”
“Yes; had we, therefore, better not take up our conversation?” asked the bandit.
“If you are ready to follow me.”
“At your service, signor.”
Lucien turned back to me.
“You excuse me?” he said.
“Certainly, sir. Attend to your task.”
They both left me and ascended the breach through which Orlandini had first made his appearance. They halted on the top of it, and stood upright, their black silhouettes strongly cut in the bright moonlight, which seemed to surround them with a flood of silver.
I could now observe Orlandini more minutely.
He was a very tall man, with a long beard, and dressed exactly like the young De Franchi, only his garments showed a frequent contact with the earth that served him for a bed every night, and of the briers in whose thorny mazes he lived, their proprietor, and through which he had more than once had to fly for his life.
I could not understand their conversation, on account of the distance, and also because they spoke the Corsican dialect. But I could easily discover by their gestures that the bandit repelled with great warmth a series of arguments which the young man brought forward with a calmness which did honor to the impartiality displayed in this whole transaction. At last the gestures of Orlandini became less frequent and less energetic, his language even seemed to become more peaceable, and after a last observation his head sank on his breast. He remained in this position a few seconds, and on a sudden impulse offered his hand to the young man.
The conversation, it seemed, was finished, for they both approached me.
“My worthy guest,” said the young De Franchi, “Orlandini wishes to offer you his hand and thank you.”
“What for?” interrupted I
“For having consented to be one of his witnesses. I have engaged my word for you.”
“This alone is sufficient to make me accept it, without even knowing what the question is.”
I offered my hand to the bandit, who did me the honor of touching it with the end of his fingers.
“So,” continued Lucien, “you may say to my brother that all is settled after his desires, and that you have even signed the contract.”
“There is then a marriage to take place?”
“No, not yet; but that will follow, perhaps.”
A scornful smile appeared on the bandit’s lip.
“Peace — yes, Signor Lucien, because you insist so much upon it — but no marriage; there is not a word said about it in the treaty.”
“No,” said Lucien, “that is probably only written in the future. But let us speak of something else. Did you hear any thing while I was speaking with Orlandini?”
“Of your conversation, you mean?”
“No — but of a pheasant, who was also talking somewhere about here?”
“It seemed to me, indeed, that I heard the voice of a bird; but I thought I was mistaken.”
“No, you were not mistaken,” said the bandit; “there is a cock-pheasant sitting in the great chestnut tree, about a hundred yards from here. I heard him a little while ago.”
“Well,” said Lucien, merrily, “we must have him for our dinner to-morrow.
“I should have brought him down long ago,” said Orlandini, “had I not been afraid they might have thought in the village that I was hunting other game than pheasants.”
“Apropos,” continued he, putting his gun over his shoulder, which he was just getting ready, “you shall have that honor, monsieur.”
“Excuse me, sir; I am not as sure of my aim as you are, but I am as deeply interested in eating my part of the pheasant to-morrow, as you are in shooting him.”
“The fact is,” said Lucien, “you are not accustomed, as we are, to hunting after night, and you would certainly shoot too low; besides, if you have nothing better to do to-morrow, you may then take your turn.”
We stepped out of the ruins on the side opposite that by which we had entered. Lucien went first, and he had hardly set his foot in the thicket before we heard the pheasant calling again. It was about eighty steps from us, hid by the branches of a large chestnut tree, surrounded on all sides by thick underwood.
“But how in the world will you approach without alarming him?” inquired I; “it does not appear to me to be very easy.”
“If I could only see him,” said Lucien, “I could shoot him from here.”
“How? from here? Have you a gun that will kill pheasants at eighty steps distance?”
“With shot — no. With a bullet — yes.”
“With a bullet? Ah, enough then — that’s another thing. You have done very well not to let me shoot.”
“Would you like to see the pheasant’” asked Orlandini.
“Certainly — it would give me great pleasure.”
“Wait a moment.”
And Orlandini began to imitate the clucking of the hen-pheasant.
At the same moment, without perceiving the bird, we heard a rustling among the leaves of the chestnut tree; the pheasant ascended from branch to branch, all the time answering by his cries the treacherous advances made by Orlandini, until at last he appeared on the top of the tree, perfectly visible, showing a dark outline on the bluish white of the sky.
Orlandini kept silence — the pheasant remained without moving, and at the same time Lucien took aim at him and shot.
The pheasant came down like a ball.
“Go seek!” said Lucien to Diamante, who sprung into the bushes, and in a few minutes returned with the pheasant in his mouth.
The bullet had gone through its body.
“I must compliment you upon that shot,” said I, “particularly as it was done with a double-barreled gun.”
“Oh,” replied Lucien, “there is not so much merit in it as you think; one of the barrels being rifled carries the bullet like a carabine.”
“No matter — even with a carabine the shot would deserve a favorable mention.”
“Bah!” said Orlandini, “with a carabine Signor Lucien can strike a five-franc piece at three hundred steps distance.”
“And do you shoot equally well with a pistol?”
“Nearly so,” replied Lucien; “at twenty-five steps distance I always cut in two, six bullets out of twelve, on the blade of a knife.”
I raised my hat and bowed to Lucien.
“And your brother,” said I, “is he as good a shot as you are?”
“My brother? Poor Louis! he has never touched a gun or pistol in his life; and I am always afraid he may get into some bad affair at Paris; for, brave as he is, he would expose himself to certain death in maintaining the honor of his country.”
Lucien put the pheasant in the wide pocket of his velvet jacket.
“Now, my dear Orlandini,” continued he, “till to-morrow! I know your punctuality! At 10 o’clock you will be at the extremity of the street, with your friends and relations from the hillside; at the same time, on the opposite side of the street, Colonna, on his part, will arrive with his relations and friends. As for us, you will see us on the steps of the church.”
“All right, Signor Lucien — thank you for the trouble; and to you, sir,” continued Orlandini, turning to me and bowing, “thank you for the honor.”
After this exchange of compliments, we separated; Orlandini disappeared in the thicket, and we took the road to the village.
As for Diamante, he seemed for some moments undecided between Orlandini and ourselves; he looked alternately to the right and left, but after some hesitation favored us with the preference.
I confess that when I ascended these steep, wild rocks, I had felt some uneasiness about the way of getting down again, for it is a well known fact that it is much easier to ascend than to descend. I saw, therefore, with pleasure, Lucien taking another road, he probably guessing my apprehensions on the subject.
This road afforded me the additional enjoyment of conversation, which in all steep and difficult places must naturally be interrupted. Here, the declivity being gradual and the road easy, we had not proceeded more than fifty steps when I recommenced my interrogatories.
“Then peace is concluded now?”
“Yes; but as you have seen, not without difficulty. I have convinced him that all advances have been made by the Colonna. First, they have had five persons killed, while the Colonna have had only four men sacrificed. The Colonna had already yesterday consented to the reconciliation, while the Orlandini have given theirs only to-day. Lastly, the Colonna have engaged themselves to return, publicly, a living hen, to the Orlandini; a concession which is a proof that they acknowledge themselves to have been in the wrong. This last consideration decided him.”
“And this interesting reconciliation is to take place to-morrow?”
“At ten o’clock. You see you have not been so unlucky after all. You hoped to see a vendetta? Rah! what would that have been? For four hundred years there has been nothing else spoken of in Corsica, but a reconciliation! That’s much more extraordinary!”
I could not help smiling.
“You laugh at us now,” continued he; “well, you are right — we are, in fact, a curious people.”
“No,” said I, “I laugh only at the inconsistency of seeing you so furious against yourself, for having been successful.”
“Ah, sir! if you had been able to understand me, you would have admired my eloquence. But call again in ten years, and every body will speak French here.”
“You are an excellent lawyer.”
“No, no — understand me! I am only an arbiter. How can I help it? Is it not the duty of an arbiter to reconcile? If I were appointed arbiter between God and Satan, I should certainly try to reconcile them; but in the depths of my heart I should think it very foolish for God to listen to me.”
Seeing that this topic of conversation had no other effect than to irritate my companion, I remained silent, and as he did not resume it, we reached home without exchanging another word.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49