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Columba by Prosper Merimee

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Corsican villages--for indeed, to see a street, the traveller must
betake himself to Cargese, which was built by Monsieur de Marboeuf.
The houses, scattered irregularly about, without the least attempt at
orderly arrangement, cover the top of a small plateau, or rather of a
ridge of the mountain. Toward the centre of the village stands a great
evergreen oak, and close beside it may be seen a granite trough, into
which the water of a neighbouring spring is conveyed by a wooden pipe.
This monument of public utility was constructed at the common expense
of the della Rebbia and Barricini families. But the man who imagined
this to be a sign of former friendship between the two families would
be sorely mistaken. On the contrary, it is the outcome of their mutual
jealousy. Once upon a time, Colonel della Rebbia sent a small sum of
money to the Municipal Council of his commune to help to provide a
fountain. The lawyer Barricini hastened to forward a similar gift, and
to this generous strife Pietranera owes its water supply. Round about
the evergreen oak and the fountain there is a clear space, known as
"the Square," on which the local idlers gather every night. Sometimes
they play at cards, and once a year, in Carnival-time, they dance. At
the two ends of the square stands two edifices, of greater height than
breadth, built of a mixture of granite and schist. These are the
/Towers/ of the two opposing families, the Barricini and the della
Rebbia. Their architecture is exactly alike, their height is similar,
and it is quite evident that the rivalry of the two families has never
been absolutely decided by any stroke of fortune in favor of either.

It may perhaps be well to explain what should be understood by this
word, "Tower." It is a square building, some forty feet in height,
which in any other country would be simply described as a pigeon-
house. A narrow entrance-door, eight feet above the level of the
ground, is reached by a very steep flight of steps. Above the door is
a window, in front of which runs a sort of balcony, the floor of which
is pierced with openings, like a machicolation, through which the
inhabitants may destroy an unwelcome visitor without any danger to
themselves. Between the window and the door are two escutcheons,
roughly carved. One of these bears what was originally a Genoese
cross, now so battered that nobody but an antiquary could recognise
it. On the other are chiselled the arms of the family to whom the
Tower belongs. If the reader will complete this scheme of decoration
by imagining several bullet marks on the escutcheons and on the window
frames, he will have a fair idea of a Corsican mansion, dating from
the middle ages. I had forgotten to add that the dwelling-house
adjoins the tower, and is frequently connected with it by some
interior passage.

The della Rebbia house and tower stand on the northern side of the
square at Pietranera. The Barricini house and tower are on the
southern side. Since the colonel's wife had been buried, no member of
either family had ever been seen on any side of the square, save that
assigned by tacit agreement to its own party. Orso was about to ride
past the mayor's house when his sister checked him, and suggested his
turning down a lane that would take them to their own dwelling without
crossing the square at all.

"Why should we go out of our way?" said Orso. "Doesn't the square
belong to everybody?" and he rode on.

"Brave heart"! murmured Colomba. ". . . My father! you will be

When they reached the square, Colomba put herself between her brother
and the Barricini mansion, and her eyes never left her enemy's
windows. She noticed that they had been lately barricaded and provided
with /archere/. /Archere/ is the name given to narrow openings like
loopholes, made between the big logs of wood used to close up the
lower parts of the windows. When an onslaught is expected, this sort
of barricade is used, and from behind the logs the attacked party can
fire at its assailants with ease and safety.

"The cowards!" said Colomba. "Look, brother, they have begun to
protect themselves! They have put up barricades! But some day or other
they'll have to come out."

Orso's presence on the southern side of the square made a great
sensation at Pietranera, and was taken to be a proof of boldness
savouring of temerity. It was subject of endless comment on the part
of the neutrals, when they gathered around the evergreen oak, that

"It is a good thing," they said, "that Barricini's sons are not back
yet, for they are not so patient as the lawyer, and very likely they
would not have let their enemy set his foot on their ground without
making him pay for his bravado."

"Remember what I am telling you, neighbour," said an old man, the
village oracle. "I watched Colomba's face to-day. She had some idea in
her head. I smell powder in the air. Before long, butcher's meat will
be cheap in Pietranera!"


Orso had been parted from his father at so early an age that he had
scarcely had time to know him. He had left Pietranera to pursue his
studies at Pisa when he was only fifteen. Thence he had passed into
the military school, and Ghilfuccio, meanwhile, was bearing the
Imperial Eagles all over Europe. On the mainland, Orso only saw his
father at rare intervals, and it was not until 1815 that he found
himself in the regiment he commanded. But the colonel, who was an
inflexible disciplinarian, treated his son just like any other sub-
lieutenant--in other words, with great severity. Orso's memories of
him were of two kinds: He recollected him, at Pietranera, as the
father who would trust him with his sword, and would let him fire off
his gun when he came in from a shooting expedition, or who made him
sit down, for the first time, tiny urchin as he was, at the family
dinner-table. Then he remembered the Colonel della Rebbia who would
put him under arrest for some blunder, and who never called him
anything but Lieutenant della Rebbia.

"Lieutenant della Rebbia, you are not in your right place on parade.
You will be confined to barracks three days."

"Your skirmishers are five yards too far from your main body--five
days in barracks."

"It is five minutes past noon, and you are still in your forage-cap--a
week in barracks."

Only once, at Quatre-Bras, he had said to him, "Well done, Orso! But
be cautious!"

But, after all, these later memories were not connected in his mind
with Pietranera. The sight of the places so familiar to him in his
childish days, of the furniture he had seen used by his mother, to
whom he had been fondly attached, filled his soul with a host of
tender and painful emotions. Then the gloomy future that lay before
him, the vague anxiety he felt about his sister, and, above all other
things, the thought that Miss Nevil was coming to his house, which now
struck him as being so small, so poor, so unsuited to a person
accustomed to luxury--the idea that she might possibly despise it--all
these feelings made his brain a chaos, and filled him with a sense of
deep discouragement.

At supper he sat in the great oaken chair, blackened with age, in
which his father had always presided at the head of the family table,
and he smiled when he saw that Colomba hesitated to sit down with him.
But he was grateful to her for her silence during the meal, and for
her speedy retirement afterward. For he felt he was too deeply moved
to be able to resist the attack she was no doubt preparing to make
upon him. Colomba, however, was dealing warily with him, and meant to
give him time to collect himself. He sat for a long time motionless,
with his head on his hand, thinking over the scenes of the last
fortnight of his life. He saw, with alarm, how every one seemed to be
watching what would be his behaviour to the Barricini. Already he
began to perceive that the opinion of Pietranera was beginning to be
the opinion of all the world to him. He would have to avenge himself,
or be taken for a coward! But on whom was he to take vengeance? He
could not believe the Barricini to be guilty of murder. They were his
family enemies, certainly, but only the vulgar prejudice of his
fellow-countrymen could accuse them of being murderers. Sometimes he
would look at Miss Nevil's talisman, and whisper the motto "Life is a
battle!" over to himself. At last, in a resolute voice, he said, "I
will win it!" Strong in that thought, he rose to his feet, took up the
lamp, and was just going up to his room, when he heard a knock at the
door of the house. It was a very unusual hour for any visitor to
appear. Colomba instantly made her appearance, followed by the woman
who acted as their servant.

"It's nothing!" she said, hurrying to the door.

Yet before she opened it she inquired who knocked. A gentle voice
answered, "It is I."

Instantly the wooden bar across the door was withdrawn, and Colomba
reappeared in the dining-room, followed by a little ragged, bare-
footed girl of about ten years old, her head bound with a shabby
kerchief, from which escaped long locks of hair, as black as the
raven's wing. The child was thin and pale, her skin was sunburnt, but
her eyes shone with intelligence. When she saw Orso she stopped shyly,
and courtesied to him, peasant fashion--then she said something in an
undertone to Colomba, and gave her a freshly killed pheasant.

"Thanks, Chili," said Colomba. "Thank your uncle for me. Is he well?"

"Very well, signorina, at your service. I couldn't come sooner because
he was late. I waited for him in the /maquis/ for three hours."

"And you've had no supper?"

"Why no, signorina! I've not had time."

"You shall have some supper here. Has your uncle any bread left?"

"Very little, signorina. But what he is most short of is powder. Now
the chestnuts are in, the only other thing he wants is powder."

"I will give you a loaf for him, and some powder, too. Tell him to use
it sparingly--it is very dear."

"Colomba," said Orso in French, "on whom are you bestowing your

"On a poor bandit belonging to this village," replied Colomba in the
same language. "This little girl is his niece."

"It strikes me you might place your gifts better. Why should you send
powder to a ruffian who will use it to commit crimes? But for the
deplorable weakness every one here seems to have for the bandits, they
would have disappeared out of Corsica long ago."

"The worst men in our country are not those who are 'in the
country.' "

"Give them bread, if it so please you. But I will not have you supply
them with ammunition."

"Brother," said Colomba, in a serious voice, "you are master here, and
everything in this house belongs to you. But I warn you that I will
give this little girl my /mezzaro/, so that she may sell it; rather
than refuse powder to a bandit. Refuse to give him powder! I might
just as well make him over to the gendarmes! What has he to protect
him against them, except his cartridges?"

All this while the little girl was ravenously devouring a bit of
bread, and carefully watching Colomba and her brother, turn about,
trying to read the meaning of what they were saying in their eyes.

"And what has this bandit of yours done? What crime has driven him
into the /maquis/?"

"Brandolaccio has not committed any crime," exclaimed Colomba. "He
killed Giovan' Oppizo, who murdered his father while he was away
serving in the army!"

Orso turned away his head, took up the lamp, and, without a word,
departed to his bedroom. Then Colomba gave the child food and
gunpowder, and went with her as far as the house-door, saying over and
over again:

"Mind your uncle takes good care of Orso!"


It was long before Orso fell asleep, and as a consequence he woke late
--late for a Corsican, at all events. When he left his bed, the first
object that struck his gaze was the house of his enemies, and the
/archere/ with which they had furnished it. He went downstairs and
asked for his sister.

"She is in the kitchen, melting bullets," answered Saveria, the woman-

So he could not take a step without being pursued by the image of war.

He found Colomba sitting on a stool, surrounded by freshly cast
bullets, and cutting up strips of lead.

"What the devil are you doing?" inquired her brother.

"You had no bullets for the colonel's gun," she answered, in her soft
voice. "I found I had a mould for that calibre, and you shall have
four-and-twenty cartridges to-day, brother."

"I don't need them, thank God!"

"You mustn't be taken at a disadvantage, Ors' Anton'. You have
forgotten your country, and the people who are about you."

"If I had forgotten, you would soon have reminded me. Tell me, did not
a big trunk arrive here some days ago?"

"Yes, brother. Shall I take it up to your room?"

"You take it up! Why, you'd never be strong enough even to lift it!
. . . Is there no man about who can do it?"

"I'm not so weak as you think!" said Colomba, turning up her sleeves,
and displaying a pair of round white arms, perfect in shape, but
looking more than ordinarily strong. "Here, Saveria," said she to the
servant; "come and help me!"

She was already lifting the trunk alone, when Orso came hastily to her

"There is something for you in this trunk, my dear Colomba," said he.
"You must excuse the modesty of my gifts. A lieutenant on half-pay
hasn't a very well-lined purse!"

As he spoke, he opened the trunk, and took out of it a few gowns, a
shawl, and some other things likely to be useful to a young girl.

"What beautiful things!" cried Colomba. "I'll put them away at once,
for fear they should be spoiled. I'll keep them for my wedding," she
added, with a sad smile, "for I am in mourning now!"

And she kissed her brother's hand.

"It looks affected, my dear sister, to wear your mourning for so

"I have sworn an oath," said Colomba resolutely, "I'll not take off my
mourning. . . ." And her eyes were riveted on the Barricini mansion.

"Until your wedding day?" said Orso, trying to avoid the end of her

"I shall never marry any man," said Colomba, "unless he has done three
things . . ." And her eyes still rested gloomily on the house of the

"You are so pretty, Colomba, that I wonder you are not married
already! Come, you must tell me about your suitors. And besides, I'm
sure to hear their serenades. They must be good ones to please a great
/voceratrice/ like you."

"Who would seek the hand of a poor orphan girl? . . . And then, the
man for whom I would change my mourning-dress will have to make the
women over there put on mourning!"

"This is becoming a perfect mania," said Orso to himself. But to avoid
discussion he said nothing at all.

"Brother," said Colomba caressingly, "I have something to give you,
too. The clothes you are wearing are much too grand for this country.
Your fine cloth frock-coat would be in tatters in two days, if you
wore it in the /maquis/. You must keep it for the time when Miss Nevil

Then, opening a cupboard, she took out a complete hunting dress.

"I've made you a velvet jacket, and here's a cap, such as our smart
young men wear. I embroidered it for you, ever so long ago. Will you
try them on?" And she made him put on a loose green velvet jacket,
with a huge pocket at the back. On his head she set a pointed black
velvet cap, embroidered with jet and silk of the same colour, and
finished with a sort of tassel

"Here is our father's /carchera/"[*] she said. "His stiletto is in the
pocket of the jacket. I'll fetch you his pistol."

[*] Carchera, a belt for cartridges. A pistol is worn fastened to the
left side of it.

"I look like a brigand at the Ambigu-Comique," said Orso, as he looked
at himself in the little glass Saveria was holding up for him.

"Indeed, you look first-rate, dressed like that, Ors' Anton'," said
the old servant, "and the smartest /pinsuto/[*] in Bocognano or
Bastelica is not braver."

[*] Pinsuto, the name given to men who wear the pointed cap, /barreta

Orso wore his new clothes at breakfast, and during that meal he told
his sister that his trunk contained a certain number of books, that he
was going to send to France and Italy for others, and intended she
should study a great deal.

"For it really is disgraceful, Colomba," he added, "that a grown-up
girl like you should still be ignorant of things that children on the
mainland know as soon as they are weaned."

"You are right, brother," said Colomba. "I know my own shortcomings
quite well, and I shall be too glad to learn--especially if you are
kind enough to teach me."

Some days went by, and Colomba never mentioned the name of Barricini.
She lavished care and attention on her brother, and often talked to
him about Miss Nevil. Orso made her read French and Italian books, and
was constantly being surprised either by the correctness and good
sense of her comments, or by her utter ignorance on the most ordinary

One morning, after breakfast, Colomba left the room for a moment, and
instead of returning as usual, with a book and some sheets of paper,
reappeared with her /mezzaro/ on her head. The expression of her
countenance was even more serious than it generally was.

"Brother," she said, "I want you to come out with me."

"Where do you want me to go with you?" said Orso, holding out his arm.

"I don't want your arm, brother, but take your gun and your cartridge-
pouch. A man should never go abroad without his arms."

"So be it. I must follow the fashion. Where are we going?"

Colomba, without answering, drew her /mezzaro/ closer about her head,
called the watch-dog, and went out followed by her brother. Striding
swiftly out of the village, she turned into a sunken road that wound
among the vineyards, sending on the dog, to whom she made some
gesture, which he seemed to understand, in front of her. He instantly
began to run zigzag fashion, through the vines, first on one side and
then on the other, always keeping within about fifty paces of his
mistress, and occasionally stopping in the middle of the road and
wagging his tail. He seemed to perform his duties as a scout in the
most perfect fashion imaginable.

"If Muschetto begins to bark, brother," said Colomba, "cock your gun,
and stand still."

Half a mile beyond the village, after making many detours, Colomba
stopped short, just where there was a bend in the road. On that spot
there rose a little pyramid of branches, some of them green, some
withered, heaped about three feet high. Above them rose the top of a
wooden cross, painted black. In several of the Corsican cantons,
especially those among the mountains, a very ancient custom,
connected, it may be with some pagan superstition, constrains every
passer-by to cast either a stone or a branch on the spot whereon a man
has died a violent death. For years and years--as long as the memory
of his tragic fate endures--this strange offering goes on accumulating
from day to day.

This is called the dead man's /pile/--his "/mucchio/."

Colomba stopped before the heap of foliage, broke off an arbutus
branch, and cast it on the pile.

"Orso," she said, "this is where your father died. Let us pray for his

And she knelt down. Orso instantly followed her example. At that
moment the village church-bell tolled slowly for a man who had died
during the preceding night. Orso burst into tears.

After a few minutes Colomba rose. Her eyes were dry, but her face was
eager. She hastily crossed herself with her thumb, after the fashion
generally adopted by her companions, to seal any solemn oath, then,
hurrying her brother with her, she took her way back to the village.
They re-entered their house in silence. Orso went up to his room. A
moment afterward Colomba followed him, carrying a small casket which
she set upon the table. Opening it, she drew out a shirt, covered with
great stains of blood.

"Here is your father's shirt, Orso!"

And she threw it across his knees. "Here is the lead that killed him!"
And she laid two blackened bullets on the shirt.

"Orso! Brother!" she cried, throwing herself into his arms and
clasping him desperately to her. "Orso, you will avenge him!"

In a sort of frenzy she kissed him, then kissed the shirt and the
bullets, and went out of the room, leaving her brother sitting on his
chair, as if he had been turned to stone. For some time Orso sat
motionless, not daring to put the terrible relics away. At last, with
an effort, he laid them back in their box, rushed to the opposite end
of his room, and threw himself on his bed, with his face turned to the
wall, and his head buried in his pillow, as though he were trying to
shut out the sight of some ghost. His sister's last words rang
unceasingly in his ears, like the words of an oracle, fatal,
inevitable, calling out to him for blood, and for innocent blood! I
shall not attempt to depict the unhappy young man's sensations, which
were as confused as those that overwhelm a madman's brain. For a long
time he lay in the same position, without daring to turn his head. At
last he got up, closed the lid of the casket, and rushed headlong out
of the house, into the open country, moving aimlessly forward, whither
he knew not.

By degrees, the fresh air did him good. He grew calmer, and began to
consider his position, and his means of escape from it, with some
composure. He did not, as my readers already know, suspect the
Barricini of the murder, but he did accuse them of having forged
Agostini's letter, and this letter, he believed, at any rate, had
brought about his father's death. He felt it was impossible to
prosecute them for the forgery. Now and then, when the prejudices or
the instincts of his race assailed him, and suggested an easy
vengeance--a shot fired at the corner of some path--the thought of his
brother-officers, of Parisian drawing-rooms, and above all, of Miss
Nevil, made him shrink from them in horror. Then his mind dwelt on his
sister's reproaches, and all the Corsican within him justified her
appeal, and even intensified its bitterness. One hope alone remained
to him, in this battle between his conscience and his prejudices--the
hope that, on some pretext or other, he might pick a quarrel with one
of the lawyer's sons, and fight a duel with him. The idea of killing
the young man, either by a bullet or a sword-thrust reconciled his
French and Corsican ideas. This expedient adopted, he began to
meditate means for its execution, and was feeling relieved already of
a heavy burden, when other and gentler thoughts contributed still
further to calm his feverish agitation. Cicero, in his despair at the
death of his daughter Tullia, forgot his sorrow when he mused over all
the fine things he might say about it. Mr. Shandy consoled himself by
discourses of the same nature for the loss of his son. Orso cooled his
blood by thinking that he would depict his state of mind to Miss
Nevil, and that such a picture could not fail to interest that fair
lady deeply.

He was drawing near the village, from which he had unconsciously
travelled a considerable distance, when he heard the voice of a little
girl, who probably believed herself to be quite alone, singing in a
path that ran along the edge of the /maquis/. It was one of those
slow, monotonous airs consecrated to funeral dirges, and the child was
singing the words:

"And when my son shall see again the dwelling of his father,
Give him that murdered father's cross; show him my shirt blood-

"What's that you're singing, child?" said Orso, in an angry voice, as
he suddenly appeared before her.

"Is that you, Ors' Anton'?" exclaimed the child, rather startled. "It
is Signorina Colomba's song."

"I forbid you to sing it!" said Orso, in a threatening voice.

The child kept turning her head this way and that, as though looking
about for a way of escape, and she would certainly have run off had
she not been held back by the necessity of taking care of a large
bundle which lay on the grass, at her feet.

Orso felt ashamed of his own vehemence. "What are you carrying there,
little one?" said he, with all the gentleness he could muster. And as
Chilina hesitated, he lifted up the linen that was wrapped round the
bundle, and saw it contained a loaf of bread and other food.

"To whom are you bringing the loaf, my dear?" he asked again.

"You know quite well, Ors' Anton': to my uncle."

"And isn't your uncle a bandit?"

"At your service, Ors' Anton'."

"If you met the gendarmes, they would ask you where you were
going . . ."

"I should tell them," the child replied, at once, "that I was taking
food to the men from Lucca who were cutting down the /maquis/."

"And if you came across some hungry hunter who insisted on dining at
your expense, and took your provisions away from you?"

"Nobody would dare! I would say they are for my uncle!"

"Well! he's not the sort of man to let himself be cheated of his
dinner! . . . Is your uncle very fond of you?"

"Oh, yes, Ors' Anton'. Ever since my father died, he has taken care of
my whole family--my mother and my little sister, and me. Before mother
was ill, he used to recommend her to rich people, who gave her
employment. The mayor gives me a frock every year, and the priest has
taught me my catechism, and how to read, ever since my uncle spoke to
them about us. But your sister is kindest of all to us!"

Just at this moment a dog ran out on the pathway. The little girl put
two of her fingers into her mouth and gave a shrill whistle, the dog
came to her at once, fawned upon her, and then plunged swiftly into
the thicket. Soon two men, ill-dressed, but very well armed, rose up
out of a clump of young wood a few paces from where Orso stood. It was
as though they had crawled up like snakes through the tangle of
cytisus and myrtle that covered the ground.

"Oh, Ors' Anton', you're welcome!" said the elder of the two men.
"Why, don't you remember me?"

"No!" said Orso, looking hard at him.

"Queer how a beard and a peaked cap alter a man! Come, monsieur, look
at me well! Have you forgotten your old Waterloo men? Don't you
remember Brando Savelli, who bit open more than one cartridge
alongside of you on that unlucky day?"

"What! Is it you?" said Orso. "And you deserted in 1816!"

"Even so, sir. Faith! soldiering grows tiresome, and besides, I had a
job to settle over in this country. Aha, Chili! You're a good girl!
Give us our dinner at once, we're hungry. You've no notion what an
appetite one gets in the /maquis/. Who sent us this--was it Signorina
Colomba or the mayor?"

"No, uncle, it was the miller's wife. She gave me this for you, and a
blanket for my mother."

"What does she want of me?"

"She says the Lucchesi she hired to clear the /maquis/ are asking her
five-and-thirty sous, and chestnuts as well--because of the fever in
the lower parts of Pietranera."

"The lazy scamps! . . . I'll see to them! . . . Will you share our
dinner, monsieur, without any ceremony? We've eaten worse meals
together, in the days of that poor compatriot of ours, whom they have
discharged from the army."

"No, I thank you heartily. They have discharged me, too!"

"Yes, so I heard. But I'll wager you weren't sorry for it. You have
your own account to settle too. . . . Come along, cure," said the
bandit to his comrade. "Let's dine! Signor Orso, let me introduce the
cure. I'm not quite sure he is a cure. But he knows as much as any
priest, at all events!"

"A poor student of theology, monsieur," quoth the second bandit, "who
has been prevented from following his vocation. Who knows,
Brandolaccio, I might have been Pope!"

"What was it that deprived the Church of your learning?" inquired

"A mere nothing--a bill that had to be settled, as my friend
Brandolaccio puts it. One of my sisters had been making a fool of
herself, while I was devouring book-lore at Pisa University. I had to
come home, to get her married. But her future husband was in too great
a hurry; he died of fever three days before I arrived. Then I called,
as you would have done in my place, on the dead man's brother. I was
told he was married. What was I to do?"

"It really was puzzling! What did you do?"

"It was one of those cases in which one has to resort to the

"In other words?"

"I put a bullet in his head," said the bandit coolly.

Orso made a horrified gesture. Nevertheless, curiosity, and, it may
be, his desire to put off the moment when he must return home, induced
him to remain where he was, and continue his conversation with the two
men, each of whom had at least one murder on his conscience.

While his comrade was talking, Brandolaccio was laying bread and meat
in front of him. He helped himself--then he gave some food to this
dog, whom he introduced to Orso under the name of Brusco, as an animal
possessing a wonderful instinct for recognising a soldier, whatever
might be the disguise he had assumed. Lastly, he cut off a hunch of
bread and a slice of raw ham, and gave them to his niece. "Oh, the
merry life a bandit lives!" cried the student of theology, after he
had swallowed a few mouthfuls. "You'll try it some day, perhaps,
Signor della Rebbia, and you'll find out how delightful it is to
acknowledge no master save one's own fancy!"

Hitherto the bandit had talked Italian. He now proceeded in French.

"Corsica is not a very amusing country for a young man to live in--but
for a bandit, there's the difference! The women are all wild about us.
I, as you see me now, have three mistresses in three different
villages. I am at home in every one of them, and one of the ladies is
married to a gendarme!"

"You know many languages, monsieur!" said Orso gravely.

"If I talk French, 'tis because, look you, /maxima debetur pueris
reverentia/! We have made up our minds, Brandolaccio and I, that the
little girl shall turn out well, and go straight."

"When she is turned fifteen," remarked Chilina's uncle, "I'll find a
good husband for her. I have one in my eye already."

"Shall you make the proposal yourself?" said Orso.

"Of course! Do you suppose that any well-to-do man in this
neighbourhood, to whom I said, 'I should be glad to see a marriage
between your son and Michilina Savelli,' would require any pressing?"

"I wouldn't advise him to!" quoth the other bandit. "Friend
Brandolaccio has rather a heavy hand!"

"If I were a rogue," continued Brandolaccio, "a blackguard, a forger,
I should only have to hold my wallet open, and the five-franc pieces
would rain into it."

"Then is there something inside your wallet that attracts them?" said

"Nothing. But if I were to write to a rich man, as some people have
written, 'I want a hundred francs,' he would lose no time about
sending them to me. But I'm a man of honour, monsieur."

"Do you know, Signor della Rebbia," said the bandit whom his comrade
called the cure, "do you know that in this country, with all its
simple habits, there are some wretches who make use of the esteem our
passports" (and he touched his gun) "insure us, to draw forged bills
in our handwriting?"

"I know it," said Orso, in a gruff tone; "but what bills?"

"Six months ago," said the bandit, "I was taking my walks abroad near
Orezza, when a sort of lunatic came up to me, pulling off his cap to
me even in the distance, and said: 'Oh, M. le Cure' (they always call
me that), 'please excuse me--give me time. I have only been able to
get fifty-five francs together! Honour bright, that's all I've been
able to scrape up.' I, in my astonishment, said, 'Fifty-five francs!
What do you mean, you rascal!' 'I mean sixty-five,' he replied; 'but
as for the hundred francs you asked me to give you, it's not
possible.' 'What! you villain! I ask you for a hundred francs? I don't
know who you are.' Then he showed me a letter, or rather a dirty rag
of paper, whereby he was summoned to deposit a hundred francs on a
certain spot, on pain of having his house burned and his cows killed
by Giocanto Castriconi--that's my name. And they had been vile enough
to forge my signature! What annoyed me most was that the letter was
written in /patois/, and was full of mistakes in spelling--I who won
every prize at the university! I began by giving my rascal a cuff that
made him twist round and round. 'Aha! You take me for a thief,
blackguard that you are!' I said, and I gave him a hearty kick, you
know where. Then feeling rather better, I went on, 'When are you to
take the money to the spot mentioned in the letter?' 'This very day.'
'Very good, then take it there!' It was at the foot of a pine-tree,
and the place had been exactly described. He brought the money, buried
it at the foot of the tree, and came and joined me. I had hidden
myself close by. There I stayed, with my man, for six mortal hours, M.
della Rebbia. I'd have staid three days, if it had been necessary. At
the end of six hours a /Bastiaccio/, a vile money-lender, made his
appearance. As he bent down to take up the money, I fired, and I had
aimed so well that, as he fell, his head dropped upon the coins he was
unearthing. 'Now, rascal,' said I to the peasant, 'take your money,
and never dare to suspect Giocanto Castriconi of a mean trick again!'

"The poor devil, all of a tremble, picked up his sixty-five francs
without taking the trouble to wipe them. He thanked me, I gave him a
good parting kick, and he may be running away still, for all I know."

"Ah, cure!" said Brandolaccio, "I envy you that shot! How you must
have laughed!"

"I had hit the money-lender in the temple," the bandit went on, "and
that reminded me of Virgil's lines:

. . . " 'Liquefacto tempora plumbo
Diffidit, ac multa porrectum, extendit arena.'

"/Liquefacto!/ Do you think, Signor Orso, that the rapidity with which
a bullet flies through the air will melt it? You who have studied
projectiles, tell me whether you think that idea is truth or fiction?"

Orso infinitely preferred discussing this question of physics to
arguing with the licentiate as to the morality of his action.
Brandolaccio, who did not find their scientific disquisition
entertaining, interrupted it with the remark that the sun was just
going to set.

"As you would not dine with us, Ors' Anton'," he said, "I advise you
not to keep Mademoiselle Colomba waiting any longer. And then it is
not always wise to be out on the roads after sunset. Why do you come
out without a gun? There are bad folk about here--beware of them! You
have nothing to fear to-day. The Barricini are bringing the prefect
home with them. They have gone to meet him on the road, and he is to
stop a day at Pietranera, before he goes on to Corte, to lay what they
call a corner-stone--such stupid nonsense! He will sleep to-night with
the Barricini; but to-morrow they'll be disengaged. There is
Vincentello, who is a good-for-nothing fellow, and Orlanduccio, who is
not much better. . . . Try to come on them separately, one to-day, the
other to-morrow. . . . But be on the lookout, that's all I have to say
to you!"

"Thanks for the warning," said Orso. "But there is no quarrel between
us. Until they come to look for me, I shall have nothing to say to

The bandit stuck his tongue in his cheek, and smacked it ironically,
but he made no reply. Orso got up to go away.

"By the way," said Brandolaccio, "I haven't thanked you for your
powder. It came just when I needed it. Now I have everything I want
. . . at least I do still want shoes . . . but I'll make myself a pair
out of the skin of a moufflon one of these days."

Orso slipped two five-franc pieces into the bandit's hand.

"It was Colomba who sent you the powder. This is to buy the shoes."

"Nonsense, Lieutenant!" cried Brandolaccio, handing him back the two
coins. "D'ye take me for a beggar? I accept bread and powder, but I
won't have anything else!"

"We are both old soldiers, so I thought we might have given each other
a lift. Well, good-bye to you!"

But before he moved away he had slipped the money into he bandit's
wallet, unperceived by him.

"Good-bye, Ors' Anton'," quoth the theologian. "We shall meet again in
the /maquis/, some day, perhaps, and then we'll continue our study of

Quite a quarter of an hour after Orso had parted company with these
worthies, he heard a man running after him, as fast as he could go. It
was Brandolaccio.

"This is too bad, lieutenant!" he shouted breathlessly, "really it is
too bad! I wouldn't overlook the trick, if any other man had played it
on me. Here are your ten francs. All my respects to Mademoiselle
Colomba. You have made me run myself quite out of breath. Good-night!"


Orso found Colomba in a state of considerable anxiety because of his
prolonged absence. But as soon as she saw him she recovered her usual
serene, though sad, expression. During the evening meal the
conversation turned on trivial subjects, and Orso, emboldened by his
sister's apparent calm, related his encounter with the bandits, and
even ventured on a joke or two concerning the moral and religious
education that was being imparted to little Chilina, thanks to the
care of her uncle and of his worthy colleague Signor Castriconi.

"Brandolaccio is an upright man," said Colomba; "but as to Castriconi,
I have heard he is quite unprincipled."

"I think," said Orso, "that he is as good as Brandolaccio, and
Brandolaccio is as good as he. Both of them are at open war with
society. Their first crime leads them on to fresh ones, every day, and
yet they are very likely not half so guilty as many people who don't
live in the /maquis/."

A flash of joy shone in his sister's eyes. "Yes," he continued, "these
wretches have a code of honour of their own. It is a cruel prejudice,
not a mean instinct of greed, that has forced them into the life they
are leading."

There was a silence.

"Brother," said Colomba, as she poured out his coffee, "perhaps you
have heard that Carlo-Battista Pietri died last night. Yes, he died of
the marsh-fever."

"Who is Pietri?"

"A man belonging to this village, the husband of Maddalena, who took
the pocket-book out of our father's hand as he was dying. His widow
has been here to ask me to join the watchers, and sing something. You
ought to come, too. They are our neighbours, and in a small place like
this we can not do otherwise than pay them this civility."

"Confound these wakes, Colomba! I don't at all like my sister to
perform in public in this way."

"Orso," replied Colomba, "every country pays honour to its dead after
its own fashion. The /ballata/ has come down to us from our
forefathers, and we must respect it as an ancient custom. Maddalena
does not possess the 'gift,' and old Fiordispina, the best
/voceratrice/ in the country, is ill. They must have somebody for the

"Do you believe Carlo-Battista won't find his way safely into the next
world unless somebody sings bad poetry over his bier? Go if you
choose, Colomba--I'll go with you, if you think I ought. But don't
improvise! It really is not fitting at your age, and--sister, I beg
you not to do it!"

"Brother, I have promised. It is the custom here, as you know, and, I
tell you again, there is nobody but me to improvise."

"An idiotic custom it is!"

"It costs me a great deal to sing in this way. It brings back all our
own sorrows to me. I shall be ill after it, to-morrow. But I must do
it. Give me leave to do it. Brother, remember that when we were at
Ajaccio, you told me to improvise to amuse that young English lady who
makes a mock of our old customs. So why should I not do it to-day for
these poor people, who will be grateful to me, and whom it will help
to bear their grief?"

"Well, well, as you will. I'll go bail you've composed your /ballata/
already, and don't want to waste it."

"No, brother, I couldn't compose it beforehand. I stand before the
dead person, and I think about those he has left behind him. The tears
spring into my eyes, and then I sing whatever comes into my head."

All this was said so simply that it was quite impossible to suspect
Signorina Colomba of the smallest poetic vanity. Orso let himself be
persuaded, and went with his sister to Pietri's house. The dead man
lay on a table in the largest room, with his face uncovered. All the
doors and windows stood open, and several tapers were burning round
the table. At the head stood the widow, and behind her a great many
women, who filled all one side of the room. On the other side were the
men, in rows, bareheaded, with their eyes fixed on the corpse, all in
the deepest silence. Each new arrival went up to the table, kissed the
dead face, bowed his or her head to the widow and her son, and joined
the circle, without uttering a word. Nevertheless, from time to time
one of the persons present would break the solemn silence with a few
words, addressed to the dead man.

"Why has thou left thy good wife?" said one old crone. "Did she not
take good care of thee? What didst thou lack? Why not have waited
another month? Thy daughter-in-law would have borne thee a grandson!"
A tall young fellow, Pietri's son, pressed his father's cold hand and
cried: "Oh! why hast thou not died of the /mala morte/?[*] Then we
could have avenged thee!"

[*] /La mala morte/, a violent death.

These were the first words to fall on Orso's ear as he entered the
room. At the sight of him the circle parted, and a low murmur of
curiosity betrayed the expectation roused in the gathering by the
/voceratrice's/ presence. Colomba embraced the widow, took one of her
hands, and stood for some moments wrapped in meditation, with her
eyelids dropped. Then she threw back her /mezzaro/, gazed fixedly at
the corpse, and bending over it, her face almost as waxen as that of
the dead man, she began thus:

"Carlo-Battista! May Christ receive thy soul! . . . To live is to
suffer! Thou goest to a place . . . where there is neither sun nor
cold. . . . No longer dost thou need thy pruning-hook . . . nor thy
heavy pick. . . . There is no more work for thee! . . . Henceforward
all thy days are Sundays! . . . Carlo-Battista! May Christ receive thy
soul! . . . Thy son rules in thy house. . . . I have seen the oak
fall, . . . dried up by the /libeccio/. . . . I thought it was dead
indeed, . . . but when I passed it again, its root . . . had thrown up
a sapling. . . . The sapling grew into an oak . . . of mighty shade.
. . . Under its great branches, Maddele, rest thee well! . . . And
think of the oak that is no more!"

Here Maddalena began to sob aloud, and two or three men who, on
occasion, would have shot at a Christian as coolly as at a partridge,
brushed big tears off their sunburnt faces.

For some minutes Colomba continued in this strain, addressing herself
sometimes to the corpse, sometimes to the family, and sometimes, by a
personification frequently employed in the /ballata/, making the dead
man himself speak words of consolation or counsel to his kinsfolk. As
she proceeded, her face assumed a sublime expression, a delicate pink
tinge crept over her features, heightening the brilliancy of her white
teeth and the lustre of her flashing eyes. She was like a Pythoness on
her tripod. Save for a sigh here and there, or a strangled sob, not
the slightest noise rose from the assembly that crowded about her.
Orso, though less easily affected than most people by this wild kind
of poetry, was soon overcome by the general emotion. Hidden in a dark
corner of the room, he wept as heartily as Pietri's own son.

Suddenly a slight stir was perceptible among the audience. The circle
opened, and several strangers entered. The respect shown them, and the
eagerness with which room was made for them, proved them to be people
of importance, whose advent was a great honour to the household.
Nevertheless, out of respect for the /ballata/, nobody said a word to
them. The man who had entered first seemed about forty years of age.
From his black coat, his red rosette, his confident air, and look of
authority, he was at once guessed to be the prefect. Behind him came a
bent old man with a bilious-looking complexion, whose furtive and
anxious glance was only partially concealed by his green spectacles.
He wore a black coat, too large for him, and which, though still quite
new, had evidently been made several years previously. He always kept
close beside the prefect and looked as though he would fain hide
himself under his shadow. Last of all, behind him, came two tall young
men, with sunburnt faces, their cheeks hidden by heavy whiskers, proud
and arrogant-looking, and showing symptoms of an impertinent
curiosity. Orso had had time to forget the faces of his village
neighbours; but the sight of the old man in green spectacles instantly
called up old memories in his mind. His presence in attendance on the
prefect sufficed to insure his recognition. This was Barricini, the
lawyer, mayor of Pietranera, who had come, with his two sons, to show
the prefect what a /ballata/ was. It would be difficult exactly to
describe what happened within Orso's soul at that moment, but the
presence of his father's foe filled him with a sort of horror, and
more than ever he felt inclined to yield to the suspicions with which
he had been battling for so long.

As to Colomba, when she saw the man against whom she had sworn a
deadly hatred, her mobile countenance assumed a most threatening
aspect. She turned pale, her voice grew hoarse, the line she had begun
to declaim died on her lips. But soon, taking up her /ballata/ afresh,
she proceeded with still greater vehemence.

"When the hawk bemoans himself . . . beside his harried nest, . . .
the starlings flutter round him . . . insulting his distress."

A smothered laugh was heard. The two young men who had just come in
doubtless considered the metaphor too bold.

"The falcon will rouse himself. . . . He will spread his wings. . . .
He will wash his beak in blood! . . . Now, to thee, Carlo-Battista,
let thy friends . . . bid an eternal farewell! . . . Long enough have
their tears flowed! . . . Only the poor orphan girl will not weep for
thee! . . . Wherefore should she moan? . . . Thou has fallen asleep,
full of years, . . . in the midst of thine own kin. . . . ready to
appear . . . in the presence of the Almighty. . . . The orphan weeps
for her father . . . overtaken by vile murderers, . . . struck from
behind. . . . For her father, whose blood lies red . . . beneath the
heaped-up green leaves. . . . But she has gathered up this blood,
. . . this innocent and noble blood! . . . She has poured it out over
Pietranera . . . that it may become a deadly poison. . . . And the
mark shall be on Pietranera . . . until the blood of the guilty . . .
shall have wiped out the blood of the innocent man!"

As Colomba pronounced the last words, she dropped into a chair, drew
her /mezzaro/ over her face, and was heard sobbing beneath it. The
weeping women crowded round the /improvisatrice/; several of the men
were casting savage glances at the mayor and his sons; some of the
elders began to protest against the scandal to which their presence
had given rise. The dead man's son pushed his way through the throng,
and was about to beg the mayor to clear out with all possible speed.
But this functionary had not waited for the suggestion. He was on his
way to the door, and his two sons were already in the street. The
prefect said a few words of condolence to young Pietri, and followed
them out, almost immediately. Orso went to his sister's side, took her
arm, and drew her out of the room.

"Go with them," said young Pietri to some of his friends. "Take care
no harm comes to them!"

Hastily two or three young men slipped their stilettos up the left
sleeves of their jackets and escorted Orso and his sister to their own


Panting, exhausted, Colomba was utterly incapable of uttering a single
word. Her head rested on her brother's shoulder, and she clasped one
of his hands tightly between her own. Orso, though secretly somewhat
annoyed by her peroration, was too much alarmed to reprove her, even
in the mildest fashion. He was silently waiting till the nervous
attack from which she seemed to be suffering should have passed, when
there was a knock at the door, and Saveria, very much flustered,
announced the prefect. At the words, Colomba rose, as though ashamed
of her weakness, and stood leaning on a chair, which shook visibly
beneath her hand.

The prefect began with some commonplace apology for the unseasonable
hour of his visit, condoled with Mademoiselle Colomba, touched on the
danger connected with strong emotions, blamed the custom of composing
funeral dirges, which the very talent of the /voceratrice/ rendered
the more harrowing to her auditors, skilfully slipped in a mild
reproof concerning the tendency of the improvisation just concluded,
and then, changing his tone--

"M. della Rebbia," he said, "I have many messages for you from your
English friends. Miss Nevil sends her affectionate regards to your
sister. I have a letter for you from her."

"A letter from Miss Nevil!" cried Orso.

"Unluckily I have not got it with me. But you shall have it within
five minutes. Her father has not been well. For a little while we were
afraid he had caught one of our terrible fevers. Luckily he is all
right again, as you will observe for yourself, for I fancy you will
see him very soon."

"Miss Nevil must have been very much alarmed!"

"Fortunately she did not become aware of the danger till it was quite
gone by. M. della Rebbia, Miss Nevil has talked to me a great deal
about you and about your sister."

Orso bowed.

"She has a great affection for you both. Under her charming
appearance, and her apparent frivolity, a fund of good sense lies

"She is a very fascinating person," said Orso.

"I have come here, monsieur, almost at her prayer. Nobody is better
acquainted than I with a fatal story which I would fain not have to
recall to you. As M. Barricini is still the mayor of Pietranera, and
as I am prefect of the department, I need hardly tell you what weight
I attach to certain suspicions which, if I am rightly informed, some
incautious individuals have communicated to you, and which you, I
know, have spurned with the indignation your position and your
character would have led me to expect."

"Colomba," said Orso, moving uneasily to his chair. "You are very
tired. You had better go to bed."

Colomba shook her head. She had recovered all her usual composure, and
her burning eyes were fixed on the prefect.

"M. Barricini," the prefect continued, "is exceedingly anxious to put
an end to the sort of enmity . . . or rather, the condition of
uncertainty, existing between yourself and him. . . . On my part, I
should be delighted to see you both in those relations of friendly
intercourse appropriate to people who certainly ought to esteem each

"Monsieur," replied Orso in a shaking voice, "I have never charged
Barricini with my father's murder. But he committed an act which must
always prevent me from having anything to do with him. He forged a
threatening letter, in the name of a certain bandit, or at least he
hinted in an underhand sort of way that it was forged by my father.
That letter, monsieur, was probably the indirect cause of my father's

The prefect sat thinking for a moment.

"That your father should have believed that, when his own hasty nature
led him into a lawsuit with Signor Barricini, is excusable. But such
blindness on your part really can not be admitted. Pray consider that
Barricini could have served no interest of his own by forging the
letter. I will not talk to you about his character, for you are not
acquainted with it, and are prejudiced against it; but you can not
suppose that a man conversant with the law----"

"But, monsieur," said Orso, rising to his feet, "be good enough to
recollect that when you tell me the letter was not Barricini's work,
you ascribe it to my father. And my father's honour, monsieur, is

"No man on earth, sir, is more convinced of Colonel della Rebbia's
honour than myself! But the writer of the letter is now known."

"Who wrote it?" exclaimed Colomba, making a step toward the prefect.

"A villain, guilty of several crimes--such crimes as you Corsicans
never pardon--a thief, one Tomaso Bianchi, at present confined in the
prison at Bastia, has acknowledged that he wrote the fatal letter."

"I know nothing of the man," said Orso. "What can have been his

"He belongs to this neighbourhood," said Colomba. "He is brother to a
man who was our miller--a scamp and a liar, unworthy of belief."

"You will soon see what his interest in the matter was," continued the
prefect. "The miller of whom your sister speaks--I think his name was
Teodoro--was the tenant of a mill belonging to the colonel, standing
on the very stream the ownership of which M. Barricini was disputing
with your father. The colonel, always a generous man, made very little
profit out of the mill. Now Tomaso thought that if Barricini got
possession of the stream there would be a heavy rent to pay, for it is
well known that Barricini is rather fond of money. In short, to oblige
his brother, Tomaso forged the letter from the bandit--and there's the
whole story. You know that in Corsica the strength of the family tie
is so great that it does sometimes lead to crime. Please read over
this letter to me from the attorney-general. It confirms what I have
just told you."

Orso looked through the letter, which gave a detailed relation of
Tomaso's confession, and Colomba read it over his shoulder.

When she had come to the end of it she exclaimed:

"Orlanduccio Barricini went down to Bastia a month ago, when it became
known that my brother was coming home. He must have seen Tomaso, and
bought this lie of him!"

"Signorina," said the prefect, out of patience, "you explain
everything by odious imputations! Is that the way to find out the
truth? You, sir, can judge more coolly. Tell me what you think of the
business now? Do you believe, like this young lady, that a man who has
only a slight sentence to fear would deliberately charge himself with
forgery, just to oblige a person he doesn't know?"

Orso read the attorney-general's letter again, weighing every word
with the greatest care--for now that he had seen the old lawyer, he
felt it more difficult to convince himself than it would have been a
few days previously. At last he found himself obliged to admit that
the explanation seemed to him to be satisfactory. But Colomba cried
out vehemently:

"Tomaso Bianchi is a knave! He'll not be convicted, or he'll escape
from prison! I am certain of it!"

The prefect shrugged his shoulders.

"I have laid the information I have received before you, monsieur. I
will now depart, and leave you to your own reflections. I shall wait
till your own reason has enlightened you, and I trust it may prove
stronger than your sister's suppositions."

Orso, after saying a few words of excuse for Colomba, repeated that he
now believed Tomaso to be the sole culprit.

The prefect had risen to take his leave.

"If it were not so late," said he, "I would suggest your coming over
with me to fetch Miss Nevil's letter. At the same time you might
repeat to M. Barricini what you have just said to me, and the whole
thing would be settled."

"Orso della Rebbia will never set his foot inside the house of a
Barricini!" exclaimed Colomba impetuously.

"This young lady appears to be the /tintinajo/[*] of the family!"
remarked the prefect, with a touch of irony.

[*] This is the name given to the ram or he-goat which wears a bell
and leads the flock, and it is applied, metaphorically, to any
member of a family who guides it in all important matters.

"Monsieur," replied Colomba resolutely, "you are deceived. You do not
know the lawyer. He is the most cunning and knavish of men. I beseech
you not to make Orso do a thing that would overwhelm him with

"Colomba!" exclaimed Orso, "your passion has driven you out of your

"Orso! Orso! By the casket I gave you, I beseech you to listen to me!
There is blood between you and the Barricini. You shall not go into
their house!"


"No, brother, you shall not go! Or I will leave this house, and you
will never see me again! Have pity on me, Orso!" and she fell on her

"I am grieved," said the prefect, "to find Mademoiselle Colomba so
unreasonable. You will convince her, I am sure."

He opened the door and paused, seeming to expect Orso to follow him.

"I can not leave her now," said Orso. "To-morrow, if----"

"I shall be starting very early," said the prefect.

"Brother," cried Colomba, clasping her hands, "wait till to-morrow
morning, in any case. Let me look over my father's papers. You can not
refuse me that!"

"Well, you shall look them over to-night. But at all events you shall
not torment me afterward with your violent hatreds. A thousand
pardons, monsieur! I am so upset myself to-night--it had better be

"The night brings counsel," said the prefect, as he went out. "I hope
all your uncertainty will have disappeared by to-morrow."

"Saveria," Colomba called, "take the lantern and attend the Signor
Prefetto. He will give you a letter to bring back to my brother."

She added a few words which reached Saveria's ear alone.

"Colomba," said Orso, when the prefect was gone, "you have distressed
me very much. Will no evidence convince you?"

"You have given me till to-morrow," she replied. "I have very little
time; but I still have some hope."

Then she took a bunch of keys and ran up to a room on the upper story.
There he could hear her pulling open drawers, and rummaging in the
writing-desk in which Colonel della Rebbia had kept his business


Saveria was a long time away, and when she at last reappeared,
carrying a letter, and followed by little Chilina, rubbing her eyes,
and evidently just waked out of her beauty sleep, Orso was wound up to
the highest possible pitch of impatience.

"Chili," said Orso, "what are you doing here at this hour?"

"The signorina sent for me," replied Chilina.

"What the devil does she want with her?" thought Orso to himself. But
he was in a hurry to open Miss Lydia's letter, and while he was
reading it Chilina went upstairs to his sister's room.

"My father, dear sir, has not been well," Miss Nevil wrote, "and he
is so indolent, besides, that I am obliged to act as his
secretary. You remember that, instead of admiring the landscape
with you and me the other day, he got his feet wet on the sea-shore
--and in your delightful island, that is quite enough to give one a
fever! I can see the face you are making! No doubt you are feeling
for your dagger. But I will hope you have none now. Well, my father
had a little fever, and I had a great fright. The prefect, whom I
persist in thinking very pleasant, sent us a doctor, also a very
pleasant man, who got us over our trouble in two days. There has
been no return of the attack, and my father would like to begin to
shoot again. But I have forbidden that. How did you find matters
in your mountain home? Is your North Tower still in its old place?
Are there any ghosts about it? I ask all these questions because
my father remembers you have promised him buck and boar and
moufflon--is that the right name for those strange creatures? We
intend to crave your hospitality on our way to Bastia, where we
are to embark, and I trust the della Rebbia Castle, which you
declare is so old and tumble-down, will not fall in upon our
heads! Though the prefect is so pleasant that subjects of
conversation are never lacking to us--I flatter myself, by the
way, that I have turned his head--we have been talking about your
worshipful self. The legal people at Bastia have sent him certain
confessions, made by a rascal they have under lock and key, which
are calculated to destroy your last remaining suspicions. The
enmity which sometimes alarmed me for you must therefore end at
once. You have no idea what a pleasure this has been to me! When
you started hence with the fair /voceratrice/, with your gun in
hand, and your brow lowering, you struck me as being more Corsican
than ever--too Corsican indeed! /Basta!/ I write you this long
letter because I am dull. The prefect, alas! is going away. We
will send you a message when we start for your mountains, and I
shall take the liberty of writing to Signorina Colomba to ask her
to give me a /bruccio, ma solenne/! Meanwhile, give her my love. I
use her dagger a great deal to cut the leaves of a novel I brought
with me. But the doughty steel revolts against such usage, and
tears my book for me, after a most pitiful fashion. Farewell, sir!
My father sends you 'his best love.' Listen to what the prefect
says. He is a sensible man, and is turning out of his way, I
believe, on your account. He is going to lay a foundation-stone at
Corte. I should fancy the ceremony will be very imposing, and I am
very sorry not to see it. A gentleman in an embroidered coat and
silk stockings and a white scarf, wielding a trowel--and a speech!
And at the end of the performance manifold and reiterated shouts
of 'God save the King.' I say again, sir, it will make you very
vain to think I have written you four whole pages, and on that
account I give you leave to write me a very long letter. By the
way, I think it very odd of you not to have let me hear of your
safe arrival at the Castle of Pietranera!


"P.S.--I beg you will listen to the prefect, and do as he bids you.
We have agreed that this is the course you should pursue, and I
shall be very glad if you do it."

Orso read the letter three or four times over, making endless mental
comments each time as he read. Then he wrote a long answer, which he
sent by Saveria's hand to a man in the village, who was to go down to
Ajaccio the very next day. Already he had almost dismissed the idea of
discussing his grievance, true or false, against the Barricini, with
his sister. Miss Lydia's letter had cast a rose-coloured tint over
everything about him. He felt neither hatred nor suspicion now. He
waited some time for his sister to come down, and finding she did not
reappear, he went to bed, with a lighter heart than he had carried for
many a day. Colomba, having dismissed Chilina with some secret
instructions, spent the greater part of the night in reading old
papers. A little before daybreak a few tiny pebbles rattled against
the window-pane. At the signal, she went down to the garden, opened a
back door, and conducted two very rough men into her house. Her first
care was to bring them into the kitchen and give them food. My readers
will shortly learn who these men were.


Toward six o'clock next morning one of the prefect's servants came and
knocked at the door of Orso's house. He was received by Colomba, and
informed her the prefect was about to start, and was expecting her
brother. Without a moment's hesitation Colomba replied that her
brother had just had a fall on the stairs, and sprained his foot; and
he was unable to walk a single step, that he begged the prefect to
excuse him, and would be very grateful if he would condescend to take
the trouble of coming over to him. A few minutes after this message
had been despatched, Orso came downstairs, and asked his sister
whether the prefect had not sent for him.

With the most perfect assurance she rejoined:

"He begs you'll wait for him here."

Half an hour went by without the slightest perceptible stir in the
Barricini dwelling. Meanwhile Orso asked Colomba whether she had
discovered anything. She replied that she proposed to make her
statement when the prefect came. She affected an extreme composure.
But her colour and her eyes betrayed her state of feverish excitement.

At last the door of the Barricini mansion was seen to open. The
prefect came out first, in travelling garb; he was followed by the
mayor and his two sons. What was the stupefaction of the inhabitants
of the village of Pietranera, who had been on the watch since sunrise
for the departure of the chief magistrate of their department, when
they saw him go straight across the square and enter the della Rebbia
dwelling, accompanied by the three Barricini. "They are going to make
peace!" exclaimed the village politicians.

"Just as I told you," one old man went on. "Ors' Anton' has lived too
much on the mainland to carry things through like a man of mettle."

"Yet," responded a Rebbianite, "you may notice it is the Barricini who
have gone across to him. They are suing for mercy."

"It's the prefect who had wheedled them all round," answered the old
fellow. "There is no such thing as courage nowadays, and the young
chaps make no more fuss about their father's blood than if they were
all bastards."

The prefect was not a little astounded to find Orso up and walking
about with perfect ease. In the briefest fashion Colomba avowed her
own lie, and begged him to forgive it.

"If you had been staying anywhere else, monsieur, my brother would
have gone to pay his respects to you yesterday."

Orso made endless apologies, vowing he had nothing to do with his
sister's absurd stratagem, by which he appeared deeply mortified. The
prefect and the elder Barricini appeared to believe in the sincerity
of his regret, and indeed this belief was justified by his evident
confusion and the reproaches he addressed to his sister. But the
mayor's two sons did not seem satisfied.

"We are being made to look like fools," said Orlanduccio audibly.

"If my sister were to play me such tricks," said Vincentello, "I'd
soon cure her fancy for beginning them again."

The words, and the tone in which they were uttered, offended Orso, and
diminished his good-will. Glances that were anything but friendly were
exchanged between him and the two young men.

Meanwhile, everybody being seated save Colomba, who remained standing
close to the kitchen door, the prefect took up his parable, and after
a few common-places as to local prejudices, he recalled the fact that
the most inveterate enmities generally have their root in some mere
misunderstanding. Next, turning to the mayor, he told him that Signor
della Rebbia had never believed the Barricini family had played any
part, direct or indirect, in the deplorable event which had bereft him
of his father; that he had, indeed, nursed some doubts as to one
detail in the lawsuit between the two families; that Signor Orso's
long absence, and the nature of the information sent him, excused the
doubt in question; that in the light of recent revelations he felt
completely satisfied, and desired to re-open friendly and neighbourly
relations with Signor Barricini and his sons.

Orso bowed stiffly. Signor Barricini stammered a few words that nobody
could hear, and his sons stared steadily at the ceiling rafters. The
prefect was about to continue his speech, and address the counterpart
of the remarks he had made to Signor Barricini, to Orso, when Colomba
stepped gravely forward between the contracting parties, at the same
time drawing some papers from beneath her neckerchief.

"I should be happy indeed," she said, "to see the quarrel between our
two families brought to an end. But if the reconciliation is to be
sincere, there must be a full explanation, and nothing must be left in
doubt. Signor Prefetto, Tomaso Bianchi's declaration, coming from a
man of such vile report, seemed to me justly open to doubt. I said
your sons had possibly seen this man in the prison at Bastia."

"It's false!" interrupted Orlanduccio; "I didn't see him!"

Colomba cast a scornful glance at him, and proceeded with great
apparent composure.

"You explained Tomaso's probable interest in threatening Signor
Barricini, in the name of a dreaded bandit, by his desire to keep his
brother Teodoro in possession of the mill which my father allowed him
to hire at a very low rent."

"That's quite clear," assented the prefect.

"Where was Tomaso Bianchi's interest?" exclaimed Colomba triumphantly.
"His brother's lease had run out. My father had given him notice on
the 1st of July. Here is my father's account-book; here is his note of
warning given to Teodoro, and the letter from a business man at
Ajaccio suggesting a new tenant."

As she spoke she gave the prefect the papers she had been holding in
her hand.

There was an astonished pause. The mayor turned visibly pale. Orso,
knitting his brows, leaned forward to look at the papers, which the
prefect was perusing most attentively.

"We are being made to look like fools!" cried Orlanduccio again,
springing angrily to his feet. "Let us be off, father! We ought never
to have come here!"

One instant's delay gave Signor Barricini time to recover his
composure. He asked leave to see the papers. Without a word the
prefect handed them over to him. Pushing his green spectacles up to
his forehead, he looked through them with a somewhat indifferent air,
while Colomba watched him with the eyes of a tigress who sees a buck
drawing near to the lair where she had hidden her cubs.

"Well," said Signor Barricini, as he pulled down his spectacles and
returned the documents, "knowing the late colonel's kind heart, Tomaso
thought--most likely he thought--that the colonel would change his
mind about the notice. As a matter of fact, Bianchi is still at the
mill, so--"

"It was I," said Colomba, and there was scorn in her voice, "who left
him there. My father was dead, and situated as I was, I was obliged to
treat my brother's dependents with consideration."

"Yet," quoth the prefect, "this man Tomaso acknowledges that he wrote
the letter. That much is clear."

"The thing that is clear to me," broke in Orso, "is that there is some
vile infamy underneath this whole business."

"I have to contradict another assertion made by these gentlemen," said

She threw open the door into the kitchen and instantly Brandolaccio,
the licentiate in theology, and Brusco, the dog, marched into the
room. The two bandits were unarmed--apparently, at all events; they
wore their cartridge belts, but the pistols, which are their necessary
complement, were absent. As they entered the room they doffed their
caps respectfully.

The effect produced by their sudden appearance may be conceived. The
mayor almost fell backward. His sons threw themselves boldly in front
of him, each one feeling for his dagger in his coat pocket. The
prefect made a step toward the door, and Orso, seizing Brandolaccio by
the collar, shouted:

"What have you come here for, you villain?"

"This is a trap!" cried the mayor, trying to get the door open. But,
by the bandits' orders, as was afterward discovered, Saveria had
locked it on the outside.

"Good people," said Brandolaccio, "don't be afraid of me. I'm not such
a devil as I look. We mean no harm at all. Signor Prefetto, I'm your
very humble servant. Gently, lieutenant! You're strangling me! We're
here as witnesses! Now then, Padre, speak up! Your tongue's glib

"Signor Prefetto," quoth the licentiate, "I have not the honour of
being known to you. My name is Giocanto Castriconi, better known as
the Padre. Aha, it's coming back to you! The signorina here, whom I
have not the pleasure of knowing either, has sent to ask me to supply
some information about a fellow of the name of Tomaso Bianchi, with
whom I chanced to be shut up, about three weeks ago, in the prison at
Bastia. This is what I have to tell you."

"Spare yourself the trouble," said the prefect. "I can not listen to
anything from such a man as you. Signor della Rebbia, I am willing to
believe you have had nothing to do with this detestable plot. But are
you master in your own house? Will you have the door opened? Your
sister may have to give an account of the strange relations in which
she lives with a set of bandits."

"Signor Prefetto!" cried Colomba, "I beseech you to listen to what
this man has to say! You are here to do justice to everybody, and it
is your duty to search out the truth. Speak, Giocanto Castriconi!"

"Don't listen to him," chorused the three Barricini.

"If everybody talks at once," remarked the bandit, with a smile,
"nobody can contrive to hear what anybody says. Well, in the prison at
Bastia I had as my companion--not as my friend--this very man, Tomaso.
He received frequent visits from Signor Orlanduccio."

"You lie!" shouted the two brothers together.

"Two negatives make an affirmative," pursued Castriconi coolly.
"Tomaso had money, he ate and drank of the best. I have always been
fond of good cheer (that's the least of my failings), and in spite of
my repugnance to rubbing shoulders with such a wretch, I let myself be
tempted, several times over, into dining with him. Out of gratitude, I
proposed he should escape with me. A young person--to whom I had shown
some kindness--had provided me with the necessary means. I don't
intend to compromise anybody. Tomaso refused my offer, telling me he
was certain to be all right, as lawyer Barricini had spoken to all the
judges for him, and he was sure to get out of prison with a character
as white as snow, and with money in his pocket, too. As for me, I
thought it better to get into the fresh air. /Dixi/."

"Everything that fellow has said is a heap of lies," reiterated
Orlanduccio stoutly. "If we were in the open country, and each of us
had his gun, he wouldn't talk in that way."

"Here's a pretty folly!" cried Brandolaccio. "Don't you quarrel with
the Padre, Orlanduccio!"

"Will you be good enough to allow me to leave this room, Signor della
Rebbia," said the prefect, and he stamped his foot in his impatience.

"Saveria! Saveria!" shouted Orso, "open the door, in the devil's

"One moment," said Brandolaccio. "We have to slip away first, on our
side. Signor Prefetto, the custom, when people meet in the house of a
mutual friend, is to allow each other half an hour's law, after

The prefect cast a scornful glance at him.

"Your servant, signorina, and gentlemen all!" said Brandolaccio. Then
stretching out his arm, "Hi, Brusco," he cried to his dog, "jump for
the Signor Prefetto!"

The dog jumped; the bandits swiftly snatched up their arms in the
kitchen, fled across the garden, and at a shrill whistle the door of
the room flew open as though by magic.

"Signor Barricini," said Orso, and suppressed fury vibrated in his
voice, "I hold you to be a forger! This very day I shall charge you
before the public prosecutor with forgery and complicity with Bianchi.
I may perhaps have a still more terrible accusation to bring against

"And I, Signor della Rebbia," replied the mayor, "shall lay my charge
against you for conspiracy and complicity with bandits. Meanwhile the
prefect will desire the gendarmes to keep an eye upon you."

"The prefect will do his duty," said that gentleman sternly. "He will
see the public order is not disturbed at Pietranera; he will take care
justice is done. I say this to you all, gentlemen!"

The mayor and Vincentello were outside the room already, and
Orlanduccio was following them, stepping backward, when Orso said to
him in an undertone:

"Your father is an old man. One cuff from me would kill him. It is
with you and with your brother that I intend to deal."

Orlanduccio's only response was to draw his dagger and fly like a
madman at Orso. But before he could use his weapon Colomba caught hold
of his arm and twisted it violently, while Orso gave him a blow in the
face with his fist, which made him stagger several paces back, and
come into violent collision with the door frame. Orlanduccio's dagger
dropped from his hand. But Vincentello had his ready, and was rushing
back into the room, when Colomba, snatching up a gun convinced him
that the struggle must be unequal. At the same time the prefect threw
himself between the combatants.

"We shall soon meet, Ors' Anton'!" shouted Orlanduccio, and slamming
the door of the room violently, he turned the key in the lock, so as
to insure himself time to retreat.

For a full quarter of an hour Orso and the prefect kept their places
in dead silence, at opposite ends of the room. Colomba, the pride of
triumph shining on her brow, gazed first at one and then at the other,
as she leaned on the gun that had turned the scale of victory.

"What a country! Oh, what a country!" cried the prefect at last,
rising hastily from his chair. "Signor della Rebbia, you did wrong!
You must give me your word of honour to abstain from all violence, and
to wait till the law settles this cursed business."

"Yes, Signor Prefetto, I was wrong to strike that villain. But I did
strike him, after all, and I can't refuse him the satisfaction he has
demanded of me."

"Pooh! no! He doesn't want to fight you! But supposing he murders you?
You've done everything you could to insure it."

"We'll protect ourselves," said Colomba.

"Orlanduccio," said Orso, "strikes me as being a plucky fellow, and I
think better of him than that, monsieur. He was very quick about
drawing his dagger. But perhaps I should have done the same thing in
his place, and I'm glad my sister has not an ordinary fine lady's

"You are not to fight," exclaimed the prefect. "I forbid it!"

"Allow me to say, monsieur, that in matters that affect my honour the
only authority I acknowledge is that of my own conscience."

"You sha'n't fight, I tell you!"

"You can put me under arrest, monsieur--that is, if I let you catch
me. But if you were to do that, you would only delay a thing that has
now become inevitable. You are a man of honour yourself, monsieur; you
know there can be no other course."

"If you were to have my brother arrested," added Colomba, "half the
village would take his part, and we should have a fine fusillade."

"I give you fair notice, monsieur, and I entreat you not to think I am
talking mere bravado. I warn you that if Signor Barricini abuses his
authority as mayor, to have me arrested, I shall defend myself."

"From this very day," said the prefect, "Signor Barricini is
suspended. I trust he will exculpate himself. Listen to me, my young
gentleman, I have a liking for you. What I ask of you is nothing to
speak of. Just to stay quietly at home till I get back from Corte. I
shall only be three days away. I'll bring back the public prosecutor
with me, and then we'll sift this wretched business to the bottom.
Will you promise me you will abstain from all hostilities till then?"

"I can not promise that, monsieur, if, as I expect, Orlanduccio asks
me to meet him."

"What, Signor della Rebbia! Would you--a French officer--think of
going out with a man you suspect of being a forger?"

"I struck him, monsieur!"

"But supposing you struck a convict, and he demanded satisfaction of
you, would you fight him? Come, come, Signor Orso! But I'll ask you to
do even less, do nothing to seek out Orlanduccio. I'll consent to your
fighting him if he asks you for a meeting."

"He will ask for it, I haven't a doubt of that. But I'll promise I
won't give him fresh cuffs to induce him to do it."

"What a country!" cried the prefect once more, as he strode to and
fro. "Shall I never get back to France?"

"Signor Prefetto," said Colomba in her most dulcet tones, "it is
growing very late. Would you do us the honour of breakfasting here?"

The prefect could not help laughing.

"I've been here too long already--it may look like partiality. And
there is that cursed foundation-stone. I must be off. Signorina della
Rebbia! what calamities you may have prepared this day!"

"At all events, Signor Prefetto, you will do my sister the justice of
believing her convictions are deeply rooted--and I am sure, now, that
you yourself believe them to be well-founded."

"Farewell, sir!" said the prefect, waving his hand. "I warn you that
the sergeant of gendarmes will have orders to watch everything you

When the prefect had departed--

"Orso, said Colomba, "this isn't the Continent. Orlanduccio knows
nothing about your duels, and besides, that wretch must not die the
death of a brave man."

"Colomba, my dear, you are a clever woman. I owe you a great deal from
having saved me from a hearty knife-thrust. Give me your little hand
to kiss! But, hark ye, let me have my way. There are certain matters
that you don't understand. Give me my breakfast. And as soon as the
prefect had started off send for little Chilina, who seems to perform
all the commissions she is given in the most wonderful fashion. I
shall want her to take a letter for me."

While Colomba was superintending the preparation of his breakfast,
Orso went up to his own room and wrote the following note:

"You must be in a hurry to meet me, and I am no less eager. We can
meet at six o'clock to-morrow morning in the valley of Acquaviva.
I am a skilful pistol-shot, so I do not suggest that weapon to
you. I hear you are a good shot with a gun. Let us each take a
double-barrelled gun. I shall be accompanied by a man from this
village. If your brother wishes to go with you, take a second
witness, and let me know. In that case only, I should bring two
with me.


After spending an hour with the deputy-mayor, and going into the
Barricini house for a few minutes, the prefect, attended by a single
gendarme, started for Corte. A quarter of an hour later, Chilina
carried over the letter my readers have just perused, and delivered it
into Orlanduccio's own hands.

The answer was not prompt, and did not arrive till evening. It bore
the signature of the elder Barricini, and informed Orso that he was
laying the threatening letter sent to his son before the public
prosecutor. His missive concluded thus: "Strong in the sense of a
clear conscience, I patiently wait till the law has pronounced on your

Meanwhile five or six herdsmen, summoned by Colomba, arrived to
garrison the della Rebbia Tower. In spite of Orso's protests,
/archere/ were arranged in the windows looking onto the square, and
all through the evening offers of service kept coming in from various
persons belonging to the village. There was even a letter from the
bandit-theologian, undertaking, for himself and Brandolaccio, that in
the event of the mayor's calling on the gendarmes, they themselves
would straightway intervene. The following postscript closed the

"Dare I ask you what the Signor Prefetto thinks of the excellent
education bestowed by my friend on Brusco, the dog? Next to
Chilina, he is the most docile and promising pupil I have ever
come across."


The following day went by without any hostile demonstration. Both
sides kept on the defensive. Orso did not leave his house, and the
door of the Barricini dwelling remained closely shut. The five
gendarmes who had been left to garrison Pietranera were to be seen
walking about the square and the outskirts of the village, in company
with the village constable, the sole representative of the urban
police force. The deputy-mayor never put off his sash. But there was
no actual symptom of war, except the loopholes in the two opponents'
houses. Nobody but a Corsican would have noticed that the group round
the evergreen oak in the middle of the square consisted solely of

At supper-time Colomba gleefully showed her brother a letter she had
just received from Miss Nevil.

"My dear Signorina Colomba," it ran, "I learn with great pleasure,
through a letter from your brother, that your enmities are all at
an end. I congratulate you heartily. My father can not endure
Ajaccio now your brother is not there to talk about war and go out
shooting with him. We are starting to-day, and shall sleep at the
house of your kinswoman, to whom we have a letter. The day after
to-morrow, somewhere about eleven o'clock, I shall come and ask
you to let me taste that mountain /bruccio/ of yours, which you
say is so vastly superior to what we get in the town.

"Farewell, dear Signorina Colomba.

"Your affectionate

"Then she hasn't received my second letter!" exclaimed Orso.

"You see by the date of this one that Miss Lydia must have already
started when your letter reached Ajaccio. But did you tell her not to

"I told her we were in a state of siege. That does not seem to me a
condition that permits of our receiving company."

"Bah! These English people are so odd. The very last night I slept in
her room she told me she would be sorry to leave Corsica without
having seen a good /vendetta/. If you choose, Orso, you might let her
see an assault on our enemies' house."

"Do you know, Colomba," said Orso, "Nature blundered when she made you
a woman. You'd have made a first-rate soldier."

"Maybe. Anyhow, I'm going to make my /bruccio/."

"Don't waste your time. We must send somebody down to warn them and
stop them before they start."

"Do you mean to say you would send a messenger out in such weather, to
have him and your letter both swept away by a torrent? How I pity
those poor bandits in this storm! Luckily they have good /piloni/
(thick cloth cloaks with hoods). Do you know what you ought to do,
Orso. If the storm clears you should start off very early to-morrow
morning, and get to our kinswoman's house before they leave it. That
will be easy enough, for Miss Lydia always gets up so late. You can
tell them everything that has happened here, and if they still persist
in coming, why! we shall be very glad to welcome them."

Orso lost no time in assenting to this plan, and after a few moments'
silence, Colomba continued:

"Perhaps, Orso, you think I was joking when I talked of an assault on
the Barricini's house. Do you know we are in force--two to one at the
very least? Now that the prefect has suspended the mayor, every man in
the place is on our side. We might cut them to pieces. It would be
quite easy to bring it about. If you liked, I could go over to the
fountain and begin to jeer at their women folk. They would come out.
Perhaps--they are such cowards!--they would fire at me through their
loopholes. They wouldn't hit me. Then the thing would be done. They
would have begun the attack, and the beaten party must take its
chance. How is anybody to know which person's aim has been true, in a
scuffle? Listen to your own sister, Orso! These lawyers who are coming
will blacken lots of paper, and talk a great deal of useless stuff.
Nothing will come of it all. That old fox will contrive to make them
think they see stars in broad midday. Ah! if the prefect hadn't thrown
himself in front of Vincentello, we should have had one less to deal

All this was said with the same calm air as that with which she had
spoken, an instant previously, of her preparations for making the

Orso, quite dumfounded, gazed at his sister with an admiration not
unmixed with alarm.

"My sweet Colomba," he said, as he rose from the table, "I really am
afraid you are the very devil. But make your mind easy. If I don't
succeed in getting the Barricini hanged, I'll contrive to get the
better of them in some other fashion. 'Hot bullet or cold steel'--you
see I haven't forgotten my Corsican."

"The sooner the better," said Colomba, with a sigh. "What horse will
you ride to-morrow, Ors' Anton'?"

"The black. Why do you ask?"

"So as to make sure he has some barley."

When Orso went up to his room, Colomba sent Saveria and the herdsmen
to their beds, and sat on alone in the kitchen, where the /bruccio/
was simmering. Now and then she seemed to listen, and was apparently
waiting very anxiously for her brother to go to bed. At last, when she
thought he was asleep, she took a knife, made sure it was sharp,
slipped her little feet into thick shoes, and passed noiselessly out
into the garden.

This garden, which was inclosed by walls, lay next to a good-sized
piece of hedged ground, into which the horses were turned--for
Corsican horses do not know what a stable means. They are generally
turned loose into a field, and left to themselves, to find pasture and
shelter from cold winds, as best they may.

Colomba opened the garden gate with the same precaution, entered the
inclosure, and whistling gently, soon attracted the horses, to whom
she had often brought bread and salt. As soon as the black horse came
within reach, she caught him firmly by the mane, and split his ear
open with her knife. The horse gave a violent leap, and tore off with
that shrill cry which sharp pain occasionally extorts from his kind.
Quite satisfied, Colomba was making her way back into the garden, when
Orso threw open his window and shouted, "Who goes there?" At the same
time she heard him cock his gun. Luckily for her the garden-door lay
in the blackest shadow, and was partly screened by a large fig-tree.
She very soon gathered, from the light she saw glancing up and down in
her brother's room, that he was trying to light his lamp. She lost no
time about closing the garden-door, and slipping along the wall, so
that the outline of her black garments was lost against the dark
foliage of the fruit-trees, and succeeded in getting back into the
kitchen a few moments before Orso entered it.

"What's the matter?" she inquired.

"I fancied I heard somebody opening the garden-door," said Orso.

"Impossible! The dog would have barked. But let us go and see!"

Orso went round the garden, and having made sure that the outer door
was safely secured, he was going back to his room, rather ashamed of
his false alarm.

"I am glad, brother," remarked Colomba, "that you are learning to be
prudent, as a man in your position ought to be."

"You are training me well," said Orso. "Good-night!"

By dawn the next morning Orso was up and ready to start. His style of
dress betrayed the desire for smartness felt by every man bound for
the presence of the lady he would fain please, combined with the
caution of a Corsican /in vendetta/. Over a blue coat, that sat
closely to his figure, he wore a small tin case full of cartridges,
slung across his shoulder by a green silk cord. His dagger lay in his
side pocket, and in his hand he carried his handsome Manton, ready
loaded. While he was hastily swallowing the cup of coffee Colomba had
poured out for him, one of the herdsmen went out to put the bridle and
saddle on the black horse. Orso and his sister followed close on his
heels and entered the field. The man had caught the horse, but he had
dropped both saddle and bridle, and seemed quite paralyzed with
horror, while the horse, remembering the wound it had received during
the night, and trembling for its other ear, was rearing, kicking, and
neighing like twenty fiends.

"Now then! Make haste!" shouted Orso.

"Ho, Ors' Anton'! Ho, Ors' Anton'!" yelled the herdsman. "Holy
Madonna!" and he poured out a string of imprecations, numberless,
endless, and most of them quite untranslatable.

"What can be the matter?" inquired Colomba. They all drew near to the
horse, and at the sight of the creature's bleeding head and split ear
there was a general outcry of surprise and indignation. My readers
must know that among the Corsicans to mutilate an enemy's horse is at
once a vengeance, a challenge, and a mortal threat. "Nothing but a
bullet-wound can expiate such a crime."

Though Orso, having lived so long on the mainland, was not so
sensitive as other Corsicans to the enormity of the insult, still, if
any supporter of the Barricini had appeared in his sight at that
moment, he would probably have taken vengeance on him for the outrage
he ascribed to his enemies.

"The cowardly wretches!" he cried. "To avenge themselves on a poor
brute, when they dare not meet me face to face!"

"What are we waiting for?" exclaimed Colomba vehemently. "They come
here and brave us! They mutilate our horses! and we are not to make
any response? Are you men?"

"Vengeance!" shouted the herdsmen. "Let us lead the horse through the
village, and attack their house!"

"There's a thatched barn that touches their Tower," said old Polo
Griffo; "I'd set fire to it in a trice."

Another man wanted to fetch the ladders out of the church steeple. A
third proposed they should break in the doors of the house with a
heavy beam intended for some house in course of building, which had
been left lying in the square. Amid all the angry voices Colomba was
heard telling her satellites that before they went to work she would
give each man of them a large glass of anisette.

Unluckily, or rather luckily, the impression she had expected to
produce by her own cruel treatment of the poor horse was largely lost
on Orso. He felt no doubt that the savage mutilation was due to one of
his foes, and he specially suspected Orlanduccio; but he did not
believe that the young man, whom he himself had provoked and struck,
had wiped out his shame by slitting a horse's ear. On the contrary,
this mean and ridiculous piece of vengeance had increased Orso's scorn
for his opponents, and he now felt, with the prefect, that such people
were not worthy to try conclusions with himself. As soon as he was
able to make himself heard, he informed his astonished partisans that
they would have to relinquish all their bellicose intentions, and that
the power of the law, which would shortly be on the spot, would amply
suffice to avenge the hurt done to a horse's ear.

"I'm master here!" he added sternly; "and I insist on being obeyed.
The first man who dares to say anything more about killing or burning,
will quite possibly get a scorching at my hands! Be off! Saddle me the
gray horse!"

"What's this, Orso?" said Colomba, drawing him apart. "You allow these
people to insult us? No Barricini would have dared to mutilate any
beast of ours in my father's time."

"I promise you they shall have reason to repent it. But it is
gendarme's and jailer's work to punish wretches who only venture to
raise their hands against brute beasts. I've told you already, the law
will punish them; and if not, you will not need to remind me whose son
I am."

"Patience!" answered Colomba, with a sigh.

"Remember this, sister," continued Orso; "if I find, when I come back,
that any demonstration whatever has been made against the Barricini I
shall never forgive you." Then, in a gentler tone, he added, "Very
possibly--very probably--I shall bring the colonel and his daughter
back with me. See that their rooms are well prepared, and that the
breakfast is good. In fact, let us make our guests as comfortable as
we can. It's a very good thing to be brave, Colomba, but a woman must
know how to manage her household, as well. Come, kiss me, and be good!
Here's the gray, ready saddled."

"Orso," said Colomba, "you mustn't go alone."

"I don't need anybody," replied Orso; "and I'll promise you nobody
shall slit my ear."

"Oh, I'll never consent to your going alone, while there is a feud.
Here! Polo Griffo! Gian' Franco! Memmo! Take your guns; you must go
with my brother."

After a somewhat lively argument, Orso had to give in, and accept an
escort. From the most excited of the herdsmen he chose out those who
had been loudest in their desire to commence hostilities; then, after
laying fresh injunctions on his sister and the men he was leaving
behind, he started, making a detour, this time, so as to avoid the

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