Part 17 out of 33
the pacts and spells which remain in the hands of the clerk and the
manuscript of the book written by the said Grandier against a
celibate priesthood, and his ashes, to be scattered to the four winds
of heaven. And we have declared, and do hereby declare, all and
every part of his property confiscate to the king, the sum of one
hundred and fifty livres being first taken therefrom to be employed
in the purchase of a copper plate whereon the substance of the
present decree shall be engraved, the same to be exposed in a
conspicuous place in the said church of Sainte-Ursule, there to
remain in perpetuity; and before this sentence is carried out, we
order the said Grandier to be put to the question ordinary and
extraordinary, so that his accomplices may become known.
"Pronounced at Loudun against the said Grandier this 18th day of
On the morning of the day on which this sentence was passed, M. de
Laubardemont ordered the surgeon Francois Fourneau to be arrested at
his own house and taken to Grandier's cell, although he was ready to
go there of his own free will. In passing through the adjoining room
he heard the voice of the accused saying:--
"What do you want with me, wretched executioner? Have you come to
kill me? You know how cruelly you have already tortured my body.
Well I am ready to die."
On entering the room, Fourneau saw that these words had been
addressed to the surgeon Mannouri.
One of the officers of the 'grand privot de l'hotel', to whom M. de
Laubardemont lent for the occasion the title of officer of the king's
guard, ordered the new arrival to shave Grandier, and not leave a
single hair on his whole body. This was a formality employed in
cases of witchcraft, so that the devil should have no place to hide
in; for it was the common belief that if a single hair were left, the
devil could render the accused insensible to the pains of torture.
From this Urbain understood that the verdict had gone against him and
that he was condemned to death.
Fourneau having saluted Grandier, proceeded to carry out his orders,
whereupon a judge said it was not sufficient to shave the body of the
prisoner, but that his nails must also be torn out, lest the devil
should hide beneath them. Grandier looked at the speaker with an
expression of unutterable pity, and held out his hands to Fourneau;
but Forneau put them gently aside, and said he would do nothing of
the kind, even were the order given by the cardinal-duke himself, and
at the same time begged Grandier's pardon for shaving him. At, these
words Grandier, who had for so long met with nothing but barbarous
treatment from those with whom he came in contact, turned towards the
surgeon with tears in his eyes, saying--
"So you are the only one who has any pity for me."
"Ah, sir," replied Fourneau, "you don't see everybody."
Grandier was then shaved, but only two marks found on him, one as we
have said on the shoulder blade, and the other on the thigh. Both
marks were very sensitive, the wounds which Mannouri had made not
having yet healed. This point having been certified by Fourneau,
Grandier was handed, not his own clothes, but some wretched garments
which had probably belonged to some other condemned man.
Then, although his sentence had been pronounced at the Carmelite
convent, he was taken by the grand provost's officer, with two of his
archers, accompanied by the provosts of Loudun and Chinon, to the
town hall, where several ladies of quality, among them Madame de
Laubardemont, led by curiosity, were sitting beside the judges,
waiting to hear the sentence read. M. de Laubardemont was in the
seat usually occupied by the clerk, and the clerk was standing before
him. All the approaches were lined with soldiers.
Before the accused was brought in, Pere Lactance and another
Franciscan who had come with him exorcised him to oblige the devils
to leave him; then entering the judgment hall, they exorcised the
earth, the air, "and the other elements." Not till that was done was
Grandier led in.
At first he was kept at the far end of the hall, to allow time for
the exorcisms to have their full effect, then he was brought forward
to the bar and ordered to kneel down. Grandier obeyed, but could
remove neither his hat nor his skull-cap, as his hands were bound
behind his back, whereupon the clerk seized on the one and the
provost's officer on the other, and flung them at de Laubardemont's
feet. Seeing that the accused fixed his eyes on the commissioner as
if waiting to see what he was about to do, the clerk said
"Turn your head, unhappy man, and adore the crucifix above the
Grandier obeyed without a murmur and with great humility, and
remained sunk in silent prayer for about ten minutes; he then resumed
his former attitude.
The clerk then began to read the sentence in a trembling voice, while
Grandier listened with unshaken firmness and wonderful tranquillity,
although it was the most terrible sentence that could be passed,
condemning the accused to be burnt alive the same day, after the
infliction of ordinary and extraordinary torture. When the clerk had
ended, Grandier said, with a voice unmoved from its usual calm
"Messeigneurs, I aver in the name of the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Ghost, and the Blessed Virgin, my only hope, that I have never
been a magician, that I have never committed sacrilege, that I know
no other magic than that of the Holy Scriptures, which I have always
preached, and that I have never held any other belief than that of
our Holy Mother the Catholic Apostolic Church of Rome; I renounce the
devil and all his works; I confess my Redeemer, and I pray to be
saved through the blood of the Cross; and I beseech you,
messeigneurs, to mitigate the rigour of my sentence, and not to drive
my soul to despair."
The concluding words led de Laubardemont to believe that he could
obtain some admission from Grandier through fear of suffering, so he
ordered the court to be cleared, and, being left alone with Maitre
Houmain, criminal lieutenant of Orleans, and the Franciscans, he
addressed Grandier in a stern voice, saying there was only one way to
obtain any mitigation of his sentence, and that was to confess the
names of his accomplices and to sign the confession. Grandier
replied that having committed no crime he could have no accomplices,
whereupon Laubardemont ordered the prisoner to be taken to the
torture chamber, which adjoined the judgment hall--an order which was
The mode of torture employed at Loudun was a variety of the boot, and
one of the most painful of all. Each of the victim's legs below the
knee was placed between two boards, the two pairs were then laid one
above the other and bound together firmly at the ends; wedges were
then driven in with a mallet between the two middle boards; four such
wedges constituted ordinary and eight extraordinary torture; and this
latter was seldom inflicted, except on those condemned to death, as
almost no one ever survived it, the sufferer's legs being crushed to
a pulp before he left the torturer's bands. In this case M. de
Laubardemont on his own initiative, for it had never been done
before, added two wedges to those of the extraordinary torture, so
that instead of eight, ten were to be driven in.
Nor was this all: the commissioner royal and the two Franciscans
undertook to inflict the torture themselves.
Laubardemont ordered Grandier to be bound in the usual manner, I and
then saw his legs placed between the boards. He then dismissed the
executioner and his assistants, and directed the keeper of the
instruments to bring the wedges, which he complained of as being too
small. Unluckily, there were no larger ones in stock, and in spite
of threats the keeper persisted in saying he did not know where to
procure others. M. de Laubardemont then asked how long it would take
to make some, and was told two hours; finding that too long to wait,
he was obliged to put up with those he had.
Thereupon the torture began. Pere Lactance having exorcised the
instruments, drove in the first wedge, but could not draw a murmur
from Grandier, who was reciting a prayer in a low voice; a second was
driven home, and this time the victim, despite his resolution, could
not avoid interrupting his devotions by two groans, at each of which
Pere Lactance struck harder, crying, "Dicas! dicas!" (Confess,
confess!), a word which he repeated so often and so furiously, till
all was over, that he was ever after popularly called "Pere Dicas."
When the second wedge was in, de Laubardemont showed Grandier his
manuscript against the celibacy of the priests, and asked if he
acknowledged it to be in his own handwriting. Grandier answered in
the affirmative. Asked what motive he had in writing it, he said it
was an attempt to restore peace of mind to a poor girl whom he had
loved, as was proved by the two lines written at the end--
"Si ton gentil esprit prend bien cette science,
Tu mettras en repos ta bonne conscience."
[If thy sensitive mind imbibe this teaching,
It will give ease to thy tender conscience]
Upon this, M. de Laubardemont demanded the girl's name; but Grandier
assured him it should never pass his lips, none knowing it but
himself and God. Thereupon M. de Laubardemont ordered Pere Lactance
to insert the third wedge. While it was being driven in by the
monk's lusty arm, each blow being accompanied by the word "'Dicas'!"
"My God! they are killing me, and yet I am neither a sorcerer nor
At the fourth wedge Grandier fainted, muttering--
"Oh, Pere Lactance, is this charity?"
Although his victim was unconscious, Pere Lactance continued to
strike; so that, having lost consciousness through pain, pain soon
brought him back to life.
De Laubardemont took advantage of this revival to take his turn at
demanding a confession of his crimes; but Grandier said--
"I have committed no crimes, sir, only errors. Being a man, I have
often gone astray; but I have confessed and done penance, and believe
that my prayers for pardon have been heard; but if not, I trust that
God will grant me pardon now, for the sake of my sufferings."
At the fifth wedge Grandier fainted once more, but they restored him
to consciousness by dashing cold water in his face, whereupon he
moaned, turning to M. de Laubardemont
"In pity, sir, put me to death at once! I am only a man, and I cannot
answer for myself that if you continue to torture me so I shall not
give way to despair."
"Then sign this, and the torture shall cease," answered the
commissioner royal, offering him a paper.
"My father," said Urbain, turning towards the Franciscan, "can you
assure me on your conscience that it is permissible for a man, in
order to escape suffering, to confess a crime he has never
"No," replied the monk; "for if he die with a lie on his lips he dies
in mortal sin."
"Go on, then," said Grandier; "for having suffered so much in my
body, I desire to save my soul."
As Pere Lactance drove in the sixth wedge Grandier fainted anew.
When he had been revived, Laubardemont called upon him to confess
that a certain Elisabeth Blanchard had been his mistress, as well as
the girl for whom he had written the treatise against celibacy; but
Grandier replied that not only had no improper relations ever existed
between them, but that the day he had been confronted with her at his
trial was the first time he had ever seen her.
At the seventh wedge Grandier's legs burst open, and the blood
spurted into Pere Lactance's face; but he wiped it away with the
sleeve of his gown.
"O Lord my God, have mercy on me! I die!" cried Grandier, and
fainted for the fourth time. Pere Lactance seized the opportunity to
take a short rest, and sat down.
When Grandier had once more come to himself, he began slowly to utter
a prayer, so beautiful and so moving that the provost's lieutenant
wrote it down; but de Laubardemont noticing this, forbade him ever to
show it to anyone.
At the eighth wedge the bones gave way, and the marrow oozed out of
the wounds, and it became useless to drive in any more wedges, the
legs being now as flat as the boards that compressed them, and
moreover Pere Lactance was quite worn out.
Grandier was unbound and laid upon the flagged floor, and while his
eyes shone with fever and agony he prayed again a second prayer--a
veritable martyr's prayer, overflowing with faith and enthusiasm; but
as he ended his strength failed, and he again became unconscious.
The provost's lieutenant forced a little wine between his lips, which
brought him to; then he made an act of contrition, renounced Satan
and all his works once again, and commended his soul to God.
Four men entered, his legs were freed from the boards, and the
crushed parts were found to be a mere inert mass, only attached to
the knees by the sinews. He was then carried to the council chamber,
and laid on a little straw before the fire.
In a corner of the fireplace an Augustinian monk was seated. Urbain
asked leave to confess to him, which de Laubardemont refused, holding
out the paper he desired to have signed once more, at which Grandier
"If I would not sign to spare myself before, am I likely to give way
now that only death remains?"
"True," replied Laubardemont; "but the mode of your death is in our
hands: it rests with us to make it slow or quick, painless or
agonising; so take this paper and sign?"
Grandier pushed the paper gently away, shaking his head in sign of
refusal, whereupon de Laubardemont left the room in a fury, and
ordered Peres Tranquille and Claude to be admitted, they being the
confessors he had chosen for Urbain. When they came near to fulfil
their office, Urbain recognised in them two of his torturers, so he
said that, as it was only four days since he had confessed to Pere
Grillau, and he did not believe he had committed any mortal sin since
then, he would not trouble them, upon which they cried out at him as
a heretic and infidel, but without any effect.
At four o'clock the executioner's assistants came to fetch him; he
was placed lying on a bier and carried out in that position. On the
way he met the criminal lieutenant of Orleans, who once more exhorted
him to confess his crimes openly; but Grandier replied--
"Alas, sir, I have avowed them all; I have kept nothing back."
"Do you desire me to have masses said for you?" continued the
"I not only desire it, but I beg for it as a great favour," said
A lighted torch was then placed in his hand: as the procession
started he pressed the torch to his lips; he looked on all whom he
met with modest confidence, and begged those whom he knew to
intercede with God for him. On the threshold of the door his
sentence was read to him, and he was then placed in a small cart and
driven to the church of St. Pierre in the market-place. There he was
awaited by M. de Laubardemont, who ordered him to alight. As he
could not stand on his mangled limbs, he was pushed out, and fell
first on his knees and then on his face. In this position he
remained patiently waiting to be lifted. He was carried to the top
of the steps and laid down, while his sentence was read to him once
more, and just as it was finished, his confessor, who had not been
allowed to see him for four days, forced a way through the crowd and
threw himself into Grandier's arms. At first tears choked Pere
Grillau's voice, but at last he said, "Remember, sir, that our
Saviour Jesus Christ ascended to His Father through the agony of the
Cross: you are a wise man, do not give way now and lose everything.
I bring you your mother's blessing; she and I never cease to pray
that God may have mercy on you and receive you into Paradise."
These words seemed to inspire Grandier with new strength; he lifted
his head, which pain had bowed, and raising his eyes to heaven,
murmured a short prayer. Then turning towards the worthy, friar, he
"Be a son to my mother; pray to God for me constantly; ask all our
good friars to pray for my soul; my one consolation is that I die
innocent. I trust that God in His mercy may receive me into
"Is there nothing else I can do for you?" asked Pere Grillau.
"Alas, my father!" replied Grandier, "I am condemned to die a most
cruel death; ask the executioner if there is no way of shortening
what I must undergo."
"I go at once," said the friar; and giving him absolution in
'articulo mortis', he went down the steps, and while Grandier was
making his confession aloud the good monk drew the executioner aside
and asked if there were no possibility of alleviating the death-agony
by means of a shirt dipped in brimstone. The executioner answered
that as the sentence expressly stated that Grandier was to be burnt
alive, he could not employ an expedient so sure to be discovered as
that; but that if the friar would give him thirty crowns he would
undertake to strangle Grandier while he was kindling the pile. Pere
Grillau gave him the money, and the executioner provided himself with
a rope. The Franciscan then placed himself where he could speak to
his penitent as he passed, and as he embraced him for the last time,
whispered to him what he had arranged with the executioner, whereupon
Grandier turned towards the latter and said in a tone of deep
"Thanks, my brother."
At that moment, the archers having driven away Pere Grillau, by order
of M. de Laubardemont, by beating him with their halberts, the
procession resumed its march, to go through the same ceremony at the
Ursuline church, and from there to proceed to the square of Sainte-
Croix. On the way Urbain met and recognised Moussant, who was
accompanied by his wife, and turning towards him, said--
"I die your debtor, and if I have ever said a word that could offend
you I ask you to forgive me."
When the place of execution was reached, the provost's lieutenant
approached Grandier and asked his forgiveness.
"You have not offended me," was the reply; "you have only done what
your duty obliged you to do."
The executioner then came forward and removed the back board of the
cart, and ordered his assistants to carry Grandier to where the pile
was prepared. As he was unable to stand, he was attached to the
stake by an iron hoop passed round his body. At that moment a flock
of pigeons seemed to fall from the sky, and, fearless of the crowd,
which was so great that the archers could not succeed even by blows
of their weapons in clearing a way for the magistrates, began to fly
around Grandier, while one, as white as the driven snow, alighted on
the summit of the stake, just above his head. Those who believed in
possession exclaimed that they were only a band of devils come to
seek their master, but there were many who muttered that devils were
not wont to assume such a form, and who persisted in believing that
the doves had come in default of men to bear witness to Grandier's
In trying next day to combat this impression, a monk asserted that he
had seen a huge fly buzzing round Grandier's head, and as Beelzebub
meant in Hebrew, as he said, the god of flies, it was quite evident
that it was that demon himself who, taking upon him the form of one
of his subjects, had come to carry off the magician's soul.
When everything was prepared, the executioner passed the rope by
which he meant to strangle him round Grandier's neck; then the
priests exorcised the earth, air, and wood, and again demanded of
their victim if he would not publicly confess his crimes. Urbain
replied that he had nothing to say, but that he hoped through the
martyr's death he was about to die to be that day with Christ in
The clerk then read his sentence to him for the fourth time, and
asked if he persisted in what he said under torture.
"Most certainly I do," said Urbain; "for it was the exact truth."
Upon this, the clerk withdrew, first informing Grandier that if he
had anything to say to the people he was at liberty to speak.
But this was just what the exorcists did not want: they knew
Grandier's eloquence and courage, and a firm, unshaken denial at the
moment of death would be most prejudicial to their interests. As
soon, therefore, as Grandier opened his lips to speak, they dashed
such a quantity of holy water in his face that it took away his
breath. It was but for a moment, however, and he recovered himself,
and again endeavoured to speak, a monk stooped down and stifled the
words by kissing him on the lips. Grandier, guessing his intention,
said loud enough for those next the pile to hear, "That was the kiss
At these words the monks become so enraged that one of them struck
Grandier three times in the face with a crucifix, while he appeared
to be giving it him to kiss; but by the blood that flowed from his
nose and lips at the third blow those standing near perceived the
truth: all Grandier could do was to call out that he asked for a
Salve Regina and an Ave Maria, which many began at once to repeat,
whilst he with clasped hands and eyes raised to heaven commended
himself to God and the Virgin. The exorcists then made one more
effort to get him to confess publicly, but he exclaimed--
"My fathers, I have said all I had to say; I hope in God and in His
At this refusal the anger of the exorcists surpassed all bounds, and
Pere Lactance, taking a twist of straw, dipped it in a bucket of
pitch which was standing beside the pile, and lighting it at a torch,
thrust it into his face, crying--
"Miserable wretch! will nothing force you to confess your crimes and
renounce the devil?"
"I do not belong to the devil," said Grandier, pushing away the straw
with his hands; "I have renounced the devil, I now renounce him and
all his works again, and I pray that God may have mercy on me."
At this, without waiting for the signal from the provost's
lieutenant, Pere Lactance poured the bucket of pitch on one corner of
the pile of wood and set fire to it, upon which Grandier called the
executioner to his aid, who, hastening up, tried in vain to strangle
him, while the flames spread apace.
"Ah! my brother," said the sufferer, "is this the way you keep your
"It's not my fault," answered the executioner; "the monks have
knotted the cord, so that the noose cannot slip."
"Oh, Father Lactance! Father Lactance! have you no charity?" cried
The executioner by this time was forced by the increasing heat to
jump down from the pile, being indeed almost overcome; and seeing
this, Grandier stretched forth a hand into the flames, and said--
"Pere Lactance, God in heaven will judge between thee and me; I
summon thee to appear before Him in thirty days."
Grandier was then seen to make attempts to strangle himself, but
either because it was impossible, or because he felt it would be
wrong to end his life by his own hands, he desisted, and clasping his
hands, prayed aloud--
"Deus meus, ad te vigilo, miserere me."
A Capuchin fearing that he would have time to say more, approached
the pile from the side which had not yet caught fire, and dashed the
remainder of the holy water in his face. This caused such smoke that
Grandier was hidden for a moment from the eyes of the spectators;
when it cleared away, it was seen that his clothes were now alight;
his voice could still be heard from the midst of the flames raised in
prayer; then three times, each time in a weaker voice, he pronounced
the name of Jesus, and giving one cry, his head fell forward on his
At that moment the pigeons which had till then never ceased to circle
round the stake, flew away, and were lost in the clouds.
Urbain Grandier had given up the ghost.
This time it was not the man who was executed who was guilty, but the
executioners; consequently we feel sure that our readers will be
anxious to learn something of their fate.
Pere Lactance died in the most terrible agony on September 18th,
1634, exactly a month from the date of Grandier's death. His
brother-monks considered that this was due to the vengeance of Satan;
but others were not wanting who said, remembering the summons uttered
by Grandier, that it was rather due to the justice of God. Several
attendant circumstances seemed to favour the latter opinion. The
author of the History of the Devils of Loudzin gives an account of
one of these circumstances, for the authenticity of which he vouches,
and from which we extract the following:
"Some days after the execution of Grandier, Pere Lactance fell ill of
the disease of which he died. Feeling that it was of supernatural
origin, he determined to take a pilgrimage to Notre Dame des
Andilliers de Saumur, where many miracles were wrought, and which was
held in high estimation in the neighbourhood. A place in the
carriage of the Sieur de Canaye was offered him for the journey; for
this gentleman, accompanied by a large party on pleasure bent, was
just then setting out for his estate of Grand Fonds, which lay in the
same direction. The reason for the offer was that Canaye and his
friends, having heard that the last words of Grandier had affected
Pere Lactance's mind, expected to find a great deal of amusement in
exciting the terrors of their travelling-companion. And in truth,
for a day or two, the boon companions sharpened their wits at the
expense of the worthy monk, when all at once, on a good road and
without apparent cause, the carriage overturned. Though no one was
hurt, the accident appeared so strange to the pleasure-seekers that
it put an end to the jokes of even the boldest among them. Pere
Lactance himself appeared melancholy and preoccupied, and that
evening at supper refused to eat, repeating over and over again--
"'It was wrong of me to deny Grandier the confessor he asked for; God
is punishing me, God is punishing me!'
"On the following morning the journey was resumed, but the evident
distress of mind under which Pere Lactance laboured had so damped the
spirits of the party that all their gaiety had disappeared.
Suddenly, just outside Fenet, where the road was in excellent
condition and no obstacle to their progress apparent, the carriage
upset for the second time. Although again no one was hurt, the
travellers felt that there was among them someone against whom God's
anger was turned, and their suspicions pointing to Pere Lactance,
they went on their way, leaving him behind, and feeling very
uncomfortable at the thought that they had spent two or three days in
"Pere Lactance at last reached Notre-Dame des Andilliers; but however
numerous were the miracles there performed, the remission of the doom
pronounced by the martyr on Pere Lactance was not added to their
number; and at a quarter-past six on September 18th, exactly a month
to the very minute after Grandier's death, Pere Lactance expired in
Pere Tranquille's turn came four years later. The malady which
attacked him was so extraordinary that the physicians were quite at a
loss, and forced to declare their ignorance of any remedy. His
shrieks and blasphemies were so distinctly heard in the streets, that
his brother Franciscans, fearing the effect they would have on his
after-reputation, especially in the minds of those who had seen
Grandier die with words of prayer on his lips, spread abroad the
report that the devils whom he had expelled from the bodies of the
nuns had entered into the body of the exorcist. He died shrieking--
"My God! how I suffer! Not all the devils and all the damned
together endure what I endure!" His panegyrist, in whose book we
find all the horrible details of his death employed to much purpose
to illustrate the advantages of belonging to the true faith,
"Truly big generous heart must have been a hot hell for those fiends
who entered his body to torment it."
The following epitaph which was placed over his grave was
interpreted, according to the prepossessions of those who read it,
either as a testimony to his sanctity or as a proof of his
"Here lies Pere Tranquille, of Saint-Remi; a humble Capuchin
preacher. The demons no longer able to endure his fearlessly
exercised power as an exorcist, and encouraged by sorcerers, tortured
him to death, on May 31st, 1638."
But a death about which there could be no doubt as to the cause was
that of the surgeon Mannouri, the same who had, as the reader may
recollect, been the first to torture Grandier. One evening about ten
o'clock he was returning from a visit to a patient who lived on the
outskirts of the town, accompanied by a colleague and preceded by his
surgery attendant carrying a lantern. When they reached the centre
of the town in the rue Grand-Pave, which passes between the walls of
the castle grounds and the gardens of the Franciscan monastery,
Mannouri suddenly stopped, and, staring fixedly at some object which
was invisible to his companions, exclaimed with a start--
"Oh! there is Grandier!
"Where? where?" cried the others.
He pointed in the direction towards which his eyes were turned, and
beginning to tremble violently, asked--
"What do you want with me, Grandier? What do you want?"
A moment later he added
"Yes-yes, I am coming."
Immediately it seemed as if the vision vanished from before his eyes,
but the effect remained. His brother-surgeon and the servant brought
him home, but neither candles nor the light of day could allay his
fears; his disordered brain showed him Grandier ever standing at the
foot of his bed. A whole week he continued, as was known all over
the town, in this condition of abject terror; then the spectre seemed
to move from its place and gradually to draw nearer, for he kept on
repeating, "He is coming! he is coming!" and at length, towards
evening, at about the same hour at which Grandier expired, Surgeon
Mannouri drew his last breath.
We have still to tell of M. de Laubardemont. All we know is thus
related in the letters of M. de Patin:--
"On the 9th inst., at nine o'clock in the evening, a carriage was
attacked by robbers; on hearing the noise the townspeople ran to the
spot, drawn thither as much by curiosity as by humanity. A few shots
were exchanged and the robbers put to flight, with the exception of
one man belonging to their band who was taken prisoner, and another
who lay wounded on the paving-stones. This latter died next day
without having spoken, and left no clue behind as to who he was. His
identity was, however, at length made clear. He was the son of a
high dignitary named de Laubardemont, who in 1634, as royal
commissioner, condemned Urbain Grandier, a poor, priest of Loudun, to
be burnt alive, under the pretence that he had caused several nuns of
Loudun to be possessed by devils. These nuns he had so tutored as to
their behaviour that many people foolishly believed them to be
demoniacs. May we not regard the fate of his son as a chastisement
inflicted by Heaven on this unjust judge--an expiation exacted for
the pitilessly cruel death inflicted on his victim, whose blood still
cries unto the Lord from the ground?"
Naturally the persecution of Urbain Grandier attracted the attention
not only of journalists but of poets. Among the many poems which
were inspired by it, the following is one of the best. Urbain
"From hell came the tidings that by horrible sanctions
I had made a pact with the devil to have power over women:
Though not one could be found to accuse me.
In the trial which delivered me to torture and the stake,
The demon who accused me invented and suggested the crime,
And his testimony was the only proof against me.
The English in their rage burnt the Maid alive;
Like her, I too fell a victim to revenge;
We were both accused falsely of the same crime;
In Paris she is adored, in London abhorred;
In Loudun some hold me guilty of witchcraft,
Some believe me innocent; some halt between two minds.
Like Hercules, I loved passionately;
Like him, I was consumed by fire;
But he by death became a god.
The injustice of my death was so well concealed
That no one can judge whether the flames saved or destroyed me;
Whether they blackened me for hell, or purified me for heaven.
In vain did I suffer torments with unshaken resolution;
They said that I felt no pain, being a sorcerer died unrepentant;
That the prayers I uttered were impious words;
That in kissing the image on the cross I spat in its face;
That casting my eyes to heaven I mocked the saints;
That when I seemed to call on God, I invoked the devil
Others, more charitable, say, in spite of their hatred of my crime,
That my death may be admired although my life was not blameless;
That my resignation showed that I died in hope and faith;
That to forgive, to suffer without complaint or murmur,
Is perfect love; and that the soul is purified
From the sins of life by a death like mine."
by Alexander Dumas, Pere
CELEBRATED CRIMES BY ALEXANDER DUMAS, PERE
VOLUME 4, Part 3
If our readers, tempted by the Italian proverb about seeing Naples
and then dying, were to ask us what is the most favourable moment for
visiting the enchanted city, we should advise them to land at the
mole, or at Mergellina, on a fine summer day and at the hour when
some solemn procession is moving out of the cathedral. Nothing can
give an idea of the profound and simple-hearted emotion of this
populace, which has enough poetry in its soul to believe in its own
happiness. The whole town adorns herself and attires herself like a
bride for her wedding; the dark facades of marble and granite
disappear beneath hangings of silk and festoons of flowers; the
wealthy display their dazzling luxury, the poor drape themselves
proudly in their rags. Everything is light, harmony, and perfume;
the sound is like the hum of an immense hive, interrupted by a
thousandfold outcry of joy impossible to describe. The bells repeat
their sonorous sequences in every key; the arcades echo afar with the
triumphal marches of military bands; the sellers of sherbet and
water-melons sing out their deafening flourish from throats of
copper. People form into groups; they meet, question, gesticulate;
there are gleaming looks, eloquent gestures, picturesque attitudes;
there is a general animation, an unknown charm, an indefinable
intoxication. Earth is very near to heaven, and it is easy to
understand that, if God were to banish death from this delightful
spot, the Neapolitans would desire no other paradise.
The story that we are about to tell opens with one of these magical
pictures. It was the Day of the Assumption in the year 1825; the sun
had been up some four or five hours, and the long Via da Forcella,
lighted from end to end by its slanting rays, cut the town in two,
like a ribbon of watered silk. The lava pavement, carefully cleaned,
shone like any mosaic, and the royal troops, with their proudly
waving plumes, made a double living hedge on each side of the street.
The balconies, windows, and terraces, the stands with their
unsubstantial balustrades, and the wooden galleries set up during the
night, were loaded with spectators, and looked not unlike the boxes
of a theatre. An immense crowd, forming a medley of the brightest
colours, invaded the reserved space and broke through the military
barriers, here and there, like an overflowing torrent. These
intrepid sightseers, nailed to their places, would have waited half
their lives without giving the least sign of impatience.
At last, about noon, a cannon-shot was heard, and a cry of general
satisfaction followed it. It was the signal that the procession had
crossed the threshold of the church. In the same moment a charge of
carabineers swept off the people who were obstructing the middle of
the street, the regiments of the line opened floodgates for the
overflowing crowd, and soon nothing remained on the causeway but some
scared dog, shouted at by the people, hunted off by the soldiers, and
fleeing at full speed. The procession came out through the Via di
Vescovato. First came the guilds of merchants and craftsmen, the
hatters, weavers, bakers, butchers, cutlers, and goldsmiths. They
wore the prescribed dress: black coats, knee breeches, low shoes and
silver buckles. As the countenances of these gentlemen offered
nothing very interesting to the multitude, whisperings arose, little
by little, among the spectators, then some bold spirits ventured a
jest or two upon the fattest or the baldest of the townsmen, and at
last the boldest of the lazzaroni slipped between the soldiers' legs
to collect the wax that was running down from the lighted tapers.
After the craftsmen, the religious orders marched past, from the
Dominicans to the Carthusians, from the Carmelites to the Capuchins.
They advanced slowly, their eyes cast down, their step austere, their
hands on their hearts; some faces were rubicund and shining, with
large cheek-hones and rounded chins, herculean heads upon bullnecks;
some, thin and livid, with cheeks hollowed by suffering and
penitence, and with the look of living ghosts; in short, here were
the two sides of monastic life.
At this moment, Nunziata and Gelsomina, two charming damsels, taking
advantage of an old corporal's politeness, pushed forward their
pretty heads into the first rank. The break in the line was
conspicuous; but the sly warrior seemed just a little lax in the
matter of discipline.
"Oh, there is Father Bruno!" said Gelsomina suddenly. "Good-day,
"Hush, cousin! People do not talk to the procession."
"How absurd! He is my confessor. May I not say good-morning to my
"Who was that spoke?"
"Oh, my dear, it was Brother Cucuzza, the begging friar."
"Where is he? Where is he?"
"There he is, along there, laughing into his beard. How bold he is!"
"Ah, God in heaven! If we were to dream of him---"
While the two cousins were pouring out endless comments upon the
Capuchins and their beards, the capes of the canons and the surplices
of the seminarists, the 'feroci' came running across from the other
side to re-establish order with the help of their gun-stocks.
"By the blood of my patron saint," cried a stentorian voice, "if I
catch you between my finger and thumb, I will straighten your back
for the rest of your days."
"Who are you falling out with, Gennaro?"
"With this accursed hunchback, who has been worrying my back for the
last hour, as though he could see through it."
"It is a shame," returned the hunchback in a tone of lamentation;
"I have been here since last night, I slept out of doors to keep my
place, and here is this abominable giant comes to stick himself in
front of me like an obelisk."
The hunchback was lying like a Jew, but the crowd rose unanimously
against the obelisk. He was, in one way, their superior, and
majorities are always made up of pigmies.
"Hi! Come down from your stand!"
"Hi! get off your pedestal!"
"Off with your hat!"
"Down with your head!"
This revival of curiosity expressing itself in invectives evidently
betokened the crisis of the show. And indeed the chapters of canons,
the clergy and bishops, the pages and chamberlains, the
representatives of the city, and the gentlemen of the king's chamber
now appeared, and finally the king himself, who, bare-headed and
carrying a taper, followed the magnificent statue of the Virgin. The
contrast was striking: after the grey-headed monks and pale novices
came brilliant young captains, affronting heaven with the points of
their moustaches, riddling the latticed windows with killing glances,
following the procession in an absent-minded way, and interrupting
the holy hymns with scraps of most unorthodox conversation.
"Did you notice, my dear Doria, how like a monkey the old Marchesa
d'Acquasparta takes her raspberry ice?"
"Her nose takes the colour of the ice. What fine bird is showing off
"It is the Cyrenian."
"I beg your pardon! I have not seen that name in the Golden Book."
"He helps the poor marquis to bear his cross."
The officer's profane allusion was lost in the prolonged murmur of
admiration that suddenly rose from the crowd, and every gaze was
turned upon one of the young girls who was strewing flowers before
the holy Madonna. She was an exquisite creature. Her head glowing
in the sun shine, her feet hidden amid roses and broom-blossom, she
rose, tall and fair, from a pale cloud of incense, like some seraphic
apparition. Her hair, of velvet blackness, fell in curls half-way
down her shoulders; her brow, white as alabaster and polished as a
mirror, reflected the rays of the sun; her beautiful and finely
arched black eye-brows melted into the opal of her temples; her
eyelids were fast down, and the curled black fringe of lashes veiled
a glowing and liquid glance of divine emotion; the nose, straight,
slender, and cut by two easy nostrils, gave to her profile that
character of antique beauty which is vanishing day by day from the
earth. A calm and serene smile, one of those smiles that have
already left the soul and not yet reached the lips, lifted the
corners of her mouth with a pure expression of infinite beatitude and
gentleness. Nothing could be more perfect than the chin that
completed the faultless oval of this radiant countenance; her neck of
a dead white, joined her bosom in a delicious curve, and supported
her head gracefully like the stalk of a flower moved by a gentle
breeze. A bodice of crimson velvet spotted with gold outlined her
delicate and finely curved figure, and held in by means of a handsome
gold lace the countless folds of a full and flowing skirt, that fell
to her feet like those severe robes in which the Byzantine painters
preferred to drape their angels. She was indeed a marvel, and so
rare and modest of beauty had not been seen within the memory of man.
Among those who had gazed most persistently at her was observed the
young Prince of Brancaleone, one of the foremost nobles of the
kingdom. Handsome, rich, and brave, he had, at five-and-twenty,
outdone the lists of all known Don Juans. Fashionable young women
spoke very ill of him and adored him in secret; the most virtuous
made it their rule to fly from him, so impossible did resistance
appear. All the young madcaps had chosen him for their model; for
his triumphs robbed many a Miltiades of sleep, and with better cause.
In short, to get an idea of this lucky individual, it will be enough
to know that as a seducer he was the most perfect thing that the
devil had succeeded in inventing in this progressive century. The
prince was dressed out for the occasion in a sufficiently grotesque
costume, which he wore with ironic gravity and cavalier ease. A
black satin doublet, knee breeches, embroidered stockings, and shoes
with gold buckles, formed the main portions of his dress, over which
trailed a long brocaded open-sleeved robe lined with ermine, and a
magnificent diamond-hilted sword. On account of his rank he enjoyed
the rare distinction of carrying one of the six gilded staves that
supported the plumed and embroidered canopy.
As soon as the procession moved on again, Eligi of Brancaleone gave a
side glance to a little man as red as a lobster, who was walking
almost at his side, and carrying in his right hand, with all the
solemnity that he could muster, his excellency's hat. He was a
footman in gold-laced livery, and we beg leave to give a brief sketch
of his history. Trespolo was the child of poor but thieving parents,
and on that account was early left an orphan. Being at leisure, he
studied life from an eminently social aspect. If we are to believe a
certain ancient sage, we are all in the world to solve a problem: as
to Trespolo, he desired to live without doing anything; that was his
problem. He was, in turn, a sacristan, a juggler, an apothecary's
assistant, and a cicerone, and he got tired of all these callings.
Begging was, to his mind, too hard work, and it was more trouble to
be a thief than to be an honest man. Finally he decided in favour of
contemplative philosophy. He had a passionate preference for the
horizontal position, and found the greatest pleasure in the world in
watching the shooting of stars. Unfortunately, in the course of his
meditations this deserving man came near to dying of hunger; which
would have been a great pity, for he was beginning to accustom
himself not to eat anything. But as he was predestined by nature to
play a small part in our story, God showed him grace for that time,
and sent to his assistance--not one of His angels, the rogue was not
worthy of that, but--one of Brancaleone's hunting dogs. The noble
animal sniffed round the philosopher, and uttered a little charitable
growl that would have done credit to one of the brethren of Mount St.
Bernard. The prince, who was returning in triumph from hunting, and
who, by good luck, had that day killed a bear and ruined a countess,
had an odd inclination to do a good deed. He approached the plebeian
who was about to pass into the condition of a corpse, stirred the
thing with his foot, and seeing that there was still a little hope,
bade his people bring him along.
From that day onward, Trespolo saw the dream of his life nearly
realised. Something rather above a footman and rather below a house
steward, he became the confidant of his master, who found his talents
most useful; for this Trespolo was as sharp as a demon and almost as
artful as a woman. The prince, who, like an intelligent man as he
was, had divined that genius is naturally indolent, asked nothing of
him but advice; when tiresome people wanted thrashing, he saw to that
matter himself, and, indeed, he was the equal of any two at such
work. As nothing in this lower world, however, is complete, Trespolo
had strange moments amid this life of delights; from time to time his
happiness was disturbed by panics that greatly diverted his master;
he would mutter incoherent words, stifle violent sighs, and lose his
appetite. The root of the matter was that the poor fellow was afraid
of going to hell. The matter was very simple: he was afraid of
everything; and, besides, it had often been preached to him that the
Devil never allowed a moment's rest to those who were ill-advised
enough to fall into his clutches. Trespolo was in one of his good
moods of repentance, when the prince, after gazing on the young girl
with the fierce eagerness of a vulture about to swoop upon its prey,
turned to speak to his intimate adviser. The poor servant understood
his master's abominable design, and not wishing to share the guilt of
a sacrilegious conversation, opened his eyes very wide and turned
them up to heaven in ecstatic contemplation. The prince coughed,
stamped his foot, moved his sword so as to hit Trespolo's legs, but
could not get from him any sign of attention, so absorbed did he
appear in celestial thoughts. Brancaleone would have liked to wring
his neck, but both his hands were occupied by the staff of the
canopy; and besides, the king was present.
At last they were drawing nearer to the church of St. Clara, where
the Neapolitan kings were buried, and where several princesses of the
blood, exchanging the crown for the veil, have gone to bury
themselves alive. The nuns, novices, and abbess, hidden behind
shutters, were throwing flowers upon the procession. A bunch fell at
the feet of the Prince of Brancaleone.
"Trespolo, pick up that nosegay," said the prince, so audibly that
his servant had no further excuse. "It is from Sister Theresa," he
added, in a low voice; "constancy is only to be found, nowadays, in a
Trespolo picked up the nosegay and came towards his master, looking
like a man who was being strangled.
"Who is that girl?" the latter asked him shortly.
"Which one?" stammered the servant.
"Forsooth! The one walking in front of us."
"I don't know her, my lord."
"You must find out something about her before this evening."
"I shall have to go rather far afield."
"Then you do know her, you intolerable rascal! I have half a mind to
have you hanged like a dog."
"For pity's sake, my lord, think of the salvation of your soul, of
your eternal life."
"I advise you to think of your temporal life. What is her name?"
"She is called Nisida, and is the prettiest girl in the island that
she is named after. She is innocence itself. Her father is only a
poor fisherman, but I can assure your excellency that in his island
he is respected like a king."
"Indeed!" replied the prince, with an ironical smile. "I must own,
to my great shame, that I have never visited the little island of
Nisida. You will have a boat ready for me to-morrow, and then we
He interrupted himself suddenly, for the king was looking at him; and
calling up the most sonorous bass notes that he could find in the
depths of his throat, he continued with an inspired air, "Genitori
genitoque laus et jubilatio."
"Amen," replied the serving-man in a ringing voice.
Nisida, the beloved daughter of Solomon, the fisherman, was, as we
have said, the loveliest flower of the island from which she derived
her name. That island is the most charming spot, the most delicious
nook with which we are acquainted; it is a basket of greenery set
delicately amid the pure and transparent waters of the gulf, a hill
wooded with orange trees and oleanders, and crowned at the summit by
a marble castle. All around extends the fairy-like prospect of that
immense amphitheatre, one of the mightiest wonders of creation.
There lies Naples, the voluptuous syren, reclining carelessly on the
seashore; there, Portici, Castellamare, and Sorrento, the very names
of which awaken in the imagination a thousand thoughts of poetry and
love; there are Pausilippo, Baiae, Puozzoli, and those vast plains,
where the ancients fancied their Elysium, sacred solitudes which one
might suppose peopled by the men of former days, where the earth
echoes under foot like an empty grave, and the air has unknown sounds
and strange melodies.
Solomon's hut stood in that part of the island which, turning its
back to the capital, beholds afar the blue crests of Capri. Nothing
could be simpler or brighter. The brick walls were hung with ivy
greener than emeralds, and enamelled with white bell-flowers; on the
ground floor was a fairly spacious apartment, in which the men slept
and the family took their meals; on the floor above was Nisida's
little maidenly room, full of coolness, shadows, and mystery, and
lighted by a single casement that looked over the gulf; above this
room was a terrace of the Italian kind, the four pillars of which
were wreathed with vine branches, while its vine-clad arbour and wide
parapet were overgrown with moss and wild flowers. A little hedge
of hawthorn, which had been respected for ages, made a kind of
rampart around the fisherman's premises, and defended his house
better than deep moats and castellated walls could have done. The
boldest roisterers of the place would have preferred to fight before
the parsonage and in the precincts of the church rather than in front
of Solomon's little enclosure. Otherwise, this was the meeting place
of the whole island. Every evening, precisely at the same hour, the
good women of the neighbourhood came to knit their woollen caps and
tell the news. Groups of little children, naked, brown, and as
mischievous as little imps, sported about, rolling on the grass and
throwing handfuls of sand into the other's eyes, heedless of the risk
of blinding, while their mothers were engrossed in that grave gossip
which marks the dwellers in villages. These gatherings occurred
daily before the fisherman's house; they formed a tacit and almost
involuntary homage, consecrated by custom, and of which no one had
ever taken special account; the envy that rules in small communities
would soon have suppressed them. The influence which old Solomon had
over his equals had grown so simply and naturally, that no one found
any fault with it, and it had only attracted notice when everyone was
benefiting by it, like those fine trees whose growth is only observed
when we profit by their shade. If any dispute arose in the island,
the two opponents preferred to abide by the judgment of the fisherman
instead of going before the court; he was fortunate enough or clever
enough to send away both parties satisfied. He knew what remedies to
prescribe better than any physician, for it seldom happened that he
or his had not felt the same ailments, and his knowledge, founded on
personal experience, produced the most excellent results. Moreover,
he had no interest, as ordinary doctors have, in prolonging
illnesses. For many years past the only formality recognised as a
guarantee for the inviolability of a contract had been the
intervention of the fisherman. Each party shook hands with Solomon,
and the thing was done. They would rather have thrown themselves
into Vesuvius at the moment of its most violent eruption than have
broken so solemn an agreement. At the period when our story opens,
it was impossible to find any person in the island who had not felt
the effects of the fisherman's generosity, and that without needing
to confess to him any necessities. As it was the custom for the
little populace of Nisida to spend its leisure hours before Solomon's
cottage, the old man, while he walked slowly among the different
groups, humming his favourite song, discovered moral and physical
weaknesses as he passed; and the same evening he or his daughter
would certainly be seen coming mysteriously to bestow a benefit upon
every sufferer, to lay a balm upon every wound. In short, he united
in his person all those occupations whose business is to help
mankind. Lawyers, doctors, and the notary, all the vultures of
civilisation, had beaten a retreat before the patriarchal benevolence
of the fisherman. Even the priest had capitulated.
On the morrow of the Feast of the Assumption, Solomon was sitting, as
his habit was, on a stone bench in front of his house, his legs
crossed and his arms carelessly stretched out. At the first glance
you would have taken him for sixty at the outside, though he was
really over eighty. He had all his teeth, which were as white as
pearls, and showed them proudly. His brow, calm and restful beneath
its crown of abundant white hair, was as firm and polished as marble;
not a wrinkle ruffled the corner of his eye, and the gem-like lustre
of his blue orbs revealed a freshness of soul and an eternal youth
such as fable grants to the sea-gods. He displayed his bare arms and
muscular neck with an old man's vanity. Never had a gloomy idea, an
evil prepossession, or a keen remorse, arisen to disturb his long and
peaceful life. He had never seen a tear flow near him without
hurrying to wipe it; poor though he was, he had succeeded in pouring
out benefits that all the kings of the earth could not have bought
with their gold; ignorant though he was, he had spoken to his fellows
the only language that they could understand, the language of the
heart. One single drop of bitterness had mingled with his
inexhaustible stream of happiness; one grief only had clouded his
sunny life--the death of his wife--and moreover he had forgotten
All the affections of his soul were turned upon Nisida, whose birth
had caused her mother's death; he loved her with that immoderate love
that old people have for the youngest of their children. At the
present moment he was gazing upon her with an air of profound
rapture, and watching her come and go, as she now joined the groups
of children and scolded them for games too dangerous or too noisy;
now seated herself on the grass beside their mothers and took part
with grave and thoughtful interest in their talk. Nisida was more
beautiful thus than she had been the day before; with the vaporous
cloud of perfume that had folded her round from head to foot had
disappeared all that mystic poetry which put a sort of constraint
upon her admirers and obliged them to lower their glances. She had
become a daughter of Eve again without losing anything of her charm.
Simply dressed, as she usually was on work-days, she was
distinguishable among her companions only by her amazing beauty and
by the dazzling whiteness of her skin. Her beautiful black hair was
twisted in plaits around the little dagger of chased silver, that has
lately been imported into Paris by that right of conquest which the
pretty women of Paris have over the fashions of all countries, like
the English over the sea.
Nisida was adored by her young friends, all the mothers had adopted
her with pride; she was the glory of the island. The opinion of her
superiority was shared by everyone to such a degree, that if some
bold young man, forgetting the distance which divided him from the
maiden, dared speak a little too loudly of his pretensions, he became
the laughing-stock of his companions. Even the past masters of
tarentella dancing were out of countenance before the daughter of
Solomon, and did not dare to seek her as a partner. Only a few
singers from Amalfi or Sorrento, attracted by the rare beauty of this
angelic creature, ventured to sigh out their passion, carefully
veiled beneath the most delicate allusions. But they seldom reached
the last verse of their song; at every sound they stopped short,
threw down their triangles and their mandolines, and took flight like
One only had courage enough or passion enough to brave the mockery;
this was Bastiano, the most formidable diver of that coast. He also
sang, but with a deep and hollow voice; his chant was mournful and
his melodies full of sadness. He never accompanied himself upon any
instrument, and never retired without concluding his song. That day
he was gloomier than usual; he was standing upright, as though by
enchantment, upon a bare and slippery rock, and he cast scornful
glances upon the women who were looking at him and laughing. The
sun, which was plunging into the sea like a globe of fire, shed its
light full upon his stern features, and the evening breeze, as it
lightly rippled the billows, set the fluttering reeds waving at his
feet. Absorbed by dark thoughts, he sang, in the musical language of
his country, these sad words:--
"O window, that wert used to shine in the night like an open eye, how
dark thou art! Alas, alas! my poor sister is ill.
"Her mother, all in tears, stoops towards me and says, 'Thy poor
sister is dead and buried.'
"Jesus! Jesus! Have pity on me! You stab me to the heart.
"Tell me, good neighbours, how it happened; repeat to me her last
"She had a burning thirst, and refused to drink because thou wast not
there to give her water from thy hand.
"Oh, my sister! Oh, my sister!
"She refused her mother's kiss, because thou wast not there to
"Oh, my sister! Oh, my sister!
"She wept until her last breath, because thou wast not there to dry
"Oh, my sister! Oh, my sister!
"We placed on her brow her wreath of orangeflowers, we covered her
with a veil as white as snow; we laid her gently in her coffin.
"Thanks, good neighbours. I will go and be with her.
"Two angels came down from heaven and bore her away on their wings.
Mary Magdalene came to meet her at the gate of heaven.
"Thanks, good neighbours. I will go and be with her.
"There, she was seated in a place of glory, a chaplet of rubies was
given to her, and she is singing her rosary with the Virgin.
"Thanks, good neighbours. I will go and be with her."
As he finished the last words of his melancholy refrain, he flung
himself from the top of his rock into the sea, as though he really
desired to engulf himself. Nisida and the other women gave a cry of
terror, for during some minutes the diver failed to reappear upon the
"Are you out of your senses?" cried a young man who had suddenly
appeared, unobserved among the women. "Why, what are you afraid of?
You know very well that Bastiano is always doing things of this sort.
But do not be alarmed: all the fishes in the Mediterranean will be
drowned before any harm comes to him. Water is his natural element.
Good-day, sister; good-day, father."
The young fisherman kissed Nisida on the forehead, drew near to his
father, and, bowing his handsome head before him, took off his red
cap and respectfully kissed the old man's hand. He came thus to ask
his blessing every evening before putting out to sea, where he often
spent the night fishing from his boat.
"May God bless thee, my Gabriel!" said the old man in a tone of
emotion, as he slowly passed his hand over his son's black curls, and
a tear came into his eye. Then, rising solemnly and addressing the
groups around him, he added in a voice full of dignity and of
gentleness. "Come, my children, it is time to separate. The young
to work, the old to rest. There is the angelus ringing."
Everybody knelt, and after a short prayer each went on his way.
Nisida, after having given her father the last daily attentions, went
up to her room, replenished the oil in the lamp that burned day and
night before the Virgin, and, leaning her elbow on the window ledge,
divided the branches of jasmine which hung like perfumed curtains,
began to gaze out at the sea, and seemed lost in a deep, sweet
At this very time, a little boat, rowed silently by two oarsmen,
touched shore on the other side of the island. It had become quite
dark. A little man first landed cautiously, and respectfully offered
his hand to another individual, who, scorning that feeble support,
leapt easily ashore.
"Well, knave," he cried, "are my looks to your taste?"
"Your lordship is perfect."
"I flatter myself I am. It is true that, in order to make the
transformation complete, I chose the very oldest coat that displayed
its rags in a Jew's shop."
"Your lordship looks like a heathen god engaged in a love affair.
Jupiter has sheathed his thunderbolts and Apollo has pocketed his
"A truce to your mythology. And, to begin with, I forbid you to call
me 'your lordship.'"
"Yes, your lordship."
"If my information that I have procured during the day is correct,
the house must be on the other side of the island, in a most remote
and lonely spot. Walk at a certain distance, and do not trouble
yourself about me, for I know my part by heart."
The young Prince of Brancaleone, whom, in spite of the darkness of
the night, our readers will already have recognised, advanced towards
the fisherman's house, with as little noise as possible, walked up
and down several times upon the shore, and, after having briefly
reconnoitred the place that he wished to attack, waited quietly for
the moon to rise and light up the scene that he had prepared. He was
not obliged to exercise his patience very long, for the darkness
gradually disappeared, and Solomon's little house was bathed in
silvery light. Then he approached with timid steps, lifted towards
the casement a look of entreaty, and began to sigh with all the power
of his lungs. The young girl, called suddenly from her meditations
by the appearance of this strange person, raised herself sharply and
prepared to close the shutters.
"Stay, charming Nisida!" cried the prince, in the manner of a man
overcome by irresistible passion.
"What do you want with me, signor?" answered the maiden, amazed to
hear herself called by name.
"To adore you as a Madonna is adored, and to make you aware of my
Nisida looked at him steadily, and, after a moment or two of
reflection, asked suddenly, as though in response to some secret
thought, "Do you belong to this country, or are you a foreigner?"
"I arrived in this island," replied the prince without hesitation,
"at the moment when the sun was writing his farewell to the earth and
dipping the rays that serves as his pen into the shadow that serves
as his inkstand."
"And who are you?" returned the young girl, not at all understanding
these strange words.
"Alas! I am but a poor student, but I may become a great poet like
Tasso, whose verses you often hear sung by a departing fisherman who
sends his thrilling music as a last farewell that returns to die on
"I do not know whether I am doing wrong to speak to you, but at least
I will be frank with you," said Nisida, blushing; "I have the
misfortune to be the richest girl on the island."
"Your father will not be inexorable," returned the prince ardently;
"one word from you, light of my eyes, goddess of my heart, and I will
work night and day, never pausing nor slackening, and will render.
myself worthy to possess the treasure that God has revealed to my
dazzled eyes, and, from being poor and obscure as you see me, I will
become rich and powerful."
"I have stayed too long listening to talk that a maiden should not
hear; permit me, signor, to withdraw."
"Have pity on me, my cruel enemy! What have I done to you that you
should thus leave me with death in my soul? You do not know that,
for months past, I have been following you everywhere like a shadow,
that I prowl round your home at night, stifling my sighs lest they
should disturb your peaceful slumber. You are afraid, perhaps, to
let yourself be touched, at a first meeting, by a poor wretch who
adores you. Alas! Juliet was young and beautiful like you, and she
did not need many entreaties to take pity on Romeo."
Nisida suffered a sad and thoughtful look to fall upon this handsome
young man who spoke to her in so gentle a voice, and withdrew without
further reply, that she might not humiliate his poverty.
The prince made great efforts to suppress a strong inclination
towards laughter, and, very well satisfied with this opening, turned
his steps towards the spot where he had left his servant. Trespolo,
after having emptied a bottle of lacryma with which he had provided
himself for any emergency, had looked long around him to choose a
spot where the grass was especially high and thick, and had laid
himself down to a sound sleep, murmuring as he did so, this sublime
observation, "O laziness, but for the sin of Adam you would be a
The young girl could not close her eyes during the whole night after
the conversation that she had held with the stranger. His sudden
appearance, his strange dress and odd speech, had awakened in her an
uncertain feeling that had been lying asleep in the bottom of her
heart. She was at this time in all the vigour of her youth and of
her resplendent beauty. Nisida was not one of the weak and timid
natures that are broken by suffering or domineered over by tyranny.
Far otherwise: everything around her had contributed towards shaping
for her a calm and serene destiny; her simple, tender soul had
unfolded in an atmosphere of peace and happiness. If she had not
hitherto loved, it was the fault, not of her coldness but of the
extreme timidity shown by the inhabitants of her island. The blind
depth of respect that surrounded the old fisherman had drawn around
his daughter a barrier of esteem and submission that no one dared to
cross. By means of thrift and labour Solomon had succeeded in
creating for himself a prosperity that put the poverty of the other
fishermen to the blush. No one had asked for Nisida because no one
thought he deserved her. The only admirer who had dared to show his
passion openly was Bastiano, the most devoted and dearest friend of
Gabriel; but Bastiano did not please her. So, trusting in her
beauty, upheld by the mysterious hope that never deserts youth, she
had resigned herself to wait, like some princess who knows that her
betrothed will come from a far country.
On the day of the Assumption she had left her island for the first
time in her life, chance having chosen her among the maidens of the
kingdom vowed by their mothers to the special protection of the
Virgin. But, overwhelmed by the weight of a position so new to her,
blushing and confused under the eyes of an immense crowd, she had
scarcely dared to raise her wondering looks, and the splendours of
the town had passed before her like a dream, leaving but a vague
When she perceived the presence of this handsome young man, so
slenderly and elegantly built, whose noble and calm demeanour
contrasted with the timidity and awkwardness of her other admirers,
she felt herself inwardly disturbed, and no doubt she would have
believed that her prince had come, if she had been unpleasantly
struck by the poverty of his dress. She had, nevertheless, allowed
herself to listen to him longer than she ought to have done, and she
drew back with her bosom heavy, her cheek on fire, and her heart rent
by an ache that was both dull and sharp.
"If my father does not wish me to marry him," she said to herself,
tormented by the first remorseful feeling of her life. "I shall have
done wrong to speak to him. And yet he is so handsome!"
Then she knelt before the Virgin, who was her only confidante, the
poor child having never known her mother, and tried to tell her the
torments of her soul; but she could not achieve her prayer. The
thoughts became entangled within her brain, and she surprised herself
uttering strange words. But, assuredly, the Holy Virgin must have
taken pity upon her lovely devotee, for she rose with the impression
of a consoling thought, resolved to confide everything to her father.
"I cannot have a moment's doubt," she said to herself, as she unlaced
her bodice, "of my father's affection. Well, then, if he forbids me
to speak to him, it will be for my good. And indeed, I have seen him
but this once," she added, as she threw herself upon the bed, "and
now I think of it, I consider him very bold to dare to speak to me.
I am almost inclined to laugh at him. How confidently he brought out
his nonsense, how absurdly he rolled his eyes! They are really very
fine, those eyes of his, and so is his mouth, and his forehead and
his hair. He does not suspect that I noticed his hands, which are
really very white, when he raised them to heaven, like a madman, as
he walked up and down by the sea. Come, come, is he going to prevent
my sleeping? I will not see him again!" she cried, drawing the sheet
over her head like an angry child. Then she began to laugh to
herself over her lover's dress, and meditated long upon what her
companions would say to it. Suddenly her brow contracted painfully,
a frightful thought had stolen into her mind, she shuddered from head
to foot. "Suppose he were to think someone else prettier than me?
Men are so foolish! Certainly, it is too hot, and I shall not sleep
Then she sat up in her bed, and continued her monologue--which we
will spare the reader--till the morning. Scarcely had the first rays
of light filtered through the interlacing branches of jasmine and
wavered into the room, when Nisida dressed herself hurriedly, and
went as usual to present her forehead to her father's kiss. The old
man at once observed the depression and weariness left by a sleepless
night upon his daughter's face, and parting with an eager and anxious
hand the beautiful black hair that fell over her cheeks, he asked
her, "What is the matter, my child? Thou hast not slept well?"
"I have not slept at all," answered Nisida, smiling, to reassure her
father; "I am perfectly well, but I have something to confess to
"Speak quickly, child; I am dying with impatience."
"Perhaps I have done wrong; but I want you to promise beforehand not
to scold me."
"You know very well that I spoil you," said the old man, with a
caress; "I shall not begin to be stern to-day."
"A young man who does not belong to this island, and whose name I do
not know, spoke to me yesterday evening when I was taking the air at
"And what was he so eager to say to you, my dear Nisida?"
"He begged me to speak to you in his favour."
"I am listening. What can I do for him?"
"Order me to marry him."
"And should you obey willingly?"
"I think so, father," the girl candidly replied. "As to other
things, you yourself must judge in your wisdom; for I wanted to speak
to you before coming to know him, so as not to go on with a
conversation that you might not approve. But there is a hindrance."
"You know that I do not recognise any when it is a question of making
my daughter happy."
"He is poor, father."
"Well, all the more reason for me to like him. There is work here
for everybody, and my table can spare a place for another son. He is
young, he has arms; no doubt he has some calling."
"He is a poet."
"No matter; tell him to come and speak to me, and if he is an honest
lad, I promise you, my child, that I will do anything in the world to
promote your happiness."
Nisida embraced her father effusively, and was beside herself with
joy all day, waiting impatiently for the evening in order to give the
young man such splendid news. Eligi Brancaleone was but moderately
flattered, as you will easily believe, by the fisherman's magnanimous
intentions towards him; but like the finished seducer that he was, he
appeared enchanted at them. Recollecting his character as a
fantastical student and an out-at-elbows poet, he fell upon his knees
and shouted a thanksgiving to the planet Venus; then, addressing the
young girl, he added, in a calmer voice, that he was going to write
immediately to his own father, who in a week's time would come to
make his formal proposal; until then, he begged, as a favour, that he
might not present himself to Solomon nor to any person at all in the
island, and assigned as a pretext a certain degree of shame which he
felt on account of his old clothes, assuring his beloved that his
father would bring him a complete outfit for the wedding-day.
While the ill-starred girl was thus walking in terrifying security at
the edge of the precipice, Trespolo, following his master's wishes,
had established himself in the island as a pilgrim from Jerusalem.
Playing his part and sprinkling his conversation with biblical
phrases, which came to him readily, in his character of ex-sacristan,
he distributed abundance of charms, wood of the true Cross and milk
of the Blessed Virgin, and all those other inexhaustible treasures on
which the eager devotion of worthy people daily feeds. His relics
were the more evidently authentic in that he did not sell any of
them, and, bearing his poverty in a holy manner, thanked the faithful
and declined their alms. Only, out of regard for the established
virtue of Solomon, he had consented to break bread with the
fisherman, and went to take meals with him with the regularity of a
cenobite. His abstinence aroused universal surprise: a crust dipped
in water, a few nuts or figs sufficed to keep this holy man alive--to
prevent him, that is to say, from dying. Furthermore, he entertained
Nisida by his tales of his travels and by his mysterious predictions.
Unfortunately, he only appeared towards evening; for he spent the
rest of the day in austerities and in prayers--in other words, in
drinking like a Turk and snoring like a buffalo.
On the morning of the seventh day, after the promise given by the
prince to the fisherman's daughter, Brancaleone came into his
servant's room, and, shaking hint roughly, cried in his ear, "Up,
Trespolo, awakened suddenly, rubbed his eyes in alarm. The dead,
sleeping peacefully at the bottom of their coffins, will be less
annoyed at the last day when the trump of Judgment comes to drag them
from their slumbers. Fear having, however, immediately dispersed the
dark clouds that overspread his countenance, he sat up, and asked
with an appearance of bewilderment--
"What is the matter, your excellency?"
"The matter is that I will have you flayed alive a little if you do
not leave off that execrable habit of sleeping twenty hours in the
"I was not asleep, prince!" cried the servant boldly, as he sprang
out of bed; "I was reflecting---"
"Listen to me," said the prince in a severe tone; "you were once
employed, I believe, in a chemist's shop?"
"Yes, my lord, and I left because my employer had the scandalous
barbarity to make me pound drugs, which tired my arms horribly."
"Here is a phial containing a solution of opium."
"Mercy!" cried Trespolo, falling on his knees.
"Get up, idiot, and pay great attention to what I am going to say to
you. This little fool of a Nisida persists in wanting me to speak to
her father. I made her believe that I was going away this evening to
fetch my papers. There is no time to lose. They know you very well
at the fisherman's. You will pour this liquid into their wine; your
life will answer for your not giving them a larger dose than enough
to produce a deep sleep. You will take care to prepare me a good
ladder for to-night; after which you will go and wait for me in my
boat, where you will find Numa and Bonaroux. They have my orders.
I shall not want you in scaling the fortress; I have my Campo Basso
"But, my lord---" stammered Trespolo, astounded.
"No difficulties!" cried the prince, stamping his foot furiously,
"or, by my father's death, I will cure you, once for all, of your
scruples." And he turned on his heel with the air of a man who is
certain that people will be very careful not to disobey his orders.
The unhappy Trespolo fulfilled his master's injunctions punctually.
With him fear was the guiding principle. That evening the
fisherman's supper table was hopelessly dull, and the sham pilgrim
tried in vain to enliven it by factitious cheerfulness. Nisida was
preoccupied by her lover's departure, and Solomon, sharing
unconsciously in his daughter's grief, swallowed but a drop or two of
wine, to avoid resisting the repeated urgency of his guest. Gabriel
had set out in the morning for Sorrento and was not to return for two
or three days; his absence tended to increase the old man's
melancholy. As soon as Trespolo had retired, the fisherman yielded
to his fatigue. Nisida, with her arms hanging by her sides, her head
heavy and her heart oppressed by a sad presentiment, had scarcely
strength to go up to her room, and after having mechanically trimmed
the lamp, sank on her bed as pale and stiff as a corpse.
The storm was breaking out with violence; one of those terrible
storms seen only in the South, when the congregated clouds, parting
suddenly, shed torrents of rain and of hail, and threaten another
deluge. The roar of the thunder drew nearer and was like the noise
of a cannonade. The gulf, lately so calm and smooth that the island
was reflected as in a mirror, had suddenly darkened; the furiously
leaping waves flung themselves together like wild horses; the island
quaked, shaken by terrible shocks. Even the boldest fishermen had
drawn their boats ashore, and, shut within their cabins, encouraged
as best they could their frightened wives and children.
Amid the deep darkness that overspread the sea Nisida's lamp could be
seen gleaming clear and limpid, as it burned before the Madonna. Two
boats, without rudders, sails, or oars, tossed by the waves, beaten
by the winds, were whirling above the abyss; two men were in these
two boats, their muscles tense, their breasts bare, their hair
flying. They gazed haughtily on the sea, and braved the tempest.
"Once more, I beg you," cried one of these men, "fear not for me,
Gabriel; I promise you that with my two broken oars and a little
perseverance I shall get to Torre before daybreak."
"You are mad, Bastiano; we have not been able ever since the morning
to get near Vico, and have been obliged to keep tacking about; your
skill and strength have been able to do nothing against this
frightful hurricane which has driven us back to this point."
"It is the first time you have ever refused to go with me," remarked
the young man.
"Well, yes, my dear Bastiano, I do not know how it is, but to-night I
feel drawn to the island by an irresistible power. The winds have
been unchained to bring me back to it in spite of myself, and I will
own to you, even though it should make me seem like a madman in your
eyes, that this simple and ordinary event appears to me like an order
from heaven. Do you see that lamp shining over there?"
"I know it," answered Bastiano, suppressing a sigh.
"It was lighted before the Virgin one the day when my sister was
born, and for eighteen year it has never ceased to burn, night and
day. It was my mother's vow. You do not know, my dear Bastiano, you
cannot know how many torturing thoughts that vow recalls to me. My
poor mother called me to her deathbed and told me a frightful tale, a
horrible secret, which weighs on my soul like a cloak of lead, and of
which I can only relieve myself by confiding it to a friend. When
her painful story was ended she asked to see and to embrace my
sister, who was just born; then with her trembling hand, already
chilled by the approach of death, she desired to light the lamp
herself. 'Remember,' these were her last words, 'remember, Gabriel,
that your sister is vowed to the Madonna. As long as this light
shines before the blessed image of the Virgin, your sister will be in
no danger.' You can understand now why, at night, when we are
crossing the gulf, my eyes are always fixed on that lamp. I have a
belief that nothing could shake, which is that on the day that light
goes out my sister's soul will have taken flight to heaven."
"Well," cried Bastiano in an abrupt tone that betrayed the emotion of
his heart, "if you prefer to stay, I will go alone."
"Farewell," said Gabriel, without turning aside his eyes from the
window towards which he felt himself drawn by a fascination for which
he could not account. Bastiano disappeared, and Nisida's brother,
assisted by the waves, was drawing nearer and nearer to the shore,
when, at all once, he uttered a terrible cry which sounded above the
noise of the tempest.
The star had just been extinguished; the lamp had been blown out.
"My sister is dead!" cried Gabriel and, leaping into the sea, he
cleft the waves with the rapidity of lightning.
The storm had redoubled its intensity; long lines of lightning,
rending the sides of the clouds, bathed everything in their tawny and
intermittent light. The fisherman perceived a ladder leaning against
the front of his home, seized it with a convulsive hand, and in three
bounds flung himself into the room. The prince felt himself
strangely moved on making his way into this pure and silent retreat.
The calm and gentle gaze of the Virgin who seemed to be protecting
the rest of the sleeping girl, that perfume of innocence shed around
the maidenly couch, that lamp, open-eyed amid the shadows, like a
soul in prayer, had inspired the seducer with an unknown distress.
Irritated by what he called an absurd cowardice, he had extinguished
the obtrusive light, and was advancing towards the bed, and
addressing unspoken reproaches to himself, when Gabriel swooped upon
him with a wounded tiger's fierce gnashing of the teeth.
Brancaleone, by a bold and rapid movement that showed no common
degree of skill and bravery, while struggling in the grasp of his
powerful adversary, drew forth in his right hand a long dagger with a
fine barbed blade. Gabriel smiled scornfully, snatched the weapon
from him, and even as he stooped to break it across his knee, gave
the prince a furious blow with his head that made him stagger and
sent him rolling on the floor, three paces away; then, leaning over
his poor sister and gazing on her with hungry eyes, by the passing
gleam of a flash, "Dead!" he repeated, wringing his arms in despair,
In the fearful paroxysm that compressed his throat he could find no
other words to assuage his rage or to pour forth his woe. His hair,
which the storm had flattened, rose on his head, the marrow of his
bones was chilled, and he felt his tears rush back upon his heart.
It was a terrible moment; he forgot that the murderer still lived.
The prince, however, whose admirable composure did not for a moment
desert him, had risen, bruised and bleeding. Pale and trembling with
rage, he sought everywhere for a weapon with which to avenge himself.
Gabriel returned towards him gloomier and more ominous than ever, and
grasping his neck with an iron hand, dragged him into the room where
the old man was sleeping.
"Father! father! father!" he cried in a piercing voice, "here is
the Bastard who Has just murdered Nisida!"
The old man, who had drunk but a few drops of the narcotic potion,
was awakened by this cry which echoed through his soul; he arose as
though moved by a spring, flung off his coverings, and with that
promptitude of action that God has bestowed upon mothers in moments
of danger, event up to his daughter's room, found a light, knelt on
the edge of the bed, and began to test his child's pulse and watch
her breathing with mortal anxiety.
All! this had passed in less time than we have taken in telling it.
Brancaleone by an unheard-of effort had freed himself from the hands
of the young fisherman, and suddenly resuming his princely pride,
said in a loud voice, "You shall not kill me without listening to
Gabriel would have overwhelmed him with Bitter reproaches, but,
unable to utter a single word, he burst into tears.
"Your sifter is not dead," said the prince, with cold dignity; "she
is merely asleep. You can assure yourself of it, and meanwhile I
undertake, upon my Honour, not to move a single step away."
These words were pronounced with such an accent of truth that the
fisherman was struck by them. An unexpected gleam of hope suddenly
dawned in his thoughts; he cast upon the stranger a glance of hate
and distrust, and muttered in a muffled voice, "Do not flatter
yourself, in any case, that you will be able to escape me."
Then he went up to his sister's room, and approaching the old man,
asked tremblingly, "Well, father?"
Solomon thrust him gently aside with the solicitude of a mother
removing some buzzing insect from her child's cradle, and, making a
sign to enjoin silence, added in a low voice, "She is neither dead
nor poisoned. Some philtre has been given to her for a bad purpose.
Her breathing is even, and she cannot fail to recover from her
Gabriel, reassured about Nisida's life, returned silently to the
ground floor where he had left the seducer. His manner was grave and
gloomy; he was coming now not to rend the murderer of his sister with
his hands, but to elucidate a treacherous and infamous mystery, and
to avenge his honour which had been basely attacked. He opened wide
the double entrance door that admitted daylight to the apartment in
which, on the few nights that he spent at home, he was accustomed to
sleep with his father. The rain had just stopped, a ray of moonlight
pierced the clouds, and all at once made its way into the room. The
fisherman adjusted his dripping garments, walked towards the
stranger, who awaited him without stirring, and after having gazed
upon him haughtily, said, "Now you are going to explain your presence
in our house."
"I confess," said the prince, in an easy tone and with the most
insolent assurance, "that appearances are against me. It is the fate
of lovers to be treated as thieves. But although I have not the
advantage of being known to you, I am betrothed to the fair Nisida--
with your father's approval, of course. Now, as I have the
misfortune to possess very hardhearted parents, they have had the
cruelty to refuse me their consent. Love led me astray, and I was
about to be guilty of a fault for which a young man like you ought to
have some indulgence. Furthermore, it was nothing but a mere attempt
at an abduction, with the best intentions in the world, I swear, and
I am ready to atone for everything if you will agree to give me your
hand and call me your brother."
"I will agree to call you a coward and a betrayer!" replied Gabriel,
whose face had begun to glow, as he heard his sister spoken of with
such impudent levity. "If it is thus that insults are avenged in
towns, we fishers have a different plan. Ah! so you flattered
yourself with the thought of bringing desolation aid disgrace into
our home, and of paying infamous assassins to come and share an old
man's bread so as to poison his daughter, of stealing by night, like
a brigand, armed with a dagger, into my sister's room, and of being
let off by marrying the most beautiful woman in the kingdom!"
The prince made a movement.
"Listen," continued Gabriel: "I could break you as I broke your
dagger just now; but I have pity on you. I see that you can do
nothing with your hands, neither defend yourself nor work. Go, I
begin to understand; you are a braggart, my fine sir; your poverty is
usurped; you have decked yourself in these poor clothes, but you are
unworthy of them."
He suffered a glance of crushing contempt to fall upon the prince,
then going to a cupboard hidden in the wall, he drew out a rifle and
"Here," said he, "are all the weapons in the house; choose."
A flash of joy illuminated the countenance of the prince, who had
hitherto suppressed his rage. He seized the rifle eagerly, drew
three steps backward, and drawing himself up to his full height,
said, "You would have done better to lend me this weapon at the
beginning; for then I would have been spared from witnessing your
silly vapourings and frantic convulsions. Thanks, young-man; one of
my servants will bring you back your gun. Farewell."
And he threw him his purse, which fell heavily at the fisherman's
"I lent you that rifle to fight with me," cried Gabriel, whom
surprise had rooted to the spot.
"Move aside, my lad; you are out of your senses," said the prince,
taking a step towards the door.
"So you refuse to defend yourself?" asked Gabriel in a determined
"I have told you already that I cannot fight with you."
"Because such is the will of God; because you were born to crawl and
I to trample you under my feet; because all the blood that I could
shed in this island would not purchase one drop of my blood; because
a thousand lives of wretches like you are not equal to one hour of
mine; because you will kneel at my name that I, am now going to
utter; because, in short, you are but a poor fisherman and my name is
Prince of Brancaleone."
At this dreaded name, which the young nobleman flung, like a
thunderbolt, at his head, the fisherman bounded like a lion. He drew
a deep breath, as though he had lifted a weight that had long rested
on his heart.
"Ah!" he cried, "you have given yourself into my hands, my lord!
Between the poor fisherman and the all-powerful prince there is a
debt of blood. You shall pay for yourself and for your father. We
are going to settle our accounts, your excellency," he added, rising
his axe over the head of the prince, who was aiming at him. "Oh!
you were in too great haste to choose: the rifle is not loaded." The
prince turned pale.
"Between our two families," Gabriel continued, "there exists a
horrible secret which my mother confided to me on the brink of the
grave, of which my father himself is unaware, and that no man in the
world must learn. You are different, you are going to die."
He dragged him into the space outside the house.
"Do you know why my sister, whom you wished to dishonour, was vowed
to the Madonna? Because your father, like you, wished to dishonour
my mother. In your accursed house there is a tradition of infamy.
You do not know what slow and terrible torments my poor mother
endured-torments that broke her strength and caused her to die in
early youth, and that her angelic soul dared confide to none but her
son in that supreme hour and in order to bid me watch over my
The fisherman wiped away a burning tear. "One day, before we were
born, a fine lady, richly dressed, landed in our island from a
splendid boat; she asked to see my mother, who was as young and
beautiful as my Nisida is to-day. She could not cease from admiring
her; she blamed the blindness of fate which had buried this lovely
jewel in the bosom of an obscure island; she showered praises,
caresses, and gifts upon my mother, and after many indirect speeches,
finally asked her parents for her, that she might make her her lady-
in-waiting. The poor people, foreseeing in the protection of so
great a lady a brilliant future for their daughter, were weak enough
to yield. That lady was your mother; and do you know why she came
thus to seek that poor innocent maiden? Because your mother had a
lover, and because she wished to make sure, in this infamous manner,
of the prince's indulgence."
"Oh, your excellency will hear me out. At the beginning, my poor
mother found herself surrounded by the tenderest care: the princess
could not be parted from her for a moment; the most flattering words,
the finest clothes, the richest ornaments were hers; the servants
paid her as much respect as though she were a daughter of the house.
When her parents went to see her and to inquire whether she did not
at all regret having left them, they found her so lovely and so
happy, that they blessed the princess as a good angel sent them from
God. Then the prince conceived a remarkable affection for my mother;
little by little his manners became more familiar and affectionate.
At last the princess went away for a few days, regretting that she
could not take with her her dear child, as she called her. Then the
prince's brutality knew no further barriers; he no longer concealed
his shameful plans of seduction; he spread before the poor girl's
eyes pearl necklaces and caskets of diamonds; he passed from the most
glowing passion to the blackest fury, from the humblest prayers to
the most horrible threats. The poor child was shut up in a cellar
where there was hardly a gleam of daylight, and every morning a
frightful gaoler came and threw her a bit of black bread, repeating
with oaths that it only depended upon herself to alter all this by
becoming the prince's mistress. This cruelty continued for two
years. The princess had gone on a long journey, and my mother's poor
parents believed that their daughter was still happy with her
protectress. On her return, having; no doubt fresh sins for which
she needed forgiveness, she took my mother from her dungeon, assumed
the liveliest indignation at this horrible treatment, about which she
appeared to have known nothing, wiped her tears, and by an abominable
refinement of perfidy received the thanks of the victim whom she was
about to sacrifice.
"One evening--I have just finished, my lord--the princess chose to sup
alone with her lady-in-waiting: the rarest fruits, the most exquisite
dishes, and the most delicate wines were served to my poor mother,
whose prolonged privations had injured her health and weakened her
reason; she gave way to a morbid gaiety. Diabolical philtres were
poured into her cup; that is another tradition in your family. My
mother felt uplifted, her eyes shone with feverish brilliance, her
cheeks were on fire. Then the prince came in--oh! your excellency
will see that God protects the poor. My darling mother, like a
frightened dove, sheltered herself in the bosom of the princess, who
pushed her away, laughing. The poor distraught girl, trembling,
weeping, knelt down in the midst of that infamous room. It was St.
Anne's Day; all at once the house shook, the walls cracked, cries of
distress rang out in the streets. My mother was saved. It was the
earthquake that destroyed half Naples. You know all about it, my
lord, since your old palace is no longer habitable."
"What are you driving at?" cried Brancaleone in terrible agitation.
"Oh, I merely wish to persuade you that you must fight with me,"
answered the fisherman coldly, as he offered him a cartridge. "And
now," he added, in an excited tone, "say your prayers, my lord; for I
warn you, you will die by my hand; justice must be done."
The prince carefully examined the powder and shot, made sure that his
rifle was in good condition; loaded it, and, eager to make an end,
took aim at the fisherman; but, either because he had been so much
disturbed by his opponent's terrible tale, or, because the grass was
wet from the storm, at the moment when he put forward his left foot
to steady his shot, he slipped, lost his balance and fell on one
knee. He fired into the air.
"That does not count, my lord," cried Gabriel instantly, and handed
him a second charge.
At the noise of the report Solomon had appeared at the window, and,
understanding what was going on, had lifted his hands to heaven, in
order to address to God a dumb and fervent prayer. Eligi uttered a
frightful inprecation, and hastily reloaded his rifle; but, struck by
the calm confidence of the young man, who stood motionless before
him, and by the old man, who, impassive and undisturbed, seemed to be
conjuring God in the name of a father's authority, disconcerted by
his fall, his knees shaking and his arm jarred, he felt the chills of
death running in his veins. Attempting, nevertheless, to master his
emotion, he took aim a second time; the bullet whistled by the
fisherman's ear and buried itself in the stem of a poplar.
The prince, with the energy of despair, seized the barrel of his
weapon in both hands; but Gabriel was coming forward with his axe, a
terrible foe, and his first stroke carried away the butt of the
rifle. He was still hesitating, however, to kill a defenceless man,
when two armed servants appeared at the end of the pathway. Gabriel
did not see them coming; but at the moment when they would have
seized him by the shoulders, Solomon uttered a cry and rushed to his
"Help, Numa! help, Bonaroux! Death to the ruffians! They want to
"You lie, Prince of Brancaleone!" cried Gabriel, and with one blow of
the axe he cleft his skull.
The two bravoes who were coming to their master's assistance, when
they saw him fall, took flight; Solomon and his son went up to
Nisida's room. The young girl had just shaken off her heavy slumber;
a slight perspiration moistened her brow, and she opened her eyes
slowly to the dawning day.
"Why are you looking at me in that way, father?" she said, her mind
still wandering a littler and she passed her hand over her forehead.
The old man embraced her tenderly.
"You have just passed through a great danger, my poor Nisida," said
he; "arise, and let us give thanks to the Madonna."
Then all three, kneeling before the sacred image of the Virgin, began
to recite litanies. But at that very instant a noise of arms sounded
in the enclosure, the house was surrounded by soldiers, and a
lieutenant of gendarmes, seizing Gabriel, said in a loud voice, "In
the name of the law, I arrest you for the murder that you have just
committed upon the person of his excellency and illustrious lordship,
the Prince of Brancaleone."
Nisida, struck by these words, remained pale and motionless like a
marble statue kneeling on a tomb; Gabriel was already preparing to
make an unreasoning resistance, when a gesture from his father
"Signor tenente," said the old man, addressing himself to the
officer, "my son killed the prince in lawful defence, for the latter
had scaled our house and made his way in at night and with arms in
his hand. The proofs are before your eyes. Here is a ladder set up
against the window; and here," he proceeded, picking up the two
pieces of the broken blade, "is a dagger with the Brancaleone arms.
However, we do not refuse to follow you."
The last words of the fisherman were drowned by cries of "Down with
the sbirri! down with the gendarmes!" which were repeated in every
direction. The whole island was up in arms, and the fisher-folk
would have suffered themselves to be cut up to the last man before
allowing a single hair of Solomon or of his son to be touched; but
the old man appeared upon his threshold, and, stretching out his arm
with a calm and grave movement that quieted the anger of the crowd,
he said, "Thanks, my children; the law must be respected. I shall be
able, alone, to defend the innocence of my son before the judges."
Hardly three months have elapsed since the day upon which we first
beheld the old fisherman of Nisida sitting before the door of his
dwelling, irradiated by all the happiness that he had succeeded in
creating around him, reigning like a king, on his throne of rock, and
blessing his two children, the most beautiful creatures in the
island. Now the whole existence of this man, who was once so happy
and so much envied, is changed. The smiling cottage, that hung over
the gulf like a swan over a transparent lake, is sad and desolate;
the little enclosure, with its hedges of lilac and hawthorn, where
joyous groups used to come and sit at the close of day, is silent and
deserted. No human sound dares to trouble the mourning of this