I SLOWLY ascended the steps and entered the house, and at a corner of the corridor I found myself face to face with a tall lady dressed in black.
I understood at once that this lady of thirty-eight or forty years of age, and still beautiful, was the mistress of the house.
"Madame," said I, bowing deeply, "I am afraid you will think me intrusive, but the custom of the country may be my excuse, and your servant's invitation my authority to enter."
"You are welcome to the mother," replied Madame de Franchi, "and you will almost immediately be welcomed by the son. From this moment, sir, the house belongs to you; use it as if it were your own."
"I come but to beg hospitality for one night, madame," I answered; "to-morrow morning, at daybreak, I will take my departure."
"You are free to do as you please, sir; but I hope that you will change your mind, and that we shall have the honour of your company for a longer period."
I bowed again, and Madame continued--
"Maria, show this gentleman to my son Louis' chamber; light the fire at once, and carry up some hot water. You will excuse me," she said, turning again to me as the servant departed, "but I always fancy that the first wants of a tired traveller are warm water and a fire. Will you please to follow my maid, sir; and you need have no hesitation in asking her for anything you may require. We shall sup in an hour, and my son, who will be home by that time, will have the honour to wait upon you."
"I trust you will excuse my travelling dress, madame."
"Yes, sir," she replied smiling; "but on condition that you, on your part, will excuse the rusticity of your reception."
I bowed my thanks, and followed the servant upstairs.
The room was situated on the first floor, and looked out towards the rear of the house, upon a pretty and extensive garden, well planted with various trees, and watered by a charming little stream, which fell into the Tavaro.
At the further end the prospect was bounded by a hedge, so thick as to appear like a wall. As is the case in almost all Italian houses, the walls of the rooms were white-washed and frescoed.
I understood immediately that Madame de Franchi had given me this, her absent son's chamber, because it was the most comfortable one in the house.
While Maria was lighting the fire and fetching the hot water, I took it into my head to make an inventory of the room, and try to arrive at an estimation of the character of its usual occupant by those means.
I immediately put this idea into execution, and beginning with the left hand, I took mental notes of the various objects by which I was surrounded.
The furniture all appeared to be modern, a circumstance which in that part of the island, where civilization had not then taken deep root, appeared to indicate no inconsiderable degree of luxury. It was composed of an iron bedstead and bedding, a sofa, four arm-chairs, six other occasional chairs, a wardrobe, half book case and half bureau, all of mahogany, from the first cabinet maker in Ajaccio.
The sofas and chairs were covered with chintz, and curtains of similar material fell before the windows, and hung round the bed.
I had got so far with my inventory when Maria left the room, and I was enabled to push my investigation a little closer.
I opened the book-case, and found within a collection of the works of our greatest poets. I noticed Corneille, Racine, Molière, La Fontaine, Ronsard, Victor Hugo, and Lamartine.
Our moralists--Montaigne, Pascal, Labruyère.
Our historians--Mezeray, Chateaubriand, Augustin Thierry.
Our philosophers--Cuvier, Beudant, Elie de Beaumont.
Besides these there were several volumes of romances and other books, amongst which I recognized, with a certain pride, my own "Impression of Travel."
The keys were in the drawer of the bureau. I opened one of them.
Here I found fragments of a history of Corsica, a work upon the best means of abolishing the Vendetta, some French verses, and some Italian sonnets, all in manuscript. This was more than I expected, and I had the presumption to conclude that I need not seek much farther to form my opinion of the character of Monsieur Louis de Franchi.
He appeared to be a quiet, studious young man, a partizan of the French reformers, and then I understood why he had gone to Paris to become an advocate.
There was, without doubt, a great future for him in this course. I made all these reflections as I was dressing. My toilette, as I had hinted to Madame de Franchi, although not wanting in a certain picturesqueness, demanded that some allowance should be made for it.
It was composed of a vest of black velvet, open at seams of the sleeves, so as to keep me cooler during the heat of the day, and slashed _à l'Espagnole,_ permitting a silken chemise to appear underneath. My legs were encased in velvet breeches to the knee, and thence protected by Spanish gaiters, embroidered in Spanish silk. A felt hat, warranted to take any shape, but particularly that of a sombrero, completed my costume.
I recommend this dress to all travellers as being the most convenient I am acquainted with, and I was in the act of dressing, when the same man who had introduced me appeared at the door.
He came to announce that his young master, Monsieur Lucien de Franchi, had that instant arrived, and who desired to pay his respects to me if I were ready to receive him.
I replied that I was at the disposal of Monsieur Lucien de Franchi if he would do me the honour to come up.
An instant afterwards I heard a rapid step approaching my room, and almost immediately afterwards I was face to face with my host.