HE was, as my guide had told me, a young man of about twenty-one years of age, with black hair and eyes, his face browned by the sun, rather under than over the average height, but remarkably well-proportioned.
In his haste to welcome me he had come up, just as he was, in his riding-costume, which was composed of a redingote of green cloth, to which a cartridge-pouch gave a somewhat military air, grey pantaloons with leather let in on the inner side of the legs, boots and spurs. His head-dress was a cap similar to those worn by our Chasseurs d'Afrique.
From either side of his pouch there hung a gourd and a pistol, and he carried an English carbine in addition.
Notwithstanding the youthful appearance of my host, whose upper lip was as yet scarcely shaded by a moustache, he wore an air of independence and resolution, which struck me very forcibly.
Here was a man fitted for strife, and accustomed to live in the midst of danger, but without despising it, grave because he was solitary, calm because he was strong.
With a single glance he took me all in, my luggage, my arms, the dress I had just taken off, and that which I had just donned.
His glance was as rapid and as sure as that of a man whose very life may depend upon a hasty survey of his surroundings.
"I trust you will excuse me if I disturb you," he said; "but I come with good intentions. I wish to see if you require anything. I am always somewhat uneasy when any of you gentlemen from the continent pay us a visit, for we are still so uncivilized, we Corsicans, that it is really with fear and trembling that we exercise, particularly to Frenchmen, our own hospitality, which will, I fear, soon be the only thing that will remain to us."
"You have no reason to fear," I replied; "it would be difficult to say what more a traveller can require beyond what Madame de Franchi has supplied. Besides," I continued, glancing round the apartment, "I must confess I do not perceive any of the want of civilization you speak of so frankly, and were it not for the charming prospect from those windows, I should fancy myself in an apartment in the Chaussee d'Antin."
"Yes," returned the young man, "it is rather a mania with my poor brother Louis; he is so fond of living _à la Française;_ but I very much doubt whether, when he leaves Paris, the poor attempt at civilization here will appear to him sufficient on his return home as it formerly did."
"Has your brother been long away from Corsica?" I inquired.
"For the last ten months."
"You expect him back soon?"
"Oh, not for three or four years."
"That is a very long separation for two brothers, who probably were never parted before."
"Yes, and particularly if they love each other as we do."
"No doubt he will come to see you before he finishes his studies?"
"Probably; he has promised us so much, at least."
"In any case, nothing need prevent you from paying him a visit?"
"No, I never leave Corsica."
There was in his tone, as he made this reply, that love of country which astonishes the rest of the universe.
"It appears strange to you," he said, smiling in his turn, "when I tell you that I do not wish to leave a miserable country like ours; but you must know that I am as much a growth of the island as the oak or the laurel; the air I breathe must be impregnated with the odours of the sea and of the mountains. I must have torrents to cross, rocks to scale, forests to explore. I must have space; liberty is necessary to me, and if you were to take me to live in a town I believe I should die."
"But how is it there is such a great difference between you and your brother in this respect?"
"And you would add with so great a physical resemblance, if you knew him."
"Are you, then, so very much alike?"
"So much so, that when we were children our parents were obliged to sew a distinguishing mark upon our clothes."
"And as you grew up?" I suggested.
"As we grew up our habits caused a very slight change in our appearance, that is all. Always in a study, poring over books and drawings, my brother grew somewhat pale, while I, being always in the open air, became bronzed, as you see."
"I hope," I said, "that you will permit me to judge of this resemblance, and if you have any commission for Monsieur Louis, you will charge me with it."
"Yes, certainly, with great pleasure, if you will be so kind. Now, will you excuse me? I see you are more advanced in your toilet than I, and supper will be ready in a quarter of an hour."
"You surely need not trouble to change on my account."
"You must not reproach me with this, for you have yourself set me the example; but, in any case, I am now in a riding dress, and must change it for a mountaineer's costume, as, after supper, I have to make an excursion in which boots and spurs would only serve to hinder me."
"You are going out after supper, then?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied, "to a rendezvous."
"Ah, not in the sense you understand it--this is a matter of business."
"Do you think me so presumptuous as to believe I have a right to your conscience?"
"Why not? One should live so as to be able to proclaim what one has done. I never had a mistress, and I never shall have one. If my brother should marry, and have children, it is probable that I shall never take a wife. If, on the contrary, he does not marry, perhaps I shall, so as to prevent our race from becoming extinct. Did I not tell you," he added, laughing, "that I am a regular savage, and had come into the world a hundred years too late? But I continue to chatter here like a crow, and I shall not be ready by the time supper is on the table."
"But cannot we continue the conversation?" I said. "Your chamber, I believe, is opposite, and we can talk through the open doors."
"We can do better than that; you can come into my room while I dress. You are a judge of arms, I fancy. Well, then, you shall look at mine. There are some there which are valuable--from an historical point of view, I mean."