The Corsican Brothers

by Alexandre Dumas

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FROM the top of the steps by which one reached the door of the chateau usually inhabited by Madame de Franchi and her son, one could look over the square.

This square, so silent the night before, was now full of people, but curiously enough there was not a man to be seen, the crowd was composed of women and children under twelve.

On the lowest step of the church door we could perceive a man girdled with a tri-coloured sash. This was the mayor.

Under the portico, another man clothed in black was seated at a table. This was the notary, and the written paper under his hand was the act of reconciliation.

I took my place beside the table with the sponsors of the Orlandi. On the other sida were the sponsors of the Colona faction. Lucien stood behind the notary so as to show that he acted for both.

In the choir of the church one could perceive the priests ready to solemnize the mass.

The clock struck ten.

At that moment a shiver pervaded the crowd and all eyes were turned towards the end of the street, if one could so call the unequal interval between the houses.

Immediately on the mountain side appeared the Orlandi, and in the direction of the river was the Colona, each followed by his partisans, but as had been arranged neither party carried arms.

The two chiefs presented a very vivid contrast.

Orlandi, as I said, was tall, brown, agile and thin.

Colona, on the other hand, was short, stoutish, and vigorous; he had red hair and beard, both of which wore short and curly.

Both men carried olive branches, the symbol of peace, which was the idea of the worthy mayor.

But besides this olive branch, the Colona held a white fowl by the feet; this bird was destined to replace that which had given rise to the quarrel, and the fowl was alive.

This last was a point that had long been discussed, and had very nearly upset the whole arrangement. The Colona looked upon it as a double humiliation to have to render back a living fowl for the one which his aunt had thrown dead in the face of the cousin of the Orlandi.

However, by force of reasoning, Lucien had persuaded the Colona to provide the fowl, as he had managed to induce the Orlandi to accept it.

When the two rivals appeared, the bells, which until now had been silent, broke forth into a merry peal.

When they caught sight of each other both Orlandi and his brother made a similar movement of repulsion, but, nevertheless, they both continued their way.

Just opposite the church door they stopped, a few paces only dividing them.

If three days previously these men had caught sight of each other within a hundred paces, one of the two certainly would have remained on the field.

For about five minutes there was a profound silence, a silence which, notwithstanding the peaceful nature of the ceremony, was anything but pacific.

Then at length the mayor spoke.

"Well, Colona," he said, "do you not know that you have to speak first?"

Colona made an effort and muttered some words in the Corsican patois.

I fancied I understood him to say that he regretted having been in Vendetta with his good neighbour Orlandi, and that he offered in reparation the white hen which he held in his hand.

Orlandi waited until his adversary had finished speaking, and replied in some words which I took to be a promise that he would forget everything but the solemn reconciliation that had that day taken place in the presence of Monsieur Lucien and the notary.

After that the rivals preserved a dogged silence.

"Now, gentlemen," said the mayor, "you have only got to shake hands."

By a simultaneous movement the rivals clasped their hands behind their backs.

The mayor descended from his elevated seat, and seizing the hand of Colona sought for the hand of the Orlandi, and having possessed himself of both he, with some effort, which he endeavoured to conceal with a smile, succeeded in joining the two hands.

The notary seized the moment, while the mayor held the two hands together, to stand up and read the deed declaring the feud to be at an end. The document was as follows:--

"In the presence of us, Giuseppe Antonia Sarrola, Notary Royal of Sullacaro in the Province of Sartène.

"In the grand place of the village opposite the church, in the presence of the mayor, the sponsors, and all the population.

"Between Gaetano Orso Orlandi, called Orlandini.

"And Marco Vincenzio Colona, called Schioppone.

"It is solemnly ratified as follows:--

"From this day, 4th of March, 1841, the Vendetta declared between the families shall cease.

"From the same period they shall live together as good neighbours and friends, as their relatives did before the unhappy disunion which has so long alienated their families.

"In witness whereof they have signed these presents under the portico of the village church, with Monsieur Polo Arbori, mayor of the commune, Monsieur Lucien de Franchi, arbitrator, the sponsors of the two contracting parties, and ourselves the Notary.

"Sullacaro, 4th of March, 1841."

I note with admiration that the mayor had very prudently omitted all mention of the hen which had put the Colona in such a bad position with the Orlandi.

So the face of the Colona got brighter in proportion as the figure of the Orlandi clouded; the latter looked at the hen which he was holding in his hand as if he had a great idea to throw it in the face of the Colona. But a glance from Lucien de Franchi checked this intention in the bud.

The mayor saw that he had no time to lose; he stepped back, holding the hands of the rivals, and without loosing them for a moment.

Then, in order to anticipate any discussion at the moment of signature, in view of each considering it a concession to sign before the other, he took the pen and wrote his own name first, and thus converting the shame into an honour, passed the pen to Orlandi, who took it, signed, and passed it to Lucien, who in his turn handed it to Colona, who made a cross.

At that moment the Te Deum was chanted as if for a victory.

We all signed afterwards, without distinction of rank or title, as the nobility of France a hundred years before had signed the protestation against Monsieur le Due du Maine.

Then the heroes of the day entered the church, and knelt in the places appointed for them.

I saw that from this moment Lucien appeared perfectly at ease. All had been finished satisfactorily: the reconciliation had taken place not only before man but before Heaven.

The service terminated without any incident worth recording; and when it was over, Orlandi and Colona passed out with the same ceremony as before.

At the church door, at the instance of the mayor, they once again shook hands; and then each one, attended by his friends and relatives, made his way to his house, which for three years he had not entered.

Lucien and myself went back to Madame de Franchi's house, where dinner awaited us.

It is not difficult to perceive by the attentions I received that Lucien had read my name over my shoulder when I was signing the paper, and the name was not altogether unknown to him.

In the morning I had announced to Lucien my intention to depart after dinner. I was urgently recalled to Paris by the rehearsals of "Un Mariage sous Louis XV.," and notwithstanding the importunities of mother and son, I persisted in adhering to my first determination.

Lucien then asked permission to take advantage of my offer, and to take a letter to his brother; and Madame Franchi made me promise that I would hand this letter myself to her son.

There was really no trouble in the matter, for Louis de Franchi, like a true Parisian as he was, lived at No. 7, Rue du Helder.

I asked permission to see Lucien's room once again, and he himself conducted me thither, explaining everything to me.

"You know," he said, "if anything strikes you I hope you will take it, it is yours."

I unhooked a small poignard hanging in an obscure corner, as if to show that it had no value attached to it; and as I had seen Lucien notice with some curiosity my hunting-belt and its appurtenances, I begged him to accept it, and he had the good taste to take it without being pressed.

At that moment Griffo appeared to tell me that the horse was saddled and the guide waiting.

I put aside the little present I had intended to give to Griffo, which consisted of a hunting-knife and two pistols attached to it, the barrels of which were hidden in the hilt.

I never saw anybody so delighted as he was at this present.

I descended, and found Madame de Franchi at the bottom of the staircase, where she was waiting to bid me good-bye, in the same place where she had bade me welcome. I kissed her hand, feeling great respect for such a simple-minded and yet so dignified a woman.

Lucien accompanied me to the door.

"On any other day," he said, "I would saddle my horse, and ride with you beyond the mountain, but to-day I dare not quit Sullacaro for fear that one or other of the newly-made friends might commit some folly."

"You are quite right," I said; "and for my own part, I am very glad to have assisted at a ceremony so new to Corsica."

"Yes," he said, "you may well congratulate yourself, for you have to-day witnessed a thing which is enough to make our ancestors turn in their graves."

"I understand--their word was sufficient; they did not need a notary to reconcile them, I suppose?"

"They were never reconciled at all."

He then shook me by the hand.

"Have you no message for your brother?" I said.

"Yes, certainly, if it will not incommode you to deliver it."

"Well, then, let us embrace. I can only deliver that which I am able to receive." [See "Transcriber's Note."]

So we embraced each other.

"We shall see you again some day?" I said.

"Yes, if you come to Corsica."

"No, but won't you come to Paris?"

"I shall never go there," replied Lucien.

"In any case, you will find my card on the mantelpiece in your brother's room--do not forget the address."

"I will promise you that should any event call me to the Continent you shall have my first visit."

"Very well, that is agreed."

We shook hands once again and parted; but I noticed, so long as he could see me, he followed me with his eyes.

All was quiet in the village, although, of course, there was the usual agitation which follows the completion of a great public act; and as I went along the street I sought my friend Orlandi, who had never addressed a word to me, nor even thanked me; and so I passed the last house in the village, and entered the open country without having seen any one like him.

I thought he had entirely forgotten me, and under the circumstances I quite excused him, but before I got very far out of the village I perceived a man stride from the underwood, and place himself in the middle of the road. I recognized him at once as the man who in my great regard for appearances, and in my impatience, I had accused of ingratitude.

He was dressed in the same costume as he had appeared in the previous evening in the ruins of Vicentello.

When I was about twenty paces distant from him he took off his hat; while I spurred my horse so as not to keep Orlandi waiting.

"Monsieur," he said, "I did not wish you to quit Sullacaro without accepting my thanks for the kindness you have shown to a poor peasant like myself, and as in the village I had not the heart, and could not command the language, to thank you, I waited for you here."

"I am obliged to you," I said; "but it was not necessary to take any trouble about it, and all the honour has been mine."

"And after all, monsieur," continued the bandit, "the habit of four years is not easily overcome. The mountain air is strong at first, almost suffocating--but now when I go to sleep in a house I should be afraid the roof would fall upon me."

"But surely," I said, "you will now resume your former habits. I understand you have a house, a field, and a vineyard."

"Yes, but my sister looks after the house; but the Lucquois are there to work in the field, and to raise the grapes. We Corsicans do not work."

"What do you do, then?"

"We overlook the labourers. We walk about with a gun upon our shoulders."

"Well, my dear Monsieur Orlandi," I said, extending my hand, "I wish you good luck; but recollect that my honour as well as your own will be compromised if you fire at anything but game or wild animals. You must never on any account draw a trigger on the Colona family."

"Ah! your Excellency," he replied, with an expression of countenance which I never remarked except amongst the natives of Normandy, "that hen they gave us was a very thin one."

And without another word he disappeared in the brushwood.

I continued my journey thinking that it was very likely that the meagre fowl would be the cause of another rupture between the Orlandi and the Colona.

That evening I slept at Albitucia, next day I reached Ajaccio.

Eight days afterwards I was in Paris.


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