Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Classical Novels > Columba > CHAPTER VI
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 It is in obedience1 to the precept2 of Horace that I have begun by plunging3 in media res. Now that every one is asleep—the beautiful Colomba, the colonel, and his daughter—I will seize the opportunity to acquaint my reader with certain details of which he must not be ignorant, if he desires to follow the further course of this veracious4 history. He is already aware that Colonel della Rebbia, Orso’s father, had been assassinated5. Now, in Corsica, people are not murdered, as they are in France, by the first escaped convict who can devise no better means of relieving a man of his silver-plate. In Corsica a man is murdered by his enemies—but the reason he has enemies is often very difficult to discover. Many families hate each other because it has been an old-standing habit of theirs to hate each other; but the tradition of the original cause of their hatred6 may have completely disappeared.  
The family to which Colonel della Rebbia belonged hated several other families, but that of the Barricini particularly. Some people asserted that in the sixteenth century a della Rebbia had seduced7 a lady of the Barricini family, and had afterward8 been poniarded by a relative of the outraged9 damsel. Others, indeed, told the story in a different fashion, declaring that it was a della Rebbia who had been seduced, and a Barricini who had been poniarded. However that may be, there was, to use the time-honoured expression, “blood between the two houses.” Nevertheless, and contrary to custom, this murder had not resulted in others; for the della Rebbia and the Barricini had been equally persecuted10 by the Genoese Government, and as the young men had all left the country, the two families were deprived, during several generations, of their more energetic representatives. At the close of the last century, one of the della Rebbias, an officer in the Neapolitan service, quarrelled, in a gambling12 hell, with some soldiers, who called him a Corsican goatherd, and other insulting names. He drew his sword, but being only one against three, he would have fared very ill if a stranger, who was playing in the same room, had not exclaimed, “I, too, am a Corsican,” and come to his rescue. This stranger was one of the Barricini, who, for that matter, was not acquainted with his countryman. After mutual13 explanations, they interchanged courtesies and vowed14 eternal friendship. For on the Continent, quite contrary to their practice in their own island, Corsicans quickly become friends. This fact was clearly exemplified on the present occasion. As long as della Rebbia and Barricini remained in Italy they were close friends. Once they were back in Corsica, they saw each other but very seldom, although they both lived in the same village; and when they died, it was reported that they had not spoken to each other for five or six years. Their sons lived in the same fashion—“on ceremony,” as they say in the island; one of them Ghilfuccio, Orso’s father, was a soldier; the other Giudice Barricini, was a lawyer. Having both become heads of families, and being separated by their professions, they scarcely ever had an opportunity of seeing or hearing of each other.
One day, however, about the year 1809, Giudice read in a newspaper at Bastia that Captain Ghilfuccio had just been decorated, and remarked, before witnesses, that he was not at all surprised, considering that the family enjoyed the protection of General ——-. This remark was reported at Vienna to Ghilfuccio, who told one of his countrymen that, when he got back to Corsica, he would find Giudice a very rich man, because he made more money out of the suits he lost than out of those he won. It was never known whether he meant this as an insinuation that the lawyer cheated his clients, or as a mere15 allusion16 to the commonplace truth that a bad cause often brings a lawyer more profit than a good one. However that may have been, the lawyer Barricini heard of the epigram, and never forgot it. In 1812 he applied17 for the post of mayor of his commune, and had every hope of being appointed, when General ——- wrote to the prefect, to recommend one of Ghilfuccio’s wife’s relations. The prefect lost no time in carrying out the general’s wish, and Barricini felt no doubt that he owed his failure to the intrigues18 of Ghilfuccio. In 1814, after the emperor’s fall, the general’s protégé was denounced as a Bonapartist, and his place was taken by Barricini. He, in his turn, was dismissed during the Hundred Days, but when the storm had blown over, he again took possession, with great pomp, of the mayoral seal and the municipal registers.
From this moment his star shone brighter than ever. Colonel della Rebbia, now living on half-pay at Pietranera, had to defend himself against covert19 and repeated attacks due to the pettifogging malignity20 of his enemy. At one time he was summoned to pay for the damage his horse had done to the mayor’s fences, at another, the latter, under pretence21 of repairing the floor of the church, ordered the removal of a broken flagstone bearing the della Rebbia arms, which covered the grave of some member of the family. If the village goats ate the colonel’s young plants, the mayor always protected their owners. The grocer who kept the post-office at Pietranera, and the old maimed soldier who had been the village policeman—both of them attached to the della Rebbia family—were turned adrift, and their places filled by Barricini’s creatures.
The colonel’s wife died, and her last wish was that she might be buried in the middle of the little wood in which she had been fond of walking. Forthwith the mayor declared she should be buried in the village cemetery22, because he had no authority to permit burial in any other spot. The colonel, in a fury, declared that until the permit came, his wife would be interred23 in the spot she had chosen. He had her grave dug there. The mayor, on his side, had another grave dug in the cemetery, and sent for the police, that the law, so he declared, might be duly enforced. On the day of the funeral, the two parties came face to face, and, for a moment, there was reason to fear a struggle might ensue for the possession of Signora della Rebbia’s corpse24. Some forty well-armed peasants, mustered25 by the dead woman’s relatives, forced the priest, when he issued from the church, to take the road to the wood. On the other hand, the mayor, at the head of his two sons, his dependents, and the gendarmes26, advanced to oppose their march. When he appeared, and called on the procession to turn back, he was greeted with howls and threats. The advantage of numbers was with his opponents, and they seemed thoroughly27 determined28. At sight of him several guns were loaded, and one shepherd is even said to have levelled his musket29 at him, but the colonel knocked up the barrel, and said, “Let no man fire without my orders!” The mayor, who, like Panurge, had “a natural fear of blows,” refused to give battle, and retired30, with his escort. Then the funeral procession started, carefully choosing the longest way, so as to pass in front of the mayor’s house. As it was filing by, an idiot, who had joined its ranks, took it into his head to shout, “Vive l’Empereur!” Two or three voices answered him, and the Rebbianites, growing hotter, proposed killing31 one of the mayor’s oxen, which chanced to bar their way. Fortunately the colonel stopped this act of violence.
It is hardly necessary to mention that an official statement was at once drawn32 up, or that the mayor sent the prefect a report, in his sublimest33 style, describing the manner in which all laws, human and divine, had been trodden under foot—how the majesty34 of himself, the mayor, and of the priest had been flouted35 and insulted, and how Colonel della Rebbia had put himself at the head of a Bonapartist plot, to change the order of succession to the throne, and to excite peaceful citizens to take arms against one another—crimes provided against by Articles 86 and 91 of the Penal36 Code.
The exaggerated tone of this complaint diminished its effect. The colonel wrote to the prefect and to the public prosecutor37. One of his wife’s kinsmen38 was related to one of the deputies of the island, another was cousin to the president of the Royal Court. Thanks to this interest, the plot faded out of sight, Signora della Rebbia was left quiet in the wood, and the idiot alone was sentenced to a fortnight’s imprisonment39.
Lawyer Barricini, dissatisfied with the result of this affair, turned his batteries in a different direction. He dug out some old claim, whereby he undertook to contest the colonel’s ownership of a certain water-course which turned a mill-wheel. A lawsuit40 began and dragged slowly along. At the end of twelve months, the court was about to give its decision, and according to all appearances in favour of the colonel, when Barricini placed in the hands of the public prosecutor a letter, signed by a certain Agostini, a well-known bandit, threatening him, the mayor, with fire and sword if he did not relinquish41 his pretensions42. It is well known that in Corsica the protection of these brigands43 is much sought after, and that, to oblige their friends, they frequently intervene in private quarrels. The mayor was deriving44 considerable advantage from this letter, when the business was further complicated by a fresh incident. Agostini, the bandit, wrote to the public prosecutor, to complain that his handwriting had been counterfeited45, and his character aspersed46, by some one who desired to represent him as a man who made a traffic of his influence. “If I can discover the forger,” he said at the end of his letter, “I will make a striking example of him.”
It was quite clear that Agostini did not write the threatening letter to the mayor. The della Rebbia accused the Barricini of it and vice11 versa. Both parties broke into open threats, and the authorities did not know where to find the culprit.
In the midst of all this Colonel Ghilfuccio was murdered. Here are the facts, as they were elicited47 at the official inquiry48. On the 2d of August, 18—, toward nightfall, a woman named Maddalena Pietri, who was carrying corn to Pietranera, heard two shots fired, very close together, the reports, as it seemed to her, coming from the deep lane leading to the village, about a hundred and fifty paces from the spot on which she stood. Almost immediately afterward she saw a man running, crouching49 along a footpath50 among the vines, and making for the village. The man stopped for a minute, and turned round, but the distance prevented the woman Pietri from seeing his features, and besides, he had a vine-leaf in his mouth, which hid almost the whole of his face. He made a signal with his head to some comrade, whom the witness could not see, and then disappeared among the vines.
The woman Pietri dropped her burden, ran up the path, and found Colonel della Rebbia, bathed in his own blood from two bullet wounds, but still breathing. Close beside him lay his gun, loaded and cocked, as if he had been defending himself against a person who had attacked him in front, just when another had struck him from behind. Although the rattle51 was in his throat, he struggled against the grip of death, but he could not utter a word—this the doctors explained by the nature of the wounds, which had cut through his lungs: the blood was choking him, it flowed slowly, like red froth. In vain did the woman lift him up, and ask him several questions. She saw plainly enough that he desired to speak, but he could not make himself understood. Noticing that he was trying to get his hand to his pocket, she quickly drew out of it a little note-book, which she opened and gave to him.
The wounded man took the pencil out of the note-book and tried to write. In fact, the witness saw him form several letters, but with great difficulty. As she could not read, however, she was unable to understand their meaning. Exhausted52 by the effort, the colonel left the note-book in the woman’s hand, which he squeezed tightly, looking at her strangely, as if he wanted to say (these are the witness’s own words): “It is important—it is my murderer’s name!”
Maddalena Pietri was going up to the village, when she met Barricini, the mayor, with his son Vincentello. It was then almost dark. She told them what she had seen. The mayor took the note-book, hurried up to his house, put on his sash, and fetched his secretary and the gendarmes. Left alone with young Vincentello, Maddalena Pietri suggested that he should go to the colonel’s assistance, in case he was still alive, but Vincentello replied that if he were to go near a man who had been the bitter enemy of his family, he would certainly be accused of having killed him. A very short time afterward the mayor arrived, found the colonel dead, had the corpse carried away, and drew up his report.
In spite of the agitation53 so natural on such an occasion, Monsieur Barricini had hastened to place the colonel’s note-book under seal, and to make all the inquiries54 in his power, but none of them resulted in any discovery of importance.
When the examining magistrate55 arrived the note-book was opened, and on a blood-stained page were seen letters written in a trembling hand, but still quite legible; the sheet bore the word Agosti—and the judge did not doubt that the colonel had intended to point out Agostini as his murderer. Nevertheless, Colomba della Rebbia, who had been summoned by the magistrate, asked leave to examine the note-book. After turning the leaves for a few moments, she stretched out her hand toward the mayor and cried, “There stands the murderer!” Then with a precision and a clearness which were astonishing, considering the passion of sorrow that shook her, she related that, a few days previously56, her father had received a letter from his son, which he had burned, but that before doing so he had written Orso’s address (he had just changed his garrison) in the note-book with his pencil. Now, his address was no longer in the note-book, and Colomba concluded that the mayor had torn out the leaf on which it was written, which probably was that on which her father had traced the murderer’s name, and for that name the mayor, according to Colomba, had substituted Agostini’s. The magistrate, in fact, noticed that one sheet was missing from the quire on which the name was written, but he remarked also that leaves were likewise missing from other quires in the same note-book, and certain witnesses testified that the colonel had a habit of tearing out pages when he wanted to light a cigar—therefore nothing was more probable than that, by an oversight57, he had burned the address he had copied. Further, it was shown that the mayor could not have read the note-book on receiving it from Maddalena Pietri, on account of the darkness, and it was proved that he had not stopped an instant before he went into his house, that the sergeant58 of the gendarmes had gone there with him, and had seen him light a lamp and put the note-book into an envelope which he had sealed before his eyes.
When this officer had concluded his deposition59, Colomba, half-distracted, cast herself at his feet, and besought60 him, by all he held most sacred, to say whether he had not left the mayor alone for a single moment. After a certain amount of hesitation61, the man, who was evidently affected62 by the young girl’s excitement, admitted that he had gone into the next room to fetch a sheet of foolscap, but that he had not been away a minute, and that the mayor had talked to him all the time he was groping for the paper in a drawer. Moreover, he deposed63 that when he came back the blood-stained note-book was still on the table, in the very place where the mayor had thrown it when he first came in.
Monsieur Barricini gave his evidence with the utmost coolness. He made allowances, he said, for Mademoiselle della Rebbia’s excitement, and was ready to condescend64 to justify65 himself. He proved that he had spent his whole evening in the village, that his son Vincentello had been with him in front of the house at the moment when the crime was committed, and that his son Orlanduccio, who had had an attack of fever that very day, had never left his bed. He produced every gun in his house, and not one of them had been recently discharged. He added, that, as regarded the note-book, he had at once realized its importance; that he had sealed it up, and placed it in the hands of his deputy, foreseeing that he himself might be suspected, on account of his quarrel with the colonel. Finally, he reminded the court that Agostini had threatened to kill the man who had written a letter in his name, and he insinuated66 that this ruffian had probably suspected the colonel, and murdered him. Such a vengeance67, for a similar reason, is by no means unprecedented68 in the history of brigandage69.
Five days after Colonel della Rebbia’s death, Agostini was surprised by a detachment of riflemen, and killed, fighting desperately70 to the last. On his person was found a letter from Colomba, beseeching71 him to declare whether he was guilty of the murder imputed73 to him, or not. As the bandit had sent no answer, it was pretty generally concluded that he had not the courage to tell a daughter he had murdered her father. Yet those who claimed to know Agostini’s nature thoroughly, whispered that if he had killed the colonel, he would have boasted of the deed. Another bandit, known by the name of Brandolaccio, sent Colomba a declaration in which he bore witness “on his honour” to his comrade’s innocence—but the only proof he put forward was that Agostini had never told him that he suspected the colonel.
The upshot was that the Barricini suffered no inconvenience, the examining magistrate was loud in his praise of the mayor, and the mayor, on his side, crowned his handsome behaviour by relinquishing74 all his claims over the stream, concerning which he had brought the lawsuit against Colonel della Rebbia.
According to the custom of her country, Colomba improvised75 a ballata in presence of her father’s corpse, and before his assembled friends. In it she poured out all her hatred against the Barricini, formally charged them with the murder, and threatened them with her brother’s vengeance. It was this same ballata, which had grown very popular, that the sailor had sung before Miss Lydia. When Orso, who was in the north of France, heard of his father’s death, he applied for leave, but failed to obtain it. A letter from his sister led him to believe at first in the guilt72 of the Barricini, but he soon received copies of all the documents connected with the inquiry and a private letter from the judge, which almost convinced him that the bandit Agostini was the only culprit. Every three months Colomba had written to him, reiterating76 her suspicions, which she called her “proofs.” In spite of himself, these accusations77 made his Corsican blood boil, and sometimes he was very near sharing his sister’s prejudices. Nevertheless, every time he wrote to her he repeated his conviction that her allegations possessed78 no solid foundation, and were quite unworthy of belief. He even forbade her, but always vainly, to mention them to him again.
Thus two years went by. At the end of that time Orso was placed on half-pay, and then it occurred to him to go back to his own country—not at all for the purpose of taking vengeance on people whom he believed innocent, but to arrange a marriage for his sister, and the sale of his own small property—if its value should prove sufficient to enable him to live on the Continent.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved