Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Classical Novels > Columba > CHAPTER XV
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 Toward six o’clock next morning one of the prefect’s servants came and knocked at the door of Orso’s house. He was received by Colomba, and informed her the prefect was about to start, and was expecting her brother. Without a moment’s hesitation1 Colomba replied that her brother had just had a fall on the stairs, and sprained2 his foot; and he was unable to walk a single step, that he begged the prefect to excuse him, and would be very grateful if he would condescend3 to take the trouble of coming over to him. A few minutes after this message had been despatched, Orso came downstairs, and asked his sister whether the prefect had not sent for him.  
With the most perfect assurance she rejoined:
“He begs you’ll wait for him here.”
Half an hour went by without the slightest perceptible stir in the Barricini dwelling4. Meanwhile Orso asked Colomba whether she had discovered anything. She replied that she proposed to make her statement when the prefect came. She affected5 an extreme composure. But her colour and her eyes betrayed her state of feverish6 excitement.
At last the door of the Barricini mansion7 was seen to open. The prefect came out first, in travelling garb8; he was followed by the mayor and his two sons. What was the stupefaction of the inhabitants of the village of Pietranera, who had been on the watch since sunrise for the departure of the chief magistrate9 of their department, when they saw him go straight across the square and enter the della Rebbia dwelling, accompanied by the three Barricini. “They are going to make peace!” exclaimed the village politicians.
“Just as I told you,” one old man went on. “Ors’ Anton’ has lived too much on the mainland to carry things through like a man of mettle10.”
“Yet,” responded a Rebbianite, “you may notice it is the Barricini who have gone across to him. They are suing for mercy.”
“It’s the prefect who had wheedled11 them all round,” answered the old fellow. “There is no such thing as courage nowadays, and the young chaps make no more fuss about their father’s blood than if they were all bastards12.”
The prefect was not a little astounded13 to find Orso up and walking about with perfect ease. In the briefest fashion Colomba avowed14 her own lie, and begged him to forgive it.
“If you had been staying anywhere else, monsieur, my brother would have gone to pay his respects to you yesterday.”
Orso made endless apologies, vowing15 he had nothing to do with his sister’s absurd stratagem16, by which he appeared deeply mortified17. The prefect and the elder Barricini appeared to believe in the sincerity18 of his regret, and indeed this belief was justified19 by his evident confusion and the reproaches he addressed to his sister. But the mayor’s two sons did not seem satisfied.
“We are being made to look like fools,” said Orlanduccio audibly.
“If my sister were to play me such tricks,” said Vincentello, “I’d soon cure her fancy for beginning them again.”
The words, and the tone in which they were uttered, offended Orso, and diminished his good-will. Glances that were anything but friendly were exchanged between him and the two young men.
Meanwhile, everybody being seated save Colomba, who remained standing20 close to the kitchen door, the prefect took up his parable21, and after a few common-places as to local prejudices, he recalled the fact that the most inveterate22 enmities generally have their root in some mere23 misunderstanding. Next, turning to the mayor, he told him that Signor della Rebbia had never believed the Barricini family had played any part, direct or indirect, in the deplorable event which had bereft24 him of his father; that he had, indeed, nursed some doubts as to one detail in the lawsuit25 between the two families; that Signor Orso’s long absence, and the nature of the information sent him, excused the doubt in question; that in the light of recent revelations he felt completely satisfied, and desired to re-open friendly and neighbourly relations with Signor Barricini and his sons.
Orso bowed stiffly. Signor Barricini stammered26 a few words that nobody could hear, and his sons stared steadily27 at the ceiling rafters. The prefect was about to continue his speech, and address the counterpart of the remarks he had made to Signor Barricini, to Orso, when Colomba stepped gravely forward between the contracting parties, at the same time drawing some papers from beneath her neckerchief.
“I should be happy indeed,” she said, “to see the quarrel between our two families brought to an end. But if the reconciliation28 is to be sincere, there must be a full explanation, and nothing must be left in doubt. Signor Prefetto, Tomaso Bianchi’s declaration, coming from a man of such vile29 report, seemed to me justly open to doubt. I said your sons had possibly seen this man in the prison at Bastia.”
“It’s false!” interrupted Orlanduccio; “I didn’t see him!”
Colomba cast a scornful glance at him, and proceeded with great apparent composure.
“You explained Tomaso’s probable interest in threatening Signor Barricini, in the name of a dreaded30 bandit, by his desire to keep his brother Teodoro in possession of the mill which my father allowed him to hire at a very low rent.”
“That’s quite clear,” assented31 the prefect.
“Where was Tomaso Bianchi’s interest?” exclaimed Colomba triumphantly32. “His brother’s lease had run out. My father had given him notice on the 1st of July. Here is my father’s account-book; here is his note of warning given to Teodoro, and the letter from a business man at Ajaccio suggesting a new tenant33.”
As she spoke34 she gave the prefect the papers she had been holding in her hand.
There was an astonished pause. The mayor turned visibly pale. Orso, knitting his brows, leaned forward to look at the papers, which the prefect was perusing35 most attentively36.
“We are being made to look like fools!” cried Orlanduccio again, springing angrily to his feet. “Let us be off, father! We ought never to have come here!”
One instant’s delay gave Signor Barricini time to recover his composure. He asked leave to see the papers. Without a word the prefect handed them over to him. Pushing his green spectacles up to his forehead, he looked through them with a somewhat indifferent air, while Colomba watched him with the eyes of a tigress who sees a buck37 drawing near to the lair38 where she had hidden her cubs39.
“Well,” said Signor Barricini, as he pulled down his spectacles and returned the documents, “knowing the late colonel’s kind heart, Tomaso thought—most likely he thought—that the colonel would change his mind about the notice. As a matter of fact, Bianchi is still at the mill, so—”
“It was I,” said Colomba, and there was scorn in her voice, “who left him there. My father was dead, and situated40 as I was, I was obliged to treat my brother’s dependents with consideration.”
“Yet,” quoth the prefect, “this man Tomaso acknowledges that he wrote the letter. That much is clear.”
“The thing that is clear to me,” broke in Orso, “is that there is some vile infamy41 underneath42 this whole business.”
“I have to contradict another assertion made by these gentlemen,” said Colomba.
She threw open the door into the kitchen and instantly Brandolaccio, the licentiate in theology, and Brusco, the dog, marched into the room. The two bandits were unarmed—apparently, at all events; they wore their cartridge43 belts, but the pistols, which are their necessary complement44, were absent. As they entered the room they doffed45 their caps respectfully.
The effect produced by their sudden appearance may be conceived. The mayor almost fell backward. His sons threw themselves boldly in front of him, each one feeling for his dagger46 in his coat pocket. The prefect made a step toward the door, and Orso, seizing Brandolaccio by the collar, shouted:
“What have you come here for, you villain47?”
“This is a trap!” cried the mayor, trying to get the door open. But, by the bandits’ orders, as was afterward48 discovered, Saveria had locked it on the outside.
“Good people,” said Brandolaccio, “don’t be afraid of me. I’m not such a devil as I look. We mean no harm at all. Signor Prefetto, I’m your very humble49 servant. Gently, lieutenant50! You’re strangling me! We’re here as witnesses! Now then, Padre, speak up! Your tongue’s glib51 enough!”
“Signor Prefetto,” quoth the licentiate, “I have not the honour of being known to you. My name is Giocanto Castriconi, better known as the Padre. Aha, it’s coming back to you! The signorina here, whom I have not the pleasure of knowing either, has sent to ask me to supply some information about a fellow of the name of Tomaso Bianchi, with whom I chanced to be shut up, about three weeks ago, in the prison at Bastia. This is what I have to tell you.”
“Spare yourself the trouble,” said the prefect. “I can not listen to anything from such a man as you. Signor della Rebbia, I am willing to believe you have had nothing to do with this detestable plot. But are you master in your own house? Will you have the door opened? Your sister may have to give an account of the strange relations in which she lives with a set of bandits.”
“Signor Prefetto!” cried Colomba, “I beseech52 you to listen to what this man has to say! You are here to do justice to everybody, and it is your duty to search out the truth. Speak, Giocanto Castriconi!”
“Don’t listen to him,” chorused the three Barricini.
“If everybody talks at once,” remarked the bandit, with a smile, “nobody can
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

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