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 It was rather late when the surgeon put in an appearance. On his road up he had met with an adventure of his own. He had been stopped by Giocanto Castriconi, who, with the most scrupulous1 politeness, called on him to come and attend a wounded man. He had been conducted to Orso’s retreat, and had applied2 the first dressings3 to his wound. The bandit had then accompanied the doctor some distance on his way, and had greatly edified4 him by his talk concerning the most celebrated5 professors at Pisa, whom he described as his intimate friends.  
“Doctor,” said the theologian, as they parted, “you have inspired me with such a feeling of respect that I think it hardly necessary to remind you that a physician should be as discreet6 as a confessor.” And as he said the words he clicked the trigger of his gun. “You have quite forgotten the spot at which we have had the honour of meeting. Fare you well! I’m delighted to have made your acquaintance.”
Colomba besought7 the colonel to be present at the post-mortem examination.
“You know my brother’s gun better than anybody,” she said, “and your presence will be most valuable. Besides there are so many wicked people here that we should run a great risk if there were nobody present to protect our interests.”
When she was left alone with Miss Lydia, she complained that her head ached terribly, and proposed that they should take a walk just outside the village.
“The fresh air will do me good,” she said. “It is so long since I’ve been out of doors.”
As they walked along she talked about her brother, and Miss Lydia, who found the subject tolerably interesting, did not notice that they had travelled a long way from Pietranera. The sun was setting when she became aware of this fact, and she begged Colomba to return. Colomba said she knew a cross-cut which would greatly shorten the walk back, and turning out of the path, she took another, which seemed much less frequented. Soon she began to climb a hill, so steep that to keep her balance she was continually obliged to catch hold of branches with one hand, while she pulled her companion up after her with the other. After about twenty minutes of this trying ascent8, they found themselves on a small plateau, clothed with arbutus and myrtle, growing round great granite9 boulders10 that jutted11 above the soil in every direction. Miss Lydia was very tired, there was no sign of the village, and it was almost quite dark.
“Do you know, Colomba, my dear,” she said, “I’m afraid we’ve lost our way!”
“No fear!” answered Colomba. “Let us get on. You follow me.”
“But I assure you we’re going wrong. The village can’t be over there. I’m certain we’re turning our backs on it. Why, look at those lights, far away. Pietranera must be in that direction.”
“My dear soul,” said Colomba, and she looked very much agitated12, “you’re perfectly13 right. But in the maquis—less than a hundred yards from here—”
“My brother is lying. If you choose, I might see him, and give him one kiss.”
Miss Nevil made a gesture of astonishment14.
“I got out of Pietranera without being noticed,” continued Colomba, “because I was with you, otherwise I should have been followed. To be so close to him, and not to see him! Why shouldn’t you come with me to see my poor brother? You would make him so happy!”
“But, Colomba—That wouldn’t be at all proper on my part——”
“I see. With you women who live in towns, your great anxiety is to be proper. We village women only think of what is kind.”
“But it’s so late! And then what will your brother think of me?”
“He’ll think his friends have not forsaken15 him, and that will give him courage to bear his sufferings.”
“And my father? He’ll be so anxious!”
“He knows you are with me. Come! Make up your mind. You were looking at his picture this morning,” she added, with a sly smile.
“No! Really and truly, I don’t dare, Colomba! Think of the bandits who are there.”
“Well, what matter? The bandits don’t know you. And you were longing16 to see some.”
“Oh, dear!”
“Come, signorina, settle something. I can’t leave you alone here. I don’t know what might happen to you. Let us go on to see Orso, or else let us go back to the village together. I shall see my brother again. God knows when—never, perhaps!”
“What’s that you are saying, Colomba? Well, well, let us go! But only for a minute, and then we’ll get home at once.”
Colomba squeezed her hand, and without making any reply walked on so quickly that Miss Lydia could hardly keep up with her. She soon halted, luckily, and said to her companion:
“We won’t go any farther without warning them. We might have a bullet flying at our heads.”
She began to whistle through her fingers. Soon they heard a dog bark, and the bandits’ advanced sentry17 shortly came in sight. This was our old acquaintance Brusco, who recognised Colomba at once and undertook to be her guide. After many windings18 through the narrow paths in the maquis they were met by two men, armed to the teeth.
“Is that you, Brandolaccio?” inquired Colomba. “Where is my brother?”
“Just over there,” replied the bandit. “But go quietly. He’s asleep, and for the first time since his accident. Zounds, it’s clear that where the devil gets through, a woman will get through too!”
The two girls moved forward cautiously, and beside a fire, the blaze of which was carefully concealed19 by a little wall of stones built round it, they beheld20 Orso, lying on a pile of heather, and covered with a pilone. He was very pale, and they could hear his laboured breathing. Colomba sat down near him, and gazed at him silently, with her hands clasped, as though she were praying in her heart. Miss Lydia hid her face in her handkerchief, and nestled close against her friend, but every now and then she lifted her head to take a look at the wounded man over Colomba’s shoulder. Thus a quarter of an hour passed by without a word being said by anybody. At a sign from the theologian, Brandolaccio had plunged21 with him into the maquis, to the great relief of Miss Lydia, who for the first time fancied the local colour of the bandits’ wild beards and warlike equipment was a trifle too strong.
At last Orso stirred. Instantly, Colomba bent22 over him, and kissed him again and again, pouring out questions anent his wound, his suffering, and his needs. After having answered that he was doing as well as possible, Orso inquired, in his turn, whether Miss Nevil was still at Pietranera, and whether she had written to him. Colomba, bending over her brother, completely hid her companion from his sight, and indeed the darkness would have made any recognition difficult. She was holding one of Miss Nevil’s hands. With the other she slightly raised her wounded brother’s head.
“No, brother,” she replied. “She did not give me any letter for you. But are you still thinking about Miss Nevil? You must love her very much!”
“Love her, Colomba!—But—but now she may despise me!”
At this point Miss Nevil made a struggle to withdraw her fingers. But it was no easy matter to get Colomba to slacken her grasp. Small and well-shaped though her hand was, it possessed23 a strength of which we have already noticed certain proofs.
“Despise you!” cried Colomba. “After what you’ve done? No, indeed! She praises you! Oh, Orso, I could tell you so many things about her!”
Lydia’s hand was still struggling for its freedom, but Colomba kept drawing it closer to Orso.
“But after all,” said the wounded man, “why didn’t she answer me? If she had sent me a single line, I should have been happy.”
By dint24 of pulling at Miss Nevil’s hand, Colomba contrived25 at last to put it into her brother’s. Then, moving suddenly aside, she burst out laughing.
“Orso,” she cried, “mind you don’t speak evil of Miss Lydia—she understands Corsican quite well.”
Miss Lydia took back her hand at once and stammered26 some unintelligible27 words. Orso thought he must be dreaming.
“You here, Miss Nevil? Good heavens! how did you dare? Oh, how happy you have made me!”
And raising himself painfully, he strove to get closer to her.
“I came with your sister,” said Miss Lydia, “so that nobody might suspect where she was going. And then I—I wanted to make sure for myself. Alas28! how uncomfortable you are here!”
Colomba had seated herself behind Orso. She raised him carefully so that his head might rest on her lap. She put her arms round his neck and signed to Miss Lydia to come near him.
“Closer! closer!” she said. “A sick man mustn’t talk too loud.” And when Miss Lydia hesitated, she caught her hand and forced her to sit down so close to Orso that her dress touched him, and her hand, still in Colomba’s grasp, lay on the wounded man’s shoulder.
“Now he’s very comfortable!” said Colomba cheerily. “Isn’t it good to lie out in the maquis on such a lovely night? Eh, Orso?”
“How you must be suffering!” exclaimed Miss Lydia.
“My suffering is all gone now,” said Orso, “and I should like to die here!” And his right hand crept up toward Miss Lydia’s, which Colomba still held captive.
“You really must be taken to some place where you can be properly cared for, Signor della Rebbia,” said Miss Nevil. “I shall never be able to sleep in my bed, now that I have seen you lying here, so uncomfortable, in the open air.”
“If I had not been afraid of meeting you, Miss Nevil, I should have tried to get back to Pietranera, and I should have given myself up to the authorities.”
“And why were you afraid of meeting her, Orso?” inquired Colomba.
“I had disobeyed you, Miss Nevil, and I should not have dared to look at you just then.”
“Do you know you make my brother do everything you choose, Miss Lydia?” said Colomba, laughing. “I won’t let you see him any more.”
“I hope this unlucky business will soon be cleared up, and that you will have nothing more to fear,” said Miss Nevil. “I shall be so happy, when we go away, to know justice has been done you, and that both your loyalty30 and your bravery have been acknowledged.”
“Going away, Miss Nevil! Don’t say that word yet!”
“What are we to do? My father can not spend his whole life shooting. He wants to go.”
Orso’s hand, which had been touching31 Miss Lydia’s, dropped away, and there was silence for a moment.
“Nonsense!” said Colomba. “We won’t let you go yet. We have plenty of things to show you still at Pietranera. Besides, you have promised to paint my picture, and you haven’t even begun it so far. And then I’ve promised to compose you a serenata, with seventy-five verses. And then—but what can Brusco be growling32 about? And here’s Brandolaccio running after him. I must go and see what’s amiss.”
She rose at once, and laying Orso’s head, without further ceremony, on Miss Lydia’s lap, she ran after the bandits.
Miss Nevil, somewhat startled at finding herself thus left in sole charge of a handsome young Corsican gentleman in the middle of a maquis, was rather puzzled what to do next.
For she was afraid that any sudden movement on her part might hurt the wounded man. But Orso himself resigned the exquisite33 pillow on which his sister had just laid his head, and raising himself on his right arm, he said:
“So you will soon be gone, Miss Lydia? I never expected your stay in this unhappy country would have been a long one. And yet since you have come to me here, the thought that I must bid you farewell has grown a hundred times more bitter to me. I am only a poor lieutenant34. I had no future—and now I am an outlaw35. What a moment in which to tell you that I love you, Miss Lydia! But no doubt this is my only chance of saying it. And I think I feel less wretched now I have unburdened my heart to you.”
Miss Lydia turned away her head, as if the darkness were not dark enough to hide her blushes.
“Signor della Rebbia,” she said, and her voice shook, “should I have come here at all if——” and as she spoke
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