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Title: Adventures of an Aide-de-Camp, Volume I (of 3) - or, A Campaign in Calabria
Author: Grant, James, archaeologist
Language: English
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VOLUME I (OF 3) ***



                              *ADVENTURES*

                                  *OF*

                           *AN AIDE-DE-CAMP:*

                                 *OR,*

                       *A CAMPAIGN IN CALABRIA.*


                                   BY

                           JAMES GRANT, ESQ.

                    AUTHOR OF "THE ROMANCE OF WAR."



_Claud._ I look’d upon her with a soldier’s eye,
That liked, but had a rougher task in hand
Than to drive liking to the name of love:
But now I am returned, and that war thoughts
Have left their places vacant; in their rooms
Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
All prompting me how fair young Hero is,
Saying how I liked her ere I went to war.
  SHAKSPEARE.



                           IN THREE VOLUMES.
                                VOL. I.



                                LONDON:
                    SMITH, ELDER, AND CO., CORNHILL.
                                 1848.



                                London:
                     Printed by STEWART and MURRAY,
                              Old Bailey.



                              *CONTENTS.*

CHAPTER

I.—The Landing in Calabria
II.—The Pigtail
III.—The Visconte Santugo
IV.—Double or Quit
V.—Truffi the Hunchback
VI.—The Calabrian Free Corps
VII.—The Battle of Maida
VIII.—The Cottage.—Capture of the Eagle
IX.—Lives for Ducats!—Bianca D’Alfieri
X.—A Night with the Zingari
XI.—The Hunchback Again!
XII.—The Hermitage
XIII.—The Hermit’s Confession
XIV.—The Siege Of Crotona
XV.—The Abduction.—A Scrape
XVI.—The Summons of Surrender
XVII.—Marching ’Out’ with the Honours of War
XVIII.—Another Dispatch
XIX.—Narrative of Castelermo
XX.—The Villa Belcastro
XXI.—Sequel to the Story of Castelermo



                               *PREFACE.*


The very favourable reception given by the Press and Public generally,
to "The Romance of War," and its "Sequel," has encouraged the Author to
resume his labours in another field.

Often as scenes of British valour and conquest have been described, the
brief but brilliant campaign in the Calabrias (absorbed, and almost
lost, amid the greater warlike operations in the Peninsula) has never,
he believes, been touched upon: though a more romantic land for
adventure and description cannot invite the pen of a novelist; more
especially when the singular social and political ideas of those unruly
provinces are remembered.

Indeed it is to be regretted that no narrative should have been
published of Sir John Stuart’s Neapolitan campaign.  It was an
expedition set on foot to drive the French from South Italy; and (but
for the indecision which sometimes characterized the ministry of those
days) that country might have become the scene of operations such as
were carried on so successfully on the broader arena of the Spanish
Peninsula.

Other campaigns and victories will succeed those of the great Duke, and
the names of Vittoria and Waterloo will sound to future generations as
those of Ramillies and Dettingen do to the present.  Materials for
martial stories will never be wanting: they are a branch of literature
peculiarly British; and it is remarkable that, notwithstanding the love
of peace, security and opulence, which appears to possess us now, the
present age is one beyond all others fond of an exciting style of
literature.

Military romances and narratives are the most stirring of all.  There
are no scenes so dashing, or so appalling, as those produced by a state
of warfare, with its contingent woes and horrors; which excite the
energies of both body and mind to the utmost pitch.

The author hopes, that, though containing less of war and more of love
and romantic adventure than his former volumes, these now presented to
the Reader will be found not the less acceptable on this account.  They
differ essentially from the novels usually termed military; most of the
characters introduced being of another cast.

The last chapters are descriptive of the siege of Scylla; a passage of
arms which, when the disparity of numbers between the beleaguered
British and the besieging French is considered, must strike every reader
as an affair of matchless bravery.

Several of the officers mentioned have attained high rank in their
profession—others a grave on subsequent battle-fields: their names may
be recognised by the military reader.  Other characters belong to
history.

The names of the famous brigand chiefs may be familiar to a few:
especially Francatripa.  He cost the French, under Massena, more lives
than have been lost in the greatest pitched battle. All the attempts of
Buonaparte to seduce him to his faction, or capture him by force, were
fruitless; and at last, when his own followers revolted, and were about
to deliver him up to the iron-hearted Prince of Essling, he had the
address to escape into Sicily with all their treasure, the accumulated
plunder of years.  Being favoured by the Queen, he, no doubt, spent the
close of his years in ease and opulence.  Scarolla became a true
patriot, and died "Chief of the Independents of Basilicata."

It is, perhaps, needless to observe, that many scenes purely fanciful
are mingled with the real military details.

The story of the Countess of La Torre, however, is a fact: the shocking
incidents narrated actually occurred in an Italian family of rank, many
years ago.  Strazzoldi’s victim received no less than thirty-three
wounds from his poniard.  The author has given the real titles of the
infamous parties, and only trusts he has not marred a very sad story by
his mode of relating it.  In atrocity, the tale has lately found a
parallel in the Praslin tragedy: indeed, "truth is stranger than
fiction."  There is nothing so horrible in a romance but may be
surpassed by the occurrences contained in the columns of a newspaper;
where we often find recorded outrages against humanity, greater by far
than any conceived by the wildest imaginings of a French novelist.

Those feudal militia, or gens-d’armes, the _sbirri_, so often mentioned
in these pages, were a force maintained by the landholders.  The sbirri
received a certain sum daily to support themselves, and provide their
arms, clothing, and horses: they lived among the paesani in the
villages, but were completely under the orders and at the disposal of
their lord.  The sbirri were the last relics of the feudal system.

Since these volumes were written, the flames of civil war have passed
over the romantic Calabrias: the government of Naples has received a
severe, though perhaps wholesome, shock; and the brave Sicilians are
wresting from their obstinate sovereign those beneficial concessions
which he cannot safely withhold.  A still greater crisis for Italy is,
perhaps, impending: Lombardy is filled with the troops of Austria; and
if the _absolute_ policy of the veteran Metternich prevails, ere long
those "millions of cannon-balls" (which were so lately ordered by his
government) will be dealing death among the ranks of Italian patriots.
Should that day ever arrive, surely the Hungarian, the Bohemian, and the
brave Pole, will know the time has come to draw and to strike!  The eyes
of all Europe are at present turned upon the policy of Austria, and the
fate of Italy; and should matters ever take the turn anticipated, the
landing again of a British army on the Italian shores will prove a
death-blow to the ambitious projects of the House of Hapsburg.

A long preface may be likened to a hard shell, which must be cracked ere
one can arrive at the kernel.  The Author has to ask pardon of his
readers for trespassing so long on their patience; but he considered the
foregoing explanations in some degree necessary, to illustrate the
fortunes, mishaps, and adventures of the hero.

EDINBURGH, _February_ 1848.



                              *ADVENTURES*

                                *OF AN*

                            *AIDE-DE-CAMP.*



                              *CHAPTER I.*

                       *THE LANDING IN CALABRIA.*


On the evening of the last day of June 1806, the transports which had
brought our troops from Sicily anchored off the Italian coast, in the
Bay of St. Eufemio, a little to the southward of a town of that name.

The British forces consisted of H. M. 27th, 58th, 78th, and 81st
Regiments of the Line, the Provisional Light Infantry and Grenadier
Battalions, the Corsican Rangers, Royal Sicilian Volunteers, and the
Regiment of Sir Louis de Watteville, &c., the whole being commanded by
Major-General Sir John Stuart, to whose personal staff I had the honour
to be attached.

This small body of troops, which mustered in all only 4,795 rank and
file, was destined by our ministry to support the Neapolitans, who in
many places had taken up arms against the usurper, Joseph Buonaparte,
and to assist in expelling from Italy the soldiers of his brother.
Ferdinand, King of Naples, after being an abject vassal of Napoleon, had
allowed a body of British and Russian soldiers to land on his
territories without resistance.  This expedition failed; he was deserted
by the celebrated Cardinal Ruffo, who became a Buonapartist; and as the
French emperor wanted a crown for his brother Joseph, he proclaimed that
"the Neapolitan dynasty had ceased to reign"—that the race of Parma were
no longer kings in Lower Italy—and in January 1806 his legions crossed
the frontiers.  The "lazzaroni king" fled instantly to Palermo; his
spirited queen, Carolina (sister of the unfortunate Marie Antoinette),
soon followed him; and the usurper, Joseph, after meeting with little or
no resistance, was, in February, crowned king of Naples and Sicily, in
the church of Sancto Januario, where Cardinal Ruffo of Scylla, performed
solemn mass on the occasion.  All Naples and its territories submitted
to him, save the brave mountaineers of the Calabrias, who remained
continually in arms, and with whom we were destined to co-operate.

When our anchors plunged into the shining sea, it was about the close of
a beautiful evening—the hour of Ave Maria—and the lingering light of the
Ausonian sun, setting in all his cloudless splendour, shed a crimson
glow over the long line of rocky coast, burnishing the bright waves
rolling on the sandy beach, and the wooded mountains of Calabria, the
abode of the fiercest banditti in the world.

The tricolor flaunted over the towers of St. Amanthea, a little town to
the northward of the bay, commanded by a castle on a steep rock, well
garrisoned by the enemy; and the smoke of their evening gun curled away
from the dark and distant bastions, as the last vessel of our armament
came to anchor.  The whole fleet, swinging round with the strong current
which runs through the Strait of Messina, lay one moment with their
sterns to the land and the next to the sparkling sea, which pours
through between these rock-bound coasts with the speed of a mill-race.

Italy lay before us: the land of the fabled Hesperia—the country of the
"eternal city;" and I thought of her as she was once: of "majestic
Rome," in all her power, her glory, and her military supremacy; when
nations bowed their heads before her banners, and her eagles spread
their wings over half a world.  But, alas! we find it difficult to
recognise in the effeminate Venetian, the revengeful Neapolitan, or the
ferocious Calabrian, the descendants of those matchless soldiers, whose
pride, valour, and ambition few since have equalled, and none have yet
surpassed.  We viewed with the deepest interest that classic shore,
which so many of us now beheld for the first time.  To me, it was a
country teeming with classic recollections—the sunny and beautiful land
whose very history has been said to resemble a romance; but the mass of
our soldiers were of course, strangers to all these sentiments: the
grave and stern Ross-shireman, and the brave bog-trotters of the
Inniskilling, regarded it only as a land of hard marches, short rations,
and broken heads; as a hostile coast, where the first soldiers of the
continent were to be encountered and overcome—for with us these terms
are synonymous.

Barbarized by the wars and ravages which followed the French revolution
and invasion,—swarming with disorderly soldiers, savage brigands, and
starving peasantry writhing under the feudal system—the Naples of that
time was very different from the Naples of to-day, through which so many
tourists travel with luxurious safety: at least so far as the capital.
Few, I believe, penetrate into that terra incognita, the realm of the
bandit Francatripa.

Orders were despatched by the general from ship to ship, that the troops
should be held in readiness to disembark by dawn next day.  The
quarter-guards and deck-watches were strengthened for the night, and
strict orders given to sentries not to permit any communication with the
shore, or with the numerous boats which paddled about among the fleet.
Our ships were surrounded by craft of all shapes and sizes, filled with
people from St. Eufemio, and other places adjacent: bright-eyed women,
their dark hair braided beneath square linen head-dresses, with here and
there a solitary "gentiluómo," muffled in his cloak, and ample hat,
beneath which glowed the red spark of a cigar; meagre and grizzled
priests; wild-looking peasantry, half naked, or half covered with rough
skins; and conspicuous above all, many fierce-looking fellows, wearing
the picturesque Calabrian garb, of whose occupation we had little doubt:
the gaiety of their attire, the long dagger gleaming in their sashes,
the powder-horn, and the well-oiled rifle slung across the back by a
broad leather sling, proclaimed them brigands; who came crowding among
their honester countrymen, to hail and bid us welcome as allies and
friends.

An hour before daylight, next morning, we were all on deck and under
arms.  Our orders were, to land with the utmost silence and expedition,
in order to avoid annoyance from the light guns of the French; who
occupied the whole province from sea to sea, and whom we fully expected
to find on the alert to oppose our disembarkation.

My first care was to get my horse, Cartouche, into one of the boats of
the _Amphion_ frigate. Aware that sharp work was before us, I personally
superintended his harnessing; having previously given him a mash with a
dash of nitre in it, and had his fetlocks and hoofs well washed, and his
eyes and nostrils sponged with vinegar, to freshen him up after the
close confinement of the ship: he was then carefully slung over the
side, by a "whip" from the yard-arm.  The oars dipped noiselessly into
the waves, and we glided away to the beach of St. Eufemio, the point
marked out for our landing-place.  I stood by Cartouche’s head, holding
the reins shortened in my hand, and stroking his neck to quiet him; for
the fiery blood horse had shown so much impatience when the oars dipped
into the water, or the boat heaved on the heavy ground-swell, that his
hoofs threatened every instant to start a plank and swamp us.

All the boats of the fleet were now in requisition; and, being crowded
to excess with soldiers accoutred with their knapsacks and arms, and
freighted with baggage, cannon, and tumbrils, miners’ tools, and
military stores to arm and clothe the Calabrese, they were pulled but
slowly towards the point of rendezvous.  The last boat had no sooner
landed its freight, than the ship of the admiral, Sir Sydney Smith,
fired a gun, and the fleet of frigates and gunboats weighed anchor, and
stood off northwards, to attack the Castle of St. Amanthea; against
which, operations were forthwith commenced by the whole naval armament.

The lofty coast loomed darkly through a veil of haze; the morning air
was chill, and a cold sea-breeze swept over the black billows of the
Straits; against the effects of which, I fortified myself with my
comfortable, double-caped cloak, a cigar, and a mouthful from a certain
convenient flask, which experience had taught me to carry always in my
sabretache.  The time was one of keen excitement; even to me, who had
served at the siege of Valetta, and in other parts of the Mediterranean,
and shared in many a memorable enterprise which has added to our empire
the valuable posts and possessions we hold in that part of Europe.  As
the daylight increased, and the sun rose above the mountains, pouring a
flood of lustre over the straits of the Faro, the scene appeared of
surpassing beauty.  Afar off, in the direction of the Lipari, the sea
assumed its deepest tint of blue; while the whole Bay of St. Eufemio
seemed filled with liquid gold, and the white waves, weltering round the
base of each distant promontory, were dashed from the volcanic rocks in
showers of sparkling silver: all the varied hues which ocean assumes
under an Italian sky were seen in their gayest splendour. The
picturesque aspect of this romantic shore was heightened by the
appearance of our armament: as the debarking corps formed open column of
companies on the bright yellow beach, their lively uniforms of scarlet,
green, and white, the standards waving, and lines of burnished bayonets
glistening in the sun—which seemed to impart a peculiarly joyous lustre
to all it shone upon—the scene was spirit-stirring.

The white walls and church tower of the little town, the foliage of the
surrounding forest, backed by the lofty peaks of the Calabrian
Apennines—the winding strip of golden sand fringing the fertile coast,
and encircling the wave-beaten rocks, where a fisherman sat mending his
nets and singing, perhaps, of Thomas Aniello—the remote Sicilian shore,
and the wide expanse of sea and sky were all glowing in one glorious
blaze of light—the light of an Italian sunrise, beneath whose effulgence
the face of nature beams bright with sparkling freshness and roseate
beauty.

Our nine battalions of infantry now formed close column; while the Royal
Artillery, under Major Lemoine, got their eleven field-pieces and two
howitzers into service order, the tumbrils hooked to the guns, and the
horses traced to the carriages.  During these preparations the general
kept me galloping about between the different commanding officers with
additional instructions and orders; for we expected to be attacked every
moment by the enemy, of whose arrangements we had received a very
confused account from the peasantry.

As the sun was now up, the rare beauty of the country was displayed to
the utmost advantage: but we scanned the lofty mountains, the romantic
gorges, the grim volcanic cliffs and bosky thickets, only to watch for
the glitter of French steel; for the flutter of those standards unfurled
so victoriously at Arcole, Lodi, and Rivoli; or for the puff of white
smoke which announces the discharge of a distant field-piece. Strange to
say, not the slightest opposition was made to our landing; although
there were many commanding points from which a few light guns would have
mauled our boats and battalions severely.

The troops remained quietly in close column at quarter distance, with
their arms ordered, until command was given to unfurl all colours, and
examine flints and priming.  A reconnoitring party was then pushed
forward to "feel the ground," and our little army got into marching
order, and advanced to discover what the distance of a few miles would
bring forth.  The Corsican Rangers were the skirmishers.

"Sir John," said I, cantering up to the general, "permit me to join the
light troops that I may see what goes on in front?"

"You may go, Dundas," he replied; "but remember, they are under the
command of Major Kraünz, who, I believe, is no friend of yours."

"No, truly; there is no man I would like better to see knocked on the
head; and so, _allons!_ Sir John."

"Be attentive to his orders, however," said he, with a grave nod, as I
bowed and dashed off.

Kraünz! yes, I had good reason to hate the name, and curse its owner.  I
had a brother who belonged to a battalion of these Rangers.  He was a
brave fellow, Frank; and had served with distinction at Malta, and under
Charles Stewart at the siege of Calvi; and, after Sir John Moore, was
the first man over the wall at the storming of the Mozello fort.  But
his career was a short one. Between Frank and Kraünz there arose a
dispute, a petty jealousy about some pretty girl at Palermo; a challenge
ensued, and Frank was put under arrest for insubordination.  From that
moment, he was a marked man by the brutal German, who was resolutely
bent upon his ruin—and a military man alone can know what the unhappy
officer endures, who is at strife with an uncompromising, vindictive,
and perhaps vulgar, commanding-officer. Thank God! there are few such in
our service.  Frank’s proud spirit could ill brook the slights and
insults to which Kraünz subjected him; and being one day "rowed"
publicly for coming five minutes late to parade, in the height of his
exasperation he struck down the German with the sword he was lowering in
salute, and was, in consequence, placed instantly under close arrest.  A
court-martial dismissed him from that service in which he had gained so
many scars.  His heart was broken: the disgrace stung him to the soul.
He disappeared from Sicily, and from the hour he left his regiment could
never be discovered by our family.  Therefore, it cannot be wondered at
that I cared but little about the safety of his German enemy.

The advanced party, under the command of Kraünz, consisted of three
companies of Corsican Rangers; these moved in double quick time along
the narrow highway towards the mountains, from which the hardy peasantry
soon came pouring down, greeting us with cries of "Long live Ferdinand
of Bourbon! long live our holy faith!"  I galloped after the Corsicans,
in high spirits at the prospect of seeing something more exciting than
was usually afforded by the lounging life I had spent in the garrisons
of Sicily—dangling about the royal palace, or the quarter-general,
drinking deep and late in our mess-room at Syracuse, or smoking cigars
among the promenaders on the Marina of "Palermo the Happy."  My brave
Cartouche appeared to rejoice that he trod once more on firm earth;
curveting, neighing, and tossing his proud head and flowing mane, while
he snuffed the pure breeze from the green hills with dilated and
quivering nostrils.

It was a soft and balmy morning: the vast blue vault above was free from
the faintest fleece of cloud, and pervaded by the deep cerulean hue so
peculiar to this enchanting climate.  At that early hour, not a sound
stirred the stillness of the pure atmosphere, save the twittering of the
merry birds as they fluttered from spray to spray, or the measured tramp
of feet and clanking of accoutrements, as the smart light troops in
their green uniform moved rapidly forward—the glazed tops of their caps,
their tin canteens and bright muskets barrels, flashing in the light of
the morning sun.

As we advanced into the open country, the scenery rapidly changed: the
sandy beach, the bold promontory, and sea-beaten rock, gave place to the
vine-clad cottage and the wooded hill. Some antique tomb, a rustic
fountain, or a time-worn cross, half sunk in earth, often adorned the
way-side; the white walls of a convent, embosomed among luxuriant orange
trees, or an ancient oratory, with its carved pilasters and gray arches,
occasionally met the eye; while the dark arcades of a vast and ruined
aqueduct stretched across the valley, and the ramparts of a feudal
castello frowned from the mountains above—the ruddy hue of its time-worn
brick, or ferruginous rock, harmoniously contrasting with the bronzed
foliage of dense forests, forming the background of the view.  The air
was redolent with the perfume of roses, and myriads of other flowers,
which flourished in the wildest luxuriance on every side; while the
gigantic laurel, the vine, with its purple fruitage, the graceful
acacia, and the glossy ilex, alternately cast their shadows across our
line of march.

All this was delightful enough, no doubt: but a rattling volley of
musketry, which flashed upon us from amid the dark masses of a wood we
were approaching, brought a dozen of our party to the ground, and the
whole to a sudden halt.

"Live Joseph, King of Naples!" cried the French commanding officer,
brandishing his sabre. "Another volley, my braves!"

But before his last order could be obeyed, our own fire was poured upon
his light troops, whose pale green uniform could scarcely be
distinguished from the foliage, among which they had concealed
themselves in such a manner as completely to enfilade the highway.  Shot
dead by the first fire, Kraünz rolled from his saddle beneath the hoofs
of my horse, and his glazing eyes glared upwards on me for a second.
Perhaps I answered by a scowl: for I thought of my brother Frank.

Disconcerted by his sudden fall, and staggered by the unexpected fire in
front and flank, the Corsicans would have shown the white feather—in
other words, fled—had I not set a proper example to their officers, by
leaping from Cartouche and putting myself at their head.

"Forward, Corsicans!  Remember Paolo! Follow me!  Charge!"  And with
levelled bayonets they plunged through the thicket, regardless of what
the enemy’s strength might be.

Hand to hand with the musket and sabre, we dashed headlong into the
wood, and engaged the tirailleurs, with whom the contest was sharp. We
lost several men, and I received a slight wound on the left arm from a
young sub, whom we afterwards discovered to be the son of General
Regnier; but a party of our own troops, led by Colonel Oswald, rushing
with impetuosity on the flanks of the French, decided the issue of this
our first encounter with them in Italy.  We dislodged the little band
from ambush, taking two hundred prisoners, and killing, or putting to
flight, as many more. Captain De Viontessancourt, who commanded them,
escaped with the survivors.  These French troops proved to be a
detachment of the 23rd Light Infantry.

Leaving a party to guard our prisoners, we followed cautiously the
retreating tirailleurs through the great forest of St. Eufemio, and
along the highway towards Maida, exchanging a skirmishing fire the whole
way: many men were killed, or severely wounded, and left to become a
prey to lynxes and wolves.  As little honour and no advantage seemed
likely to accrue from this unpleasant work, Oswald ordered a halt to be
sounded, and drew the skirmishers together, until our main body
appeared; when, by command of the general, a position was taken up on
advantageous ground, supplied with wood and water, while the necessary
advanced picquets were despatched to the different points and roads
around it.

Here we formed an entrenched camp, expecting to be joined by some of the
Calabrian noblesse and people, and to hear certain intelligence of the
movements of the enemy whose strongest force lay at Reggio, under the
command of Regnier, a general of division.



                             *CHAPTER II.*

                             *THE PIGTAIL.*


Soon after halting, we received intelligence of the successful issue of
Sir Sydney Smith’s attack on the Castle of St. Amanthea; a strong fort,
which, being quite inaccessible on the land side, he carried by assault
on the seaward, capturing four hundred prisoners, and a quantity of arms
and military stores.

In the evening, I was despatched by Sir John to a young Neapolitan
noble; who, in anticipation of our expedition had some time before
secretly quitted Palermo, and had been residing among his countrymen,
for the purpose of ascertaining their sentiments towards the British as
allies, and the probable number that would rise in arms, on our
displaying the Union-Jack in Italy.

This personage, to whom I took a letter from the general, bore the
titles of Visconte di Santugo, and Grand Bailiff of Lower Calabria, and
was the most powerful Feudatory in the provinces. Our leader requested
that he would use all his influence to arouse the peasantry to arms, for
the service of his Majesty the King of Naples, in support of whose cause
our expedition had now landed on the Italian shore.  We soon found,
however, that the hardy Calabrese required no other incentive than their
own intense hatred and deep-rooted detestation of the French.  I had
been ordered to return next morning with any volunteers the Visconte
could collect; and was not averse from the prospect of remaining a night
at his villa, as my undressed wound was becoming a little troublesome.

At that time, the two Calabrias, the Abruzzi, and all the Italian
mountains and fastnesses, were swarming with hordes of armed
peasantry—half patriots and half bandits.  This system of
disorganization and immorality was promoted by a mortal hatred—the
rancorous enmity of Italian hearts—against the usurper Buonaparte, and
his slavish law of conscription; which aimed at the military enrolment
of all classes, without distinction or permitting substitution.  The
proud noble who could trace his name and blood to the warriors and
senators of ancient Rome, and the humble peasant were to be alike torn
from their homes, turned into the ranks as private soldiers, and sent
forth, at the pleasure of this foreign tyrant, to fight and to perish
among the wild sierras of Spain, or the frozen deserts of Russia. In
consequence of this invasion of the rights of the Italian people, many
young men of high birth, and others whose condition in life had,
previous to the French aggression, been respectable, now fled to the
mountains and wilderness, and became outlaws, rather than yield
submission to the yoke of a Corsican conqueror.  Ranged under various
leaders, these spirited desperadoes, in conjunction with the banditti
and the Loyal Masse, harassed the French incessantly, by a guerilla
warfare of attacks, skirmishes, and assassinations; and with such
effect, that Buonaparte computed his loss by the stiletto and rifle at
not less than twenty thousand soldiers, during his attempts to subdue
the brave outlaws of the Calabrian mountains.

In every town there was a French garrison, and every garrison had its
prison-house, which was filled with those whom the French chose to
designate rebels: these they put to death by scores; waging against the
unhappy paesani a war of extermination, and maintaining it with a
cruelty unworthy of the heroes of Arcole and Marengo, and the
representatives of the boasted "first nation in Europe."  By sentence of
a drum-head court-martial, and more often without the form of a trial,
the poor peasants were shot to death in vast numbers; and their bodies,
after being suspended on gibbets for a day or two, were cast into an
immense pit dug close by, in order that the gallows might be clear for
the next detachment of victims brought in by the troops employed in
scouring and riding down the country.  These outrages considered, it was
no matter of wonder to us that the country rose _en masse_ on our
landing, and that the Neapolitan cry of "Ferdinando nostro, e la Santa
Fede!" rang from the shores of the Mediterranean to the waves of the
Adriatic.

As I rode from the camp on my solitary mission towards St. Eufemio, I
thought of the lawless state of the country, and could not but feel a
little anxious about my personal safety: the gay trappings of a staff
uniform were likely to excite the cupidity of some villanous bandit, or
unscrupulous patriot.  What scattered parties of the French might be
lurking in the great forest I knew not; but an encounter with them
seemed preferable to one with the Calabrian brigands: of whose atrocious
ferocity I had heard so many horrible stories circulated by the
gossiping Sicilians, in the gardens and cafés, the salons and
promenades, of Palermo.  My first adventure gave me a vivid, but rather
unpleasant, illustration of the fierce manners and unsettled state of
the country we had come to free from invaders.

While crossing a rustic bridge, the parapets on each side of which were
garnished with an iron cage, containing a human head in a ghastly state
of decay, my ears were shocked, as my eyes had been, by the cries and
exclamations of a man in great agony and terror.  Quickening the speed
of Cartouche from a trot to a gallop, and unbuttoning my holster flaps
in readiness for drawing my pistols, I rode towards the place whence
these outcries proceeded.  In a rocky hollow by the wayside, I beheld a
Sicilian struggling desperately with about twenty armed ruffians, whom I
had no hesitation in believing to be banditti.  They were all handsome
and athletic men, in whose appearance there was something at once
striking, picturesque, and sufficiently alarming.  All wore high,
conical, Calabrian hats, encircled by a broad, red riband, that streamed
over the right shoulder; jackets and breeches of bright coloured stuffs,
ornamented with a profusion of tags, tassels, and knots, and girt round
the waist with a scarlet sash of Palmi silk; and leathern gaiters, laced
saltire-wise up the legs with red straps: a musket, dagger, and
powder-horn completed their equipments.  Coal black hair streamed in
extravagant profusion over their shoulders; long locks being esteemed in
the Calabrias a sign of loyalty to the king and enmity to the French:
thus the extent of a man’s patriotism was determined by the length of
his hair.  But the unfortunate Sicilian in their hands was destitute
alike of flowing curls and twisted pig-tail; hence his captors,
supposing him unquestionably to be a traitor (or at least not a true
subject to King Ferdinand) in having conformed to the fashion of the
French, were determined to punish him in the mode which the wild spirits
of these lawless provinces adopted towards those who fell into their
hands with hair shorn short: the head having become, since the
commencement of the war, "the political index by which they judged
whether men were Jacobins, Bourbonists," or Buonapartists.

The brigands greeted my approach with a shout of welcome, and while I
was deliberating how best to interfere and save from their fury the
unhappy man, he called upon me piteously for aid; saying that he "was a
poor tanner of Palermo—a follower of our camp—and one who knew nothing
of the fashions of Calabria!"  But I was too late to yield him the least
assistance, for the horrible punishment was inflicted the moment I drew
bridle: and, in truth, I did not feel very chivalric in his cause, on
learning that he was one of the villanous tanners of Palermo—that
community of assassins so terrible to all Sicily.

The right hand of the poor wretch was chopped off with a bill-hook, and
thrust bleeding into his mouth, which they compelled him to open by
pressing the hilt of a poniard behind his right ear.  A sheep’s tail was
then fastened to the back of his head, to supply the deficiency of hair;
and bidding him wear it in remembrance of Francatripa, the whole party,
after kicking him soundly, bade me ’good-evening,’ and vanished among
the rocks.  The mutilated tanner lay on the ground, writhing in agony of
body and bitterness of spirit, calling on San Marco the glorious, Santa
Rosalia of Sicily, San Zeno, the blessed Madonna of Philerma, and
innumerable other saints, to ease him of his pain; but as none of these
spiritual potentates seemed disposed to assist him, he then applied to
mortal me.

Dismounting, I raised him from the ground, and tearing my handkerchief
into bandages, bound up the stump of his arm to staunch the blood; he
bemoaning his misfortune in piteous terms.  He had a wife and children,
he said, who must perish now, unless the Conciarotti (tanners) of
Palermo—to whose unruly corporation he belonged—would support them.

"Oh!  Excellenza," he added, "believe me, I am no traitor: and surely
the want of my hair will not make me one.  I fell in with a French
patrol, who compelled me to cut off my long hair, in token of submission
to King Peppo."  (Peppo, a contraction of Giuseppe, or Joseph, was the
name by which Joseph Buonaparte was commonly known.)  "Maledictions
drive them from purgatory to the deepest dens of hell!  They have
destroyed me—curses upon them!  May they all hang as high as Tourloni
the cardinal, and may their bones bleach white in the rain and the
sunshine!  Had I lost the left hand, instead of the right, I could still
have revenged myself.  Maledetto! Oh! blood for blood!  Am I not one of
the Conciarotti, at whose name the king quakes, at Naples, and his
viceroy, at Palermo?  But, oh!  Madonna mia, never can revenge be mine;
for the hand that is gone can grasp the acciaro no more!"  And thus
cursing and lamenting, he rolled on the grass till he foamed at the
mouth.  I was obliged to leave him, and pursue my journey.

By the road-side, I passed some of the bodies of those who had fallen in
the skirmish of the morning.  Stripped by the peasantry, they had lain
all day sweltering under a burning sun; and now the vultures were
screaming and flapping their wings, as they settled in flocks wherever
one of these poor fellows lay unburied, with his blackened and gory
wounds exposed to the gaze of every passer-by.

At the gate of St. Eufemio, I told several persons who were lounging and
smoking under the shadow of the walls, of the condition in which I had
left the tanner among the rocks; but instead of going immediately to his
assistance, they only cursed him as a traitorous Sicilian.

"He is some false follower of Joseph the Corsican—cospetto!  Let him
die!—yes, die like a dog!" was the answer I received on all sides.

On entering the town, I was greeted by the shouts of the people, who had
donned the red cockade of the Neapolitan king.  Gentlemen bowed, and
ladies smiled and waved their handkerchiefs from verandahs and
sun-shaded windows; women held their children aloft at arms’ length, and
the ragged artisan flourished his broad straw hat over the half door of
his shop; all joining in the general burst of welcome, and cries of long
life to King Giorgio of Great Britain.

While riding through the principal street, with all the hurry and
importance of an aide-de-camp bearing the fate of empires and of armies
in his sabretache, I could behold on every hand the traces of that
dreadful earthquake which, two hundred years before, had overwhelmed the
ancient and once-opulent city, converting it in a moment into a vast
fetid marsh.  Here and there stood a palace, rearing its time-worn
facade amid the miserable houses or filthy hovels of which the modern
St. Eufemio is principally composed; while fragments of columns,
crumbling capitals, and shattered entablatures still lay strewn on every
side.

The mansion of the podesta, or mayor, and of Ser Villani, the principal
lawyer, as well as others of a better description, bore marks of French
violence and rapine.  Torn from its foundations, lay a column with the
arms of Luigi d’Alfieri, the grand bailiff, carved upon it; here lay a
statue, there a fountain broken to pieces; the madonnas at the street
corners were all demolished, the niches empty, the lamps gone; and many
gaps appeared on each side of the way, where houses had been pulled down
for firewood, or wantonly burned by the brigade of the Marchese di
Monteleone—a Buonapartist commander, whom common report declared to be
an Englishman.  All the stately trees that once bordered the Marina, or
promenade, along the sea-shore, had been cut away and destroyed;
probably, less from necessity than for the purpose of annoying the
people: for the French, if allowed to be the most gallant nation, are
also considered the most reckless soldiers in Europe.



                             *CHAPTER III.*

                         *VISCONTE DI SANTUGO.*


The villa of the Visconte di Santugo was some distance beyond St.
Eufemio, and my way towards it lay along the desolate Marina.

The appearance of the bay, studded with our fleet of transports and
men-of-war, was beautiful; its deep blue was now fast changing to bright
gold and crimson, in the deep ruddy glow of the setting sun.  The calm
sea shone like a vast polished mirror; in whose bright surface the rocky
headlands and the yellow beach, the picturesque little town of St.
Eufemio, and the castles on the cliffs, with the little groups of white
cottages that nestled under their battlements as if for protection, and
the stately frigates, with their yards squared, and open ports bristling
with cannon, were all reflected: every form and tint as vividly defined
below the surface as above.

Situated upon the margin of the bay, stood the residence of the Grand
Bailiff.  It was a large and imposing edifice, and, though not a perfect
model of architecture, presented a very fair example of the ancient
Roman blended with the modern Italian style.  Designed by the old
architect, Giacomo della Porta, the villa occupied the site of the
ancient castle of St. Hugo; which had withstood many a fierce assault
during the wars with the Norman kings of Sicily, the Saracens and other
invaders: it had also been the scene of a cruel act of bloodshed, during
the revolt of Campanella the Dominican.  The castle suffered so much
from the earthquake of 1560, that the then Visconte demolished the
ruins, and engrafted upon them the more modern Italian villa, which I
was now approaching.  A large round-tower of dark red brick-work, with
ponderous crenelated battlements, reared its time-worn front above the
erection of the sixteenth century.  It was a fragment of the ancient
Castello di Santugo, and its superstructure rose on the foundations of a
Grecian, Roman, or Gothic fortress, of unknown name and antiquity.  From
its summit the standard of Naples waved heavily in the light evening
wind.

A rustic lodge and gate gave entrance to an avenue, that wound with
snake-like turnings through the verdant grounds, embosomed among groves
of orange and olive trees.  Above these rose the old tower and the
modern minarets with gilded vanes; while the heavy balustraded terraces
and projecting cornices of the villa were seen at intervals, standing
forward in bold relief or sunk in deep shadow, as the evening sun, now
sinking into the Mediterranean, shed bright gleams of gold and purple
upon its broken masses.  A part of the edifice projected from the rocks,
and supported upon arches, overhung the sea.  The chambers in that damp
quarter of the mansion were fitted up in the style of marine grottos;
with mosaic-work, shells, marble, and many-coloured crystals,
interspersed with fountains, where groups of water-gods spouted forth
ample streams from conches and horns of bronze.  These grottos afford a
cool and silent retreat during the heat of the day, and a magnificent
scene for an entertainment, or a ball _al fresco_, when illuminated by
night.

The avenue, which was bordered on each side by statues of heathen
deities, antique marble vases filled with flowers, and carved fragments
of ancient temples, led to the portico; where a range of lofty
Corinthian columns supported a pediment, ornamented with the arms of the
noble house of Alfieri, collared with three orders of Italian
knighthood.

On the smooth lawn in front, a group of girls—probably the servants of
the mansion—danced to the tinkling notes of the mandolin, the sound of
the tabor, and their own musical voices.  The picturesque garb, and
stately Ausonian forms of these "deep-bosomed maids," with their jetty
tresses, and sparkling eyes, lent additional charms to a scene which, to
me, was equally new and interesting.  A few young men, in the Calabrian
costume, were of the party; and I was not less pleased with their
regular and manly features, agile air, and classic elegance of form,
than with the softer graces of their bright-eyed companions.  On my
approach, they abandoned their amusement, and retired with something
very like precipitation: a red coat was new to the Calabrians; with whom
the appearance of a soldier was always associated with the rapine and
violence of French foraging parties.

The chasseur, or courier—that indispensable appendage to a great
continental household—approached me, bowing obsequiously, with cocked
hat in hand.  He was an old, iron-visaged and white-mustachioed Albanian
Greek, descended from the followers of Scanderbeg; thousands of whose
posterity are yet to be found in the Calabrias. The courier rejoiced in
the classic name of Zacheo Andronicus, and spoke an uncouth sort of
Italian.  His stern aspect, and splendid green livery, laced with gold
and mounted with massive shoulder-knots; his heavy boots and spurs,
scarlet sash, and couteau-de-chasse, or hanger, made him altogether a
formidable-looking fellow; and enabled him to maintain his position as
the attendant of the Visconte and the head of the numerous household.
Bidding me welcome in the name of his lord, the courier desired a
servant named Giacomo to take my horse to the stables in the wing.
Giacomo—a spruce Italian, clad in a blue open-necked shirt, bright
yellow-sleeved vest, and blue-striped breeches, girt about with a
gorgeous scarlet sash, who acted in the capacity of sub
major-domo—replied to the order of the Greek with a scowl, and desired
another man to approach; to whom I resigned the bridle of Cartouche.

On entering the marble vestibule, I was met by the Visconte, who
embraced me in the usual fashion; bestowing a kiss on my cheek with that
theatrical air of friendship which is so truly continental, and
surprises the more phlegmatic but warm-hearted Briton.  However, having
been pretty well used to such greetings while quartered in Sicily, I
returned with a good grace the salutation of Santugo; whom I found to be
a handsome young man about five-and-twenty (my own age), and of
singularly noble aspect.  His address was polished and captivating; the
brilliancy of his large eyes gave a pleasing animation to his
countenance, and lent a charm to his decided manner.  His black
mustachio, twisted on his upper lip, his short black hair (he was beyond
the suspicion of Jacobinism), and closely buttoned sopraveste of
dark-coloured velvet, gave him somewhat of a military air.  When he
spoke or laughed, he had more of the Calabrian mountaineer in his tone
and expression, than of the oily condescension, and excessive politeness
of the Italian noble; who, notwithstanding his many quarters and crests,
and his boasted descent from the heroes of Rome and Magna Grecia, is too
often a base and treacherous libertine—perhaps a coward.

What I took to be the jewelled pommel of a concealed poniard, sparkled
at times beneath his vest (it was a time and country in which no unarmed
man was safe); and suspended by a scarlet riband from a button-hole, the
little star of a Sicilian order glittered on his breast.  His
shirt-collar, of the richest lace, was left negligently open, the
evening being sultry; a short cloak, or mantello was thrown over his
left arm, and a broad hat of light brown beaver, encircled by an
embroidered riband, was held under his right: completing a costume which
made his whole appearance sufficiently striking, when viewed in that
lofty and magnificent vestibule; where the falling waters of a fountain,
statues of the purest marble, and gilded cornices and pilasters, were
gleaming in the rays of the setting sun, which streamed through four
tall latticed windows.

Introducing myself as Lieutenant Claude Dundas, of his Britannic
Majesty’s 62nd Regiment, and Aide-de-camp to Sir John Stewart, I
presented him with the despatch, and added something to its import;
observing how much we stood in need of immediate reinforcement from the
Calabrian barons, in consequence of the smallness of our force.

"Signor, you have but anticipated me," said the Visconte.  "The moment I
heard of your disembarkation on the coast, I hoisted the Winged-Horse of
Naples on the villa, and beat up for recruits.  I have already mustered
many, in addition to those peasantry over whom, as hereditary
Feudatorio, I have distinct authority and power.  These men served under
me when the troops of Naples drove the French generals Championnet and
Macdonald from Rome; and, from their courage and character, they will, I
have no doubt, be a very acceptable aid to your general."

"Monsignore Luigi," I replied, bowing, "how can he sufficiently thank
you?"

"By permitting me to take, as usual, the supreme command over them: in
truth, Signor Claude, they will scarcely obey any one else.  At their
head, I have already seen some sharp service at Rome and in Apulia;
where I fought in three pitched battles under the Cardinal Ruffo, when
he was a loyal man, and true to Italy.  In those days, how little could
we have dreamed that the Cardinal Prince of Scylla, would become a
traitor, and of such unhappy fame?  I have fought well and hard for
Italy," continued the Visconte, as we ascended the staircase, "and would
still have continued in open hostility against Peppo the Corsican: but I
left the army in disgust, at certain slighting expressions used towards
me on a recent occasion, by his Majesty of Naples; who ought in person
to lead on his people to death or victory, instead of eating his
maccheroni at Palermo, like a coward as he is!"

"Harsh words, my lord!"

"Not more harsh than true.  Know, Signor, that the high spirit of
Carolina alone keeps the cause of liberty alive in the hearts of the
Neapolitan people.  Oh! for a hero to raise the house of Parma to its
ancient fame!  But we will talk of these matters over a glass of the
ruby-coloured Capri Rosso.  Be it remembered, Signor," continued the
young lord, as he led me through a suite of noble apartments, "that
zealous as I am in the service of my country and its unhappy royal
family, it is not without considerable dread that I draw off the sbirri
from my territory, in the present state of Calabria.  Divided by
politics and old family grudges, our Feudatories are all at enmity, and
quarrels exist here among these wild mountains, which are altogether
unknown to northern Italy.  Up the Valley of the Amato, some miles from
this, there dwells a certain troublesome fool, Dionisio Barone, of
Castel Guelfo: a rank Buonapartist.  He is descended from that ancient
family which, when but petty lords of Germany, in their wars with the
Ghibelines, contrived to involve all the seignories, the cities, and
families of Italy in feuds and bloodshed: and all ’for the sake of a
vile cur!’ as Giovanni Fiorentino tells us in his novel.  Now, since the
wars of Campanella the rebel-friar, there has existed a bitter quarrel
between the family of Alfieri and that of the Barone; who (as he has
been making himself more than usually active and obnoxious of late) may,
in my absence, overrun my territory with his followers and the banditti,
and sack the villa.  He is encouraged by the success of the French;
whose general has abetted him in many an act of outrage and hostility."

We had now reached a splendid saloon, where a smooth floor of oak planks
with the brightest polish, amply compensated for the want of a
comfortable carpet: indeed this was not missed, while observing the
richly gilded furniture, the superb frescoes on the ceiling, the
graceful masses of rich drapery breaking the outline of lofty
casement-windows, and the trophied arms, marble vases, and dark
paintings by ancient masters, which adorned the walls.  How all these
gay things had escaped the French seemed a miracle.

A mandolin, with some leaves of music, a veil, a small kid glove, and a
bouquet of roses, lying upon a side table, announced that the villa was
the residence of ladies; and my curiosity became strongly excited.  I
had heard much of the beauty of the Roman and Neapolitan women—of the
rich lustre of their dark eyes, and their classic loveliness of face and
form; I was anxious, therefore, to have the happiness of an introduction
to the fair inhabitants of the villa.  Such rapturous descriptions had
been given of the charms of these Juno-like damsels, by officers who
served with the Russians, under our general and Sir James Craig, at
Naples, a short time before the Calabrese expedition was set on foot;
that these, coupled with tender recollections of a certain adventure at
Palermo, made me feel doubly interested in making acquaintance with the
female branches of this noble family.

Giacomo Belloni (the man in the parti-coloured garments), who acted as
butler and maggior-domo, or steward, superintended the arrangement of
decanters, ices, grapes, and other refreshments; and by Santugo’s
invitation I was about to seat myself at a table, when two ladies
entered. The elder was a stately-looking gentildonna, about fifty years
of age, robed in black satin. Her face, with its pale and blanched
complexion, instead of exhibiting the ugliness so common in the elderly
women of South Italy, wore traces of what perhaps had once been perfect
loveliness; while her full dark eyes, and ebon hair, arranged in massive
braids above a noble forehead, gave her, when viewed at a little
distance, an aspect of statuesque beauty of form, though sadly faded by
the dissipation of fashionable life; and I saw that she freely used both
rouge and bella-donna. Luigi introduced me, and I learned she was the
dowager Viscontessa, his mother.

The younger lady was his cousin, Bianca d’Alfieri; who even at first
appeared to me a strikingly beautiful girl: a captivating manner
rendered the gentle expression of her features still more pleasing, as
our acquaintance ripened.  Her soft, bright, hazel eyes were shaded by
lashes of the deepest jet, and her finely arched eyebrows were of the
same sable hue. Glossy black tresses were braided like a coronet around
her superb head, whence a mass of fine ringlets flowed over a neck and
shoulders which would have been considered fair even in our own land of
fair beauties; and in sunny Italy were deemed white as the new fallen
snow.  The charms of her face and figure were rendered still more
striking by the richness of her attire, and the splendid jewels which
sparkled in her hair, on her bosom, and her delicate arms. Much has been
said about the witchery of unadorned beauty; but the appearance of
Bianca d’Alfieri, arrayed in the splendour of full dress, and adorned
with all that wealth and Italian taste could furnish to enhance her
natural loveliness, was truly magnificent.

But how awkward was our greeting!  The little I knew of her language had
been picked up at the mess of Florestan’s Italian Guard at Palermo, and
she knew not a word of English; so we could only maintain a broken
conversation, while her cousin the Visconte laughed without ceremony at
my blunders.  Our interview was stupid enough; and yet not without
interest, for my delight was equal to my surprise on beholding in the
young lady one with whom I had been acquainted at Palermo: indeed, I had
been quite in love with her for a time, until the unlucky route arrived
from head-quarters, and she became almost forgotten when we changed our
cantonments.

My readers will kindly indulge me while I relate a short reminiscence of
my first introduction at the Sicilian capital; for, besides being of
importance to my story, it affords an illustration of the peculiar
manner of the time and country.

One night, at Queen Carolina’s grand theatre, I observed, in the
dress-circle, three young ladies, whose beauty made them the stars of
the evening. Every glass, double and single barrelled, was levelled at
them from boxes and pit, with the coolest impertinence.  None present
knew aught of them; save that they belonged to a Calabrese family of
distinction, which had retired to Palermo on the advance of Joseph’s
army to Naples.  The youngest (whom I had now the happiness of
recognising) seemed to me the most attractive; although, perhaps, less
stately and dashing than her sisters Ortensia and Francesca: and truly
she was one of those enchanting beings whom a man meets but once in a
life-time; or at least imagines so.  I was in the next box to them, with
some of Sir John’s gay staff, when, inspired with admiration of their
beauty, the whole house rose, _en masse_, on their retiring.  I followed
the three beauties to the portico, out of mere curiosity, to see what
sort of a "turn out" they had, and endeavour to discover who they were.
A handsome carriage, adorned with a coronet, stood at the steps to
receive them.  By the mismanagement of the driver and chasseur, it had
run foul of the equipage of Castel Guelfo, the Calabrian Baron before
mentioned; a volley of abuse was exchanged by the servants, who soon
came to blows: knives were drawn, and the chasseur of each carriage
unsheathed his hanger.  With a lack of gallantry not usual on the
continent, the proprietor of the other vehicle, a sour-visaged, withered
little mortal, would not yield an inch. Terrified by the uproar, the
kicking and plunging of horses, the swearing of servants and the clamour
of a gathering mob, the timid Italian girls stood trembling and
irresolute on the steps of the illuminated portico.  I advanced to make
an offer of my services as an escort.  They surveyed me for a moment,
while their large dark eyes dilated with pleasure and thankfulness.  I
was a stranger, it was true; but my staff uniform and commission were
sufficient introduction: the moment was critical, and my services were
at once accepted.

I commanded the baron to wheel back his calesso; and did so with an air
of determination and authority.

"Superba!" cried the little man, ironically; "who the devil are you?"

"That you will discover in the morning, my lord," I answered, sternly;
"but, in the mean time, order your driver to rein back, or I will slash
his cattle across the face."

"Not the thousandth part of an inch!" exclaimed the little man, from the
depths of his carriage.  "And hark you, Signor Carozziere, whip up your
horses, and hold fast: on your life!"

"Monsignore Barone, once more I request—"

"Fico!  I am in waiting for the Princess of Paterna: and is my carriage
to give way before that of my bitterest enemy?  Hear me, good people,"
he added, addressing the increasing mob, among whom I recognised many of
the savage conciarotti—a tribe, or faction, which was long the terror of
the citizens, and disgrace of Palermo—"hark-ye, sirs! you all know
me—Baróne Guelfo, of the Vale of Amato—a true patriot, a despiser of
Jacobins, and hater of Frenchmen.  Is my carriage to make way for that
of the Visconte di Santugo, a follower of Ruffo, the Buonapartist—a
traitor to his king, to Naples, and to Sicily—an upstart signorello of
yesterday?  I draw name and blood from the house of Guelfo, the foes of
the Ghibellines, and one of the most ancient races of northern Italy."

"Beware what you assert, Signore Baróne!" said Zacheo, the old chasseur;
"Santugo, who is now fighting bravely in La Syla, is the reverse of a
traitor, and may yet make you eat your words with an ounce bullet."

"Hell contains not a blacker traitor!" cried the baron, starting half
out of his carriage, and animated by the bitterest personal hatred
against his enemy.  "No, nor Naples a more cunning Buonapartist.  And
sure I am that the bold-hearted conciarrotti of Palermo will not see the
Barone Guelfo, one of the most faithful nobles of the Junta, and grand
cup-bearer to his Altezza the Prince of Paterna, insulted in their
streets, and his equipage compelled to yield before another."

"Largo! largo! viva il Baróne! largo! make way!" yelled the rabble.

I was excessively provoked at this obstinacy, in the cicisbéo of the
princess; it flowed from a political spirit, which I did not altogether
understand. Meanwhile, the terror of the three Italian girls, and my
anxiety for their safety, increased, as the clamouring conciarotti
mustered apace, crowding around us.

The conciarotti! who has not heard of that terrible community, at whose
name all Palermo trembled?  Like the lazzaroni at Naples and the
trasteverini of Rome, a nest of matchless ruffians, banded together by
mysterious laws, by ancient privileges and immunities, upon which not
even the king or his viceroy dared to infringe; and against whom the
power of the civil authorities and the bayonets of the soldiers, the
edicts of the Junta and manifestoes from the vice-regal palace, were
alike levelled fruitlessly and vainly.  The enlightened viceroy, the
Marchese di Caraccioli, could smother the death-fires of the
Inquisition, and demolish its dreaded office; but he dared not meddle
with the tanners of Palermo.

The conciarotti, or leather-dressers, occupied the lowest and most
filthy parts of the city.  In every revolutionary commotion, riot, and
brawl, they pre-eminently distinguished themselves by their murderous
ferocity, and wanton outrages; and even during times of the most perfect
peace, woe to the sbirro, or officer of the civil courts, who dared to
show his face within their districts: which thus became a sanctuary for
the robbers and assassins of all Sicily.  These, from the date of their
entrance, became enrolled among the conciarotti; and to offend one
member of this lawless community was sufficient to arouse the whole in
arms.  Many of the first noblesse in the kingdom were savagely massacred
by the conciarotti during the riot of 1820; since when they have been,
by the most vigorous efforts, rooted out, and their hideous den, so long
a festering sore on the face of Palermo, utterly demolished.

Ripe at all times for wanton outrage, especially against the weak and
unoffending, and animated by the prospect of plunder, a rabble of these
black-browed artisans, armed with ox-goads, knives, and clubs, threw
themselves, with loud yells, upon the carriage which bore the arms of
Santugo; they would have smashed it to pieces in a moment, had I not cut
their leader down—an act which struck them with a panic—and, aided by
Oliver Lascelles (a brother officer, who luckily came up at that
moment), drove them back sword in hand.  To hurry the ladies up the
steps of the carriage, to close the door, and spring on the foot-board
behind, was the work of a moment; and we drove off to Sant’ Agata
Palace, with all the rabble of Palermo yelling in our rear, like a pack
of hungry hounds after a fruitless chase.

The splendid mansion of this Calabrese prince would probably have fallen
a prey to the furious conciarotti, but for the timely arrival of the
Queen’s Italian Guard, and a detachment of ours, which were quartered in
it for its protection.

Having thus, like a cavalier of romance, obtained a strong claim to the
gratitude of the young ladies, next night, at a gay fête given by the
Prince of St. Agatha, I made all my approaches to these fair belles in
due form: opened the trenches between the figures of a quadrille, came
to closer quarters in the waltz, and kept up such a continual fire of
little attentions and gallant nonsense, that ere the ball closed I
congratulated myself on having made a favourable impression where I had
some anxiety to please. I returned to my gloomy quarters in Fort la
Galita, with my head buzzing from the effects of the prince’s good wine
and the myriad wax-lights which illuminated his saloons, to dream of
Italian eyes and ankles, Sicilian gaiety, and the soft voice and softer
smile of Bianca d’Alfieri, until aroused next morning by our drums
beating the _generale_ in the echoing squares of the fortress.

"Dundas, the route for Syracuse has come!" cried Lascelles, knocking
lustily at my room door.  "We march at daybreak to relieve the 81st.
Deuced unpleasant, is it not?"

"Devil take the route!" thought I, as an appointment with Bianca to
gallop along the Marina, and drive four-in-hand to Montreale, flashed
upon my mind.  But there was no help for it.  The 62nd bade adieu to
"Palermo the Happy," and amid the severe duties of Syracuse, I perhaps
ceased for a time to think of Bianca. But to resume.

"Ah, signora!" said I, taking her hand, "you have not quite forgotten
me, then?"

"Oh, Signor Claude, how can I forgot that terrible night with the
conciarotti?"

"And the ball at the prince’s palace?"

A slight blush suffused her soft cheek, and I felt my old penchant
returning with renewed strength.  "Good!" I thought; "she has not
forgotten _my name_."  On inquiring for her sisters, Ortensia and
Francesca, whose black eyes had so bewitched poor Oliver Lascelles, the
young lady changed colour, as if one part of my inquiry distressed her,
and the Visconte appeared a little disconcerted.  I had made an unlucky
blunder, yet knew not how.

"Ortensia is married to the Cavaliere Benedetto del Castagno," replied
Bianca; "and dear Francesca has taken the veil, and resides in her
convent at Crotona."

The Visconte interrupted any further questioning, by warmly thanking me
for the attention I had shown to his cousins in saving them from the
insults of the Sicilian rabble.  A very long and common-place
conversation then ensued, about the probable issue of our expedition,
politics, and the fashionable gossip of Palermo; until the subject was
changed by the entrance of Giacomo Belloni, to announce that the
carriage was in readiness.  The Viscontessa rose, and began to apologize
for having to leave me; but as it was a playing night at Casa Sant’
Agata at Nicastro, the prince would be indignant if she were absent.

"Bianca and I are constant visitors at the prince’s conversazioni; and
as all the elite of the Lower Province are invited in honour of your
army landing, it is so impossible to absent oneself, that you must
indeed excuse us.  Visconte, you will, of course, remain?"

"Impossible!" replied Luigi; "I am bound in honour to visit the prince’s
tables to-night, and to give Castelermo, the Maltese commander, a chance
of regaining the thousand ducats I won from him—ay, per Baccho! and lost
immediately afterwards to that cursed hunchback, Gaspare Truffi.
Signor, I am puzzled!  To stay away would offend my powerful friend, the
prince; and yet, to go, even should you accompany us, may seem lacking
in politeness——"

"I have already received an invitation, my lord," said I; "a chasseur of
the prince’s household arrived at the camp, just before I left, with
cards for the general and staff officers."

"Benissimo! excellent!  Then you go, of course?"

I bowed and assented.  Knowing how deeply the desperate passion of
gaming was rooted in the hearts of the Neapolitans, I expected to behold
something altogether new—card-playing on a grand scale; and desiring my
valise to be unstrapped from the saddle of Cartouche, I retired to make
a hurried toilet for the prince’s conversazione.



                             *CHAPTER IV.*

                           *DOUBLE OR QUIT!*


The ladies soon appeared attired for the carriage; each closely shawled,
with her elaborately dressed hair covered by an ample riding-hood of
black satin.  The evening had now turned to night, and four servants
bearing links lighted us to the portico; where stood the well hung and
clashing carriage of the Visconte, whose footmen were clad in a livery
so gay, that my uniform was almost cast in the shade by comparison.

The vehicle being light, and the horses swift and strong, we dashed at a
tremendous rate over a road so rough and stony that all attempts at
conversation were rendered futile by the jolting and noise: I never
endured such a shaking, save once, when I had the pleasure of being
conveyed, severely wounded, from Cefalu to Palermo, on a sixteen-pounder
gun.  All the Neapolitans, I believe, are addicted to furious driving.
As the carriage swayed from side to side, I expected, at every lurch,
that the whole party would be upset, and scattered on the road.
However, no such mishap occurred, and in a very short time, with the gay
chasseur galloping in front, we were flying through the paved streets of
Nicastro—a large and well built city, on the frontiers of the Upper
Province.

High hills, covered with thick foliage, and watered by innumerable
cascades, arise on every side of Nicastro; while towering above its
houses and ample convents, stands the black, embattled keep of the
ancient castle: within the strong chambers of which Enrico, Prince of
Naples, paid the penalty of his rebellion, by a long and dreary
captivity.

We drove through a lofty archway, and drew up in the crowded quadrangle
of a brilliantly-illuminated palace; from the windows of which the light
streamed down on densely-packed carriages, horses richly caparisoned,
gilded hammercloths, and the glancing plumes and liveries of footmen,
drivers, and chasseurs, or outriders.  The palace was situated
immediately opposite the shrine of poor Sancto Gennaro—whom we involved
in total darkness, by extinguishing all his consecrated tapers as we
swept through the Strada Ruffo.

On alighting, I was about to give my arm to the Viscontessa, but happily
her son anticipated me, and I had the more agreeable office of ushering
his fair cousin up the splendid staircase of the mansion; which
displayed on every hand the usual profusion of vases and Italian
statuary, coloured lamps, gilding, and frescos.

"It is, then, a conversazione?" I observed to Bianca.

"Yes, signor; but you will find little conversing here," she replied,
smiling in such a way as to reveal a row of brilliant little teeth.
"Ah! ’t is a horrible den!" she added, with a sigh.  "You are a stranger
among us, and will surely become a victim.  Oh, caro signor! let me
implore you not to play, whatever my cousin the Visconte may say to
induce you, as you will surely be stripped of every ducat: and above
all, do not quarrel with any one, or you will as certainly be—killed!"

"Pleasant!" said I, surprised at her advice, and the earnestness with
which it was given.  "But I trust, cara signora, that my Scottish
caution will protect me from the first danger; while a keen blade and a
stout arm may be my guard against the second."

"Alas!" she sighed, "your sabre will little avail you in an encounter
with the stiletto of a revengeful Calabrian.  Said you, signor, that you
came from la Scozia—the land of Ossian and Fingal?"

I looked upon her animated face with surprise and inquiry.

"Ah! why so astonished?  I have read the Abate Melchior Cesarotti, with
whose translation all Italy is enraptured.  But, Signor Claude," she
added gaily, "remember my caution: you are under my guidance to-night."

I pressed the hand of the amiable girl, and assured her that I would
abide entirely by her advice.  I could not sufficiently admire that
innate goodness of heart which made her so interested in the welfare and
safety of a comparative stranger.

The noble staircase, the illuminated corridors, and magnificent saloons
of the palace, were crowded with all the rich, the gay, and the
luxurious of Nicastro and the villas scattered along the coast, and
fresh arrivals were incessantly alighting from vehicles of every
description—the lumbering and gorgeous old-fashioned chariot, the
clattering calesso, and the humble jog-trot sedan.  Some guests came on
horseback; but none who could avoid it came on foot: to use his legs on
such an occasion would be considered a blot on the escutcheon of a
Neapolitan gentleman; who, if he has the least pretension to dignity,
deems some sort of vehicle an indispensable appendage.  But the French
had appropriated a vast number of horses for baggage and other purposes;
and those cavaliers who had lost their equipages were fain to steal in
unseen among the press, or remain at home; forfeiting the rich harvest
which the open halls and ample tables of the Prince of Sant’ Agata
promised to every needy gentleman, sharp-witted dowager, and desperate
rogue.

"Truly," thought I, while surveying the gay assemblage, "the land is not
so desolate as we have been led to imagine!"  But probably so dazzling a
concourse would not have met, but for the presence of our army; which
now lay between them and their hated enemies.

In a spacious saloon ornamented with statues and paintings, where the
lights of the girandoles were flashed back from gilded pendants and
shining columns and sparkled in bright gems and brighter eyes, stood the
prince, receiving the stream of company glittering with epaulettes,
orders, stars, and jewellery, which poured in through the folding-doors.
He was a withered little man, whom I had often seen at Palermo. Like too
many who were present, he was said to have succumbed to General Regnier;
but now, encouraged by our presence, he had hoisted the flag of the
Bourbons on his palace, and donned the green uniform of the Sicilian
Scoppetteria, or Fusiliers of the Guard, while the star of St. Mark the
Glorious sparkled on his breast.

None of our staff had yet arrived; and the Signora Bianca presented me
formally to her relation the prince; who inquired, with an affectation
of interest, about the health of the general—the number of our
forces—what news of the enemy: but I saw him no more that night. Moving
onward with the throng, we found ourselves passing through the opposite
folding-doors, opening into another room of the suite, which was the
grand scene of operations.  Here the tables for faro and rouge-et-noir
were already glittering with ducats, piastres, and yellow English
guineas, mingled with Papal scudi and Venetian sequins. Seats were
seized, and places occupied, with the utmost eagerness: but I had not
made up my mind whether to play or not.  Standing behind Bianca’s chair,
and leaning over the back of it, I was much more occupied with her snowy
shoulders, her uplifted eyes, and parted rosy lips, when she turned
towards me, than with the company; of whom she gave me an account.  To
my surprise, she included in her enumeration one or two very jaunty
cavaliers, who were supposed to be leaders of banditti—or, to speak more
gently, free companions—who had been raised to the rank of patriotic
soldiers by turning their knives and rifles against the French, and
co-operating with the chiefs of the Masse.

I confessed that I did not feel quite at home in such mixed society; but
Bianca only smiled at my scruples, shrugged her fair shoulders, and made
no reply.

A soft symphony, which at that moment floated from the music-gallery
through the lofty apartments, preluded the famous waltz of Carolina, and
announced that a few of the younger visitors preferred the more polite
and graceful amusement of the dance to rattling dice and insipid cards.

"Deuced hot here, is it not?" said Lascelles, my brother aide-de-camp,
as he passed me, adroitly handing a very pretty girl through the press
round the tables.  "The dancers are beginning; for the honour of the
corps, you must join us, or some of those fellows of the 81st may march
away with your fair companion."  He moved away, with a knowing wink.

"’T is the little Signora Gismondo—very pretty, is she not?" said
Bianca.  The girl might have been termed supremely beautiful; and not
more so than unfortunate: but of that more anon. She waved her hand
invitingly to Bianca, and with her long satin train swept through the
folding-doors. Fearful of being anticipated by some of our staff, whom I
saw in close confab’ with Santugo, I solicited the hand of his fair
cousin for the first waltz.

She glanced inquiringly at her aunt, who, smiling, bowed an assent, as
she swept a pile of ducats towards her.  I drew the white-gloved hand of
Bianca across my arm; and in a moment more we were whirling in the giddy
circle of the waltzers.

With so fair a partner, and a heart buoyant with youth, vivacity, and
love, how joyously one winds through the mazes of that voluptuous dance
which is peculiarly the national measure of Italy.  Never shall I forget
the happiness of that "hour of joy"—the time when Bianca raised her
soft, hazel eyes to mine, as if imploring the additional support which
my arm so readily yielded—the beaming smile and hurried whisper,—the
half caress, with soft curls fanning your cheek, the flushing face and
flashing eye—oh, the giddy, joyous waltz!  It has a charm which will
alike outlive prudish censure and pungent satire: even that of the witty
Lance Langstaff.  I mentally bequeathed Santugo to the great master of
mischief, when he dragged us back to the gambling saloon.

After a scanty allowance of ices, wine and fruit had been handed round,
or scrambled for at the side tables, the most important business of the
evening commenced in earnest.  Then came the tug of war!  Hundreds of
eager eyes, some of them bright and bewitching, were greedily gloating
on the shifting heaps, which glittered on the tables of the prince’s
hell: for, by thus disgracing his palace, his altezza cleared an annual
income of twelve thousand ducats.  The closeness of the evening,
combined with the pressure of the crowd at the tables, soon rendered the
atmosphere of the saloon quite oppressive; the faces of the ladies
became flushed, and the iced malvasia was most acceptable and delicious.

The general and staff had by this time arrived, and I soon became aware
that we were the lions of the evening: our scarlet uniforms and silver
epaulettes attracted universal observation.  My fair Italian was
sensible of this, and seemed proud to have me as her cavalier: her eyes
sparkled with animation, and her vivacity increased; while her little
heart bounded with delight at this momentary triumph over sundry
disappointed cavalieri and female rivals.  Vanity apart, a rich foreign
uniform on a tolerably good figure has a great attraction for female
eyes. But counts and countesses, cavaliers and signoras, even dark-robed
ecclesiastics (for there was a sprinkling of them), soon became
completely absorbed in the affairs of the table: for gambling is the
ruling passion on the continent.

"They neither have nor want any other amusement than this last," says
Kotzebue, writing of the Neapolitans.  "The states of Europe are
overthrown; they game not the less.  Pompeii comes forth from its grave;
they game still. Vesuvius vomits forth flames, yet the splendid
gaming-table is not left.  The ruins of Paestum a few miles distant,
shining as it were before every eye, must be discovered by strangers:
for the Neapolitans are gaming.  The greatest dukes and princes are
keepers of gambling-tables."  As it was in the capital, so was it in all
the provinces.

Most of the ladies were attended by cavaliers; some of the married, by
that indescribable contingent on Italian matrimony (which we must hope
is disappearing)—_a cicisbéo_.  A courtly old gentleman who had attended
the Viscontessa during her married life, now sat beside her; sorting her
cards, handing ices, and smiling as sweetly as if she were still a
belle: he was the Signor Battista Gismondo, a major of the loyal Masse.
On the other side sat Bianca, watching the various turns of the game;
although, for a time, she refused to take a part in it herself.

We were seated at the faro table, the acting banker of which was the
Duke of Bagnara, a professed gamester, and friend of the prince; as also
were the croupiers, il Cavaliere Benedetto del Castagno, and Castelermo,
a knight of Malta, with whom I had been on terms of intimacy at Palermo.
The latter was bailiff, or commander, of St. Eufemio: but, alas! in the
wars of Buonaparte, the commanderie had been scattered, and the
preceptory house reduced to ruins.  He was a tall, swarthy,
broad-chested, and noble-looking fellow, and still wore the habit of his
order: a scarlet uniform, lapelled and faced with black velvet, and
laced with gold, having epaulettes of the same, with an eight-pointed
cross of silver on each; a large silver cross of eight points figured on
the breast, and an embroidered belt sustained a long cross-hilted sword.
Coal-black mustachios, protruding fiercely from his upper lip, completed
his soldier-like aspect. One of the last knights of his order, he was,
perhaps, also the last of his proud and distinguished race; and he
certainly looked a thorough Italian cavalier of the old school.

Before the banker lay heaps of coin, to which the gamesters continually
directed their greedy eyes, flashing alternately with rage, exultation,
or envy, as the piles of gold and silver changed owners, and were swept
hurriedly into bags and purses by the long bony fingers of sharp-eyed
priests, and sharper old ladies: who were too often winners to be
pleasant company at the tables generally.  Although the duke was the
nominal holder of the bank, Santugo (who had lost considerably, and was,
therefore, out of humour) informed me that the prince had the principal
share in it, and that the profits were divided between them, when the
company separated.  I could not but feel the greatest disgust at the
place, and contempt for the majority of the company; where women of rank
and beauty degraded themselves by mixing with high-born blacklegs and
professed gamesters, whose tricks and expressions were worthy of the
meanest "hell" in London or Paris.

One hideous fellow, in particular, attracted my attention.  He was a
dwarf, and bulky in figure, but scarcely four feet in height, and
miserably deformed: his head and arms would have suited a strong man of
six feet high; but the head was half buried between his brawny shoulders
and a prodigious hump, which rose upon his back, and his arms reached
far below his bandy knees. He had the aspect as well as the proportions
of a baboon; for masses of black and matted locks hung round his knobby
and unshapely cranium, while a bushy beard of wiry black hair, and
thick, dirty mustachios, with fierce eyes twinkling restlessly on each
side of an enormous nose, made up a visage of satyr-like character.  His
person contrasted strangely with the garb he wore, which was the serge
robe of San Pietro di Pisa: a brotherhood suppressed in 1809 by a decree
of Murat, King of Naples.

This monster was the most successful player present: he eyed the cards
in the hand of others more keenly than his own suite; and I soon became
convinced that he knew the backs as well as the fronts of them: yet the
cards were perfectly new.  He was opposed to the Viscontessa, and
notwithstanding her skill, acquired by the nightly gamblings of
five-and-thirty years, he stripped her of a thousand ducats; every bet
he made being successful: his long ungainly arms and large brown hands,
found continual occupation in sweeping the money into a vast pouch which
hung at his knotted girdle; and he always accompanied the act with such
a provoking grin of malignant exultation, that I felt inclined to box
his ears.

Bianca d’Alfieri blushed and trembled with shame and sorrow, on
beholding the defeat and bitter mortification of her aunt; who sat like
a statue of despair, when her last ducat vanished into the capacious bag
of the hideous, little religioso: but her misery was unheeded by those
around, and even by her son, whose angry gestures and flashing eyes led
me to suppose that he was encountering an equal run of bad fortune at
the rouge-et-noir table.  He had acted all night as a sort of assistant
to the banker, whom he often rendered uneasy by the enormous stakes he
answered.

"Bravone! sharper! oh, villain hunchback!" exclaimed the old lady,
kindling with uncontrollable fury at the loss of her gold; "I will
punish thee yet!  My jewels are still left, and demon, though thou art
in face and figure, never shalt thou conquer Giulia d’Alfieri."

She unclasped a tiara of brilliants from her head, removed a costly
necklace from her bosom, and with trembling haste drew off her rings and
bracelets, which she cast on the table as a stake. The banker and the
knight of Malta attempted to interpose; but the hunchback had already
accepted the challenge with a fiendish grin of delight, promising to
answer the stake on his own responsibility.

"Madonna mia! my dearest aunt, beware!" urged the plaintive voice of
Bianca: but the Viscontessa heard her not.  With straining eyes she
watched the fatal cards, which once more were told out slowly and
deliberately; while every eye was fixed, and every lip compressed, as if
the fate of Europe lay on the turning up of these "bits of painted
pasteboard."

The Viscontessa lost!  Clasping her hands, she looked wildly round her
for a moment; Gismondo, her venerable cicisbéo, presented his arm, and
led her from the table in an agony of chagrin.  Bianca unconsciously
laid her hand on mine, and sighed deeply.

"I am a sharper and bully, am I, illusstrissima?" chuckled the
hunchbacked rogue, as he swept the glittering jewels into his pouch, and
chuckled, wheezed, grinned, and snapped his fingers, like an animated
punchinello.

"Bravo! bravissimo!  The signora called me ass too, I think!  A hard
name to use in this illustrious company.  Ho, ho! there are few asses so
richly laden, and fewer bullies whose bags are so well filled."

"Silence, fellow!" cried Castelermo, sternly; "silence, and begone!"

"Instantly," replied the other, with a dark look; "but keep me in
remembrance, signor. I am Gaspare Truffi—thou knowest me: all on this
side of Naples know me; and some on the other side, too."  Here his eyes
encountered mine, which I had unconsciously fixed upon him, with an
angry frown of astonishment and contempt.

"Ho, ho!  Signor Subalterno," said he, not daunted in the least; "spare
your frowns for those whom they are calculated to frighten.  I have not
seen you playing to-night—will you try your hand with me?  But, no; you
dare not: you are afraid to risk a paltry bajocco!"

"Signor Canonico!" I replied, sternly, "beware how you venture to insult
or taunt me. Recollect, rascal, that neither the presence upon which you
have intruded yourself, nor your black robe, may be a protection against
a horsewhip, should I be provoked so far as to use one on that unshapely
figure of yours."

"Corpo di Cristo!" cried he, while his eyes glared with avarice and
fury; "will you answer my stake, Signor Claude?"

"Undoubtedly: but was it the devil told you my name?"

"You have guessed it, my good friend,—Satan himself," he answered, with
a grin; and flung his great heavy purse upon the table.

"A thousand ducats on the black lozenge," said I.

"_Double or quit!_" he rejoined, and I bowed an assent, though I had not
above twenty ducats in my purse.  But enraged at his insolent arrogance
in the presence of so many, I was determined to go on, neck or nothing,
and punish him, or myself, for engaging in a contest so contemptible.
He staked his money; which it was agreed by the banker and croupiers
must be entirely at his own risk, and independent of them.  I staked my
word, which was of course deemed sufficient.  The cards were dealt with
a precision which gave me full time to repent (when too late) of the
desperate affair in which I had become involved with a regular Italian
sharper.  I dreaded the disgrace of incurring a debt of honour, which
could not be conveniently discharged: for I had no means of raising the
money, save by bills on England.  There was also to be feared the
displeasure of the general; who, like all my countrymen, was stedfastly
opposed to gambling, and strictly enforced those parts of the "Articles
of War" referring to that fashionable mode of getting rid of one’s
money.  Agitated by these disagreeable thoughts, I knew not how the game
went: the room, seemed to swim around me; and I was first aroused to
consciousness by Bianca’s soft arm pressing mine, and by a rapturous
burst of exultation from the company, who had crowded, in breathless
expectation, around the table.

I had won!

Gaspare Truffi uttered a furious imprecation, and tossing out of his
bloated bag a thousand and ten ducats, together with all the jewels he
had so recently won, the discomfited dwarf rushed from the table, with a
yell like that of a wounded lynx.  I now rose greatly in the estimation
of the right honourable company: they crowded round me with
congratulations for my victory over the hunchbacked priest; whom they
seemed equally to dread and despise.

The jewels and gold I secured in my breast pocket, lest some nimble hand
in the crowd might save me the trouble.  It was by this time long past
midnight, and Luigi, who had borne an unusual run of ill-luck not very
philosophically, proposed that we should retire.  He had lost a large
sum of money to the Baron di Bivona, and they parted in high
displeasure, with mutual threats and promises of meeting again.

We were soon in the carriage, and leaving Nicastro behind us at the rate
of twelve miles an hour.  When passing through the porch of the palace,
I caught sight of a strange crouching figure looking like a black bundle
under the shadow of a column.  A deep groan, as the carriage swept past,
announced that it was the hunchback, whom I had perhaps reduced to
penury. For a moment the contest and the victory were repented; but a
few hours afterwards proved to me that he was unworthy of commiseration.



                              *CHAPTER V.*

                    *GASPARE TRUFFI, THE HUNCHBACK.*


"Beware! Signor Claude," said the Visconte, as we drove homewards; "you
have now made a most deadly enemy in Calabria.  Do you know whom you
have defeated?"

"An itinerant priest, probably," I answered, with a slight tone of
pique.

"A priest, certainly; but, thank Heaven! we have few such either in
Naples or Sicily. Though expelled from the brotherhood of San
Baldassare, in Friuli, for some irregularities, (which, in the days of
the late inquisitor, Tourloni, could only have been cleansed by fire)
Gaspare Truffi still wears the garb of a religious order—generally that
of St. Peter of Pisa—that he may the more easily impose upon the
peasantry; who stand in no little awe of his harsh voice, misshapen
figure, and hideous visage.  On the mountains I have seen him in a very
different garb: with a poniard in his sash, and the brigand’s long rifle
slung across his back.  He is said to be in league with the banditti in
the wilderness; and, as the confessor of Francatripa, he has obtained
considerable sway over them.  On more than one occasion, in the
encounters between the brigands and the French, he has given
undisputable proofs of valour; though clouded by fearful cruelty.  You
have heard of the wilderness of La Syla?  There the mountains rise in
vast ridges abruptly from the sea, shooting upward, peak above peak;
their sides clothed with gloomy and impenetrable wood, or jagged with
masses of volcanic rock, which overhang and threaten the little villages
that nestle in the valleys below.  Tremendous cascades and perpendicular
torrents—broad sheets of water fringed with snow-white foam—leap from
cliff to cliff, and thundering down echoing chasms, seek their way,
through mountain gorges, to the ocean. Into one of the frightful valleys
of that secluded district, a body of French troops, commanded by the
Marchese di Monteleone, were artfully drawn by Francatripa, the brigand
chief, Gaspare, his lieutenant and confessor, and all their horde; by
whom the whole unhappy battalion, to the number of five hundred rank and
file, were utterly exterminated.  Thick as hail the rifle balls showered
down from all sides; and ponderous masses of rock, dislodged by
crowbars, were hurled from the cliffs along the line of march of that
doomed regiment.  Save the marchese and his aide, every man perished;
and the place is yet strewn with their bones for miles—a ghastly array
of skeletons, scarce hidden amid the weeds and long rank grass, and
bleaching in the sun as the wolves and vultures left them."

"Cruel! horrible!" said Bianca, clasping her hands.

"Benissimo!" continued my enthusiastic friend; "it was a just
retribution for those whom they slaughtered hourly in their Golgotha at
Monteleone.  It was a striking example of Calabrian courage and Italian
vengeance!  It will be recorded in history like the terrible ’Sicilian
Vespers.’"

"A pretty picture of society!" I observed: "and such wretches as that
apostate priest are permitted to attend the entertainments of the Prince
of St. Agatha?"

"You must not criticise us too severely," replied Luigi.  "The truth is,
we all perceive that Fra Truffi is not an apostle; but he is the
lieutenant and confessor of Francatripa, who is esteemed the greatest
patriot in the province, and with whom it is not the prince’s interest
to quarrel, in the present disorganized state of society.  Besides, he
has plenty of ducats to spend, and he plays freely and fearlessly; which
is the principal, and indeed essential qualification to ensure respect
and admittance to the first gambling-tables in the land.  Per Baccho!
here is the villa—we have arrived at last!" he exclaimed, as the
carriage drew up before the dark façade of his ancestral mansion.

Before the Viscontessa retired, I presented her with her ducats and
jewels which I had won back from the hunchback: but she would by no
means accept of them, and seemed for a moment to be almost incensed at
my offer.  I apologized, and returned the ducats to my purse: they
proved a very seasonable reinforcement to my exchequer; which racing,
gambling, and our four-in-hand club at Palermo, had considerably
drained.  But the jewels I absolutely refused to retain; and a polite
contest ensued, which ended by Luigi proposing that Bianca should
present them to her patron, St. Eufemio, whose famous shrine stood in
the church of the Sylvestrians at Nicastro.

Although aware that by this arrangement these splendid trinkets would
become the prey of the greedy priesthood, I could not offer a
remonstrance against such a proposition, and only requested permission
to present Bianca with the necklace.  I beheld with secret joy the
beautiful girl blushing and trembling with pleasure: she did not
venture, however, to raise her full bright eyes to mine, as I clasped
the string of lustrous gems around her "adorable neck."

"A holy night to you, Signor Claude," said her aunt, as they rose to
retire; "we shall not perhaps see you when you leave the villa, with my
son and his people, for the British camp. But O, caro signor," she
added, pressing my hand affectionately, "we wish you and your companions
all safety and success in fighting against the enemies of our king: on
bended knees, before the blessed patron of Alfieri, will my whole
household and myself implore it.  And remember, whenever you have spare
time in the intervals of your military duty, the inmates of the Villa
d’Alfieri will ever be most happy to welcome you."

She retired, leaning on the arm of Bianca, who merely bowed as she
withdrew.  The expressive glance I cast after her retiring figure did
not escape the quick-sighted Visconte, who gave me a peculiar—shall I
say haughty?—smile, which brought the blood to my cheek: my heart
misgave me that in time coming I might find him a formidable rival.
Young, handsome, rich, and titled, and enjoying all the privileges which
relationship gave him, he was indeed to be dreaded by a poor sub of the
line.

"Giacomo!" cried he to his follower, "draw back the curtains, and open
the windows towards the sea.  Cospetto! the air of these rooms is like
the scirrocco—the malaria of the marshes—or the breath of the very
devil!  Bring champagne, and lay dice and cards—no, by Heaven!  I have
had enough of them to-night.  Bring us the roll of our volunteers, and
then begone to your nest; for Signor Claude and I intend to finish the
morning jovially.  And, olà!  Giacomo, see that all our fellows are up
with the lark, mustered in the quadrangle, and at Lieutenant Dundas’s
disposal, by daybreak."

The lofty casements were thrown open, revealing the midnight ocean, in
which the stars were reflected, together with streaks of lurid light
thrown across the deep blue sky by the beacon fires of the armed parties
along the coast.  The murmuring sea dashed its waves into foam beneath
the arched galleries and overhanging rocks, and the cool breeze, which
swept over its rippled surface, being wafted into the saloon, was
delightfully refreshing.  The wax-lights were trimmed, silver jars and
tall Venetian glasses placed on the table; and the bright wine sparkling
through the carved crystal of the massive caraffa, and embossed salvers
piled with glowing grapes and luscious peaches, made me feel very much
inclined to bring in daylight gloriously.  I wished that my friend
Lascelles and some of our gay staff at Palermo, or the right good
fellows of my regimental mess, had been present.

"Your health, signor," said the Visconte, when Giacomo had filled our
glasses and retired. "May you become a Marescial di campo ere you turn
your horse’s tail on Italy!"

"I thank you, my lord," said I, smiling; "but I shall be very happy if I
gain but stars to my epaulettes: and yet, ere that, Massena must be
conquered and Rome won!"

"Now, then," he resumed, laying before me a long muster-roll of Italian
names, "here are five hundred brave Calabrians, most of them my own
immediate dependants, whom I have authority to raise in arms; but who,
without the exertion of that authority, are able and willing to serve
Ferdinand of Naples: whom Madonna long preserve! although the said
Ferdinand is a fool. But unless your general appoints me their leader,
and permits me to nominate my own officers, these fellows may desert _en
masse_ to the mountains; for they are unused to the rule of foreigners."

"Our general is too well aware of the courtesy requisite on his landing
on these shores, to dispute with the Italian nobles, or chiefs of the
_Masse_, their right to command their own followers.  If they will serve
obediently, and fight well—obeying as good soldiers must obey, and
enduring as they must endure—Sir John Stuart will require nothing more."
My enthusiastic friend grasped my hand.

"In our first pitched battle with the enemy," he exclaimed; "place us in
front of the line, and we will show il Cavaliére Giovanni Stuardo, that
the bold mountaineers of the Apennines are not less hardy or courageous
than their ancestors were when Rome was in the zenith of its glory."

Puzzled for a moment to recognise the familiar name of the general
through the pronunciation of the Visconte, I was deliberating how to
reply, when I observed the great gnome-like visage of the hunchback
appear at one of the open windows; his fierce twinkling eyes sternly
fixed on mine, with the steady glistening gaze of a snake. He levelled a
pistol, but it flashed in the pan. My first impulse was to grasp my
sabre, my second to spring through the casement, which opened down to
the level of the tessellated floor.

"What see you, signor?’ exclaimed my astonished host.

"That abominable hunchback, Peter of Pisa, Friar Truffle, or whatever
you call him."

"Impossible!" said the Visconte.  "Most improbable, indeed! at such an
hour of the morning, and in a place where the cliffs descend sheer
downwards to the sea!"

"Monsignore, on my honour I saw his ill-omened visage peering between
the rose-bushes."

Luigi snatched a sword from the wall, and we made tremendous havoc among
the full-blown roses, searching so far as we dared to venture along the
beetling rocks; but no trace of the eaves-dropper could be discovered.
Indeed, the dangerous nature of the place, when I surveyed it, led me to
suppose that I _might_ have been mistaken, and that the apparition was
an illusion of a heated imagination; for my head was now beginning to
swim with the effects of the champagne.  Santugo, however, took the
precaution of bolting the casements, and drawing the curtains; after
which we stretched ourselves once more on the couches to listen for any
sound that announced the approach of an intruder.

"Ha! what is that?" exclaimed Santugo abruptly, as a dropping or
pattering sound was heard on the floor.

"The deuce! my wound bleeds!" said I, on finding that the slight sword
thrust which I had received in the morning had broken out afresh;
probably in consequence of my exertions when searching for the
hunchback.

"A wound!" rejoined Santugo, with astonishment; "I knew not that you had
been hurt this morning in your skirmish with the voltigeurs."

"A mere scratch, Visconte," I replied, with a jaunty carelessness, half
affected, as I unbuttoned my uniform coat, and found with surprise that
the sleeve and white kerseymere vest were completely saturated with
blood.  Through my neglect, and the heat of the climate, the wound was
becoming more painful than I could have expected so slight a thrust to
be.

"Sancto Januario! you never said a word of all this!" cried Luigi,
alarmed by seeing so much blood.  "Olà, there!" he added, springing to
the door.  "Giacomo Salvatore!  Andronicus! you Greek vagabond!"

In three minutes we had all the male portion, of the household about us,
with faces of alarm, in motley garbs and variously armed.

Giacomo, who had gained some knowledge as a leech during his innumerable
skirmishes with the French, bathed the wound and bound up my arm in a
very scientific manner; after which I bade my host adieu, and requested
to be shown to my apartment.  In truth, it was time to be napping, when
in three hours afterwards we should be on the march for Maida.

My sleeping-room was in a part of the villa which had formed a tower of
the ancient castle; and, if there were any ghosts in merry Naples, it
was just the place where one would have taken up its quarters.  It was
named the _wolf’s chamber_; the legend thereof the reader will learn
towards the close of my narrative.  A large black stain on the dark
oaken planks of the floor yet remained, in testimony of some deed of
blood perpetrated in the days of Campanella; when a fierce civil war was
waged in Southern Italy.

That I had seen the face of the hunchback palpably and distinctly, I had
little doubt, when recalling the whole affair to mind; and I had none
whatever that the hideous little man had great reason to be my enemy.
At that unhappy gaming-table, I had stripped him, perhaps, of every coin
he possessed, as well as the rich jewels he had won: a double triumph,
which, coupled with my sarcasm on his appearance, was quite enough to
whet his vengeance against me. In truth, it was impossible to feel
perfectly at ease while reflecting that he might still be lurking about
the villa; aye, perhaps under my very bed.

More than once, when about to drop asleep, the sullen dash of the waves
in the arcades below the sea-terrace aroused me to watchfulness; and I
started, half imagining that the bronze figures on the ebony cabinet, or
the bold forms in a large dark painting by Annibale Carracci, were
instinct with life.

Presently I saw a shadow pass across the muslin curtains of my bed, and
a figure gliding softly between me and the night-lamp, which burned on a
carved bracket upheld by a beautiful statue of a virgin bearing sacred
fire.  The sight aroused me in an instant; recalled my senses, quickened
every pulse, and strung every nerve for action.  Remaining breathlessly
still, until my right hand had got a firm grasp of my sabre (which
luckily lay on the other side of the couch), I dashed aside the curtains
and sprang out of bed, just in time to elude the furious stroke of a
Bastia knife; which, had it taken effect on my person instead of the
down pillows, would have brought my Calabrian campaign to a premature
and most unpleasant close.

It was Truffi, the hunchback!  Exasperated by this second attempt upon
my life, I rushed upon him.  He made a bound towards the window, through
which he had so stealthily entered by unfastening the Venetian blind;
but at the moment he was scrambling out, my sword descended sheer on his
enormous hump.  Uttering a howl of rage and anguish, he fell to the
ground, where he was immediately seized in the powerful grasp of Giacomo
Belloni.

"Signor Teniente!" cried Giacomo, as they struggled together on the very
edge of the cliff, "cleave his head while I hold him fast!  The stunted
Hercules—the cursed crookback! Maladetto! he has the strength of his
father the devil!  Quick, signor! smite him under the ribs, or he will
throw me into the sea!"  But before I could arrive to his assistance,
the hunchback himself had fallen, or been tossed (Giacomo said the
latter) from the balustrade terrace, which overhung the water.  He sank
in the very spot where Belloni informed me there was a whirlpool, which
a hundred years before had sucked down the _San Giovanni_, a galley of
the Maltese knights.  Escape seemed impossible, and I expected to be
troubled with him no more.

"You may sleep safely now, signor," said the panting victor; "he will
never annoy you again in this world.  The Signora Bianca was afraid that
the hunchback might make some attempt upon your chamber (where, to speak
truth, blood has been spilt more than once), and so she ordered me to
watch below the window with my rifle; but overcome with wine and the
heat of the air I dropped asleep, and was only awakened by his ugly
carcass coming squash upon mine!"

"I am deeply grateful to the Signora Bianca for her anxiety and
attention.  But, Master Giacomo, you must learn to watch with your eyes
open, after we take the field to-morrow: nodding on sentry will not do
among us."

Giacomo was abashed, and withdrew.  Thus closed the adventures of my
first day in Lower Calabria.



                             *CHAPTER VI.*

                      *THE CALABRIAN FREE CORPS.*


Awakened at daybreak by the report of the morning gun from the admiral’s
ship in the bay, I leaped out of bed, and threw open the casement to
enjoy the pure, cool breeze from the sea; for my blood felt hot and
feverish: the effects of the wine I had taken during the past evening,
and the exciting occurrences of the last few hours.  My wounded arm,
too, was stiff and painful; but I hoped it would soon cease to give me
any inconvenience.

Another bright and cloudless Italian morning: the distant sea and the
whole sky, so far as the eye could reach, were all of that pure azure
tint which the most pellucid atmosphere alone can produce.  The sun had
not yet risen, but the east was bright with the dawn, which burnished
the rippling surface of the ocean, whose wavelets gleamed alternately
with green and gold, as they broke on the shining shore.  The morning
landscape presented the most vivid contrasts of dazzling light and deep
shadow.  The peaks of the hills above Maida,—those hills which were so
soon to echo the boom of our artillery—the wavy woods which clothed
their sides, and the silver current of the reedy Amato, glittered with
glowing light; while the bosky vale through which the river wound, and
the town of St. Eufemio, were steeped in comparative gloom.  The
bayonets of the marines on board Sir Sydney’s squadron, were gleaming on
poop and forecastle; and the red top-light, which burned like a lurid
spark amid the well-squared yards and taut black rigging of the
flag-ship, cast a long and tremulous ray across the still bosom of the
brightening sea.  It vanished when the morning-gun flashed forth from
the dark port-hole; and, the shrill notes of the boatswains’ whistles
piping up the hands, when the whole fleet began to heave short on their
anchors.

Dressing with expedition, in ten minutes I stood booted and belted in
front of the villa, where Santugo and two other cavaliers mustered their
recruits.  Their appearance, though rather wild, was both romantic and
picturesque: they numbered five hundred men; young, athletic, and
handsome in person, swarthy in visage, and soldier-like in bearing—the
setting-up a little excepted: altogether, they were a very valuable
acquisition to our army.  Their weapons were of a very miscellaneous and
unwarlike character: consisting of clubs, poniards, and the formidable
Italian oxgoads which glittered in the sun like lances, with some very
indifferent rifles.  But I promised the Visconte a sufficient supply of
arms, accoutrements, and clothing, when his people were formally arrayed
under our standard.

I was welcomed by a shout; and the cavaliers Benedetto del Castagno and
Marco di Castelermo received me with the utmost politeness and warmth of
manner.  Both these gentlemen were of noble families, and enjoyed a high
reputation for courage.  The first was a merry Neapolitan, who laughed
at everything he said; the second the scarred and sun-burnt knight of
Malta, on whose handsome features were marked a stern gravity and
settled melancholy, no less striking than his garb.  He was now
enveloped in the dark mantle of his order, having on the left shoulder
an eight-pointed cross, sewn in white velvet upon black cloth; the same
sacred badge appeared upon the housings of his horse, and various parts
of his attire: in silver on his epaulettes, in red enamel on his black
velvet forage cap, and in scarlet cloth on the tops of his white leather
gauntlets.

To my surprise, I understood that, before marching, solemn mass must be
performed; and the Visconte led me to the private oratory, at the altar
of which stood Fra Adriano, the chaplain and confessor of the family.
The chapel was as gorgeously decorated as many coloured marbles, painted
windows, a roof of gilding and fresco, springing from columns covered
with the richest mosaic, and shining tessellated floor, could make it.
Near the altar stood the celebrated statue of the patron of the
Alfieri—Sant’ Ugo.  It was of oak, carved, gilt, and evidently of great
antiquity; but so hideous that it might have passed for Thor, or any
monster-god whom our rude forefathers worshipped in the dark ages of
druidical superstition.  At St. Eufemio, this image was regarded with
the utmost veneration; from a belief in the wondrous miracles it
wrought, and a tradition that it had been transported through the air by
angels, from the saint’s little hermitage in the beautiful plain near
Palermo. Other relics in the chapel were viewed with no less reverence.
I was shewn a leg of the cock which crew to Peter, a rag of the virgin’s
petticoat, a packet of the egg-shells on which San Lorenzo was broiled,
and a tooth of the blessed Ugo! which, from its size and the number of
rings, bore so strong a resemblance to the tooth of a horse, that the
venerable aspect and earnestness of Adriano scarcely restrained me from
laughing outright.

"Fra Adriano is the oldest of our Calabrian priests," observed Luigi, in
a whisper: "he has been the confessor of our family for three
generations."

"Kneel with us, signor, if it be but to please the good father, who is
now verging on his hundredth year;" added the Maltese commander in the
same low voice.  "Saint John preserve him yet for many years to come:
long after the grave has closed over me!  He beheld my order when it was
in the zenith of its power and glory. Yes, signor, he beheld the galleys
of Malta sailing through the straits of Messina, when the grand master
Antonio de Vilhena, of most pious and valiant memory, unfurled against
the infidels of Algeria the blessed banner of redemption.  But these
days have passed.  The silver keys of Jerusalem, of Acre, and of
Rhodes—three cities of strength, over which the knights of our order
once held sway—are now paltry trophies in the hands of the British.
Struck down by the hand of Napoleon, the banner of God and St. John has
sunk for ever, and the red flag of Mahomet may now sweep every shore of
the Mediterranean with impunity!" (Lord Exmouth’s attack on Algiers did
not take place till six years after this time.)

A hundred years spent in the gloomy and monotonous cloister!  This
priest had dwelt there from his childhood, and I sighed when
contemplating the silver hairs, magnificent white beard, and calm
features of this fine old man, and reflecting on the long life he had
wasted away—a life which might otherwise have been valuable. To what a
living tomb had zeal and superstitious piety consigned him!

But to proceed.  When the incense had been burned, the wine drunk, the
bell rung, the prayers said, and responses given, we softly withdrew;
the sweet, low singing of the choristers, mingled with the pealing notes
of the organ, filling the little oratory with a burst of melodious
harmonies.

After glasses of coffee had been served hastily round, we leaped on our
horses; our appearance being the signal for the column of volunteers to
get under arms.  With no little trouble, we formed them into something
like military order, and they moved off in sections of three files
abreast.  The Maltese knight enjoyed with me a hearty laugh at their
shuffling march; but I had no doubt that, after being a few weeks under
the tuition of our drill Serjeants, they would all make smart soldiers.
Though we marched without the sound of drum or bugle, music was not
wanting; two or three improvisatori who were in the ranks struck up a
martial song, adapted to the occasion, and the others soon acquired the
chorus—even Santugo and his friends joined; and the bold swell of five
hundred manly voices ringing in the blue welkin, and awakening the
echoes of the wooded hills, produced an effect at once impressive and
animating.

These brave hearts formed the nucleus of that _Calabrian corps_ which,
on many future occasions, fought with such indomitable spirit under the
British standard; which shared in the glories of Maida, the capture of
Crotona, the expedition to Naples in 1809, and the storming of the
Castle of Ischia, when Colonna, with all his garrison, surrendered to
the bravery of Macfarlane and his soldiers.

As I rode round an angle of the villa, I observed the Signora Bianca,
muffled in black velvet and sables, watching our departure, from one of
the windows.  Raising my cocked hat, I bowed, with something more than
respect in my manner, at the same time making Cartouche curvet, and
riding with as much of the air of "the staff" as I could assume.  The
graceful girl stepped out into one of the little stone balconies which
projected before all the upper windows of the mansion, and I immediately
pulled up; she smiled, and waved her hand in adieu.  Standing up in my
stirrups—"Signora," said I, in a low voice, "never shall I forget your
kind anxiety for my safety last night; and believe me, Bianca, since the
first moment we met at Palermo—but the Visconte is calling. The enemy
are before us, and I may never see you again—adieu!"

"Addio! a reveder la!" she murmured; the blush which the first part of
my farewell called forth giving way to paleness.

"May it soon happen, signora!" I added, as, spurring Cartouche, I
galloped after the free corps, with my heart beating a little more
tumultuously than it had done for a long time—at least since we left
England.

"Olà, Dundas!" cried the Visconte, as I came up at a canter, "what has
caused you to loiter?"

"My horse’s near hind shoe was clattering, and I merely drew up for an
instant to examine it," I replied: very unwilling he should suspect or
learn the truth.

On our march, my new friends beguiled the tedium of the way by vivid
descriptions of their encounters with the enemy, between whom and the
Calabrese there had long been maintained a blood-thirsty war of
reprisal.  Every peasant who fell into the hands of the French, having
arms in his possession—even if it were but the ordinary stiletto or
ox-goad—was instantly dragged before a standing court-martial, tried,
and shot, or else hanged.  Every means were adopted by Regnier to
exterminate the roving bands of armed peasantry and fierce banditti, who
incessantly harassed his troops during all their marches and movements:
but in vain.  Every tree, shrub, and rock, concealed a rifle, and a
stern eye, whose aim was deadly.  In secluded spots, where all seemed
calm and peaceful but a moment before, or the stillness of the leafy
solitude had been broken only by the tap of the drum, or the carol of
the merry French soldier—whose native buoyancy of heart often breaks
forth in a joyous chorus on the line of march—when least expected,
overwhelming ambuscades of wild mountaineers would start up from height
and hollow, galling the march of some unhappy party: suddenly the
foliage would blaze with the fire of rifles, their sharp reports ringing
through the wood, while whistling bullets bore each one a message of
death, responded to by the shrieks and groans of dying men.

But my Italian friends could not yet boast of the frightful massacre of
Orzamarzo.

By the wayside I observed a mound of fresh earth, above which rose a
cross, composed of two rough pieces of wood.  It was the grave of
Kraünz, the leader of our Corsicans, who yesterday had been alive, and
at their head: to-day, Frank himself could not have wished him
lower—poor man!

As we passed through St. Eufemio, the inhabitants followed us _en
masse_, filling the air with shouts, and cries of "Long live Ferdinand
of Naples!  Death to the Corsican tyrant, and Massena the apostate!
Death to their soldiery, the slayers of our people!" and the convent
bells rang, as for a general jubilee.  "Benissimo!" cried I, waving my
hat, "Live Caroline!  Viva la Reina!" and another tremendous shout,
accompanied by the clapping of hands, rent the air.

The sun was now up, and the increasing heat of the morning made a halt
for a few minutes not only desirable but requisite.  We dismounted at
the door of a café kept by a Sicilian (the Sicilians are famed for their
ices), and procured a cool and delightful cup of limonea, and long
glasses filled with what the seller called sherbet. Meanwhile, our
volunteers were busily imbibing all the liquids they could procure from
the stationary acquaiuóli, or water-sellers; who retail cool beverages
to the passengers, at the corner of every street in a Neapolitan town.
A gaudily painted barrel, swinging on an iron axis fixed between the
door-posts, is the principal feature of these establishments, which
generally open at a street corner; the rough columns supporting it are
garnished with tin drinking cups, scoured bright as silver, and in these
the seller supplies his customers with pure and sparkling water cooled
by snow introduced through the bung-hole of the cask every time a
draught is required.

"Caro signor, give a poor rogue a bajocch to get a draught of cold
water!" is often the cry of the beggars in hot weather.

Thus refreshed, Santugo ordered his volunteers once more to march, and
the road for our camp was resumed.  After a short halt in the great
forest, during noon, we reached the British forces, which still occupied
their ground on the banks of the Mucato, where I had left them on the
preceding evening.  With much formality, I presented the Visconte and
his companions to the general.  The camp was already crowded with other
volunteers, who came pouring in from all quarters, imploring arms and
ammunition, and clamouring to be led against the enemy.

"Napoli!  Napoli!  Ferdinando nostro e la santa fede!  Revenge or
death!" was the shout of the Calabrians: it rang from the gorge of
Orzamarzo to the cliffs of Capo di Larma; and all of the population who
could draw a dagger, or wield an ox-goad, rushed to arms, panting for
vengeance.  In less than two days, we had a corps of two thousand picked
soldiers embodied, armed, equipped, eager for battle, and officered by
the noblest families in the provinces.  Clad in their white
uniform,—until then there was a ludicrous want of similarity in their
garb,—they appeared a fine-looking body of men, and every way the
reverse of their countrymen of the Southern Provinces: brave, resolute,
and yielding every requisite obedience to those Italian cavalieri whom
the general appointed to lead them into the field.

The peasantry brought us in provisions in plenty, but refused to receive
payment in return; saying that they "could not sufficiently reward those
who came to free them from the hateful tyranny of the French," led by
Massena, the renegade peasant of Nice.

On the night of the 3rd, I was despatched on the spur to the Podesta, or
chief magistrate, of St. Eufemio, with a printed manifesto addressed by
Sir John Stuart to the Italian people; inviting them to rise in arms,
and throw off the yoke of France; promising them protection for their
persons, property, laws, and religion; offering arms to the brave and
loyal, and a free pardon to those whom Buonaparte had either seduced or
terrified into temporary adherence to his brother Joseph.

Santuffo commanded the first battalion of the free corps; which was no
sooner formed into something like fighting order, than we broke up our
camp and moved to attack General Regnier; who, having been apprised of
our debarkation, made a most rapid march from Reggio, collecting on the
route all his detached corps, for the purpose of engaging us without
delay.

On the evening of the 3rd, il Cavaliére del Castagno, a captain in
Santugo’s battalion, brought us intelligence that Regnier, at the head
of 4,000 infantry, 300 cavalry, and four pieces of artillery, had taken
up a position near Maida, a town ten miles distant from our camp, and
that another corps of three regiments under the Marchese di Monteleone
was en route to form a junction with him. These advices determined our
leader to march at once on Regnier’s position, and attack him ere the
Marchese came up.  Accordingly, four companies of Sir Louis de
Watteville’s regiment, under the command of Major Fisher, were left to
protect our stores and a small field work which, under the direction of
Signor Pietro Navarro of the Sicilian engineers, had been thrown up on
our landing, and planted with cannon.  Our little army marched next day
(the 4th) in three brigades; which, together with the advance under
Colonel Kempt, and a reserve of artillery with four six-pounders and two
howitzers, under Major Le Moine, made barely five thousand men,
exclusive of the free corps.



                             *CHAPTER VII.*

                         *THE BATTLE OF MAIDA.*


The morning of the battle was one of the most beautiful and serene I
ever beheld, even in Italy. As the curtain of night was drawn aside, and
the bright beams of morning lighted up the giant masses of the
Apennines, the green rice-fields, and luxuriant vineyards; white-walled
towns and villages, solitary convents and feudal castles, waving woods,
and the indentations of the rocky coast, all became tinted with their
most pleasing hues.  But the surpassing splendour of the sun—in whose
joyous effulgence the whole glorious landscape seemed palpitating with
delight—the clearness of the atmosphere, and the deep blue of the
wondrous vault above us, were all forgotten, or unheeded: we thought
only of the foe in position before us; while the dropping fire from our
flankers, who had commenced skirmishing with the French tirailleurs,
kept us keenly alive to the desperate work which had to be accomplished
ere the sun sank below the sea.  When that hour came, might I be alive
to behold it? How many an eye that looked on its glorious rising, would
then be closed for ever!

General Regnier’s troops were encamped below Maida, on the face of a
thickly-wooded hill, which sloped into the plain of St. Eufemio.  The
Amato, a river which, though fordable, has very muddy and marshy banks,
ran along the front of his line, while his flanks were strengthened and
defended by groves of laurel bushes, and a thick impervious underwood,
which he had filled with scattered light troops.  Cavaliére Castagno by
his influence among the peasantry, obtained hourly any intelligence we
required; and just before the battle begun, he conveyed to me, for the
general’s information, the unpleasing tidings, that Monteleone’s corps,
to the number of three thousand men, were now moving into position on
the French right. General Regnier was now at the head of eight thousand
bayonets, while we had little more than half that number, exclusive of
the Calabrians, on whom, as yet, we could not rely much in the field;
and they were, consequently, to form a corps of reserve: much to the
annoyance of the gallant Santugo and his friends.

We marched in close column of subdivisions, parallel with the sea-shore,
until we had nearly turned Regnier’s left; and as our movements were all
made in a spacious plain, with the morning sun glaring on our serried
ranks and burnished arms, he had an excellent view of our numbers and
intentions.  Had Regnier quietly maintained his position on the hill, we
would soon have turned it altogether, and thus placed him between us and
the sea; where Sir Sydney’s squadron lay, broadside to the shore, with
ports open and guns double shotted.  To us the movement was full of
peril: our retreat might be cut off; while, in consequence of the
smallness of our force, the difficulties of access, and the natural
strength of the ridge on which the enemy was posted, we should have
found it no easy task to drive him back.

Whether the Frenchman feared he should be out-flanked, or was encouraged
by his numbers to attack us, I know not; but he soon crossed the Amato,
in order of battle, and moved his entire force into the plain, where his
corps of cavalry—an arm, of which we were, most unfortunately,
deficient—would act more effectively.

As yet, not a shot had been fired: the enemy continued advancing towards
us steadily and in line; their arms flashing, colours fluttering in the
breeze, and drums beating in sharp and measured time.  They halted by
sound of trumpet, and, at the head of a glittering staff, Regnier swept,
at a gallop, from the right flank to the left.

"Gentlemen," said Sir John to his staff, on first observing this new
movement of the enemy; "ride at full speed to the battalions, and order
them to deploy into line.  Mr. Lascelles, desire Cole to take up his
ground where he is now. Dundas, you will direct Major Le Moine to get
his guns into position on that knoll, where the wooden cross stands—to
have them unlimbered, and ready to open on the enemy’s line the moment
he deems it within range.  Order Lieutenant Colonel Kempt to throw
forward the whole of his light infantry, double quick, and in extended
order to "feel" the enemy, and keep their tirailleurs in check."

Saluting with one hand, I wheeled Cartouche round with the other, gave
him the spur, and galloped on my mission; delivering the order to deploy
into line as I passed the heads of the different columns.  In three
minutes Le Moine had his field-pieces at the appointed post, and wheeled
round; the iron pintles drawn, the limbers cast off, and the muzzles
pointed to the enemy.  Leaping from his horse, he levelled, and fired
the first shot himself.

It was the signal gun, announcing that the work of destruction and death
had begun in grim, earnest.  My heart beat thick and fast; every pulse
quickened, and a proud, almost fierce and wild sensation, swelled within
me, as the sharp report rang through the clear still air, and the white
smoke floated away from the green knoll, revealing the dark cannon that
bristled around it.

I reined up my gallant grey on an eminence, to watch the effect of the
ball.  General Regnier, escorted by fifty dragoons, their brass helmets
and bright swords flashing in the sun, was at that moment galloping back
to his right flank; and on this group the shot took effect: a commotion
was visible among them immediately, and they rode on at a quicker pace,
leaving a dark heap behind them—a rider and his horse lay dying or dead.
The whole of our field-pieces now opened a rapid cannonade on the French
line, and continued it incessantly during the action.

By this time the light infantry were hotly engaged: the Sicilian
volunteers, the Corsicans, and our provisional light battalion, were
filling the dark-green underwood, and the leafy groves along the banks
of the Amato, with smoke; while hill, rock, and woodland rang with the
ceaseless patter of the fire they rained on the French tirailleurs, who
blazed at them in return with equal spirit, from behind every screen
afforded by the irregularity of the ground.  As the lines drew nearer,
the light troops, as if by tacit agreement, were withdrawn by sound of
bugle; and by nine o’clock in the morning the battle had become general,
from centre to flanks.

The corps which formed the right of our advanced line, was a provisional
battalion commanded by Colonel Kempt, and composed of the light
companies of six of our regiments from Sicily, and that of de
Watteville’s corps, with a hundred and fifty picked men of the 35th
under Major Robinson. These troops were opposed to the 1st regiment of
French light infantry (the favourite corps of the Emperor), which they
mauled in glorious style; pouring in a deadly fire at about a hundred
yards distance.  On their left was the corps of General Ackland,
composed of the 78th, or Ross-shire Highlanders, the 81st regiment, and
five companies of de Watteville’s, with the 58th under the late General
Sir John Oswald, then colonel.

General Cole, with the provisional battalion of grenadiers, and the
27th, formed our left.  Such was the disposition of our little army when
engaging the enemy, whose force mustered almost two to one.  Sir Sydney
Smith by this time had taken a position with his ships and gun-boats, to
act and co-operate if circumstances favoured; but, much to the annoyance
of the gallant sailor, his fleet could yield us no assistance during
that day’s fighting.

Led by the chivalric Macleod of Geanies,—a brave officer, who afterwards
fell in Egypt,—the 78th rushed upon the enemy, with the wild and
headlong impetuosity of their countrymen.  I was close by their dashing
colonel, when, sword in hand, he led them on.

"Forward the Ross-shire buffs!  Let them feel the bayonet—charge!"  And
animated to a sort of martial phrenzy by the shrill pibroch—whose wild
and sonorous war-blast rang as loudly on the plain of Maida as ever it
did by the glassy Loch-duich, when the bale-fires of the M’Kenzie blazed
on continent and isle—the bold Highlanders flung themselves with a yell
upon the masses of the enemy.  They were opposed to the French 42d
regiment of grenadiers—a corps led by that brave French officer upon
whom Buonaparte had bestowed the Calabrian title of Marchese di
Monteleone.  Riding in advance of his soldiers, by words and gestures
the most enthusiastic, he urged them to advance, to keep together, to
hold their ground.  But his sabre was brandished, and the war-cry
shouted, in vain; and vain, too, were the desperate efforts of his
grenadiers before the tremendous charge of our Highlanders.  Overwhelmed
and broken, they were driven back in confusion, and pursued with
slaughter by the 78th; until the latter were so far in advance of our
whole line that Sir John sent me after them at full gallop, with an
order to halt and re-form, in case of their being cut off.

I delivered the order to Macleod, who was stooping from his horse in the
arms of a sergeant of his regiment, and almost unable to speak.  A
rifle-ball had passed through his breast, within an inch of the heart,
inflicting a most severe and dangerous wound: yet he quitted not the
field, but remained on horseback, and at the head of his Highlanders,
during the remainder of the action, and the fierce pursuit which
followed it.

Drumlugas, a captain of the corps, in the _melée_ unhorsed the Marchese,
who narrowly escaped with the loss of his steed and sabre: these
remained the trophies of the victor, who distinguished himself by more
conquests and captures ere the day was done.

Colonel Kempt’s corps was now within a few yards of the enemy, and the
deadly fire which they had been pouring upon each other was suspended,
"as if by mutual agreement," as Sir John stated in his despatch; "and in
close, compact order, and with awful silence, they advanced towards each
other, until the bayonets began to cross.  At this momentous crisis, the
enemy became appalled; they broke, and endeavoured to fly; but it was
too late: they were overtaken with most dreadful slaughter."  Ere they
fled—

"Dundas, ride to Brigadier-General Ackland; let him push forward his
brave corps, and complete that which Kempt has so nobly begun!" cried
the general.  I departed with this order, on the spur; but it was
anticipated by Ackland, who was already leading on in triumph, through
clouds of smoke, and over heaps of dead and dying, the 78th and 81st:
shoulder to shoulder, they rushed on, with bayonets levelled to the
charge—cool, compact, and resolute.  Discomfited by their formidable
aspect, and the impetuosity of this movement, the whole of the French
left wing gave way, and retired in confusion, leaving the plain strewn
with killed and wounded.  The river Amato was choked with the bodies and
crimsoned with the blood of those who, unable by wounds or fatigue to
cross the stream, became entangled among the thick sedges on its banks;
where they perished miserably, either by the bayonets of the pursuers or
by drowning.

At that moment a dashing French officer, at the head of three hundred
heavy dragoons, made a desperate attempt to retrieve the honour of
France and the fortune of the day: rushing forward at full speed through
the white clouds of rolling smoke, he attempted to turn the left of the
81st, and capture three field-pieces posted between that regiment and
the Ross-shire Buffs.

"Allons, mes enfans!  Napoleon!  Napoleon! allons!" cried he, waving his
sabre aloft.  "Vive l’Empereur!  Guerre à mort!" was the answering shout
of his fierce troopers, as they swept onward in solid squadron; their
brandished swords and long line of brass helmets gleaming in the sun,
while their tricoloured Guideon and waving crests of black horse-hair
danced on the passing breeze.  But the steady fire of the Highlanders
made them recoil obliquely, and I found myself most unexpectedly among
them, when spurring onward with the order to Ackland: to deliver which
with speed, I had the temerity to ride through a little hollow raked by
the fire of the three guns already mentioned, and along which these
dragoons had advanced unseen amid the smoke.

The press was tremendous: riders cursed and shrieked as they were thrown
and trod to death; horses were plunging and kicking; and both fell fast
on every side.  Twenty swords at once gleamed around me, and their cuts
whistled on every side, as I attempted desperately to break through the
dense, heaving mass of men and horses.  My heart leaped within me, my
brain reeled, and my blood seemed on fire: I struck to the right, left,
and rear, giving point and cut with the utmost rapidity; never
attempting to ward off the flashing blades that played around my bare
head—for my gay staff hat, with its red and white plume, had vanished in
the melée.  I must inevitably have been unhorsed and cut down, but for a
sudden volley that was poured in point blank upon the cavalry from the
dark brushwood covering one side of the gorge.  A score of saddles were
emptied, and many a strong horse and gallant rider rolled on the turf in
the agonies of death; while all the survivors, save their officers
alone, retreated at full gallop to the French position.

Next moment the whole line of the dashing 20th, led on by
Lieutenant-colonel Ross, started out from their ambush in the thick
underwood; where the regiment lay concealed during the smoke and
confusion of the battle, unseen even by ourselves.  Having only landed
that morning from Messina, they had come up with our army during the
heat of the contest; and Ross, observing the movement of the enemy’s
cavalry, threw his battalion into the thicket, the sudden flank-fire
from which completely foiled their attempt upon our cannon.  One man
only of the 20th fell: but he was deeply regretted by the whole
regiment—Captain Maclean (the son of Gilian Maclean of Scallecastle, in
the Isle of Mull), an officer who had served with distinction in
Holland, in the first expedition to Egypt, and elsewhere.

The Frenchman who had led on the dragoons seemed to be one of those
daring and reckless fellows who scorn flight, and laugh at danger; so,
venting a malediction on his runaway troops, he rode alone towards me.
The 20th and other corps near us, seeing that we were well matched, with
a chivalric resolution to see fair play, suspended their fire to let us
prove our mettle, while they looked on.

Being an expert swordsman, and master of my horse, so far that I could
clear a five-barred gate or cross a hunting country with any man, I had
but slight fear as to the issue of the encounter; yet it flashed upon my
mind, that to be signally defeated in front of our whole army would be
worse than death.  My antagonist was about thirty years of age, with a
form modelled like that of a young Hercules; and his aspect and bearing
led me to conclude that the encounter would be a tough one.  He belonged
to the staff, and on his breast glittered the star of the Iron Crown of
Lombardy: a badge bestowed upon five hundred knights (the flower of his
officers) created by Napoleon on his recent coronation at Milan, as king
of Italy.

We advanced within twelve yards of each other, and then rode our horses
warily round in a circle; each watching the eyes and movements of the
other, with stern caution and alert vigilance, such as the time and
circumstances could alone draw forth: the life of one depended on the
death of the other.  At last I rushed furiously to the assault, making a
cut seemingly at the head of my antagonist, but changing it adroitly to
his bridle hand; the stroke missed the man, but cut through both curb
and snaffle rein. I deemed him now completely at my mercy; but as he had
a chain-rein attached to his bridle, nothing was gained by the first
stroke.

"Monsieur, I disdain to return the compliment!" said he carelessly,
while, with a laugh of triumphant scorn, he shook his strong
chain-bridle.  Provoked by his insolent non-chalance, I dealt a backward
blow with such force and dexterity that he began to press me in turn;
and with skill that I had some trouble in meeting.  His charger was so
well trained, that he was aided in every stroke and thrust by its
movements; while Cartouche, startled by the clash of the sabres, began
to snort and rear.  The restless spirit of the fiery English blood-horse
was roused, and a shell thrown by a French field howitzer exploding
close by, completed his terror and my discomfiture: Cartouche plunged so
fearfully that my sabre fell from my grasp, and I nearly lost my seat
while endeavouring, by curb and caress, to reduce him to subjection.  I
was thus quite at the mercy of the Frenchman; who, generously disdaining
to take the advantage that my restive horse gave him, merely said,
"Gardez, monsieur!" and bowing, lowered the point of his sabre in salute
and galloped away, greeted by a hearty cheer from the 20th and Ackland’s
brigade.



                            *CHAPTER VIII.*

               *THE COTTAGE ON THE MAIDA ROAD—THE EAGLE.*


Broken by the impetuous and simultaneous advance of our brigades,
Regnier’s whole line of battle gave way, and retired from the field with
precipitation—especially the left wing—leaving the position strewn with
dead and wounded, and presenting a terrible scene of carnage and agony,
as we pressed triumphantly forward.  The right and centre retreated in
tolerable order, covered by the cavalry; but the left was swept away and
almost annihilated by the fierce charge of the Ross-shire Buffs.  Our
light battalion, commanded by Colonel Kempt, and Macleod with his
regiment, flushed with victory, were ordered forward immediately in
pursuit.  They followed it up in double quick time for upwards of three
miles, killing and capturing an immense number of the enemy; whose rear
they galled by a continual fire from the eminences commanding their line
of march.

When Sir John again sent me after them with an order to halt, I found
them briskly engaged with a small band of fugitives who had thrown
themselves into a little cottage by the wayside, over which a gigantic
chestnut threw its ample shadow.  From the garden wall and barricaded
door and windows, the French maintained a spirited fire, to defend a
standard and eagle which Regnier’s son, a young sub-lieutenant, had
carried in there instead of continuing his flight.  This rural post was
enveloped in the blaze of musketry and clouds of snow-white smoke: steel
bayonets bristled above the green hedges, through which, and the
shattered casements, red flashes broke incessantly; while fierce faces,
pale with anger and chagrin, appeared at every opening.

"Shall I ride to Le Moine, to send up a four-pounder, and blow the place
about their ears?" said I to Kempt.

"Cannon against a shelling!" exclaimed Macleod, backing his horse over
the heaps of dead. "No, no; let the Buffs storm it.  I will lead them
on.  Forward the Ross-shiremen!"

"Forward!" I added; "for the cavalry have halted, and seem disposed to
return and engage. On, then, colonel; and a dozen of wine from the last
officer over the wall!"

"CUIDICH’N RHI!" (the motto of the regiment), cried Macleod, dashing
spurs into his horse.  "Charge, Seventy-eighth!"

A shout burst from the ranks, and the brave fellows rushed to closer
conflict.  I urged forward Cartouche, and the spirited horse shook the
foam from his bit, as snorting and rearing up he bounded over the
enclosure of the garden, and came down crash among the mass of
Frenchmen, whose bayonets formed a steel hedge around me.  I must have
been destroyed in a moment, but for the strenuous exertions of Macleod
and his gallant Buffs; who came pouring in at the gap my horse had made,
and engaged the enemy hand to hand—fighting with that fierce and
unconquerable ardour which has enabled those brave sons of the north to
sweep all the troops of Europe before them.

I was not slow in seconding their efforts, and made good use of my
sabre: one instant it descended upon musket barrels and bear-skin caps,
and the next inflicted some deadly wound, which at that wild and
exciting time was a matter of exulting triumph to me.  Terrible were the
bayonet wounds given and received in that short encounter; many poor
fellows who were beaten to the earth were trodden to death beneath the
hoofs of our horses, and in five minutes the defenders of the cottage
surrendered.  The walls without and within were piled up with dead and
dying, and its once blooming garden was trodden flat, cumbered with
bodies, and drenched with blood.  But another desperate encounter was
yet before me.

"The colours! the eagle!" exclaimed Macleod, breaking in amongst the
prisoners; "where is the officer who bore the eagle?"

"Escaped, by Heaven!" answered Oliver Lascelles, who galloped up at that
moment, and cleared the garden-wall at a flying leap.  "There he goes on
the bald-faced nag.  A hundred to one the standard is lost!"  A muttered
exclamation of regret and mortification burst from us all on beholding
the bearer of the eagle riding at full speed after the retreating
cavalry.

"S’death!" cried Macleod, rushing to his horse; "he has escaped by the
rear.  Come on, gentlemen, we will have a steeple-chase for it!"

"Stole away! hark forward!" exclaimed Lascelles, with a reckless laugh,
as his nag once more cleared the wall.  The mounted officers all pushed
onward at full gallop; but they were soon outstripped by my noble grey,
which rapidly brought me up with the fugitive.  On finding himself
nearer the French rear-guard than the victors, and perhaps disdaining to
fly from a single foe, young Regnier reined up on an eminence near the
Amato, and with his sabre lashed by the knot to his wrist, with bent
brows, and eyes flashing fire with determination, he awaited my onset.
His horse was a small French trooper; the straight neck, drooping ears,
and close flanks of which showed its inferiority of breed when compared
with my high-headed, bold-eyed, and bluff-chested charger.

I charged him with such fury that both man and horse were almost
overturned by the shock; and parrying his thrust, I dealt a blow which
had certainly cleft his jaws, but for the thick brass scales of his
shako.  He was stunned, and reeled in his saddle for a moment, striking
blindly and at random.  At that instant the French cavalry trumpets
sounded an _advance_, and I was compelled to press him more boldly than
ever.  Grasping the colour-staff with my bridle hand, the flag was
nearly rent between us; while he endeavoured to hew off the eagle with
his sabre.  He glared at me like a tiger and cut fiercely at my left
hand, which the twisted reins and thick military glove alone saved from
being slashed off; but at the second blow his sabre turned in his grasp,
and the blade was shivered into fragments on the stout ash-pole.  In the
heat of the moment, my sword was raised to cut him down: he was
completely at my mercy. He was young, brave, and handsome.  I remembered
how his countryman had spared me but an hour before, and could I be less
generous? Determined, however, to carry off the colours, I grasped him
by the belt, placed my foot under his left stirrup, and hurled him to
the ground on the other side.  The moment he let go the staff, I struck
spurs into my grey, and galloped off with the prize to our own troops;
who had watched the combat from the eminence on which the contested
cottage stood.

My heart bounded with exultation as I bore aloft the tricoloured trophy:
it was so torn with shot and shell splinters, that we could never
discover to what regiment it belonged.  How different must have been the
feelings of the poor sub-lieutenant, while borne off by the French
cavalry; who, returning to the rescue, discharged their carbines after
me: but I was happily beyond the range of their fire.

The battle was now completely over, and every hostile sound had died
away.  No trace now remained of all that gallant host, whose bayonets
had flashed back the morning rays from the ridge of Maida, save the
wounded and the dead: the distant glitter of arms and eddying clouds of
dust, marked the route of columns hurrying in full retreat towards the
shores of the Adriatic. Four thousand Frenchmen lay dead or wounded on
the plain; exhibiting a melancholy picture of war and its attendant
horrors—more especially on the day succeeding the action.  A French
account of the battle of St. Eufemio, as they style it, states that
Regnier left fifteen hundred on the field; but we had substantial proofs
that this number was far below the truth.  Our own loss was trifling:
one officer only was killed (Maclean of the 20th); but Major Hamil of
the Maltese, and many others, lay severely wounded on the plain: our
casualties, however, amounted to only three hundred and twenty-six.
When riding towards our position, to present my trophy to the general, I
had to pick my way with the utmost nicety, to avoid treading on the
wounded; who filled the air with groans and ceaseless cries for "water!"
as they lay unheeded, bleeding—too many of them to death—under a blazing
Italian sun.

The evening, like the morning, was serene and beautiful.  The dense
white smoke, which during the whole day enveloped the plain of Maida and
overhung the dark forest of St. Eufemio, had now floated away to the
distant sea.  The volleying musketry and hollow thunder of the cannon
awoke no more the echoes of the lofty hills, and the deep dingles of the
woods: a mournful silence seemed to have succeeded to the roar, the
turmoil and carnage of that eventful day,—eventful at least to those who
witnessed and survived it.

It is a deplorable sight—when one is calm or suffering under a reaction
of spirits so lately excited to the utmost stretch, and after the fierce
tumult of a hot engagement has evaporated—to behold a vast plain
bepuddled with human blood, and strewn with the bodies of men and
horses, mingled with arms, broken cannon, splintered shells, balls half
buried in the turf, shattered drums, and torn standards—on every hand,
destruction, agony, and death; while ghastly piles of slain mark where
the fiercest encounters have taken place.  Alas! how changed the aspect
of the gay young officer, or the stout and toil-worn veteran, when,
shorn of their trappings, they lie weltering in blood—death glazing the
eyes that have no kind hand to close them, and each yielding up his life
like a dog in a ditch, unnoticed and unknown!

    —"The groan, the roll in dust, the all white eye
    Turned back within its socket,—these reward
    Your rank and file by thousands; while the rest
    May win, _perhaps_, a ribbon at the breast."



                             *CHAPTER IX.*

                 *LIVES FOR DUCATS!—BIANCA D’ALFIERI.*


The remains of General Regnier’s army were now in fall retreat for
Crotona, a seaport of Naples; harassed and galled by the Highlanders,
and by the Free corps under the Duca di Bagnara and Cavalier del
Castagno.  The brigands and a host of armed peasantry also hovered like
storm-clouds on their skirts; and all who fell to the rear, under wounds
or fatigue, perished by that favourite Italian weapon—the knife.

On rejoining the main body of our army, I found the general in the
highest state of glee at the glorious success of the day: he was seated
on horseback in the midst of the field, a holster-flap serving as his
desk, writing a hurried despatch recounting our first regular brush with
the enemy in Calabria.  My arrival with the standard added a new and
important paragraph to the general’s missive.  While he was
complimenting and rallying me by turns, our interview was interrupted by
cries of Frenchmen for succour, proceeding from a thicket close by.
There I found six French officers, and the same number of soldiers,
bound with cords to the trees, and surrounded by some of Santugo’s free
corps; who were hammering their flints and loading, with great
deliberation, for the purpose of making targets of these unfortunates.
Among the prisoners I recognised the gallant leader of the cavalry, whom
I had encountered in the early part of the day.  His arms were corded
behind him round the trunk of an oak, and he was nearly blinded by the
blood which flowed from a wound on his head, inflicted apparently by the
butt of a musket, or the knob of a peasant’s club.

"Save us, Monsieur Aide-de-camp!" cried he, in broken English; "these
Italian ruffians know not the rules of nations, or the courtesy of war.
Save us from such base poltroons!  It is hard for brave men to die so
helplessly."

"Giacomo—how now, rascal!  Is this the way you mean to treat our
prisoners?" I angrily asked of Santugo’s follower, who seemed to be the
officiating authority.  "Unbind them instantly, and with these
mule-headed rogues of yours, rejoin the free corps!  But first, read to
them the general’s proclamation concerning the treatment of prisoners."
As I severed the cords which bound the staff officer, the Calabrians
vented their anger in loud murmurs.

"Eh, via! what would you do, signor?" asked Belloni, with an air of
sulky surprise.

"Olà, damnazione!" growled the rest, as they grimly handled their
knives, and closed round the Frenchmen; seemingly resolved that their
prey should not escape.  Poor fellows! it was an anxious moment for
them.  Taking from my sabretache a copy of Sir John’s proclamation to
the Calabrians, I read it aloud: it enjoined them to treat generously
all captives who fell into their hands, and offered rewards for every
one conducted by them in safety to the British camp—twenty ducats for an
officer, and six for each private soldier.  Immediately there arose a
shout of "Il denaro—the money!"  I cast the ducats (part of what I had
won from Truffi the crookback) amongst them, with ill concealed
impatience and scorn.  The money was gathered up hurriedly, and the
prisoners were unbound.  Thus, for a hundred and fifty pieces of silver,
I saved the lives of twelve human beings; who would have been butchered
without remorse, but for my opportune arrival and intervention.

I led the reprieved men to Sir John Stuart, who was still intent on his
despatch.  Surrounded by whole hecatombs of slain and wounded—by sights
and sounds replete with agony and horror—the old soldier continued to
scribble on "for the information of his Royal Highness," with an
expression and air of as perfect coolness, as if seated in the most
comfortable drawing-room at home.  A group of adjutants and orderlies
stood round him, reporting the various casualties, and making up their
lists of killed, wounded, and missing.  They fell back on our approach.

I presented the prisoners, among whom were an aide-de-camp, the
lieutenant-colonel of a Swiss battalion, and my brave antagonist; whom I
discovered to be the famous General Compere. He had been unhorsed and
disarmed by Captain Drumlugas, who gave him in charge of the free corps;
from whose gentle wardship I had rescued him.  The privates were poor
Swiss conscripts, who had been marched from their native mountains to
fight under the eagles of the Emperor. They were placed among the rest
of our prisoners, who now numbered about a thousand: these were formed
in a solid square, and surrounded by the Sicilian battalion, with two
four-pounders loaded with cannister and grape, to keep the forlorn band
in complete subjection.

As I accompanied General Compere in search of a surgeon to dress his
wound, we passed a deep trench, or natural chasm of rock, in which about
seven hundred French dead were being hastily interred; to prevent their
bodies producing malaria, or being stripped and mutilated by the
peasantry.  A wing of les chasseurs Brittaniques, working with their
jackets off, were performing the duty of sextons.  Compere paused to
observe them.

"Poor fellows!" said he, looking down on the heaped dead within that
hideous catacomb.  "This morning, how merrily they marched from Maida!
How many a young and brave heart, that was then swelling with courage
and ardour, is lying here—crushed, cold, and still!"  His fine, bronzed
face, clouded for a moment with the deepest dejection and mortification,
while surveying the ghastly trench where his soldiers lay piled one on
another, with arms, knapsacks, and harness, just as they were found; but
his proud eye brightened as he turned towards the darkening hills, where
the far-off clouds of dust, curling like smoke in the distance, marked
the line of Regnier’s quick retreat.

"Hah!" added he, gaily, "France yet swarms with brave soldiers; and
Massena will soon show your haughty general that Naples is not to be won
and lost on Maida only.  He is ’the child of victory;’ and fortune will
soon smile again on the soldiers of the emperor.  As for this day’s
field, about which they will doubtless make a great noise in
England—poh! ’tis a mere battle of eggshells to what I have seen: even
in Italy—this land of cowards!  Had you been on the fields of Arcole and
Lodi—had you seen our victorious legions sweep the Romans from the
mountains of Imola—’twould have done your heart good.  Faith! one who
has captured Naples, fought in Apulia, invested Gaeta, and seen the
corpses piled chin-deep in the redoubt of San Andero, must know what
campaigning is!  But allons!  Monsieur; if it please you, let me get my
poor broken head dressed."  I hailed one of the medical staff (Dr.
Macneisa of ours) who was passing near us, and in a few minutes
Compere’s wound was bathed and bandaged up, with a care and tenderness
of which he seemed deeply sensible.

Macneisa had scarcely retired, when we were informed that the numerous
prisoners had become refractory, and Sir John was about to give them a
dose from the field-pieces; but Compere hastened to the spot, and by his
presence reduced them to subjection.  They were then formed in sections,
and strongly escorted, preparatory to their march to the coast, where
the boats of Sir Sydney’s fleet were in waiting to embark them.

"En arriere—marche!" cried the crest-fallen Compere, half-forgetting
that his authority was no more; and the dark, disarmed mass moved off
towards the sea, encircled by a hedge of glittering bayonets.  "Dieu
vous benisse!" said the French general, raising his cocked hat;
"Monsieur aide-de-camp, I shall never forget your kindness. Adieu—a
thousand adieux!"  And I saw him no more—at least, not as a prisoner.

On their retreat to Crotona, the French were closely followed by Macleod
with the 78th, les chasseurs Brittaniques, and Santugo’s free corps,
with orders to attack them on every occasion, and to endeavour to
dislodge them entirely from Calabria Ulteriore.  As their route lay
along the shore of the Adriatic, an excellent opportunity was afforded
for an effectual co-operation with our squadron in that sea, commanded
by Captain (afterwards Sir William) Hoste; who never neglected an
opportunity of galling their left flank whenever it came within range.
On their right a giant chain of mountains heaved upwards from the beach;
and there the chiefs of the Masse, at the head of thousands panting for
French blood, hovered in clouds, while Macleod pressed on their rear.
For miles the shore was strewn with their killed and wounded.  A
position was hastily taken up at Catanzaro; but as hastily abandoned,
before the overwhelming power of the Masse.

Our wounded were conveyed to St. Eufemio, where all the officers of the
medical staff and fleet were in attendance on them daily.  The
solicitude of the sailors to be of use to us, and their anxiety to
assist their wounded countrymen—the alacrity with which they brought
supplies ashore—and the general tenderness and attention with which
these rough tars treated their helpless brethren, elicited the highest
encomiums from the general and the admiral; on board whose ship I had
the honour to lodge the eagle (captured at Maida), which, with our
despatches, was immediately transmitted to London in charge of
Lieutenant Villiers of ours. Sir John wished me to have been the bearer;
but, having cogent reasons for remaining in Calabria as long as
possible, I contrived to excuse myself.

Our head-quarters were established at St. Eufemio; while Macleod, with
three thousand men, laid siege to Crotona, and Hoste, with the Adriatic
fleet of gun-boats, blockaded it by sea. Colonel Oswald was despatched
to invest Scylla, with orders to storm the castle of Monteleone on his
way.  These were the only strongholds of importance possessed by Regnier
in the lower province.  Immediately on his retreat, the famous
Capo-bandito Francatripa, with his ferocious horde issued from the
forest of St. Eufemio, and carried by storm a battlemented and
palisadoed house at the place called the Sauveria; where an unfortunate
party of the 23d French light infantry, who formed its garrison, had
been abandoned by Regnier in his flight.  After a gallant resistance,
the garrison were all cruelly massacred by these blood-thirsty patriots;
even their little trumpeter, a boy only twelve years of age, perished
beneath their poniards.  Such a sample of Italian savagism called forth
the indignation of our soldiers, who were well aware that by the
courtesy of war the little band deserved very different treatment; but
Francatripa excused himself on the plea that it was but a part of that
cruel system of reprisals maintained on both sides.

When the embarkation of prisoners, the landing of cannon and stores, the
billetting of sick and wounded, the burial of the dead, and all the
bustle succeeding the battle were over, I thought of paying a visit to
my friends at the villa d’Alfieri.  There could not be a better time;
the Visconte was at Crotona with his regiment, and I should have Bianca
to myself.

My billet was at an inn of St. Eufemio, called "Il Concha d’Oro," from
its sign, the Golden Shell. It was kept by a worthy bustling little
Italian, Maestro Matteo Buzzone: who, in truth, was not ill named; his
paunch being one of the first amplitude.  I was enjoying a cigar and a
decanter of iced Malvasia from the classic isles of Lipari, at an open
lattice.  Opposite, stood the house of the Signor Podesta, and I amused
myself for some time by attempting to engage his daughter, a dark-eyed
and red-cheeked damsel, in a flirtation: but my efforts were vain;
though she appeared every moment at the window—watering flowers,
arranging and disarranging the sunshade, bowing to a passer by, or what
not.

The coolness of the evening induced me to think of a canter as far as
the villa d’Alfieri. Summoning the groom, I desired him to saddle
Cartouche; while, with rather more care than usual, I made my toilet:
for I was about to pay my devoirs to the fair Bianca.  In those days,
when one was not on duty, the uniform coat was worn open, with the
lappelles buttoned back, to show the facings barred with silver; the
sash and swordbelt being worn under it, and over a white kerseymere
waistcoat.  White breeches, long jackboots reaching above the knee, and
equipped with jangling spurs, a heavy sabre with a brass sheath, buff
gloves, and a cocked hat with a drooping plume of scarlet and white
feathers, completed the uniform of a British staff officer.

I was just setting forth, when the ill-omened visage of the general’s
orderly, an old and sunburnt serjeant of the 81st, appeared at the door:
erect as a ramrod, he raised his hand to his bear-skin cap, and placed a
despatch in my hand.

"Hallo, Pierce! what’s fresh now?"

"Sir John’s compliments, sir, and he requests you will make all speed
with this before the night sets in."

"Now, by all the gods! ’tis mere slavery this staff work—I’ll resign,
and join the 62d at Syracuse!" I muttered, while tearing open the note
accompanying the dispatch—an oblong document, addressed "O.H.M.S., To
Lt.-Col. Macleod, Ross-shire Buffs, Crotona."

"Dear Dundas (ran the note), You will ride forthwith, and deliver the
accompanying letter at Crotona.  If it suits your taste, stay there to
partake of the fighting; but bring me word the moment it capitulates.
Yours, &c.,

"JOHN STUART, Maj.-Gen."


There was no course but to obey: yet I determined that my original
purpose of visiting Bianca should not be interfered with.  Thrusting the
despatch into the sabretache, I buckled on my sabre, and in five minutes
was en route, with all the worldly goods I possessed (at least in
Calabria) strapped to the saddle before and behind me.  In front were a
pair of excellent pistols, newly oiled, flinted and loaded, and my blue
cloak was rolled and buckled over the holsters; a valise was strapped
behind me, containing a few changes of linen, and a fighting jacket: a
handful of cigars and an Army List, a horse-picker and a cork-screw,
with a copy of "The Eighteen Manoeuvres" (compiled by my namesake Sir
David Dundas), completed my camp equipage; the whole of our heavy
baggage having been left behind us in Sicily.  The telescope—an
appendage indispensable to a staff-officer—I carried in a pipe-clayed
case, slung across my left shoulder.

Evening had almost given place to night when I arrived at the villa, and
dismounted.  Its ample façade was shrouded in gloom, and there were no
signs of animation within; which was accounted for by the absence of
Santugo, with all his dependents.  I fastened my horse in the porch, for
there was no one to receive it: the guard-room of the sbirri, or armed
militia (which all the feudal nobles maintained until the French
invasion), was empty, and the quadrangle deserted.  In remote places on
the mountains some residences were still garrisoned or protected by the
sbirri; and the landholders, abetted by these armed followers in their
hereditary and inveterate feuds, became the perpetrators of outrages and
atrocities of every kind.

In the vestibule I met Annina, a girl of Capri, and Bianca’s favourite
attendant; who, on beholding me, uttered an exclamation of delight: this
was a good omen.  I enquired of course for the Viscontessa, and was
informed that she was away to the prince’s conversazione at Nicastro,
accompanied by the old Major Gismondo; but the Signora Bianca was at
home, and, taking my hand, the frank Italian girl bade me accompany her.
With my clattering boots, buckskin gloves, and worn accoutrements, I was
in fitter trim for the march than for a lady’s boudoir: but though my
scarlet uniform, its embroidery and silver epaulettes, were faded and
dingy, still they were quite service-like; and the coat yet showed the
stains of blood from the wound I had received at Cefalu, and the scratch
in the skirmish near St. Eufemio.

Bianca was seated at a table, leaning her cheek upon her hand, intent on
the sorrowful pages of "La Guiletta," her glossy curls clustering over
her white arm, which the fashion of her country revealed to the dimpled
elbow.  The lamp by which she sat reading (a globe of light, upheld by a
silver Atlas) shed its radiance full upon her eyes, which flashed
brilliantly as she raised them on my entrance, with an expression in
which surprise, confusion, and welcome were blended.  Good omen the
second! thought I.  One is more apt to be egotistical when on the staff,
than when doing duty as a mere regimental officer.  The momentary flush
which suffused her soft cheek and pale forehead, heightened her rare
beauty; and at the moment when she arose, and threw back the rich masses
of half-disordered curls with her white hand, her bust resplendent in
the full glare of light, she seemed perfectly divine—in the language of
her countrymen, a _Bell’idolo_.

Her constant companion, Luisa Gismondo, rising from an embroidery frame,
received me with a smile of welcome: she, too, was an enchanting girl,
though much shorter in stature than Bianca; and never did the light of a
candelabrum shine on curls more glossy, lips more rosy, softer blue
eyes, or a face more brilliantly fair than poor Luisa’s.

"O joy!" exclaimed the girls together; "and so, signor, you have escaped
the awful day at Maida?"

"Yes, ladies; and I hope to escape many more such days.  I trust you
will excuse this somewhat unseasonable visit, Signora Bianca," said I,
slightly pressing her hand; "but being ordered off on the spur to
Crotona, I have taken the liberty of visiting you, to be the bearer of
any message or letters to Monsignore Luigi."

"How very kind of you, Signor Claude; but—but you do not proceed on the
road to Crotona to-night?"

"I must, indeed, ride forward without delay; and believe me the general,
kind-hearted though he be, would scarcely excuse my having made a
detour, even to visit the Villa D’Alfieri."

"O, Signor Claude, consider the state of the country!" said she
earnestly, as I seated myself at the other end of the sofa, evincing not
the least hurry in the world.

"’Consider the nature of the service,’ the general would reply; but I
believe that the wildest bandit in Italy—not even Francatripa, or Frà
Diavolo—would molest a British soldier."

"You, perhaps, trust them too far.  But, indeed, our oppressed people
are not quite so bad as the Parisian papers have represented them."

By this time the distance between us on the sofa was greatly diminished,
and I was about to say something very pointed and gallant, when Annina
entered with a tray of refreshments, which she placed on the ebony table
before us.  I saw a cunning smile twinkling in her black eyes as she
watched us, while arranging the ices, the crystal goblets, and a
superbly embossed caraffa of the wine of Gioja—a village of Calabria,
famed for the excellence of its grapes.  The Viscontessa was, as I have
said, at Nicastro, where, I heartily hoped, she would continue to enjoy
herself; not wishing my tête-a-tête with these two charming girls to be
interrupted by her presence, or that of the Major.

"O, signor, tell us how you captured the standard at Maida?" asked
Luisa.

Well aware how much such an encounter makes one shine in the estimation
of women, I briefly related the whole affair; deriving considerable
satisfaction from the expressions of horror, pity, and surprise, that
flitted in succession across the fair faces of the listeners.

"And so you escaped unhurt!" exclaimed Bianca clasping her hands—with
delight I was fain to suppose.

"Quite, signora: you observe my thick glove, and the curb rein—"

"And the bearer—the poor Frenchman!" said Luisa, fixing her blue eyes
upon me.

"Escaped, I am now happy to say.  Poor fellow! ’tis said he was
Regnier’s son."

"Phillipe Regnier!  O my God!" murmured Luisa in a breathless voice.

"Luisa!" exclaimed Bianca, surveying her pale features with
astonishment.  The poor girl blushed deeply, and bent over her
embroidery frame, adding, in a faltering voice, that she herself was
soon to behold such scenes, and looked forward to them with horror.

"True, Luisa, dear," said Bianca, kissing her cheek, "You set out with
your father for our army at Cassano to-morrow."

"To join the chiefs of the Masse?" I asked. Luisa Gismondo bowed, and
the subject was abruptly changed.  I saw that some secret was labouring
in her breast; causing a dejection and confusion she could ill conceal.

But to proceed, briefly.  The acquaintance that Bianca and I had formed
in Sicily was fast ripening, and we became as intimate as cousins; and
quite as harmless in our flirtation.  Swiftly and happily passed that
agreeable evening, in the course of which I discovered that the minds of
these fair girls were no way inferior to the perfection of their
persons.  Their manners were animated and bewitching, their imaginations
brilliant; each was mistress of music and drawing, and well read in the
best works of Italian literature.  We commented on the "Giuletta" of
Captain Luigi da Porta—that brave cavalry officer, who wielded his pen
in peace as well as he had done the sword in the wars of the league of
Cambray and the campaigns of Gradiska; and from whose pathetic novel,
Shakspeare derived the plot of his far-famed tragedy.  We also dipped
into the "Gierusalemme" of Tasso, and wooed the softer muse of Petrarch.
Then Luisa seated herself at the piano, and with Bianca sang a beautiful
duet from the "Antonio e Cleopatra," of the amorous Vittorio D’Alfieri;
whose genius enriched and invigorated the literature of his country.
Bianca showed me her portfolio, wherein I sketched the distant hills of
Maida, as seen from the casement, shining in all the silvery blaze of an
Italian moonlight: next came her collection of medals and bronzes; and
her music, including the last new piece from Palermo.  Her lap-dogs,
parrot, and heaven knows what besides, were all separately admired;
while the general, his dispatch, and the service were alike forgotten.

The boudoir was a charming little place; elegantly fitted up and
decorated with every ornament that her own taste or her cousin’s wealth
could procure; and the cool sea-breeze wafted the aromatic perfumes of
the garden through the open casements.  The broad moon was shining on
the glassy deep, and we heard the solemn hymn of the Sicilian fishermen,
and the dipping of oars as they fell in measured time into the sparkling
waters of the gulf.

The sullen toll from the clock turret in the quadrangle, warned me that
it wanted but an hour of midnight.  I started up as the forgotten
dispatch rushed upon my remembrance.

"The deuce!" thought I; "now then to horse and away."

Bianca set before me in grim array all the dangers of travelling in so
wild a country at midnight—the woods, the marshes, the wolves, the
banditti; and begged me to remain at least until her aunt returned with
some of the mounted servants.  The fine eyes of the lovely and
warm-hearted girl became almost suffused with tears, as she presented me
with an Agnus Dei for Luigi.  This was a piece of some unknown stuff cut
in the form of a heart, which Fra Adriano had informed her had power to
drive away evil spirits and calm storms, and tempests; having been
consecrated by his holiness the Pope, who provides an ample supply of
these sacred toys for distribution every seven years.  Although at that
moment I was on the point of leaving her, perhaps for ever, I could not
forbear smiling at the credulous superstition or devout simplicity which
induced her to entrust me, in such sincere good faith, with this gift
for her cousin.

"Felicissima notte, Signorina Luisa, and happiest night to you, dearest
Bianca!" said I on turning to leave them.

"I would give you such an amulet too," said Bianca, "but ’twere better
not: you only scoff at these things, which your erring fathers have
taught you to scorn."

"No, dear Bianca; believe me that any gift—"

"Hush now, Caro Claude!" said she, placing her pretty hand on my mouth;
"I will not believe you."

In one short evening how had the enchanting manner, the gentle tones and
sweet nature of this Italian girl endeared her to me!  Until I rose
unwillingly to depart, I knew not that the spell she had cast around me
was so powerful. My hand trembled; and this sympathetic confusion was
conveyed by its touch to Bianca; who blushed and cast down her eyes,
while a roguish smile overspread the fair face of Luisa.  A love affair
makes rapid progress in the fervid clime of volcanoes and earthquakes,
though the pathway is too often planted with poniards; and before
parting, Bianca and I had formally exchanged rings.  Respectfully
pressing my lips to her hand and cheek, I resigned her, in tears, to the
tender solace of Luisa Gismondo, and hastened from the apartment.  I led
forth poor Cartouche, who had spent the whole night in the dark porch
shaking his ears and snorting with impatience, while the cold night dew
gathered on his glossy coat and glittering harness.

My foot was in the stirrup, when the opening of a window above made me
pause, and my fair friends appeared leaning over a balcony.

"Claude," said Bianca; "on the wild hills above Maida there dwells an
aged hermit, to whom every year we have sent alms—madonna mia! he is
very, very old!  My aunt did so when she was a girl, and her mother had
done so before her.  Tell the good man that I remember him in my
prayers, and ask his blessing for Bianca."

"And for me, too, signor," added Luisa.

"I shall not forget, ladies," said I, leaping into my saddle.  "Adieu."

In ten minutes the Villa d’Alfieri was far behind, and I was galloping
along the moonlit beach of St. Eufemio.



                              *CHAPTER X.*

                      *A NIGHT WITH THE ZINGARI.*


An hour’s hard riding brought me to the skirts of the great forest; so
famous as the haunt of wolves and brigands, that I did not feel
perfectly at ease in its vicinity, and kept on the alert as I proceeded.
On one side stretched away into obscurity the level shore, bordered by
the sea; which rolled its sullen waves on the yellow sand, or dashed
them in glittering foam against the jutting rocks: on the other, arose
the rustling oaks and beeches of the lofty forest, the long dark vistas
and gloomy recesses of which the sun had never penetrated.  From the
wooded heights I expected every moment to issue the red flash of a
rifle, or the glancing weapons and tall conical hats of Francatripa’s
horde; but I trusted that my character as an Italian ally, would gain me
some favour with those desperadoes—whose ferocity, strange to say, was
often mingled with the highest spirit of patriotism and chivalry.

A dense cloud obscured the radiant moon, casting a long dark shadow over
sea and land, and I missed the beaten track which supplied the place of
a road.  Presently, Cartouche sank to the girths in a plantation of
rice, where he snorted and plunged furiously.  By using bridle and spur
with the utmost caution, I extricated him; but he sank again and again,
and I had fears of losing my noble grey altogether.  A rice field is
little better than a marsh, full of water and holes.  I toiled on for
half an hour, holding his bridle and endeavouring to regain the lost
road; but every instant we plunged deeper into bogs and pools of
stagnant water.  At last I regained terra firma, close to the forest:
but was exhausted with over-exertion and want of sleep.  Then the
warnings of Bianca were remembered, and I regretted not having remained
all night at the villa.

On the verge of the forest, and close to the preceptory house of
Castelermo—a ruin overgrown with vine and ivy, and now brilliantly
illuminated by the moon, which broke forth with double splendour—I came
suddenly upon a large blazing fire, that lit up the dark arcades of the
wood, and hissed as the dew was shaken from the waving branches on the
flames.  Around it moved a group of people, whom at first I supposed to
be brigands, but on nearer approach I found they were Zingari—a class
half gipsies half robbers; of unknown origin, and speaking Italian, but
with an accent peculiar to themselves. Like all the scattered remnants
of this mysterious tribe in other countries, the Zingari wander over the
face of the land without possessing any property save the chattels borne
in the panniers of their mules and asses.  These vagrants are chiefly
employed in working on metals, which they manufacture into rude
stilettos, buckles, and bodkins; though they live principally by their
wits, and the nimbleness of their fingers.

On my approach, the male portion of the community snatched up their
knives and poles; and a skirmish might have ensued, had not an old man,
who appeared to be their capo, or chief, quieted their clamour, and
stepped forward to receive me.  The gang consisted of twelve men and the
same number of women; all of them clad in a gaudy, though miserable
manner.

The old Zingaro had a beard like that of a patriarch, and the thick
masses of his grizzled hair were confined in a netted bag—the only
covering his head perhaps had ever known.  His red cotton breeches and
deer-skin jacket were worn to tatters, and his brawny brown legs were
bare below the knee, his feet being encased in sandals, laced with
straps above the ankle; a broad belt encircled his waist, and sustained
a knife, a flask, a pouch, and a mandolin, which, with a staff or ashen
pole, six feet long, completed his equipment.  The younger vagabonds
were all attired much in the same manner; their dark glancing eyes,
naked limbs and shoulders, wild tangled hair, and wolf-skin garments,
giving them, a very savage or satyr-like aspect.

Believing there was no cause to fear these people, and being willing to
rest and gratify my curiosity, I dismounted, and returned ceremoniously
the greeting of the venerable capo.

"Cross her hand with a ducat of gold, that Zilla may read your fortune,
signor gentiluomo!" said a young girl, dancing round me, and snapping
her castanets, while a gipsy struck a few notes on a rude guitar, and
chanted the Zingaresca.  "Touch my hand with gold, and if your love will
be successful, I will read it in the stars."

"I would rather have it read from your own bright eyes, my pretty
donzella," said I, with a gallant air.  This made the eyes of the young
rogue with the guitar flash fire; and on my attempting to take the hand
of the girl, she tripped away from me with a demure air of rustic
coquetry which made her look prettier still.  Though not tall, she was
finely formed: the contour of her head and profile was of classic
beauty.  Her eyes were darker than any I had ever looked on, and at
times they became lustrous with lambent light; and her teeth, white and
regular, were unsurpassed in brilliancy even by those of Bianca.  But
her face, her arms, and legs—the latter partially displayed by a scanty
petticoat—were burned by the sun to a hue considerably darker than the
natural olive tint of her race.  Her hair was so black, that it seemed
of a _blue_ tint, where the light struck upon it, and its luxuriant
masses were confined by a golden arrow, with an unexpanded bulb;
announcing that she was a maiden spotless and free: the _barb_ being the
sign of betrothal or marriage.

"Gentil signor, for a crown, I will write you a spell that will make all
the women love you."

"Benissimo, my girl!" said I, "if only one woman loves me truly"——

"Or seek you a love potion? or a charm against French bullets?" said a
hideous hag, with fierce black eyes, a shrivelled skin, and the aspect
of a Hecate.

"Bah!" growled the old Zingaro; "away with you, Zilla—and you, too, good
mother!  The cavaliere has not come among us to have charms made, or
fortunes read; but for a trusty guide, who for a handful of carlini will
conduct him through any part of the woods between seas."

"Right, master Zingaro!—a guide is just what I am in search of, to
direct me on the Crotona road: at least, so far as we may go until dawn;
when I may see to avoid these cursed rice-fields and quagmires, through
which it is no joke to ride in the dark."

"True, signor: you have had a very narrow escape.  I remember that in
the wet season, when these marshes become lakes, three of Regnier’s
dragoons, while escorting the famous crook-back, Gaspare Truffi, to the
gallows at Monteleone, were cajoled by his oily tongue, and led among
the rice-fields yonder, as the shortest way. Via! ’t was the longest
road they ever marched—for they are on it yet.  Gaspare escaped; but the
troopers and their horses sunk for ever in the shifting morass.  You may
thank those blessed stars that shone so kindly on you: you had perished
but for them.  Seat yourself on the turf, signor: the Zingari feast when
other men sleep; and if you will condescend to partake of our meal"——I
bowed assent, and seated myself beside his daughter.

It would have been wiser to have ridden on my way, with or without a
guide, rather than have trusted myself in such quarters and company; but
the aspect of the whole group was so strikingly romantic, that I was
tempted to linger.  The red flames of the fire cast fitful and lurid
gleams of light on the dark countenances and wild garments of the
wanderers, shedding a fiery glow on the rich green foliage of the
gigantic oaks and elms, whose gnarled trunks were interlaced with ivy,
vine, and olive.  No wind poured through the long, still vistas of the
forest; whose gloomy recesses were spangled with myriads of fire-flies,
flitting like flames of fairy tapers.  A mountain torrent was falling
near us; and the roaring hiss of the cascade seemed alone to stir the
dewy leaves of the umbrageous foliage.  The large eyes of the Zingari
were glinting in the light, as they stared fixedly on the red embers, or
watched the motions of the aged crone who superintended the cooking. The
meal—whether late supper or early breakfast, I know not—consisted of
sundry portions of roebuck and wild pig, which were broiling and
sputtering merrily on the glowing bars of an immense gridiron.  To these
savoury viands were added cakes of flour, a jar of boiled rice, and a
pitcher of the wine of the country.  Close by me stood Cartouche, reined
up to the lower branch of an oak; his large and prominent eyes glaring
in the light of the fire, and his broad, red nostrils quivering as the
smoke curled around them.

This was one of those picturesque scenes of service, which are rendered
so pleasant by the very contrast they present to others.  Two hours
before I had been seated in a superb boudoir, beside Bianca and her
friend; now I lounged on the grass among unshaven thieves and vagrants,
who regarded my rich uniform and well-trimmed mustachios with eyes of
ill-concealed admiration and wonder.

During this midnight revel, the old capo represented the roads about the
forest, as being so dangerous, that I resolved to abide with his band
until dawn, when he promised to send a guide with me so far as I wished.

"Besides, Excellenza," he added, "Francatripa’s men are in the forest,
and you might be in some peril if you fell into their hands alone: while
under my protection you are safe.  I mean not that the noble Francatripa
would in person molest you; but there are those in his band who are less
scrupulous, and who care not whether a traveller wears the scarlet
uniform of Britain, or the blue of my Lord Peppo: especially that
crooked fiend, Gaspare Truffi, who, since the massacre of his own gang
by the voltigeurs of the Marchese di Monteleone, acts as Signor
Francatripa’s lieutenant."

As day light could not be far distant I consented to remain.  Rolled up
in my cloak, I lay down to sleep by the feet of my horse; while the
Zingari, after posting one of their gang to watch, also composed
themselves for repose on the green sward.

The novelty of my situation, the character of my companions, and my late
happy interview with Bianca, kept floating before me, chasing away
sleep, and compelling me for a time to lie awake.  I lay watching a
gigantic tarantella—a species of spider well known for the venomous
nature of its bite—spinning its net of silvery gauze from the branches
of the oak above me.  But I soon found a more agreeable object for
contemplation, in the classic form of Zilla; who lay near me, sleeping
on her father’s mantle of undressed deer-skin, over which her unbound
ringlets rolled in luxuriant profusion.  At last I dropped into a half
slumber, but was speedily aroused by something writhing within my cloak.
I threw it open, and lo! a bloated viper of enormous size was coiled
round my left arm.  While I endeavoured in vain to shake it off, an
exclamation of disgust escaped me, which awoke the young girl Zilla;
who, on beholding my predicament, fearlessly grasped the throat of the
venomous reptile, and tossed it with all her strength among the trees.
This action recalled the lines in Virgil’s Third Georgic—

    "In fair Calabria’s woods a snake is bred,
    With curling crest and with advancing head;
    Waving he rolls, and makes a winding track:
    His belly spotted, burnished is his back."


"Signor, do not be alarmed!" said Zilla; "I hope the horrid thing has
not bitten you?  Ah, were you to sleep for a single night where I have
often slept, in the sedges by the Lake of Lugano, at the base of Mont
Salvador, where the surface of the water and all the fields around it
swarm with vipers, you would not be so frightened by one."

"I was not frightened, my gentil Zingara, though certainly a little
startled."

"Pardon me, Excellenza—I meant not that; but—but only that I am so happy
to have been of service."  She paused with something like embarrassment.

She was so beautiful that I was half ashamed to offer her money; and on
my placing a Venetian sequin in her hand, strange to say, it was with
the utmost reluctance, and after many a furtive glance at the snoring
capo, that this half-clad gipsy girl accepted the gift.  So I kissed
each of her dimpled cheeks—a soldier-like mode of payment, which she
evidently relished much more: the sequin seemed only the bestowal of a
charity, but the kiss was a compliment.  Her oriental eyes kindled with
vivacity and light, equalled only by those of the young Zingaro, her
admirer; whom I observed coiled up close by, like a snake in a bush, and
watching us with a keen expression of anger and mistrust, that boded me
little good-will.

"And so, for this night, I am the rival of a Zingaro—a beggarly gipsy
boy!" thought I, resigning myself once more to slumber; "what a dashing
intrigue for an aide-de-camp!  And yet the girl is pretty enough to turn
the heads of our whole mess."

I tossed and turned restlessly on my grassy bed.  In vain I invoked
sleep: a dreamy sense of danger kept me awake, although I had a long and
hard ride before me at daybreak.  At last I fell into a dozing stupor,
produced by the capo’s wine and the dampness of his bivouac.

I was roused to consciousness by a shriek from Zilla—a piercing
cry—which brought the whole Zingari on their legs in an instant; and
springing up, I grasped my sabre.  The hideous visage of Gaspare Truffi,
lit up by the dying embers, scowled at me for a moment, from among the
pale green foliage of an orange tree; we then heard him bounding away
with one of his elvish yells of spite and malice.

"Slay him—slay him!  O the hideous crook-back," exclaimed Zilla.  "Caro
Signor, I watched while you slept, and saw him stealing near you like a
tiger-cat.  He had a dagger in his hand, and his look was deadly: I knew
his fell intentions."

"Olà Zingari!" shouted the enraged capo; "up Mosé—up Maldo—away—after
him with your knives and poles!"

"A hundred ducats for him, dead or alive!" I exclaimed.

"Cowards!" ejaculated the old capo.  But no man stirred in pursuit: the
lieutenant of Francatripa was not to be pursued and attacked like an
ordinary outlaw.  The gang hung their heads and drew back.

My exasperation was only equalled by my astonishment at this
re-appearance of the hunchback; who, I had supposed, must have perished
in the whirlpool beneath the Villa d’Alfieri.  My rage was kindled anew
by this third attempt to assassinate me; and had he fallen into my hands
at that moment, I should certainly have incapacitated him from making
another attempt on my life.

As a longer stay with my new acquaintances in such a vicinity seemed
likely to be fraught with other troubles and dangers, I mounted and rode
off; accompanied by a little boy, the brother of Zillah.  To her I
tendered my thanks and purse at parting: but what gold could ever repay
the debt of gratitude I owed the poor gipsy girl?  She had saved my
life.  I thought less of it then than I have done since; one’s existence
is in hourly peril when campaigning, and escapes from danger are matters
of much less note in warfare than in a time of peace.



                             *CHAPTER XI.*

                         *THE HUNCHBACK AGAIN.*


In a little while day dawned, and all the splendour of an Italian
sunrise lit up the scenery. The waning moon shone pale and dim as,
fading, it disappeared in the azure sky.  From the lofty hills I had a
view of the Mediterranean; its bright surface gleamed like a sea of
polished glass, throwing out in strong relief the dark frigates anchored
in the gulf, the gaudy xebecques with their broad lateen sails, swift
feluccas, oared galleys, and a swarm of little coasting vessels. These
seas, nevertheless, were at times infested by French cruisers and
Algerine corsairs; who, darting from behind some cape or isle, pounced
upon the unwary merchantman: for this tribe of Mussulman pirates had not
then been extirpated or subdued.

As I advanced, fields of rice, of Turkey corn, and even sugar-canes
appeared at intervals among the wooded hills; and the road-way was
bordered by laurels, myrtles and mulberry trees.  A few cottages with
picturesque little mills turned by natural cascades, peeped out from
among groves of the orange and plum-tree; and ridgy mountains, over
whose tall summits the sun poured down his lustre, bounded the
landscape. As the sun ascended higher into the blue vault, and his heat
and brilliance increased, the scenery became involved in a hazy silver
mist, which floated over the face of nature like a veil of the finest
gauze, softening and subduing the vivid and varied tints: it was denser
on the mountains; from whose giant sides vast volumes of white vapour
came rolling down, like avalanches or foaming cascades, into the valleys
below.

The wild and rugged nature of the country, and my ignorance of the
localities, caused me to progress but slowly.  When passing through
lonely places, I met more than one scout belonging to various bands of
brigands, watching, rifle in hand among the rocks, and exchanging
signals by imitating the scream of the owl, the yell of the lynx, or the
caw of the rook; but they always greeted me by a wave of the hat, and a
cry of "A holy day to you, signor!" permitting me to pass without
question.  In many of these desert places the wayside was strewn with
the dead bodies of French soldiers who had perished from wounds or
exhaustion.  By this route some of Monteleone’s brigade had retreated,
and many of the poor stragglers lay in ghastly groups around the rude
wooden crosses, (marking the scene of murder) and stone fountains so
common by the road-side in Italy.  They had been stripped—and some
perhaps despatched by the poniards of the plunderers; many were torn by
wild beasts, and all were in a loathsome state of decay, lying unburied,
blackening and sweltering under a burning sun.

A long ride over rough ground brought me to Policastro.  Wearied with so
long a seat on horseback under such intense heat, and feeling a langour
caused by the hot south wind which had blown all day, I gladly halted at
the first albergo that appeared.

Policastro was all in a bustle: the people were holding a festival in
honour of St. Eufemio, their patron saint.  It was with the utmost
difficulty I found quarters in a miserable inn, where I fed and dressed
Cartouche with my own hands, while such humble fare as the place
afforded was in course of preparation.

The signoressa was very sorry—but the town was in such a bustle, she
hoped "Excellenza" would condescend to take what her house
afforded—maccheroni, lardo, bread and fruit, with Gioja wine.

"Maladetto!" said I with no very contented air, "let me have the best,
signora."

This indifferent repast was soon dismissed, the table cleared, and fruit
and wine brought in. Lighting a cigar I drew a sofa close to the open
window, and lounged there, observing the fair, or merrymaking, held in
honour of the sainted Eufemio.  Laces, silver buttons, ribbons, chaplets
of beads, knives and bodkins, gaudy pictures of miracles and the
madonna, skins of bucks and wolves, real or imaginary relics of holy
personages who died in the odour of sanctity, rags, rotten bones, teeth,
and innumerable pieces of the true cross, were offered for sale by
various ecclesiastics and pious rogues who kept stalls; the first for
the benefit of the saint, and the last for their own.  Warm
choke-priest, pastry, and sour wine (the refuse of the convent cellars)
were retailed for the same purposes.  Flags waved, and garlands and
ribands fluttered on every side; bells were tolling, and men carolling;
and women and children were dancing and singing round a richly-attired
image of Saint Eufemio, as large as life, erected on the identical spot
from which that blessed personage ascended to heaven. Dominicans,
Minorites, Servites, Trinitarians, Clerks of Madonna, and I know not how
many more of the Padri, with shaven scalps, dark cowls, or shovel hats,
clad in sombre tunics girt with cords of discipline, swarmed in the
streets.

All this festivity displayed the harmless devotion of the Italian
character, and its peculiar superstitions; but among the mountains
eastward of the town, I became acquainted with deeds of atrocity which
revealed all its blacker traits—its proneness to revenge and bloodshed.

"Love," says a popular writer, "is a fiery and a fierce passion
everywhere; but we who live in a more favoured land know very little of
the terrible effects it sometimes causes, and the bloody tragedies which
it has a thousand times produced, where the heart of man is uncontrolled
by reason or religion, and his blood is heated into a fever by the
burning sun that glows in the heaven above his head."  Of this I had
many instances during our short campaign among the wild Calabrians.

On entering a little hamlet at the base of the hills which rise between
Policastro and Crotona, I found that a marriage had just been
celebrated; and all the inhabitants of the place were making merry on
the occasion.  Rustic tables were spread under the shade of
orange-trees; and baked meats, rice, milk, fruit, and other simple
viands, were displayed in profusion.  The happy peasants welcomed me
joyously, and invited me to tarry for a time and partake of the general
festivity.  I dismounted; and was led forward by a crowd of rustics to
the place of honour beside the most respected guest—the parrocchiano, a
venerable and silver-haired brother of San Francesco, who had just
united the young couple.

After touching our glasses and tasting the wine, we stood up to observe
the dancers, who were performing one of their spirited national
measures, to the music of the tabor, the flute, and zampogna. The
bridegroom, a stout and handsome woodman, arrayed in gala attire—a
particoloured jacket, scarlet vest, and green breeches; the knees of
which, like his conical hat, were gaily decorated with knots of
ribbons—was dancing with his bride, little dreaming that a malignant
rival scowled from the orangery close beside them.  As usual, the bride
was the object of greatest interest; she possessed beauty of form,
delicacy of feature, and a soft Madonna-like expression of serenity and
modesty which, set off by her smart Italian costume, rendered her quite
bewitching.  A piece of white linen was folded square on her head, and
fell with a fringed edge over her shoulders, half concealing the heavy
braids of ebon hair through which shone the gilt arrow, whose bulb would
to-morrow be expanded.  Large dark, but downcast eyes, a small rosy
mouth, and dimpled chin, and a beautiful bosom, were among those charms
with which the woodman’s bride was gifted—doubtless, her only dower.
The old people clapped their hands; while the younger sang her praises,
accompanied with the music of flutes and mandolins.

The measure was the provincial tarantella; one which requires the utmost
agility, the movements increasing in rapidity as the dance approaches
its termination.  At the moment when the music was loudest, and the joy
of the dancers and revellers at its height, the sharp report of a
rifle-shot, fired from the orangery, startled the joyous throng; a wild
shrieking laugh was heard, and the unhappy bride fell dead at the feet
of her husband!

"Ahi!  Madonna mia! la sposa!" burst from every tongue; then all stood
for a moment mute—transfixed with horror.

The woodman uttered a yell of rage and grief, and unsheathing his knife,
plunged into the thicket with the aspect and fury of a tiger.  Then rose
shouts of anger.

"Oh, abomination! ’t is Truffi, the devil—Gaspare, the hunchback!
Malediction and revenge!"  The men scattered in pursuit of the assassin,
armed with knives, clubs, ox-goads, and such weapons as they could
snatch on the instant; leaving the old Franciscan and women on their
knees lamenting over the hapless victim of revenge, thus cruelly cut off
when her young and buoyant heart was bounding with love and joy.

"Gaspare!" I ejaculated, leaping on my horse to join in the pursuit; "is
this devil everywhere?  Can this gnome of the woods be dogging my
footsteps?  Could this death-shot have been intended for me?"

But the Franciscan informed me that the cripple had been a disappointed
suitor, and that, ugly and venomous as he was, this overgrown reptile
professed love for the village girl, and had made a solemn vow of
vengeance on the woodman.  I was exasperated beyond measure at this
deplorable outrage, and assisted in the fruitless pursuit as long as it
was possible for me to do so, consistently with the general’s order.
Finding that I had far outstripped the villagers and was alone among the
mountains, I turned my horse’s head eastward, and pursued my journey:
not consoled by the recollection that deeds as dark were committed in
the wild county of Tipperary when I was quartered there.



                             *CHAPTER XII.*

                            *THE HERMITAGE.*


Reflecting on the recent catastrophe, I rode for some time absorbed in
mournful thought, from which I was aroused by the peculiar sound of
Cartouche’s hoofs ringing on hard pavement.  On looking about, and
finding that I was riding over some old Roman way, the aged hermit, whom
the young ladies had requested me to visit, came to my remembrance: for
in answer to my inquiries at Policastro, as to his residence, I had been
informed that a causeway of unknown antiquity led to his hermitage.

Evening was fast approaching; and after entering a narrow wooded valley
between two lofty hills, I found the gloom increasing rapidly. The
clouds, too, were gathering fast; a few large drops of rain plashed
heavily on the tossing leaves; while a faint gleam of lightning, and the
muttering of distant thunder announced an approaching storm.  I now
looked somewhat anxiously for the dwelling of the recluse; and pursuing
the windings of that ancient way—which, perhaps, in former days had
echoed to the sandalled feet of Milo’s mighty host—I penetrated yet
further into the deep valley. Stupendous oaks clothed the darkening
hills, and cast a sable and melancholy gloom around.  The solitude was
awful; the stillness intense: for it was scarcely broken by a brawling
torrent, rushing, red and muddy, over a precipice of jagged rock, and
resounding in a deep and echoing chasm.  Afar off, on the most distant
peaks, flickered the blaze of vast furnaces kindled by charcoal burners;
but soon these fires were quenched by the fury of the rising storm, and
broad sheets of lightning, with vivid and ghastly glare lit earth and
sky almost incessantly.  By the livid flashes I was enabled to find my
way to the hermitage, and pushing forward at full gallop I gladly
reached its welcome shelter.

A rough wooden cross, and a turf-seat beside a rock, from which bubbled
a rill into a basin worn by the water (that had fallen for ages,
perhaps) on the stones below, answered the description given me of the
abode of this recluse of the wilderness. Dismounting, I approached a
small edifice of stone, which appeared to be the ruined tomb of some
ancient Roman; whose name once great and glorious, was now lost in
oblivion.  Its form was square, its size about twelve feet each way, and
it had a domed roof of massive stone-work, which was covered with ivy
and myrtle, while wild fuchsias and wall-flowers flourished in the
clefts and joints of the decayed masonry.  Two Roman columns and an
entablature, time-worn and mutilated, formed the portico, which was
closed by a rustic door of rough-barked wood.  On the architrave I could
just make out this inscription, cut in ancient characters,

                         SIT TIBI TERRA LEVIS;

the wish uttered at the funerals of the Latins, that earth might press
lightly on the person buried.  I, therefore, concluded that the edifice
had been erected anterior to the custom of burning the dead.

Fastening my horse in a sheltered nook, between the tomb and a rock that
rose perpendicularly behind it, I knocked thrice at the door; but not
receiving an answer, I pushed it open and entered.  The light of a lamp,
placed in a recess before an image of the Madonna, glimmered like a star
amid the darkness of that dreary habitation, and just enabled me to
perceive, on my eyes becoming accustomed to the gloom, a most melancholy
object; one not unlike that which presented itself to the reprobate Don
Raphael and his friend among the mountains of Cuença.

On a bed of leaves and straw, stretched on the paved floor, and clad in
the coarse canvass garb of the poorest order of priesthood, lay the
venerable hermit.  The hand of death pressed heavily on him.  His
cassock, rent and torn in twenty places, scarcely covered his almost
fleshless form; which age, fasting, and maceration had attenuated to a
frightful degree.  A rusty chain, evidence of some self-imposed penance,
encircled his waist; and he convulsively clasped in his bony and
shrunken hands a rosary.  Close by lay an old drinking horn and a human
skull: the latter well polished by long use; and near them lay a handful
of chestnuts, the remains of his last repast.

"O thou most adorable Virgin!" he exclaimed, in a feeble but piercing
voice, "in this terrible hour intercede for me with Him whom I dare not
address: for horribly the awful memory of the past arises at this moment
before me!  Gesù Cristo, hear me! and thou blessed Madonna!"

His voice died away, and I approached gently, removing my hat on drawing
near.

"A foot!" he exclaimed.  "Oh, stranger! for the love of mercy give me a
draught of water!  Thirst makes me suffer in anticipation those pains
which are in store for sinners such as I am!"

His drinking cup was empty, so I hastened to the brook and filled it
with water: the storm was roaring terrifically through the valley at
that moment.  Hurrying back, I fastened the door, and pouring a few
drops of brandy from my travelling flask into the water, held the cup to
the sufferer’s lips; who, after drinking greedily, sank again on his
couch.  A faint flush spread over his death-pale face; he revived
rapidly, and endeavoured to raise himself up into a sitting posture; but
in vain: nature was exhausted. After trimming the lamp, by its smoky
light I took a closer survey of the tomb and its scarcely living tenant.
The dismal aspect of the place—its dark walls and darker urn-niches—the
feeble light and heavy sombre shadows, together with its wretched
inmate, filled me with wonder, disgust, and pity.

The face and figure of the hermit were such as I never saw before, and
have never looked on since.  He was a very old man—old beyond any one I
had ever known; and he seemed to have hovered so long on the brink of
the grave—lingering between time and eternity—that he looked (if one may
be allowed the expression) a living corpse, almost as much a part of the
next world as of this.  The crown of his head was bald, but tangled
locks of white hair straggled from his temples, and mingling with his
beard, formed one matted mass, white as snow, growing together, and
almost concealing his visage, and reaching below his rusty girdle.  It
gave a patriarchal dignity to his appearance.  His keen and sunken eyes
gleamed beneath his white and bushy eyebrows, with a most unpleasant
expression; like the horrid glare of death, mingling with the restless
and rolling glances of insanity.

To disturb him as little as possible by the appearance of my uniform, I
wrapped my cloak round me, and, seated on a stone near his couch of
leaves, waited until he revived so far as to address me.  Refreshed by
the cool draught, and invigorated by the spirit it contained, his
energies were rallying rapidly: yet I did not think he would live out
the night.  The tempest that raged furiously without, made yet more
impressive the silence within the tomb: a silence broken only by the
heavy breathing and indistinct muttering of the sufferer.

Sweeping over the drenched wilderness, the rain was pouring down like a
cascade on the vaulted roof of the catacomb; the swollen torrent roared
over the adjacent rocks; the rushing wind howled through the narrow
glen, and the woods reverberated the rattling peals of thunder.  Ever
and anon the electric fluid sheeted the sky with livid flame, shewing
the dark masses of fleeting vapour, and lighting up the doorway and the
broken niche that served for a window, so as to reveal the wild
landscape—the woods waving tumultuously like a surge, the strained trees
tossing their branches to the blast, and the dark hills beyond, whose
peaks the thunderbolts were shattering in their fury.

The storm lulled for a moment; and but for a moment only!  Again the
rolling thunder pealed, slowly and sublimely in the distance; echoing
athwart the vault of heaven like platoons of musketry.  The roar of the
elements increased as the storm rushed onward, till at length it burst
anew over the valley, as if to spend its concentrated fury on that
lonely tomb.  A succession of stunning reports, each one loud as the
roar of a hundred pieces of cannon, shook the dome and the walls of the
tomb to their foundations; some fragments of masonry fell to the earth,
and I leaped towards the door, fearing to be buried in the falling ruin.
But the tomb withstood the bursting tempest, as it had done thousands of
others.

The old man, uplifting his clasped hands and gleaming eyes to heaven,
shrieked wildly a prayer in Latin.  His aspect was awful: he seemed the
embodied spirit of the tempest—which now died away more suddenly than it
rose.  The dust was yet falling from the shaken roof and walls of the
tomb when the storm ceased.

"’Twas the voice of God in wrath!" exclaimed the hermit, in a firm and
solemn voice. "Stranger, would that thou wert a priest to implore for me
the intercession of the blessed Mary, mother of all compassion! to pray
with me in this dread hour.  Prayer! prayer! much need have I of prayer
to soothe the terrors of my parting soul!"

I was deeply impressed by this appalling scene.  The accents of the
dying man were faltering, and full of anguish: he spoke as if eternity
had opened to his mental vision.

"More than a hundred years have rolled away since I first looked on the
light of this world—_Miserere mei, Domine_!  Sixty years only have I
spent in prayer, penance, solitude, and mortification of the flesh; to
atone in some degree for the manifold and deadly sins committed while a
denizen of the great and wicked community of mankind.  You behold a
sinner," he continued, his voice rising as he proceeded—"a villain of no
ordinary dye!  A wretch, whose enormities are greater than sixty years
of piety and repentance can atone for: long though they have been.
Centuries seem to have elapsed since this dismal tomb of the wilderness
first became the witness of my secret sorrow—since I last heard the din
of the bad and busy world!  How many of the brave, the beautiful, and
the innocent have been gathered to their fathers in that weary time!
Generations have been born, have lived their allotted span, and been
called to their last account: yet this guilty head has been spared.
Memory, with all its goading torments, has never left me; though the
torpid apathy of age and a life of solitude—sixty slowly passing years
spent in brooding over past horrors, and the crimes of early days—have
worn and withered to the core, a heart which for swelling pride and
ferocity had not its equal in Italy.  Who would think _this_ hand had
ever grasped a sword?"

He laughed like a serpent hissing, and thrust before me his right hand:
lean, bony, and wrinkled, the large joints protruded beneath the thin
shrivelled skin, which revealed every vein, muscle, and fibre.  His
skeleton form was so covered with hair, that he resembled an overgrown
baboon; and as he regarded me with a wild and intense stare, his red and
sunken eyes sparkled like those of a Skye terrier through the tangled
bush of white locks overhanging them.

"Men say I have been mad!" he continued: "I might well have been so, if
bodily torture and mental agony, incessant and acute, can unseat the
lofty mind which alone makes man godlike! In this dread hour, the
memories of other years—deeds of anger and crime, thoughts of sorrow and
remorse—come crowding fast upon me! _O miserere mei, Domine!_"  He
seemed talking to himself rather than to me, and often pressed his bony
fingers on his sharp angular temples, as if trying to arrange the chaos
of recollections.

"Blessed be Madonna, that she sent a fellow mortal to witness these last
agonies—to behold the deathbed of a sinner!  Let its memory be treasured
up in your heart—profit by it, my son! One death-scene such as this is
better than a thousand homilies."

(_This_ to me, who but two days before had ridden through the carnage of
Maida!)

"You are young, and I am old, my son—old in years, and older still in
sin: yet say; think you there is any hope for me?  In another hour I
shall have passed from this transient life to that which is eternal.
What will become of my soul?  Will He consume me in his wrath? O Spirito
Santo, thou alone can answer!  I behold that flaming abyss of
everlasting misery and woe, where there is weeping and wailing and
gnashing of teeth.  Is that my doom? _O miserere mei, Domine_!  Mercy!
pity me! speak!"

While raving thus, he clasped my feet with the energy of despair; his
whole frame shook with excess of spiritual terror, and his eyes seemed
bursting from their sockets.  Deeply moved, I heard him in silence, not
knowing what to reply.  A long pause ensued.

"Holy father!" said I, when the paroxysm had passed away, "there is hope
in the mercy of Heaven even for the vilest, how much more for one who
has passed so holy a life as you!"

"Alas! alas!" he exclaimed, beating his breast, "thou knowest me not, my
son!  And the simple peasantry who regard me as a saint—even like the
holy Gennaro—know me not!"

"Whatever may be those crimes the recollection of which so haunts you,
let us hope that remorse and sincere repentance——"

"Blessed words!  You say truly, my son! Remorse and repentance will do
much: but a load of guilt weighs heavy upon my soul.  I would fain
unburthen my conscience to thee, my son: though the recital of my
iniquities might freeze the marrow in your bones.  Receive my last
confession, I beseech thee; for I would not go down to the grave with
the reputation of a saint: which, though given me by many, I merit so
little!"

Again he drank thirstily; and raising himself into a half-recumbent
posture, prepared to make that revelation for which my excited curiosity
longed so impatiently.  He was rallying rapidly; his voice became
fuller, and his enunciation more distinct and connected.  He clutched my
arm with an iron grasp, and his bleared and hollow eyes glittering with
excitement, glared into mine with a searching and intense expression,
which made me feel very far from comfortable.

"You would preach to me words of peace and consolation—peace to a
tempest-tost heart—consolation to a soul torn with anguish and remorse!
You bid me hope!  Listen, then, to what mortal ears have never heard—the
long concealed secret of my life—the crimes of my heedless youth, and
the sorrows of Diomida: who perhaps, from the side of Madonna in heaven,
beholds this scene to-night."

Gathering all his energies, the aged recluse commenced the following
narration, in the solemn subdued tone of a contrite sinner recounting
his misdeeds; recalling with a vividness that seemed preternatural in
one so near his end, the history of his youth.

His narrative was often interrupted by pauses, bursts of sorrow, and
groans of remorse, exclamations of pity and horror, pious ejaculations,
and prayers for mercy.

Exhausting as this suffering and exertion must have been, he seemed to
gain strength as he proceeded; as if all his powers returned to
accomplish this last effort: so the flame of the expiring lamp burns
bright for a moment ere it is extinguished.



                            *CHAPTER XIII.*

                       *THE HERMIT’S CONFESSION.*


Of all the nobles of Venice, none enjoyed a more general and deserved
popularity than Giulio Count della Torre di Fana.  The gayest and most
gallant of cavaliers, loved by his friends and respected by his enemies,
he was the star of the senate, and idol of the people.  His wife was
beautiful and virtuous; his estates were among the richest, his palaces
the most superb, his stud the most fleet and graceful, his assemblies
and gondolas the most elegant, and his galleries the most magnificent in
Venice!  What more was wanting to make him the happiest man in Italy?

At the age of twenty Count Giulio espoused Diomida, the niece of John di
Cornaro the venerable Doge, then in the 84th year of his age; preferring
her to an heiress of the powerful house of Strazoldi, to whom he had
been in childhood betrothed.  Diomida was then in her seventeenth year,
and her beauty not less than|her exalted rank, made her the first lady
in Venice.  Her mind was not inferior to her charms, which were such as
man rarely looks on.  O Diomida! even at this distant time, when the
silent tomb has so long closed over thee—aye, even now, when looking
back through the long dark vista of years of horror, I can recall to
memory thy lovely sweetness and majestic beauty: true attributes of thy
blood and high descent, which made thee the noble glory of Venetians!

For a time after his marriage no man was happier than Count Giulio, and
no woman more loving or beloved than Diomida.  Proud of each other,
their mutual tenderness and devotion appeared to increase every day, and
their happiness became a proverb among their friends.  If the count
returned ruffled in temper by losses at the gaming table, by debates in
the senate, by any obstruction opposed to the passage of his gondola on
the canal or his train on the steps of the Rialto, the soft voice and
gentle smile of Diomida were sure to soothe his fiery spirit; which was
easily chafed by trifles into a fury. At the sound of her voice or the
pressure of her little hand, the gloom vanished from his haughty brow,
and the annoyance was forgotten: Diomida was formed for love and
delight, and anger fled from her presence.  The count doted on the noble
girl whom he had taken to his bosom, and enthroned in his palace: his
affection had no equal save her own.  His innocent bride was supremely
happy; giddy with joys that were too bright to last.  She saw not the
storm that was gathering in the distance, and which, urged by the power
of her evil genius, was so soon to overwhelm her.

The young Count di Strazoldi—who had been serving under Zondodari, Grand
Master of Malta, and had gained considerable renown in the war against
the Ottoman Porte—arrived in Venice, six months after Giulio, at the
altar of Sta. Maria della Salute, had placed on the bright tresses of
Diomida that coronet which ought to have adorned the sister of
Strazoldi.

Like all the Venetian nobles, the Count di Strazoldi was fierce,
haughty, and infatuated with his family rank; and being naturally of a
libertine disposition, his residence among the knights of San
Giovani—whose loose mode of life is proverbial—did not improve his
morals. The wild cavaliers and reckless military spirits with whom he
had associated, in the garrisons of La Valetta and Melita, had
altogether destroyed the little sense of honour which a Venetian
education had left uncorrupted; and he returned, a perfect devil in
heart, though assuming the frank air of a soldier, and the graceful
manners of an accomplished cavalier.  When flushed with wine, however,
his features had a stern expression, and his restless eyes a daring
look, that quiet men shrunk from; and he then looked more like a
debauched and brutal bravo, than a polished Venetian gentleman.

Lucretia, his sister, to whom La Torre had preferred the gentle and
timid Diomida, was the most imperious and haughty signora in the duchy;
notwithstanding the exquisite softness imparted to her brilliant charms
by the Lombardo blood of her race.  Fired at the preference of La Torre
for the beautiful Cornaro, her love turned to the deadliest hatred; and
she demanded of her brother Stefano to challenge La Torre to a duel on
the Bialto.  But Count Strazoldi was tired of fighting: he had seen
enough of it under the banner of Malta, and in the valley of the demons
in Sicily, under the Marquiss de Leda, and was not disposed hastily to
enter into this feud at the behest of his incensed sister.

"Patience and peace," said he, with a grim smile.  "I will anon avenge
you more surely and amply."

He had met the Count della Torre at the Dogale palace, at the gaming
houses, and other public places, and found him a gay agreeable young
man, upon whose generosity and frankness of heart he had little doubt of
imposing; and from whose princely revenue he hoped to repay himself for
the ducats he had squandered in the Turkish wars, and among his wild
companions at Malta and Gozzo.  The Count della Torre was in turn
pleased with the gay and fashionable manners of the hollow-hearted
Stefano Strazoldi; who first gained his esteem by losing some hundred
sequins with an air of unconcern, and performing a few pretended acts of
friendship. Strazoldi afterwards won the admiration of Della Torre, by
relating the battles, sieges, and fierce contests by sea and land in
which he had borne a conspicuous part, while serving under Zondodari and
the grand cross Antonio Manuel de Vilhena; who, on the death of the
former, succeeded him in the office of Grand Master.

Although La Torre made a constant companion of the dissolute Stefano,
and dissipated his patrimony in gay entertainments, he had more prudence
than to invite him to his palace.  His unhappy countess mourned in
loneliness the sad change in the manners of her husband; who, led astray
from the path of honour, spent whole days at the gaming house, and
nights at the café or the cantina.  He associated also with other
reckless spirits, to whom Strazoldi introduced him, in visiting those
thrifty mothers who had rising families of daughters, and who were
anxious to procure them dowries according to the infamous custom of that
abandoned city.  In short, Count Giulio was no longer the same man he
had been, and days passed without his crossing the threshold of his
wife’s apartment.  Poor Diomida! this terrible change sank deeply in her
heart.  When during the day her husband at times visited the palace, it
was only to extort money from his terrified steward; who warned him in
vain that the splendid revenue of his estates was miserably impaired.
But palled with excesses, jaded in spirit, and morose with losses, such
answers only chafed the count into a tempest of rage; and the steward
was glad to raise the gold, by having recourse to Isaac the famous
Jew-broker on the Rialto.

Seldom now did he look on the pale face of his once loved Diomida, whose
silent sorrow—she was too gentle to upbraid—passed unheeded. Her grief
was increased to agony when she learned that in the society of her
dangerous rival Lucretia, the count now spent the most of his time: the
passers-by shrugged their shoulders when they beheld the vast façade of
the palazzo della Torre so silent, gloomy, and dark—having the air of a
deserted mansion—while the gorgeous palazzi of the Strazoldi, the
Cornaro, the Balbi, and other nobles, were blazing with light, and
brilliant with festive assemblies.

One evening, full of sad thoughts, Diomida sat in her boudoir alone:
alas! she was now seldom otherwise.  Her cheek was pale; the slight
roseate tinge that once suffused it had fled, and the lustre of her eye
had faded.  Long weeping and pining in secret were destroying that fresh
bloom, which rendered her the most admired of all Venetian beauties, and
the pride of the venerable Doge, her uncle.  Her books, embroidery, and
guitar were all neglected; and she sat moodily in her dimly lighted
room, watching in despairing anxiety for the tread of her husband (whom
for four days she had not seen), and weeping for the past joys of their
early marriage days.

As she listened, step after step rang in the adjacent streets, and heavy
spurs jangled beneath the paved arcades: other men were passing to their
homes, but the count returned not to his; and the thoroughfares
gradually became silent and empty.  The clock in the marble cupola of
Santa Maria tolled the hour of midnight, and the Countess bowed down her
fair head in wretchedness: she knew that her husband would be absent for
another night, and she would rather have known that he was dead than in
company with her triumphant rival, or damsels of still more doubtful
fame.  She was about to summon her attendants previous to retiring, when
the dash of oars broke the silence of the canal, and a gondola jarred
with hollow sound on the steps of Istrian marble leading from the
portals of the palace.  A flush of hope glowed on the pallid cheek of
Diomida, and listening intently, she pressed her hand on her fluttering
heart.  In breathless expectation she paused, listening to the measured
tread of manly footsteps approaching, marked by the ring of silver spurs
on the tessellated floor of hall and vestibule, and a sword clattering
in unison, as the wearer ascended the lofty stairs by three steps at a
time. A hand cased in a long buff glove drew back the ancient hangings
of the doorway—

"Giulio!  Giulio—beloved one—you have not quite forgotten me!" exclaimed
Diomida in piercing accents, as she sprang forward to embrace her truant
husband.  She was caught in the arms of Stefano Strazoldi!

"Excellent, my beautiful idol!" he exclaimed, pressing the sinking girl
to his breast; "you are somewhat free for a Doge’s niece, but not the
less welcome to a joyous cavalier, tired of the timid Ionian girls and
copper-coloured nymphs of Malta, with their cursed Arabic tongues!" and
he laughed boisterously.  His broad-plumed hat placed on one side of his
head, revealed the sinister aspect of his face, now flushed with wine
and premeditated insolence; his cloak, doublet, and rich sword-belt were
all awry, and Diomida beheld with dismay that he staggered with
intoxication.

"I thought you were the Count Giulio, my husband," said Diomida,
shrinking back with horror; for she could not look upon Strazoldi, the
destroyer of her domestic peace, otherwise than as an accomplished
demon.

"Unhand me, my lord!" she added indignantly. "I am a lady of noble
birth, and shall not be treated thus with impunity!"

"Nay!" exclaimed Stefano; "do not ruffle your temper, sweet lady: our
married dames of Venice heed little when their cheeks are pressed by
other lips than those of their liege lords. Why, my beautiful idol! thou
art as coy and enchanting as Elmina la Mondana, the fairest priestess of
Venus——"

"Infamous!" exclaimed the struggling countess, trembling with terror and
indignation. "Darest thou name such in my presence?"

"Aye, in presence of Madonna; and why not to thee?"

"I am the daughter of Paolo Cornaro, the first of our Venetian
cavaliers, before whose galley the bravest ships of the Mussulmen have
fled.  Alas! were he now alive, I had not been thus at thy mercy!
Unhand me, Count Strazoldi!  Away, ruffian——"

"The prettiest little chatterbox in Venice!" said the Count gaily.  "But
enough of this! Know that your loving lord and master has assigned you
to me, for the sum of three thousand sequins, fairly won from him an
hour ago at cards in the house of the Mondana; therefore art thou mine,
signora, as this paper will testify."  The swaggering libertine grasped
firmer the shrinking girl with one hand, while with the other he
displayed a paper, to which she saw with horror Giulio’s name attached.
A glance served to inform her that the contents were such as her
assailant had described them to be.  La Torre, intoxicated with wine,
and maddened by losses, had staked and lost his beautiful wife for the
sum of three thousand sequins, to his reckless companion; who, hurrying
away from the side of La Mondana, threw himself into his gondola, and
reaching the palace of the Countess, had ascended to her apartment by
the private stair: the key to the entrance of which, he had obtained
from the depraved husband.  Diomida trembled with shame and indignation,
and would have swooned; but the revolting expression in the gloating
eyes of Strazoldi, inspired her with the courage of desperation: she
shrieked wildly, invoking the Madonna to protect her, as Stefano,
inflamed by her beauty, and encouraged by her helplessness, was
proceeding to greater violence.

"Peace, pretty fool," he exclaimed in a hoarse whisper, "or I will twist
this scarf round your throat, as I have done to many a less noisy damsel
in the land of the Turk and Greek. Sformato! have I not gained you
fairly at Faro from your husband, and offered him my sister Lucretia, in
exchange?  Silence woman! wouldst thou force me to gag thee with my
poniard! Beware, ’tis of Campoforte."  The ruffian laughed fiercely, and
grasped her with a stern air of determination, while she redoubled her
despairing cries for assistance.  But, alas! the palace was empty now;
and the few attendants sleeping in the basement heard her not.  She was
about to sink from exhaustion, when steps were heard springing up the
private staircase. She exclaimed with passionate joy—

"’Tis the Count! ’tis my husband!  O Giulio, save your once-loved
Diomida, before she expires at your feet!"

It was not La Torre, but a tall and richly clad cavalier wearing the
uniform of the Dalmatian Guards, and having a black velvet mask on his
face, as if he had just left a masquerade.

"Draw, Count Stefano!  Ungallant ruffian! whose vices in peace obscure
all the brilliant feats performed in war.  Defend yourself."

Strazoldi drew promptly, while Diomida overcome, sank upon a sofa almost
lifeless.

Fierce was the conflict that ensued between the cavaliers, who were both
armed with those long narrow bladed and basket-Lilted rapiers, then
usually worn by Italian gentlemen.  Strazoldi, brave to excess, fought
as resolutely in a bad cause, as he could have done in a good one, and
the stranger was compelled to put forth his best skill.  Both were
perfect masters of their weapons; but Strazoldi had youth and agility in
his favour.  While his antagonist managed his sword with all the stern
deliberation and coolness of a practised duellist, the fierce Stefano
lunged forward, thrusting furiously, until by a sudden circular parry,
his weapon was struck from his hand, and whirled up to the frescoed
ceiling.  His adversary rushed upon him, beat him to the floor, and
placing a foot upon his neck, commanded him to ask pardon or die.

"Of the Countess I ask pardon most assuredly, but not of you!" replied
the vanquished libertine, panting with rage.  "Strike, whoever you are!
Stefano di Strazoldi—who has ridden through the thickest battalions of
the Turks, and planted the standard of Manuel de Vilhena on the summit
of the Castello Roso—will never ask mercy of mortal man!"

"I esteem you brave among all the nobles of Venice; and, reckless
libertine and ruffian as you are, would regret to slay you.  Once more,
I ask, will Count Stefano of Strazoldi yield?"

"Never!"

"Not to _me_?"

"No; not were you the Doge himself."

"That shall be proved," replied his conqueror, removing his velvet mask,
and revealing the noble features of the venerable John Cornaro; his brow
contracted and stern, and his large dark eyes flashing with anger and
indignation.

"Oh spare him, spare him, guilty though he be!" exclaimed the Countess.

"You know me, Count Strazoldi; and will not scorn to beg life as a boon
at the hand of your Doge?"

"Doge or devil!  Di Strazoldi will never submit to any such
humiliation," replied the reckless cavalier: startled, but not abashed,
on discovering his conqueror to be the illustrious uncle of Diomida.
"Strike! illustrissimo, but keep me not in a position so degrading!"

Cornaro raised his hand, yet stayed the impending thrust, and spared his
adversary.

"Rise, signor; receive your sword, and learn to use it in a better cause
than the defence of guilt and outrage.  Rise and begone!  John Cornaro
can respect bravery even in a ruffian. Away! but remember this affair
ends not here. Both with Count Giulio and yourself a stern reckoning
must be made.  I swear by San Marco! that this right hand, which never
suffered insult to pass unrevenged or wrong unpunished, shall, without
appeal to council or to senate, redress most amply the outrage offered
to the child of my brother.  Wretch! save such as you, every man in
Venice would have respected the daughter of Paolo Cornaro, the bravest
admiral that ever led the fleets of our republic to battle.  Begone to
the infamous Giulio!  You know his haunts, at the house of Signora
Elmina, or any other bordello where he wastes his ducats and his days.
Let him know of this night’s work, and tell him to dread the vengeance
of John Cornaro!"

Strazoldi retired covered with confusion.  The tall and imposing form of
the venerable Doge, whose breast swelled with anger and whose eyes
kindled with indignation, made him quail.  Fierce and profligate as he
was, Stefano knew that he was wrong; and his natural effrontery failed
him before the virtuous wrath of the incensed Doge, whose generosity
added a sting to this stern rebuke.  Leaving Diomida, who had swooned,
to the care of her women, Cornaro departed; resolving to call the Count
della Torre, and his unworthy cousin Strazoldi, to a severe account at a
future time.  But the Doge returned to his palace only to sicken and to
die; the excitement of that night’s conflict caused a relapse of a
dangerous illness, which ultimately carried him to the grave. Of that
more anon.

From that time the dissolute husband of Diomida gave himself up to the
most licentious excesses; setting no bounds to his desires and outrages:
his days were consumed in ennui and gloom, the nights were spent in
carousal and riot.  When he promenaded the streets, or his swift gondola
shot through the canals, all women of modesty shrunk from his gaze, and
drew down their veils; while noble cavaliers pitied the wild young
profligate who was rushing headlong to ruin, dissipating a princely
patrimony and blighting the ancestral honours of a noble name.

Giulio now shunned entirely the presence of the heart-broken Diomida,
though often his palace resounded with the noise and tumult of reckless
companions, the principal of whom was his evil genius Count Strazoldi.

It was rumoured in Venice that the beautiful but vicious Lucretia had
too readily favoured the addresses of Count Giulio, and that her brother
had been rendered both blind and dumb by a present of many thousand
sequins.  Their amours were the common topic of the day, and ribald
improvisitori of the lowest class sang of their intrigues to the rabble
on the Bialto, the Piazza of St. Mark, and all the public places of the
city.  Poor Diomida clasped her hands, and prayed to Heaven for succour
when she heard of these things: she was sinking fast, yet still fondly
hoped that Giulio might see the error of his ways, and learn to love her
as of old.

Could the wretched count have beheld his pale and suffering wife during
one of her many dreary hours of silent and lonely anguish, his heart,
unless lost to every sense of honour, must have been wrung within him:
he would have been struck with remorse to behold the misery he had
wrought for one so young and so beautiful—so loving and so patient; an
angel of heaven, compared with the demon of wickedness to which he had
transformed himself.

But the count never saw her now.  With his cousin the abandoned Lucretia
and her equally abandoned brother, or with Elmina la Mandona the most
beautiful courtezan in Venice, he lived a life of debauchery and
extravagance, till his coffers were drained, his retinue dismissed, his
horses sold, and his estates, pictures, libraries, jewels, and plate had
all melted away like snow in the sunshine.  The grass grew in the stable
court, where the stall collars of sixty steeds had rattled in his
father’s days; weeds and flowers flourished on the palace-walls without,
and spiders spun their webs undisturbed on the gilded columns and
gorgeous frescoes within: even the once gay gondola, that bore the crest
of his house on its prow, lay unused and rotting in the grand canal.
His exhausted finances would not now admit of his giving splendid
entertainments to gay beauties at their own houses, or musical fêtes on
the moonlit water: he no longer reclined in glittering gondolas,
gorgeous with rich hangings, redolent with the perfume of flowers, and
ringing with laughter the music of lutes and the voices of Elmina and
her companions, as they glided along the winding canals of Venice after
every other sound in the city was hushed.

After an absence of some months from his home, the count one night
returned: but how accompanied?  He brought with him Elmina and a troop
of her companions, who again filled the once desolate palace with riot
and disorder, and penetrating even to the private apartments of the
unhappy countess, insulted her so grossly that she rushed out in sorrow
and terror into the streets.

"O Girolamo, my brother, hadst thou been here, instead of sleeping on
the field of Francavilla, thy unfortunate sister had not been brought to
this!" was the exclamation of the poor wanderer, as she abandoned her
once happy home at midnight, and, accompanied only by one aged domestic,
set out for Nuovale, the last of their country villas which the
spendthrift had left unsold.

She might have complained of her wrongs to the good Doge her uncle; but
he was bowed down with sickness, age, and infirmities, brought on by his
wounds received in the wars of the Republic, and increased by troubles
arising from the intrigues of proud and plotting Venetian nobles.  She
wished not to add to his distress by a recapitulation of her own; but
hoped that, by suffering in silence, time would bring about a change:
for she yet cherished the idea that her still-loved Giulio might again
return her affection. But, alas for Diomida! time brought no change to
happiness for her.

Forgotten and forsaken, she lived in the utmost seclusion and
retirement; while her husband continued his career of riot, gaiety, and
dissipation at Venice, with his cousin Lucretia.  That most beautiful
but abandoned woman, seemed to rejoice in thus openly triumphing over
her married and virtuous rival: but her wicked ends were not yet
accomplished.  She had long resolved that Diomida should be destroyed
and that the count should become her own: a terrible climax was fast
approaching.

It was soon whispered abroad by the scandalous tale-bearers of the city,
that for most imperative reasons, the Signora Strazoldi had retired to a
solitary villa on the Brenta, accompanied by her mother the old
countess; who in her younger days had been equally infamous for her
intrigues and dissipated life.  Meanwhile Count Stefano, to preserve
appearances, challenged Della Torre to a duel in the Piazza of St. Mark
at noon. But other means were to be taken, and the cavaliers never came
to the encounter.

Bewitched by the beauty of the artful Lucretia, tormented by her tears
and reproaches, and stung by the taunts of her mother and the threats of
the boisterous and fierce Stefano, Count Giulio thirsted with all the
avarice of a miser to replenish his exhausted exchequer with the yet
unimpaired fortune of his cousin.  Yielding to all these baneful
impulses, he concerted the destruction of the unhappy Diomida; sinking
his soul yet deeper in misery and crime.  The honour of the Signora
Lucretia was to be fully restored on her public espousal by the Count
Della Torre. Descended from one of the most ancient of the twelve
electoral families, he now found himself obliged to wed a daughter of
his uncle by marriage; who ranked only in the third class of the
Venetian nobility, and whose name had been enrolled in the "Golden Book"
for a few thousand sequins required in some of the pressing emergencies
of the Republic.

It was arranged that the young countess should be murdered while her
uncle John Cornaro, laid on a couch of pain and sickness, was unable to
avert or avenge her fate.  Elmina la Mondana was employed by Count
Giulio to be the assassin, and she departed from Venice with ample
bribes and instructions from Lucretia and her mother.  Accompanied by
Count Stefano, she reached Nuovale in disguise, and was introduced alone
into the sleeping apartment of Diomida, when the latter was preparing to
retire to bed. The aspect of this fair, young girl—perishing under the
lingering agony of a breaking heart and a wounded spirit tortured by the
reflection of a life lost and a love misplaced—raised no pity in the
bosom of the cruel Mondana; who marked with heartless exultation, that
the roundness of the stately form of the wronged wife was gone, her
cheek pallid as death, and her eyes glassy and colourless.

"Pity me, gracious countess!" whined the treacherous Mondana grasping a
concealed pistol, while she bowed humbly before her victim; "I am a poor
woman whose husband was a trooper and served under the brave Girolamo
Cornaro, in the wars of the Count di Merci, and was slain in battle by
his side on that unhappy day in the Val di demona.

"Poor woman!" said the Countess, touched by her tears; "and what would
you with me?"

"Charity, if it please you, gracious lady.  I have heard that none sue a
boon in vain of the beautiful Diomida, whose heart is so compassionate."

"I have had more than my own share of woe in this bad and bitter world,
even though I have barely seen my eighteenth year," replied the poor
girl, sighing deeply, with an air of pity and dejection that would have
touched the heart of any one not wholly depraved.  "All who have served
with my beloved Girolamo, on that fatal field, are welcome to me.  And
so you say your husband was a trooper, poor woman?"

"A soldier who did good service against the enemy, as this letter from
the Colonello Cornaro to the Count di Merci can sufficiently prove."

"For my brother’s sake, I will cherish the memory of this poor Italian
soldier, and befriend thee as his widow.  Rest this night at the villa
Nuovale, and to-morrow you shall be properly provided for.  Meanwhile, I
would fain look on the letter of my brother Girolamo."  Throwing on her
laced night robe, and confining within a gauze caul the luxuriant
tresses of her golden hair, the unsuspecting girl drew near a lamp to
peruse the pretended letter; when Elmina, taking advantage of the
moment, levelled a pistol at the gentle head of Diomida, and fired.  But
the muzzle dropped, and the ball passed through the body of the
Countess, who sank at the feet of her murderess with a shriek, while her
life blood flowed in a crimson current, deluging the beautiful bosom,
whiter than marble of Paros.

Struck with horror the moment she committed this frightful act, Elmina
fled to her guilty paramour, Count Stefano, who had been watching
impatiently beneath the window of the apartment. On learning that
Diomida was only wounded, he rushed up stairs to complete her
destruction; and, in a transport of infuriated malignity, stabbed her
with his poniard, until her bosom became a shapeless mass, so horribly
was it mangled.

Masked like a bravo, with his broad hat flapping over his eyes, Stefano
cut his way through those whom the uproar had assembled, and who, though
disposed to bar his passage, shrank from his bloody hand and formidable
figure.  He rejoined Elmina, whom he also destroyed by a blow of his
poniard, to prevent her betrayal of him; and after flinging her body
into the Brenta, which flowed past the walls of Nuovale, he was conveyed
back to Venice in a gondola.  To Giulio and his accomplices at the
palace of Strazoldi, he displayed his bloody poniard, and the marriage
ring of Diomida, as tokens that she was now no more.  Then, for the
first time, was the conscience of Count Giulio touched with compunction
at the sight of that little golden symbol: his mind reverted in agony to
the hour of his espousals before the altar of Santa Maria, when he had
placed this ring on the finger of Diomida, his loving and beloved bride.
How had he fulfilled the solemn vow of those nuptials?

But the deed was done, and the wedding ring of Diomida glittered in the
hand of her relentless rival; who regarded it with eyes which, bright
and beautiful though they were, sparkled with triumphant malice and
revengeful joy.

"The ring is here, and we want but the priest to mumble Latin and so
finish the night with a proper bridal," said the ruffian Stefano, in
tones husky with fatigue, as he quaffed a sparkling draught of wine.
Giulio felt a stifling sensation in his throat, and his heart beat
wildly.

"Think you, I will be wed with the ring of Diomida Cornaro?" exclaimed
Lucretia, scornfully.  "Perish the bauble with the hand that wore it!"
and thus saying, she cast the trinket into the canal that flowed dark
and silently beneath the windows of the palace.  The fair image of his
gentle wife arose vividly before Count Giulio at this moment, and he
shrank with loathing from the side of Lucretia; regarding her brother
with a horror which he could scarcely repress as his hand involuntarily
sought the hilt of his poniard.

Strazoldi noted his agitation, but knowing that taunts or threats would
only be fuel to the fire that was smouldering in his heart, he called
for wine; and Giulio drank deeply to drown remembrance. The juice of the
grape, and the caresses of the fascinating Lucretia, soon made him
forget for a time; and the night was given to revelry, and the formation
of plans to cast the guilt of Diomida’s murder on the banditti of the
hills or the bravoes of Venice.  But they were miserably deceived.

Morning came, and with it horror, dread, and doubt—to the unhappy Giulio
at least: his cousin and adviser, Count Stephano, was a villain too
hardened to feel compunction at having murdered a woman whose life was
an obstacle to the accomplishment of any purpose of his. Morning came,
and rumour with her thousand venomed tongues had poisoned the ears of
all Venice with the hideous tidings.  The church Della Salute was hung
with black, the bells of San Marco tolled a knell, and the banner
bearing the winged lion of the Republic hung half hoisted on the
ramparts of the ducal palace.

That night a gondola cleft the bright waters of the Canal di Giudeca,
conveying the terrified and guilty fugitives from Venice: gold
strengthened anew the arms of the sturdy gondolieri, as they tore on
through the foaming sea. Meanwhile, an enraged mob had given the palaces
of Counts Della Torre and Strazoldi to the flames; a lurid light from
these blazing piles shone on the domes and spires of Venice, on the long
lines of magnificent edifices, and the canals that wind between them.
As the hum of the multitude died away on the night wind and the
fugitives saw the city grow dim and vanish behind the northern islets of
the Lagune, their guilty hearts beat less fearfully.  Liomazar received
them, and the heads of their fleet Barbary horses were turned towards
the Austrian frontier: that day they rode sixty miles without drawing
bridle.  They forced their horses to swim the Piove and Livenza, even
though the deep broad currents of these rivers were unusually swollen by
floods rushing down from the mountains of the Tyrol, laden with
shattered pines and terrible with rolling stones and falling rocks.  But
on—on! was the cry; for fierce pursuers were behind.  Fifty cavaliers,
the flower of the young nobles, with a squadron of the Dalmatian guard,
followed them with headlong speed.

Belgrade and Latisana opened their gates to these guilty ones; but they
were still forced to fly, goading on their sinking steeds with spur and
poniard.  Lucretia and the countess her mother were faint with fatigue;
the horses were failing fast, and the mountains of Carinthia were yet
far distant; while the passing breeze brought to their ears the blast of
a trumpet: its sound was their knell, for their pursuers kept on their
track like Calabrian bloodhounds.

[Transcriber’s note: this page (186) is referenced in Volume 3.]

Finding it impossible to cross the frontier, they threw themselves into
the tower of Fana, a baronial hold of Count Giulio, near Gradiska, one
of the strongest garrison towns in Austrian Friuli.  On this impregnable
castle, perched on a rock overhanging the fertile valley watered by the
Isonza, Giulio hoisted his standard; but his half Sclavonian, half
German vassals mustered unwillingly beneath it, when they found a siege
was to be endured: the cavaliers from Venice, having invested it on
every side, resolved to exterminate this infamous family.

Empowered by letters from the Doge, the Venetians obtained the
assistance of the Count di Lanthiri, grand bailiff of Friuli, who raised
all his military followers in arms, together with the vassals of the
duchy.  In addition to these, a regiment of Austrian infantry was
brought from Gradiska by its deputy-governor, the brave Baron di Fina,
knight of Carinthia and the Golden Stole—an order which none but the
noblest Venetians wear.

The castle was encircled and a trench thrown up to cut off all
communication with the surrounding country, while a strong force of
Austrians guarded the opposite bank of the Isonza, to prevent escape: a
needless precaution, as the rock on which the fortress stood descended
sheer down to the river many hundred feet below, where, foaming over in
a white cascade, the stream rushed in boiling eddies round crags and
promontories, as it hurried on to hide its waters in the Gulf of
Trieste.

Stefano di Strazoldi was roused to the utmost pitch of ferocity of which
the peculiarly excitable temperament of an Italian is susceptible, when
he beheld the fortress environed: he resolved on a vigorous defence, and
resorted to all those military tactics which he had acquired when
serving under the grand-master Zondodari.  The unhappy Giulio, finding
that no alternative was left but to die bravely sword in hand, or perish
ignominiously on the scaffold, gathered a fierce courage from despair,
and assisted in the defence of the walls with an energy which drew forth
many a boisterous encomium from Stefano, who seemed quite in his element
when the castle rocked to its base with the discharge and recoil of its
artillery: he swaggered from place to place, blustering and swearing,
dividing the time between draining deep flagons in the hall and urging
the defence of the garrison. The sturdy Sclavonian vassals of Fana,
though terrified at beholding the displayed standard of the grand
bailiff, and seeing that the assailants wore his livery and the Austrian
uniform, fought, nevertheless, with the most resolute valour: as their
lord and feudal superior, they deemed the count a greater man than
Lanthiri, and with unflinching spirit toiled at the castle guns for
four-and-twenty hours.  The vassals of the duchy, repulsed and
disheartened, were about to abandon their trenches and retreat; but just
then the Baron di Fina brought an Italian brigade of artillery against
them, and the flagging conflict was renewed with redoubled vigour.

From its rocky base to its frowning battlements, the whole castle was
involved in fire and rolling smoke, and the inhabitants of Friuli and
Gradiska crowded to the adjacent hills to behold the unusual scene.
Clad in his rich state uniform, a white feather in his hat and the star
of St. George of Carinthia sparkling on his breast, Count Lanthiri led
the assailants, and directed their operations. He was mounted on a
spotless black horse, and formed a perpetual mark for the cannon and
musketry of the besieged.  For twelve hours, de Fina’s cannon poured
their iron hail against the outer wall till it was breached, and an
enormous mass fell with a thundering crash into the Isonza. The
Sclavonians then retired with precipitation to the keep; where they
fired from loophole, bartizan, and barricade, with unyielding
resolution. The breach being effected, Lanthiri sent forward a
trumpeter, who summoned the garrison to surrender; but, contrary to the
usage of war, and regardless of the banner of the duchy which was
displayed from the trumpet, Count Strazoldi shot the bearer dead.  A
tumultuous shout of rage burst from the assailants on beholding the
cruel deed.

"Forward the grenadiers of Gradiska!—Revenge!" exclaimed the grand
bailiff, spurring his black horse up the outer breach.  "On! on!—Close
up, and fall on!  No quarter!  Follow me with bayonet and sabre!"

Regardless of the fire to which they were exposed, and which was
strewing the outer court with ghastly piles of killed and wounded, the
vassals of the duchy pressed on.  The brave old Baron de Fina blew open
the gate of the keep with a petard, which he hooked to it and fired with
his own hand.  With a triumphant "viva!" the soldiers rushed through the
opening, where Lanthiri was encountered hand to hand by Count Giulio;
who, forgetting his crimes, gave way to that inborn thirst for blood and
conflict which for ages had distinguished his family.  The combat was
brief.  He was borne backwards before the charged bayonets of the
Austrians; while his guilty companion, Stefano, was beaten to the earth,
and lost his right hand by a stroke from the Baron de Fina’s long
Italian sword, which was wielded with both hands, and did terrible
execution among the Sclavonian vassals of Fana.  These infatuated men
were appalled by the fall of Strazoldi; whose activity and presence of
mind had conspired, more perhaps than the Count’s authority, to animate
them during their desperate and rebellious resistance.  They were
compelled to yield before the headlong rush of their infuriated
assailants; and in ten minutes the banner of Count Giulio was pulled
down, torn to shreds, and given to the winds: he himself was heavily
ironed, and despatched, with his mutilated associate in crime, under an
Austrian escort, to the strong citadel of Gradiska; while his castle,
lands, and followers, were given up to pillage and devastation by
Lanthiri.

During the fury of the siege, the miserable Lucretia, overcome with
terror and remorse, and the fatigue of her rapid flight, was prematurely
delivered of a son.  The fierce Lanthiri, regardless of the tears,
sighs, and agony of the desolate mother, ordered the child to be cast
into the Isonza; but the more humane de Fina, a veteran of the Count di
Merci’s wars, directed that the infant should be placed in the monastery
of San Baldassare in Friuli, where there was a lantern for the reception
of foundlings.

On finding himself a fettered captive in the gloomy dungeons of
Gradiska, Strazoldi became furious with rage and almost insane, through
the conflicting emotions of love for his sister, sorrow for her
dishonour, and shame for the dark blot which crime had cast for ever on
their family name.  Cursing Lucretia and her amours, his mother and
himself, he tore the bandages from his wounds, and bled to death.  Count
Giulio, who was confined in the same vault, beheld with stern composure
the life-blood of his companion ebbing away, without offering aid.
Thus, in a fearful paroxysm of mental and bodily agony, the soul of the
fierce Stefano passed into eternity.

Lucretia and her equally wicked mother were placed in a Calabrian
convent.  Della Torre was ordered by the senate to be brought to Venice,
where his name was erased from the pages of the "Golden Book," which
contains the arms and names of all the nobles of the state.  His
participation in the assassination of John Cornaro’s niece, and his
rebellion against the bailiff of Frinli were the climax to all his other
excesses; which his enemies now exaggerated until they were regarded as
of tenfold enormity.  The people once more rising in a mob, demolished
such ruins of his palace as the fire had left; and tearing the very
foundations from the earth, set up instead a column of infamy, to mark
the spot to all succeeding ages.

In custody of the common headsman—a black-browed ruffian, with naked
arms, blood-red garb, and glittering axe—Della Torre entered Venice;
only three days after the venerable Cornaro, weighed down with the cares
of state, with age, infirmity, and sorrow, departed in peace at the
palace of Saint Mark.  His body was embalmed, and laid for the allotted
time on a bed of state covered with cloth of gold; his sword girt on the
wrong side, and his spurs having the rowels pointed towards the toes:
such being the usual manner of arraying the Doges, when after death
their bodies are laid out to be viewed by the knights and nobles of the
Republic.

Forgetful of the illustrious dead, all Venice rang with the shouts of

"Hail to the new Doge Alviso Mocenigo!" Proveditor General at sea, and
commander in Dalmatia, whom the Great Chancellor was conveying to his
coronation.  The mass del Spirito Santo was sung in the cathedral of the
patron saint, Marco.  Its vast dome, upheld by nearly three hundred
columns of marble and porphyry, towering like an eastern pagoda, and
brilliant with alabaster and emeralds, the spoil of rifled
Constantinople, reverberated to the holy anthem within, and the joyous
bursts of loyalty without.  Amidst the clangour of bells and the shouts
of the people, the new Doge embarked in a magnificent gondola, covered
with a canopy of velvet and gold and decorated with the banners of the
knights of the Golden Stole and St. Mark the Glorious.  Onward it moved,
amid beating of drums, braying of trumpets, the booming of artillery and
the acclamations of the people, towards the Palazzo di San Marco,
followed by two hundred gondolas bearing the standards of noble
families; and surrounded by the gleaming bayonets and halberds of the
Dalmatians, the Sclavonians, and other battalions of the Venetian
capelletti.

The two great pillars, surmounted by gigantic lions, which formerly
stood on the Piræus of Athens, and now erected in the arsenal of Venice,
were enveloped in garlands of flowers and floating streamers; two
hundred cannon thundered forth a salute from the banks of the grand
canal, while the ships and galleys replied by broadsides in honour of
Alviso.  The nobles were escorting the new Doge to that lordly dome from
which but an hour before the superb catafalco bearing the remains of his
aged predecessor had departed.  Scattering gold among the people, the
Doge Alviso ascended the Giant’s Staircase; on the summit of which he
was invested with the ducal robe and bonnet studded with precious
stones.  After which, the most noble Angelo Maria Malipierro, senior of
the forty-one electors, made an oration to Alviso and his people.

Amid this scene of joy and splendour—to which the bright meridian sun of
a glorious summer day lent additional charms, spire and tower gleaming
in its golden light, and the long vistas of the sinuous canals (where
not shadowed by the gigantic palaces) shining like mirrors of polished
gold—Giulio della Torre, who never again could partake of these
festivities, stood an outcast felon, fettered and in rags, by the column
of infamy that marked the site of his detested palace. Never did he feel
the bitter agony of merited humiliation so much as at that moment, when
the Doge’s splendid train, glittering with all the pomp of wealth and
nobility, swept through the marble arch of the Rialto.

There is no crime, however foul, for which gold will not procure a
pardon, both from church and state, in Italy; but Count Giulio was a
beggar, without even one quattrino.  Those who now possessed his villas
and castles—having either purchased them in the days of his mad
extravagance, or holding them from Mocenigo on his forfeiture—were
loudest in his condemnation; although his hands were yet unstained by
blood, and he had been the dupe of a beautiful but vicious woman and the
unwitting tool of a desperate debauchee.  In the solitude of the
horrible piombi, he had ample time to reflect on the insanity of his
career, and to repent: he wept for Diomida, and beat his head against
his dungeon walls in the extremity of his agony.  He endured all the
pangs of remorse and self-reproach; and looking back to that proud
eminence on which he had so lately stood, admired, honoured and
beloved,—a position to which the talents of his high-born ancestors had
raised him, and his then virtues entitled him,—Diomida, the gentle, the
suffering, and beautiful, arose vividly before him, gashed by the dagger
of Strazoldi.  Then his reason tottered, and he longed for death to
relieve him of his misery.

The new Doge Alviso Mocenigo, remembering an old grudge he bore Count
Giulio, shewed now, in the plenitude of his power, the true Venetian
spirit of revenge: he cast him into one of those dreadful cells under
the roof of the palace of St. Mark—the worst of the piombi or leaden
dungeons—where the wretched prisoners, stripped to the skin, are chained
to the pavement, and exposed to the burning rays of a hot Italian sun
concentrated in a focus, until their brains boil and they become raving
maniacs.

During the heat of a scorching summer, the unhappy della Torre
experienced these frightful torments in their utmost extreme, till he
found relief in furious madness.  The stern Doge Alviso, insatiate in
his thirst for revenge, consigned his fallen foe to the galleys of the
Maltese knights, where the flaying rod of the task-master restored him
to his senses and the pangs of reflection and remorse.

Recollection slowly returned, and the once noble Giulio della Torre, who
had been chained to the oar a crazed maniac, became in time a hardened
villain, lost to everything but a craving for vengeance on Mocenigo;
which, happily, was never gratified.  The bandits, bravoes, and other
murderous villains, with whom he was compelled to associate, applauded,
pitied, and encouraged him by turns: or affected to do so; but the
meanest citizen of Venice would not have glanced at him on the highway.
Mocenigo died; and for ten long years Giulio tugged at the oar: but the
thirst for revenge never passed away.  The galley was wrecked on the
rocks of Alfieri on the Calabrian coast; he escaped, and turned robber.
From a robber he became a hermit, secluded in the wild woods, and dwelt
in the habitation which you now behold.

Know that _I am he_ of whom I have spoken: once Giulio Count della Torre
di Fana; but prouder of the humble title of Il Padre Eremito of the
Tomb!  Here have I dwelt for sixty long, weary, and monotonous, though
peaceful years. Time seemed to stand still, and death appeared to have
forgotten me.  Until three days ago, when first I felt his cold hand
upon my heart, I feared that, like the wandering Apostle of the
Scripture, I was to live on undying, until that last dreadful day when
the heavens and the earth, the dead and the living, shall come together.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Such was the story related to me by this singular being, omitting the
frequent outbursts and exclamations of horror, grief, remorse, and
exhaustion with which its course was often interrupted. The dying man
now finally paused, overcome with exertion and the intensity of his
emotions.

After many pious ejaculations and muttered prayers, his strength
gradually became weaker, his voice more faint, and utterly exhausted by
his long confession, he sank into that dull lethargy so often the
forerunner of death.  Rolled up in my cloak I sat beside him, watching
the ebb of decaying nature, and pondering on the peculiarity of my
situation and this strange tale of other days.  I seemed still to hear
the querulous tones of his feeble voice long after his lips had ceased
to move; but at last, overcome with the toil of the previous day and
night, I could no longer resist the weariness that oppressed me, and
sank into a deep sleep.

When I awoke, the morning sun streamed brightly through the ruined
window of the tomb, and its yellow light, piercing through the gloom,
fell with celestial radiance on the bushy beard, attenuated form, and
rigid features of the old recluse.  The clasped hands, the fixed eyes,
and relaxed jaw informed me that his spirit had fled, and I reproached
myself bitterly fur having been so forgetful as to sleep and permit the
poor old man to die unwatched.  I stirred him, but he felt no more: I
laid my hand on his heart, but its pulses were still.  How many millions
of his contemporaries had been consigned to the tomb, where perchance
even their bones could not now be found, while he had lingered on—an
animated mummy withered in heart and crushed in spirit!

I now departed, obliged to leave to fate the chance of the hermit’s
remains obtaining the rites of sepulture.  The idea troubled me but
little at that time: when campaigning, unburied bodies are no more
thought of than dead leaves by the way-side.  But I learned afterwards
that, by order of Petronio, Bishop of Cosenza, the old hermit was
interred with great ceremony in the ancient tomb; which was converted
into an oratory, where the prayers of the passers-by might be offered up
for the repose of his soul.  The gown and rosary of the hermit may yet
be seen there by any one who is curious in these matters.

Upon leaving the tomb, I thought more, perhaps, of my horse than of the
hermit: poor Cartouche had been exposed to all the fury of the last
night’s storm.  I hastened to the place where I had picqueted him; he
was gone, and there still lay many miles of wild and rugged country
between me and Crotona!  First securing the door of the tomb, to keep
wolves, lynxes, or polecats from the remains of the recluse, and
muttering a hearty malison on my predicament and the loss of my valuable
horse, I set out in the direction of the rising sun, which was my surest
guide to Crotona.

After breakfasting on the wild apples, plums and peaches, that
flourished by the road-side, and taking a hearty pull at my friendly
flask to correct their crudeness, I pushed forward on my solitary march
with all speed.  On reaching a place where the road dipped down between
two steep impending banks, from the summits of which the shady oaks
formed by their entwined branches a thick impervious arch of the richest
foliage, what was my delight on beholding my gallant grey quietly
cropping the green herbage under the dewy shade!  His reins trailed on
the ground, his coat was rough, and the saddle and housings were awry;
but on hearing my joyous halloo and whistle, the noble charger pricked
up his ears, neighed in recognition, and, trotting up, rubbed his head
upon my shoulder.  In a minute more I was upon his back, and passing
hill and hollow at a speed which not even the swiftest horse of the
boasted Calabrian blood could have equalled.



                             *CHAPTER XIV.*

                        *THE SIEGE OF CROTONA.*


Descending the chain of mountains terminating in the Capo della Nuova, I
beheld before me the wide expanse of the Adriatic Sea stretching away
into the Gulf of Tarento, now beautifully illumined by the light of the
setting sun.  As the fiery orb sank behind the hills I had left, it
beamed a bright adieu on the towers of the Achæan city; tinging with
saffron and gold the waves that broke upon the Capo della Colonna—the
ancient promontory of Lacinium, once celebrated for the magnificent
temple of Juno, destroyed by the soldiers of Hannibal.

The school of Pythagoras—the glory of Græcia Major—had disappeared with
the power of Crotona; and of the majestic fane of Juno Lacinia but one
solitary column—rearing its massive shaft above the prostrate ruins of
the rest, and half submerged in the waves of the encroaching
sea—remained to attest the grandeur of the edifice in its glory; when
Greek, Ausonian, and Sicilian, bowed their heads before its pagan altar.
The temple is now nothing but a heap of stones, mantled with green slime
and sea-weed; and the desolation is heightened by the discordant screams
of flocks of sea birds.

The banks of the classic Neathus have lost all their boasted beauty and
verdure, and are now covered with sedgy marshes and stunted trees and
shrubs; very different from that umbrageous foliage which clothed them
in the days of Theocritus.

Having ridden for the greater part of the day under a burning sun,
during the sultry hours of afternoon—a time which the voluptuous Italian
passes in the slumbers of the siesta—I was half choked by thirst and the
oppressive heat of the atmosphere, and Cartouche was beginning to falter
with fatigue.  As I slowly followed the tortuous windings of the road to
Crotona, the approaching dusk of evening gradually invested in its
sombre veil the brilliant scenery: the Adriatic turned from gold to
crimson and the distant hills from emerald green to misty purple, until
their bright summits faded away into the dim horizon, and the blue vault
of heaven assumed the aspect of a spangled dome, spanning land and sea;
while the moon ascended slowly to her place, like a mighty globe of
liquid silver rising from the dark heaving waters of the ocean.

Evening had given place to night: but such a night!  It seemed more
beautiful than day!  The balsamic odours of orange, olive and lemon
groves, were wafted on the soft, refreshing breeze, till the whole air
seemed to thicken with delicious fragrance.  The sweet strains of the
"Ave Maria" stole up the valley from the lighted chapel of a solitary
convent, and the deep-toned chimes from a distant steeple were borne on
the cool air, mingled with the tinklings from the lowing herds, and the
evening hymn chanted by the shaggy-coated herdsman as he drove his
cattle towards the basin of a gushing fountain. Myriads of insects
buzzed around us, and Cartouche kept switching his long tail like a whip
and shaking his ears with irritation, as they floated in a black cloud
around him.

I found the modern Crotona to be little better than a village, dominated
by the citadel or castle. Every vestige or memorial of its ancient
grandeur had passed away, save the moss-grown column on the cape; and
nothing survived of the once-magnificent city, from the gate of which
the gigantic Milo led forth a hundred thousand men to battle.  The
superb temples over which waved the banner of Justinian, the massive
walls and brazen gates which the cohorts of Totila the Goth assailed in
vain, had long since crumbled into dust, and a wretched hamlet marked
the site of the ancient Crotona of Mysellus.

The half-ruined citadel, built by Charles V., was occupied by a French
garrison.  It was blockaded by a brigade of British commanded by Colonel
Macleod, and the Free Corps of Santugo, on the land side; while the
_Amphion_ frigate, with a squadron of Sicilian gun-boats, cut off all
supplies, succour, and communication from seaward.  The French were
reduced to great straits at the time of my arrival, and were daily
expected to capitulate.  General Regnier—who, since the battle of Maida,
had endeavoured to maintain his ground between the citadel and Catanzaro
(one of the finest towns in the province)—made suddenly a precipitate
retreat towards Tarento; abandoning his soldiers in Crotona to their
fate.

At Tarento, he was attacked by the chiefs of the Masse and the brigands,
who compelled him to retire after losing seven hundred men.  The
Marchese di Monteleone narrowly escaped being taken prisoner while
leading on a desperate charge at the head of a "handful" of cavalry. To
his bravery and exertions when commanding the rear-guard, Buonaparte
attributed solely the effective retreat of his shattered forces through
these wild and savage provinces.  The discomfited general retreated
along the shore of the Adriatic with the utmost rapidity; passing
through Melissa, Gariati Nuova, and Rossana, until he reached the
northern frontier of Calabria Citra: then, turning like a hunted stag on
his pursuers, he stood once more at bay; and, with the remnant of his
force, took up a position at Cassano.  There he entrenched himself, and
awaited the formation of a junction with Massena, the Prince of
Rivoli,—"the child of victory," and of devastation,—who was advancing at
the head of an army flushed with success. Gaeta, after a brave defence
for three months, had been surrendered to Massena’s division by Prince
William of Hesse Philipstadt.

On my approaching Crotona, the red gleams that flashed across the
darkened sky, and the deep booming sounds that broke with sullen
reverberations the silence of a calm evening, announced that an
interchange of heavy shot was taking place between the besiegers and the
citadel. The loud report of the frigate’s 42-pounders could easily be
distinguished from the lighter artillery of the gun-boats and the
curricle guns, which formed the only battering train Macleod had with
him.  From an eminence, I had a perfect view of the whole plan of
operations.  The noble frigate—whose lofty masts, well squared yards,
sparkling top-light, and swelling sides, were reflected in the dark blue
water—had been hauled close in shore, for the purpose of battering the
citadel; but now, as the darkness was fast descending, her boats were
towing her beyond range, and she came to anchor out of gun-shot in the
Gulf of Tarento.

From the moment the first parallel was laid down, the siege had been
pushed strenuously. On the land side, a line of circumvallation,
consisting of a good breastwork and ditch, had been drawn around the
fortress, to defend its besiegers from the incessant fire of the
citadel.  The daring and determination of this gallant little garrison
drew forth the admiration of all; save the revengeful Calabrians, who
panted for its surrender with a blood-thirstiness increased by
resistance. The garrison was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel de
Bourmont: it had numbered only a thousand at the time of Regnier’s
retreat, and was now greatly reduced by the casualties of war.  One
night, sallying forth at the head of two hundred grenadiers, and passing
through a line of counter-approach, De Bourmont completely scoured that
part of the trenches occupied by the Calabrians, under Visconte Santugo.
The exasperation of these Calabrians, and their thirst for deadly
retribution, are inconceivable.  On their crucifixes, on their daggers,
and on the bodies of the slain, they solemnly vowed vengeance on the
garrison when it capitulated; and only our bayonets restrained their
cruelty.

The streets of Crotona appeared empty, and the town almost deserted; the
spent cannon-shot and shell splinters, against which my horse
continually struck his hoofs, sufficiently informed me of the reason.
Many houses had been unroofed by the bomb batteries, or reduced to ruins
by the cannonade; very few remained inhabited, and those only which were
at a distance from the fire of the batteries.  The French works were
mounted with forty pieces of the heaviest ordnance.

I found Macleod among the parallels, where he was on the alert day and
night, superintending the relief and defence of the trenches.  His
uniform was completely concealed by a rough great-coat, above which he
wore a tartan plaid to protect him from the dew; that falls heavily by
night in this warm climate, and always in proportion to the intensity of
the heat of noon-day.  An undress bonnet, a dirk, and basket-hilted
sword completed his equipment.  He read by torch-light the laconic
letter of his friend the general; who, however, had enclosed documents
of a more official nature for Captain Hoste, R.N., commanding the
_Amphion_.  The note ran thus:—


"DEAR PETER,

"If Crotona does not surrender in twenty-four hours after Dundas
arrives, take the d—ned place by storm.  Yours ever,

"J.S."


"Extinguish the torch, or there will be a vacancy in the Buffs
to-morrow!" said Macleod to the soldier who held the hissing and flaring
link.  At that moment a thirty-two pound shot came whizzing along and
buried itself in the breastwork, covering us with dust and clay.  "A
narrow escape!" continued the colonel; "these favours are exchanged
liberally here.  The podesta will order you a billet somewhere for the
night; but come to me in the morning: my quarters are in the Strada
Larga.  I must send you to De Bourmont, as none of my fellows know any
language save that spoken north of the Brig of Perth.  By dawn, we will
have the citadel summoned in due form by sound of trumpet.  Meantime,
adieu!"

After considerable trouble I discovered the residence of the podesta in
the miserable marketplace.  I procured a billet on a house which proved
to be a place of entertainment, though a very desolate one.  There I
hastened to take up my quarters, wearied with fatigue and the heat of
the past day, and having an appetite like that of a hawk.  Resigning
Cartouche to the care of the colonel’s groom, I forthwith ordered a meal
which was to pass for dinner and supper. Brisket à la royale, garnished
with pickles, maccaroni with Parmesan cheese, &c., were the best the
house afforded; these, with fruit of all kinds, and a decanter or two of
Gioja wine, furnished a good repast enough for a hungry soldier, who had
just escaped an iron pill that no mortal stomach could digest.  The
waiter had just removed the cloth, and I was stretching myself on the
sofa to enjoy my first cigar, when Santugo entered, cloaked, booted and
belted as if for some important expedition.

"How, my lord, for the trenches to-night?" said I, springing up.

"No, faith! the Free Corps have had enough of the trench duty.  But, per
Baccho! my friend, how rejoiced I am to see you," he exclaimed, flinging
his plumed hat one way and his mantle another.  "Cazzica, I am going to
a place to-night where few men dare show their noses; and yet there are
some of the prettiest faces in the kingdom of Naples within its walls:
faces which, monsignore, the sun (as being of the impure masculine
gender) dares not even to kiss with his rays.  What say you, signor?"

"That I shall be most happy to accompany you, my lord: but let us finish
this decanter first."

"Of the most inveterate soakers are you redcoats!  Signor Claude, of all
men in Italy, I would prefer you to stand by my side to-night."

"There is danger, then?’

"You readily appreciate the compliment.  It may so happen that there
will be a scuffle," said he gaily, as stretching out his legs and
lounging back on his chair he half closed one eye, and with the other
scrutinized the colour of his wine with a critical air.

"Good Gioja that; what vintage, think you?"

"The last earthquake, perhaps."

"I’ll trouble you for the caraffa.  In short, signor," said the
Visconte, becoming suddenly grave, "I am obliged to throw myself
entirely upon you, and rely on obtaining your assistance and advice.
Being a Maltese religioso, Castelermo declines to accompany me; though I
know that he loves convents no better than I do.  He was once jilted by
a nun, and plundered of his patrimony by an abbess, as he may yet relate
to you; for poor Marco is a most inveterate proser, and sure to tell his
love-story when not absorbed with his other theme, the glories of Malta
the knight Valetta and old Villiers de l’Isle Adam.  My relation
Benedetto mounts guard in the trenches to-night, and their greatnesses
of St. Agatha and Bagnara are doubtless immersed in the intricacies of
chess, or the nonsense of faro: thus I have no friend but you; and as we
were good friends of old in Sicily, and comrades at Maida, I am
encouraged to make you the depository of my secret."

This serio-comic preamble led me to expect some wondrous disclosure.  He
paused for a moment, and heaved a long preliminary sigh: when, as I
filled up our glasses, his glance fell upon Bianca’s ring which
glittered on my finger. He changed countenance visibly, and for an
instant his dark eyes kindled with fire, while his brows knitted and
became as one.

I was beginning to erect my bristles in turn; when, assuming a grave but
not unpleasant tone, he thus addressed me:—

"Signor Claude, I perceive you have already won far on the good graces
of my cousin Bianca. From what passed at Palermo, I might have expected
this; and yet, considering the shortness of the time, and the pride of
the girl, I am somewhat surprised.  But I have no wish to interfere: nor
shall I have cause; if, in loving her, you bear always in mind that she
is the daughter of a soldier, and the cousin of one of the first
Neapolitan nobles."

Not altogether pleased at his tone, I was about to reply—perhaps with an
air of pique—when he continued, with a laugh—

"Stay, caro Claude!  I know what you would say: that you value not a
rush the wrath of any man; and that you love Bianca as never man loved
woman.  I can imagine all that: but beware how you display the jewel
before some eyes! Many a poniard that now rests quietly in its sheath
might be edged and pointed anew. Eh—hah! excuse my brevity, and want of
ceremony just now; but having a love affair in hand, time presses.  One
at a time is quite enough to be concerned in."

"Believe me, Luigi, if I can be of any assistance, it will afford me
inexpressible pleasure."

"Good!  I knew you would be my friend."

"But whom mean you to parade?" said I, stretching my hand over a table
where my pistols lay.

"Per Baccho!" said he, with an air of displeasure; "a duel is the first
thing you Britons think of when one is in a scrape.  There are none
fought in Italy.  A bravo’s poniard at a ducat the inch—you understand?"

"Then, Santugo, the lady——"

"Is a nun of the convent of Santa Caterina da Siena here, at Crotona."

"A nun?"

"In that little word lies all the danger, the difficulty, and the
devilry!"

"To poach on the preserves of his Holiness is ticklish work in this part
of the world!"

"I know it," he replied, gloomily; "and am acquainted with three
gentlemen of Naples who, for meddling with ecclesiastics, have borne all
the terrors of the law—imprisonment, ignominy, the weight of the public
scurlada, and confiscation of everything: they are now compelled to
serve under Frà Diavolo, Francatripa, and others, as common brigands.
Per Baccho!  I have not forgotten the unhappy Cavaliere di Castelluccio,
who was lately spirited away by the Bishop of Cosenza, and has never
been heard of since. However, these are but slight dangers for us, over
whom the holy office once stretched its iron arm. In these days, what
priest would dare to put forth his hand against me, the Visconte di
Santugo, and Grand Bailiff of Calabria-Ultra?  Well, Claude, the lady is
a nun; and I must have her to-night, even should we be compelled to fire
the convent, and carry her off in the confusion.  Ah!  Del Castagno
tried that with a girl at Nicastro—a dashing attempt; but he was caught
by the sbirri of the Bishop Petronio and consigned for six months to a
dungeon at Canne, where black bread and stale water so completely cured
him of the tender passion, that he regarded the poor damsel with the
most pious horror, and has now become the sober-minded husband of cousin
Ortensia.  But I jest with a heavy heart! Dundas, I believe you to be
honourable as I have found you brave; and in the affair of to-night,
would rather have you as my comrade than any of the volatile Neapolitans
of my acquaintance—fellows whose friendship will perhaps only last while
the flask contains a drop of wine and the purse a ducat."

"The lady?" I observed, impatiently.

"Is Bianca’s sister."

"How! the Signora Francesca?"

"Even so: the second daughter of old Annibale di Santugo, who fell while
fighting under the Cardinal Ruffo in Apulia.  Though poor in ducats, he
was rich in blood and name—being my father’s younger brother.  With his
last breath, he bequeathed to my care his three motherless
girls—Ortensia, Bianca, and Francesca.  Francesca was esteemed the
greatest beauty in Italy; yet in an excess of folly—or rather, let me
call it, generosity—she immured herself in a convent.  To remove the
only obstacle to her sister’s marriage with my friend Benedict, did this
dear girl (of all the loves I have had, my only true one!) give up her
slender patrimony, and take the veil in this convent at Crotona.  But
the bright tresses shred from her brow were scarcely consumed on the
altar, ere bitter repentance and heart-consuming grief seized her.  I
was serving with the Neapolitan army in the Roman territories, and had
not then seen her—at least, since her childhood.  Would to God that I
never had!  How much agony might have been spared both of us!  I met her
at the baths of Nicastro; where, in strict charge of my mother, she had
gone, by special permission, for the recovery of her health, which the
close confinement of the cloister, unavailing regrets, and a lingering
love for the world she had left, were destroying.  I was fiery, ardent,
and only three-and-twenty; she, a drooping but beautiful girl, devoted
to Heaven—a veiled and vowed nun. Oh! what madness could have prompted
me to love her?  But Cupid and the devil are always at one’s elbow.  We
were cousins—a dangerous relationship—and our intimacy, open and
unconstrained, plunged us at once into this delicious passion, the
impulses of which I found it impossible to resist.  I evaded the
watchful eyes of my mother, and gained, beyond redemption, the
affections of poor Francesca.  She returned to her convent wretched and
heart-broken. Infamy and death are, perhaps, before her.  Oh! Madonna
mia!  She must be rescued, and at all risks!" he exclaimed, leaping up,
and wrapping his cloak around him.  "You will accompany me, of course?
Remember ’tis the sister of Bianca!"

"And if she consents to elope?"

"We must carry her off to a little villa I have somewhere in the Val di
Demona.  There she can be quietly domiciled until the uproar is over,
and I can obtain a dispensation from Rome; after which she may resume
her old place in society, and laugh at the authority of the Signora
Abbadessa—who, I learn from her friend, Benedetto, is a regular Tartar.
Now, Claude, let us march."

I buckled on my sabre, drained the decanter, and, forgetting the
fatigues of the day, set forth with Santugo.  We were both muffled up in
our cloaks, and had our forage caps pulled over our faces to elude
observation.

At the corner of the Strada Larga, I lit a cigar at the consecrated lamp
before a Madonna, and we pushed on at a brisk pace, regardless of the
maledictions and cries of "Eretico!" which my heedless act called forth
from some Crotonians who observed it.



                             *CHAPTER XV.*

                       *THE ABDUCTION.—A SCRAPE.*


We left Crotona by an ancient archway, massive, dark, and covered with
lichens; and almost hidden beneath a mass of vines and ivy.  Through
this gate, perhaps, had rolled the "tide of war" that swept away the
host of the luxurious Sybarites. Taking the road to the old promontory
of Lacinium, a quarter of an hour’s walk brought us beneath the high
walls of the convent, which, from the summit of a wave-beaten rock,
threw a long dark shadow across the moonlit Adriatic.  The wild roses
and orange trees grew in luxuriance on three sides of it, and filled the
air with a fragrant perfume.

"How brilliant the moonlight is!" said I, by way of saying something,
for my lively friend had become unusually silent and thoughtful.

"Hush!  Signor Claude; speak softly, and keep well in the shadow.  As
for the moon, I would that the angel of darkness stretched his wings
between us.  I could well spare her lustre just now.  If we are
observed, our walk will have been to little purpose."

"Ghieu!  I believe you; ho! ho!" laughed a strange voice near us.

"Did you speak?" asked Santugo, in a fierce whisper.

"Not I," was my somewhat curt reply.

"Corpo di Baccho! then we are watched!" he exclaimed, drawing his sword,
and searching about him with kindling eyes.

"Imagination, Santugo."

"Ghieu! ho! ho!" laughed the voice again, close behind me.  I turned
suddenly round, but saw nothing, save the massively-jointed wall.  I was
startled and annoyed, and instantly loosened my sabre in its sheath,
keeping my sword arm free from the folds of my cloak.

Santugo’s irritation was excessive; he ran his sword into every bush,
searched every nook and corner, and scanned the whole walls, even at the
imminent risk of being discovered, but to no purpose: whether the voice
was real or imaginary was yet a mystery.  We listened intently; all was
still, save the soft rustle of the orange trees, and the dash of the
surf, as the Adriatic rolled its waves on the basaltic cliffs beneath
the convent walls.  A bell, swung from a beam in the square, open-arched
campanile, or steeple, tolled midnight; and a faint, flickering light
was immediately seen transiently lighting the tall windows of the
chapel, illuminating the bright hues of the stained glass, and
burnishing the stone tracery of each in succession.

"’Tis Francesca d’Alfieri!" exclaimed the Visconte, with rapture.  "She
does penance alone in the chapel to-night; each sister does so in turn.
I have enlisted the zitella of the convent in the service of love, and
have no doubt of success."  While speaking, he threw a handful of sand
against a lattice, which opened, and a young female face appeared; a
rose was thrown to him, and he clapped his hands twice: these were the
private signals agreed upon.  At that moment, I was certain I heard a
growling chuckle close by us; but, without taking notice of it, I
listened attentively for any sounds that might follow.

"Is all safe and quiet, Signora Pia?" asked Santugo.

"All, monsignore; but for sister Francesca’s sake and our own, be
cautious," replied the girl, with a trembling voice.  She then unrolled
a ladder of rope from the window, to the inside of which she assured us
it was firmly fastened. In imitation of Santugo, I folded my cloak round
the left arm, and mounting after him, scrambled to the summit of the
wall, then leaping down we found ourselves standing in the garden, where
our feet made terrible havoc among the abbess’s flower-beds and
glass-covered seeds.

"Che gioja!" said Santugo; "all is safe! a twenty-oared scampavia awaits
us beneath the shadow of the convent wall: Giacomo has manned it with
thirty of the most unscrupulous in the ranks of the Free Corps.  But two
grand points are yet to be gained; the postern must be unbarred, and the
cord of the alarm bell cut; after which, we may proceed leisurely, and
laugh at the rage of the Abbadessa."  He walked quickly towards the
chapel, and I followed, feeling somewhat piqued at the cautious manner
in which he revealed to me his plans.

The zitella (or girl of the convent) led us into the chapel, every part
of which was involved in deep gloom, except a little shrine, where,
beneath a gothic canopy of white marble, stood a silver image of Saint
Hugh.  Two tapers glimmering before it served to reveal the figure of
the fair devotee, as she knelt with clasped hands before the gilded rail
which enclosed the object of her devotions—the shrine of the patron
saint of her family.  The beauty of the little edifice, and the richness
of its shrines,—its columns with shafts of porphyry and capitals of
marble,—its roof of gilded fresco, and floor of the most elaborate
mosaic,—its alabaster tombs and gorgeous altar were all unheeded.  We
stole softly up a side aisle, and concealed ourselves behind the dark
shadow of a monument, where I had leisure to observe Francesca and
compliment Santugo on his admirable taste.

There was something in the gloomy and mysterious aspect of the place,
the situation and sombre garb of the recluse, which fascinated me, not
less than the beauty of her person.  It was long since I had seen her,
and she now seemed more lovely and more interesting than ever: and more
like Bianca.  Her face was pale—too pallid perhaps—but of a beautiful
oval form, and possessing a regularity of feature which would have been
deemed insipid, but for the lustre of her dark Ausonian eyes, and the
peculiarly aristocratic curl of her lip.  Luigi spoke hurriedly:—

"Signor Claude—you remember her—and the night with the conciarotti.
’Tis Francesca—my matchless Francesca, as good as she is timid and
beautiful!  O, Anima mia—behold me—I am here!" he added, going softly
towards her; "courage, sweet one! there is not a moment to be lost.  I
have possession of the postern towards the sea, where a barge of twenty
oars awaits us. Do not shrink from me, Francesca!  The hour of
deliverance and of happiness is come."

"O, never for me—on earth at least! Madonna, guide me, look upon me in
this moment of doubt and agony!’ she exclaimed, in tones of despair.
Sinking against the altar rail, she clung to it with one hand, and
covered her face with the other, sobbing heavily.  The Visconte knelt
beside her.  Her beauty, her distress, her resemblance and near
relationship to Bianca, all operated powerfully upon me, and I felt for
her deeply.

"O, misery!" she exclaimed, in a low but piercing voice; "Luigi of
Santugo, to what are you about to tempt me?  Reflect upon the deadly sin
of this act!"

"Evoe! ho! ho!" laughed a shrill voice, which awakened the thousand
echoes of the hollow chapel.  Francesca clung to Luigi, overcome with
shame and terror; and looking up, I beheld above my head the great
visage of the hunchback, peering from beneath the shadow of a gothic
canopy, under which he was squatted "like a pagod in a niche obscure."
A terrible grin of malice and mischief distorted his hideous lineaments.
I rushed upon him, but he slid down a pillar like a cat, and eluded me.
The startled Visconte silenced at once all the scruples of his cousin,
by snatching her up in his arms, and bearing her into the garden; a task
which evidently required considerable exertion, notwithstanding the
seeming lightness of her figure. But a plump girl of twenty or so is not
so easily run away with as romancers would have us to suppose.  At that
moment the alarm bell was rung furiously, and through the open arches of
the campanile, we saw the figure of the hideous imp, Gaspare Truffi,
swinging at the end of the rope, and grinning like a demon, while he
danced and yelled at the top of his voice, "Evoe! ho—ho!  Ghieu!
Sacrilege and rescue!  Ajuto! help!"

"Would to Heaven I had pistols to silence the clamours of that apostate
wretch!" exclaimed Santugo, as the noise of approaching feet and the
hallooing of men were heard in the distance. "The bell is arousing the
paesani!" he added, drawing his sword.  "Quick, signor!  As my friend
and brother officer, good service must you do me this night, or, by the
crown of the Sicilies! you must think no more of Bianca d’Alfieri."  I
liked neither the words nor the tone; but pardoned them out of
consideration for the anxiety of my excitable companion.

"The zitella keeps the postern beside the fountain, sparkling in the
moonlight yonder, and through that door we must pass to the sea!"  The
poor zitella lay senseless beside the gate, weltering in her blood,
which flowed copiously from a severe wound in her temple, and the key
having been broken in the lock by Gaspare, our retreat was utterly cut
off!  The alarm and exasperation of Santugo were indescribable.  The
devil! what a moment it was, a forlorn hope was nothing to it!

The bell continued tolling; the whole convent was alarmed, and a mob was
heard clamorously demanding admittance at the porch.  The visconte’s
followers were as noisily enforcing ingress at the seaward gate; on
which they thundered with their oars and musket butts, vowing dire
vengeance if their lord was in the least maltreated.  Long ere this, the
Signora Francesca had fainted.

"Aprite la porta—open the gate!  Beat it down!  Plague of San Carlo upon
it!  Bravo Giacomo!" cried Luigi.  "Via! it yields: strike well and
together!  A hundred ducats to the hand that beats down the door!
Heaven be thanked, a cloud is obscuring the moon, and it will not be
known which way we steer!"

"Viva la Signora d’Alfieri!  Viva Monsignore Santugo!  Corraggio,
colonello mio!" cried the Calabresi, as they redoubled their attacks on
the strong oaken postern.

"Sacrilege!" cried the shrill voice of the Abbess from a window; whence
she implored the people to rescue a daughter of the church whom brigands
were carrying off perforce.

At this critical moment the great gate was opened, and a mob of
peasantry, mule-drivers, and fishermen, armed with clubs, rifles,
ox-spears, and poniards, almost filling the garden, rushed with a yell
upon us.  Giacomo’s boatmen at the same time had beaten the postern-door
to fragments, and the light of the waning moon poured through upon the
glancing bayonets and white uniforms of the Calabrian Free Corps.

"Save the zitella!" cried Santugo.  Giacomo bore her on board the
scampavia, in the stern sheets of which Santugo deposited his cousin,
and brandishing his sword aloft, gave a reckless shout of triumph.  It
was the last I saw of them. Enveloped in murky clouds, the moon sank
behind the mountains of Isola, and the scene became suddenly involved in
gloom.  The assailants were too close upon me, to permit my following
the Visconte’s example, by springing on board; and I was compelled to
stand on the defensive, slashed one across the face with my sabre, he
fell shrieking into the water, where the relentless Giacomo despatched
him with the boat hook.  I was soon hemmed in on every side; and sinking
beneath a shower of blows, was beaten to the ground.  The last sound I
heard was a yell of defiance and rage, as the broad oars dipped into the
water, and the swift scampavia shot away like an arrow from the shore.

Supposing me slain, Luigi thought only of saving Francesca; and while
his twenty rowers pulled bravely, the soldiers gave the baffled pursuers
a volley from their firelocks.  The Calabrian peasants never went abroad
without their cartridge boxes, poniards, and rifles.  The latter were in
instant requisition; and a skirmish ensued, in which several were
wounded on both sides before the fugitives were beyond range of musket
shot.

Reckless and bold as he was by nature, perhaps Santugo would not have
dared to commit such an outrage against his religion, and the prejudices
of the Italian people, at any other time. But the power of the Church,
shaken by the recent destruction of the (misnamed) holy office, was
feeble; and such was the disorderly state of the country, then filled
with armed banditti who made it the scene of perpetual rapine and
warfare, that the authority of the law, at all times weak, was
completely neutralized.  The rank, power and wealth of Santugo’s family,
and his interest with Carolina and the court of Palermo, emboldened this
wild young noble to plunge into what was esteemed by the superstitious
and bigoted Calabrians as a deed replete with sacrilege and horror, and
which could not fail to draw down the utmost vengeance of the Church and
Heaven itself upon the unhappy perpetrator and his impious followers.
Indeed, a short time afterwards the Papal malison was duly thundered
forth against Santugo and myself, and published in the columns of the
Diario di Roma; consigning us to the warm protection of his most satanic
majesty.

For that I cared less than for the broken head and sore bones which were
my share of this adventure.  I had also the pleasant prospect of my name
becoming a standing quiz at every mess in the Mediterranean when the
story appeared in the _Gazzetta Britannica_—a gossiping, military,
patriotic paper published during our occupation of Sicily, and the only
public journal in the island: where the press is (or was) under the
severest restrictions.

The clamours of the people at this act of sacrilege led me to expect the
worst treatment at their hands.  Stunned by the blow of a club, I was
severely beaten while lying on the beach, and narrowly escaped being
poniarded by the hunchback; from whose vindictive malice I was saved
only by the intervention of a priest.  Elevated on the shoulders of some
herdsmen, Truffi now harangued the rabble—proposing, first, that they
should tie a stone to my neck and cast me into the sea, or bind me to a
tree and make me a target for their rifles at eighty paces.  Resistance
was vain, as they had securely bound me with my sash.  But I demanded
instant liberation, and that my sabre should be restored to me; and I
threatened severe retribution from our general and the chiefs of the
Masse should they dare to maltreat me.

Though they laughed at my threats, their effect was not altogether lost;
and I was not subjected to further violence.  Placed upon a sorry ass,
and accompanied by a throng of shouting peasantry, I was conducted back
to Crotona in ridiculous triumph, and then thrust into an iron cage at
the end of the Casamatta, or ancient prison of the town, where I was
left to my own reflections for the remainder of the night, or rather
morning—for it was then past three o’clock.  I was burning with
indignation against these base ragamuffins, whose pomelling made every
joint of my body ache; but nevertheless soon fell into a sound sleep on
the stone floor of the cage; nor did I awake until the morning sun shone
down the picturesque vista of the dilapidated Strada Larga. I arose with
stiffened limbs; and at first was unable to comprehend where on earth I
was.  But the cries of "eretico!" "assassino!" "ribaldone!" &c., and a
thousand other injurious epithets with which I had been greeted by the
rabble, were yet ringing in my ears, and, together with the disordered
state of my dress, brought the whole affair to my recollection.  With
revengeful bitterness, I remembered the many indignities I had received
from Gaspare Truffi: once he had snapped a pistol in my face; twice he
attempted to poniard me; and he would probably have had me despatched,
but for the firm intervention of an old Basilian father.  A dim
recollection floated before me of having seen his gnome-like visage
peering between the iron bars of the cage long after the crowd had
departed—his eyes glaring with hatred and malice that made them glisten
like a snake’s beneath the dark shadow of his heavy brows—while he
informed me, in the guttural Italian of Naples, that I would "yet feel
his knife between my ribs, as he was sworn to revenge his gambling
defeat at Nicastro," and the sabre-cut bestowed on his hump at the Villa
of Alfieri.

"’Sdeath!" thought I, while starting up from my hard couch, "I must have
this creature flogged or hung!  It is too ridiculous to be persecuted by
a contemptible hunchback, who follows me like an evil genius everywhere.
Olà, Signor Benedetto, Cavaliere del Castagno!" I cried aloud, as that
redoubtable gentleman swung himself over a window of the podesta’s house
and alighted in the street about a hundred yards from me.  But without
looking to where the voice came from—as he had evidently no wish to be
recognised—he drew his hat over his eyes, threw his ample cloak over his
disordered attire, and hurried down the Strada Larga.  I remembered the
podesta’s daughter—a pretty girl, from whom I had received my billet
last evening.

"Poor Ortensia!" thought I; "and thus your loving Benedict spends his
tour of duty in the trenches!"

Save himself, no one seemed yet stirring in Crotona; its ruined streets
were completely deserted.  At times a casual patrol of our troops
passed; but these were far beyond hail: and, in truth, I looked forward
with dread to being discovered in the cage—knowing too well it would
furnish a subject for laughter to every corps in Sicily.  The idea of
the general’s aide-de-camp being barred up in an iron cage, like a
common rogue, or a rat in a trap, was too replete with ridicule to be
patiently endured: but, after a few attempts to break prison and escape,
I was obliged to abandon the attempt and await my deliverance patiently.

To increase my annoyance, a few withered and sun-burned gossips gathered
round the parapet of a circular well (a fountain, by-the-bye, is ever
the grand rendezvous of Italian gossips), and after filling their
classic-shaped jars with water, they rested them on the margin of the
spring, and stared at me to their full contentment; relating to the
passers-by their own version of the story, with such additions and
variations as the exuberance of their fancy or hatred of a heretic
suggested.  To the peasant come to market in his wolf-skin jacket and
leather gaiters; the hind driving his team of oxen to the field; the
shepherd on his way to the mountains; to the water-carrier; the
impudent, rosy-faced itinerant improvisatore with his lute; and the
white-bearded Franciscan, with his greasy angular hat, snuff-begrimed
cassock, and begging-box;—to each and to all who stopped at the well,
did these shrivelled crones relate, with great emphasis and
gesticulation, the story of the sacrilege committed at the convent of
St. Catherine by the English heretic.

Vehement and ugly, as all old women in southern Italy are (the lower
classes at least), they soon collected a dense crowd round the cage, and
I was stared upon by a circle of hostile eyes in a manner very
unpleasant to endure.  I might have laughed at a predicament so
ridiculous, but the petulance of the Crotonian rabble soon became
annoying; their religious scruples were aroused by the malicious
observations of these old gossips, and I began to expect a martyrdom
like that of St. Stephen.

But relief was at hand.  Cavaliere Benedetto, though he hurried off so
abruptly, had recognised me, and despatched a party from the trenches to
my rescue.  I hailed with joy their glittering bayonets, which I soon
saw flashing above the head of the mob.  Bitter was the wrath of the
Italian soldiers when they beheld me so unworthily treated; their musket
butts were in immediate requisition, and in three minutes one side of
the cage was dashed to pieces, and I was free.

Under their escort I gladly hurried to my billet, where I put my
disordered uniform in proper trim for appearing before Macleod after
breakfast.



                             *CHAPTER XVI.*

                      *THE SUMMONS OF SURRENDER.*


Meanwhile, Santugo and his fair companion were ploughing the waters of
the Adriatic, and scudding along the coast of Calabria as fast as twenty
oars and an ample lateen sail, filled by a strong Borea or breeze from
the north, could carry them.  With the Visconte, and still more with his
cousin, the affair was not yet ended; innumerable griefs and troubles
were in store for them.  But I heard no more of the abduction for a
time, save in the jokes of my comrades; and once in a friendly note from
the general, warning me to avoid all such affairs in future, as they
were calculated to prejudice the Calabrians against us, and injure the
cause of Ferdinand, for whom we were fighting.

I had just completed my brief toilette, and was hastily paying my
respects to hot chocolate, devilled fowl, cream cheese, marmalade, and
maccaroons, when Santugo’s grave friend, the Maltese knight, Il
Cavaliere Marco di Castelermo, entered.

"Basta!" he exclaimed, casting aside his sword and sable cloak; "what
have you and the Visconte been about last night?  Broken into a convent
of consecrated nuns, as if it had been a mere bordello of Naples, and
carried off, by force of arms, the queen of that sainted community!  It
is a sad affair, signor."

"Sad, indeed, as my ribs find, to their cost, this morning: moreover, I
have lost in the scuffle a splendid sabre of Damascus—the last gift of a
friend who fell beneath the guns of Valetta."

"Ah! you served there?  So did I.  So Santugo has robbed the convent of
its brightest jewel—Francesca d’Alfieri, who shone among the beauties of
Palermo like a comet among the lesser stars."

"The young lady has attractions which——"

"Attractions!" exclaimed the enthusiastic Italian; "I tell you, signor,
she is magnificent! Ah! had you seen her last year, when she appeared as
Madonna, on the festival of the blessed Virgin!  The whole country did
homage to her wondrous beauty.  Francesca seemed a vision of something
more than mortal, as she sailed along on the lofty gilded car among
clouds of gauze and silver, with a crown of diamonds blazing on her ebon
tresses, wings on her shining shoulders, and incense, divine music,
light and glory, floating round her.  Basta! she was an angel of love!
The people, as they knelt, forgot their prayers to Madonna, and offered
up only praises of her beauty.  I honour the Visconte for carrying her
boldly off.  The girl would have been destroyed in an Italian convent;
where (I blush to say it) purity of heart is a wonder, and innocence a
crime.  But I tremble to think of the retribution which the Bishop of
Cosenza may deem due for the abduction: he is a stern, relentless
fellow."

"But what will the lieutenant-colonel commanding think of Santugo
abandoning his battalion—deserting in fact, with thirty rank and file of
the Free Corps, with their arms and accoutrements?"

"His youth, rank, and the ideas of our country must plead for him."

"And then the sacrilege, signor: what will the people say of it?"

"Just what they please, Santugo is too spirited a cavalier to value a
rush the silly scruples of a bigoted peasantry, or the idle thunders of
a knavish priesthood.  He will only remember, that in abducting his
cousin—replete with danger though the act may be—he has done a good deed
in the cause of love and humanity.  Corpo di Baccho! read "The
Prosecution of the Dominican Nuns of Pistoia in 1781, by the Canon
Baldi," and you will see there disclosed a mass of the most corrupt
female profligacy: a revelation amusing as it is horrible. Signor, you
would shrink with dismay if made acquainted with one-half of what passes
within the walls of our southern convents, where belladonna, the
dungeon, and the poniard are too often at work.  In the indictment of
the Canon Baldi there is displayed a regular system of depravity, into
which the young nuns are slowly initiated (after the first year of their
novitiate is passed), as into a lodge of freemasonry—craving pardon of
the gentle craft for a comparison so vile.  Basta! manfully as I have
fought for Italy and her ancient liberties, I would yet more willingly
lend a hand toward the utter demolition of every convent within the
land.  Still, thanks to Madonna!  I am a true Catholic, and commander of
the Maltese cross; and as such I swear to you, signor, on the blessed
badge of the isle, that no man has a better reason for being at feud
with the female order of ecclesiastics than I have.  I was ruined in my
prospects, seared in heart, and robbed of my patrimony by the knavery of
an abbess and the art of a deceitful nun.  But enough of this."  He
paused, with a kindling eye, and his cheek coloured as if he remembered
that more had been said than was quite necessary; but mastering some old
recollection or inward emotion, by a strong effort, he continued, in a
tone of affected carelessness, "Signor Claude, there is a relief in
telling one’s sorrow; and some night, when the Gioja or Lipari loosens
my tongue, you may learn how it first came to pass that I shaped the
Maltese cross on my shoulder.  But just now we must hurry to the
trenches, upon which De Bourmont has commenced his morning salute of
round shot and grape."

We found the whole citadel of Crotona, and the outwork possessed by the
French between it and the sea, enveloped in white smoke; amid which the
dark corbelled battlements, the flames that flashed through, and the
bayonets that glittered over them, were seen for a moment, and then
obscured as the smoke wreaths rolled on the morning wind.  The French
worked at their batteries manfully, pouring showers of cannon-shot,
bombs, and bombelles, on our troops; who were pretty secure behind their
breastworks, and repaid them with considerable interest from an eminence
on which a fascine battery was erected.

Le Moine fired salvoes by sound of bugle, and the _Amphion_ discharged
her broadsides, and with such effect that a great part of the castle
wall came away in a mass from the rocks, and the unfortunate who lined
it were hurled into the ditches in an instant: the well-jointed masonry
rolled down like a stony avalanche, and cannon with their carriages,
fragments of bodies and weapons strewed the streets below.  Three hearty
cheers arose from our trenches, and were echoed by the tars of the
_Amphion_; which was hauled yet closer in shore, and poured her shot in
rapid succession on the lower works of the citadel.  The Sicilian
gun-boats, with their thirty-two pounders and howitzers, dealt death and
destruction among the sand-bag batteries and stockades: these the French
soon abandoned, retiring with precipitation into the castle of Carlo V.
After maintaining a brisk cannonade for nearly two hours, the fire of
the enemy began to slacken; and by the material with which their guns
were served—such as pieces of metal, crowbars, broken bottles, stones,
bolts, and bags of nails—we perceived with satisfaction that their
ammunition was fast failing.  Yet they manned the breach as if expecting
an assault immediately; and, even while exposed to a galling fire,
worked bravely, repairing the damaged wall with fascines, bags of sand
and wool, stakes and "chandeliers."  They were doubtless resolved to
meet any escalade with the courage of Frenchmen, and with the
indomitable valour that distinguished all soldiers of the empire.

At last the fire on both sides ceased, the clouds of smoke curled away
from the old towers of Charles V., the bright sun shone joyously on
bastion and curtain, and we plainly beheld the sad havoc made by the
salvoes of our batteries, and the broadsides of the frigate.

"Now, Dundas!" cried Macleod, scrambling out of the trenches, "as the
gallant Monsieur de Bourmont has given over his morning’s shooting, and
as you know something of his lingo, just tie a handkerchief to the point
of your sword, and go up and inquire whether or not he means to
surrender the place without any more bother? If not, let him expect
broken heads to be plenty before tattoo to-night.  By Heaven! the
Ross-shire Buffs will dye their tartans red in the best blood of his
garrison, brave fellows though they be!"

"And the terms, colonel?"

"Such as Frenchmen—such as brave soldiers may accept without dishonour;
but nothing more.  Give this my summons of unconditional surrender; and,
as they know not of the fall of Gaeta and Massena’s advance, they will
no doubt yield at discretion."

With a white handkerchief fluttering from the point of my sabre, and
having a Corsican bugler in attendance, I departed on my mission from
the trenches; where more than two hundred of our soldiers lay weltering
in their blood.  Most of their wounds being inflicted by cannon shot, or
the explosion of bombs, were ghastly beyond description.  The earthen
trenches in some places were literally flooded with gore.  None but
those who have seen a man bleed to death from his wounds being left
undressed, can imagine how much blood the human frame contains.  The
ensanguined mud, where corpses, wounded men, fascines, shot and shell,
lay all mingled together, made our approaches frightful; and I gladly
sprang out and left them behind me.

As usual, the morning was beautiful: earth and sky were bright with
summer splendour. The sea of Adria shone in a blaze of yellow light, and
the chain of mountains stretching away to Isola, the little white
village dotting the sandy beach, and the solitary column of Juno Lacina,
afar off, made up a charming landscape; the beauties of which, my mind
was then too much occupied to appreciate.  To bear a flag of truce is an
exciting duty; and I felt my pulses quicken, on finding myself close
under the enemy’s cannon, yet warm with the heat of their last
discharge.  As I approached the old fortress, its walls shone gaily in
the bright sunlight; but the blood oozing from the carved stone
gargoyles, or spouts, of the battlements, told a terrible tale of the
havoc made by our shot and shell.

An ample tricolour waved lazily in the warm breeze, and serried lines of
bright bayonets glittered over the ramparts, while grim faces peered at
me through the dark embrasures and narrow loopholes of the time-worn
walls.  The troops were formed in rank-entire, with arms shouldered.
Poor old Bourmont was evidently making the greatest possible display of
his force.

When within twenty yards of the gate, the Corsican sounded "a parley;"
which was answered by beat of drum within the fortress.  The rattling
drawbridge descended, and a wicket opened in the gate, which was
composed of enormous palisades, cramped and bolted together.  (I
observed everything narrowly, while they allowed me the use of my eyes.)
Immediately on stepping through the wicket, we were encircled by twelve
Voltigeurs, with fixed bayonets; and a young French officer, saluting me
with his sabre, informed me that my eyes must be immediately
blindfolded, and my orderly committed to close ward in the guard-house.

"Monsieur," I said, indignantly, "I am, as you see, a staff officer in
the service of his Britannic Majesty, the bearer of a despatch to
Lieutenant-Colonel de Bourmont, and not a spy!"

"My orders are strict," he replied, with equal hauteur; "since you have
entered the gates, your eyes must be blindfolded, or you and the bugler
will be made prisoners forthwith!  I pledge you my word as a gentleman
and soldier that no dishonour will be offered."  We shook hands; the
Corsican boy was consigned to the care of the barrier guard, while my
eyes were blindfolded, and giving me his arm, the officer led me away in
this ludicrous manner, I knew not whither.

On the bandage being removed, I found myself in a large vaulted room of
the old castle. It was roofed with stone, and I heard the tramp of feet
and rumble of gun-slides on the bartizan above.  The groined arches
sprang from twelve dilapidated corbels, representing the apostles. A
bare wooden table, a few chairs and trunks, cloaks and sabres hanging on
the wall, spurred boots, empty bottles, and cigar boxes lying in a
corner, constituted the furniture of the room. The light streamed into
it between the stone mullions and corroded iron bars of three deeply
embayed windows; through which a view was obtained of the Gulf of
Tarento stretching away to the north, and the dark wooded ridges of La
Syla to the westward, rising five thousand feet above the sea’s level.

Coffee, wine, cigars, French army lists, Parisian Moniteurs, and the
last grand bulletin, lay on the table; at which De Bourmont, a fat but
pleasant-looking old man, dressed in a blue frogged surtout and scarlet
trousers, with a crimson forage cap, was seated with another officer, at
breakfast.

"Monsieur le Commandant," said the officer who introduced me, "a flag of
truce from the trenches—an officer of the enemy."

"Ah! they have come to terms at last!" said the little commandant,
nodding with a very satisfied air to the officer who sat opposite him;
and then rising, he handed me a chair.  "Proud to see you, monsieur," he
added, uncovering his bald head; "be seated—the wine is close to you.
There is Muscatelle, or, if you like it better, far-famed Lachryma
Christi and Greco, from grapes raised on the slopes of Vesuvius.  We can
get these things, you see, notwithstanding that the Scots colonel does
push the trenches so vigorously.  Mille bombes! ah, what a man he is!
Yes, and we can get that which warms our hearts better than even
Falernian wine or Greco—eh, Pepe?" he added, rubbing his nose, and
giving a sly glance at his morose companion, who intently broke the
shell of his third egg, without deigning to notice me.

"Would you prefer chocolate to wine, monsieur?" continued the colonel.
"We will talk over matters during breakfast.  I am glad you have come to
terms—very!"

I accepted his invitation; but could not resist smiling at the
complacent manner in which the Frenchman spoke of besiegers coming to
terms with the garrison of a place which their cannon had almost reduced
to ruins.

"How did your free Calabrians like the way we scoured the trenches the
other night?" asked Captain Pepe, while handing me coffee.

"You taught them a good lesson.  The marmalade?  Thank you.  An hour in
the trenches has given me quite an appetite."

"And how did your old tub of a frigate, and her fry of gun-boats, like
the chain-shot, the cross-bars, and stang-balls we favoured them with
this morning?"

"Monsieur, I did not come here to answer insolent questions, but to
deliver this despatch to Colonel Bourmont; who I have the pleasure to
perceive is a French officer of the old school—a gentleman, and not a
Parisian bully."

A quiet smile spread over Bourmont’s face, as he bowed and took
Macleod’s letter; while Pepe, like a cowed bravo, bit his white lips and
glared at me with ill-concealed malice and animosity: but I continued to
help myself with perfect composure.

Exasperated by this cutting contempt—"By heaven and hell!" he exclaimed,
"were it not that I must hold sacred the white flag you carry—mille
baionettes!—I would cut you in two!" and starting from the table, Pepe
retired into a recess of the window; where he affected to observe the
saucy _Amphion_, which was riding with her broadside to the shore, the
union-jack waving from her mizen peak—a striking feature in the view,
but ill-calculated to soothe the wrath of the irritated Gaul.  I could
read the history of this repulsive man in the coarse features and strong
lines of his sunburnt visage.

The French army at that time possessed many such spirits.  Raised from
the dregs of the people during the anarchy which followed the
Revolution, many of the actors in those frightful tragedies and
massacres that disgrace the nation became—rather by the force of
circumstances than their own deserts—commanders in the armies of
Buonaparte.  Savage and black-hearted, furious and sour republicans,
thus found themselves marching beneath the banners of an emperor; and
some of them obtaining honours in that profession which numbers all the
kings and princes of Europe among its members.  But the true Parisian
rabble, without one spark of the generous spirit of the soldier, were
destitute of that chivalry which distinguished the old French armies in
the time of the Bourbons.  A knowledge of the men they fought against,
caused our troops to regard the soldiers of the Revolution with equal
detestation and contempt: this latter feeling, however, soon became
changed when they encountered them as the army of Napoleon; who restored
France to that honourable place among the kingdoms of Europe, from which
she fell in 1792.  The sanguinary rabble who hailed with yells of
triumph the axe as it descended on the neck of the queenly Marie
Antoinette—who clove in two the head of the beautiful Princess Lamballe,
and dragged her naked body for days about the kennels of Paris, were
forgotten when contemplating the glories of Napoleon, the long
succession of his victories, the devotion of his soldiers, and the
chivalric enthusiasm of the old guard.  But to proceed.

De Bourmont looked over Macleod’s letter in various ways, but could make
nothing of it; upon which he asked me to translate it.  So far as I can
remember, it ran thus:—


"_Trenches before Crotona, July_ 1806.

"SIR,—Further resistance on your part being now in vain, I give you
until sunset to send away all the women and children; after which, if
the citadel be not surrendered, your garrison shall be buried in its
ruins.

"I have the honour to be, &c. &c,
       "PETER MACLEOD, Lieut.-Col.
              "Commanding Ross-shire Buffs.

"Lieut.-Col. DE BOURMONT,
       "Knt. Grand Cross of the Iron Crown,
              "and Commandant of Crotona."


"Sur ma vie!" said the little colonel, reddening with indignation, and
turning up his eyes on hearing this blunt message.  "Poof! what say you
to this, Pepe, my boy?"

"Guerre à mort!" growled the polite Captain Pepe.  "Bedieu!  I would
slit the bearer’s nose, and send him back to the writer, as a fitting
answer.  Or what think you to summon a file of the guard and cry _à la
lanterne_, as of old?  Mille bombes!  I have served many an English
prisoner so in Holland: but that was in the days of Robespierre."

"Halt! silence, monsieur!" said Bourmont, angrily; "remember that you
are among the soldiers of Napoleon the First, not the rabble of the
Fauxbourgs of Paris."  The captain bit his nether lip and again retired
to the window, while the colonel continued:—

"I shall not surrender; having good reasons for fighting to the last:
and you, monsieur—monsieur——"

"Dundas"—I suggested.

"Ah!  Dundas; yes: pardon me.  You are too much of a soldier not to be
aware of them."

"Colonel, I know not to what you refer.  General Regnier has taken up a
position at Cassano, from which he will inevitably be driven with
immense slaughter by the chiefs of the Masse and the leaders of the
brigands, who are all drawing to a head in that direction; so from him
you can expect no succour.  Monteleone by this time must have yielded to
Colonel Oswald; and, Scylla excepted, every fortress has opened its
gates to us.  Of a force of 9,000 men who encountered us at Maida, 3,000
only march under the standard of Regnier.  In the upper province, your
troops have melted away before the Italians alone.  Our shipping cut off
all retreat by sea; our troops by land.  You must capitulate: resistance
will be madness, and a useless sacrifice of your brave soldiers;
therefore permit me to entreat you to think well over the answer which I
am to bear to an antagonist so fiery and determined as M’Leod."

"Monsieur aide-de-camp, I thank you for the advice; but I hope French
soldiers will not be cowed by Scot or Englishman," said the colonel.
"Remember, that in the service of the Emperor, to be unfortunate _once_
is to be for ever lost.  Do you pretend ignorance of the fact that Gaeta
was surrendered lately by the Prince of Hesse Philipstadt to Massena,
who is now pushing on to our relief, and is by this time within a short
day’s march of Regnier’s position at Cassano?"

"I know that the strong fortress of Gaeta has surrendered, after a
gallant resistance," I replied, equally surprised and chagrined that _he
too_ was aware of the circumstance; "but who ever informed you that
Marshal Massena was in the frontiers of Calabria Citra, told that which
is false!  His division is still at Gaeta, nearly two hundred miles from
Cassano."

"Then I have been deceived!" exclaimed Bourmont, bitterly.  This
intelligence seemed to fall upon him like a thunderbolt.  After a little
reflection, he said, "Monsieur, if you pledge me your word of honour
that the marshal is so far off, I will yield Crotona within an hour;
reserving permission for the garrison to march out (through the breach,
if we choose) with all the honours of war—with bag and baggage, colours
flying and drums beating—the officers, of course, retaining their
swords; and the whole force to be permitted to march to the camp of
Cassano without farther hostility."

"Impossible, monsieur! who can answer for the barbarous banditti and
lawless soldiery of the Masse?  Remember the escape of Monteleone, and
the massacre of his regiment at La Syla!"

"True, true!" he muttered, bitterly.  "Mon Dieu! we are but a handful!"

"As a gentleman, as an officer, I pledge you my word, colonel, that
Massena’s division has not yet left even the Terra di Lavoura."

"Enough, monsieur: Crotona is lost; and with it the faithful services of
many an arduous year! Arcole, Lodi, Marengo—O my God!" he covered his
face with his hand.

"Ghieu! ho! ho!" croaked the voice of the everlasting hunchback, as he
emerged from a recess in the thick wall, where he had been coiled up
unseen by me.  "I tell you, Signor Colonello, that the Prince of
Rivoli’s advanced guard was at Latronico in Basilicata, three days
since!"

"Now, by heavens! crookback again: and here even!" I exclaimed,
bestowing a black look on Truffi, whose false assertions were calculated
to stagger De Bourmont.  "This wretch, then, is the channel of your
intelligence, monsieur?  If my pride would permit me condescending so
far as to defend myself against the idle contradictions of such a
despicable opponent, I have in my sabretache a letter which proves where
the marshal was three days ago.  It was found among the papers of an
officer, killed by a cannon-shot, when our fleet fired on Reamer’s line
of march by the Adriatic."

"A letter: bravissimo!" croaked Gaspare, while he snapped his fingers
like castanets, and grinned so hideously that I burst into a fit of
laughter.  "Ghieu!  Era scritto in tiempo del scirrocco!"  (Fie! it was
written in time of the sirocco.)

"No, Signor Canonico, you mistake," observed Captain Pepe, who could not
resist giving us the vulgar Italian joke.  "The letter, I have no doubt,
was indicted at the trenches yonder, and may be right after all.  You
know that a pig and an Englishman are the only animals insensible to the
effects of the scirrocco."

"Excellent," roared the hunchback, his hump heaving with laughter.

"Captain Pepe will oblige me by retiring to his quarters, and Frà
Gaspare by quitting the room," said De Bourmont, indignantly.  "In my
presence, no British officer shall be wantonly insulted.  Montaigne,
send here the Captain de Viontessancourt; I will confer with him on this
matter."

Pepe and Truffi disappeared together, and Montaigne, the officer who had
introduced me, and who had hitherto remained silent, in a few minutes
ushered in a tall, elderly man,—one of those kindly-looking old fellows
that gain one’s good will at first sight.  He wore a light green
uniform, and the medals on his breast, together with the keen,
determined expression of his eye, announced him a thorough soldier;
while his politeness and urbanity declared him to be every way the
reverse of Mr. Pepe: in fact, he was one of those high-minded chevaliers
of old France who had weathered the sanguinary storm of the Revolution.
His hair was white as snow; and he seemed to be about sixty years of
age.  Bourmont introduced him to me, saying—

"Captain de Viontessancourt, 23rd Voltigeurs of the Emperor—Lieutenant
Dundas, of the British service.  My friend Viontessancourt has grown
grey under his harness; and with him I will consult on this matter: it
is useless to ask council of any of my other officers; whose continual
cry is ’guerre à mort!’"

Giving me a file of Moniteurs to peruse, and pushing a brace of
decanters towards me, he drew the tall chevalier into one of the deep
recessed windows, where they remained in earnest confab for nearly half
an hour. Bourmont then seated himself at the table at which I was
sitting, and wrote to Macleod; offering to surrender the citadel, if the
garrison were permitted to evacuate it with the honours of war and march
without molestation to the French camp at Cassano.



                            *CHAPTER XVII.*

             *MARCHING *_*OUT*_* WITH THE HONOURS OF WAR.*


To this proposal Macleod was half inclined to accede; but the captain of
the frigate, a sturdy and impatient sailor, whom he consulted on the
occasion, advised his accepting of nothing but an unconditional
surrender.  The colonel, who perfectly understood the punctilious ideas
of military honour which animated De Bourmont, was inclined to spare
that gallant Frenchman the disgrace of a complete capitulation; but yet,
being resolved to get possession of Crotona, he had recourse to a
curious military quibble, which has been resorted to on more than one
occasion: particularly when General Ferrand, in 1793, surrendered the
town of Valenciennes to our troops, under H.R.H. the Duke of York.

I returned to the citadel with Macleod’s answer, and the high-spirited
Bourmont, yielding to the pressure of circumstances, was obliged to
consent to the dictated terms: these were—that his troops should march
forth from the gates of Crotona, with all the insignia of military
parade to the banks of the Esaro, where, at a given place, they were to
halt, pile arms, yield themselves prisoners of war; surrendering arms,
colours, drums, cannon, and everything except their baggage.  After some
troublesome diplomacy, and journeying to and fro between the trenches
and the citadel, I got the whole affair arranged, and the articles of
capitulation signed and sealed by both commanders, within an hour of
sunset; by which time Bourmont’s garrison was paraded, for the last
time, in heavy marching order, and ready to evacuate the place.

The sun was setting behind the mountains when the frigate fired a gun;
and before the white smoke had curled away through her lofty rigging,
the tricolour had descended from the ramparts of Crotona.  The gates
were thrown open, and the drawbridge descended with a clatter across the
ditch.

"It is the signal-gun: they come now!" cried Macleod, as he leaped on
his horse.  "Mr. Dundas, the brigade will come to ’attention’ and
’shoulder.’  Drumlugas," he added, addressing a strong, broad-chested,
and red-whiskered captain of his regiment; "march your company to the
gates, and the moment the last Frenchman has left them, hoist the
standard.  But, in the first place, march in and receive over the
posts."

The tall captain touched his bonnet, and giving the order—"Grenadiers,
threes right, quick march!" his company, with the band in front, marched
up to the guard-house, where the French guard was under arms; and where,
after all the usual formula, the whole of the sentries and posts were
relieved by the Highlanders.

After delivering Macleod’s order to the different battalions of his
brigade, I selected from the ranks of the Calabrese corps, Luca Labbruta
(or blubber-lipped Luke), a ferocious follower of Santugo, to watch for
Gaspare Truffi (who, not being a French subject, was not included in the
capitulation), and to seize the hunchback the moment the garrison
marched out.  He touched his knife with a grim smile of intelligence,
and left me.

The British forces, consisting of the 78th Highlanders, Les Chasseurs
Britanniques, a small party of artillery, and the marines of the
_Amphion_, formed two lines from the gate, facing inwards; and through
this lane the garrison of Crotona were to march.  In the rear were drawn
up the ranks of the Free Corps, scowling darkly and handling their
murderous poniards with a sternness of intent and ferocity of manner
which declared how little they relished the modern laws of war, or
understood that chivalric courtesy which brave men may yield to each
other with honour, and which the soldiers of Britain and France can so
well appreciate.  Behind these dark-visaged battalions crowded the
people of Crotona; while every window, nook, and corner, were filled
with faces, eager to get a glimpse of their dreaded enemies, on whom
they showered maledictions and abuse without cessation.  The picturesque
costumes of the crowd lent additional interest to the scene: the
madonna-like profiles of the women, shaded by their linen head-dresses
falling gracefully on the shoulders, or crowned by luxuriant dark hair
secured by a gilt arrow, agreeably contrasted with the aspect of the
well-mustachioed contadino, grim and swart, half bandit and half
peasant, clad in his shaggy doublet and high hat flaunting with ribands
and the red cockade of Ferdinand IV.; a dagger and horn in his belt, and
the long rifle sloped on his shoulder, as we see him depicted in the
spirited etchings of Pinelli.  The buffalo herdsman with his long pole
or glittering ox-goad, the bearded canon with dark robes and shaven
scalp, and a thousand other striking figures made up a scene such as a
painter or romancer would love.  A battalion of the Chasseurs
Britanniques—a corps composed of men of every nation—were drawn up
opposite the Ross-shire Buffs; the garb of the latter nearly resembling
that of the imperial legions whose swords had laid all Europe and part
of Asia at the feet of Rome.

Filling up the background of this novel and picturesque scene, on one
side rose the dark citadel, with its heavy ramparts and macciolated
battlements, in the style of the middle ages; on the other, lay the
little Italian town, with its balconies, verandahs, and terraces—its
flat roofs of wood or tile, and its little square towers open on four
sides, and covered with broad projecting roofs—one-half in light the
other in deep shadow, as the setting sun poured its ruddy lustre from
the summits of the distant hills.  Beneath the castled rocks shone the
glassy gulf, where cape and headland, breasting the rolling waves,
stretched away to the horizon in dim perspective, till the soft blue of
the ocean blended with that of the evening sky, and some white shadowy
sail alone indicated the line where air and ocean met.

Immediately after the gun was fired from the _Amphion_, the French drums
were heard beating, and the garrison came forth about six hundred
strong; having two field pieces in front, with two tumbrils of
ammunition, and two of baggage. They marched in subdivisions, with
bayonets fixed, the right in front, the field officers mounted, with
colours flying and brass drums beating; the gunners carried their
linstocks lighted at both ends, and a ball was placed in the mouth of
each piece of ordnance.  Their _tout ensemble_ was peculiarly
service-like and soldierly; their dark greatcoats enlivened by red
worsted epaulettes and scarlet trousers, and the bear-skin caps
surmounting bronzed visages with rough wiry mustachios.  Many of them
were veterans of the empire, with hair grey as their goatskin knapsacks.
The hoarse rattle of their brass drums, the sharply sonorous trumpets
and clashing cymbals—a not unharmonious clangour of metallic
music—loudly resounding as they marched through the archway of the
citadel, lent additional spirit to the scene, as they advanced with all
the order and steadiness of a review on the Champ de Mars.  Their
bayonets, brass-feruled musket-barrels, and the gilt eagles on their
caps, gleamed in the rays of the setting sun, and the heavy silken
tricolour flapped in the breeze, as it was up-borne above the marching
column by Bourmont’s only son, a mere boy, fitter for his mother’s side
than the harrowing scenes of war.

"Portez vos armes!" cried Bourmont, lowering his sabre on passing the
first stand of colours.

"Brigade—present arms!" answered Macleod, with a voice loud and clear as
a trumpet; and our double line ’presented,’ the officers in front
saluting with their swords, while our bands struck up the grand national
air of the Bourbons, "Vive Henri Quatre."  The French would perhaps have
preferred the ’march’ of Napoleon; but I perceived a flush cross the
face of the old Chevalier de Viontessancourt, when the first burst of
the air fell upon his ear.  The animosity on both sides had evaporated;
our hearts were full, and the generous "hurrah" so hard to be
restrained, rose to every man’s lips as the Frenchmen passed us.

The moment the last file had cleared our ranks, we "shouldered arms;"
and, followed by a wing of the Buffs—to prevent the revengeful
Calabrians from assaulting them—the French continued their march to the
tomb of Croton (which, as old Ovid tells us, was the origin of the
city), where, by the articles of capitulation, they were to be deprived
of all their military insignia.  Macleod, with the remainder of his
brigade, took possession of the citadel—marching in with the _Amphion’s_
marines in front; the right being the post of honour generally assigned
to that maritime corps. Drumlugas hoisted the British flag, which was
saluted by the heavy ordnance of the frigate, thundering over the still
waters of the gulf while the echoes of the Strada Larga were yet ringing
to the music of the French band.

The Maltese knight, the Duca di Bagnara, and Cavaliere del Castagno,
mounted on true Neapolitan steeds—small, strong, compact, large-headed,
and bull-necked, perfect prototypes of the horses in ancient Roman
bassi-relievi—brought up the rear with their battalions of the free
corps; which immediately broke ranks, and dispersed over the fortress in
search of plunder: we had the utmost difficulty in rescuing from their
bayonets and daggers the numerous wounded soldiers whom De Bourmont had
left behind.

On reaching a pile of ruins called by tradition the Tomb of Croton, and
situated near the banks of the Æsaris of the ancients, the French troops
halted and piled arms; the officers dismounting, and the whole marching
to a certain distance from the stands of muskets, they surrendered their
cannon, colours, and drums, without scathe or damage, to the Ross-shire
Buffs, commanded by Major Ferintosh.  It was a humiliating act; but the
honour of France was saved—the garrison having, in the fullest sense of
the term, marched out with "the honours of war."

The swords of the officers were restored to them, and, with the
soldiers, they were permitted to retain their baggage; but the whole
were immediately embarked on board the _Amphion_, where they were in
safe enough keeping within "the wooden walls of old England."  They were
sent to Messina; but were soon after exchanged, and transmitted by
cartel to France.

Fra Gaspare—whom I was now more than ever eager to capture, having
discovered that he acted the treble part of spy, assassin, and
traitor—was not to be found within the fortress.  All the efforts of
Luca Labbruta, who, encouraged by my promised reward, searched every
nook and corner of the fortress—the secret passages, stair-turrets,
cells, and dungeons (the architect had provided enough of them all)—were
in vain.  I was provoked by his want of success.  The hunchback
certainly had not come forth when the garrison marched through the
gates; and I could not feel quite at ease under the idea that this
vindictive miscreant might still be lurking in one of the numerous holes
or hidingplaces in the old citadel.

A writer on Italy remarks, that it is a national trait of the Calabrian
provincials to be inflamed with the deadliest animosity against any
person who discovers or reveals their secret villainy.  I was well aware
of this; and knew that Gaspare Truffi was to be dreaded rather than
despised.  But Cavaliere Benedetto soon discovered that De Bourmont, who
found the little wretch useful as a spy, had connived at his escape in
one of the covered waggons.

"I knew that he was not within the citadel," said Benedetto; "my fellows
have searched every hole that would hide even a mouse: not a place
between bartizan and dungeon-floor has escaped them; and I could have
sworn by our Mother of Loretto—ay, and the miraculous grot of Capri to
boot—that they would find him.  But, per Baccho! we shall have the
cursed gnome in our clutches some other time; and meanwhile, signor,
consider yourself safe."

"I am surprised at being so fortunate in escaping his malice so long!
He has had so many opportunities, when a shot——"

"No, no, signor," said Castagno, waving his hand disapprovingly; "I may
say with something akin to national vanity, that a Calabrian—though
monks and scholars will tell you that he is but a mongrel of Greek,
Latin, Lombard, and Saracen blood—can strike with his poniard surely and
deeply at close quarters, but would scorn the act of shooting even his
bitterest enemy from a distance."

"Our friend the friar is an exception to this rule: I have had ocular
demonstration of the fact.  It is cowardly assassination any way—a
distinction without a difference."

"But old superstition has rendered it the fashion nowadays," he
rejoined, with a jaunty, careless air; as, bowing, he replaced his
cigar, and left me.

That night we had a joyous househeating in the citadel.  Our foragers
came unexpectedly upon a stock of choice old wine, which De Bourmont had
been reserving in some of the cool, dark cellars—probably for his own
particular use.  He had doubtless come by them as lightly as we did; his
soldiers having plundered every house in and about Crotona.  But
Macleod, his successor, set the casks abroach; and the wine flowed as
from a fountain.

His own officers, accustomed to the potent aquavitæ of their native
hills, were seasoned topers, and imbibed the juice of the "Tuscan grape"
and the light wines of Cyprus and Sicily as if it were water; but most
of the Chasseurs Britanniques and the _Amphion’s_ men lay beneath the
table when the morning sun peeped in upon the scene of their orgies.



                            *CHAPTER XVIII.*

                          *ANOTHER DESPATCH.*


On the evening of the next day Macleod put into my hand a despatch for
the general, containing an account of the capture of Crotona, with a
list of the prisoners, stores, and casualties.  With this document I had
to set out forthwith for the castle of Scylla, where Sir John Stewart,
with the brigade of Colonel Oswald, was pushing the siege in person
against a French garrison, which made a most resolute defence.  The
French soldiers were commanded by the Marchese di Monteleone, who, by
some unaccountable means, had passed the piquets of the Masse, and
contrived to reach the fortress from the distant camp at Cassano; his
known bravery well entitled him to assume the command.

At first I was chagrined at the idea of a journey of more than a hundred
miles through such an extraordinary country; but, understanding that
Marco of Castelermo had offered to be my guide and companion by the way
(and on my return, if necessary), I looked forward to the long ride as a
probable source of pleasant and exciting adventures; for every day
brought forth something new and stirring during our campaign in these
turbulent provinces, and every rood of ground over which we marched was
rich in the recollections of the past.

The morning gun aroused me next day by dawn, and with alacrity I quitted
my couch, which consisted of nothing more luxurious than a wooden bench
and my horse-cloak.

Through the open iron lattice the brightening east gave promise of
another glorious Italian day; a cold, grey light spread over the sky,
distinctly revealing the most distant points of the scenery even so far
as the peaks of Santa Severina, (famous for that wine which Pliny of old
so much commended), and the little city of Strongoli perched on the
summit of a lofty mountain rising up abruptly from the shores of the
Ionian sea.  The sun was yet far below the horizon, and the streets of
Crotona, the dark courts and blood-stained walls of the citadel, were
yet gloomy, silent, and still.  Masses of shattered masonry, splinters
of shells, scattered shot, broken gun-carriages, with here and there a
corpse which our fatigue parties had not yet removed, and coagulated
pools of blood crusted on the pavement of platform and parapet, yet met
the eye, attesting the valour of the garrison and the slaughter of the
siege.  With his plaid and feathers fluttering on the breeze, a sentinel
of the Ross-shire Buffs trod to and fro by the flag-staff, and the hour
being early, and no one stirring, he chanted a song to cheer his lonely
post; he sang of a land which had more charms for him than bright
Ausonia, and his thoughts were amid the pathless glens and savage
solitudes of Ross.

The clatter of hoofs on the pavement, as our horses were led into the
court, and the appearance of the tall figure of il Cavaliere di Malta,
muffled in an ample black cloak with a scarlet cross, and booted and
spurred for the road, made me hurry forth to meet him.

"Now, signor," said Marco, as he put his foot in the stirrup, "look well
to your girths and pistols, for we may have often to trust more to our
horses’ heels and a flying shot than to downright valour.  Many a mile
of wild wood, deep morass, mountain gorge and desert plain, must be
passed between this and Scylla; and it is very unlikely that we shall be
permitted to travel so far without having a brawl of some kind."

"I trust your provincial gentlemen of the road will not find us quite
unprepared, at all events," said I, leaping into my saddle, and
examining my holsters.

"Basta! for myself I care little, being able to keep any man at arm’s
length; but in a gorge like la Syla, hedged by the rifles of a thousand
banditti, the wisest policy is to take off one’s hat.  The country
through which we must pass swarms with the followers of Scarolla, Frà
Diavolo, Benincasa, Gaetano Mammone, and lastly, the terrible
Francatripa, the king of St. Eufemio."

"And on each of these matchless vagabonds, the court of Palermo has
bestowed the star of St. Constantino, and a colonel’s commission!"

"On all, save the horrible Scarolla."

"But Francatripa is said to be chivalrous and brave, and a perfect hero
of romance, though a mountain robber."

"You may chance to find him an incarnate fiend!" said Castelermo, as we
rode off: "ay, worse than a fiend if it suits his humour; and as for
chivalry, basta!  I cannot see any in a bearded capobandito, with satan
in his heart, and a belt round him garnished with poniards and pistols.
Yet Francatripa’s actions are formed after a noble model: it is his
greatest pride to be considered like poor Marco Sciarra, Re-della
Campagna."

"_He_ was a prince among Italian bandits!  I remember having read that
once in the mountains of Abruzzo, his band plundered a poor wayfarer,
whom they bound with cords and brought before him.

"Well, signor," said the robber king, "what are you?"

"Only a poor poet, Messer Marco."

"Good!" replied the other, his frown relaxing.

"Your name?’

"Torquato Tasso of Sorrento."

"What! the author of——"

"Gierusalemme Liberata," said the prisoner, bowing profoundly.  A shout
of acclamation burst from the band, and the ’king of the open country’
knelt on the sod, kissed the hand of the poet, and restoring to him his
baggage, escorted him in person beyond the dangerous passes of the
mountains.

"All this, and much more, I have heard in the nursery; but as neither of
us happen to be a Tasso, and king Marco has long since gone to the
shades, any adventure we may have with his successors and imitators will
not terminate so pleasantly.  Look there, signor, and behold a
competition of minstrels!  Hark! we shall hear music equalling the pipe
of Hermes!"

Under the vine-covered verandah of a cantina, sat six or eight of the
Chasseurs Britanniques, and Free Calabrians, who, by the red appearance
of their eyes, had evidently been carousing all night, and were yet
dreaming over their half-drained flagons; while the empty jars, cards
and dice scattered on the board, informed us that they had enjoyed the
night so merrily that they were not yet inclined to separate.

An itinerant performer on the zampogna, or Italian bagpipe, was playing
for the entertainment of the drowsy revellers, when a gigantic Scot in
dark tartan, one of Macleod’s regimental pipers, passed by on his way to
the Strada Larga, to play a rouse for the soldiers billeted there.
Stopping before the cantina, the Scottish piper surveyed with surprise
and curiosity the little chanter and inflated skin of the Calabrian’s
primitive bagpipe; while at the music of this feeble reed, the face of
the Highlander gradually contracted, from a ludicrous expression of
wonder, to a formidable scowl of Gaelic contempt.  He threw the three
long drones of the great war-pipe over his left shoulder, and puffing up
its mighty bag, in an instant poured forth the wild northern pibroch of
the race of Seaforth.  The strange variations and tremendous din of the
Highland bagpipe astounded the poor little zampognatore, whose notes
were lost amid the shrill and sonorous tempest which poured forth so
volubly from the pipe of the Highlander; whom he regarded for a time
with a droll look of silent wonder, and then slank away, retreating
backwards, while his stalwart rival strode after him, taking step for
step, and blowing fiercely, as he literally "walked into" the
discomfited Italian.

Discordant as the "war-note" of clan Kenneth must have been to the nice
Italian ear of Castelermo, he would fain have stayed to listen; but his
fiery Neapolitan horse had no such inclination: after snorting and
prancing, it set off at a speed which soon left far behind the towers
and ramparts of Crotona.

During the cool morning our ride was a very pleasant one, as the road
lay through a level part of the country, covered with rich crops and
studded with little villages and olive groves, interspersed with lofty
elms and clumps of pale green willow overhanging gurgling rivulets; but
the scene changed as we penetrated among the mountains, where we rode on
for miles without encountering a human being, save perhaps some
smoke-begrimed charcoal-burner, or bandit-like peasant, in pursuit of
the red deer which abound in those wild places.  At times the road wound
between the green and solitary hills, through gorges like the bed of a
dried up river, where the rocks frowned grimly, rising up on each side
like walls of basalt or iron: but they were not devoid of beauty, for in
their clefts flourished the daphne and the rhododendron, blue
monk’s-hood, pink fox-glove, and the whortle-berry; while the bronze
masses of dark Italian pines shed their sombre influence over the scene
from the summit of the cliffs above.

The scorching heat soon compelled us to take shelter in the hut of a
shepherd during the sultry noon.  We met him on the lonely mountains
with his flock of goats, the tinkle of whose brass bells awoke the
echoes of the hollow valley whence they were ascending.  He walked
lazily in front, playing drowsily on the zampogna, and the herded flock
followed in close order behind, drawn after him either by the charms of
his pipe, or by the dread of a sharp-nosed sheepdog with long white
hair, who formed the rear guard, and watched his fleecy charge with red
ferret-like eyes.  His poor cabin could afford us nothing more than a
morsel of coarse cake, a handful of olives, and the manna or congealed
dew, which in the morning is gathered on the mulberry leaves in
Calabria; in lieu of wine we had a draught of the limpid water that
gurgled from a rustic fount, supplying the duct or hollowed tree that
lay before the door, and was half buried in the turf for the convenience
of his flock.

The shepherd was clad in a doublet and waistcoat of rough undressed
skins with the wool outside, fastened by ties of thong or horn buttons,
red cotton breeches, and a broad-leafed hat of plaited straw adorned
with a clay image of the Madonna; long uncombed locks waved in sable
masses on his brawny breast and muscular neck, which like his legs and
feet were sunburnt and bare; a pouch and knife hung at his girdle, and
his face, which perhaps had never been touched by a razor, was fringed
by a short and thick black beard.  In ideas and manners he was perhaps
little different from the shepherds who inhabited these very mountains
when the trumpets of Hannibal awoke their echoes; only he prayed not to
"thundering Jove" but to Madonna, believed in the miracles of St. Hugh
and the holy Eufemio instead of the amours and valorous deeds of Pan,
and kept Lent in lieu of the _Lupercalia_ of the Latins.

"Everything here seems centuries behind northern Italy, in the march of
civilization," I observed to my friend and cicerone.

"Truly we have got amongst fauns and satyrs here," replied Castelermo,
as he drank from a pitcher of cold water with no very satisfied air.
"Basta! was the Arcadia of Virgil like this? Hark you, Signor Menalcas
(if that be your name), does not the villa Belcastro lie somewhere near
these wild mountains?’

"Yes, illustrissimo," replied the poor rustic, quite abashed by the
hauteur of the Maltese knight; "about a league beyond the Tacina, among
the wooded hills."

"Good!  I hope we shall procure better quarters and entertainment than
this poor den can afford."

"I have been often plundered by the French marauders, signor," said the
goat-herd humbly.

"And this villa Belcastro: do you know the way to it?"

"Yes, Signor Cavaliere; but a thousand golden ducats would not bribe me
to be your guide thither!"

"Why so, fool?"

"My shoulders ache at the recollection of the scurlada.  The Cavaliere
di Belcastro——"

"Has a very bad name in the neighbourhood. Ah!  I heard that even at
Palermo.  And so, Signor Sylvanus——"

"_My_ name is Renzo Grolle," said the herd, angrily.  "The sbirri at the
villa allow no one to approach within rifle shot of the gates; as the
noble signor makes the French war a pretext for many an act of
oppression.  I was scourged like a mule for leading a poor monk of
Cassano there a few days ago: and yet, perhaps he proved no unwelcome
guest.  Whom think you he was, illustrissimo?  Why, the great Marchese
di Monteleone in disguise; and on his way to Scylla! Madonna!  I
discovered that afterwards, when he was beyond the reach of my knife!
His excellenza of Belcastro can act the robber, as well as the king of
St. Eufemio: but, perhaps, the less I say the safer for myself, and I
trust to your honour in being scatheless for what I have said already.
His dungeons are deep; and I am but a poor peasant, whom he might crush
by a word."

"At this age of the world, can such things be?" asked I, touched by the
poor man’s terror and humility.  "A devil of a fellow this: we will pay
him a visit out of pure spite.  What say you, Signor Marco?"

"By all means," replied the cavalier, as we took the road again.  "His
sbirri will scarcely dare to fire on me; and we can make our quarters
good in the king’s name.  Basta! let Signor Belcastro look to himself,
if swords are drawn: I believe I have met him before, and if my
suspicions are just, I shall not spare steel on him."

"There is then some story connected with him?"

"And to the old tune,—Italian jealousy.  He is said to be married to a
beautiful Neapolitan, whom he espoused during a sudden love-fit; but in
consequence of some trifling affair when residing at Venice during the
carnival, he became inflamed with jealousy, like an old fashioned
husband of the "Ancient Tales," and poniarded an officer of the Dogale
Guard.  Bringing his lady into this wild country, he has ever since kept
her a close prisoner, and held himself in such strict seclusion, that
his residence was unmolested by the French; but only because it was
unknown to them: or perhaps he is an ally; for Buonaparte, anxious to
root out from Italy the last traces of the feudal system, has given
Regnier orders to demolish every castle and fortified villa in the
Calabrias.  In one of these ancient dwellings, which can easily be made
a strong place for defence, Belcastro keeps his beautiful wife a close
captive.  I doubt not but she has been perfidious: in the course of my
intrigues with the sex, I have found more than one woman so!"

"I have always heard, signor, that you were somewhat too sarcastic on
the good faith of your dark-eyed countrywomen."

"By Sant Ermo!  I have cause to be so," he replied, while his dark brows
contracted, as they always did when he was in the least excited, and his
eyes sparkled fire from beneath the shade of his black velvet baretta or
forage cap, which was adorned with the Maltese cross, and the letters,
I.H.S. in red enamel.  "There was a time," he continued, half communing
with himself, "when I was the gayest cavalier on the Corso of Naples, or
the Marina of Palermo.  It was generally allowed that none dressed more
gaily, rode more gracefully, played and drank more deeply than Marco of
Castelermo.  No man’s opinion went further in all matters of taste,
fashion, or dissipation; whether it was given on a new collection of
antiques or paintings, a choice of wines, a racehorse, a new carriage,
or the belle of the season. My word was a fiat in the fashionable world.
Basta!  I was not then a commander of Malta. God and St. John forgive
me!  if it was rather in a sinful spirit of revenge and chagrin than a
holy sentiment of veneration and religion, that I girded on the sword
and mantle of that most sacred brotherhood.  There is a pleasure, a
morbid one though it be, in telling one’s griefs; and since you have
half acknowledged to me your passion for the fair cousin of my friend
Santugo" (I had never told this sharp-sighted Italian a word about it),
"I should not behave with more reserve to you."

He paused for a moment: old recollections, long forgotten but
once-cherished sentiments, hopes and fears arose in quick array before
him; and his dark and noble features became flushed, as with that lively
frankness which so often characterizes the better classes of his
countrymen, he commenced as follows.



                             *CHAPTER XIX.*

                       *NARRATIVE OF CASTELERMO.*


It was in the church of the Holy Spirit at Naples, during vespers, that
I first beheld Despina Vignola, then in the first year of her novitiate.
It is said that the beauty of our Italian women soon fades; it may be
so: I am no traveller and cannot judge; but all must acknowledge that
their charms, while they last, are often truly dazzling. Such were
Despina’s.  To me she seemed a personification of all that is lovely in
woman: her bright brown hair was gathered up behind in many an ample
braid, while a mass of glossy ringlets clustered round her high pale
forehead and waved on her fair neck.  A robe of white satin fell in deep
broad folds around her figure, leaving her polished shoulders and taper
arms uncovered from the braceleted wrist to the dimpled elbow.  The
graces of her person were displayed to the utmost advantage by the
richness of her attire; for it was not the custom of the fashionable
convent of Santo Spirito to robe the novices in the grim paraphernalia
of the cloister: until the vows were taken, they always appeared at mass
in full dress.

Despina was formed for love and life, not for the nun’s veil and
cloistered cell; to which, according to a custom too common in Italian
families, she had been vowed in infancy by her parents. It was my fate
to love her passionately and truly, when few others would have dared to
look impurely upon the affianced bride of Heaven: one from her childhood
vowed to Madonna.  She was an orphan, and her guardians—an avaricious
aunt, and Ser Vignola, a rascally notary of the Strada di Toledo—to
procure the reversion of her little patrimony, kept before her
continually the enormity of not fulfilling the vows of her parents.

In Italy, one is more prone to fall in love at church than any other
place: this may perhaps account for the numerous intrigues of our female
ecclesiastics.  There is a mysterious influence in our religious
service—a mixture of heavenly aspirations and earth-born delights, which
powerfully awakens the better feelings of our nature; softening the
heart and rendering it more sensitive to tender and lasting impressions.
Was it not at church that Petrarch first beheld the bright-haired Laura,
whose beauty shed a light on his pilgrimage through life for twenty
years after?  Ah, signor! our holy religion belongs to the days of
poetry and romance!

None but an Italian can know what a first love is to an Italian heart;
or how ardently and wildly the tender passion burns beneath these sunny
skies.  In those days I was a young alfiero (or ensign) in Florestan’s
Battalion of the Guards, and my daily attendance at the church of
Spirito Santo soon became a standing jest at our mess and a topic for
laughter to my gay companions; who were quite at a loss to comprehend
the reason of such sudden and rigid attendance to the duties of
religion.  An aged aunt of mine, who departed about that time in all the
glory of virginity, out of her admiration of my piety put a codicil to
her will by which 50,000 ducats became mine, instead of being poured
into the treasury of the Greek Padri of St. Basil, as she had first
intended.

While kneeling beside the envious iron grille which separated me from
Despina, and kept all profane sinners from the vicinity of the fair
vestals, I felt happiness even at being so near her—to hear her soft
breathing, her low responses, and the rustle of her satin dress—to watch
the heaving breast, the long lashes of the downcast eye, and the beauty
of those auburn ringlets, which seemed "interwoven by the fingers of
love!" as Petrarch has it.  O, Madonna mia! these were the pure
aspirations of a young and gallant heart.  But alas! how were they
responded to?—how requited? I will not trouble you with much more of
this; though love quickens a fertile imagination, and I could relate a
thousand devices formed to gain the attention of the beautiful novice:
which all proved vain.  She kept her long eye lashes cast down and her
bright eyes obstinately fixed on the monotonous pages of her mass book;
which she affected to prefer to the gayest cavalier on the corso: for
such I considered myself in those days of youth and vanity; and
certainly my cap had the tallest feather, my belt the longest sword, and
my uniform the smartest cut in all Naples. We all know how passion is
inflamed by difficulty; and from the time she left the church after
vespers, until the moment of beholding her again at matins, ages seemed
to elapse: but they were ages of scheming, contrivance, and stratagem.

The abbess, who was Despina’s near relative, soon suspected the object
of my devotion was an earthly, and not a heavenly virgin; she was an
acute Calabrian and watched me attentively: in short, the fair novice
appeared at matins, mass, and vespers no more.

But the ingenuity of Monsignore Cupid, is fully a match for all the cold
precautions of guardians and enemies.  Daily and nightly I came with my
friend Santugo (then a joyous student, fresh from the University of
Naples) to survey the lofty walls, the iron portal, and grated loopholes
of the convent with the faint hope of beholding her; but, corpo di
Baccho! we might as well have looked down the crater of Vesuvius, the
flames from whose summit often lighted up our nightly patrols.  In
short, signor, with a key of gold I gained over the portress, who
conveyed to Despina a most elaborately written letter: a ring, bearing
her initials, D.V., was my only answer.  Croce di Malta!  Even at this
distant hour, the recollection of the joyous moment when I first
received it, stirs up a tumult within me! After that we used to meet in
the convent garden every night, but only for a few moments.

Dupe that I was to believe this creature loved me!  But ah! the
happiness of those brief visits will never pass away from my memory.  I
found Despina as attractive in mind and manners as she was charming in
person; she was a joyous donzella, who knew better the poems of Alfieri
and Gorilla than the doggrel hymns of the Padri; and while we enjoyed
our tête-à-tête in an arbour, Santugo kept watch, perched on the summit
of the garden-wall.  Often we cursed the villain notary who lent all his
influence to crush the blossoms of so fair a flower: but at last my
passion took a more noisy turn.

By Santugo’s advice, I engaged all the improvisatori in the city to
celebrate Despina.  I mustered twenty with mandolins, twenty choristers,
as many bell-ringers and scrapers on the viol, with all our regimental
drums and cymbals. O, what a jovial company!  Every other night we
entertained the sisterhood with a grand serenade, making all Naples echo
with bursts of joyous music; until the abbess, deeming her "commandery"
disgraced by our clatter and chorussing, procured a guard of sbirri from
the Bishop of Cosenza (whose palace unluckily stood in the adjoining
street), and on the first night after this reinforcement we were greeted
by a volley of blunderbuss-shot, which was within a hair’s-breadth of
sending us all to the banks of the Styx.  Three choristers were killed,
and several wounded.  Santugo escaped unhurt, but I was peppered with
slugs so severely, that for the next two months I was confined to my
apartments; and in the interval Despina took the veil!  She either
supposed I was dead of my wounds, or deemed me inconstant.  Perhaps it
was dire necessity, as the last day of her novitiate had expired; and,
after a short residence at the house of the notary, to take a last view
of the world (as the custom is), she returned to offer up her vows.  All
the bells of Naples were tolling on the occasion: several novices were
to take the veil that day, and the fashionables flocked to the church of
the Holy Spirit, as to some great festival of joy.

"O, Madonna!" exclaimed poor Marco, beating his breast with true Italian
energy, "will the bitter recollections of that infernal morning never
pass away?  The Princess of Squillaci, a damsel old in years,
wickedness, and fashionable dissipation, was also to take the vows; and
all the foolish city, from Portici on the east to Misenum on the west,
held it as a day of universal joy.

While all this was going on, you cannot imagine the agony of mind I
endured: weaker than a child, I was prostrated upon a sickbed by a long
and wasting illness.  My brain was dizzy.  I wondered how the sun could
shine so joyously on the bay and the city, which lies so magnificently
along its spacious margin: to me it was a day of gloomy horror!  The
bells seemed to toll for the funeral of Despina.  My mind was a chaos,
and I would have hailed an eruption of Vesuvius, an earthquake, or any
horrible convulsion which would have overwhelmed the whole city: but
neither came to pass, and I lay stretched on my fever-bed, helpless,
forgotten, and miserable.  I drank cup after cup of wine; but there
seemed a fire within me, which all the waters of the bay would not
quench.  The pain of my wounds, the wine I drank so rashly, and the
fever of mind and body, soon made me delirious, and Santugo alone
restrained me from sallying, sword in hand, into the crowded streets, to
search for some imaginary foe.

That night, while yet the fever raged within me, and my brain whirled
with the champagne I had drank, I arose, dressed, and armed myself, and
issuing forth soon found my way to the closed gates of the convent.  The
streets were silent and dark; my thoughts were strange: even while my
head swam and my knees tottered I imagined that I had the strength of a
Hercules.  Aware that I was mad with fever and wine, my pranks had some
of the caution of sanity in them, and I shrank beneath the deep shadow
of the cloisters when a passenger approached, or the moon streamed its
light between the fleecy clouds which the south-west wind piled in
gleaming masses over Naples.

At times I laughed bitterly; anon I wrung my hands, and cried aloud,
"Despina—Despina! Anima mia!" and chanted some of our merry madrigals,
till the hollow cloisters and the long vista of the empty street, gave
back the ravings of folly and despair.

A new fit seized me; I became gloomy, and fled from the city to wander
among the ruins of Queen Joanna’s palace: a place rendered terrible to
the superstitious fishermen by the tales of horror connected with it.
From thence I wandered as far as that dreaded valley the Forum Vulcani;
a spot filled with fabled terrors from time immemorial, and shunned by
the vulgar of Naples.  The superstition is that it is haunted by fiends
and spirits, who toil and shriek through caverns of fire, watching that
hidden gold, which (by day) the wretched lazzaroni have sought for
centuries.  At times the ground is covered with burning sulphur, and
rent with chasms belching forth pitchy smoke, flames, or boiling water;
which the fabled giants who are buried there vomit up from hell.
Petrius Damianus supposes that purgatory lies beneath it, and tells of
frightful noises, groans, and shrieks, issuing from clefts in the rocks;
whereon sat monstrous shapes of birds and men, who, on the croaking of a
gigantic raven, plunged headlong into the chasms, and appeared no more,
at least not for many days.

At night, when viewed by the light of a setting moon or the flame of
Vesuvius, the Forum Vulcani, with only its natural terrors, is gloomy
enough: hemmed in by rocks of basalt, from the clefts of which the
burning bitumen flashes forth at times, or white steam curls on the
breeze—the ground thick with sulphur, and trembling with the throes of
the mighty volcano in the distance, it has horrors enough for ordinary
men; but that night it had none for me, and I startled the echoes of its
rocks with my cries of "Despina!"

I again found myself beneath the convent walls of Spirito Santo, just as
the city clocks were telling midnight; I was alone, and a strange
thought occurred to me.  I tore down a lamp, and demolishing a wooden
railing, poured oil on the painted pales, and piling them against the
door, set them on fire, laughing, and shouting "Despina!" as I fanned
the flames with my hat; and when the blaze increased apace, I folded my
arms within my mantle, and watched its rapid progress with the most
intense satisfaction.  Aim or object I had none: I was _mad!_—and yet I
can remember the whole like some wild dream.  The forked tongues of
flame shot upward, and licked the wooden balconies and projecting eaves
of the old convent, which was likely to be soon enveloped in fire. Its
magnificent oratory, with columns of jasper and dome of marble—its
shrines, tombs, and relics—the miraculous crucifix which spoke to Thomas
Aquinas, the true cross, the Virgin’s petticoat, and Heaven knows what
more—now stood in greater peril than ever they did during the outrages
of the mad fisherman of Amalfi.

The lazzaroni came yelling in thousands from every point; the whole
Strada di Toledo was red with the blaze, and the Piazza di Mercato, and
the façade of the Royal Palace, were all gleaming in light: even the
starry vault above was sheeted with sparkling fire.  Basta! how I
laughed at the roaring flames and the clanking engines, from which the
hissing water poured in streams—at the shrieking nuns, the shouting mob,
and all the mingled dismay and uproar I had so suddenly caused.  But,
being soon discovered to be the author of the mischief, I was carried
off by the Neapolitan guard, and lodged in prison; where three months’
close confinement, with no other fare than hard crusts and cold water,
cooled my blood so completely, that I came forth an altered man, and so
heartily ashamed of my late extravaganza, that I resigned to the Duca di
Florestan my commission in his battalion of the guards, and left the
service.

With liberty, all my love for Despina returned; and circumstances which
followed soon after raised my passion to its former height and ardour.
One morning, on awaking, I found a little coloured billet laid on my
pillow; tearing it open with hurried and trembling hands, I found it to
be an invitation—from whom?—the Signora Abadessa of Spirito Santo, to
visit her at my earliest convenience.  How the little pink note came
there, no one knew; and I was too much fluttered to inquire.  There was
an air of mystery in the affair that pleased me; and love and hope
sprang up again.  But aware that I had the treachery and revenge of a
Calabrian woman to dread, together with the wrath of her gossip and
well-known admirer the famous Bishop of Cosenza, I went well armed,
taking a matchless poniard of Bastia steel in addition to my concealed
pistols. Happily, however, such precautions were needless. I found the
gay abbess an agreeable little woman; she gave me her hand to kiss, and
welcomed me with a pleasant talkative manner which quite won me to her
purpose.  After rebuking me gently for my sacrilegious attempt to fire
her convent, she bade me kneel to receive her blessing. I listened to
her rebuke and received her benison in silence and distrust, wondering
the whole time how so unusual an interview was to end.  I thought of the
bishop’s sbirri, and the dungeons of the convent below us, and kept one
hand in my bosom grasping my poniard.

The reverend lady began by a long preamble on the risk she ran in the
disclosure she was about to make regarding the sister Brigida, as she
named Despina; and then, making a long pause, she kept me on thorns of
expectation, while observing with a keen glance the expression of my
care-worn visage.  I could not love Despina (the abbess continued) more
than I was beloved in return; and taking pity upon me, she had consented
to quit the convent, and become my bride, the moment I procured her a
dispensation from those vows which bound her to the church—vows offered
up on the expiry of her novitiate, and in an agony of sorrow for my
supposed death. Blessed words!  But they were my ruin!  My brain whirled
and my heart leaped with delight; throwing myself at the feet of the
abbess, and pressing both her hands to my lips, I declared her my best
friend—my good angel, and bestowed on her a thousand of those titles
which flow so smoothly from an Italian’s tongue, when his heart is
overflowing with gratitude.

She rang a hand-bell, and the light form of Despina appeared at the iron
grating of the parlour.  I sprang towards her, but she averted her face:
at first it was very pale, and seemed more lovely beneath the dark hood
which shaded it; but a mantling blush overspread her cheek as she gave
me her hand through the grating to kiss.

"Ah, Despina! had you trusted more to Providence, how much sorrow might
have been spared us both!"

"True, dear one," said she, wafting me a kiss through the grate.

The superior hurried me away, and I left the convent giddy with delight
at the sudden turn fortune had taken in my favour.  Within the hour, I
wrote to my uncle, the great Cardinal Ruffo, to intercede with his
Holiness, and procure a dispensation for Despina; and I spent nearly my
whole inheritance in bribing the greedy officials at the Papal court to
hasten it, trusting; to God and mv own hands for the means of
maintenance when Despina became mine. Meanwhile, I visited the convent
daily, and though my interviews with her were very short, I became more
than ever enchanted with her beauty and vivacity; which seemed to
increase as the time flew past, and the day of her freedom and our
happiness drew nearer.

Often have I whiled away the hours of a starry night in the Toledo,
watching the taper which flickered in her dormitory; and I retired happy
if I did but obtain even a glance of her figure passing the lattice.
One night, while watching thus, a tall dark shadow fell on the muslin
curtains of the window: it was _not_ that of Despina. I paused—horrible
suspicions floated before me, and I felt my blood run cold.  The light
vanished, the chamber became dark, and immediately a tall fellow dropped
from the window into the street.  My heart, which had ceased to beat for
a time, was now on fire: the blood shot through my veins like lightning;
my poniard gleamed in my hand.

"Olà, signor cavaliere!" cried I, crossing his path; "who are you that
leaves the convent thus, and under the shadow of night?"

"One who will not brook questioning by you, whoever you are, per
Baccho!" replied the other, drawing his hat over his eyes, and standing
on his guard, with a poniard also.  "Let me pass, cursed lazzarone! or
it may be the worse for you."

Jealousy, anguish, and hatred, burned fiercely within me, and I rushed
upon him with frantic vehemence.  Parrying his blow with my mantle, I,
with truer aim, slashed up his face from cheek to chin.  My antagonist
fled, uttering a terrible malediction.

"Basta!" said I, while wiping my weapon, "he is only some craven robber
after all!  Thank heaven!  my suspicions were vain.  But her window!—I
must have mistaken it—and yet the shadow—."  A tumult of sad thoughts
overwhelmed me, and I slept none that night, but wandered about the
Toledo like a houseless dog. Sunrise found me at the parlour grate of
the convent.

Despina appeared as usual, her eyes beaming with smiles expressive of
equal pleasure and surprise on beholding me so early.  The fair recluse,
who had just arisen from her pure and peaceful couch, seemed so
blooming—so fragrant—with beauty, youth, and innocence, that I cursed my
vile suspicions, and concluded the strange visitor of the convent to
have been a robber.

Three days afterwards, my uncle, the Cardinal Ruffo, sent a dispensation
for Despina to the convent.  I heard of its arrival, and with a heart
brimming with exultation, I flew to embrace my inamorata.  On hearing my
well-known ring at the bell of the porch, Despina was not, as usual, at
the grate, nor did the superior appear; but a letter from her lay on the
table for me.  I tore it open, and read the fatal confirmation of my
suspicions: I found that I was the dupe of two of the most artful and
inexplicable women in Italy. Despina had eloped!  The moment her
dispensation had arrived, she quitted the convent in a calesso,
accompanied by a masked cavalier, and was gone no one knew whither.  The
letter concluded by a request that I would visit the convent no more, as
the abbess was too much incensed at Despina Vignola to make welcome any
one who had ever loved or been connected with her.

The next thing I remembered, was finding myself in the sunny Toledo, and
hearing the jarring of the convent’s iron doors as they were closed and
locked behind me.  I tore the letter to fragments, which I scattered on
the wind, and rushed through the streets to order forth horses and
servants in pursuit—servant, I should say, for my retinue was then
curtailed to one.  I thought only of revenge.  O signor! little can you
imagine the agony of rage and shame I endured; not, perhaps, so much
from unrequited love as from wounded vanity and pride.  Next morning all
gossiping Naples rang with the story, and everybody enjoyed a laugh at
the famous jilt of the Cavaliere di Castelermo, by a perfidious little
nun—per Baccho!

A letter, which I received next day from Cardinal Ruffo, containing
abundance of good advice and his blessing on our nuptials, in no way
tended to soothe my exasperation.  Basta! months elapsed before the
shock of this event passed away, and I could listen with calmness to
Santugo, who related to me the story of Despina, so far as he had been
able to pick it up in the public places of the city.

I had been most cruelly and strangely duped. Anxious to be free from
those religious trammels which her parents’ bigotry and her guardian’s
avarice had cast around her, the artful girl—who had never loved me—was
willing that I should employ all my interest (which was great) and my
money (which, alas! was little) to procure her a dispensation, that she
might espouse the brother of that diavolessa the superior. He was a
ruined cavalier of the Calabrias, who had lost his last ducat at the
hells, and to whom the reversion of her entry-money from the
convent-treasury would be very acceptable: though the beauty of the girl
was temptation enough.

"Basta!" said I, "Santugo, ’tis enough!"  I inquired after her and her
choice no more; but strove to banish the affair from my mind, when the
first burst of my fury had passed away. Luckily, I had been taught
philosophy, and bequeathing to the devil my share in the sex, found that
I had not much more to bestow: I had not a quattrino, save what I raised
by the sale of the remnant of my patrimony—the tower of St. Ermo in the
upper province.  Santugo would have shared his last ducat with me; but I
was too proud to be dependent on any man.  My legacy, the reward of my
devotion, had all melted away, too, during my joyous life in the Guards:
it was spent in procuring a wife for another man!  I wish him joy of his
spouse: if she proved as virtuous after marriage as she was before it,
she must be a crown—but not of glory—to her husband.  Basta!

Finding myself without one beggarly bajoccho to clink upon another, I
became a soldier again, and served the Knights of Malta as a musketeer
against the corsairs of Barbary.  On the return of our frigate to Malta,
after a most successful cruise, in which we obtained abundance of
plunder, slaves, and glory, I was admitted into the Italian Langue; on
proving before a chapter of the order that my blood had been noble for
two hundred years (easy enough for one who comes of a senatorial
family), and that in my coat armorial there were the blazons of four
patrician houses.  A little prize-money picked up in Algeria furnished
me with two hundred and sixty golden crowns, to pay my fees of diploma
on passing from esquire to the rank of spurred and belted knight.  In
this capacity, when in command of a frigate, I defeated Osmin Carara,
the celebrated corsair who so long infested these seas; and for that
exploit I was made bailiff of the commandery at St. Eufemio, then
consisting of sixty knights, the noblest in Italy.

So, signor, you now behold me a brother of the most reverend and
illustrious order of St. John of Jerusalem, once of Rhodes, and latterly
of Malta.  After the reduction by Buonaparte of that barren rock (the
last stronghold of the order), I retired with his most eminent highness
the grand master, and the poor remnant of our forces, to Genoa; where
our solemn chapters are yet held.  On the breaking out of the Italian
war, when the French crossed our frontier to plant their banner of blood
and anarchy on the ramparts of Rome—to assail God’s vicegerent in his
own eternal city, drive the Bourbon king from Naples, hoist their red
cap above the winged horse, and establish a republic of injustice and
tyranny—then I once more girded on the sword, and have ever since been
fighting; at one time under the chiefs of the Masse, at another under
the British: but, alas! oftener under Francatripa and other bold bandits
of Naples; who seem to be the only men truly staunch to Italy in these
days of war and peril.  Malediction on the hour when a wearer of this
blessed badge has to stoop to a companionship so unworthy!  But the end
sanctifies the means. * * *

There is the Villa Belcastro!  If my story has beguiled a part of the
way through this wild and mountainous country, I shall consider myself
amply repaid in having pleased you: but I fear, Signor Claude, you have
found it dry enough; though the tale is a sad one to me—the most dismal
chapter of my history indeed.



                             *CHAPTER XX.*

                         *THE VILLA BELCASTRO.*


"Where is the path?  It seems lost in the wilderness hereabout," said I,
when my communicative friend had concluded.

"Yonder woman at the fountain will perhaps show us the way to the gate.
Permit me to pass," replied the cavalier, as he spurred his horse to the
front, and galloped before me: his tall military figure, and peculiar
garb and equipment, with the solitary wild around us—the castellated
villa, and the lonely hills—had an air of romance with which my red
coat, jack-boots, and most unchivalric cocked-hat, but ill consorted.

The country through which we had travelled was of the most picturesque
character: lofty mountains rose up against the blue vault, which they
seemed to sustain; they were covered to their summits with the light
foliage of the olive, the heavy branches of the sombre pine, the broad
masses of the glossy-leaved ilex, fragrant myrtle, rich arbutus, orange
and lemon groves, all flourishing in the wildest luxuriance; while the
aloe, the cactus, and date-palm, grew among the ferruginous rocks in
profusion.  Little hamlets, inhabited only by charcoal-burners, nestled
in lonely nooks; solitary chapels, old crosses marking deeds of blood or
piety, and the mouldering ruins of long-departed races—the Calabri or
the Locri—appeared half-hidden amid the long reedy grass, in the flat
alluvial vales through which the roadway wound.

But on nearing the Villa Belcastro a change came over the scenery: the
country seemed deserted, or inhabited only by the lynx, the wolf, and
wild boar; muddy cascades roared down over the red scaurs of the
mountains; and a wide pathless wood of dark Italian pines and tall
cypresses, sombre and gloomy, surrounded the ancient edifice.  The
picturesque towers of the villa were perched on the summit of a rock
that reared up its jagged front immediately before us; but we were
unable to penetrate the tangled growth of underwood that intervened, so
thickly interwoven with creeping wild plants that it seemed like an
Indian jungle.  Buffaloes—a species of cattle introduced into Italy
during the seventh, century—browsed in the marshy places, and at times a
lynx or polecat shot through the forest, or an eagle screamed from the
rocks.

The white walls and striking façade of the villa shone in the warm light
of the western sky, and from one of the four turrets at the angles of
the edifice, which were covered with elaborate stonework projecting like
a heavy cornice, we saw a standard slowly hoisted and unfurled to the
breeze.  Our scarlet uniforms had probably led the inmates to suppose
that British troops were in the valley below.

"Basta!" exclaimed Castelermo, "’tis the veritable castle of an ogre
this!  Cavaliere Galdino must be seldom troubled with visitors.  I see
not a trace of road or pathway to his hermitage on the cliffs yonder."

"I trust we shall reach it before nightfall: a ride in the dark through
such a wilderness would not be very pleasant, and evening is closing
fast."

While I was speaking, the last segment of the sun’s crimson disk sank
behind the green ridge of hills from which we had descended; the long,
dark shadow cast by the villa-crowned rock across the wooded valley
faded away; the Apennines grew dark, and the sombre tints of evening
deepened rapidly.

"Signora," said Castelermo to an old woman who was filling a jar at a
fountain, and whose grim aspect declared her to be the spouse of a
charcoal-burner, "is there any path to the villa on this side of the
mountains?"

"Through the woods there is a way, signor cavaliere," said the woman,
setting down her jar, and endeavouring to hide her bare bosom; for her
attire was of the most wretched description. "But it is a troublesome
road, and perilous too; and you will only lose your labour—for none get
entrance there.  The sbirri keep guard day and night with their rifles
loaded; and more than one poor peasant has been shot—mistaken for a
Frenchman, perhaps.

"So the cavaliere yet contrives to maintain his quota of sbirri in
arms?" said Marco.

"Yes, signor illustrissimo," replied the poor woman, glancing furtively
round her; "but, ahimé! such ruffians!  They are slaves who have
escaped, bravoes, banditti, and the worst malefactors of Naples, who
wear his livery; and, bearing arms in his name, they commit such
outrages that the very relation would make you shudder, cavalieri!"

"A droll country gentleman!" I exclaimed. "And he will not admit any
one, say you?"

"None save the accursed witches who come all the way from the peak of
Fiesole to hold their Sabbath with him."

"Ay! and devils from the Val di Demona, to bring distempers on our
blessed infants!" cried another hag, starting up from behind the
fountain, where she had shrunk down to conceal the scantiness of her
attire, which consisted only of a red sottana, or coarse petticoat, and
leather sandals; "and to blast our crops and herds, and make the fiends
who dwell in the bowels of the mountains rend the solid earth, and shake
our huts to pieces."

"Madonna! speak lower! he is told whatever is said of him by the sybil
of Norcia, who made him proof against fire and steel and water."

"I care not.  I am alone in the world now: my husband died on Regnier’s
gibbet at Monteleone, and my sons have perished fighting under the
chiefs of the Masse, Gésu Cristo!  I am old, lonely, and very
miserable!"

"Proof against steel did you say, signora?" said I, addressing the first
gossip; "we may test that, if he plays any of his pranks with us."

"Signor, heard you ever such stuff?" exclaimed Castelermo, while our
horses drank of the well, and we enjoyed a hearty laugh at the excessive
credulity of the Calabrians; to whose wild superstitions, I was by that
time no stranger.  "Old gossips," he continued, putting some silver into
their attenuated hands to quicken their apprehension: "for what reason
does this terrible Feudatory keep garrison so closely?  Nay, speak one
at a time, but as quickly as you please: our time is short."

"You must have come from a distant country, illustrissimi signori, that
you have not heard of the poor Cavalieressa Belcastro," said one of the
old women, taking her jar from her head, on which she had poised it, and
replacing it on the margin of the well, to point the periods with her
fingers while speaking.  "There is not a child on this side of La Syla,
but knows her story.  Some people say her husband stole her from a
convent; others that she left a noble signor whom she loved better, and
married the Cavaliere Belcastro for the sake of his rank."

"His rank!" reiterated Marco contemptuously, his brows contracting:
"Yet, I may mistake—proceed."

"After marriage came repentance, and the Signor Belcastro was tormented
by jealousy; believing that a woman who was false to another could never
be very true to himself.  And truly he had proof of her light carriage
with a handsome young captain, who was carried away to the Val di Demona
by those imps who are always at the signor’s elbow awaiting his
commands.  Since then he has kept the poor lady locked up in a dreary
chamber of the Villa, from which he brings her forth but once a week to
go to mass on horseback; and she is so strictly watched that,
notwithstanding three attempts made by the brave capobandito, Scarolla,
she yet remains a captive."

"Watched by a spirit, who will never leave her till the cavalier dies
and Satan claims his own," added the other woman.

"Malediction on such husbands!" exclaimed the first gossip; "if my Maso
treated me so, I would put a dose of aquetta in his soup—I would!  He
was jealous once; but we were young then, and I soon soothed him."

"How the terror of this man’s name has besotted these poor simpletons,"
said Marco, as we rode through the wood along a narrow path they had
pointed out.  "He is said to be a dark and curious being; and, leaving
out the sorcery, their relation is almost word for word what I have
heard at Naples and Palermo.  I would stake a thousand ducats to a
bajoccho, we shall have an unseemly brawl with this melancholy
Castellano; unless his character is much exaggerated."

"Indeed!  For my own part I would willingly stake a cool hundred, if I
could serve the poor lady."

"Of the signora, the less we say perhaps the better; though I feel some
curiosity to know her maiden name and family, and a great deal to see
the inside of this place: to which we are venturing, like two rash
knights, after the solemn warnings of yonder Cumæan sybils.  I perceive
them still watching our route, as if it was beset with as many perils as
any in the ’Hundred ancient Tales.’

"By Jove, sir, they are not much mistaken!" I exclaimed, as a musket
flashed from a loophole in the outer wall, and the shot whistled over my
shoulder.

"May I perish if this shall pass unrevenged!" exclaimed the cavalier.
"Basta! let us forward, and at full gallop!"

In a minute we were close under the walls, the outer windows of which
were all barred and far from the ground.  An iron gate closed the
portal, or archway; and beyond it we saw ten or twelve sinister-looking
ruffians, clad in a sort of livery, and armed with black cross belts,
musquetoons and bayonets.

"Rascals!" exclaimed my companion; "are ye Italians, true catholics, and
yet ignorant that it is sacrilege to molest one of the Sangiovanni? In
the days of the holy office, this must have been settled otherwise; even
in Calabria.  But open the barrier and give us instant admission, or it
may fare the worse with your lord; to whom we must speak, and without
delay."

The porter, an old Albanian Greek, who trembled between fear of
disobeying his master’s orders and offending a knight of Malta—an order
lately so formidable—slowly undid the bolts and chains; imploring, in
his curious dialect, that we would soften the wrath of the Cavalier
Galdino, and save his shoulders from the scurlada.  Until the French
invasion, the resident Feudatories of Calabria, Apulia, &c. maintained
the feudal system with all its iron tyranny; but since the frightful war
of extermination, waged in these provinces by General Manhes, and the
peace of 1815, it does not exist in any of the Italian states: except, I
believe, the island of Sardinia. Between the tyranny and oppression of
the barons and their armed followers—with whom on various pleas they
garrisoned their castles and villas—the dues or tithes of the numerous
priesthood and the outrages of the brigands, the situation of the
peaceful portion of the mountaineers was not very enviable.

"Which of ye dared to fire upon us? and by whose order?" asked
Castelermo, laying his hand on his sword, and surveying the culprits
with a stern eye.  There was no reply.  "Cowards! do you hear me?"

"Cavaliero Marco," said one fellow coming forward hat in hand, after a
long pause, "I trust we know our creed better than to molest any man who
wears upon his breast the cross of Malta.  But, indeed, it was no other
than excellenza himself who fired the shot; and let him answer for it."

"The villain!" I exclaimed, leaping from my horse.

"Dio mi guardi! the deed was none of ours, Signor Marco."

"Who are you, that seem so well acquainted with my name?"

"A poor rogue of Amendolia, signor, by name Baptistello Varro.  I cannot
presume to think you can recollect me, though I had the honour to serve
with you, under your uncle the Cardinal Huffo, while his eminence was
yet a true man to Italy and the Holy Faith.  You remember the siege of
Altamurra on the plains of Apulia: you saved my life there.  Ah! what a
leaguer that was!  His eminence built altars where other men would have
had batteries, and besprinkled our cannon so plentifully with holy water
that they often hung fire.  I owe you a life, signor; and an Italian
never forgets either a friend or a foe."

"Well, Master Baptistello, although I have no remembrance of those
things, I doubt not you are an honest fellow; but the sooner you change
leaders the better.  Quit this inhospitable den to-morrow, and join the
corps of the Free Calabri at Crotona.  But, meanwhile, lead us to this
ungracious lord of yours.  The shot he fired shall cost him dear, or I
am not—lead on, Basta!" and with his usual exclamation, he cut short
what he meant to have said.

On being ushered up a spacious staircase of white marble, the stained
glass windows of which were faintly lighted by the lingering flush of
the departed sun, we found ourselves in an ancient hall, decorated in a
quaint style of architecture, neither Norman nor Saracenic, but a
mixture of both; and a relic perhaps of the days of those invaders.
Lighted by four large windows which overlooked the vale and forest, now
dimly illumined by the rising moon, its roof was arched with stone
profusely carved, and supported by twelve antique figures, or
caryatides, which supplied the place of pillars: they were sculptured
out of the sonorous marble of Campanini, which when struck is said to
resound like a bell; and their time-worn mutilated forms glimmered like
pale spectres amid the gloom of evening and the shadows of the darkening
hall.  By the light of the stars and the moon’s wan crescent, we could
discern sylvan trophies, sombre paintings from which grim faces of old
Italian knights and older saints looked forth, and numerous weapons of
various dates which adorned the lofty walls.

"’T is long since I stood in such a noble old hall as this," said Marco,
casting himself languidly into a gilt fauteuil.  "General Regnier,
applying the forcible argument of gunpowder, has done more, perhaps,
than the march of civilization, towards destroying the feudal system;
and the ancient strongholds and palazzi of our noblesse are now somewhat
scarce even in the lower province.  We must be on our guard with this
signor of Belcastro," he added in a whisper. "I have often heard of him
at Palermo, as being a sullen, subtle, and ferocious man,—a ruined
gamester and half desperado—cunning as a lynx, and treacherous as Cesare
Borgia.  Heaven help the unhappy woman whom fate has tied to him! But,
ha! what have we here?" he exclaimed aloud, snatching from a marble slab
the long envelope of some official communication, which just then caught
his eye, "See you this, Signor Claude?  Our villain host has been in
correspondence with the enemy."

It was addressed to the "Cavaliere Galdino di Belcastro," and endorsed
in the corner "_Regnier, General de Division_."

"Now, I would give a thousand ducats to know what this contained!" said
my companion, as he thrust it into his long glove.  "’T is sealed with
the crest of the iron crown, and—but Basta! here he comes."

As he spoke, there entered the hall a tall man of powerful frame and
most forbidding aspect, attired in the full dress of the old school: his
hair powdered and tied with a white riband, his shirt ruffled at the
wrists and bosom, a wide skirted coat and black satin knee breeches with
buckles.  The courtly air which this costume usually imparts to the
wearer, rather heightened than diminished the repulsive manner of this
tyrannical feudatory.

"Lights here!  Olà, Baptistello! a light, you loitering whelp," he cried
with the voice of one in no pleasant mood.  In less than a minute,
servants had lighted the wax candles of three gigantic girandoles, and
we had a better view of our host.  He was past the meridian of life, and
his countenance, which I have already characterized as forbidding, was
rendered yet more so by a hideous cicatrix, as from the gash of a
sword-cut, which grew purple and black alternately. He bowed to us with
frigid hauteur, and then surveyed with a peculiar glance the tall and
noble figure of Castelermo.  The latter changed colour on beholding the
scar, but said with a stern aspect, after a pause,—

"How now, Signor Galdino!  do you take me for a lynx, a torpedo, the
devil, or what, that you look on me thus?"

"For none of these," he answered, coldly; "but say who are ye, signori,
that force yourselves upon my privacy uninvited?"

"I am an officer of his Britannic Majesty’s service—Luogoteniente di
Fanteria nel servizio Britanica—and a bearer of despatches."  The
cavaliere bowed.

"And _I_ the Cavaliere di Castelermo, Knight Commander of Malta, and an
officer of the Free Calabri: as such, I demand your reasons for firing
upon us like some base brigand, thus committing both treason and
sacrilege."

"By the ancient customs of Calabria, common to the land since the days
of Count Roger the First, I may defend my residence against the
intrusion of all men.  As for the treason, cospetto!  I care little
whether Buonaparte or Ferdinand is our ruler; and as for the sacrilege,
I can answer for that where, when, and how you will!"  His fingers
played convulsively with a little stiletto, which hung half concealed
beneath the lapelle of his embroidered vest.

"Rest assured, Signor Galdino, that I am not slow in literally
translating the hint; but recollect that, as a cavaliere of birth and
honour, I would scorn to put my life in the scale with a traitor’s!"

"How?" exclaimed Belcastro, starting forward with rage.

Castelermo held before his eyes the paper he had picked up, and our host
changed colour beneath the cold, sarcastic smile of the knight.  He
started as if to summon his people, but paused—a sudden thought seemed
to occur to him; he gulped down his fury, his brows became smooth, and a
ghastly smile curled his sinister lip.

"Eh, via signori! you are now under my roof; the ways are dangerous
hereabout; you cannot proceed; and I must not forget that hospitality
which courtesy renders imperative.  Let us say no more of that unlucky
wall-piece, which in a moment of irritation I discharged.  My residence
is seldom favoured by peaceful visitors.  But are any more of King
Ferdinand’s people—troops, I mean—likely to pass this way soon?"

"A brigade of British are entering the valley, and will probably arrive
here after midnight."  Our host looked displeased, and turned to one of
the windows, while I glanced inquiringly at Castelermo, who whispered—

"I deemed it politic to say so, for he has some dark end in view.  I did
not like the sudden and sinister smile which replaced the gloom of his
sullen visage.  You observed it?  By St. John of Malta! were our cattle
not tired with these rugged mountain roads, I would rather have passed
the night in my saddle than under his roof.  A few miles further would
have brought us to the town of Belcastro: but there is no help for it
now."

My companion was not deceived.  Animated by a fear that we had
discovered his correspondence with the French leader, and by a wish to
possess himself of my despatches to transmit them to the same personage;
eager, also, to gratify the deep-rooted hatred he bore to Castelermo, he
secretly determined to murder us both, and in cold blood.  The bullet or
poniard had been his first resolve; but dreading discovery, and the
arrival of the supposed brigade, poison became his next resource.  But I
am anticipating.  The change in his manner was too abrupt and bare-faced
to pass without exciting our suspicions.



                             *CHAPTER XXI.*

                  *SEQUEL TO THE STORY OF CASTELERMO.*


While Signor Belcastro scanned the star-lighted valley to trace the
march of those troops whom he had no wish to see, servants laid a hasty
supper of various cold meats, boiled maccheroni, and fruit, all of which
were very acceptable to the cavaliere and myself; we were well appetized
by our ride over the mountains, exposed to a keen tramontana, or north
wind, which had been blowing for the last two hours.

"Be seated, gentlemen!" said our host, as he took the head of the table.
"Will you not lay aside your swords?"

"We have been so much accustomed to them of late, that mine is no
encumbrance."

"Nor mine," said Marco, bestowing on me a glance so peculiar, that I
refrained from unclasping my belt.  There was so much blunt distrust in
this, that the face of Belcastro flushed.

"Shall we not have the pleasure of seeing the signora at supper?" said
Marco, as he spread his table napkin, and attacked a plate of cold
roasted meat, affecting to be unconscious that he stung Belcastro to the
quick by the question.

"I regret that she is indisposed," he replied, regarding the cavalier
with furtive glances, his eyes burning like red sparks beneath his
shaggy brows; "seriously so: but, indeed, she never appears before
visitors."

"So I have heard at Palermo," said Marco, drily, and in the same
peculiar tone, while the face of Belcastro grew purple and the gash
black; though he continued his supper with apparent composure.  "’T is
said, signor," continued his tormentor, "that being jealous of her
surpassing beauty, you keep her a little too close, after the old
Italian fashion.  I have heard the captive lady of Belcastro spoken of
more than once at the Sicilian court; and truly, but that the days of
chivalry are gone by, our grand master would have sent a squadron of his
best knights to summon your stronghold——"

"Cavaliere Marco!" said our host, sternly, "those persons at Palermo or
elsewhere, who meddle with my affairs, will act a wiser part in
attending to their own.  Massena is now hovering on the frontiers of
Upper Calabria with a force that must sweep the British from Italy—ay,
and from Sicily, too!  Where, then, will be the lazzaroni court?
Signor, cease your jesting.  Cospetto! this is not a time for the
courtiers of Ferdinand to create enemies."

There was something in all this beyond my comprehension.  I supped
rather uncomfortably: some mischief was brewing.  Why, I knew not; but
the half nonchalant, half contemptuous manner of Castelermo, and the
sullen air of Belcastro, were not calculated to make me feel perfectly
"at home."  The conversation that passed was purely political, and
conducted in a very unpleasant style of sarcasm and retort.  Our host
seemed no friend to the Bourbon cause, and freely abused the character
of Ferdinand.

"But glory to Carolina!" he added, "she is worth a legion of such men as
her husband; and but for her influence alone, the spirit of resistance
(you term it honour and freedom) had long since been scared from Naples
by the eagles of Napoleon!"

"’T is a sad truth," said Castelermo, with a sigh. "Oh, that the pure
flame of patriotism which burns in my own breast could be kindled in
every Italian heart!—that my countrymen, instead of their silly desire
for separate dukedoms and independent commonwealths, would cherish a
spirit of love and union, and exalt the standard of their country to
that place which it once held.  Then the Ausonians would become once
more a people, like their Latin fathers: the first on earth.  Think of
the richness of our soil, which yields in abundance all that man can
desire; the magnificence of our cities, which have ever been famous for
the great men they have produced—historians, politicians, poets,
painters, musicians, and sculptors.  ’T is the land to which all Europe
owes its religion, its civilization, and its laws!  But, alas! its
spirit is dead; or Italy would become once more a nation, and a great
one: not a land of shreds and patches—of principalities, republics, and
seignories, pining and withering amid dissensions and jealousies at
home, and wars and woes abroad.  But Italia!  Italia, as she was once—a
glorious and united nation—one kingdom from the mountains of Savoy to
the Capo del Armi—where would be her equal?"

"Chimera all!" replied Belcastro, coolly draining a glass of wine; while
Marco, whose eyes sparkled, and whose cheek flushed scarlet during this
outburst, continued with a tone of sadness—

"I know it.  Never will her people or her wicked rulers be aware of
this: as Austria is, and other nations are, whose interest it is to keep
Italy feeble, partitioned, and divided."

"Europe must bow to France," said Belcastro, who was a confirmed
Buonapartist.  "Look around us!  Ferdinand styles himself King of Naples
and of Sicily: whether he is likely to keep that little long, even
though protected by the fleets and armies of Britain, is very
problematical. You fight for his crown here among the wilds of Calabria,
while he spends his days ingloriously at Palermo; and instead of leading
on his Italians to battle, to gain a kingdom or a grave, he hunts in the
woods of Sicily, clad in a grey doublet, greasy cap and worsted hose,
like some ignoble peasant rather than the son of Charles of Parma and
Placentia.  In truth, he is the most cowardly, ignorant, and indolent
sloth on this side of the Alps.  His feeble cause would expire
altogether, but for the indomitable spirit of Carolina of Austria; who
is the very reverse of such a husband: her presence at the
council-table, when fired with ardour and indignation against the
destroyers of her sister Marie Antoinette, is alone sufficient to keep
alive the sinking patriotism of our nobles."

"Cavalier Galdino," said Marco, angrily, "there is much truth in what
you have said: yet remember, that even truth may be treason; and that,
if you always express yourself so freely, there are those not far off
who will not permit you to pass without molestation.  You are aware how
merciless our countrymen are to all favourers of Napoleon. Scarolla is
among these mountains with his people——"

"Talk not to me of Scarolla!" cried Belcastro, furiously—"a base-born
brigand, to whom this very Carolina sends arms and money: and perhaps
she has disgraced the order of St. Constantine by hanging it on his
villainous neck, as on that of Francatripa, and Mamone the
blood-quaffer. A thousand devils! tell me not of Scarolla—but, fico!
never mind politics.  Here, Baptistello! clear the table, and bring more
wine. What shall it be?  Malvasia or Champagne? I have some excellent
Muscatelle—its flavour is matchless.  Shall it be placed before you?"

"Thank you, with pleasure," said I, bowing, glad to find that our
irritable host was discovering a little more of the gentleman in his
manner.

"I never drink Muscatelle," said Castelermo. This I knew to be false: it
was his favourite wine. "But, Signor Belcastro, I——’

"Have no objection to try yours, you would say?  Right, Varro—hand down
the old silver jars from the left side of the cabinet there: the lower
shelf," he added, throwing a ring with keys towards the servant.

The latter opened the antique piece of furniture, which was composed of
ebony, ivory, and silver; the pillars, carving, and figures, being all
equally elaborate and beautiful.  He brought forth from its dark
recesses two flasks, or silver vases, of ample dimensions.  Each had a
small mouth rising from a tall and taper neck; one was closed by a red,
the other by a green crystal stopper.  Their workmanship was exquisite,
but I doubted if the contents were so.  Grapes, bacchanals, and nymphs
appeared in rich embossage, and a shield on each side bore a coat of
arms deeply engraved.  Belcastro’s dark eyes flashed, but I thought it
was with pride, as he pushed the massive flasks towards us, saying—

"These were made by Cellini, the famous Florentine, for Pope Clement
VII., and when Rome was sacked by the Constable de Bourbon, an ancestor
of mine, who served with his vassals under the papal banner, picked them
up in the confusion."

Baptistello placed the vases officiously before Castelermo, whispering
to us hastily but audibly the ill-omened words—

"_La bella-donna!_"

Marco’s cheek flushed, and I started, on observing that Varro’s usually
swart visage was pale as death.

"The vases are indeed superb," said my companion, turning them round
with an air of unconcern; which I had some trouble in imitating, feeling
certain that a catastrophe was at hand. "Beautiful, truly, and I doubt
not that Clement of holy memory prized them highly, and regretted their
loss in an equal degree."

"I have goblets to match, said to be made from part of the treasure
stolen by the same cunning sculptor from the castle of St. Angelo. Bring
them forth, Baptistello."

The servant, after searching for a time in the depths of the cabinet,
declared that the goblets were not there.

"Not there, said you?  Satan! they have been stolen; and if so, your
bare back shall feel a stripe of the scurlada for every bajoccho they
were worth!" cried Belcastro passionately, as he started up and flung
open the doors of the cabinet.

"Admirable!" muttered Castelermo, changing the crystal stoppers, and
receiving a keen glance from Varro, the moment our host’s back was
turned.  "Be still," he added, grasping my arm energetically, "be
patient—our lives are hanging by a hair."

"Saved—buono—O, Gran Dio!" added Varro.

"You must be either blind or drunk, Varro, or have the eyes of a mole,
for here are the cups," said the cavaliere, placing three silver-chased
tankards on the table.  "You may retire now—we need you no more," and
our friend retired, but only to the hall-door.

"Shall I fill for you, signori," continued Belcastro, taking out the
stoppers and filling our cups from one of the flasks; then, as if
inadvertently, he filled his own from the other, and drank it off.  The
commander of Malta crossed himself: his brow was black as night, but his
emotion was unnoticed; he took up his cup, and bowing to the host,
drained the bright Muscatelle fearlessly.  I had no pretence for delay,
and to have lingered would have seemed cowardice to Castelermo.  It was
a horrid dilemma.  My brain reeled, my pulses beat thick and fast, my
heart sank, and my whole soul was troubled with sensations such as I had
never before experienced—and certainly never have since.

It was a frightful moment of doubt and agony. But I drank off the wine
(which, for aught that I knew, was charged with a deadly drug),
resolving to run the Cavaliere Galdino through the body, the instant I
felt the least symptom of illness from it.

"Well, signori, I hope you like my favourite wine," said he, as we set
down our cups; a dark smile gathering on his sombre features. But
Baptistello, too, was smiling; and I gathered comfort from that.  The
liquor tasted like ordinary Muscatelle: a little sweeter perhaps in
flavour.  We had soon no doubt, from the grave, grim, and altered aspect
of the cavaliere, that he had filled his own goblet with the poisoned
wine intended for our destruction (as it had, perhaps, already been for
others) and drugged with an infusion of Solarium, or the deadly
nightshade; called Bella-donna by the Italians, because ladies make a
cosmetic of the juice.  I felt that our safety was entirely owing to
Castelermo’s presence of mind in changing the stoppers, and became
deeply grateful to Varro for his tact and friendly warning.

An awkward pause ensued as we set down our cups.  It was a grave moment
for us all: we felt in our hearts that a terrible crisis was past.  But
for my friend’s peculiar tact and stern example, I would have flung the
goblet at Galdino’s head on his invitation to drink, and by refusing to
taste the Muscatelle have discovered the dark suspicions we entertained.
However, we were safe, while this modern Borgia had fallen into his own
snare.

"Come, signori, why pause you thus?  You seem not to have relished the
wine," said our entertainer, again filling his silver cup from the fatal
vase, and draining it to the dregs.  "Buono! of all our Italian wines, I
prefer the Muscatelle; but this, of course, I produce only on certain
occasions, and to certain friends," he added, with a hideous laugh,
which made the dark corners of the hall echo hollowly.  My heart chilled
with abhorrence of the man, and apprehension of what was to ensue.

"Croce di Malta!" muttered Marco, surveying him with a glance of stern
curiosity; "his potion operates already."

"His death rests with himself—the guilt, I mean: the deed was his own
doing," said I, in the same low tone.

Belcastro, lolling back in his chair, laughed and hallooed in a manner
so unusual, that a number of his household crowded about the hall door,
and were seen peering fearfully upon our dismal carousal.  He showed all
the symptoms of sudden intoxication: but the disease that was then
spreading through every vein took a new and unexpected turn.
Bella-donna often produces idiotcy or folly; and Belcastro became quite
insane.  The white froth of madness hung from his livid lips and black
mustachios, and his eyes, while sparkling with all the fury of a
tiger’s, were glazing fast with the ghastly glare of death.  He laughed
boisterously: but such laughter!  Regarding him more as a wild beast
than a man, I thought only of what my fate _might_ have been, and
loosened my sabre in its sheath, ready to draw it the instant his fit
took a dangerous turn. Castelermo clenched the hilt of his poniard, and
the assembled servants shrank behind our chairs for protection.

"Ha, ha! ho, ho! the wine!—’t is like the flames of hell!  O Apostoli!
the signora of Belcastro—look well about ye, ye vagabonds!  She would
have been a capitanessa if she could; but I slashed the gay uniform of
her beardless capitano!  The traitress, Piozzi! poisoned, per Baccho!"
and his head settled down on his breast. The white saliva ran from his
mouth over his chin and white ruffled shirt; while his eyes, which were
fixed on the face of the cavaliere Marco, flashed like those of a fiend
rather than a mortal man.  From their position, and the slanting manner
in which the light fell on them, they seemed absolutely to shoot forth a
blue glare from beneath his beetling brows.  His visage was pale as
death: all, save the scar, which was still of a dark purple hue.

"Villain!" cried he, pointing to it, and starting up in a new frenzy,
"have you forgotten that your poniard disfigured me thus?  Have you
forgotten that night in the Strada di Toledo, at Naples?"

Marco laughed sternly, and the insane man, quailing before his firm
glance, again sank down in his seat: for a time he became silent and
still.

"Come hither, Baptistello, and you, Signor Claude," said Castelermo;
"aid me to disarm him, or he may turn on us, and with some concealed
weapon be the death of us all."

We advanced simultaneously towards him; but with a yell so loud and
shrill, that (as Varro afterwards protested) it brought forth an echo
from each of the twelve figures of Campanini marble, he leaped from his
chair, and rushed towards the windows; through which the bright
moonlight streamed, as if vying with the illuminated girandoles of the
hall.  Impelled by madness, or some strange terror, he dashed headlong
through the casement, sending the fragments flying in every direction,
and sprang out upon the massive stone balcony.  There he tossed his arms
wildly, while his domestics, overcome with terror, held aloft their
crucifixes, and muttered Aves.

"Dog as he is, let us save him, in the name of mercy!  Meet him at the
other end of the balcony; and stand well on your guard," exclaimed
Castelermo, as we stepped out upon the platform.  The Cavaliere Galdino
was thus placed between us; but the moment he found us advancing
deliberately upon him, he placed both hands on the cope of the stone
balustrade, and, uttering a shout of triumph, vaulted over and fell
headlong through the space below.  Far beneath us we heard a slight
brushing on the furzy rocks, a falling of dislodged stones, and all was
still.

Half sick and giddy, I clung to the balcony, and looked over on the dark
pine forest and winding valley below the tower; from which a plumb-line
might have been dropped to the depth of two hundred feet without meeting
with an obstacle.  He must have been dead before he reached the bottom.

"Devil as he was, and though he has cast a dark shadow on the brightest
path that ever opened to me through life, I would rather that he had
died at Cassano with his face to the enemy, than thus miserably and
ignobly," said Castelermo.  "Basta! in making his elegy, I must not
forget to thank St. John for our narrow escape, and the author of some
ancient story for that blessed hint about changing those coloured
stoppers.  Ah! the cunning villain. My blood boils while I think of his
stern treachery.  Approach Baptistello Varro: you shall have a score of
bright ducats for this good service to-night," he added, slapping the
servant familiarly on the shoulder.

"May my fingers be blistered if I touch them!" said Varro.  "Signor, I
have only requited the good service you did me on the plains of Apulia,
when the Frenchman’s plaguy bayonet was at my throat.  To any other man
than yourself, illustrissimo, I might have behaved like a true sbirro,
and allowed him to drink a skinful of la belladonna, if such was the
pleasure of his Excellency.  ’Tis the third time I have seen these
rascally jars produced."

"Then you are the greater rogue, Varro: but as you are deprived of one
master, we must find you another.  Seek the Cavaliere del Castagno at
Crotona, who in my name will enrol you in the Free Corps; where you will
do more good service to your country by serving under their colours,
than by wearing the livery of these dissipated and tyrannical
feudatories, who are a curse to the land they rule."

"Would it please you to see the cavalieressa?" asked Baptistello: "she
will be a free woman now, since this last prank of her husband’s; and I
know a certain capitano who will throw up his cap when he hears of it.
A sad life she has endured with him, signor; mewed up in this desolate
place, where never a soul was to be seen save a lonely shepherd on the
distant mountains, or a stray peasant cutting wood in the valley below.
Via!  I will quit it this hour, and rather fight under Scarolla than
again don the livery and aiguilette of a sbirro."

"Silenca, Varro," said Marco; "silence, and lead on to the apartment of
the lady.  If it should be so: she whom I loved so much.  Basta!  I have
faced Frenchmen, Turks, and Algerines; but this meeting—forward!  It is
fitter that she should learn her misfortune, or deliverance, (term it
which you may) from the mouth of a gentleman, than from a rabble of
serving-men."

We followed Baptistello across the court or quadrangle, and ascending a
flight of narrow steps lighted by flickering lamps, arrived at a
corridor, where the voices of females and sounds of lamentation became
audible.

"This leads to the apartments of the signora," said our guide.

"It seems more like the lighthouse of Messina," I observed, "or the
stair to a prison."

"And the poor lady has found it a prison dreary enough," continued the
garrulous Italian. "Here she has dwelt for three long years, and seen
but seldom the face of her husband. Cattivo! often I have heard her
lamenting in the dreary nights, when I kept watch in the gallery: for
this is a tower of the villa, and its window commands a view as far as
to the Tacina. Then I wished that I was a noble cavalier instead of a
poor serving-man, that I might free her from such thraldom.  You must
know, Signor Marco," and here his voice sank into a very confidential
whisper, "the gay captain who used to serenade the cavalieressa at
Venice did not die when the hired bravo stabbed him.  The wound was
inflicted by a glass poniard, and the blade was broken in the wound; it
was long of being extracted, and longer of being healed: but he
recovered, and is now at Catanzaro; and, having bribed Scarolla, he has
made more than one attempt to carry off his mistress: but, by
Excellenza’s orders, we always kept such close watch——"

"Basta, forward!" exclaimed Marco, impatiently. "Do you take us for
brothers of the shoulder-knot, that we are to stand here listening to
your household scandal?  I must see your lady without delay."

"To judge by what we hear, her women have been beforehand with you,
signor," replied Varro, again taking the lead; and as a proof how little
the cavalier’s treatment of his wife caused her to be respected by his
dependants, the sbirro threw open her chamber-door, and without knock or
warning ushered us unceremoniously in.

The apartment was elegant: through parted hangings of blue silk and
gold, festooned between columns of white marble rising from vases of
green jasper, was revealed an inner chamber, where stood a couch formed
like a large gilded shell; above it drooped drapery of white satin,
edged with the richest lace.  Books, music, mandolins, were scattered
about, together with work-baskets, flowers, and various gewgaws:
everything that taste, wealth, or luxury could wish were there—save
happiness.  Sadly pale were the careworn but beautiful features of the
lady, and strongly they contrasted with the plump, red cheek of her
robust Calabrian waiting-woman; who stuck close to her skirts on our
entrance.

She started, shook back the heavy ringlets from her snowy brow, and
gazed upon us with dark but brilliant eyes, which expressed more
astonishment than grief.

"Despina Vignola," exclaimed Castelermo, as he started back apace, and
regarded her with a glance rather of deep sorrow than wonder.  "Ah,
Despina! how little could I once have dreamed we should have met here,
and greeted each other thus!"

She gazed alternately at the dark but handsome features of the cavaliere
and the broad black velvet cross on the breast of his scarlet uniform;
and her glance of wonder gradually changed to one of confusion,
recognition, and anger: she covered her blushing features with her pale
hand, but for an instant only, and then looking up with an air of
hauteur, said—

"This meeting is quite as unexpected to me as it may be to you, Signori
Cavalieri.  How is it that you have this night slain my dear husband,
the Signor Galdino; and within his own house of Belcastro?"

"A cool question!" said Marco, bitterly, gnawing his glove, while his
proud spirit was roused by her cold nonchalance; "admirably so! and to
be asked by a notary’s niece, of a cavaliere of the house of Ruffo
Sciglio——"

"Ruffo, the traitor!" said she, scornfully: "but you reply not to my
question."

"I will ask but another, Why the devil your amiable sposo slew himself?
Basta! he fell into that deadly snare which his deliberate villany and
groundless hate prepared for better men. But let me be gentle: perhaps
at this moment he is making answer for his misdeeds before that dread
tribunal where all men must one day stand—the prince and the peasant,
the high-born lord and the homeless lazarone.  (Here Marco signed the
cross, and all bowed their heads, save myself.)  Peace be with his
ashes! I shall forget that in the days of my joyous youth he robbed me
of my poor patrimony, and deprived me of that which was dearer to me
than all the world beside—the love of thee, Despina; forcing me to
abandon my country, and serve in the wars of the Maltese knights as a
humble musketeer of the galleys.  A knight of St. John should bear no
enmity to the dead, and wars not with Christian men; unless another’s
sword is drawn upon him, after which I trust he will stand buffets and
blows like a true cavalier of the Rock."

"Bravissimo!" said the lady, affecting to smile scornfully through the
tears which glittered in her fine eyes, "a woman’s apartment is an
excellent place to swagger and bluster in. You have all the manners of a
Venetian bravo, signor."

"Those of a Venetian captain might be more pleasing," retorted the
excited cavalier.  "But I will quit your roof, signora, and travel to
Belcastro; though this night Charybdis yawned in my path.  Basta! the
wearer of such a badge as this cross is scarcely safe in the house of a
damsel so famous for her gallantries."

"By the blessed Madonna!  Belcastro you shall never see," exclaimed
Despina, aroused to passion by his taunts.  "Olà, Baptistello! where is
the Teniente Guesippe and his sbirri?  Here, Signor Guesippe di
Gondezani!  Dio!  I shall burst with fury!"

In a few minutes the teniente, with twelve armed servants at his back,
entered the apartment, and surrounded us with levelled musquetoons and
fixed bayonets.

"If this adventure ends in blows, I at least shall have one man’s life
in exchange for my own," said I, drawing my sabre.  Castelermo folded
his arms beneath the dark military cloak which bore the red cross of his
order on the left shoulder, and surveyed the lady and her unscrupulous
rabble with a frown of contempt.

"Molest us, if you dare!" said he.  "Bear in remembrance, that though
the holy office has passed away, he who raises his hand against a
Maltese knight commits sacrilege.  Insult me, and think how it will be
avenged!  There are no less than fifty cavaliers of my old commandery
scattered through this very province, and in two days they would hurl
this mansion into the valley below.  Not less will be the vengeance of
the British general, if this officer, my friend, is maltreated by those
wretches and malefactors who wear your husband’s livery. Back, ye
scoundrels!" he suddenly exclaimed, and drew his sword; "and you,
Baptistello, lead our horses to the gate.  Santa notte, la Signora
Cavalieressa! we shall not forget our entertainment in this diabolical
lazaretto.  And good-night to you, Signor Guesippe, and your myrmidons,"
continued Marco, with fierce irony. "Basta! the malaria of the valley,
and the chance of being riddled by the rifles of Scarolla, are
preferable to remaining here, where poison and cold lead seem your best
welcome to visitors.  And so, once more, a most holy night to all this
noble company."

We descended to the piazza, where, mounting our half-refreshed horses,
we again set forth on our journey; wishing the Villa Belcastro and all
its inmates in a hotter place than Italy.

"Signor Marco, I shall be particularly careful how I thrust myself
uninvited upon a Calabrian mansion in future," said I, yawning as we
descended the hills.

"You have seen Despina, and this night have had the sequel to my story.
How little I expected it, when yesterday I whiled away an hour during
our ride by a relation of my adventures.  I long suspected that
Belcastro was my rival; but never had proof of the fact until to-night."

I addressed him once or twice, but he heard me not, and continued to
ride on with his head bent forward, and his bridle-hand resting
listlessly on the pommel of the saddle.  He was, no doubt, deeply
immersed in sad thoughts and recollections, which this unexpected
interview with the woman he once loved so tenderly had recalled from
oblivion.



                             END OF VOL. I.



               Printed by STEWART and MURRAY, Old Bailey.





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