Month: April 2019
Unbounded was the joy and congratulation of the courtiers on thus meeting with him safe and uninjured. The king then turning round to the poor fisherman, informed him that he was the monarch wltom he had so much praised, and whom he had so humanely and hoporably received the foregoing evening, and that he might rely upon him that his singular courtesy and good-will should not go unrewarded.
Now, there were certain hunting-lodges which the king had erected in those parts for the convenience which they afforded in his excursions, and several of his nobles had likewise adorned the surrounding country with various seats and other dwellings, so as to give a pleasing relief to the prospect. With the view of bestowing a handsome remuneration upon the good fisherman, the grateful monarch gave orders that the pools and marshes adjacent to these dwellings should be drained.
Cesar Elcabir or the Great Palace
He then circumscribed the limits of a noble city, comprehending the palaces and houses already erected, and after conferring upon it various rich immunities, by which it shortly became both very populous and powerful, he named the place Cesar Elcabir or the Great Palace, and presented it as a token of his gratitude to the honest fisherman.
At the period when his sons succeeded to it, no city throughout the king’s dominions was to be compared with it in point of splendor and beauty of appearance. During the time I remained there it was filled with merchants and artisans of every description. The mosques were extremely grand, nor were the colleges and hospitals less worthy of admiration.
As they have but few good wells, the cisterns and other public conduits are very large and numerous. The inhabitants of the places I visited are in general liberal and kind-hearted men, of simple manners, and neat and plain in their dress and appearance. The gardens are at once spacious and beautiful, abounding in all kinds of fruits, which supply a weekly market, the emporium of all the surrounding country. It is situated not above eighteen miles distant from Azella, now called Arzilla, in the possession of the Portuguese.
Now, simple as the whole of this story may appear, it will at least be found to inculcate one beautiful moral: it teaches us to behave with courtesy towards every one, courtesy being, like virtue, its own reward, and sure of meeting sooner or later, as in the instance of the poor fisherman, that reward here below.
Even I, a poor fisherman, with a wife and little family, am not forgotten, and enjoy my poverty in peace. He permits me to fish for eels wherever I please, and take them afterwards to the best market I can find, in order to provide for my little ones. At any hour, night or day, I go out or I come in just as I like, to or fro, in my humble dwelling; and there is not a single person in all these neighboring woods and valleys who has ever dared to do me wrong. To whom am I indebted for all this, but to him for whom I daily offer up my prayers to God and our holy prophet to watch over his preservation? But why do I talk, when I see you, Sir Knight, before me, dripping from the pelting of this pitiless storm ? Deign to come within, and receive what shelter my poor cabin will afford; to-morrow I will conduct you to the king, or wherever else you please.”
Mansor now freely availed himself of the invitation, and dismounting from his horse, sought refuge from the still raging storm. The poor steed likewise shared the accommodation prepared in a little outhouse for the good man’s ass, partaking of the corn and hay. Seated by the side of a good fire, the king was employed in drying himself and recruiting his exhausted strength, while the wife was busily cooking the eels for his royal supper.
Anxiously inquired whether
When they were served, having a decided distaste for fish, he somewhat anxiously inquired whether there was no kind of meat for which he might exchange them. The fisherman very honestly declared that it was true he had a she-goat with a kid; and perceiving that his guest was no unworthy personage, he directly offered to serve it up to table; which having done, he presented the king with those parts generally esteemed the best and the most delicious. After supper, the monarch retiring to his rustic couch, reposed his wearied limbs and slumbered until the sun was up.
At the appointed hour he once more mounted his steed, attended by his kind host, who now took upon himself the office of a guide. They had scarcely proceeded beyond the confines of the marshes, when they encountered several of the king’s party, calling aloud in the utmost anxiety and searching for their royal master in every direction.
As he thus stood, listening to the distant thunder and the raving of the storm, he stretched his view in vain to discover some signs of human existence; until, on proceeding a few more steps, a light suddenly appeared at only a short distance from him. It was from the window of a poor fisherman’s hut, who earned his livelihood by catching eels in the adjacent pools and marshes.
On hearing the voice of the king, who rushed forward with a shout of joy on beholding a human habitation, the fisherman hastened to the assistance of the bewildered traveler, whom he believed to have lost his way in the storm. Inquiring who called, King Mansor approached near, and entreated him, if he possessed the least charity, to direct him the shortest path to the residence of the monarch. “The king’s court,” replied the poor man, “is distant from this place above ten long miles.”
King Mansor himself
“Yet I will make it worth your trouble, friend, to guide me thither; consent to oblige me, arid you shall have no reason to complain,” said the king. “Though you were King Mansor himself,” returned the fisherman, “who entreated as much, I would not venture upon it at this hour of the night, and such a night as this is; for I should render myself guilty, perhaps, of leading our honored monarch into destruction. The night is dark, and the waters are out around us.” “But why should you, friend, be so very solicitous about the safety of the king?” “Oh,” replied the good man, “because I honor him more than I do any one else, and love him more than myself.”
“But what good has he ever done you, asked the king, “that you should hold him in such high esteem? Methinks you would be rather more comfortably lodged and clothed were you any extraordinary favorite of his.” “Not so,” answered the fisherman; “for tell me, Sir Knight, what greater favor can I receive from my honored king, in my humble sphere, than to be protected in the enjoyment of my house and goods, and the little earnings which I make! All I have I owe to his kindness, to the wisdom and justice with which he rules over his subjects, preserving us in peace or protecting us in war from the inroads of the Arabs, as well as all other enemies.
Residing there during several years, I acquired an excellent knowledge of the language, manners, and peculiar practices of the people, when I was at length prevailed upon to join a party of Oranese merchants, to whom I had been recommended, through Cattanio’s influence, by their king. They were men of approved worth and of the kindest manners, and with them I prepared to make a commercial tour through the country, visiting various regions of Africa, in which we discovered many great and populous cities.’In several of these countries we met with seminaries of instruction, with their regular professors of different sciences, paid and appointed by the people.
There are, moreover, different hospitals instituted for the relief of the impoverished and distressed, who are there supplied with a regular subsistence, it being a principle of their religion to bestow alms, as pleasing in the sight of God. And I solemnly aver that I have met with more instances of true charity and kindness’ from what are termed these uncivilized people than I ever had the good fortune to do among those who are called Christians. Among other splendid places, I visited a noble city, built in the age of King Mansor, who had likewise been supreme pontifex or high priest of Morocco.
Times of King Mans
Some of their national chronicles were here exhibited to me, composed in the Arabic character, which bore ample witness to the diligence with which they record the most remarkable public events. Being very well versed in the language, I amused myself with perusing various portions of them, but more particularly those relating to the times of King Mansor. I thence learned that among other amusements he was immoderately fond of the chase; and it one day so happened, that being on a hunting excursion, he was surprised by a terrific storm, which, with irresistible fury laying waste both com and woodlands, soon dispersed his courtiers on all sides in search of shelter.
Mistaking his way in the confusion which ensued, King Mansor, separated at length from his companions, wandered through the forest until nightfall, and such was the tempestuous raging of the winds, that, almost despairing of finding shelter, he checked his steed, doubtful which way he should venture to proceed. From the terrific darkness of the sky, relieved only by sheets of flashing light shooting across the far horizon, he was fearful of going farther, lest he should incur still greater danger, cither by riding into pitfalls or the deep marshes bordering the forest grounds.
Matteo Bandello (1480 – 1560)
Bandello, a Lombard noble by birth, is, next to Boccaccio, the most celebrated of the Italian story-tellers, and he, like his predecessor, furnished Shakespeare with plots and ideas. He resided both in Milan and Mantua, as a member of an ecclesiastical order and later was made a Bishop by Henry II of France, in which country he spent the latter part of his life.
His adventurous life is, in Symonds’ words, an exciting novela in itself. The Novelle, a collection of stories placed in a fictious framework, is characterized by what appears to the Anglo- Saxon a certain exaggerated violence. Many of his stories are discreditable anecdotes about the church, and were used with considerable effect as weapons by the leaders of the Reformation.
A King in Disguise is characteristic of Bandello’s art, if not of his violence. The story has been traced to Oriental sources, and has, since Bandello wrote it, been used by several other writers.
The present version is translated by Thomas Roscoe and reprinted from his Italian Novelists, London, no date. The story has no title in the original.
A King in Disguise
It is really superfluous, my noble friends and patrons, to use so many kind entreaties, when a single word from you would be enough, by’ way of command, to induce me, as you seem to wish, to give you some account of my most remarkable adventures, in addition to what you have already heard of my travels in Africa.
With the manners and customs of the people, as well as with their peculiar religious opinions, I believe you are now pretty well acquainted, insomuch that I no longer need to dwell upon these. You are aware that I have been a traveler from the time I was a boy of fifteen, when I set out from my native city of Genoa, in company with Messer Niccolo Gattanio, whose extensive mercantile connections induced him to visit various parts of Barbary.
With him I first arrived at the city of Orano, situated on the shores of the Mediterranean, and belonging to the kingdom of the same name. Numbers of the Genoese were accustomed to resort thither, and there is a large place of traffic named from that circumstance the Lodge of the Genoese. My friend Cattanio was highly respected there, and even in great credit with the king; so much so as to have obtained various privileges from him, in consideration of the able and beneficial manner in which he promoted the commerce of his subjects.
Giuseppa embraced her son, and bursting into tears entered the house. She threw herself on her knees before an image of the Virgin and prayed ardently. In the meanwhile Falcone walked some two hundred paces along the path and only stopped when he reached a little ravine which he descended. He tried the earth with the butt- end of his carbine, and found if soft and easy to dig. The place seemed to be convenient for his design.
“Fortunato, go close to that big rock there.”
The child did as he was commanded, then he kneeled.
“Say your prayers.”
“Oh, father, father, do not kill me!”
“Say your prayers!” repeated Mateo in a terrible voice.
Pater and the Credo
The boy, stammering and sobbing, recited the Pater and the Credo. At the end of each prayer the father loudly answered, “Amen!”
“Are those all the prayers you know?”
“Oh! father, I know the Ave Maria and the litany that my aunt taught me.”
“It is very long, but no matter.”
The child finished the litany in a scarcely audible tone.
“Are you finished?”
“Oh! my father, have mercy! Pardon me! I will never do so again. I will beg my cousin, the Caporal, to pardon Gianetto.”
He was still speaking. Mateo raised his gun, and, taking aim, said: “May God pardon you!”
The boy made a desperate effort to rise and grasp his father’s knees, but there was not time. Mateo fired and Fortunato fell dead.
Without casting a glance on the body, Mateo returned to the house for a spade with which to bury his son. He had gone but a few steps when he met Giuseppa, who, alarmed by the shot, was hastening hither.
“What have you done?” cried she.
“Where is he?”
“In the ravine. I am going to bury him. He died a Christian. I shall have a mass said for him. Have my son-in-law, Tiodoro Bianchi, sent for to come and live with us.”
Fortunato had gone into the house when his father arrived, but now he reappeared with a bowl of milk which he handed with downcast eyes to Gianetto.
“Get away from me!” cried the outlaw, in a loud voice. Then, turn¬ing to one of the soldiers, he said:
“Comrade, give me a drink.”
The soldier placed his gourd in his hands, and the prisoner drank the water handed to him by a man with whom he had just exchanged bullets. He then asked them to tie his hands across his breast instead of behind his back.
“I like,” said he, “to lie at my ease.”
They hastened to satisfy him; then the Adjutant gave the signal to start, said adieu to Mateo, who did not respond, and descended with rapid steps towards the plain.
Nearly ten minutes elapsed before Mateo spoke. The child looked with restless eyes, now at his mother, now at his father, who was leaning on his gun and gazing at him with an expression of concentrated rage.
“You begin well,” said Mateo at last with a calm voice, but frightful to one who knew the man.
“Oh, father!” cried the boy, bursting into tears, and making a for¬ward movement as if to throw himself on his knees. But Mateo cried, “Away from me!”
The little fellow stopped and sobbed, immovable, a few feet from his father.
Discovered the watch-chain
Giuseppa drew near. She had just discovered the watch-chain, the end of which was hanging out of Fortunato’s jacket.
“Who gave you that watch?” demanded she in a severe tone.
“My cousin, the Adjutant.”
Falcone seized the watch and smashed it in a thousand pieces against rock “Wife,” said he, “is this my child?”
Giuseppa’s cheeks turned a brick-red.
“What are you saying, Mateo? Do you know to whom you speak?” “Very well, this child is the first of his race to commit treason.” Fortunato’s sobs and gasps redoubled as Falcone kept his lynx-eyes upon him. Then he struck the earth with his gun-stock, shouldered the weapon, and turned in the direction of the maquis, calling to Fortunato to follow. The boy obeyed. Giusepppa hastened after Mateo and seized his arm.
“He is your son,” said she with a trembling voice, fastening her black eyes on those of her husband to read what was going on in his heart. “Leave me alone,” said Mateo. “I am his father.”
In this perplexity he took a bold step. It was to advance alone towards Mateo and tell him of the affair while accosting him as an old acquaintance, but the short space that separated him from Mateo seemed terribly long.
“Hello! old comrade,” cried he. “How do you do, my good fellow? It is I, Gamba, your cousin.”
Without answering a word, Mateo stopped, and in proportion as the other spoke, slowly raised the muzzle of his gun so that it was pointing upward when the Adjutant joined him.
“Good-day, brother,” said the Adjutant, holding out his hand. “It is a long time since I have seen you.”
“I stopped while passing, to say good-day to you and to cousin Pepa here. We have had a long journey to-day, but have no reason to com¬plain, for we have captured a famous prize. We have just seized Gianetto Saupiero.”
“God be praised!” cried Giuseppa. “He stole a milch goat from us last week.”
These words reassured Gamba.
“Poor devil!” said Mateo. “He was hungry.”
“The villain fought like a lion,” continued the Adjutant, a little mortified. “He killed one of my soldiers, and not content with that, broke Caporal Chardon’s arm; but that matters little, he is only a Frenchman. Then, too, he was so well hidden that the devil couldn’t have found him. Without my little cousin, Fortunato, I should never have discovered him.”
“Fortunato!” cried Mateo.
“Fortunato!” repeated Giuseppa.
“Yes, Gianetto was hidden under the hay-pile yonder, but my little cousin showed me the trick. I shall tell his uncle, the Caporal, that he may send him a fine present for his trouble. Both his name and yours will be in the report that I shall send to the Attorney-general.”
“Malediction!” said Mateo in a low voice.
Mateo and Gamba
They had rejoined the detachment. Gianetto was already lying on the litter ready to set out. When he saw Mateo and Gamba in company he smiled a strange smile, then, turning his head towards the door of the house, he spat on the sill, saying:
“House of a traitor.”
Only a man determined to die would dare pronounce the word trai¬tor to Falcone. A good blow with the stiletto, which there would be no need of repeating, would have immediately paid the insult. However, Mateo made no other movement than to place his hand on his fore¬head like a man who is dazed.
“Good,” said the prisoner. “You will also put a little straw on your litter that I may be more comfortable.”
While some of the soldiers were occupied in making a kind of stretcher out of some chestnut boughs and the rest were dressing Gianetto’s wound, Mateo Falcone and his wife suddenly appeared at a turn in the path that led to the maquis.
The woman was staggering under the weight of an enormous sack of chestnuts, while her husband was sauntering along, carrying one gun in his hands, while another was slung across his shoulders, for it is unworthy of a man to carry other burdens than his arms.
At the sight of the soldiers Mateo’s first thought was that they had come to arrest him. But why this thought? Had he then some quarrels with justice? No.
Few Corsican highlanders
He enjoyed a good reputation. He was said to have a particularly good name, but he was a Corsican and a highlander, and there are few Corsican highlanders who, in scrutinizing their memory, cannot find some peccadillo, such as a gun-shot, dagger-thrust, or similar trifles. Mateo more than others had a clear conscience; for more than ten years he had not pointed his carbine at a man, but he was always prudent, and put himself into a position to make a good defense if necessary. “Wife,” said he to Giuseppa, “put down the sack and hold yourself ready.”
She obeyed at once. He gave her the gun that was slung across his shoulders, which would have bothered him, and, cocking the one he held in his hands, advanced slowly towards the house, walking among the trees that bordered the road, ready at the least hostile demonstra¬tion, to hide behind the largest, whence he could fire from under cover. His wife followed closely behind, holding his reserve weapon and his cartridge-box. The duty of a good housekeeper, in case of a fight, is to load her husband’s carbines.
On the other side the Adjutant was greatly troubled to see Mateo advance in this manner, with cautious steps, his carbine raised, and his finger on the trigger.
“If by chance,” thought he, “Mateo should be related to Gianetto, or if he should be his friend and wish to defend him, the contents of his two guns would arrive amongst us a certainly as as letter in the post; and if he should see me, notwithstanding the relationship!”
“May I lose my epaulettes,” cried the Adjutant, “if I do not give you the watch on this condition. These comrades are witnesses; I can¬not deny it.”
While speaking he gradually held the watch nearer till it almost touched the child’s pale face, which plainly showed the struggle that was going on in his soul between covetousness and respect for hospital¬ity. His breast swelled with emotion; he seemed about to suffocate. Meanwhile the watch was slowly swaying and turning, sometimes brushing against his cheek.
Finally, his right hand was gradually stretched toward it; the ends of his fingers touched it; then its whole weight was in his hand, the Adjutant still keeping hold of the chain. The face was light blue; the cases newly burnished. In the sunlight it seemed to be all on fire. The temptation was too great. Fortunato raised his left hand and pointed over his shoulder with his thumb at the hay against which he was reclining.
The Adjutant understood him at once. He dropped the end of the chain and Fortunato felt himself the sole possessor of the watch. He sprang up with the agility of a deer and stood ten feet from the pile, which the soldiers began at once to overturn.
There was a movement in the hay, and a bloody man with a poniard in his hand appeared. He tried to rise to his feet, but his stiffened leg would not permit it and he fell. The Adjutant at once grappled with him and took away his stiletto. He was immediately secured, notwith¬standing his resistance.
Gianetto, lying on the earth and bound like a fagot, turned his head towards Fortunato, who had approached.
“Son of—!” said he, with more contempt than anger.
Attention to the movement
The child threw him the silver piece which he had received, feeling that he no longer deserved it; but the outlaw paid no attention to the movement, and with great coolness said to the Adjutant:
“My dear Gamba, I cannot walk; you will be obliged to carry me to the city.”
“Just now you could run faster than a buck,” answered the cruel captor; “but be at rest. I am so pleased to have you that I would carry you a league on my back without fatigue. Besides, comrade, we are going to make a litter for you with your cloak and some branches, and at the Crespoli farm we shall find horses.”
“My little cousin,” said he, “you are a very wide-awake little fellow. You will get along. But you are playing a naughty game with me; and if I wasn’t afraid of making trouble for my cousin, Mateo, the devil take me, but I would carry you off with me.”
“But when my cousin comes back I shall tell him about this, and he will whip you till the blood comes for having told such lies.”
“You don’t say so!”
“You will see. But hold on!—be a good boy and I will give you something.”
“Cousin, let me give you some advice: if you wait much longer Gianetto will be in the maquis and it will take a smarter man than you to follow him.”
The Adjutant took from his pocket a silver watch worth about ten crowns, and noticing that Fortunato’s eyes sparkled at the sight of it, said, holding the watch by the end of its steel chain:
Look at my watch
“Rascal! you would like to have such a watch as that hung around your neck, wouldn’t you, and to walk in the streets of Porto-Vecchio proud as a peacock? People would ask you what time it was, and you would say: ‘Look at my watch.’ ”
“When I am grown up, my uncle, the Caporal, will give me a watch.”
“Yes; but your uncle’s little boy has one already; not so fine as this either. But then, he is younger than you.”
The child sighed.
“Well! Would you like this watch, little cousin?”
Fortunato, casting sidelong glances at the watch, resembled a cat that has been given a whole chicken. It feels that it is being made sport of, and does not dare to use its claws; from time to time it turns its eyes away so as not to be tempted, licking its jaws all the while, and has the appearance of saying to its master, “How cruel your joke is!” How ever, the Adjutant seemed in earnest in offering his watch. For tunato did not reach out his hand for it, but said with a bitter smile: “Why do you make fun of me?”
“Good God! I am not making fun of you. Only tell me where Gianetto is and the watch is yours.”
Fortunato smiled incredulously, and fixing his black eyes on those of the Adjutant tried to read there the faith he ought to have had in his words.
“Then you believe, cousin, that your guns make so much noise? My father’s carbine has the advantage of them.”
“The devil take you, you cursed little scapegrace! I am certain that you have seen Gianetto. Perhaps, even, you have hidden him. Come, comrades, go into the house and see if our man is there. He could only go on one foot, and the knave has too much good sense to try to reach the maquis limping like that.
Moreover, the bloody tracks stop here.” “And what will papa say?” asked Fortunato with a sneer. “What will he say if he knows that his house has been entered while he was away?”
“You rascal,” said the Adjutant, taking him by the ear, “do you know that it only remains for me to make you change your tone? Perhaps you will speak differently after I have given you twenty blows with the flat of my sword.”
Fortunato continued to sneer.
“My father is Mateo Falcone,” said he with emphasis.
“You little scamp, you know very well that I can carry you off to Corte or to Bastia. I will make you lie in a dungeon, on straw, with your feet in shackles, and I will have you guillotined if you don’t tell me where Gianetto is.”
The child burst out laughing at this ridiculous menace. He repeated: “My father is Mateo Falcone.”
“Adjutant,” said one of the soldiers in a low voice, “let us have no quarrels with Mateo.”
Cabin of a Corsican consists
Gamba appeared evidently embarrassed. He spoke in an undertone with the soldiers who had already visited the house. This was not a very long operation, for the cabin of a Corsican consists only of a single square room, furnished with a table, some benches, chests, house¬keeping utensils and those of the chase. In the meantime, little For¬tunato petted his cat and seemed to take a wicked enjoyment in the confusion of the soldiers and of his cousin.
One of the men approached the pile of hay. He saw the cat, and gave the pile a careless thrust with his bayonet, shrugging his shoulders as if he felt that his precaution was ridiculous. Nothing moved; the boy’s face betrayed not the slightest emotion.
The Adjutant and his troop were cursing their luck. Already they were looking in the direction of the plain, as if disposed to return by the way they had come, when their chief, convinced that menaces would produce no impression of Falcone’s son, determined to make a last effort, and try the effect of caresses and presents.
The child appeared moved.
“What will you give me if I hide you?” said he, coming nearer.
The outlaw felt in a leather pocket that hung from his belt, and took out a five-franc piece, which he had doubtless saved to buy ammuni¬tion with.
Fortunato smiled at the sight of the silver piece; he snatched it, and said to Gianetto:
Immediately he made a great hole in a pile of hay that was near the house. Gianetto crouched down in it and the child covered him in such a way that he could breathe without it being possible to suspect that the hay concealed a man.
He bethought himself further, and, with the subtlety of a tolerably ingenious savage, placed a cat and her kittens on the pile, that it might not appear to have been recently disturbed. Then, noticing the traces of blood on the path near the house, he covered them carefully with dust, and, that done, he again stretched himself out in the sun with the greatest tranquillity.
A few moments afterwards, six men in brown uniforms with yellow collars, and commanded by an Adjutant, were before Mateo’s door. This Adjutant was a distant relative of Falcone’s. (In Corsica the degrees of relationship are followed much further than elsewhere.) His name was Tiodoro Gamba; he was an active man, much dreaded by the outlaws, several of whom he had already entrapped.
“Good day, little cousin,” said he, approaching Fortunato; “how tall you have grown. Have you seen a man go past here just now?” “Oh! I am not yet so tall as you, my cousin,” replied the child with a simple air.
“You soon will be. But haven’t you seen a man go by here, tell me?” “If I have seen a man go by?”
“Yes, a man with a pointed hat of black velvet, and a vest embroid¬ered with red and yellow.”
“A man with a pointed hat, and a vest embroidered with red and yellow?”
“Yes, answer quickly, and don’t repeat my questions!”
“This morning the cur£ passed before our door on his horse, Piero. He asked me how papa was, and I answered him”
“Ah, you little scoundrel, you are playing sly! Tell me quickly which way Gianetto went? We are looking for him, and I am sure he took this path.”
“Who knows? It is I know that you have seen him.”
“Can any one see who passes when they are asleep?”
“You were not asleep, rascal; the shooting woke you up.”
On a certain day in autumn, Mateo set out at an early hour with his wife to visit one of his flocks in a clearing of the maquis. The little Fortunato wanted to go with them, but the clearing was too far away; moreover, it was necessary someone should stay to watch the house; therefore the father refused: it will be seen whether or not he had reason to repent.
He had been gone some hours, and the little Fortunato was tran¬quilly stretched out in the sun, looking at the blue mountains, and thinking that the next Sunday he was going to dine in the city with his uncle, the Caporal, when he was suddenly interrupted in his medita¬tions by the firing of a musket.
He got up and turned to that side of the plain whence the noise came. Other shots followed, fired at ir¬regular intervals, and each time nearer; at last, in the path which led from the plain to Mateo’s house, appeared a man wearing the pointed hat of the mountaineers, bearded, covered with rags, and dragging himself along with difficulty by the support of his gun. He had just received a wound in his thigh.
This man was an outlaw, who, having gone to the town by night to buy powder, had fallen on the way into an ambuscade of Corsican light-infantry. After a vigorous defense he was fortunate in making his retreat, closely followed and firing from rock to rock. But he was only a little in advance of the soldiers, and his wound prevented him from gaining the maquis before being overtaken.
He approached Fortunato and said: “You are the son of Mateo Falcone?”—“Yes.”
“I am Gianetto Saupiero. I am followed by the yellow-collars. Hide me, for I can go no farther.”
“And what will my father say if I hide you without his permission?”
“He will say that you have done well.”
“How do you know?”
“Hide me quickly; they are coming.”
“Wait till my father gets back.”
“How can I wait? Malediction! They will be here in five minutes. Come, hide me, or I will kill you.”
Fortunato answered him with the utmost coolness:
“Your gun is empty, and there are no more cartridges in your belt.” “I have my stiletto.”
“But can you run as fast as I can?”
He gave a leap and put himself out of reach.
“You are not the son of Mateo Falcone! Will you then let me be captured before your house?”
When I was in Corsica in 18—, Mateo Falcone had his house half a league from this maquis. He was rich enough for that country, living in noble style—that is to say, doing nothing—on the income from his flocks, which the shepherds, who are a kind of nomads, lead to pasture here and there on the mountains. When I saw him, two years after the event that I am about to relate, he appeared to me to be about fifty years old or more. Picture to yourself a man, small but robust, with curly hair, black as jet, an aquiline nose, thin lips, large, restless eyes, and a complexion the color of tanned leather.
His skill as a marksman was considered extraordinary even in his country, where good shots are so common. For example, Mateo would never fire at a sheep with buckshot; but at a hundred and twenty paces, he would drop it with a ball in the head or shoulder, as he chose. He used his arms as easily at night as during the day. I was told this feat of his skill, which will, perhaps, seem impossible to those who have not traveled in Corsica.
A lighted candle was placed at eighty paces, behind a paper transpar¬ency about the size of a plate. He would take aim, then the candle would be extinguished, and, at the end of a moment, in the most complete darkness, he would fire and hit the paper three times out of four.
With such a transcendent accomplishment, Mateo Falcone had acquired a great reputation. He was said to be as good a friend as he was a dangerous enemy; accommodating and charitable, he lived at peace with all the world in the district of Porto Vecchio.
But it is said of him that in Corte, where he had married his wife, he had disembar¬rassed himself very vigorously of a rival who was considered as redoubt¬able in war as in love; at least, a certain gun-shot which surprised this rival as he was shaving before a little mirror hung in his window was attributed to Mateo.
The affair was smoothed over and Mateo was married. His wife Giuseppa had given him at first three daughters (which infuriated him), and finally a son, whom he named Fortunato, and who became the hope of his family, the inheritor of the name. The daughters were well married: their father could count at need on the poniards and carbines of his sons-in-law. The son was only ten years old, but he already gave promise of fine attributes.
Prosper Merimee (1803—1870)
Born in Paris in 1803, Merimee spent the greater part of his life in the government service and in travelling. In later years he became a senator. His chief works are his stories and the novel Carmen. Me- rim^e was one of the earliest authors who were content to write for the purpose of giving aesthetic pleasure, and is considered, with Gautier, one of the chief exponents of the Art for Art’s Sake theory. His stories are written with great deliberation and care. Mateo Falcone is a masterpiece of its kind.
The present version, anonymously translated, is reprinted by per¬mission from International Short Stories, P. F. Collier’s Sons, New York. Copyright, 1910.
On leaving Porto-Vecchio from the northwest and directing his steps towards the interior of the island, the traveler will notice that the land rises rapidly, and after three hours’ walking over tortuous paths obstructed by great masses of rock and sometimes cut by ravines, he will find himself on the border of a great maquis. The maquis is the domain of the Corsican shepherds and of those who are at variance with justice.
It must be known that, in order to save himself the trouble of manuring his field, the Corsican husbandman sets fire to a piece of woodland. If the flames spread farther than is necessary, so much the worse! In any case he is certain of a good crop from the land fertilized by the ashes of the trees which grow upon it. He gathers only the heads of his grain, leaving the straw, which it would be unnecessary labor to cut.
In the following spring the roots that have remained in the earth without being-destroyed send up their tufts of sprouts, which in a few years reach a height of seven or eight feet. It is this kind of tangled thicket that is called a maquis. They are made up of different kinds of trees and shrubs, so crowded and mingled together at the caprice of nature that only with an axe in hand can a man open a passage through them, and maquis are frequently seen so thick and bushy that the wild sheep themselves cannot penetrate them.
If you have killed a man, go into the maquis of Porto-Vecchio. With a good gun and plenty of powder and balls, you can live there in safety. Do not forget a brown cloak furnished with a hood, which will serve you for both cover and mattress. The shepherds will give you chestnuts, milk and cheese, and you will have nothing to fear from justice nor the relatives of the dead except when it is necessary for you to descend to the city to replenish your ammunition.
smothering canopy was then lowered, but not so noiselessly as I had seen it
lowered. When I mentioned this to the Sub-prefect, his answer, simple as it
was, had a terrible significance, “My men,” said he, “are working down the
bed-top for the first time —- the men whose money you won were in better
left the house in the sole possession of two police agents—every one of the
inmates being removed to prison on the spot. The Sub-prefect, after taking down
my “proces verbal” in his office, returned with me to my hotel to get my
passport. “Do you think,” I asked, as I gave it to him, “that any men have
really been smothered in that bed, as they tried to smother me?”
have seen dozens of drowned men laid out at the Morgue,” answered the
Sub-prefect, “in whose pocketbooks were found letters stating that they had
committed suicide in the Seine, because they had lost everything at the
gaming-table. Do I know how many of those men entered the same gambling-house
that you entered? won as you won? took that bed as jyow took it? slept in it?
were smothered in it? and were privately thrown into the river, with a letter
of explanation written by the murderers and placed in their pocketbooks?
man can say how many or how few have suffered the fate from which you have
escaped. The people of the gambling-house kept their bedstead machinery a
secret from us—even from the police! The dead kept the rest of the secret for
them. Good-night, or rather good-morning, Monsieur Faulkner! Be at my office
again at nine o’clock—in the meantime, au revoir!”
rest of my story is soon told. I was examined and reexamined; the
gambling-house was strictly searched all through from top to bottom; the
prisoners were separately interrogated; and two of the less guilty among them
made a confession. I discovered that the Old Soldier was the master of the
gambling-house—justice discovered that he had been drummed out of the army as a
vagabond years ago; that he had been guilty of all sorts of villainies since;
that he was in possession of stolen property, which the owners identified; and
that he, the croupier, another accomplice, and the woman who had made my cup of
coffee, were all in the secret of the bedstead.
appeared some reason to doubt whether the inferior persons attached to the
house knew anything of the suffocating machinery; and they received the benefit
of that doubt, by being treated simply as thieves and vagabonds. As for the Old
Soldier and his two head myrmidons, they went to the galleys; the woman who had
drugged my coffee was imprisoned for I forget how many years; the regular
attendants at the gambling house were considered “suspicious,” and placed under
“surveillance”; and I became, for one whole week (which is a long time), the
head “lion” in Parisian society. My adventure was dramatized by three
illustrious play-makers, but never saw theatrical daylight; for the censorship
forbade the introduction on the stage of a correct copy of the gambling-house
good result was produced by my adventure, which any censorship must have
approved: it cured me of ever again trying “Rouge et Noir” as an amusement. The
sight of a green cloth, with packs of cards and heaps of money on it, will
henceforth be forever associated in my mind with the sight of a bed canopy
descending to suffocate me in the silence and darkness of the night.
we went through the streets, the Sub-prefect cross-examining and congratulating
me in the same breath as we marched at the head of our formidable posse
comitatus. Sentinels were placed at the back and front of the house the moment
we got to it, a tremendous battery of knocks was directed against the door; a
light appeared at a window; I was told to conceal myself behind the police—then
came more knocks, and a cry of “Open in the name of the law!” At that terrible
summons bolts and locks gave way before an invisible hand, and the moment after
the Sub-prefect was in the passage, confronting a waiter half dressed and
ghastly pale. This was the short dialogue which immediately took place:
want to see the Englishman who is sleeping in this house?”
went away hours ago.”
did no such thing. His friend went away; he remained. Show us to his bedroom!”
swear to you, Monsieur le Sous-prefect, he is not here! He—”
swear to you, Monsieur le Garqon, he is. He slept here—he didn’t find your bed
comfortable—he came to us to complain of it—here he is among my men—and here am
I ready to look for a flea or two in his bedstead. Renaudin!” (calling to one
of the subordinates, and pointing to the waiter), “collar that man, and tie his
hands behind him. Now, then, gentlemen, let us walk upstairs!”
man and woman in the house was secured—the “Old Soldier” the first. Then I
identified the bed in which I had slept, and then we went into the room above.
object that was at all extraordinary appeared in any part of it. The
Sub-prefect looked round the place, commanded everybody to be silent, stamped
twice on the floor, called for a candle, looked attentively at the spot he had
stamped on, and ordered the flooring there to be carefully taken up.
was done in no time. Lights were produced, and we saw a deep raftered cavity
between the floor of this room and the ceiling of the room beneath. Through
this cavity there ran perpendicularly a sort of case of iron thickly greased;
and inside the case appeared the screw, which communicated with the bed-top
Extra lengths of screw, freshly oiled; levers
covered with felt; all the complete upper works of a heavy press—constructed
with infernal ingenuity so as to join the fixtures below, and when taken to
pieces again to go into the smallest possible compass—were next discovered and
pulled out on the floor. After some little difficulty the Sub-prefect succeeded
in putting the machinery together, and, leaving his men to work it, descended
with me to the bedroom.
some men the means of escape which I had discovered might have seemed difficult
and dangerous enough—to me the prospect of slipping down the pipe into the
street did not suggest even a thought of peril. I had always been accustomed,
by the practise of gymnastics, to keep up my school-boy powers as a daring and
expert climber; and knew that my head, hands, and feet would serve me
faithfully in any hazards of ascent or descent.
had already got one leg over the window-sill, when I remembered the
handkerchief filled with money under my pillow. I could well have afforded to
leave it behind me, but I was revengefully determined that the miscreants of
the gambling- house should miss their plunder as well as their victim. So I
went back to the bed and tied the heavy handkerchief at my back by my cravat.
as I had made it tight and fixed it in a comfortable place, I thought I heard a
sound of breathing outside the door. The chill feeling of horror ran through me
again as I listened. No! Dead silence still in the passage—-I had only heard
the night air blowing softly into the room. The next moment I was on the
window-sill—and the next I had a firm grip on the water-pipe with my hands and
Discovering the perpetrator
slid down into the street easily and quietly, as I thought I should, and
immediately set off at the top of my speed to a branch “Prefecture” of Poliqe,
which I knew was situated in the immediate neighborhood. A “Sub-prefect,” and
several picked men among his subordinates, happened to be up, maturing, I
believe, some scheme for discovering the perpetrator of a mysterious murder
which all Paris was talking of just then.
I began my story, in a breathless hurry and in very bad French, I could see
that the Sub-prefect suspected me of being a drunken Englishman who had robbed
somebody; but he soon altered his opinion as I went on, and before I had
anything like concluded, he shoved all the papers before him into a drawer, put
on his hat, supplied me with another (for I was bareheaded), ordered a file of
soldiers, desired his expert followers to get ready all sorts of tools for
breaking open doors and ripping up brick flooring, and took my arm, in the most
friendly and familiar manner possible, to lead me with him out of the house. I
will venture to say that when the Sub-prefect was a little boy, and was taken
for the first time to the play, he was not half as much pleased as he was now
at the job in prospect for him at the gambling-house!
ere long all thought was again suspended by the sight of the mur-derous canopy
moving once more. After it had remained on the bed— as nearly as I could guess—about
ten minutes, it began to move up again. The villains who worked it from above
evidently believed that their purpose was now accomplished. Slowly and
silently, as it had descended, that horrible bed-top rose toward it former
place. When it reached the upper extremities of the four posts, it reached the
ceiling too. Neither hole nor screw could be seen; the bed became in appearance
an ordinary bed again—the canopy an ordinary canopy—even to the most suspicious
for the first time, I was able to move—to rise from my knees— to dress myself
in my upper clothing—and to consider of how I should escape. If I betrayed by
the smallest noise that the attempt to suffocate me had failed, I was certain
to be murdered. Had I made any noise already? I listened intently, looking
toward the door.
Escaping through the house
No footsteps in the passage outside—no sound of a tread, light or heavy, in the
room above—absolute silence everywhere. Besides locking and bolting my door, I
had moved an old wooden chest against it, which I had found under the bed. To
remove this chest (my blood ran cold as I thought of what its contents might
be!) without making some disturbance was impossible; and, moreover, to think of
escaping through the house, now barred up for the night, was sheer insanity.
Only one chance was left me—the window. I stole to it on tiptoe.
bedroom was on the first floor, above an entresol, and looked into the back
street. I raised my hand to open the window, knowing that on that action hung,
by the merest hair-breadth, my chance of safety. They keep vigilant watch in a
House of Murder. If any part of the frame cracked, if the hinge creaked, I was
a lost man! It must have occupied me at least five minutes, reckoning by
time—five hours reckoning by suspense—to open that window.
succeeded in doing it silently —in doing it with all the dexterity of a
house-breaker—and then looked down into the street. To leap the distance
beneath me would be almost certain destruction! Next, I looked round at the
sides of the house. Down the left side ran a thick water-pipe—it passed close
by the outer edge of the window. The moment I saw the pipe, I knew I was saved.
My breath came and went freely for the first time since I had seen the canopy
of the bed moving down upon me!
stopping to draw my breath, without wiping the cold sweat from my face, I rose
instantly on my knees to watch the bed-top. I was literally spellbound by it.
If I had heard footsteps behind me, I could not have turned round; if a means
of escape had been miraculously provided for me, I could not have moved to take
advantage of it. The whole life in me was, at that moment, concentrated in my
descended—the whole canopy, with the fringe round it, came down—down—close
down; so close that there was not room now to squeeze my finger between the
bed-top and the bed. I felt at the sides, and discovered that what had appeared
to me from beneath to be the ordinary light canopy of a four-post bed was in
reality a thick, broad mattress, the substance of which was concealed by the
valance and its fringe.
looked up and saw the four posts rising hideously bare. In the middle of the
bed-top was a huge wooden screw that had evidently worked it down through a
hole in the ceiling, just as ordinary presses are worked down on the substance
selected for compression. The frightful apparatus moved without making the
faintest noise. There had been no creaking as it came down; there was now not
the faintest sound from the room above.
a dead and awful silence I beheld before me—in the Nineteenth Century, and in
the civilized capital of France—such a machine for secret murder by suffocation
as might have existed in the worst days of the Inquisition, in the lonely inns
among the Hartz Mountains, in the mysterious tribunals of Westphalia! Still, as
I looked on it, I could not move, I could hardly breathe, but I began to
recover the power of thinking, and in a moment I discovered the murderous
conspiracy framed against me in all its horror.
cup of coffee had been drugged, and drugged too strongly. I had been saved from
being smothered by having taken an overdose of some narcotic. How I had chafed
and fretted at the fever fit which had preserved my life by keeping me awake!
How recklessly I had confided myself to the two wretches who had led me into
this room, determined, for the sake of my winnings, to kill me in my sleep by
the surest and most horrible contrivance for secretly accomplishing my
destruction! How many men, winners like me, had slept, as I had proposed to
sleep, in that bed, and had never been seen or heard of more! I shuddered at
the bare idea of it.
God! the man had pulled his hat down on his brows! No! the hat itself was gone!
Where was the conical crown? Where the feathers —three white, two green? Not
there! In place of the hat and feathers, what dusky object was it that now hid
his forehead, his eyes, his shading hand?
the bed moving?
turned on my back and looked up. Was I mad? drunk? dreaming? giddy again? or
was the top of the bed really moving down—sinking slowly, regularly, silently,
horribly, right down throughout the whole of its length and breadth—right down
upon me, as I lay underneath?
blood seemed to stand still. A deadly, paralyzing coldness stole all over me as
I turned my head round on the pillow and determined to test whether the bed-top
was really moving or not, by keeping my eye on the man in the picture.
next look in that direction was enough. The dull, black, frowsy outline of the
valance above me was within an inch of being parallel with his waist. I still
looked breathlessly. And steadily and slowly—very slowly—I saw the figure, and
the line of frame below the figure, vanish, as the valance moved down before
am, constitutionally, anything but timid. I have been on more than one occasion
in peril of my life, and have not lost my self-possession for an instant; but
when the conviction first settled on my mind that the bed-top was really
moving, was steadily and continuously sinking down upon me, I looked up
shuddering, helpless, panic-stricken, beneath the hideous machinery for murder,
which was advancing closer and closer to suffocate me where I lay.
looked up, motionless, speechless, breathless. The candle, fully spent, went
out; but the moonlight still brightened the room. Down and down, without
pausing and without sounding, came the bed-top, and still my panic terror
seemed to bind me faster and faster to the mattress on which I lay—down and
down it sank, till the dusty odor from the lining of the canopy came stealing
into my nostrils.
that final moment the instinct of self-preservation startled me out of my
trance, and I moved at last. There was just room for me to roll myself sidewise
off the bed. As I dropped noiselessly to the floor, the edge of the murderous
canopy touched me on the shoulder.
picture put a kind of constraint upon me to look upward too— at the top of the
bed. It was a gloomy and not an interesting object, and I looked back at the
picture. I counted the feathers in the man’s hat— they stood out in
relief—three white, two green. I observed the crown of his hat, which was of a
conical shape, according to the fashion supposed to have been favored by Guido
Fawkes. I wondered what he was looking up at. It couldn’t be at the stars; such
a desperado was neither astrologer nor astronomer. It must be at the high
gallows, and he was going to be hanged presently. Would the executioner come
into possession of his conical crowned hat and plume of feathers? I counted the
feathers again—three white, two green.
I still lingered over this very improving and intellectual employment, my
thoughts insensibly began to wander. The moonlight shining into the room
reminded me of a certain moonlight night in Eng-land—the night after a picnic
party in a Welsh valley. Every incident of the drive homeward, through lovely
scenery, which the moonlight made lovelier than ever, came back to my
remembrance, though I had never given the picnic a thought for years; though,
if I had tried to recollect it, I could certainly have recalled little or
nothing of that scene long past.
all the wonderful faculties that help to tell us we are immortal, which speaks
the sublime truth more eloquently than memory? Here was I, in a strange house
of the most suspicious character, in a situation of uncertainty, and even of
peril, which might seem to make the cool exercise of my recollection almost out
of the question; nevertheless, remembering, quite involuntarily, places,
people, conversations, minute circumstances of every kind, which I had thought
forgotten forever; which I could not possibly have recalled at will, even under
the most favorable auspices. And what cause had produced in a moment the whole
of this strange, complicated, mysterious effect? Nothing but some rays of
moonlight shining in at my bedroom window.
was still thinking of the picnic—of our merriment on the drive home—of the
sentimental young lady who would quote Childe Harold because it was moonlight.
I was absorbed by these past scenes and past amusements, when, in an instant,
the thread on which my memories hung snapped asunder; my attention immediately
came back to present things more vividly than ever, and I found myself, I
neither knew why nor wherefore, looking hard at the picture again.
raised myself on my elbow, and looked about the room—which was brightened by a
lovely moonlight pouring straight through the window—to see if it contained any
pictures or ornaments that I could at all clearly distinguish. While my eyes
wandered from wall to wall, a remembrance of Le Maistre’s delightful little
book, “Voyage autour de ma Chambre,” occurred to me. I resolved to imitate the
French author, and find occupation and amusement enough to relieve the tedium
of my wakefulness, by making a mental inventory of every article of furniture I
could see, and by following up to their sources the multitude of associations
which even a chair, a table, or a wash-hand stand may be made to call forth.
Thinking at all
the nervous, unsettled state of my mind at that moment, I found it much easier
to make my inventory than to make my reflections, and thereupon soon gave up
all hope of thinking in Le Maistre’s fanciful track—or, indeed, of thinking at
all. I looked about the room at the different articles of furniture, and did
was, first, the bed I was lying in; a four-post bed, of all things in the world
to meet with in Paris—yes, a thorough clumsy British four-poster, with a
regular top lined with chintz—the regular fringed valance all round—the regular
stifling, unwholesome curtains, which I remembered having mechanically
drawnlback against the posts without particularly noticing the bed when I first
got into the room.
there was the marble-topped wash-hand stand, from which the water I had
spilled, in my hurry to pour it out, was still dripping, slowly and more
slowly, on to the brick floor. Then two small chairs, with my coat, waistcoat,
and trousers flung on them. Then a large elbow- chair covered with dirty white
dimity, with my cravat and shirt collar thrown over the back. Then a chest of
drawers with two of the brass handles off, and a tawdry, broken china inkstand
placed on it by way of ornament for the top.
the dressing-table, adorned by a very small looking-glass, and a very large
pincushion. Then the window—an unusually large window. Then a dark old picture,
which the feeble candle dimly showed me. It was the picture of a fellow in a
high Spanish hat, crowned with a plume of towering feathers. A swarthy,
sinister ruffian, looking upward, shading his eyes with his hand, and looking
intently upward—it might be at some tall gallows on which he was going to be
hanged. At any rate, he had the appearance of thoroughly deserving it.