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CELEBRATED CRIMES BY ALEXANDER DUMAS, PERE
VOLUME 4, Part 3



NISIDA

1825


If our readers, tempted by the Italian proverb about seeing Naples
and then dying, were to ask us what is the most favourable moment for
visiting the enchanted city, we should advise them to land at the
mole, or at Mergellina, on a fine summer day and at the hour when
some solemn procession is moving out of the cathedral.  Nothing can
give an idea of the profound and simple-hearted emotion of this
populace, which has enough poetry in its soul to believe in its own
happiness.  The whole town adorns herself and attires herself like a
bride for her wedding; the dark facades of marble and granite
disappear beneath hangings of silk and festoons of flowers; the
wealthy display their dazzling luxury, the poor drape themselves
proudly in their rags.  Everything is light, harmony, and perfume;
the sound is like the hum of an immense hive, interrupted by a
thousandfold outcry of joy impossible to describe.  The bells repeat
their sonorous sequences in every key; the arcades echo afar with the
triumphal marches of military bands; the sellers of sherbet and
water-melons sing out their deafening flourish from throats of
copper.  People form into groups; they meet, question, gesticulate;
there are gleaming looks, eloquent gestures, picturesque attitudes;
there is a general animation, an unknown charm, an indefinable
intoxication.  Earth is very near to heaven, and it is easy to
understand that, if God were to banish death from this delightful
spot, the Neapolitans would desire no other paradise.

The story that we are about to tell opens with one of these magical
pictures.  It was the Day of the Assumption in the year 1825; the sun
had been up some four or five hours, and the long Via da Forcella,
lighted from end to end by its slanting rays, cut the town in two,
like a ribbon of watered silk.  The lava pavement, carefully cleaned,
shone like any mosaic, and the royal troops, with their proudly
waving plumes, made a double living hedge on each side of the street.
The balconies, windows, and terraces, the stands with their
unsubstantial balustrades, and the wooden galleries set up during the
night, were loaded with spectators, and looked not unlike the boxes
of a theatre.  An immense crowd, forming a medley of the brightest
colours, invaded the reserved space and broke through the military
barriers, here and there, like an overflowing torrent.  These
intrepid sightseers, nailed to their places, would have waited half
their lives without giving the least sign of impatience.

At last, about noon, a cannon-shot was heard, and a cry of general
satisfaction followed it.  It was the signal that the procession had
crossed the threshold of the church.  In the same moment a charge of
carabineers swept off the people who were obstructing the middle of
the street, the regiments of the line opened floodgates for the
overflowing crowd, and soon nothing remained on the causeway but some
scared dog, shouted at by the people, hunted off by the soldiers, and
fleeing at full speed.  The procession came out through the Via di
Vescovato.  First came the guilds of merchants and craftsmen, the
hatters, weavers, bakers, butchers, cutlers, and goldsmiths.  They
wore the prescribed dress: black coats, knee breeches, low shoes and
silver buckles.  As the countenances of these gentlemen offered
nothing very interesting to the multitude, whisperings arose, little
by little, among the spectators, then some bold spirits ventured a
jest or two upon the fattest or the baldest of the townsmen, and at
last the boldest of the lazzaroni slipped between the soldiers' legs
to collect the wax that was running down from the lighted tapers.

After the craftsmen, the religious orders marched past, from the
Dominicans to the Carthusians, from the Carmelites to the Capuchins.
They advanced slowly, their eyes cast down, their step austere, their
hands on their hearts; some faces were rubicund and shining, with
large cheek-hones and rounded chins, herculean heads upon bullnecks;
some, thin and livid, with cheeks hollowed by suffering and
penitence, and with the look of living ghosts; in short, here were
the two sides of monastic life.

At this moment, Nunziata and Gelsomina, two charming damsels, taking
advantage of an old corporal's politeness, pushed forward their
pretty heads into the first rank.  The break in the line was
conspicuous; but the sly warrior seemed just a little lax in the
matter of discipline.

"Oh, there is Father Bruno!" said Gelsomina suddenly.  "Good-day,
Father Bruno."

"Hush, cousin!  People do not talk to the procession."

"How absurd!  He is my confessor.  May I not say good-morning to my
confessor?"

"Silence, chatterboxes!"

"Who was that spoke?"

"Oh, my dear, it was Brother Cucuzza, the begging friar."

"Where is he?  Where is he?"

"There he is, along there, laughing into his beard.  How bold he is!"

"Ah, God in heaven!  If we were to dream of him---"

While the two cousins were pouring out endless comments upon the
Capuchins and their beards, the capes of the canons and the surplices
of the seminarists, the 'feroci' came running across from the other
side to re-establish order with the help of their gun-stocks.

"By the blood of my patron saint," cried a stentorian voice, "if I
catch you between my finger and thumb, I will straighten your back
for the rest of your days."

"Who are you falling out with, Gennaro?"

"With this accursed hunchback, who has been worrying my back for the
last hour, as though he could see through it."

"It is a shame," returned the hunchback in a tone of lamentation;
"I have been here since last night, I slept out of doors to keep my
place, and here is this abominable giant comes to stick himself in
front of me like an obelisk."

The hunchback was lying like a Jew, but the crowd rose unanimously
against the obelisk.  He was, in one way, their superior, and
majorities are always made up of pigmies.

"Hi!  Come down from your stand!"

"Hi! get off your pedestal!"

"Off with your hat!"

"Down with your head!"

"Sit down!"

"Lie down!"

This revival of curiosity expressing itself in invectives evidently
betokened the crisis of the show.  And indeed the chapters of canons,
the clergy and bishops, the pages and chamberlains, the
representatives of the city, and the gentlemen of the king's chamber
now appeared, and finally the king himself, who, bare-headed and
carrying a taper, followed the magnificent statue of the Virgin.  The
contrast was striking: after the grey-headed monks and pale novices
came brilliant young captains, affronting heaven with the points of
their moustaches, riddling the latticed windows with killing glances,
following the procession in an absent-minded way, and interrupting
the holy hymns with scraps of most unorthodox conversation.

"Did you notice, my dear Doria, how like a monkey the old Marchesa
d'Acquasparta takes her raspberry ice?"

"Her nose takes the colour of the ice.  What fine bird is showing off
to her?"

"It is the Cyrenian."

"I beg your pardon!  I have not seen that name in the Golden Book."

"He helps the poor marquis to bear his cross."

The officer's profane allusion was lost in the prolonged murmur of
admiration that suddenly rose from the crowd, and every gaze was
turned upon one of the young girls who was strewing flowers before
the holy Madonna.  She was an exquisite creature.  Her head glowing
in the sun shine, her feet hidden amid roses and broom-blossom, she
rose, tall and fair, from a pale cloud of incense, like some seraphic
apparition.  Her hair, of velvet blackness, fell in curls half-way
down her shoulders; her brow, white as alabaster and polished as a
mirror, reflected the rays of the sun; her beautiful and finely
arched black eye-brows melted into the opal of her temples; her
eyelids were fast down, and the curled black fringe of lashes veiled
a glowing and liquid glance of divine emotion; the nose, straight,
slender, and cut by two easy nostrils, gave to her profile that
character of antique beauty which is vanishing day by day from the
earth.  A calm and serene smile, one of those smiles that have
already left the soul and not yet reached the lips, lifted the
corners of her mouth with a pure expression of infinite beatitude and
gentleness.  Nothing could be more perfect than the chin that
completed the faultless oval of this radiant countenance; her neck of
a dead white, joined her bosom in a delicious curve, and supported
her head gracefully like the stalk of a flower moved by a gentle
breeze.  A bodice of crimson velvet spotted with gold outlined her
delicate and finely curved figure, and held in by means of a handsome
gold lace the countless folds of a full and flowing skirt, that fell
to her feet like those severe robes in which the Byzantine painters
preferred to drape their angels.  She was indeed a marvel, and so
rare and modest of beauty had not been seen within the memory of man.

Among those who had gazed most persistently at her was observed the
young Prince of Brancaleone, one of the foremost nobles of the
kingdom.  Handsome, rich, and brave, he had, at five-and-twenty,
outdone the lists of all known Don Juans.  Fashionable young women
spoke very ill of him and adored him in secret; the most virtuous
made it their rule to fly from him, so impossible did resistance
appear.  All the young madcaps had chosen him for their model; for
his triumphs robbed many a Miltiades of sleep, and with better cause.
In short, to get an idea of this lucky individual, it will be enough
to know that as a seducer he was the most perfect thing that the
devil had succeeded in inventing in this progressive century.  The
prince was dressed out for the occasion in a sufficiently grotesque
costume, which he wore with ironic gravity and cavalier ease.  A
black satin doublet, knee breeches, embroidered stockings, and shoes
with gold buckles, formed the main portions of his dress, over which
trailed a long brocaded open-sleeved robe lined with ermine, and a

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