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List Of Contents | Contents of Nisida, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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broken so solemn an agreement.  At the period when our story opens,
it was impossible to find any person in the island who had not felt
the effects of the fisherman's generosity, and that without needing
to confess to him any necessities.  As it was the custom for the
little populace of Nisida to spend its leisure hours before Solomon's
cottage, the old man, while he walked slowly among the different
groups, humming his favourite song, discovered moral and physical
weaknesses as he passed; and the same evening he or his daughter
would certainly be seen coming mysteriously to bestow a benefit upon
every sufferer, to lay a balm upon every wound.  In short, he united
in his person all those occupations whose business is to help
mankind.  Lawyers, doctors, and the notary, all the vultures of
civilisation, had beaten a retreat before the patriarchal benevolence
of the fisherman.  Even the priest had capitulated.

On the morrow of the Feast of the Assumption, Solomon was sitting, as
his habit was, on a stone bench in front of his house, his legs
crossed and his arms carelessly stretched out.  At the first glance
you would have taken him for sixty at the outside, though he was
really over eighty.  He had all his teeth, which were as white as
pearls, and showed them proudly.  His brow, calm and restful beneath
its crown of abundant white hair, was as firm and polished as marble;
not a wrinkle ruffled the corner of his eye, and the gem-like lustre
of his blue orbs revealed a freshness of soul and an eternal youth
such as fable grants to the sea-gods.  He displayed his bare arms and
muscular neck with an old man's vanity.  Never had a gloomy idea, an
evil prepossession, or a keen remorse, arisen to disturb his long and
peaceful life.  He had never seen a tear flow near him without
hurrying to wipe it; poor though he was, he had succeeded in pouring
out benefits that all the kings of the earth could not have bought
with their gold; ignorant though he was, he had spoken to his fellows
the only language that they could understand, the language of the
heart.  One single drop of bitterness had mingled with his
inexhaustible stream of happiness; one grief only had clouded his
sunny life--the death of his wife--and moreover he had forgotten
that.

All the affections of his soul were turned upon Nisida, whose birth
had caused her mother's death; he loved her with that immoderate love
that old people have for the youngest of their children.  At the
present moment he was gazing upon her with an air of profound
rapture, and watching her come and go, as she now joined the groups
of children and scolded them for games too dangerous or too noisy;
now seated herself on the grass beside their mothers and took part
with grave and thoughtful interest in their talk.  Nisida was more
beautiful thus than she had been the day before; with the vaporous
cloud of perfume that had folded her round from head to foot had
disappeared all that mystic poetry which put a sort of constraint
upon her admirers and obliged them to lower their glances.  She had
become a daughter of Eve again without losing anything of her charm.
Simply dressed, as she usually was on work-days, she was
distinguishable among her companions only by her amazing beauty and
by the dazzling whiteness of her skin.  Her beautiful black hair was
twisted in plaits around the little dagger of chased silver, that has
lately been imported into Paris by that right of conquest which the
pretty women of Paris have over the fashions of all countries, like
the English over the sea.

Nisida was adored by her young friends, all the mothers had adopted
her with pride; she was the glory of the island.  The opinion of her
superiority was shared by everyone to such a degree, that if some
bold young man, forgetting the distance which divided him from the
maiden, dared speak a little too loudly of his pretensions, he became
the laughing-stock of his companions.  Even the past masters of
tarentella dancing were out of countenance before the daughter of
Solomon, and did not dare to seek her as a partner.  Only a few
singers from Amalfi or Sorrento, attracted by the rare beauty of this
angelic creature, ventured to sigh out their passion, carefully
veiled beneath the most delicate allusions.  But they seldom reached
the last verse of their song; at every sound they stopped short,
threw down their triangles and their mandolines, and took flight like
scared nightingales.

One only had courage enough or passion enough to brave the mockery;
this was Bastiano, the most formidable diver of that coast.  He also
sang, but with a deep and hollow voice; his chant was mournful and
his melodies full of sadness.  He never accompanied himself upon any
instrument, and never retired without concluding his song.  That day
he was gloomier than usual; he was standing upright, as though by
enchantment, upon a bare and slippery rock, and he cast scornful
glances upon the women who were looking at him and laughing.  The
sun, which was plunging into the sea like a globe of fire, shed its
light full upon his stern features, and the evening breeze, as it
lightly rippled the billows, set the fluttering reeds waving at his
feet.  Absorbed by dark thoughts, he sang, in the musical language of
his country, these sad words:--

"O window, that wert used to shine in the night like an open eye, how
dark thou art!  Alas, alas! my poor sister is ill.

"Her mother, all in tears, stoops towards me and says, 'Thy poor
sister is dead and buried.'

"Jesus!  Jesus!  Have pity on me!  You stab me to the heart.

"Tell me, good neighbours, how it happened; repeat to me her last
words.

"She had a burning thirst, and refused to drink because thou wast not
there to give her water from thy hand.

"Oh, my sister!  Oh, my sister!

"She refused her mother's kiss, because thou wast not there to
embrace her.

"Oh, my sister!  Oh, my sister!

"She wept until her last breath, because thou wast not there to dry
her tears.

"Oh, my sister!  Oh, my sister!

"We placed on her brow her wreath of orangeflowers, we covered her
with a veil as white as snow; we laid her gently in her coffin.

"Thanks, good neighbours.  I will go and be with her.

"Two angels came down from heaven and bore her away on their wings.
Mary Magdalene came to meet her at the gate of heaven.

"Thanks, good neighbours.  I will go and be with her.

"There, she was seated in a place of glory, a chaplet of rubies was
given to her, and she is singing her rosary with the Virgin.

"Thanks, good neighbours.  I will go and be with her."


As he finished the last words of his melancholy refrain, he flung
himself from the top of his rock into the sea, as though he really
desired to engulf himself.  Nisida and the other women gave a cry of
terror, for during some minutes the diver failed to reappear upon the
surface.

"Are you out of your senses?" cried a young man who had suddenly
appeared, unobserved among the women.  "Why, what are you afraid of?
You know very well that Bastiano is always doing things of this sort.
But do not be alarmed: all the fishes in the Mediterranean will be
drowned before any harm comes to him.  Water is his natural element.
Good-day, sister; good-day, father."

The young fisherman kissed Nisida on the forehead, drew near to his
father, and, bowing his handsome head before him, took off his red
cap and respectfully kissed the old man's hand.  He came thus to ask
his blessing every evening before putting out to sea, where he often
spent the night fishing from his boat.

"May God bless thee, my Gabriel!" said the old man in a tone of
emotion, as he slowly passed his hand over his son's black curls, and
a tear came into his eye.  Then, rising solemnly and addressing the
groups around him, he added in a voice full of dignity and of
gentleness.  "Come, my children, it is time to separate.  The young
to work, the old to rest.  There is the angelus ringing."

Everybody knelt, and after a short prayer each went on his way.
Nisida, after having given her father the last daily attentions, went
up to her room, replenished the oil in the lamp that burned day and
night before the Virgin, and, leaning her elbow on the window ledge,
divided the branches of jasmine which hung like perfumed curtains,
began to gaze out at the sea, and seemed lost in a deep, sweet
reverie.

At this very time, a little boat, rowed silently by two oarsmen,
touched shore on the other side of the island.  It had become quite
dark.  A little man first landed cautiously, and respectfully offered
his hand to another individual, who, scorning that feeble support,
leapt easily ashore.

"Well, knave," he cried, "are my looks to your taste?"

"Your lordship is perfect."

"I flatter myself I am.  It is true that, in order to make the
transformation complete, I chose the very oldest coat that displayed
its rags in a Jew's shop."

"Your lordship looks like a heathen god engaged in a love affair.
Jupiter has sheathed his thunderbolts and Apollo has pocketed his
rays."

"A truce to your mythology.  And, to begin with, I forbid you to call
me 'your lordship.'"

"Yes, your lordship."

"If my information that I have procured during the day is correct,
the house must be on the other side of the island, in a most remote
and lonely spot.  Walk at a certain distance, and do not trouble
yourself about me, for I know my part by heart."

The young Prince of Brancaleone, whom, in spite of the darkness of
the night, our readers will already have recognised, advanced towards
the fisherman's house, with as little noise as possible, walked up
and down several times upon the shore, and, after having briefly
reconnoitred the place that he wished to attack, waited quietly for
the moon to rise and light up the scene that he had prepared.  He was
not obliged to exercise his patience very long, for the darkness
gradually disappeared, and Solomon's little house was bathed in
silvery light.  Then he approached with timid steps, lifted towards
the casement a look of entreaty, and began to sigh with all the power

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