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List Of Contents | Contents of Nisida, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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little by little his manners became more familiar and affectionate.
At last the princess went away for a few days, regretting that she
could not take with her her dear child, as she called her.  Then the
prince's brutality knew no further barriers; he no longer concealed
his shameful plans of seduction; he spread before the poor girl's
eyes pearl necklaces and caskets of diamonds; he passed from the most
glowing passion to the blackest fury, from the humblest prayers to
the most horrible threats.  The poor child was shut up in a cellar
where there was hardly a gleam of daylight, and every morning a
frightful gaoler came and threw her a bit of black bread, repeating
with oaths that it only depended upon herself to alter all this by
becoming the prince's mistress.  This cruelty continued for two
years.  The princess had gone on a long journey, and my mother's poor
parents believed that their daughter was still happy with her
protectress.  On her return, having; no doubt fresh sins for which
she needed forgiveness, she took my mother from her dungeon, assumed
the liveliest indignation at this horrible treatment, about which she
appeared to have known nothing, wiped her tears, and by an abominable
refinement of perfidy received the thanks of the victim whom she was
about to sacrifice.

"One evening--I have just finished, my lord--the princess chose to sup
alone with her lady-in-waiting: the rarest fruits, the most exquisite
dishes, and the most delicate wines were served to my poor mother,
whose prolonged privations had injured her health and weakened her
reason; she gave way to a morbid gaiety.  Diabolical philtres were
poured into her cup; that is another tradition in your family.  My
mother felt uplifted, her eyes shone with feverish brilliance, her
cheeks were on fire.  Then the prince came in--oh! your excellency
will see that God protects the poor.  My darling mother, like a
frightened dove, sheltered herself in the bosom of the princess, who
pushed her away, laughing.  The poor distraught girl, trembling,
weeping, knelt down in the midst of that infamous room.  It was St.
Anne's Day; all at once the house shook, the walls cracked, cries of
distress rang out in the streets.  My mother was saved.  It was the
earthquake that destroyed half Naples.  You know all about it, my
lord, since your old palace is no longer habitable."

"What are you driving at?" cried Brancaleone in terrible agitation.

"Oh, I merely wish to persuade you that you must fight with me,"
answered the fisherman coldly, as he offered him a cartridge.  "And
now," he added, in an excited tone, "say your prayers, my lord; for I
warn you, you will die by my hand; justice must be done."

The prince carefully examined the powder and shot, made sure that his
rifle was in good condition; loaded it, and, eager to make an end,
took aim at the fisherman; but, either because he had been so much
disturbed by his opponent's terrible tale, or, because the grass was
wet from the storm, at the moment when he put forward his left foot
to steady his shot, he slipped, lost his balance and fell on one
knee.  He fired into the air.

"That does not count, my lord," cried Gabriel instantly, and handed
him a second charge.

At the noise of the report Solomon had appeared at the window, and,
understanding what was going on, had lifted his hands to heaven, in
order to address to God a dumb and fervent prayer.  Eligi uttered a
frightful inprecation, and hastily reloaded his rifle; but, struck by
the calm confidence of the young man, who stood motionless before
him, and by the old man, who, impassive and undisturbed, seemed to be
conjuring God in the name of a father's authority, disconcerted by
his fall, his knees shaking and his arm jarred, he felt the chills of
death running in his veins.  Attempting, nevertheless, to master his
emotion, he took aim a second time; the bullet whistled by the
fisherman's ear and buried itself in the stem of a poplar.

The prince, with the energy of despair, seized the barrel of his
weapon in both hands; but Gabriel was coming forward with his axe, a
terrible foe, and his first stroke carried away the butt of the
rifle.  He was still hesitating, however, to kill a defenceless man,
when two armed servants appeared at the end of the pathway.  Gabriel
did not see them coming; but at the moment when they would have
seized him by the shoulders, Solomon uttered a cry and rushed to his
son's assistance.

"Help, Numa! help, Bonaroux!  Death to the ruffians!  They want to
murder me."

"You lie, Prince of Brancaleone!" cried Gabriel, and with one blow of
the axe he cleft his skull.

The two bravoes who were coming to their master's assistance, when
they saw him fall, took flight; Solomon and his son went up to
Nisida's room.  The young girl had just shaken off her heavy slumber;
a slight perspiration moistened her brow, and she opened her eyes
slowly to the dawning day.

"Why are you looking at me in that way, father?" she said, her mind
still wandering a littler and she passed her hand over her forehead.

The old man embraced her tenderly.

"You have just passed through a great danger, my poor Nisida," said
he; "arise, and let us give thanks to the Madonna."

Then all three, kneeling before the sacred image of the Virgin, began
to recite litanies.  But at that very instant a noise of arms sounded
in the enclosure, the house was surrounded by soldiers, and a
lieutenant of gendarmes, seizing Gabriel, said in a loud voice, "In
the name of the law, I arrest you for the murder that you have just
committed upon the person of his excellency and illustrious lordship,
the Prince of Brancaleone."

Nisida, struck by these words, remained pale and motionless like a
marble statue kneeling on a tomb; Gabriel was already preparing to
make an unreasoning resistance, when a gesture from his father
stopped him.

"Signor tenente," said the old man, addressing himself to the
officer, "my son killed the prince in lawful defence, for the latter
had scaled our house and made his way in at night and with arms in
his hand.  The proofs are before your eyes.  Here is a ladder set up
against the window; and here," he proceeded, picking up the two
pieces of the broken blade, "is a dagger with the Brancaleone arms.
However, we do not refuse to follow you."

The last words of the fisherman were drowned by cries of "Down with
the sbirri!  down with the gendarmes!" which were repeated in every
direction.  The whole island was up in arms, and the fisher-folk
would have suffered themselves to be cut up to the last man before
allowing a single hair of Solomon or of his son to be touched; but
the old man appeared upon his threshold, and, stretching out his arm
with a calm and grave movement that quieted the anger of the crowd,
he said, "Thanks, my children; the law must be respected.  I shall be
able, alone, to defend the innocence of my son before the judges."

Hardly three months have elapsed since the day upon which we first
beheld the old fisherman of Nisida sitting before the door of his
dwelling, irradiated by all the happiness that he had succeeded in
creating around him, reigning like a king, on his throne of rock, and
blessing his two children, the most beautiful creatures in the
island.  Now the whole existence of this man, who was once so happy
and so much envied, is changed.  The smiling cottage, that hung over
the gulf like a swan over a transparent lake, is sad and desolate;
the little enclosure, with its hedges of lilac and hawthorn, where
joyous groups used to come and sit at the close of day, is silent and
deserted.  No human sound dares to trouble the mourning of this
saddened solitude.  Only towards evening the waves of the sea,
compassionating such great misfortunes, come to murmur plaintive
notes upon the beach.

Gabriel has been condemned.  The news of the high-born Prince of
Brancaleone's death, so young, so handsome, and so universally
adored, not only fluttered the aristocracy of Naples, but excited
profound indignation in all classes of people.  He was mourned by
everybody, and a unanimous cry for vengeance was raised against the
murderer.

The authorities opened the inquiry with alarming promptness.  The
magistrates whom their office called to judge this deplorable affair
displayed, however, the most irreproachable integrity.  No
consideration outside their duty, no deference due to so noble and
powerful a family, could shake the convictions of their conscience.
History has kept a record of this memorable trial; and has, no
reproach to make to men which does not apply equally to the
imperfection of human laws.  The appearance of things, that fatal
contradiction which the genius of evil so often here on earth gives
to truth, overwhelmed the poor fisherman with the most evident
proofs.

Trespolo, in whom fear had destroyed all scruples, being first
examined, as having been the young prince's confidant, declared with
cool impudence that, his master having shown a wish to escape for a
few days from the importunities of a young married lady whose passion
was beginning to tire him, had followed him to the island with three
or four of his most faithful servants, and that he himself had
adopted the disguise of a pilgrim, not wishing to betray his
excellency's incognito to the fisher-people, who would certainly have
tormented so powerful a person by all sorts of petitions.  Two local
watch men, who had happened to be on the hillside at the moment of
the crime, gave evidence that confirmed the valet's lengthy
statement; hidden by some under wood, they had seen Gabriel rush upon
the prince, and had distinctly heard the last words of the dying man;
calling "Murder!"  All the witnesses, even those summoned at the
request of the prisoner, made his case worse by their statements,
which they tried to make favourable.  Thus the court, with its usual
perspicacity and its infallible certainty, succeeded in establishing
the fact that Prince Eligi of Brancaleone, having taken a temporary
dislike to town life, had retired to the little island of Nisida,

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