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List Of Contents | Contents of Nisida, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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there to give himself up peaceably to the pleasure of fishing, for
which he had at all times had a particular predilection (a proof
appeared among the documents of the case that the prince had
regularly been present every other year at the tunny-fishing on his
property at Palermo); that when once he was thus hidden in the
island, Gabriel might have recognised him, having gone with his
sister to the procession, a few days before, and had, no doubt,
planned to murder him.  On the day before the night of the crime, the
absence of Gabriel and the discomposure of his father and sister had
been remarked.  Towards evening the prince had dismissed his servant,
and gone out alone, as his custom was, to walk by the seashore.
Surprised by the storm and not knowing the byways of the island, he
had wandered round the fisherman's house, seeking a shelter; then
Gabriel, encouraged by the darkness and by the noise of the tempest,
which seemed likely to cover the cries of his victim, had, after
prolonged hesitation, resolved to commit his crime, and having fired
two shots at the unfortunate young man without succeeding in wounding
him, had put an end to him by blows of the axe; lastly, at the moment
when, with Solomon's assistance, he was about to throw the body into
the sea, the prince's servants having appeared, they had gone up to
the girl's room, and, inventing their absurd tale, had cast
themselves on their knees before the Virgin, in order to mislead the
authorities.  All the circumstances that poor Solomon cited in his
son's favour turned against him: the ladder at Nisida's window
belonged to the fisherman; the dagger which young Brancaleone always
carried upon him to defend himself had evidently been taken from him
after his death, and Gabriel had hastened to break it, so as to
destroy, to the best of his power, the traces of his crime.
Bastiano's evidence did not receive a minute's consideration: he, to
destroy the idea of premeditation, declared that the young fisherman
had left him only at the moment when the storm broke over the island;
but, in the first place, the young diver was known to be Gabriel's
most devoted friend and his sister's warmest admirer, and, in the
second, he had been seen to land at Torre during the same hour in
which he had affirmed that he was near to Nisida.  As for the
prince's passion for the poor peasant girl, the magistrates simply
shrugged their shoulders at the ridiculous assertion of that, and
especially at the young girl's alleged resistance and the extreme
measures to which the prince was supposed to have resorted to conquer
the virtue of Nisida.  Eligi of Brancaleone was so young, so
handsome, so seductive, and at the same time so cool amid his
successes, that he had never been suspected of violence, except in
getting rid of his mistresses.  Finally, an overwhelming and
unanswerable proof overthrew all the arguments for the defence: under
the fisherman's bed had been found a purse with the Brancaleone arms,
full of gold, the purse which, if our readers remember, the prince
had flung as a last insult at Gabriel's feet.

The old man did not lose heart at this fabric of lies; after the
pleadings of the advocates whose ruinous eloquence he had bought with
heavy gold, he defended his son himself, and put so much truth, so
much passion, and so many tears into his speech, that the whole
audience was moved, and three of the judges voted for an acquittal;
but the majority was against it, and the fatal verdict was
pronounced.

The news at once spread throughout the little island, and caused the
deepest dejection there.  The fishers who, at the first irruption of
force, had risen as one man to defend their comrade's cause, bowed
their heads without a murmur before the unquestioned authority of a
legal judgment.  Solomon received unflinchingly the stab that pierced
his heart.  No sigh escaped his breast; no tear came to his eyes; his
wound did not bleed.  Since his son's arrest he had sold all he
possessed in the world, even the little silver cross left by his wife
at her death, even the pearl necklace that flattered his fatherly
pride by losing its whiteness against his dear Nisida's throat; the
pieces of gold gained by the sale of these things he had sewn into
his coarse woollen cap, and had established himself in the city.  He
ate nothing but the bread thrown to him by the pity of passers-by,
and slept on the steps of churches or at the magistrates' door.

To estimate at its full value the heroic courage of this unhappy
father, one must take a general view of the whole extent of his
misfortune.  Overwhelmed by age and grief, he looked forward with
solemn calmness to the terrible moment which would bear his son, a
few days before him, to the grave.  His sharpest agony was the
thought of the shame that would envelop his family.  The first
scaffold erected in that gently mannered island would arise for
Gabriel, and that ignominious punishment tarnish the whole population
and imprint upon it the first brand of disgrace.  By a sad
transition, which yet comes so easily in the destiny of man, the poor
father grew to long for those moments of danger at which he had
formerly trembled, those moments in which his son might have died
nobly.  And now all was lost: a long life of work, of abnegation, and
of good deeds, a pure and stainless reputation that had extended
beyond the gulf into distant countries, and the traditional
admiration, rising almost to worship, of several generations; all
these things only served to deepen the pit into which the fisherman
had fallen, at one blow, from his kingly height.  Good fame, that
divine halo without which nothing here on earth is sacred, had
disappeared.  Men no longer dared to defend the poor wretch, they
pitied him.  His name would soon carry horror with it, and Nisida,
poor orphan, would be nothing to anyone but the sister of a man who
had been condemned to death.  Even Bastiano turned away his face and
wept.  Thus, when every respite was over, when poor Solomon's every
attempt had failed, people in the town who saw him smile strangely,
as though under the obsession of some fixed idea, said to one another
that the old man had lost his reason.

Gabriel saw his last day dawn, serenely and calmly.  His sleep had
been deep; he awoke full of unknown joy; a cheerful ray of sunlight,
falling through the loophole, wavered over the fine golden straw in
his cell; an autumn breeze playing around him, brought an agreeable
coolness to his brow, and stirred in his long hair.  The gaoler, who
while he had had him in his charge had always behaved humanely,
struck by his happy looks, hesitated to announce the priest's visit,
in fear of calling the poor prisoner from his dream.  Gabriel
received the news with pleasure; he conversed for two hours with the
good priest, and shed sweet tears on receiving the last absolution.
The priest left the prison with tears in his eyes, declaring aloud
that he had never in his life met with a more beautiful, pure,
resigned, and courageous spirit.

The fisherman was still under the influence of this consoling emotion
when his sister entered.  Since the day when she had been carried,
fainting, from the room where her brother had just been arrested, the
poor girl, sheltered under the roof of an aunt, and accusing herself
of all the evil that had befallen, had done nothing but weep at the
feet of her holy protectress.  Bowed by grief like a young lily
before the storm, she would spend whole hours, pale, motionless,
detached from earthly things, her tears flowing silently upon her
beautiful clasped hands.  When the moment came to go and embrace her
brother for the last time, Nisida arose with the courage of a saint.
She wiped away the traces of her tears, smoothed her beautiful black
hair, and put on her best white dress.  Poor child, she tried to hide
her grief by an angelic deception.  She had the strength to smile!
At the sight of her alarming pallor Gabriel felt his heart wrung, a
cloud passed over his eyes; he would have run to meet her, but, held
back by the chain which fettered him to a pillar of his prison,
stepped back sharply and stumbled. Nisida flew to her brother and
upheld him in her arms.  The young girl had understood him; she
assured him that she was well.  Fearing to remind him of his terrible
position, she spoke volubly of all manner of things--her aunt, the
weather, the Madonna.  Then she stopped suddenly, frightened at her
own words, frightened at her own silence; she fixed her burning gaze
upon her brother's brow as though to fascinate him.  Little by little
animation returned to her; a faint colour tinted her hollowed cheeks,
and Gabriel, deceived by the maiden's super human efforts, thought
her still beautiful, and thanked God in his heart for having spared
this tender creature.  Nisida, as though she had followed her
brother's secret thoughts, came close to him, pressed his hand with
an air of understanding, and murmured low in his ear, "Fortunately
our father has been away for two days; he sent me word that he would
be detained in town.  For us, it is different; we are young, we have
courage!"

The poor young girl was trembling like a leaf.

"What will become of you, my poor Nisida?"

"Bah!  I will pray to the Madonna.  Does she not watch over us?"  The
girl stopped, struck by the sound of her own words, which the
circumstances so cruelly contradicted.  But looking at her brother,
she went on in a low tone: "Assuredly she does watch over us.  She
appeared to me last night in a dream.  She held her child Jesus on
her arm, and looked at me with a mother's tenderness.  She wishes to
make saints of us, for she loves us; and to be a saint, you see,
Gabriel, one must suffer."

"Well, go and pray for me, my kind sister; go away from the view of
this sad place, which will eventually shake your firmness, and
perhaps mine.  Go; we shall see each other again in heaven above,
where our mother is waiting for us--our mother whom you have not
known, and to whom I shall often speak of you.  Farewell, my sister,

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