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List Of Contents | Contents of Nisida, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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until we meet again!"

And he kissed her on the forehead.

The young girl called up all her strength into her heart for this
supreme moment; she walked with a firm step; having reached the
threshold, she turned round and waved him a farewell, preventing
herself by a nervous contraction from bursting into tears, but as
soon as she was in the corridor, a sob broke from her bosom, and
Gabriel, who heard it echo from the vaulted roof, thought that his
heart would break.

Then he threw himself on his knees, and, lifting his hands to heaven,
cried, "I have finished suffering; I have nothing more that holds me
to life.  I thank Thee, my God!  Thou hast kept my father away, and
hast been willing to spare the poor old man a grief that would have
been beyond his strength."

It was at the hour of noon, after having exhausted every possible
means, poured out his gold to the last piece, and embraced the knees
of the lowest serving man, that Solomon the fisherman took his way to
his son's prison.  His brow was so woebegone that the guards drew
back, seized with pity, and the gaoler wept as he closed the door of
the cell upon him.  The old man remained some moments without
advancing a step, absorbed in contemplation of his son.  By the tawny
gleam of his eye might be divined that the soul of the man was moved
at that instant by some dark project.  He seemed nevertheless struck
by the-beauty of Gabriel's face.  Three months in prison had restored
to his skin the whiteness that the sun had turned brown; his fine
dark hair fell in curls around his neck, his eyes rested on his
father with a liquid and brilliant gaze.  Never had this head been so
beautiful as now, when it was to fall.

"Alas, my poor son!" said the old man, "there is no hope left; you
must die."

"I know it," answered Gabriel in a tone of tender reproach, "and it
is not that which most afflicts me at this moment.  But you, too, why
do you wish to give me pain, at your age?  Why did you not stay in
the town?"

"In the town," the old man returned, "they have no pity; I cast
myself at the king's feet, at everybody's feet; there is no pardon,
no mercy for us."

"Well, in God's name, what is death to me?  I meet it daily on the
sea.  My greatest, my only torment is the pain that they are causing
you."

"And I, do you think, my Gabriel, that I only suffer in seeing you
die?  Oh, it is but a parting for a few days; I shall soon go to join
you.  But a darker sorrow weighs upon me.  I am strong, I am a man".
He stopped, fearing that he had said too much; then drawing near to
his son, he said in a tearful voice, "Forgive me, my Gabriel; I am
the cause of your death. I ought to have killed the prince with my
own hand.  In our country, children and old men are not condemned to
death.  I am over eighty years old; I should have been pardoned; they
told me that when, with tears, I asked pardon for you; once more,
forgive me, Gabriel; I thought my daughter was dead; I thought of
nothing else; and besides, I did not know the law."

"Father, father!" cried Gabriel, touched, "what are you saying?  I
would have given my life a thousand times over to purchase one day of
yours.  Since you are strong enough to be present at my last hour,
fear not; you will not see me turn pale; your son will be worthy of
you."

"And he is to die, to die!" cried Solomon, striking his forehead in
despair, and casting on the walls of the dungeon a look of fire that
would fain have pierced them.

"I am resigned, father," said Gabriel gently; did not Christ ascend
the cross?"

"Yes," murmured the old man in a muffled voice, "but He did not leave
behind a sister dishonoured by His death."

These words, which escaped the old fisherman in spite of himself,
threw a sudden and terrible light into the soul of Gabriel.  For the
first time he perceived all the infamous manner of his death: the
shameless populace crowding round the scaffold, the hateful hand of
the executioner taking him by the Hair, and the drops of his blood
besprinkling the white raiment of his sister and covering her with
shame.

"Oh, if I could get a weapon!" cried Gabriel, his haggard eyes
roaming around.

"It is not the weapon that is lacking," answered Solomon, carrying
his hand to the hilt of a dagger that he had hidden in his breast.

"Then kill me, father," said Gabriel in a low tone, but with an
irresistible accent of persuasion and entreaty; "oh yes, I confess it
now, the executioner's hand frightens me.  My Nisida, my poor Nisida,
I have seen her; she was here just now, as beautiful and as pale as
the Madonna Dolorosa; she smiled to hide from me her sufferings.  She
was happy, poor girl, because she believed you away.  Oh, how sweet
it will be to me to die by your hand!  You gave me life; take it
back, father, since God will have it so.  And Nisida will be saved.
Oh, do not hesitate!  It would be a cowardice on the part of both of
us; she is my sister, she is your daughter."

And seeing that his powerful will had subjugated the old man, he
said, "Help! help, father!" and offered his breast to the blow.  The
poor father lifted his hand to strike; but a mortal convulsion ran
through all his limbs; he fell into his son's arms, and both burst
into tears.

"Poor father!" said Gabriel.  "I ought to have foreseen that.  Give
me that dagger and turn away; I am young and my arm will not
tremble."

"Oh no !" returned Solomon solemnly, "no, my son, for then you would
be a suicide!  Let your soul ascend to heaven pure!  God will give me
His strength.  Moreover, we have time yet."

And a last ray of hope shone in the eyes of the fisherman.

Then there passed in that dungeon one of those scenes that words can
never reproduce.  The poor father sat down on the straw at his son's
side and laid his head gently upon his knees.  He smiled to him
through his tears, as one smiles to a sick child; he passed his hand
slowly through the silky curls of his hair, and asked him countless
questions, intermingled with caresses.  In order to give him a
distaste for this world he kept on talking to him of the other.
Then, with a sudden change, he questioned him minutely about all
sorts of past matters.  Sometimes he stopped in alarm, and counted
the beatings of his heart, which were  hurriedly marking the passage
of time.

"Tell me everything, my child; have you any desire, any wish that
could be satisfied before you die?  Are you leaving any woman whom
you loved secretly?  Everything we have left shall be hers."

"I regret nothing on earth but you and my sister.  You are the only
persons whom I have loved since my mother's death."

"Well, be comforted.  Your sister will be saved."

"Oh, yes!  I shall die happy."

"Do you forgive our enemies?"

"With all the strength of my heart.  I pray God to have mercy on the
witnesses who accused me.  May He forgive me my sins!"

"How old is it that you will soon be?" the old man asked suddenly,
for his reason was beginning to totter, and his memory had failed
him.

"I was twenty-five on All Hallows' Day."

"True; it was a sad day, this year; you were in prison."

"Do you remember how, five years ago, on that same day I got the
prize in the regatta at Venice?"

"Tell me about that, my child."

And he listened, his neck stretched forward, his mouth half open, his
hands in his son's.  A sound of steps came in from the corridor, and
a dull knock was struck upon the door.  It was the fatal hour.  The
poor father had forgotten it.

The priests had already begun to sing the death hymn; the executioner
was ready, the procession had set out, when Solomon the fisherman
appeared suddenly on the threshold of the prison, his eyes aflame and
his brow radiant with the halo of the patriarchs.  The old man drew
himself up to his full height, and raising in one hand the reddened
knife, said in a sublime voice, "The sacrifice is fulfilled.  God did
not send His angel to stay the hand of Abraham."

The crowd carried him in triumph!

[The details of this case are recorded in the archives of the
Criminal Court at Naples.  We have changed nothing in the age or
position of the persons who appear in this narrative.  One of the
most celebrated advocates at the Neapolitan bar secured the acquittal
of the old man.]






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