List Of Contents | Contents of Nisida, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

magnificent diamond-hilted sword.  On account of his rank he enjoyed
the rare distinction of carrying one of the six gilded staves that
supported the plumed and embroidered canopy.

As soon as the procession moved on again, Eligi of Brancaleone gave a
side glance to a little man as red as a lobster, who was walking
almost at his side, and carrying in his right hand, with all the
solemnity that he could muster, his excellency's hat.  He was a
footman in gold-laced livery, and we beg leave to give a brief sketch
of his history.  Trespolo was the child of poor but thieving parents,
and on that account was early left an orphan.  Being at leisure, he
studied life from an eminently social aspect.  If we are to believe a
certain ancient sage, we are all in the world to solve a problem: as
to Trespolo, he desired to live without doing anything; that was his
problem.  He was, in turn, a sacristan, a juggler, an apothecary's
assistant, and a cicerone, and he got tired of all these callings.
Begging was, to his mind, too hard work, and it was more trouble to
be a thief than to be an honest man.  Finally he decided in favour of
contemplative philosophy.  He had a passionate preference for the
horizontal position, and found the greatest pleasure in the world in
watching the shooting of stars.  Unfortunately, in the course of his
meditations this deserving man came near to dying of hunger; which
would have been a great pity, for he was beginning to accustom
himself not to eat anything.  But as he was predestined by nature to
play a small part in our story, God showed him grace for that time,
and sent to his assistance--not one of His angels, the rogue was not
worthy of that, but--one of Brancaleone's hunting dogs.  The noble
animal sniffed round the philosopher, and uttered a little charitable
growl that would have done credit to one of the brethren of Mount St.
Bernard.  The prince, who was returning in triumph from hunting, and
who, by good luck, had that day killed a bear and ruined a countess,
had an odd inclination to do a good deed.  He approached the plebeian
who was about to pass into the condition of a corpse, stirred the
thing with his foot, and seeing that there was still a little hope,
bade his people bring him along.

From that day onward, Trespolo saw the dream of his life nearly
realised.  Something rather above a footman and rather below a house
steward, he became the confidant of his master, who found his talents
most useful; for this Trespolo was as sharp as a demon and almost as
artful as a woman.  The prince, who, like an intelligent man as he
was, had divined that genius is naturally indolent, asked nothing of
him but advice; when tiresome people wanted thrashing, he saw to that
matter himself, and, indeed, he was the equal of any two at such
work.  As nothing in this lower world, however, is complete, Trespolo
had strange moments amid this life of delights; from time to time his
happiness was disturbed by panics that greatly diverted his master;
he would mutter incoherent words, stifle violent sighs, and lose his
appetite.  The root of the matter was that the poor fellow was afraid
of going to hell.  The matter was very simple: he was afraid of
everything; and, besides, it had often been preached to him that the
Devil never allowed a moment's rest to those who were ill-advised
enough to fall into his clutches.  Trespolo was in one of his good
moods of repentance, when the prince, after gazing on the young girl
with the fierce eagerness of a vulture about to swoop upon its prey,
turned to speak to his intimate adviser.  The poor servant understood
his master's abominable design, and not wishing to share the guilt of
a sacrilegious conversation, opened his eyes very wide and turned
them up to heaven in ecstatic contemplation.  The prince coughed,
stamped his foot, moved his sword so as to hit Trespolo's legs, but
could not get from him any sign of attention, so absorbed did he
appear in celestial thoughts.  Brancaleone would have liked to wring
his neck, but both his hands were occupied by the staff of the
canopy; and besides, the king was present.

At last they were drawing nearer to the church of St. Clara, where
the Neapolitan kings were buried, and where several princesses of the
blood, exchanging the crown for the veil, have gone to bury
themselves alive.  The nuns, novices, and abbess, hidden behind
shutters, were throwing flowers upon the procession.  A bunch fell at
the feet of the Prince of Brancaleone.

"Trespolo, pick up that nosegay," said the prince, so audibly that
his servant had no further excuse.  "It is from Sister Theresa," he
added, in a low voice; "constancy is only to be found, nowadays, in a

Trespolo picked up the nosegay and came towards his master, looking
like a man who was being strangled.

"Who is that girl?" the latter asked him shortly.

"Which one?" stammered the servant.

"Forsooth!  The one walking in front of us."

"I don't know her, my lord."

"You must find out something about her before this evening."

"I shall have to go rather far afield."

"Then you do know her, you intolerable rascal!  I have half a mind to
have you hanged like a dog."

"For pity's sake, my lord, think of the salvation of your soul, of
your eternal life."

"I advise you to think of your temporal life.  What is her name?"

"She is called Nisida, and is the prettiest girl in the island that
she is named after.  She is innocence itself.  Her father is only a
poor fisherman, but I can assure your excellency that in his island
he is respected like a king."

"Indeed!" replied the prince, with an ironical smile.  "I must own,
to my great shame, that I have never visited the little island of
Nisida.  You will have a boat ready for me to-morrow, and then we
will see."

He interrupted himself suddenly, for the king was looking at him; and
calling up the most sonorous bass notes that he could find in the
depths of his throat, he continued with an inspired air, "Genitori
genitoque laus et jubilatio."

"Amen," replied the serving-man in a ringing voice.

Nisida, the beloved daughter of Solomon, the fisherman, was, as we
have said, the loveliest flower of the island from which she derived
her name.  That island is the most charming spot, the most delicious
nook with which we are acquainted; it is a basket of greenery set
delicately amid the pure and transparent waters of the gulf, a hill
wooded with orange trees and oleanders, and crowned at the summit by
a marble castle.  All around extends the fairy-like prospect of that
immense amphitheatre, one of the mightiest wonders of creation.
There lies Naples, the voluptuous syren, reclining carelessly on the
seashore; there, Portici, Castellamare, and Sorrento, the very names
of which awaken in the imagination a thousand thoughts of poetry and
love; there are Pausilippo, Baiae, Puozzoli, and those vast plains,
where the ancients fancied their Elysium, sacred solitudes which one
might suppose peopled by the men of former days, where the earth
echoes under foot like an empty grave, and the air has unknown sounds
and strange melodies.

Solomon's hut stood in that part of the island which, turning its
back to the capital, beholds afar the blue crests of Capri.  Nothing
could be simpler or brighter.  The brick walls were hung with ivy
greener than emeralds, and enamelled with white bell-flowers; on the
ground floor was a fairly spacious apartment, in which the men slept
and the family took their meals; on the floor above was Nisida's
little maidenly room, full of coolness, shadows, and mystery, and
lighted by a single casement that looked over the gulf; above this
room was a terrace of the Italian kind, the four pillars of which
were wreathed with vine branches, while its vine-clad arbour and wide
parapet were overgrown with moss and wild flowers.  A little hedge
of hawthorn, which had been respected for ages, made a kind of
rampart around the fisherman's premises, and defended his house
better than deep moats and castellated walls could have done.  The
boldest roisterers of the place would have preferred to fight before
the parsonage and in the precincts of the church rather than in front
of Solomon's little enclosure.  Otherwise, this was the meeting place
of the whole island.  Every evening, precisely at the same hour, the
good women of the neighbourhood came to knit their woollen caps and
tell the news.  Groups of little children, naked, brown, and as
mischievous as little imps, sported about, rolling on the grass and
throwing handfuls of sand into the other's eyes, heedless of the risk
of blinding, while their mothers were engrossed in that grave gossip
which marks the dwellers in villages.  These gatherings occurred
daily before the fisherman's house; they formed a tacit and almost
involuntary homage, consecrated by custom, and of which no one had
ever taken special account; the envy that rules in small communities
would soon have suppressed them.  The influence which old Solomon had
over his equals had grown so simply and naturally, that no one found
any fault with it, and it had only attracted notice when everyone was
benefiting by it, like those fine trees whose growth is only observed
when we profit by their shade.  If any dispute arose in the island,
the two opponents preferred to abide by the judgment of the fisherman
instead of going before the court; he was fortunate enough or clever
enough to send away both parties satisfied.  He knew what remedies to
prescribe better than any physician, for it seldom happened that he
or his had not felt the same ailments, and his knowledge, founded on
personal experience, produced the most excellent results.  Moreover,
he had no interest, as ordinary doctors have, in prolonging
illnesses.  For many years past the only formality recognised as a
guarantee for the inviolability of a contract had been the
intervention of the fisherman.  Each party shook hands with Solomon,
and the thing was done.  They would rather have thrown themselves
into Vesuvius at the moment of its most violent eruption than have

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: