GRIFFO was in attendance when we arrived, and before his master said a word the servant had taken the pheasant from Lucien’s pocket. The valet had heard and had understood the object of the shot.
Madame de Franchi had not yet retired to rest, although she had gone upstairs, and she had left a message with Griffo to request her son to go into her room before she went to bed.
The young man first inquiring whether I was in want of anything, and on my reply in the negative, begged to be excused, to wait upon his mother.
Of course I acknowledged the politeness, and leaving him, went up to my own room.
I entered it with a certain feeling of self congratulation. I was pleased that I had divined the character of Louis, as I had found out Lucien’s.
I undressed deliberately, and having taken down a volume of Victor Hugo’s works, I lay down and enjoyed myself thoroughly with Les Orientales.
For the hundredth time I came upon Le Feu du ciel, and re-read it once more. I was fully occupied thus, when I fancied I heard a step upon the staircase, which stopped at my door. I suspected that my host had paused outside, wishing to bid me good-night, but scarcely liking to venture in for fear I should be asleep; so I cried out “Come in,” and put my book upon the table.
In fact, as I spoke the door opened, and Lucien appeared.
“I trust you will excuse me,” he said; “but it seems to me that I have been somewhat rude this evening, and I did not like to retire without making my excuses to you. So I have come to make the amende honorable—and as I daresay you have a number of questions to ask I am quite at your disposal.”
“A thousand thanks,” I replied; “but, thanks to your good nature, I am already well informed upon most topics concerning which I desired information, and there only remains one question, which I have made up my mind not to ask.”
“Because it would appear too impertinent. However, if you remain here I confess I cannot answer for myself. I give you fair warning!”
“Well, then, go on. Curiosity unsatisfied is an uncomfortable companion, and awakens all kinds of suppositions; and two, at least, out of every three guesses concerning a fact are sure to be quite wide of the mark, and more likely to prejudice the object than to arrive at the truth concerning it.”
“Well, you may rest easy. My worst suspicions concerning you lead me to regard you as a sorcerer!”
The young man laughed loudly.
“The devil! You have inoculated me with some of your curiosity: tell me why, I entreat you—speak out!”
“Well, then, you have had the kindness to clear up many things which were before obscure to me; but one thing you did not touch upon. You have shown me your beautiful weapons, which I should like to examine again before my departure.”
“Granted. That’s one reason.”
“You have explained to me the inscriptions upon the carbines.”
“That’s another reason.”
“You have made it clear to me that, thanks to the phenomenon of your birth, you always experience—although far away from him, the same sensations that agitate your brother, and no doubt he feels equally your troubles.”
“That is a third reason for your belief in my sorcery!”
“Yes, but Madame de Franchi, when referring to the sadness you lately have experienced, and which leads you to think that some misfortune threatens your brother, asked you if you were sure he were not dead, and you replied ‘No, for then I should have seen him.’ ”
“Yes, I remember I did say so.”
“Well, then, if such an explanation may be entrusted to a stranger, will you explain to me how this could happen?”
The young man’s face had assumed a very grave expression as I was speaking, and I hesitated to pronounce the last words.
He was silent for a moment after I ceased to speak, and I said—
“I am afraid that I have been too indiscreet; pray forget that I spoke on the subject at all.”
“No,” he replied, quietly; “no, but you are a man of the world, and as such inclined to be somewhat incredulous. So, you see, I am rather afraid you will treat as a superstition an old family tradition which has been handed down for centuries.”
“Listen,” I said. “I can declare one thing, and that is that no one is more easily convinced than I am on all questions of legendary or traditionary lore—and I am always ready to give credence to things regarded as impossible!”
“So you believe in ghosts?”
“Do you wish to hear me tell how I saw one?”
“Yes, that will encourage me.”
“My father died in 1807, when I was three and a-half years old. When the doctor announced his speedy death I was sent away to the house of an old cousin in the country.
“She had made up a bed for me opposite her own, to which I was sent at the usual time, and, notwithstanding the trouble hanging over me, I feel fast asleep.
“I was suddenly awakened by three violent blows upon the door of the chamber; I got out of bed and walked across the floor to open it.
“ ‘Where are you going?’ asked my cousin.
“She had herself been awakened by the noise, but could not overcome her terror, knowing very well that as the front door was fastened no one would be likely to come to the room in which we were sleeping.
“ ‘I am going to open the door to my father, who has come to bid me adieu,’ I replied.
“It was then she jumped out of bed and insisted upon my lying down again. I cried for a long time and very bitterly, saying, ‘Papa is at the door, and I want to see papa again before he goes away for ever.’ ”
“And has the apparition ever returned since?” asked Lucien.
“No, although I have often called upon it; but, perhaps, Providence permitted to the innocence and purity of the child what it declines to accord to the sinfulness of the man.”
“Well, then,” said Lucien smiling, “in our family we are more fortunate than you.”
“Then you are enabled to see your deceased parents?”
“Yes, always when any great event is about to happen or has been accomplished.”
“And to what do you attribute this privilege?”
“I will tell you the tradition that has been handed down. You remember that I told you that Savilia died leaving two sons.”
“Yes, I recollect.”
“Well, these children grew up concentrating on each other the affection they would have bestowed on other relatives had any been alive. They swore nothing should separate them, not even death, and after some incantation or other they wrote with their blood on two pieces of parchment, which they exchanged, the reciprocal oath that whichever died first should appear to the other at the moment of his own death, and, subsequently, at every important epoch of his brother’s life. Three months afterwards one of the two brothers was killed in an ambuscade at the moment when the survivor was sealing a letter addressed to him. Just as he was pressing the signet upon the burning wax he heard a sigh behind him, and, turning round, perceived his brother standing behind him, and touching his shoulder, although he felt no pressure from the hand. Then, by a mechanical movement, he held out the letter that was destined for his brother, the spirit took the letter and disappeared. On the night before the survivor’s death, the ghost appeared again.
“There is no doubt that the brothers not only made this engagement for themselves, but it applies also to their descendants, for spirits have appeared not only at the moment of the death of those who had passed away, but also on the eve of any great event in their lives.”
“And have you never seen any apparition?”
“No; but like my father, who, during the night preceding his death, was warned by his father that he was about to die, so I presume my brother and I inherit the privilege of our ancestors, not having done anything to forfeit it.”
“And is this privilege accorded to the males of the family only?”
“That is strange.”
“It is as I say.”
I looked at the young man as he was speaking to me. He was cool, calm, and grave, and I could not help repeating with Hamlet—
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
In Paris I should have thought that this young man was hoaxing me; but here in Corsica, in a little unknown village, one must look upon him either as a foolish person endeavouring to deceive one for his own purposes, or as a privileged being amongst other men.
“And now,” he said, after a long silence, “are you satisfied?”
“Yes, thank you,” I answered. “I appreciate your confidence, and will promise to keep your secret.”
“Oh, goodness,” he said, laughing, “there is no secret in the matter—the first peasant you meet would tell you all I have told you; I only hope that in Paris my brother has not boasted of this privilege, which would only cause men to laugh, and would frighten the ladies.”
So saying, he bade me good-night, and retired to his room.
Although fatigued, I was not able to sleep for some time, and when I did at last sleep I was restless.
I appeared to see in a confused manner in my dreams all the people with whom I had come in contact that day. It was only when day broke that I fell into a sound sleep, and was awakened by the striking of a clock, close to my bed, apparently.
I rang the bell, without rising, for my lazy predecessor had provided a bell-rope close at hand, the only one probably in the village.
Griffo immediately appeared, carrying some warm water; I saw that this valet had been well drilled.
Lucien, he said, had twice inquired whether I was awake, and had told him that if I did not ring before half-past nine he would call me.
It was now twenty-five minutes past nine, so it would not be long before he came.
He soon made his appearance, dressed very elegantly in French style, with a black frock coat and white trowsers.
He noticed that I looked at him with some surprise.
“I hope you are admiring my dress,” he said; “another proof that I am becoming civilized.”
“Yes, indeed,” I replied, “and I confess I am considerably astonished to find that you possess such a tailor in Ajaccio. I shall look quite the country bumpkin beside you.”
“I assure you my dress is quite Parisian, my dear friend. You see my brother and I being exactly the same height, he for a joke sent me a regular outfit, which I only wear on grand occasions, to receive the prefect, for instance, or when the commandant makes his departmental inspection; or, better still, when I receive a guest like yourself, and when that pleasure is combined with such important business as we are about to accomplish to-day.”
There was in this young man’s manner of speaking a polished irony, and good-nature withal, which at once set people at their ease, and never passed the bounds of perfect politeness.
I simply bowed in reply, while he carefully inducted his hands into a pair of kid gloves of Paris manufacture.
As now attired, he looked a thorough Parisian.
All this time I was dressing rapidly.
A quarter to ten struck.
“Come along,” said Lucien, “if you wish to see the play. I think it is time we took our seats, unless, indeed, you would rather have breakfast first, which appears to me only reasonable.”
“Thank you, I seldom eat before eleven or twelve, so I am ready to face both operations.”
“Come along, then.”
I took up my hat and followed him upstairs.