“YOU are not alone, Monsieur Lucien,” said the bandit.
“Do not let that disturb you, Orlandi. This gentleman is a friend of mine, who has heard me speak of you, and wished to pay you a visit. I could not think of refusing him that pleasure.”
“Monsieur is welcome to the country,” said the bandit, bowing as he advanced towards us.
I returned his salute with the most punctilious politeness.
“You must have been waiting here some time,” continued Orlandi.
“Yes, about twenty minutes.”
“Quite so. I heard Diamond howling at Mucchio, and he has been with me quite a quarter of an hour since then; he is a good and faithful dog, is he not, Monsieur Lucien?”
“Yes, indeed he is, Orlandi,” replied Lucien, as he patted the animal.
“But,” said I, “since you knew that Monsieur Lucien was here, why did you not come sooner?”
“Because our appointment was for nine o’clock,” said the bandit, “and it is just as unpunctual to be a quarter of an hour too soon as to arrive a quarter of an hour too late.”
“That is meant for a hit at me, Orlandi,” said Lucien, laughing.
“No, sir; you no doubt have your reasons; besides you have a companion, and it is likely on his account you may have started earlier, for I know your punctual habits, Monsieur Lucien, and I know also that you have been good enough to put yourself to inconvenience on my account frequently.”
“Oh, do not say anything about that, Orlandi; this will probably be the last time.”
“Have we not some few words to exchange upon that subject, Monsieur Lucien,” said the bandit.
“Yes, if you will have the goodness to follow me.”
“I am at your orders.”
Lucien turned towards me, and said:
“Will you excuse me a moment?”
“Of course;” I replied.
The men then went away together, and ascending the breach through which Orlandi had appeared halted at the top of it, their figures standing out in strong relief in the moonlight.
Then I was able to take more particular note of this Orlandi. He was a tall man, who had fashioned his beard in exactly the same manner as young de Franchi, and was clothed like him; but his dress showed traces of more frequent contact with the bushes through which he was obliged to fly, and of the earth upon which he was obliged to lie, than did those of Lucien.
I could not hear what the men were talking about, and had I heard it I could not have understood it, as they spoke in the Corsican dialect.
But I was enabled to perceive by their gestures that the bandit was refuting with some heat a series of arguments which the young man was setting forth with an impartiality that did him honour.
At length the gestures of the Orlandi became less frequent and more energetic. His voice became subdued, and he at last bowed his head and held out his hand to the young man.
I concluded the conference was now over, and the men descended together towards me.
“My dear, sir,” said Lucien, “Orlandi wishes to shake you by the hand, and to thank you.”
“And for what?” I said.
“For being so good as to be one of his sponsors. I have answered for you!”
“If you have answered for me I will readily accept, without even asking what is in question.”
I extended my hand to the bandit, who did me the honour to touch it with the tips of his fingers.
“You will now be able to tell my brother that all has been arranged according to his wishes,” said Lucien, “and that you have signed the contract.”
“Is there, then, a marriage about to take place?”
“No, not yet; but perhaps there may be shortly.”
A disdainful smile passed over the bandit’s face as he replied,
“We have made peace, Monsieur Lucien, because you wished it; but marriage is not included in the compact.”
“No,” replied Lucien, “it is only written in the future amongst the probabilities; but let us talk of something else. Did you not hear anything while I was talking with Orlandi?” he said, turning to me.
“Of what you were saying, do you mean?”
“No, but what you might have thought was a pheasant close by?”
“Well, I fancied I did hear a bird crow, but I thought I must have been mistaken!”
“No, you were not mistaken, there is a cock perched in the great chestnut tree you saw about a hundred paces from here. I heard him just now as I was passing.”
“Well, then,” said Lucien, “we must eat him tomorrow.”
“He would have already been laid low,” said Orlandi, “if I had not thought that in the village they would believe I was shooting at something besides a pheasant.”
“I have provided against that,” said Lucien. “By-the-by,” he added, turning to me and throwing on his shoulder the gun he had already unslung, “the shot by courtesy belongs to you.”
“One moment,” I said. “I am not so sure of my aim as you, and I will be quite content to do my part in eating the bird. So do you fire.”
“I suppose you are not so used to shooting at night as we are,” replied Lucien, “and you would probably fire too low. But if you have nothing particular to do to-morrow you can come and take your revenge.”