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Chapter 3

THE FATAL BRIDAL.


Pascal was not deceived in his conjectures: the countess, afraid of some attempt on the part of Bruno, had hurried on the marriage three days before the appointed time without informing Teresa of her interview with her old lover; and the young people had selected the chapel of St. Rosalie, the patroness of Palermo, for the celebration of the ceremony.

This was another of the characteristics of Palermo, that city of love; it had placed itself under the protection of a young and pretty saint! Thus, St. Rosalie was at Palermo what St. Januarius is at Naples, the omnipotent distributor of the blessings of heaven; but superior to St. Januarius, as she was of a royal French race, being descended from Charlemagne; this was proved by her genealogical tree, painted above the door on the exterior of the chapel; a tree whose trunk issues from the breast of the conqueror of Vitikind, and after dividing into many branches, it reunites at the summit to give birth to the Prince of Sinebaldo, the father of St. Rosalie; but her noble birth, the riches of her house and her own beauty had no effect on the young princess; at the age of eighteen she quitted the court, and, bent upon living a life of contemplation, she suddenly disappeared, and no one knew what had become of her; it was only after her death that she was found, as beautiful and perfect as if she still lived, in the grotto in which she had taken up her abode, and in the attitude in which she had fallen asleep. In after times, a chapel was erected over this grotto, and in this chapel Teresa and Gaetano were married.

The ceremony having concluded, the marriage procession returned to Palermo, where vehicles were in readiness to take the guests to the village of Carini, the princely fief from which Rodolpho took his title; there, by the care of the countess, a magnificent repast was prepared. The country people in the neighbourhood had been invited, and they had flocked to the feast from four or five leagues round. The tables were arranged on an esplanade, shaded by the foliage of green oaks and parasol-like firs, perfumed by orange and lemon trees, and surrounded by hedges of pomegranate and Indian fig-trees—a double blessing bestowed by Providence, who, providing for the hunger and thirst of the poor, has planted these fruitful trees like so much manna over the whole surface of Sicily.

This esplanade was reached by a road, the sides of which were planted with aloes, whose giant blossoms, seen from a distance, resembled the lances of Arab horsemen; while to the south, the view was bounded by the palace. Above the terrace, from which the chain of mountains rises that separate the island into three part—the eastern, northern, and western—at the extremity of these three valleys, the magnificent Sicilian sea was seen in three places; and, by its varying tints, it might have been taken for three distinct oceans; for, on account of the varied light produced by the sun just beginning to disappear in the horizon, on the side of Palermo it was an azure blue, round the Isoladette Donne it rolled its silvery waves, while it fell in golden streams against the rocks of St. Vito.

When the dessert was served, and while the guests were at the height of their joy, the gates of the château opened, and Gemma, leaning on the prince's arm, preceded by two servants carrying torches, and followed by a host of attendants, came down the marble staircase of the villa and went up to the esplanade. The peasants were about to rise, but the prince made a sign they should not disturb themselves; while Gemma and himself, having made the tour of the tables, stopped before the newly-married couple.

Then a domestic held out a golden cup, which Gaetano filled with Syracuse wine. The domestic then offered the cup to Gemma, and she uttered a prayer for the happiness of the bride and bridegroom, touched the wine with her beauteous lips, and offered it to the prince, who emptied it at a draught, and pouring into it a purseful of golden ducats, desired it to be given to Teresa, for whom it was a wedding gift. At the same instant, loud cries of "Long live the Prince of Carini! Long live the Countess of Castel Nuovo!" were heard; and at this moment the esplanade became illuminated as if by magic, and the noble visitors retired, leaving behind them, like a celestial vision, happiness and light.

They had scarcely re-entered the castle along with their suite before the music struck up, and the younger guests, leaving the table, proceeded to the place prepared for the dance. According to custom, Gaetano was about to open the ball with his bride, and for that purpose was advancing towards her, when a stranger, who had entered by the aloe walk, appeared on the esplanade—it was Pascal Bruno, in the Calabrian costume we have already described, excepting that he had a pair of pistols and a dagger at his girdle, and that his jacket, which was thrown over his right shoulder like that of a Hussar, exposed his shirt, stained with blood.

Teresa was the first who noticed him; she screamed, and fixing her terrified eyes upon him, remained pale and erect, as if she had seen a spectre; every one turned towards the new comer, and all were silent, anticipating some dreadful event.

Pascal Bruno went straight up to Teresa, and stopping before her, he folded his arms, and looked fixedly at her.

"Is it you, Pascal?" stammered Teresa.

"Yes, it is I," said Bruno, in a hoarse voice; "I heard at Bauso, where I was waiting for you, that you were about to be married at Carini, and I have come in time, I hope, to dance the first tarantella with you."

"It is the right of the bridegroom," observed Gaetano, going up to him and interfering.

"It is the right of the lover," replied Bruno. "Come, Teresa, I think it is the least you can do for me."

"Teresa is my wife," exclaimed Gaetano, extending his arm towards her.

"She is my betrothed," cried Pascal, taking her by the hand.

"Help! help!" exclaimed Teresa.

Gaetano seized Pascal by the collar, but at the same instant he uttered a loud cry and fell. Pascal's dagger was buried in his chest up to the hilt. The men appeared by their actions to be about to seize upon the murderer, who quietly drew a pistol from his waist and cocked it, then with the hand that held it, he made a sign to the musicians to play the tarantella; they obeyed mechanically, while all the guests remained motionless.

"Come, Teresa," said Bruno.

Teresa was no longer an accountable or conscious creature, but an automaton, whose actions were guided by fear—she mechanically obeyed, and the horrible dance, in the presence of the corpse of the murdered man, was danced to the last step.

At length the musicians stopped, and Teresa, as if the music alone had supported her, fell senseless on the body of Gaetano.

"Thanks, Teresa," said her partner, coldly, "that is all I wanted of thee," and then turning to the spectators, "and now, if any one desires to know my name, that he may find me elsewhere, I am called Pascal Bruno."

"Son of Antonio Bruno, whose head is placed in an iron cage at the château of Bauso?" asked one of the guests.

"Exactly so," answered Pascal; "but if you wish to see it, you must make haste, for I swear to you it shall not remain there much longer?"

At these words Pascal left, and no one felt inclined to follow him; besides, whether it arose from fear or interest, every one was engaged about Gaetano and Teresa; one was dead—the other mad!

The prince was not made acquainted with this terrible tragedy till the following morning, when every effort was made to capture the murderer, but in vain; he had escaped, no one knew how or whither.

The countess, in consequence of this dreadful event, became more alarmed than ever for her personal safety, particularly when she reflected that by her duplicity, in concealing from Teresa her extraordinary interview with Pascal, she herself had been the chief cause of the catastrophe.

The Sunday after this occurrence there was a fête at Bauso, and the whole village was full of life; there was drinking in every cabaret, and broaching of barrels at every corner; the streets were noisy and decorated with flags, and the chateau was thronged with people who had gathered together to see the young men fire at the target, an amusement much encouraged by King Ferdinand the Fourth during his forced sojourn in Sicily; and many of those who were, at the time we are speaking of, about to devote themselves to this exercise, had very recently, as followers of Cardinal Ruffo, had occasion to exhibit their skill against the patriots of Naples and the French republicans; but on this occasion it was merely a trial of skill, the prize being a silver cup.

The target was fixed immediately below the iron cage in which the head of Antonio Bruno was placed. The latter could only be reached by a flight of steps in the interior of the fortress, which led to a window, on the outside of which the cage was fixed.

The conditions of the shooting-match were simple enough: to become one of the candidates it was only necessary to subscribe to the common purse, for the purpose of defraying the expense of the cup—the charge was two carlins for each shot, for which the party received in exchange a number, drawn by chance, which fixed the order in which each man was to fire. The least skilful took as many as ten, twelve, or even fourteen numbers; and those who reckoned on their superior skill not more than five or six.

In the midst of the confusion of drawing the numbers, a hand was stretched out among the rest which threw down two carlins, and a voice was heard asking for a single number. Every one turned round, astonished at this evidence either of poverty or confidence. The man who asked for a single number was Pascal Bruno.

Although he had not been seen in the village for four years, every one knew him, but still no one addressed him; but as he was known to be the best hunter in the country, they were not astonished at his asking for one number only—his number was eleven.

At length the firing commenced. Every shot was greeted by shouts of laughter or applause; but after the first few shots the laughter was less violent. As to Pascal, he was leaning sad and pensively on his English rifle, and seemed to take no part in the enthusiasm and merriment of his countrymen. At length it was his turn; they called his name, he started and raised his head as if the call was unexpected; but recovering himself at once, he took up his position behind a cord that was stretched across as a kind of barrier. Every one anxiously followed the direction of his eyes, for none of the marksmen had excited so much interest or had been watched so silently.

Pascal himself seemed to feel the importance of the shot he was about to take, for he fixed himself firmly, his left leg in advance, and resting his body on his right. He placed his gun carefully to his shoulder, and, beginning from below, he slowly raised the barrel; every one watched him with anxiety, and they saw, with astonishment, that his aim was above the target; but he still continued to raise his rifle, until it was in the direction of the iron cage. Then the rifle and the marksman remained for an instant motionless, as if they had been formed of stone; at length he fired, and the head rolled out of the cage to the bottom of the target. Every one shuddered, but no sound was heard at this proof of address.

In the midst of this silence, Pascal Bruno walked coolly up to the target, picked up his father's head, and without uttering a word or looking once behind him, he took the cross road that led to the mountains.

The spectators saw Bruno depart without attempting to stop or follow him; in fact, they commiserated the fate of Antonio Bruno, who was much respected by his fellow-villagers, and appreciated this act of filial affection in the son.

Alexandre Dumas pere

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