It may well be imagined that the report of exploits like these were not confined to the little village of Bauso: it was the general theme of conversation among all classes. Nothing was talked of in all Sicily but the brave brigand who had taken possession of the Castel Nuovo, and who, from thence, like an eagle from his eyry, swooped down upon the plain, sometimes to attack the great, and at others to assist the weak: thus he was always on the popular side. Our readers will, therefore, not be astonished that our hero's name was heard pronounced at the palace of Prince Butera, who had given a splendid entertainment at his mansion, the Place de la Marine.
Knowing the character of this prince, we can easily guess what a fête must be when given by him. The one in question, however, exceeded in splendour the ideas of the most fertile imagination. It was like an Arabian Nights' dream, and the remembrance of it is perpetuated in Palermo, although Palermo is a fairy city, and is still celebrated for its unsurpassed magnificence.
Imagine the most splendid saloons lined with mirrors from the ceiling to the floor, some leading to trellised walks, from the summit of which the richest grapes of Syracuse and Lipari were hanging; others to ample square spaces, surrounded by beautiful orange and pomegranate trees, covered with blossoms and fruit at the same time: these spaces were devoted to dancing English and French dances. As to the waltzers, they wound their mazy career round two immense marble reservoirs, from each of which sprang up beautiful jets of water, which, from the reflection of many-coloured lamps, by which the whole was illuminated, fell like glittering showers of diamonds. From these delightful spots long alleys issued, sprinkled with golden-coloured sand, and leading to a little hill, surrounded with silver vessels, containing every refreshment that could be desired, and overhung by trees covered with crystal instead of natural fruits: finally, on the summit of this hill, and facing the paths that led to it, was a buffet in four divisions, constantly replenished by means of some internal mechanism. To render the whole more fairylike and enchanting, the musicians were invisible, and the sound alone of their instruments reached the ears of the guests. It might indeed have been supposed to be a fête given by the genii of the air.
At the same time, to animate these magical decorations, you must imagine the most beautiful women and the most elegant cavaliers of Palermo dressed in costumes each exceeding its neighbour in splendour and singularity—each with a mask on the face or in the hand, breathing the balmy air, intoxicated with the invisible harmony, and dreaming or talking of love; but even then, you would be far from drawing a picture of this night equal to that preserved in the memories of those that were present when I passed through Palermo thirty-two years after it took place.
Among the groups that wandered through the alleys and saloons, there was one beyond all others which attracted the attention of the crowds; it was that which followed in the train of the beautiful Countess Gemma, and which she drew after her as a planet does its satellites. She had but that instant entered, accompanied by five others, who, like herself, had assumed the costume of the thirteenth century—a dress so simple and elegant, and which, at the same time, appeared to be expressly chosen to set off the figure to advantage, and she advanced in the midst of a murmur of admiration, led by the Prince de Butera himself, who, disguised as a mandarin, received her at the entrance, and preceded her to present her, as he said, to the daughter of the Emperor of China.
As it was imagined that our Amphytrion intended some new surprise, they all followed the prince eagerly, and the cortège increased at every step it took.
He stopped at length at the entrance of a pagoda guarded by two Chinese soldiers, who, at a given signal, opened the door of an apartment entirely furnished with foreign objects, in the midst of which seated on a kind of chair, and dressed in a magnificent Chinese costume, which alone had cost thirty thousand francs, was the Princess de Butera, who rose as soon as she saw the countess approach, followed by a cloud of officers, mandarins, and attendants, each more dazzling, fierce-looking, or droll than his neighbour. This apparition had something so Eastern and fantastic in it, that the whole assemblage, accustomed as they were to luxury and magnificence, uttered an exclamation of astonishment. They surrounded the princess, touched her robe, embroidered with precious stones, shook the golden bells in her pointed hat, and for an instant the attention of the assembly was withdrawn from the beautiful Gemma and entirely centred in the lady of the house. Every one complimented and admired her, and among those who uttered the most exaggerated praise was Captain Altavilla, whom the prince had continued to receive at his dinner parties, to the great discomfiture of his major-domo, and who had dressed himself in full uniform for the purpose, it may be, of disguise.
"Well," said the Prince of Butera to the Countess of Castel Nuovo; "what do you think of the daughter of the Emperor of China?"
"I must say," replied Gemma, "that it is a happy thing for His Majesty, Ferdinand IV., that the Prince of Carini is at Messina at this moment, for he might be induced, with a heart like his, out of regard for the daughter, to give up Sicily to the father, and we should be obliged to have another Sicilian Vespers against the Chinese."
At this instant, the Duke of Moncada Paterno, in the dress of a Calabrian bandit, went up to the princess.
"Will her highness permit me," said the duke, "as a connoisseur, to examine her magnificent costume?"
"Sublime daughter of the sun," said Captain Alta-villa, pointing to the prince, "take care of your golden bells, for I warn you, that you have to do with Pascal Bruno."
"The princess," exclaimed a voice, "would be safer in the company of Pascal Bruno than in that of a certain follower of Cardinal Ruffo of my acquaintance; Pascal Bruno is a murderer, not a thief—a bandit, and not a cutpurse."
"Well answered," observed the Prince of Butera.
The captain bit his lips.
"By-the-by," said the Prince de la Cattolica, "have you heard of his last exploit?"
"Whose?" asked the Duke of Moncada.
"Pascal Bruno's," said the prince.
"No; what has he done?" asked the duke.
"He has stopped a convoy of money sent by the Prince of Carini to Palermo," replied the prince.
"My ransom!" exclaimed the duke.
"By heaven!" said the prince, "your excellency will, after all, be sacrificed to the infidels."
"Zounds! the king will surely not require me to have a second reckoning with him," replied Moncada.
"Let your excellency be reassured," said the voice which had just before addressed Altavilla; "Pascal Bruno only took three thousand ounces from the two hundred and fifty thousand piastres belonging to King Ferdinand IV."
"And how do you know that, my young Albanian?" said the Prince de la Cattolica, who was close by the speaker—a handsome young man, from twenty-six to twenty-eight years of age, and dressed in the costume of Vina.
"I have heard it reported," said the Greek, carelessly, and playing with his yataghan; "besides, if your excellency wishes for particulars, here is a person who can give them to you."
The party thus pointed out to public curiosity was no other than our old acquaintance, Paolo Tommassi, who, strict in the performance of his duty, had immediately on his arrival repaired to the Countess de Castel Nuovo's residence; but not finding her there, and hearing of the fete, he took advantage of his situation as envoy from the viceroy to enable him to gain admission to the gardens of the Duke de Butera.
In an instant he found himself in the centre of an immense circle and subjected to a thousand questions; but Paolo Tommassi was, as we have seen, a bold fellow, and was not easily put out of countenance: he, therefore, commenced by delivering the prince's letter to the countess.
"Prince," said Gemma, after having read the missive she had received, "you never suspected you were giving me a farewell fête; the viceroy orders me to proceed to Messina, and being a faithful subject, I shall begin my journey to-morrow. Thanks, my friend!" she continued, turning to Paolo Tommassi and handing him her purse; "you may now retire."
Tommassi endeavoured to take advantage of this permission of the countess, but he was too closely surrounded to make good his retreat easily; he was, consequently, obliged to surrender at discretion—the condition of his liberty being an exact account of his recent encounter with Pascal Bruno.
He related it, it must be acknowledged, with all the simplicity of real courage; he told his auditors, without any superfluous addition, how he had been made prisoner; how he was taken to the fortress of Castel Nuovo; how he fired at the bandit without the ball taking any effect; and how, finally, the latter sent him away, making him a present of a magnificent horse in exchange for that which he had lost.
Everybody listened to this tale, which bore the impress of truth, with the silent attention of belief, with the exception of Captain Altavilla, who raised some doubts as to the veracity of the honest brigadier; but, luckily for Paolo Tommassi, the Prince de Butera himself came to his assistance.
"I will lay a wager," he said, "that nothing can be more true than what the brigadier has told us, for all the details appear to me to be perfectly in accordance with the character of Pascal Bruno."
"You know him, then?" said the Prince de Moncada Paterno.
"I do. I was in his company one night," replied the Prince de Butera.
"And where was that?"
"On your estates."
It was now the prince's turn; he related how Pascal and he had met at the chesnut of a hundred horses; how he, the Prince of Butera, had offered him a company, which he had refused; and, finally, how he had lent him three hundred ounces of gold.
At this last information, Altavilla could not restrain his mirth.
"And you think, my lord," said he, "that Bruno will bring them baek?"
"I am certain of it," replied the prince.
"Now we are on this subject," interrupted the Princess of Butera, "is there any one else in this company who has seen Pascal Bruno, and who has spoken to him? I doat upon tales of brigands, they make me ready to die with fright."
"There is the Countess of Castel Nuovo," observed the Albanian; "she has seen him."
Gemma started, and every one looked at her as if to interrogate her.
"Can it be true?" said the prince, turning towards her.
"Yes," said Gemma, trembling; "but I had forgotten it."
"He remembers it," muttered the young man.
All the company pressed round the princess, who in vain endeavoured to make excuses; she in her turn was obliged to relate the scene with which we opened this tale to tell how Bruno entered her chamber; how the prince fired at him; and how the bandit, to avenge himself, entered the villa on the nuptial day and killed Teresa's husband. This history was the most terrible of all, and it produced a deep sensation in the minds of the listeners; something like a shudder ran through the whole assembly, and had it hot been for the dresses of the guests, you would hardly have thought you were present at a fête.
"On my honour," said Captain Altavilla, who was the first to break silence, "the greatest crime the bandit has committed is in rendering this fête so melancholy; I could have pardoned him all his other misdeeds; but for this I swear, by my epaulettes, I will have vengeance; and from this moment I devote myself to his pursuit."
"Do you speak seriously, Captain Altavilla?" said the Albanian.
"Yes, on my honour!" replied the captain; "and I here declare there is nothing I so much wish for as to meet him face to face."
"That is not impossible," observed the Albanian, coolly.
"To the man who will render me that service," said the captain, "I will give—"
"It is useless to offer a reward, captain," interrupted the young man; "I know a man who will render you that service for nothing."
"And when can I meet with this man?" repeated Altavilla, affecting a smile of doubt.
"If you will follow me, I will tell you," replied the stoical Albanian.
With these words the Albanian withdrew, as if he were inviting the captain to follow him.
The captain hesitated for au instant, but he had said too much to draw back; all eyes were turned upon him, and he saw that the least show of timidity would ruin his reputation; and besides, he considered the proposal was a joke.
"Come on," he cried, "for the honour of the ladies and he followed the Albanian.
"Do you know who that young lord disguised as a Greek is?" said the countess, with a trembling voice, and addressing the Prince de Butera.
"No, on my soul, I do not," said he. "Does any one here know him?"
Everybody looked, but no one answered.
"With your permission," said Paolo Tommassi, carrying his hand to his hat; "I know him."
"And who is he, my brave brigadier?"
"Pascal Bruno, my lord," replied Tommassi.
The countess screamed and fainted away; and this incident put a sudden end to the fête.
An hour afterwards, the Prince de Butera had retired to his chamber, and, seated in front of his desk, was arranging some papers, when his major-domo entered.
"What's the matter, Jacomo?" asked the prince.
"I always told you so, my lord," said the major-domo.
"Well, what have you always told me?" asked the prince.
"That your goodness would only encourage him," replied Jacomo.
"Who do you mean?" asked the prince.
"Captain Altavilla," replied Jacomo.
"What has he done?" asked the prince.
"What has he done, my lord?" said Jacomo. "First, your excellency' will recollect I apprised you of his regularly putting his silver cover in his pocket."
"Well, go on," said the prince.
"I beg your pardon," said Jacomo; "but your excellency answered, that so long as he only pocketed his own, nothing was to be said."
"I recollect I said so perfectly well," said the prince.
"Well, my lord," said Jacomo, "to-day, it seems that he has not only taken his own, but his neighbours' also, for there are eight missing."
"Ha! that's quite another affair," said the prince; "I must communicate with him on the matter."
He took a sheet of paper, and wrote the following note:—
"Prince Hercules de Butera has the honour of informing Captain Altavilla, that as he no longer dines at home, and being by this fortuitous circumstance deprived of the pleasure of seeing him as previously, he begs he will accept the trifle he sends herewith as a small indemnity for the change this determination must make in his arrangements."
"Stay," continued the prince, giving the major-domo fifty ounces (twenty-six pounds sterling), "take this money, and deliver it and the letter to-morrow to Captain Altavilla."
Jacomo, who knew it was no use speaking after the prince had decided, bowed and left the room. The prince continued quietly arranging his papers when, at the end of about ten minutes, hearing a noise at the door of his room, he raised his head, and saw a man dressed as a Calabrian peasant standing on the threshold, with his hat in one hand and a bundle in the other.
"Who is there?" said the prince.
"I, my lord," replied the peasant.
"And who are you?" asked the prince.
"Pascal Bruno," replied the visitor.
"And what do you come for?" asked the prince.
"First, my lord," said Pascal Bruno, advancing and emptying his hat full of gold on the desk; "first, I have brought you the three hundred ounces you so kindly lent me: they were employed for the purpose I mentioned to you—the inn that was burnt down has been rebuilt."
"Ah, ah! you are a man of your word," said the prince; "well, I am glad of it."
Pascal inclined his head.
"Then," he added, after a short pause, "I have brought you back eight silver covers, with your arms and cypher on them, which I found in the pocket of a certain captain who, most likely, robbed you of them."
"Zounds," said the prince, "it's singular they should be brought back by you; and now, what have you in that bundle?"
"In this bundle," said Bruno, "is the head of a wretch who abused your hospitality, and which I have brought you as a proof of my sworn devotion to your service."
Saying this, Pascal Bruno untied the handkerchief, and taking the head of Captain Altavilla by the hair, he placed it, all bleeding as it was, on the duke's desk.
"What the devil am I to do with such a present as this?" said the prince.
"What you please, my lord," replied Pascal Bruno, who bowed and left the room.
The Prince of Butera remained alone for an instant with his eyes fixed on the head, balancing himself in his arm-chair, and whistling his favourite tune; he then, after an instant, rang the bell, and his major-domo made his appearance.
"Jacomo," said the prince, "it is of no use going to Captain Altavilla's to-morrow morning; tear up the letter; keep the fifty ounces, and throw this carrion on the dung-heap."