On the 1st of May, 1805, there was a high festival at Castel Nuovo: Pascal Bruno was in excellent humour, and gave a supper to one of his best friends, Placido Tomaselli, an honest dealer in contraband, belonging to the village of Gesso, and to two females the latter had brought with him from Messina. This delicate attention sensibly effected Bruno, and that he might not be behindhand in politeness with so provident a comrade, he determined to perform the honours of his domicile after the fashion of the best society. Accordingly, the finest wines of Sicily and Calabria were selected from the cellars of the fortress, the most noted cooks of Bauso were placed in requisition, and all that singular luxury was displayed to which at times it pleased the hero of our history to resort.
The guests had only just begun dinner when Ali brought Placido Tomaselli a letter, which a countryman from Gesso had placed in his hands. Placido read it, and crumbling it up in a violent passion, exclaimed—
"Upon my word he has chosen his time very nicely."
"What is it, comrade?" said Bruno.
"Perdition! why, a summons from Captain Luigi Cama, of Villa San Giovanni."
"What, our purveyor of rum?" asked Bruno.
"Yes," replied Placido; "he informs me he is off the shore, and has a full cargo which he wishes to dispose of before the custom-house officers hear of his arrival."
"Business before all things," replied Bruno. "I'll wait for you. I am in very good company, so make yourself easy; if you are not too long gone, you will find everything you leave, and more than you can take away."
"It is only an hour's work," replied Placido, appearing to yield to the reasoning of his host; "the beach is only about five hundred yards from this spot."
"And there is the whole night before us," observed Pascal.
"A good appetite, comrade," said Placido. "A successful expedition, master," said Bruno. Placido left the castle, and Bruno remained with the two women, and, as he had promised his guest, proceedings did not suffer by his absence. Bruno was amiable enough for any two, and the conversation began to assume the most animated character, when the door opened, and a new actor appeared on the scene. Pascal turned round and recognised the Maltese merchant we have already spoken of several times, of whom he was one of the best customers.
"By St. Gregory!" he exclaimed, "you are welcome; and the more so, if you haye brought any of those Turkish pastilles, a packet of Latakia tobacco, and a few Tunisian shawls; by-the-by, your opium acted admirably."
"I am glad of it," replied the Maltese; "but on this occasion, I have come on quite another business."
"Ah! you have come to sup with me, is that it?" asked Bruno. "Pray sit down, sit down, and once again you are welcome; there, that is a seat fit for a king."
"Your wine is excellent, I know, and these ladies are charming," replied the Maltese; "but I have something very important to speak to you about."
"To me?" asked Bruno.
"Yes, to you," replied the Maltese.
"Well go on," said Bruno.
"I must speak to you alone," said the Maltese.
"Well, then," said Bruno, "I'll hear you tomorrow, my worthy captain."
"But I must inform you immediately," said the Maltese.
"Well, then, speak before the company," said Bruno; "we have not too many here, and I make it a rule when I feel comfortable never to disturb myself, even if my life were at stake."
"That is the very subject I wish to allude to," said the Maltese.
"Bah!" replied Bruno; "heaven looks after honest men; here's to your health, captain."
The Maltese emptied his glass.
"That's right; now sit down and let me hear your sermon, we'll listen to you with proper attention."
The merchant perceived he must give in to the whim of his host, and he consequently obeyed him.
"Well, now then, what is it?" said Bruno.
"First, then," continued the Maltese, "you know that the justices of Calvaruso, Spadafora, Bauso, Saponara, Divito, and Domita have been arrested."
"I have heard something about it," said Pascal Bruno, carelessly, at the same time emptying his glass of Marsala, the best wine in Sicily.
"But do you know the cause of their arrest?" inquired the merchant.
"I guess at it," said Bruno; "is it not because the Prince of Carini, being in an extremely ill-humour on account of his mistress having retired to a convent, has taken it into his head that they have been too slow, and have shown too little skill in their attempts to arrest a certain Pascal Bruno, whose head is worth two thousand ducats?"
"Exactly so," said the merchant.
"You see," said Bruno, "I am quite aware of what is going on."
"Yet, for all that," said the Maltese, "there may be some circumstances of which you are still ignorant."
"God is great! as Ali says," replied Bruno; "but go on, and I will acknowledge my ignorance; I wish for nothing so much as instruction."
"Well," said the Maltese, "the six judges have met together, and each has put down twenty-five ounces—that makes one hundred and fifty ounces."
"Or, in other words," replied Bruno, in the same careless tone, "eighteen hundred and ninety livres. You see, if my books are not well regulated, it is not for want of arithmetic. Well, what next?"
"After that," continued the merchant, "they offered this sum to two or three men, known as your common associates, if they would assist them in capturing you."
"Let them offer it," said Bruno; "I am quite certain they will not meet with a traitor within ten leagues."
"You deceive yourself," answered the Maltese; "the traitor is found."
"Ha!" exclaimed Bruno, knitting his brow and grasping his dagger; "and how do you know that?"
"Why, my good fellow," said the merchant, "in the simplest way in the world; yesterday I was at the house of the Prince de Goto, governor of Messina, who sent for me for the purpose of purchasing some Turkish goods, when a servant entered the room and whispered a few words in his ear. 'Very well,' said the prince, 'let him come in.' He then made a sign to me to go into an adjoining room for a short time; I obeyed, and as he never suspected that I was acquainted with you, I overheard a conversation that concerned you."
"Well," said Bruno.
"It was the traitor," said the Maltese; "he undertook to open the doors of your fortress, and to place you in their hands unarmed while you were at sapper; and he himself engaged to conduct the gens-d'armes to your dining-room."
"And do you know who this man is?" demanded Bruno.
"Yes," said the merchant.
"His name?" said Bruno.
"Confusion!" exclaimed the bandit; "he was here but an instant ago."
"And has he left the castle?" inquired the merchant.
"Just before you came in," replied Bruno.
"Then," said the merchant, "he has gone after the police and the soldiers; for, as far as I can see, you were about to sit down to supper."
"You see I was," said Bruno.
"Then I am right; and if you wish to escape, you have not a minute to lose."
"I fly!" cried Bruno, laughing. "Ali! Ali!" and Ali entered the room.
"Close the gates of the castle, my lad, and turn three of my dogs loose in the court-yard, and send the fourth, Lionna, upstairs, and get the ammunition ready."
The women began to scream.
"My goddesses, you must be quiet," observed Bruno, with an imperative look; "we must have no singing here; silence, and instantly, if you please."
And the women were silent.
"Captain, you must keep these ladies company; for my part, I must go my rounds."
Bruno seized his carbine, buckled on his cartouche-box, and went towards the door; but as he was about to leave the room he stood still and listened.
"What is the matter?" said the Maltese.
"Do you not hear my dogs bark? The enemy is close at hand; they were not long behind you;—are they not fine beasts? Silence, my tigers!" continued Bruno, opening one of the windows and giving a peculiar whistle; "all right, all right, I am on my guard."
The dogs gave a low growl and were then silent.
The women and the Maltese trembled with terror, expecting something dreadful was about to happen, and at the same moment Ali entered the room with Pascal's favourite bitch, Lionna: the noble creature went straight up to her master, reared up on her hind legs, and placing her paws on his shoulders, she looked intelligently at him and gave a short bark.
"Yes, yes, Lionna, you are a fine beast," said Bruno, patting the dog fondly on the head; "come on, my beauty, come along."
And he went out, leaving the Maltese and the two women in the supper apartment.
Pascal went down into the court-yard, where he found the three dogs evincing great uneasiness, but without giving any indication that the danger was very pressing; he then opened the garden door and began to walk round its bounds. Suddenly Lionna stopped,' snuffed the air, and walked straight up to one part of the enclosure: as soon as she reached the wall, she reared up on her hind legs, as if she intended to scale it, grinding her teeth, and uttering a low growl, at the same time looking back at her master: Pascal Bruno was close behind her.
He was at once aware that an enemy was concealed, and that at no great distance, and recollecting that the window of the room in which Paoli Tomassi had been confined directly overlooked this spot, he ran quickly up stairs, followed by Lionna, who with open throat and fiery eyes seemed to guess her master's intention; and crossing the room in which the two women and the Maltese were anxiously awaiting the end of the adventure, she went into an adjoining chamber, in which there was no light and the window was open. She had scarcely entered when, crouching quietly on the ground, she crawled like a serpent towards the window, and when within a few feet of the casement, before Bruno could prevent her, she sprang through the opening like a panther, and alighted on the ground without injury, although the height was at least twenty feet.
Pascal was at the window nearly as soon as the dog; he saw her make three bounds towards an olive-tree, and then heard a cry of agony: Lionna had seized a man by the throat, who was concealed behind the tree.
"Help! help!" exclaimed a voice, which Pascal recognised as that of Placido. "Help, it is I! Call off your dog, or she will tear me to pieces."
"Hold him, Lionna!" exclaimed Bruno, "kill him, my good dog! Death to the traitor!"
Placido at once saw that Bruno had discovered all, and uttering a cry of pain and rage, a mortal combat ensued between the dog and the man. Bruno, resting on his carbine, calmly contemplated this singular duel by the uncertain light of the moon. He could perceive two bodies, whose forms were indistinct, struggling, rolling on the ground, and rising again, and seeming as if they were but one: for the space of ten minutes he heard their confused cries, but could not distinguish those of the dog from the man. At the end of that time a dreadful cry was heard, and one of them fell to rise no more—it was the man.
Bruno whistled to Lionna, again crossed the supper-room, without uttering a word, and went rapidly down stairs to open the door to his favourite bitch; but at the very instant she entered, bleeding from wounds inflicted with a knife, and even from the bites of her antagonist, he saw the musket-barrels of soldiers glittering in the rays of the moon, and advancing up the road that led from the village to the fortress. He at once barricaded the door, and again entered the room in which he had left his trembling guests. The Maltese was drinking, and the women saying their prayers.
"Well!" said the Maltese.
"Well, captain?" answered Bruno.
"What has become of Placido Tomaselli?" asked the merchant.
"His business is settled," replied Bruno; "but there is another legion of devils coming upon us."
"And what do you mean next to do?" asked the merchant.
"Kill as many as I can in the first instance," said Bruno.
"And then?" inquired the merchant.
"Fire the fortress," said Bruno, coolly, "and then—blow myself up along with the rest."
The women hearing this began to scream most lustily.
"Ali," said Pascal, "take these ladies into the vaults, and give them all they ask for except a candle, for fear they should set fire to the powder before the proper time."
The poor terrified creatures fell on their knees.
"Come, make haste!" cried Bruno, stamping his feet; "do as I order you."
And he uttered these words with such a look and accent, that the two girls rose and followed Ali without daring to utter another word of complaint.
"And now, captain," said Bruno, as soon as they were gone, "put out the lights, and get into some corner where the bullets cannot reach you; for the musicians have arrived and the ball is about to begin."