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The Corsican Bandit


The road, with a gentle winding, reached the middle of the forest. The
huge pine-trees spread above our heads a mournful-looking vault, and
gave forth a kind of long, sad wail, while at either side their
straight, slender trunks formed, as it were, an army of organ-pipes,
from which seemed to issue the low, monotonous music of the wind through
the tree-tops.

After three hours' walking there was an opening in this row of tangled
branches. Here and there an enormous pine-parasol, separated from the
others, opening like an immense umbrella, displayed its dome of dark
green; then, all of a sudden, we gained the boundary of the forest, some
hundreds of meters below the defile which leads into the wild valley of
Niolo.

On the two projecting heights which commanded a view of this pass, some
old trees, grotesquely twisted, seemed to have mounted with painful
efforts, like scouts who had started in advance of the multitude heaped
together in the rear. When we turned round we saw the entire forest
stretched beneath our feet, like a gigantic basin of verdure, whose
edges, which seemed to reach the sky, were composed of bare racks
shutting in on every side.

We resumed our walk, and, ten minutes later, we found ourselves in the
defile.

Then I beheld an astonishing landscape. Beyond another forest, a valley,
but a valley such as I had never seen before, a solitude of stone ten
leagues long, hollowed out between two high mountains, without a field
or a tree to be seen. This was the Niolo valley, the fatherland of
Corsican liberty, the inaccessible citadel, from which the invaders had
never been able to drive out the mountaineers.

My companion said to me: "It is here, that all our bandits have taken
refuge."

Ere long we were at the further end of this chasm, so wild, so
inconceivably beautiful.

Not a blade of grass, not a plant--nothing but granite. As far as our
eyes could reach we saw in front of us a desert of glittering stone,
heated like an oven by a burning sun which seemed to hang for that very
purpose right above the gorge. When we raised our eyes toward the crests
we stood dazzled and stupefied by what we saw. They looked red and
notched like festoons of coral, for all the summits are made of
porphyry; and the sky overhead seemed violet, lilac, discolored by the
vicinity of these strange mountains. Lower down the granite was of
scintillating gray, and under our feet it seemed rasped, pounded; we
were walking over shining powder. At our right, along a long and
irregular course, a tumultuous torrent ran with a continuous roar. And
we staggered along under this heat, in this light, in this burning,
arid, desolate valley cut by this ravine of turbulent water which seemed
to be ever hurrying onward, without being able to fertilize these rocks,
lost in this furnace which greedily drank it up without being penetrated
or refreshed by it.

But suddenly there was visible at our right a little wooden cross sunk
in a little heap of stones. A man had been killed there; and I said to
my companion:

"Tell me about your bandits."

He replied:

"I knew the most celebrated of them, the terrible St. Lucia. I will tell
you his history.

"His father was killed in a quarrel by a young man of the same district,
it is said; and St. Lucia was left alone with his sister. He was a weak
and timid youth, small, often ill, without any energy. He did not
proclaim the _vendetta_ against the assassin of his father. All his
relatives came to see him, and implored of him to take vengeance; he
remained deaf to their menaces and their supplications.

"Then, following the old Corsican custom, his sister, in her
indignation, carried away his black clothes, in order that he might not
wear mourning for a dead man who had not been avenged. He was insensible
to even this outrage, and rather than take down from the rack his
father's gun, which was still loaded, he shut himself up, not daring to
brave the looks of the young men of the district.

"He seemed to have even forgotten the crime, and he lived with his
sister in the obscurity of their dwelling.

"But, one day, the man who was suspected of having committed the murder
was about to get married. St. Lucia did not appear to be moved by this
news; but, no doubt out of sheer bravado, the bridegroom, on his way to
the church, passed before the two orphans' house.

"The brother and the sister, at their window, were eating little fried
cakes when the young man saw the bridal procession moving past the
house. Suddenly he began to tremble, rose up without uttering a word,
made the sign of the cross, took the gun which was hanging over the
fireplace, and went out.

"When he spoke of this later on, he said: 'I don't know what was the
matter with me; it was like fire in my blood; I felt that I should do
it, that in spite of everything, I could not resist, and I concealed the
gun in a cave on the road to Corte.'

"An hour later, he came back, with nothing in his hand, and with his
habitual sad air of weariness. His sister believed that there was
nothing further in his thoughts.

"But when night fell he disappeared.

"His enemy had, the same evening, to repair to Corte on foot,
accompanied by his two bridesmen.

"He was pursuing his way, singing as he went, when St. Lucia stood
before him, and looking straight in the murderer's face, exclaimed: 'Now
is the time!' and shot him point-blank in the chest.

"One of the bridesmen fled; the other stared at the young man, saying:

"'What have you done, St. Lucia?'

"Then he was going to hasten to Corte for help, but St. Lucia said in a
stern tone:

"'If you move another step, I'll shoot you through the legs.'

"The other, aware that till now he had always appeared timid, said to
him: 'You would not dare to do it!' and he was hurrying off when he
fell, instantaneously, his thigh shattered by a bullet.

"And St. Lucia, coming over to where he lay, said:

"'I am going to look at your wound; if it is not serious, I'll leave you
there; if it is mortal, I'll finish you off.'

"He inspected the wound, considered it mortal, and slowly re-loading his
gun, told the wounded man to say a prayer, and shot him through the
head.

"Next day he was in the mountains.

"And do you know what this St. Lucia did after this?

"All his family were arrested by the gendarmes. His uncle, the curé, who
was suspected of having incited him to this deed of vengeance, was
himself put into prison, and accused by the dead man's relatives. But he
escaped, took a gun in his turn, and went to join his nephew in the
cave.

"Next, St. Lucia killed, one after the other, his uncle's accusers, and
tore out their eyes to teach the others never to state what they had
seen with their eyes.

"He killed all the relatives, all the connections of his enemy's family.
He massacred during his life fourteen gendarmes, burned down the houses
of his adversaries, and was up to the day of his death the most terrible
of the bandits, whose memory we have preserved."

* * * * *

The sun disappeared behind Monte Cinto and the tall shadow of the
granite mountain went to sleep on the granite of the valley. We
quickened our pace in order to reach before night the little village of
Albertaccio, nothing better than a heap of stones welded beside the
stone flanks of a wild gorge. And I said as I thought of the bandit:

"What a terrible custom your _vendetta_ is!"

My companion answered with an air of resignation:

"What would you have? A man must do his duty!"

Guy de Maupassant


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