Imágenes de páginas

heavy-many of them plated with silver-it is no small proof of manhood. Balzan seldom went to festas, but he had a particular reason for going to Zeitun now that he heard Andrea speak of Mar. garita's intention of being there on the morrow. He wished to see the maiden who had won his patron's heart, though with no kindly feeling, as he was jealous of one who might be the wife of Casha, and perhaps the mother of children, who would interfere with his beirship to the lost estate.

"Suffering himself to be persuaded with difficulty, that he might the better please his friend by consenting, be agreed to attend the festa, and, accordingly, at daybreak the two young men joined the procession to the church of St. Gregory. On their way Andrea pointed out the approach of a very pretty brunelte, whose dark eyes sparkled at the sight of the standard; up it went to the full length of the exulting lover's arms, and bravely did he wave it. Great was the crowd in the old church of St. Gregory, and of course there was a goodly gathering of the clergy. Priests and people shouted aloud • Misericordia !' not the less loudly that they knew not why. The origin of the festa, and the rationale of its ceremonies, are involved in the obscurity of ages. Mass was sung and said, and the last strain of the music had died away, and all this was before ten o'clock in the morning. Many were the carts, rude vehicles formed of rough baitens on a level with the shafts, which now rautled away with merry parties of country-people, their best mattresses spread beneath them. These were industrious folk, who, having been into the church for edification, and to the stalls outside for sweetmeats, considered the duties of the festa over, and that they might return to their labours with a clear conscience; but the greater portion of the assembly were differently disposed.

• Every bouse in Zeitun appeared crowded with visiters, and the whole country around was covered by knots of gaily-dressed per: sons; the reason of these little gatherings accounted for by the baskets in the midst of each party, and one among the many picnics belongs unto our story. Here were Domenico and Andrea, with the pretty Margarita seated between them, on the one side of a very white cloth, spread with very eatable viands, while on the opposite side sat the padre-uncle, supported by two slaid dames, the one an ancient widow, with whom Margarita had lived since the death of her parents, and the other no less important a person than the go. between, who, according to the custom of this country, had been em ployed by Andrea io negotiate his marriage with the object of bis allec: tions, Balzan was not a little mortified to find that matters had gone so far; but he wondered not that Margarita was beloved by his friend, for ere he quilled her presence a passion, fierce and uncontrollable, except that he was able to conceal it, had taken possession of his soul. Yes! he hid the secret in his own dark thoughts, and smiled upon the lovers. What chance of rivalry had a pennyless with a wealthy man, and what interest could he hope to excite in the breast of Margarita Abela, who that day had become the betrothed of Andrea Casha? Soon after the festa of St. Gregory the young farmer began to put his house in order for the reception of his bride, Balzan appearing to share in his patron's happiness, and fully to enter into all his arrangements; and ere a month had sped, the marriages day was fixed.

"Margarita would not be a portion less bride; she was, for Malta, a rich heiress, as she would bring her husband a fortune of ten thou. sand scudi-£834. Altogether the wedding was likely to make a great sensation n the neighbouring casals, and many were the preparations for the feast in honour of the occasion, which was to be spread in the house once belonging to the Balzans. Here Padre Giovanni, and Signora Fenechhe widow who was as a mother to the bride-bad, with their mutual charge, taken up a temporary abode.

« « The day after to-morrow, and you will be mine, Margarita !" sighed forth the ardent Casha as he took an early leave of his mistress on the eve of that envious intervening morrow, a day which was to be spent by the bride elect and Signora Fenech at Valetta in making the last wedding purchases.

'In spite of his having thus comforted himself with the proud ex: pectation of coming happiness, Andrea that evening on his return home felt himself much depressed in spirits-he knew not why. Balzan rallied him upon his unaccountable gloom.

““ What makes you look so melancholy ?" he asked his friend; "surely you ought to be the happiest man in Malta. Then, what a wedding yours will be! I have just been looking over the bill of fare for the feast: the servants say they have, or expect to have, everything that can be desired. No, by the by,"'-—here he paused a moment, "they have been asking me to procure them some rabbits :- do you remember when we were boys, the night we spent at Filfia, and the number we shot? I met tivo fishermen laden with shell-fish going to the other house just now, and I have half engaged them to let me try my fortune to-night. The moon will be up in less than an hour."

" I do not know that I can better spend the night than by going with you,” answered Andrea.

"Agreed, then; so let it be,” rejoined Balzan.

• Guns were always at hand, for they were both sportsmen; and, after seeking the fishermen, they repaired to the shore, and embarked for Filfia, which is hardly four miles from that part of the coast. The fishermen, after landing the two friends, stood off about a mile from the island, for the purpose of fishing, having received directions to return for the sportsmen at the going down of the moon. When they did return they could not find their employers, and one of the men, consequently, proceeded to the top of the island in search of them. They were still missing. Hoping ibat he had by some chance passed them on his way up, the man returned to the shore. His comrade bad seen nothing of them; and, after waiting an hour longer, it was agreed between the two fishermen that the best way of finding their passengers would be to coast the island all round as near the shore as possible. They had but half fulfilled their task, when, having arrived off the most precipitous part of the cliffs, they imagined that in the shadow of an overbanging crag they saw one, if not two, of the parties they sought; and now, for the first time, it occurred to them that some accident must have happened, as, whatever it might be of the human form which they descried on the shore, it was still as death.

Pulling for the nearest point at which they could land, the fishermen soon reached the spot, where the first glance they took the



luckless fate of both their passengers appeared revealed to them. The bodies of the young men were cast one on the other, and the blood and brains staining the rock on which this wreck of humanity lay motionless, told too plainly that it was caused by a fall from the precipice above. Motionless, did I say?--no! "The fishermen, as they approached the bodies, saw an arm raised, a hand drawn, as though painfully, across the brow of him whose face was partially upturned io the sky. They lifted him away from his companion, on whom his head had reposed,--they threw water on his face;-they perceived that their cares were attended with success: he heaved a deep sigh, and opened his eyes. 66 Where am I ?" he exclaimed "Ah!"

He looked at the terrible sight before him, and, falling back in the arms of the fishermen, appeared to relapse into insensibility. It was Balzan--and Andrea Casha, he who would have been a bridegroom on the morrow, was now but a bleeding, shattered corse! After a while, Balzan, who was perfectly unhurt, relieved by shedding a torrent of tears, seemed to recover his presence of mind. He assisted the fishermen in removing the body of his friend to the boat, and, answering their questions freely, told them all that was ever known of the catastrophe he yet wept over as he spoke. It would seem that the sportsmen had met with indifferent luck, at which Andrea was very much provoked. Just as the moon was sinking they had, while lying perdue behind two piles of stones, at a little distance from each other, communicated their mutual inclination to be off after the next shot.

"" Ah" said Balzan, " that next shot! A large rabbit burst from a burrow before my unhappy friend: he fired, and only wounded it. I brought my gun to my shoulder; fortunately for what remains to me of happiness, I did not fire. Signor Casha had dashed after the wounded creature, and must have received my full charge. The result was, however, equally fatal. The rabbit tumbled over and over, and then bounded on. Casha pursued. At the very verge of the cliff he aimed a blow as it darted into a burrow with the butt-end of his piece, and missing his aim, I saw him topple—disappear over the precipice! My feelings I need not describe. How I got below I know not. It might have been the usual path, and so round to the place where he fell, or most likely I rushed down a quicker, a desperate way that I heeded not-I found him!—Nothing more do I know until you discovered us both."

Such was the story which Balzan told to the fishermen, and, with Tittle variation, to the Padre Giovanni, immediately he reached the shore. Such was the story that met the ear of Margarita, who for a while was inconsolable.

'Andrea Casha had no near relations: those who inherited the greater part of his property were very poor people, distantly allied to him. No one doubted that Casha had come fairly by his death; no one grudged that Balzan should take possession of his father's property, which he of course did, by the will of his deceased patron. Noihing could be more edifying than the grief of Balzan for the loss of his friend; and, as though from sheer affection for the memory of the departed, he was a frequent visiter to the house of Signora Fenech, showed the most respectful attentions to poor Margarita, and made Padre Giovanni some very acceptable presents. The re

sult may be anticipated-Margarita became the wife of Balzan; and now never did man appear to change so completely in character. . From being steady, and attentive to his property, he left it entirely to the care of his labourers. Like Andrea Casha in former days, he might be found at every festa, at every merry-making, religious or otherwise. Margarita generally accompanied him, and report said that they were a happy couple.

'I must now tell you, Signor, what I did not mention before, (here let me endeavour to take up the words of the old fisherman,) - I was one of the men in the boat that landed the two friends at Filfia. I just this moment remarked that no one believed but what Andrea Casha came to his death fairly. I should have said no one but myself. Still who was 1?ma poor old fisherman!-30, after sounding my comrade, and finding that he, too, thought all was right, I wisely held my tongne.

I had lost sight of Signor Balzan for a long time, and I had given up fishing pretty much; for I had been hired to assist in a boat that carried fish to Valetta from Marsa Scirocco, and such ware as might be wanted, back. Sometimes, too, we took a party of pleasure to Scirocco from Valetta, and this was my employment on the last day I saw Signor Balzan. I always thought that when we had met, which was seldom, he seemed to shun me; and this day another gentleman, who was with his wife and himself, having hired me, he objected to the boat, and, indeed, did all he could to be off the bargain. I heard him say that he had been quite tricked into going part of the way home by water; and I believe it was only his wife's remarking in jest that she thought he was afraid of the sea, which made him consent. Now the next thing was to find my comrade who worked with me in the boat. The gentleman got impatient at his not coming. Signor Balzan swore horribly that, if he must go by water, he would show them that not only was he fearless of a boat, but that he could manage one, and telling me in a passion -just as if I had done him any harm!-to get ready for shoving off-he handed his wife in, and with the other gentleman a way we went. I took the rudder, without seeming to notice the Signor's rage; and you may be sure I did not claim his acquaintance, but behaved to him like a stranger

It was a very fine evening when we started. The pretty, gailydressed Signora Balzan laughed and talked, and the gentlemen trimmed the saile, and talked to her, Signor Balzan appearing to have recovered his temper. I have seen many a gregalè (northeast wind), but the one that was then coming the Holy Mother of Heaven must have sent on purpose. The breeze freshened and freshened again, till we were well off Marsa Scirocco point; for we had not hugged the coast: still nothing was thought of it. But thenblessed St. Paolo ! there came such a blast! The sails were old the mainsail split into ribbons; for Signor Balzan, who should have let go the sheet, was standing up in the boat as though he had changed into stone :-his eyes were fixed on Filfla Island. Tho other gentleman was useless; he knew nothing at all about a boat, The poor Signora screamed, and well she might; for, leaving Marsa Scirocco on our starboard quarter, we were running before the wind in a gregalè with more easting in it than common, for Filfa.

Night came on the moon bad risen, but was obscured-I only sa w one star, and this looked redly out from the dark sky above the island towards which we were hurrying; for the boat was now quite unmanageable. Perhaps I did not do my best to manage her: I, too, had my eyes fixed on Filfla; I felt impressed that we must near the isle, I knew not why. If I had a thought beyond, at that moment, it was that by making a long stretch we might after wards fetch in under the land, and possibly reach a small bay on the western coast; or, when the gregalè had expended its fury, we might beat back to Marsa Scirocco.

'Poor Signora Balzan, seeing her husband stand appalled, his eyes glaring towards the fearful isle, the sight of which she turned from shudderingly, clung to him, and hid her face in his bosom ; but he heeded her not. Just then-oh! night of horror --we were nearing the very cliff beneath which I had found the dead-ay! the murdered man. It seemed to me that I was obliged to run close to it, and that I had no power over the helm, Then came a lull, as though the blast had done its worst. I heard a cry-a yell from Balzan : he had thrown his wife to the deck-his arms were er. tended—be pointed to the crags above. I looked— I could not have been mistaken there was a human form leaning over the precipice

il fell! The gentleman who was with us called out, “ It is a fall of the cliff.” A fall of the cliff certainly followed on the instantdown it came with a sullen noise like distant thunder.'

Mercy! mercy !' exclaimed Balzan, -I come! I come!'

'The waters had hardly closed over the fall of rock when the murderer dashed headlong from the boat, and sank amid the waves. That night we succeeded in beating back to Marsa Scirocco. The Signora Balzan never spoke from the moment she beheld her husband's awful suicide ; every sense seemed paralyzed. The gentleman, who had done little as yet but cross himself, was now of some service when he got on shore. He had a friend near at hand who owned a calesse, and in this the poor Signora was conveyed to her solitary home. She is now, I believe, in a Sicilian convent.

Can you wonder, Signor,' concluded the old fisherman, that I like not to visit Filfla ? Did I know that a boat-load of fish might be had for the fetching from beneath those unlucky cliffs, I would not go there, though I am very poor; and whatever the Signor gives me will be a charity to one who often wants bread.'

So ended, as it commenced, in an appeal to my compassion, the Maltese Ghost-Story,


The Doctor receives us from birth at bed-side,

And forwards us on towards Death, his pale brother.
Thus life is a railway on which we all glide,
With the Doctor at this end, and Death at the other!

G. D.

« AnteriorContinuar »