(Essentials of European Literature)

When Lydia Nevil and her father, Colonel Nevil, first met Lieutenant Orso della Rebbia, they were impressed with the young man’s good looks and his obvious pride in his native Corsica. Although Colonel Nevil and Orso had been on opposite sides in the Napoleonic wars, each admired the other’s bravery and courage. The Nevils were on their way to Corsica when they met Orso, a trip they hoped would provide release from boredom for Lydia and good hunting for her father. Orso, a lieutenant under Napoleon, was going home on half pay now that the wars were over and his leader had been defeated.

A short time after the party arrived in Corsica, Orso’s sister Colomba joined them. From her and Orso, the Nevils learned the story of the della Rebbia family. The father had been murdered from ambush, and no one had paid for the crime. Colomba, however, firmly believed that Lawyer Barricini had been responsible for her father’s death; the two families had been blood enemies for generations, and she demanded that Orso avenge the death. Orso, having been absent from Corsica for many years, did not feel the old passionate hatred of his kin. He was satisfied that the law had rightly cleared Barricini, since there had been no proof that he was guilty of murder. Colomba, sharing the fiery passions of her ancestors, was determined that her brother should uphold the honor of their family. Lydia, on the other hand, pleaded with Orso to let the law settle such matters; she felt that to avenge the death would be to commit murder.

There had been evidence in the case, the bloodstained notebook of the murdered man, in which he had printed part of a name before he died. As mayor of the village, Barricini had impounded the book, and when it was offered in evidence, the name appeared to be that of a bandit in the district. Colomba believed that Barricini had torn out the original page and had printed the bandit’s name himself. No one believed her story except some peasant friends who were also bandits, and their testimony was of no value.

Orso and Colomba left the Nevils for a time and returned to their native village, and the colonel and Lydia promised to visit them later. Not long after their return, the prefect called on them and said that he had proof that Barricini was not guilty of the crime of which Colomba accused him. A thief, now imprisoned, had confessed that he had written a letter that had started the trouble between Barricini and the slain della Rebbia. Unimpressed, Colomba said that Barricini, fearing that she would prevail upon her brother to seek out their enemy and kill him, had no doubt bribed the prisoner to make a false confession.

The prefect invited Orso to accompany him to the Barricini house to settle the matter peacefully. The prefect, who also had a letter for Orso from Lydia, promised that he would hand over the letter when the young man made the call. The next morning, however, Colomba told...

(The entire section is 1202 words.)