I took occasion from the observations of the captain on my sketchings, to fall into conversation with him. I found him sociable and communicative. By degrees I became completely at my ease with him. I had fancied I perceived about him a degree of self-love, which I determined to make use of. I assumed an air of careless frankness, and told him that, as artist, I pretended to the power of judging of the physiognomy; that I thought I perceived something in his features and demeanor which announced him worthy of higher fortunes. That he was not formed to exercise the profession to which he had abandoned himself; that he had talents and qualities fitted for a nobler sphere of action; that he had but to change his course of life, and in a legitimate career, the same courage and endowments which now made him an object of terror, would ensure him the applause and admiration of society.
I had not mistaken my man. My discourse both touched and excited him. He seized my hand, pressed it, and replied with strong emotion, “You have guessed the truth; you have judged me rightly.” He remained for a moment silent; then with a kind of effort he resumed. “I will tell you some particulars of my life, and you will perceive that it was the oppression of others, rather than my own crimes, that drove me to the mountains. I sought to serve my fellow-men, and they have persecuted me from among them.” We seated ourselves on the grass, and the robber gave me the following anecdotes of his history.
THE STORY OF THE BANDIT CHIEFTAIN.
I am a native of the village of Prossedi. My father was easy enough In circumstances, and we lived peaceably and independently, cultivating our fields. All went on well with us until a new chief of the sbirri was sent to our village to take command of the police. He was an arbitrary fellow, prying into every thing, and practising all sorts of vexations and oppressions in the discharge of his office.
I was at that time eighteen years of age, and had a natural love of justice and good neighborhood. I had also a little education, and knew something of history, so as to be able to judge a little of men and their actions. All this inspired me with hatred for this paltry despot. My own family, also, became the object of his suspicion or dislike, and felt more than once the arbitrary abuse of his power. These things worked together on my mind, and I gasped after vengeance. My character was always ardent and energetic; and acted upon by my love of justice, determined me by one blow to rid the country of the tyrant.
Full of my project I rose one morning before peep of day, and concealing a stiletto under my waistcoat—here you see it!—(and he drew forth a long keen poniard)—I lay in wait for him in the outskirts of the village. I knew all his haunts, and his habit of making his rounds and prowling about like a wolf, in the gray of the morning; at length I met him, and attacked him with fury. He was armed, but I took him unawares, and was full of youth and vigor. I gave him repeated blows to make sure work, and laid him lifeless at my feet.