Lucien took an arm of his compatriot and shook it.
“Did you come here to threaten the savior of France?” he said.
Bonaparte made a sign to Lucien, who kept silence. Then he looked at Piombo and said:—
“Why did you kill the Portas?”
“We had made friends,” replied the man; “the Barbantis reconciled us. The day after we had drunk together to drown our quarrels, I left home because I had business at Bastia. The Portas remained in my house, and set fire to my vineyard at Longone. They killed my son Gregorio. My daughter Ginevra and my wife, having taken the sacrament that morning, escaped; the Virgin protected them. When I returned I found no house; my feet were in its ashes as I searched for it. Suddenly they struck against the body of Gregorio; I recognized him in the moonlight. ’The Portas have dealt me this blow,’ I said; and, forthwith, I went to the woods, and there I called together all the men whom I had ever served, —do you hear me, Bonaparte?—and we marched to the vineyard of the Portas. We got there at five in the morning; at seven they were all before God. Giacomo declares that Eliza Vanni saved a child, Luigi. But I myself bound him to his bed before setting fire to the house. I have left the island with my wife and child without being able to discover whether, indeed, Luigi Porta is alive.”
Bonaparte looked with curiosity at Bartolomeo, but without surprise.
“How many were there?” asked Lucien.
“Seven,” replied Piombo. “All of them were your persecutors in the olden times.”
These words roused no expression of hatred on the part of the two brothers.
“Ha! you are no longer Corsicans!” cried Piombo, with a sort of despair. “Farewell. In other days I protected you,” he added, in a reproachful tone. “Without me, your mother would never have reached Marseille,” he said, addressing himself to Bonaparte, who was silent and thoughtful, his elbow resting on a mantel-shelf.
“As a matter of duty, Piombo,” said Napoleon at last, “I cannot take you under my wing. I have become the leader of a great nation; I command the Republic; I am bound to execute the laws.”
“Ha! ha!” said Bartolomeo, scornfully.
“But I can shut my eyes,” continued Bonaparte. “The tradition of the Vendetta will long prevent the reign of law in Corsica,” he added, as if speaking to himself. “But it must be destroyed, at any cost.”
Bonaparte was silent for a few moments, and Lucien made a sign to Piombo not to speak. The Corsican was swaying his head from right to left in deep disapproval.
“Live here, in Paris,” resumed the First Consul, addressing Bartolomeo; “we will know nothing of this affair. I will cause your property in Corsica to be bought, to give you enough to live on for the present. Later, before long, we will think of you. But, remember, no more vendetta! There are no woods here to fly to. If you play with daggers, you must expect no mercy. Here, the law protects all citizens; and no one is allowed to do justice for himself.”