“The bearer of this and his company have been driven by the Genoese from their monastery of San Giorgio on my estate of Casalabriva above the Taravo valley, the same where you will remember our treading the vintage together to the freedom of Corsica. But the Genoese have cut down my vines long since, and now they have fired the roof over these my tenants and driven them into the macchia, whence they send message to me to deliver them. Indeed, friend, I have much ado to protect myself in these days: but by good fortune I have heard of an English vessel homeward bound which will serve them if they can reach the coast, whence numbers of the faithful will send them off with good provision. Afterwards, what will happen? To England the ship is bound, and in England I know you only. Remembering your great heart, I call on it for what help you can render to these holy men. Addio, friend. You are remembered in my constant prayers to Christ, the Virgin, and all the Saints.
At a sign from my father—who had sunk back in his chair and sat gripping its arms—I passed on this epistle to my uncle Gervase, who read it and ran his hand through his hair.
“Dear me!” said he, running his eye over the attentive monks, “this lady, whoever she may be—”
“She is a crowned queen, brother Gervase,” my father interrupted; “and moreover she is the noblest woman in the world.”
“As to that, brother,” returned my uncle, “I am saying nothing. But speaking of what I know, I say she can be but poorly conversant with your worldly affairs.”
My father half-lifted himself from his seat. “And is that how you take it?” he demanded sharply. “Is that all you read in the letter? Brother, I tell you again, this lady is a queen. What should a queen know of my degree of poverty?”
“Nevertheless—” began my uncle.
But my father cut him short again. “I had hoped,” said he, reproachfully, “you would have been prompt to recognize her noble confidence. Mark you how, no question put, she honours me. ’Do this, for my sake’—Who but the greatest in the world can appeal thus simply?”
“None, maybe,” my uncle replied; “as none but the well-to-do can answer with a like ease.”
“You come near to anger me, brother; but I remember that you never knew her. Is not this house large? Are not four-fifths of my rooms lying at this moment un-tenanted? Very well; for so long as it pleases them, since she claims it, these holy men shall be our guests. No more of this,” my father commanded peremptorily, and added, with all the gravity in the world, “You should thank her consideration rather, that she sends us visitors so frugal, since poverty degrades us to these economies. But there is one thing puzzles me.” He took the letter again from my uncle and fastened his gaze on the Brother Basilio. “She says she has much ado to protect herself.”