“As if you could ever be wrong, caro!” cried the captain with undiminished gayety, clapping him on the shoulder. “Nay, if St. Peter should have the bad taste to shut you out of heaven, you would be cunning enough to find another and better entrance! Ah, Dio! I believe it! Yes, you are right about my name and the name of my brig, but in the other things,”—here he shook his fingers with an expressive sign of denial—“you are wrong—wrong—all wrong!” He broke into a gay laugh. “Yes, wrong—but we will not quarrel about it! Have some more Chianti! Searching for brigands is thirsty work. Fill your glasses, amici—spare not the flask—there are twenty more below stairs!”
The officers smiled in spite of themselves, as they drank the proffered wine, and the youngest-looking of the party, a brisk, handsome fellow, entered into the spirit of the captain with ardor, though he evidently thought he should trap him into a confession unawares, by the apparent carelessness and bonhomie of his manner.”
“Bravo, Andrea!” he cried, merrily. “So! let us all be friends together! Besides, what harm is there in taking a brigand for a passenger—no doubt he would pay you better than most cargoes!”
But Andrea was not to be so caught. On the contrary; he raised his hands and eyes with an admirably feigned expression of shocked alarm.
“Our Lady and the saints forgive you!” he exclaimed, piously, “for thinking that I, an honest marinaro, would accept one baiocco from an accursed brigand! Ill-luck would follow me ever after! Nay, nay— there has been a mistake; I know nothing of Carmelo Neri, and I hope the saints will grant that I may never meet him!”
He spoke with so much apparent sincerity that the officers in command were evidently puzzled, though the fact of their being so did not deter them from searching the brig thoroughly. Disappointed in their expectations, they questioned all on board, including myself, but were of course unable to obtain any satisfactory replies. Fortunately they accepted my costume as a sign of my trade, and though they glanced curiously at my white hair, they seemed to think there was nothing suspicious about me. After a few more effusive compliments and civilities on the part of the captain, they took their departure, completely baffled, and quite convinced that the information they had received had been somehow incorrect. As soon as they were out of sight, the merry Andrea capered on his deck like a child in a play-ground, and snapped his fingers defiantly.
“Per Bacco!” he cried, ecstatically, “they should as soon make a priest tell confessional secrets, as force me, honest Andrea Luziani, to betray a man who has given me good cigars! Let them run back to Gaeta and hunt in every hole and corner! Carmelo may rest comfortably in the Montemaggiore without the shadow of a gendarme to disturb him! Ah, signor!” for I had advanced to bid him farewell—“I am truly sorry to part company with you! You do not blame me for helping away a poor devil who trusts me?”