Read CHAPTER XXVIII. of Among the Brigands , free online book, by James De Mille, on ReadCentral.com.

The Salamander inaccessible to Fire.-The last Appeal.-Frank takes Action.-He fires.-Casualty to Frank and Bob.-Onset of the Monster.-Flight.-Tremendous Sensation.-The Guide’s Story.-Another Legend of Albano.-On to Rome.

For some time Frank had felt an intolerable impatience, and had been deliberating in his own mind about the best way of ending a scene which was not only painful to the poor prisoners, but humiliating to himself.  In spite, however, of the immense odds in favor of the attacking party, Frank could not think of any way of making those odds available under present circumstances, when the last plaintive appeal and the desperate proposal of Clive and David came to his ears.  He saw that they were suffering tortures from the smoke, that they could not endure it much longer, and that they would have to make a descent from the window.  To prevent this, and the danger that might result from it, Frank resolved upon immediate action.

So he grasped his rusty fowling-piece with a deadly purpose, and rushed to the narrow doorway of the old house.  Bob followed at once with his pitchfork, resolved to go wherever Frank led the way, and to stand by him at all hazards.  The guide stood looking on.  Uncle Moses also stood still, and made a feeble attempt to order the two boys back; but his words were neither heard nor heeded.  At this David and Clive stopped in their desperate design, and looked down at Frank and Bob.

Frank stood by the doorway.

He put his head inside, and looked all around, cautiously, yet resolutely.  The interior, however, was always a dark place; and now the fumes of blue smoke made it yet darker.  But though his eyes saw nothing of the fierce beast, his ears could detect the rustle and the crackle which were produced by the motion of something among the fagots.  This noise showed him plainly where it must be.

Thereupon he hesitated no longer.

He raised his rusty fowling-piece to his shoulder!

He took deadly aim!

He fired!

Bang!!!

The flash illumined the dark interior, and the smoke from the gun united with the smoke that was already there.  Bat simultaneous with the bang and the flash, Frank felt himself hurled back-ward, and to the ground, knocked down by the recoil of the gun, flat on his back.

Up rushed Bob, full of the deepest anxiety.

But just as he reached the prostrate form of Frank, there was a hurried clatter from within, and then-down he also went-head first-over and over-struck down by some rushing figure that had emerged from the pile of fagots, burst through the doorway, and was now careering wildly over the fields.

Uncle Moses saw that figure, and then hurried up to his two prostrate boys.

David and Clive from their stations at the window saw it, and then instantly hurried down the ladder, and out of the house, where they stood panting and staring wildly at vacancy.

The guide saw it, and as he saw it there came over his face an expression of an utterly indescribable kind.  He clasped his hands together, and then uttered a series of exclamations for which the English language, or indeed any other language but the Italian, can afford no equivalent.

While he was thus standing with clasped hands, vociferating and staring, in company with David and Clive, at the receding figure, Frank had sprung to his feet, and so had Bob; Uncle Moses, too, stood gazing at the object of universal interest; and thus all of them stood staring, with feelings that defy description, at the scene before them.

What was this scene that thus held their gaze?

Well, in the first place, there was that valley, already so familiar to David and Clive-a smooth slope on either side, some olive trees near, but beyond that all bare, and no houses visible in that direction.  Now, over this open space there was running-so swift and so straight that it was evidently impelled by pain or panic-what?

A little black pig!

A pig, small, as has just been said, an ordinary domestic pig-of no particular breed-the commonest of animals.  Moreover, it was black.  It was also, undoubtedly, as has just been remarked, either suffering from some of the shot of Frank’s rusty gun, or from the terror that might have been excited by its report.  And now this little black pig was running as fast as its absurd little legs could carry it-far away across the fields.

“O, holy saints!” cried the guide; “it’s the little black pig, that we missed from the convent yesterday morning-the pig-the little black pig-the pig-the pig!  Is it possible?  O, is it possible?”

Every word of this was heard by the boys.  They understood it all now.  It seemed also that the little black pig, having accomplished as much mischief as any single pig can ever hope to bring about, was evidently making the best of its way to its home, and steering straight, for the convent.  This they saw, and they gazed in silence.  Nothing was said, for nothing could be said.  They could not even look at one another.  David and Clive were of course the most crestfallen; but the others had equal cause for humiliation.  After all their gigantic preparations, their cautions advances, and their final blow,-to find their antagonist reduced to this was too much.  Now, the fact is, that if it had really been a wild boar, Frank’s act would have been the same; and as he acted under the belief that it was so, it was undoubtedly daring, and plucky, and self-sacrificing; but, unfortunately, the conclusion of the affair did not allow him to look upon it in that light.

Now, all this time the crowd behind the house maintained their shouts and outcries.  Under the circumstances, this uproar became shockingly absurd, and out of place; so the guide hastened to put an end to it.  On the whole, he thought it was not worth while to tell the truth, for the truth would have so excited the good people of Albano, that they would, undoubtedly, have taken vengeance on the strangers for such a disgrace as this.  Therefore the guide decided to let his fancy play around the actual fact, and thus it was that the guide’s story became an idealized version.

It was something to the following effect:-

The terrible wild boar, he said, had been completely indifferent to their outcry, or had, perhaps, been afraid to come forth and face so many enemies.  He (the guide) had therefore determined to try to smoke him out, and had borrowed their handkerchiefs for that purpose, as there were no other combustibles to be had.  Of this they were already aware.  He had tied these handkerchiefs together in such a way that they would burn, and after setting fire to them, had burled the blazing mass into the house.  There it emitted its stifling fumes till they confused, suffocated, frightened, and confounded the lurking wild boar.  Then, in the midst of this, the heroic youth, armed with his gun, rushed forward and poured the deadly contents of his piece into the body of the beast.  Had it been any other annual, it would undoubtedly have perished; but the wild boar has a hide like sheet iron, and this one was merely irritated by the shot.  Still, though not actually wounded, he was enraged, and at the same time frightened.  In his rage and fear he started from his lurking-place; he bounded forth, and made a savage attack upon the party in front of the house.  They stood their ground firmly and heroically, and beat him off; whereupon, in despair, he turned and fled, vanquished, to his lair in the Alban tunnel.

In this way the guide’s vivid imagination saved the travellers from the fury of the Alban people, by preventing that fury, and supplying in its place self-complacency.  The Alban people felt satisfied with themselves and with this story.  They accepted it as undoubted; they took it to their homes and to their hearts; they enlarged, adorned, improved, and lengthened it out, until, finally, it assumed the amplest proportion, and became one of the most popular legends of the place.  What is still more wonderful, this very guide, who had first created it, told it so often to parties of tourists, that he at length grew to believe every word of it himself; and the fact that he had been an actor in that scene never failed to make his story quite credible to his hearers.

At this time, however, he had not advanced so far, and he was able to tell the actual facts of the case to the boys and Uncle Moses.

They were these:-

At the convent they kept a number of pigs, and on the previous day, early in the morning, they had missed the very animal which had created this extraordinary scene.  He had escaped in some way from his pen, and had fled for parts unknown.  They had searched for him, but in vain.  He must have wandered to this old house at the first, and taken up his quarters here until he was so rudely driven out from them.  The guide could only hope that the little black pig would learn a lesson from this of the evils of running away from home.

To all this the boys listened without any interest whatever, and did not condescend to make any remarks.  The guide himself became singularly uninteresting in their eyes, and they got rid of him as soon as possible, paying him liberally, however for the additional trouble to which they had put him.  Uncle Moses also had some words of remonstrance, mingled with congratulation, to offer to David and Clive; but these also were heard in silence.  They might have found ample excuse for their delay in this ruined house; but they did not feel inclined to offer any excuses whatever.

The fact is, this reduction of the great wild boar to the very insignificant proportions of a little black pig-commonplace, paltry, and altogether contemptible-was too much for their sensitive natures.  It had placed them all in a false position.  They were not cowards, but they had all been alarmed by the most despicable of animals.  Frank felt profoundly humiliated, and reflected, with a blush, upon the absurd figure that he had made of himself in hesitating so long before such an enemy, and then advancing upon it in such a way.  Bob’s feelings were very similar.  But it was for David and Clive that the deepest mortification was reserved.  They had been the cause of it all.  It was their vivid imaginations which had conjured up out of nothing a terrible wild beast, which had kept them prisoners there for hours in loneliness and hunger, and which had thrown ridicule upon the population of Albano, by drawing them forth to do battle with one poor little harmless runaway pig.

As they walked back to the hotel, they kept far in the rear of the citizens of Albano; and Uncle Moses began to “improve” the occasion, and moralized in a solemn strain.

“Wal,” said he, “my dear boys, I must say that you hev one and all the greatest talent for gittin’ yourselves into trouble that I ever see.  Ever sence we landed on these ill-fated shores you’ve ben a-goin’ it, and a drivin’ of me wild with anxiety; and the only thing I can say is, that thus far your misadventoors hain’t turned out so bad as I have feared in each individdool case.  In fact thar’s allus ben what they call a anticlimax; that is, jest at the moment when thar’d ought to be a te-rific di-saster, thar’s ben nothin’ but some trivial or laugherble tummination.  Now, I’m free to confess, boys, that thus far my fears hev ben gerroundless.  I’m free to say that thus far thar hain’t ben what we can conscuentionsly call a accident.  But what of that?  The incidents hev all ben thar.  Every individdool thing that can make a accident has ben thar-it’s ony the conclusion that has somehow broke down.  And now I ask you, boys, what air we goin’ to do about it?  Is this to go on forever?  Is it perrobable that advuss circumstances air goin’ to allus eventooate thus?  I don’t believe it.  The pitcher that goes often to the fountain is broke at last, and depend upon it, if you go for to carry on this way, and thrust yourselves in every danger that comes in your way-somethin’ll happen-mind I tell you.”

This, and much more of the same sort, did Uncle Moses say; but to all of it the boys paid very little attention.  In fact, the subject was to all of them so painful a one, that they could not bear to have it brought forward even as the text of a sermon.  They only wanted to forget all about it as soon as possible, and let it sink into complete oblivion.

On reaching the hotel they found that it was quite late; but they were eager to go on.  Albano, the historic, had lost all its charms for them.  They did not wish to remain, a moment longer.  They could not hope now to see Rome to advantage, for the daylight would be over long before they could enter the city; still they were determined to go on to Rome, even if they had to enter it after dark.  Accordingly, the carriage was made ready as soon as possible; Clive and David procured some fragments of food, which they took into the carriage with them, to devour on their way; and thus they left Albano, and drove on to Rome.