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List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
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this winter-time with a summer swing and sound of peace.

It was at the close of a day in January that I first knew the Villa
Nardi,--a warm, lovely day, at the hour when the sun was just going
behind the Capo di Sorrento, in order to disrobe a little, I fancy,
before plunging into the Mediterranean off the end of Capri, as is
his wont about this time of year.  When we turned out of the little
piazza, our driver was obliged to take off one of our team of three
horses driven abreast, so that we could pass through the narrow and
crooked streets, or rather lanes of blank walls.  With cracking whip,
rattling wheels, and shouting to clear the way, we drove into the
Strada di San Francisca, and to an arched gateway.  This led down a
straight path, between olives and orange and lemon-trees, gleaming
with shining leaves and fruit of gold, with hedges of rose-trees in
full bloom, to another leafy arch, through which I saw tropical
trees, and a terrace with a low wall and battered busts guarding it,
and beyond, the blue sea, a white sail or two slanting across the
opening, and the whiteness of Naples some twenty miles away on the
shore.

The noble family of the Villa did not descend into the garden to
welcome us, as we should have liked; in fact, they have been absent
now for a long time, so long that even their ghosts, if they ever
pace the terrace-walk towards the convent, would appear strange to
one who should meet them; and yet our hostess, the Tramontano, did
what the ancient occupants scarcely could have done, gave us the
choice of rooms in the entire house.  The stranger who finds himself
in this secluded paradise, at this season, is always at a loss
whether to take a room on the sea, with all its changeable
loveliness, but no sun, or one overlooking the garden, where the sun
all day pours itself into the orange boughs, and where the birds are
just beginning to get up a spring twitteration.  My friend, whose
capacity for taking in the luxurious repose of this region is
something extraordinary, has tried, I believe, nearly every room in
the house, and has at length gone up to a solitary room on the top,
where, like a bird on a tree he looks all ways, and, so to say,
swings in the entrancing air.  But, wherever you are, you will grow
into content with your situation.

At the Villa Nardi we have no sound of wheels, no noise of work or
traffic, no suggestion of conflict.  I am under the impression that
everything that was to have been done has been done.  I am, it is
true, a little afraid that the Saracens will come here again, and
carry off more of the nut-brown girls, who lean over the walls, and
look down on us from under the boughs.  I am not quite sure that a
French Admiral of the Republic will not some morning anchor his
three-decker in front, and open fire on us; but nothing else can
happen.  Naples is a thousand miles away.  The boom of the saluting
guns of Castel Nuovo is to us scarcely an echo of modern life.  Rome
does not exist.  And as for London and New York) they send their
people and their newspapers here, but no pulse of unrest from them
disturbs our tranquillity.  Hemmed in on the land side by high walls,
groves, and gardens, perched upon a rock two hundred feet above the
water, how much more secure from invasion is this than any fabled
island of the southern sea, or any remote stream where the boats of
the lotus-eaters float!

There is a little terrace and flower-plat, where we sometimes sit,
and over the wall of which we like to lean, and look down the cliff
to the sea.  This terrace is the common ground of many exotics as
well as native trees and shrubs.  Here are the magnolia, the laurel,
the Japanese medlar, the oleander, the pepper, the bay, the
date-palm, a tree called the plumbago, another from the Cape of Good
Hope, the pomegranate, the elder in full leaf, the olive, salvia,
heliotrope; close by is a banana-tree.

I find a good deal of companionship in the rows of plaster busts that
stand on the wall, in all attitudes of listlessness, and all stages
of decay.  I thought at first they were penates of the premises; but
better acquaintance has convinced me that they never were gods, but
the clayey representations of great men and noble dames.  The stains
of time are on them; some have lost a nose or an ear; and one has
parted with a still more important member--his head,--an accident
that might profitably have befallen his neighbor, whose curly locks
and villainously low forehead proclaim him a Roman emperor.  Cut in
the face of the rock is a walled and winding way down to the water.
I see below the archway where it issues from the underground recesses
of our establishment; and there stands a bust, in serious expectation
that some one will walk out and saunter down among the rocks; but no
one ever does.  Just at the right is a little beach, with a few old
houses, and a mimic stir of life, a little curve in the cliff, the
mouth of the gorge, where the waves come in with a lazy swash.  Some
fishing-boats ride there; and the shallow water, as I look down this
sunny morning, is thickly strewn with floating peels of oranges and
lemons, as if some one was brewing a gigantic bowl of punch.  And
there is an uncommon stir of life; for a schooner is shipping a cargo
of oranges, and the entire population is in a clamor.  Donkeys are
coming down the winding way, with a heavy basket on either flank;
stout girls are stepping lightly down with loads on their heads; the
drivers shout, the donkeys bray, the people jabber and order each
other about; and the oranges, in a continual stream, are poured into
the long, narrow vessel, rolling in with a thud, until there is a
yellow mass of them.  Shouting, scolding, singing, and braying, all
come up to me a little mellowed.  The disorder is not so great as on
the opera stage of San Carlo in Naples; and the effect is much more
pleasing.

This settlement, the marina, under the cliff, used to extend along
the shore; and a good road ran down there close by the water.  The
rock has split off, and covered it; and perhaps the shore has sunk.
They tell me that those who dig down in the edge of the shallow water
find sunken walls, and the remains of old foundations of Roman
workmanship.  People who wander there pick up bits of marble,
serpentine, and malachite,--remains of the palaces that long ago fell
into the sea, and have not left even the names of their owners and
builders,-the ancient loafers who idled away their days as everybody
must in this seductive spot.  Not far from here, they point out the
veritable caves of the Sirens, who have now shut up house, and gone
away, like the rest of the nobility.  If I had been a mariner in
their day, I should have made no effort to sail by and away from
their soothing shore.

I went, one day, through a long, sloping arch, near the sailors'
Chapel of St. Antonino, past a pretty shrine of the Virgin, down the
zigzag path to this little marina; but it is better to be content
with looking at it from above, and imagining how delightful it would
be to push off in one of the little tubs of boats.  Sometimes, at
night, I hear the fishermen coming home, singing in their lusty
fashion; and I think it is a good haven to arrive at.  I never go
down to search for stones on the beach: I like to believe that there
are great treasures there, which I might find; and I know that the
green and brown and spotty appearance of the water is caused by the
showing through of the pavements of courts, and marble floors of
palaces, which might vanish if I went nearer, such a place of
illusion is this.

The Villa Nardi stands in pleasant relations to Vesuvius, which is
just across the bay, and is not so useless as it has been
represented; it is our weather-sign and prophet.  When the white
plume on his top floats inland, that is one sort of weather; when it
streams out to sea, that is another.  But I can never tell which is
which: nor in my experience does it much matter; for it seems
impossible for Sorrento to do anything but woo us with gentle
weather.  But the use of Vesuvius, after all, is to furnish us a
background for the violet light at sundown, when the villages at its
foot gleam like a silver fringe.  I have become convinced of one
thing: it is always best when you build a house to have it front
toward a volcano, if you can.  There is just that lazy activity about
a volcano, ordinarily, that satisfies your demand for something that
is not exactly dead, and yet does not disturb you.

Sometimes when I wake in the night,--though I don't know why one ever
wakes in the night, or the daytime either here,--I hear the bell of
the convent, which is in our demesne,--a convent which is suppressed,
and where I hear, when I pass in the morning, the humming of a
school.  At first I tried to count the hour; but when the bell went
on to strike seventeen, and even twenty-one o'clock, the absurdity of
the thing came over me, and I wondered whether it was some frequent
call to prayer for a feeble band of sisters remaining, some reminder
of midnight penance and vigil, or whether it was not something more
ghostly than that, and was not responded to by shades of nuns, who
were wont to look out from their narrow latticed windows upon these
same gardens, as long ago as when the beautiful Queen Joanna used to
come down here to repent--if she ever did repent--of her wanton ways
in Naples.

On one side of the garden is a suppressed monastery.  The narrow
front towards the sea has a secluded little balcony, where I like to
fancy the poor orphaned souls used to steal out at night for a breath
of fresh air, and perhaps to see, as I did one dark evening, Naples
with its lights like a conflagration on the horizon.  Upon the tiles
of the parapet are cheerful devices, the crossbones tied with a cord,
and the like.  How many heavy-hearted recluses have stood in that
secluded nook, and been tempted by the sweet, lulling sound of the
waves below; how many have paced along this narrow terrace, and felt
like prisoners who wore paths in the stone floor where they trod; and

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