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List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
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evening.  Here, too, we strolled; and here I could not resist the
temptation to lie an unheeded hour or two) soaking in the benignant
February sun, above every human concern and care, looking upon a land
and sea steeped in romance.  The sky was blue above; but in the south
horizon, in the direction of Tunis, were the prismatic colors.  Why
not be a monk, and lie in the sun?

One of the handsome brothers invited us into the refectory, a place
as bare and cheerless as the feeding-room of a reform school, and set
before us bread and cheese, and red wine, made by the monks.  I
notice that the monks do not water their wine so much as the osteria
keepers do; which speaks equally well for their religion and their
taste.  The floor of the room was brick, the table plain boards, and
the seats were benches; not much luxury.  The monk who served us was
an accomplished man, traveled, and master of several languages.  He
spoke English a little.  He had been several years in America, and
was much interested when we told him our nationality.

"Does the signor live near Mexico?"

"Not in dangerous proximity," we replied; but we did not forfeit his
good opinion by saying that we visited it but seldom.

Well, he had seen all quarters of the globe: he had been for years a
traveler, but he had come back here with a stronger love for it than
ever; it was to him the most delightful spot on earth, he said.  And
we could not tell him where its equal is.  If I had nothing else to
do, I think I should cast in my lot with him,--at least for a week.

But the monks never got into a cozier nook than the Convent of the
Camaldoli.  That also is suppressed: its gardens, avenues, colonnaded
walks, terraces, buildings, half in ruins.  It is the level surface
of a hill, sheltered on the east by higher peaks, and on the north by
the more distant range of Great St. Angelo, across the valley, and is
one of the most extraordinarily fertile plots of ground I ever saw.
The rich ground responds generously to the sun.  I should like to
have seen the abbot who grew on this fat spot.  The workmen were busy
in the garden, spading and pruning.

A group of wild, half-naked children came about us begging, as we sat
upon the walls of the terrace,--the terrace which overhangs the busy
plain below, and which commands the entire, varied, nooky promontory,
and the two bays.  And these children, insensible to beauty, want
centesimi!

In the rear of the church are some splendid specimens of the
umbrella-like Italian pine.  Here we found, also, a pretty little
ruin,--it might be Greek and--it might be Druid for anything that
appeared, ivy-clad, and suggesting a religion older than that of the
convent.  To the east we look into a fertile, terraced ravine; and
beyond to a precipitous brown mountain, which shows a sharp outline
against the sky; halfway up are nests of towns, white houses,
churches, and above, creeping along the slope, the thread of an
ancient road, with stone arches at intervals, as old as Caesar.

We descend, skirting for some distance the monastery walls, over
which patches of ivy hang like green shawls.  There are flowers in
profusion, scented violets, daisies, dandelions, and crocuses, large
and of the richest variety, with orange pistils, and stamens purple
and violet, the back of every alternate leaf exquisitely penciled.

We descend into a continuous settlement, past shrines, past brown,
sturdy men and handsome girls working in the vineyards; we descend --
but words express nothing--into a wonderful ravine, a sort of refined
Swiss scene,--high, bare steps of rock butting over a chasm, ruins,
old walls, vines, flowers.  The very spirit of peace is here, and it
is not disturbed by the sweet sound of bells echoed in the passes.
On narrow ledges of precipices, aloft in the air where it would seem
that a bird could scarcely light, we distinguish the forms of men and
women; and their voices come down to us.  They are peasants cutting
grass, every spire of which is too precious to waste.

We descend, and pass by a house on a knoll, and a terrace of olives
extending along the road in front.  Half a dozen children come to the
road to look at us as we approach, and then scamper back to the house
in fear, tumbling over each other and shouting, the eldest girl
making good her escape with the baby.  My companion swings his hat,
and cries, "Hullo, baby!" And when we have passed the gate, and are
under the wall, the whole ragged, brown-skinned troop scurry out upon
the terrace, and run along, calling after us, in perfect English, as
long as we keep in sight, "Hullo, baby!" "Hullo, baby!"  The next
traveler who goes that way will no doubt be hailed by the
quick-witted natives with this salutation; and, if he is of a
philological turn, he will probably benefit his mind by running the
phrase back to its ultimate Greek roots.




A DRY TIME

For three years, once upon a time, it did not rain in Sorrento.  Not
a drop out of the clouds for three years, an Italian lady here, born
in Ireland, assures me.  If there was an occasional shower on the
Piano during all that drought, I have the confidence in her to think
that she would not spoil the story by noticing it.

The conformation of the hills encircling the plain would be likely to
lead any shower astray, and discharge it into the sea, with whatever
good intentions it may have started down the promontory for Sorrento.
I can see how these sharp hills would tear the clouds asunder, and
let out all their water, while the people in the plain below watched
them with longing eyes.  But it can rain in Sorrento.  Occasionally
the northeast wind comes down with whirling, howling fury, as if it
would scoop villages and orchards out of the little nook; and the
rain, riding on the whirlwind, pours in drenching floods.  At such
times I hear the beat of the waves at the foot of the rock, and feel
like a prisoner on an island.  Eden would not be Eden in a rainstorm.

The drought occurred just after the expulsion of the Bourbons from
Naples, and many think on account of it.  There is this to be said in
favor of the Bourbons: that a dry time never had occurred while they
reigned,--a statement in which all good Catholics in Sorrento will
concur.  As the drought went on, almost all the wells in the place
dried up, except that of the Tramontano and the one in the suppressed
convent of the Sacred Heart,--I think that is its name.

It is a rambling pile of old buildings, in the center of the town,
with a courtyard in the middle, and in it a deep well, boring down I
know not how far into the rock, and always full of cold sweet water.
The nuns have all gone now; and I look in vain up at the narrow slits
in the masonry, which served them for windows, for the glance of a
worldly or a pious eye.  The poor people of Sorrento, when the public
wells and fountains had gone dry, used to come and draw at the
Tramontano; but they were not allowed to go to the well of the
convent, the gates were closed.  Why the government shut them I
cannot see: perhaps it knew nothing of it, and some stupid official
took the pompous responsibility.  The people grumbled, and cursed the
government; and, in their simplicity, probably never took any steps
to revoke the prohibitory law.  No doubt, as the government had
caused the drought, it was all of a piece, the good rustics thought.

For the government did indirectly occasion the dry spell.  I have the
information from the Italian lady of whom I have spoken.  Among the
first steps of the new government of Italy was the suppression of the
useless convents and nunneries.  This one at Sorrento early came
under the ban.  It always seemed to me almost a pity to rout out this
asylum of praying and charitable women, whose occupation was the
encouragement of beggary and idleness in others, but whose prayers
were constant, and whose charities to the sick of the little city
were many.  If they never were of much good to the community, it was
a pleasure to have such a sweet little hive in the center of it; and
I doubt not that the simple people felt a genuine satisfaction, as
they walked around the high walls, in believing that pure prayers
within were put up for them night and day; and especially when they
waked at night, and heard the bell of the convent, and knew that at
that moment some faithful soul kept her vigils, and chanted prayers
for them and all the world besides; and they slept the sounder for it
thereafter.  I confess that, if one is helped by vicarious prayer, I
would rather trust a convent of devoted women (though many of them
are ignorant, and some of them are worldly, and none are fair to see)
to pray for me, than some of the houses of coarse monks which I have
seen.

But the order came down from Naples to pack off all the nuns of the
Sacred Heart on a day named, to close up the gates of the nunnery,
and hang a flaming sword outside.  The nuns were to be pulled up by
the roots, so to say, on the day specified, and without postponement,
and to be transferred to a house prepared for them at Massa, a few
miles down the promontory, and several hundred feet nearer heaven.
Sorrento was really in mourning: it went about in grief.  It seemed
as if something sacrilegious were about to be done.  It was the
intention of the whole town to show its sense of it in some way.

The day of removal came, and it rained!  It poured: the water came
down in sheets, in torrents, in deluges; it came down with the
wildest tempest of many a year.  I think, from accurate reports of
those who witnessed it, that the beginning of the great Deluge was
only a moisture compared to this.  To turn the poor women out of
doors such a day as this was unchristian, barbarous, impossible.
Everybody who had a shelter was shivering indoors.  But the officials
were inexorable.  In the order for removal, nothing was said about
postponement on account of weather; and go the nuns must.

And go they did; the whole town shuddering at the impiety of it, but
kept from any demonstration by the tempest. Carriages went round to

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