Make your own free website on Tripod.com

List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

diminutive animal, not bigger than a Friesland sheep; old, in fact
grizzly with years, and not unlike the aged, wizened little women who
are so common here: for beauty in this region dries up; and these
handsome Sorrento girls, if they live, and almost everybody does
live, have the prospect, in their old age, of becoming mummies, with
parchment skins.  I have heard of climates that preserve female
beauty; this embalms it, only the beauty escapes in the process.  As
I was saying, Succarina is little, old, and grizzly; but her head is
large, and one might be contented to be as wise as she looks.

The party is at length mounted, and clatters away through the narrow
streets.  Donkey-riding is very good for people who think they cannot
walk.  It looks very much like riding, to a spectator; and it
deceives the person undertaking it into an amount of exercise equal
to walking.  I have a great admiration for the donkey character.
There never was such patience under wrong treatment, such return of
devotion for injury.  Their obstinacy, which is so much talked about,
is only an exercise of the right of private judgment, and an
intelligent exercise of it, no doubt, if we could take the donkey
point of view, as so many of us are accused of doing in other things.
I am certain of one thing: in any large excursion party there will be
more obstinate people than obstinate donkeys; and yet the poor brutes
get all the thwacks and thumps.  We are bound to-day for the Punta
della Campanella, the extreme point of the promontory, and ten miles
away.  The path lies up the steps from the new Massa carriage-road,
now on the backbone of the ridge, and now in the recesses of the
broken country.  What an animated picture is the donkeycade, as it
mounts the steeps, winding along the zigzags!  Hear the little
bridlebells jingling, the drivers groaning their " a-e-ugh, a-e-ugh,"
the riders making a merry din of laughter, and firing off a fusillade
of ejaculations of delight and wonder.

The road is between high walls; round the sweep of curved terraces
which rise above and below us, bearing the glistening olive; through
glens and gullies; over and under arches, vine-grown,--how little we
make use of the arch at home!--round sunny dells where orange
orchards gleam; past shrines, little chapels perched on rocks, rude
villas commanding most extensive sweeps of sea and shore.  The almond
trees are in full bloom, every twig a thickly-set spike of the pink
and white blossoms; daisies and dandelions are out; the purple
crocuses sprinkle the ground, the petals exquisitely varied on the
reverse side, and the stamens of bright salmon color; the large
double anemones have come forth, certain that it is spring; on the
higher crags by the wayside the Mediterranean heather has shaken out
its delicate flowers, which fill the air with a mild fragrance; while
blue violets, sweet of scent like the English, make our path a
perfumed one.  And this is winter.

We have made a late start, owing to the fact that everybody is
captain of the expedition, and to the Sorrento infirmity that no one
is able to make up his mind about anything.  It is one o'clock when
we reach a high transverse ridge, and find the headlands of the
peninsula rising before us, grim hills of limestone, one of them with
the ruins of a convent on top, and no road apparent thither, and
Capri ahead of us in the sea, the only bit of land that catches any
light; for as we have journeyed the sky has thickened, the clouds of
the sirocco have come up from the south; there has been first a mist,
and then a fine rain; the ruins on the peak of Santa Costanza are now
hid in mist. We halt for consultation.  Shall we go on and brave a
wetting, or ignominiously retreat?  There are many opinions, but few
decided ones.  The drivers declare that it will be a bad time.  One
gentleman, with an air of decision, suggests that it is best to go
on, or go back, if we do not stand here and wait.  The deaf lady,
from near Dublin, being appealed to, says that, perhaps, if it is
more prudent, we had better go back if it is going to rain.  It does
rain.  Waterproofs are put on, umbrellas spread, backs turned to the
wind; and we look like a group of explorers under adverse
circumstances, "silent on a peak in Darien," the donkeys especially
downcast and dejected.  Finally, as is usual in life, a, compromise
prevails.  We decide to continue for half an hour longer and see what
the weather is.  No sooner have we set forward over the brow of a
hill than it grows lighter on the sea horizon in the southwest, the
ruins on the peak become visible, Capri is in full sunlight.  The
clouds lift more and more, and still hanging overhead, but with no
more rain, are like curtains gradually drawn up, opening to us a
glorious vista of sunshine and promise, an illumined, sparkling,
illimitable sea, and a bright foreground of slopes and picturesque
rocks.  Before the half hour is up, there is not one of the party who
does not claim to have been the person who insisted upon going
forward.

We halt for a moment to look at Capri, that enormous, irregular rock,
raising its huge back out of the sea) its back broken in the middle,
with the little village for a saddle.  On the farther summit, above
Anacapri, a precipice of two thousand feet sheer down to the water on
the other side, hangs a light cloud.  The east elevation, whence the
playful Tiberius used to amuse his green old age by casting his
prisoners eight hundred feet down into the sea, has the strong
sunlight on it; and below, the row of tooth-like rocks, which are the
extreme eastern point, shine in a warm glow.  We descend through a
village, twisting about in its crooked streets.  The inhabitants, who
do not see strangers every day, make free to stare at and comment on
us, and even laugh at something that seems very comical in our
appearance; which shows how ridiculous are the costumes of Paris and
New York in some places.  Stalwart girls, with only an apology for
clothes, with bare legs, brown faces, and beautiful eyes, stop in
their spinning, holding the distaff suspended, while they examine us
at leisure.  At our left, as we turn from the church and its sunny
piazza, where old women sit and gabble, down the ravine, is a snug
village under the mountain by the shore, with a great square medieval
tower.  On the right, upon rocky points, are remains of round towers,
and temples perhaps.

We sweep away to the left round the base of the hill, over a
difficult and stony path.  Soon the last dilapidated villa is passed,
the last terrace and olive-tree are left behind; and we emerge upon a
wild, rocky slope, barren of vegetation, except little tufts of grass
and a sort of lentil; a wide sweep of limestone strata set on edge,
and crumbling in the beat of centuries, rising to a considerable
height on the left.  Our path descends toward the sea, still creeping
round the end of the promontory.  Scattered here and there over the
rocks, like conies, are peasants, tending a few lean cattle, and
digging grasses from the crevices.  The women and children are wild
in attire and manner) and set up a clamor of begging as we pass.  A
group of old hags begin beating a poor child as we approach, to
excite our compassion for the abused little object, and draw out
centimes.

Walking ahead of the procession, which gets slowly down the rugged
path, I lose sight of my companions, and have the solitude, the sun
on the rocks, the glistening sea, all to myself.  Soon I espy a man
below me sauntering down among the rocks.  He sees me and moves away,
a solitary figure.  I say solitary; and so it is in effect, although
he is leading a little boy, and calling to his dog, which runs back
to bark at me.  Is this the brigand of whom I have read, and is he
luring me to his haunt?  Probably.  I follow.  He throws his cloak
about his shoulders, exactly as brigands do in the opera, and loiters
on.  At last there is the point in sight, a gray wall with blind
arches.  The man disappears through a narrow archway, and I follow.
Within is an enormous square tower.  I think it was built in Spanish
days, as an outlook for Barbary pirates.  A bell hung in it, which
was set clanging when the white sails of the robbers appeared to the
southward; and the alarm was repeated up the coast, the towers were
manned, and the brown-cheeked girls flew away to the hills, I doubt
not, for the touch of the sirocco was not half so much to be dreaded
as the rough importunity of a Saracen lover.  The bell is gone now,
and no Moslem rovers are in sight.  The maidens we had just passed
would be safe if there were.  My brigand disappears round the tower;
and I follow down steps, by a white wall, and lo!  a house,--a red
stucco, Egyptian-looking building,--on the very edge of the rocks.
The man unlocks a door and goes in.  I consider this an invitation,
and enter.  On one side of the passage a sleeping-room, on the other
a kitchen,--not sumptuous quarters; and we come then upon a pretty
circular terrace; and there, in its glass case, is the lantern of the
point.  My brigand is a lighthouse-keeper, and welcomes me in a quiet
way, glad, evidently, to see the face of a civilized being.  It is
very solitary, he says.  I should think so.  It is the end of
everything.  The Mediterranean waves beat with a dull thud on the
worn crags below.  The rocks rise up to the sky behind.  There is
nothing there but the sun, an occasional sail, and quiet, petrified
Capri, three miles distant across the strait.  It is an excellent
place for a misanthrope to spend a week, and get cured.  There must
be a very dispiriting influence prevailing here; the keeper refused
to take any money, the solitary Italian we have seen so affected.

We returned late.  The young moon, lying in the lap of the old one,
was superintending the brilliant sunset over Capri, as we passed the
last point commanding it; and the light, fading away, left us
stumbling over the rough path among the hills, darkened by the high
walls.  We were not sorry to emerge upon the crest above the Massa

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >



Other sites:

db3nf.com screen-capture.net floresca.net simonova.net flora-source.com flora-source.com sourcecentral.com sourcecentral.com geocities.com