It was now about time for a steamer to arrive at San Juan on the Pacific with the California passengers; and the next day, or the second day, perhaps, succeeding the battle at San Jorge, General Walker said to General Sanders, in his quiet, whining way,—"General Sanders, I am going to take two hundred and fifty riflemen and the rangers and go down to San Juan to bring up our recruits to Rivas; and if three thousand greasers are on the Transit road, I intend to go through them." Accordingly, the riflemen, the ranger regiment, and a small party of artillerymen with one of the two brass howitzers, met in the plaza, and set out on this expedition at midnight, with Generals Walker and Sanders both in the party.
The route of the detachment was the one I have mentioned before as inland through the forest, and striking the Transit road some miles west of the lake and Virgin Bay. It was firmly believed that we should meet the enemy somewhere on the Transit road,—since the hills through which it passed offered many excellent barricading-points, and it would seem a matter of great importance to them to cut us off from junction with any fresh recruits the steamer might land at San Juan. So there was much preparatory drinking amongst the officers, (yet I say it not in slander, for many were brave enough for any deed, and drank before battle only because they drank always,)—and less amongst the men solely because spirits had become scarce around Rivas, and dear; and there were very few, truly, who had not ceased long since to carry coin in their pockets. The captain of our company, who was an incautious man, and was frequently drinking more than was needful, on this occasion drank more than he was fitted to bear; and whilst the detachment was stopped some time getting the wheel-piece over a hard place in the road, his strong friend Aguardiente brought him to the ground, as he sat on his mule near the front with his company,—where he lay in eruptive state like a young toper, and so falling asleep lost his mule, which strayed into the forest to browse, causing him much embarrassment and confused search when the detachment was ready to start. Being up again, however, the sleep and stomachic alleviation proved beneficial, and we, his soldiers, followed after him in much greater comfort and confidence.
Such delays by the howitzer, and a wagon transporting spare muskets for the expected recruits, were so frequent, that we made but slow progress, and when we emerged from the woods the sun was already shining upon the broad Transit road,—I might have said like a glory on the brow of Ometepec, but my memory is bad, and I doubt whether the fact may not be that the sun rises upon this point from lower down on the lake. After entering the Transit road, the rangers were sent ahead to discover if there were an enemy in the way. Our regiment, as we called it, now together for the first time since I joined it, consisted of some seventy men, divided into three companies, all under command of Colonel Waters,—a soldierly-looking man, and, moreover, brave, and not without training in the Mexican War. Some time before the regiment had numbered one hundred, but had become thus reduced by disease and the enemy.
On this ride I remember a feeble infusion of that excellent spirit which, since the days of Sir Walter Scott, ought to belong to all horse-soldiers, moss-troopers, or mounted rangers, but which I had despaired of ever finding in General Walker's service. It is true we had no bugler, or standard-bearer, or piece of feather in the troop, or, indeed, any circumstance of war, save our revolvers and Sharpe's rifles, vermin and dirty shirts. Nevertheless the morning was splendid, with a fresh breeze behind us; the road was hard and smooth, and rang under our horses' feet; and withal I felt, that, if we should see a troop of greaser lancers ahead, in good uniform, we might run 'em down, and bullet 'em, and strip 'em, with good romantic spirit, even.
But this is a most hollow cheat which Sir Walter Scott and other book-men have played off on some weak-headed young men of our low-minded generation. There is no doubt but a man seated amongst ten thousand cavalry, who shake the earth as they charge, ought to feel himself swell, as part of an avalanche or mighty Niagara,—as part of the mightiest visible force which feeble man can enter or his spirit commingle with. This were no contemptible joy, which the thin-blooded philosopher might laugh at,—better, indeed, than most to be found here on this fog-rounded flat of ours, where some few melodies from heaven and countless blasts from hell meet, and make such strange, unequal dissonance. But, alack! alack! it is not for the feeble, or the young soldier, fresh from his plough or his yardstick, his briefs or his pestle. For how shall we who have all our lives been standing guard against the approach of death, who start horror-shaken from the dropping of a tile, whose small wounds are quickly bound up by tender mother or sister, and lamented over,—how shall we feel romantic in the midst of a shower of bullets? Enough done, if our vanity or sense of duty hold us there in any spirit, so that we do the needed trigger-work, and not turn tail and disgrace ourselves. Even the veteran's satisfaction, since the laying aside of steel armor, is not much, to be sure, or is gathered after the battle. There is some savage ecstasy, perhaps, when he sees his enemy fall, or when he sees his back; this last, indeed, a glorious sight for any soldier,—worth rushing at the cannon's mouth to look at, almost. But the man, be he veteran or other, who tells me he found pleasure on the field where the Minie-balls kill afar off, in cold blood,—I know him for one of the eccentric, stupid, or talkers for purposes of vanity.—But this will suffice.
There were three places on the road, amongst the Cordillera ridges, where, in former wars, a Costa-Rican force, flying before the filibusters, had stopped to barricade, and gathered heart to withstand their pursuers awhile,—long enough to bark the surrounding trees with musket-shot,—some of them, indeed, amid their topmost branches; for it is a greaser-failing to shoot inordinately high. Each of these sites we approached with caution, expecting to see an enemy there; but there was none, and we came down safely at length to our old shed-camp. Here we halted, and made our station, as it was more convenient for pasturage, whilst the foot passed on to San Juan, two miles beyond.
The steamer not arriving, we remained at this place several days, employed as before, with the sugar-cane and the wood-ticks, miserable enough.
In the mean time, the foot at San Juan, finding unusual temptation to escape from this place, so much nearer the Costa-Rican line, were leaving in large parties; and unwilling service was made of the rangers to intercept the fugitives, by posting them below on all the paths leading through the forest to Costa Rica. General Walker esteemed these more faithful, because they had been more considerately treated, better fed, allowed greater freedom and privilege,—having no drill, loose discipline, and exemption from guard-duty when with the foot; and, above all, their part of the service being healthier, and, though more fatiguing, far preferable, on the whole, to the other. One night I was detailed, with others, on this disagreeable duty, and remember it, for other reasons, as the most wretched night of all that I passed in Nicaragua. Our station was on the bank of a little wooded stream, some miles below San Juan. After the guard had been posted, I lay down to get some hours' sleep, which I needed,—but was no sooner on the ground than a swarm of infinitesimally small creatures, of the tick genus, whose den I had invaded, came over me, and the rest was merely one sensation of becrawled misery; so that, notwithstanding great previous loss of sleep, I went again unrefreshed. I asked an old filibuster who lay near me, how he could sleep through it. "Oh," said he, "I've got my skin dirty and callous, and this easy-walking species, that can't bite, never troubles me." On this subject I read the following in Mr. Irving's "History of Columbus" with some emotion:—"Nor is the least beautiful part of animated nature [in those tropical regions] the various tribes of insects that people every plant, displaying brilliant coats-of-mail, which sparkle to the eye like precious gems." It seems strange to me that any good should be recognized in these children of despair, which have caused me more unhappiness than all the world's vermin beside. I think this praise must be from Mr. Irving himself, looking up the picturesque. It is not possible that Columbus would have had the heart to flatter and polish up these mailed insects, who, in his day, ate him, turned him over and over, and harried him more than ever was Job by Satan.
Next morning, whilst we were roasting green plantains in the fire for breakfast, a man dressed in General Walker's blue-shirt-and-cotton-breeches uniform came upon us suddenly from out of the woods beyond the stream. He was evidently going south,—but seeing our party, with startled look, he turned, and went in the direction of San Juan. We knew him at once for a deserter, but had no zeal to arrest him; and he had already got past us, when some one ejaculated,—"D—- him, why don't he go right? That's not the road to Costa Rica!" Upon this unlucky speech, the officer in command of the detail, who, either through inattention or design, was suffering the man to pass unquestioned, ordered him to be followed and seized. He was a German, and either a dull, heavy fellow, or else stupefied by his terrible misfortune; and being unable to say a consistent word for himself, the officer sent him off under guard to San Juan, where it was well known what General Walker would do with him.
Some hours after this misadventure, as most of us took it, our detail was relieved and we rode back to camp. The man who had been taken in the act of deserting was condemned to be shot at San Juan this same evening, in presence of the whole detachment. He was led down to the beach, and seated in a chair at the water's edge. He bore himself carelessly, or with an absent, almost unconscious air, like one who felt himself acting a part in a dream. A squad of drafted riflemen was brought up in front of him, and the word was given by a sergeant. They made their aim false purposely, and but one shot took effect on the doomed man. He fell back into the water, where he lay struggling, and stained the waves red with his blood. It was a wrenching sight, too brutal far, to see the sergeant place his gun against the poor wretch's head, and end his agony!
It seemed so abominable to every spectator there that General Walker should thus seek to enforce Devil's service from his men, entrapped mostly in the first place, without wages or half maintenance, and with no claim upon them whatever, but by a contract without consideration on the one part, on the other hard labor to the death,—that this exhibition, which in another army were calculated to strengthen just authority, here only aroused indignation and disgust. This very night, after witnessing the deserter's punishment, eleven men left the company to which he belonged in a body, and were seen no more in Nicaragua. And though for selfish reasons I was concerned to see the army falling to pieces, and the load of toil and danger increasing upon the rest of us, yet both I and the rest acknowledged that there was no tie of honor or honesty to keep any man with us who wished to escape; and this deed seemed to us without decent sanction.
The steamer at length made its appearance, and, after landing us about forty recruits, departed south with the States passengers for Panama; and afterwards, the new soldiers being all furnished with muskets, the detachment started on its return to Rivas. On the way, it was rumored amongst the men, that a reinforcement to the enemy, marching from Costa Rica, were halted at Virgin Bay, and that General Walker was going to attack them. We hurried over the Transit road as fast as the foot were able,—General Sanders, I recollect, riding far in advance, sometimes out of sight, and thus giving himself to an ambush, had the enemy placed any. By repute he was a man of extreme courage, and held his life so contemptuously that he would scarce hesitate to charge an enemy's line by himself. But I fear that this time he had other impulse than his innate valor; for there was no occasion for a solitary man, riding in these gloomy woods, to be singing and hallooing, and whirling his sword about his head, and swaying to and fro on his horse, unless he were strongly worked by aguardiente.
Reaching Virgin Bay some time after dark, we found the report of an enemy there untrue; but the pickets were got out in remarkable haste, and all the native population—some dozen women and children—were seized, to prevent discovery of us to the enemy, and I suppose there was some expectation of an attack. However, liquor being plenty amongst the hotel-keepers at Virgin Bay, the officers thought it a good place to get drunk in,—and many spent the night in that endeavor, and in playing poker; so that in the morning, walking down to the lake to water my mule, I met a colonel and a general staggering into quarters, rubbing their eyes sullenly, having just lifted themselves from the street, where the honest god Bacchus, as a poet calls him, had put them to bed the night before.
The steamer "San Carlos" still lay over at the island, under shadow of the volcano. The other probably lay at San Jorge, by the enemy. The old brig formerly anchored at Virgin Bay having been burned, there was now no hope of retaking these steamers, unless the party of Texans, which we had by this time heard was fighting its way up the Rio San Juan, should succeed in getting upon the lake with a boat from the river. But to-day we came near reaching the top of this hope unexpectedly. For whilst we still delayed in Virgin Bay, smoke began to rise from the chimneys of the "San Carlos," and in proper time she turned her prow and came across the water directly toward us. It was scarcely possible that she knew anything of our presence in Virgin Bay; and it was doubted by no one but she was coming to land there for some purpose; and then her recapture, were she full of the enemy, was certain, in the spirit we then were in: for all felt, that, could we once get the steamer into our hands, and reach the four hundred fresh Texans on the river, the filibuster star would have shot up so high that it were ill-management indeed that would ever pull it down again. Accordingly all were quickly driven into the houses, and told to lie there close, and be ready to burst forth when the steamer touched her pier. But we were miserably disappointed. She came steadily up within half a mile of land, and then, catching an alarm, turned, and put swiftly back to the island. I afterward heard that two drunken officers had rushed out into the street, and so apprised her of the danger.
After this the detachment set out towards Rivas. We advanced along the lake shore some distance, fording the mouth of the little Rio Lajas, whose waters had lost much depth since I first, passed over this road, crossing the stream in a bungo. In the forest we found, at one point, trees felled across the road, as if the enemy had here been minded to oppose us; but we passed by, seeing no one, and reached Rivas in good time, unmolested.
Arrived at Rivas, we found that a change was taking place in the character of the war. The town had been threatened by the enemy during our absence, and General Henningsen was busy putting it into a state better suited to repel any sudden attack. Pieces of artillery looked down all the principal approaches, from behind short walls of adobe blocks, raised in the middle of the street with open passage-ways on either side. Native men with machetes, watched by armed guards, were clearing away the fine groves of orange, mango, and plantain, which everywhere surrounded Rivas, and were fitted to cover the approach of an enemy. Others were tearing down or burning the houses in the outskirts, to narrow the circle of defence. The tenants of these houses—when they had any—were moved up nearer the plaza, or, if native, sometimes into the country. The native population of Rivas, however, was scanty, consisting mostly of a few women,—of the kindest and most affable sort. In what direction the men had all, or nearly all, gone, I am unable to say. Doubtless some of them were with the Chamorristas.
So many of the houses were marked out to be pulled down, that General Walker was obliged to quarter his new recruits in the church, a large stone building, and curious from the head of Washington, easily identified, carved in relief on its facade. Hitherto some native women had been accustomed to assemble in this church and worship, under care of a fat, unctuous little padre, very obsequiously courteous toward filibusters;—and well he might be; for General Walker was suspicious of all padres, and kept a stern eye upon them. Once he caught one of them, who had preached treason against him within reach of his arm, and released him again only upon payment of five thousand pesos. Another, for a like offence, was put into the guard-house, and required to ransom himself at twenty-five hundred. What became of this one, whether he paid his ransom and got out, or whether he stayed there until he lost oil and became lean on the small ration furnished him, was not rumored. Yet, with all this in his memory, when the present padre came again with his flock of women and found the church occupied by soldiers, he went away scowling, and never even lifted his shovel-hat to me when I met him.
On the night succeeding our return from San Juan, General Walker determined to try a night attack on San Jorge, hoping much from the fresh spirit and muscle of his forty Californians. To assist in this, our company had orders to be on the plaza at two o'clock, afoot, with clean rifles and forty rounds of ammunition. At one o'clock we arose and went down on the plaza, in number about twenty, the rest of the company remaining behind on account of sickness. On the way, however, the number was augmented by a second company of near twenty dismounted rangers, with Colonel Waters at their head.
Whilst we stood, in rather low spirits, waiting the hour of departure, our captain procured us a calabash of aguardiente, which, thinking upon the desperate work ahead of us and the infinite toil and sleeplessness of the last few weeks, we considered excellent, and not to be spared. Discomfort in battle is a positive evil, felt, perhaps, by all sons of Adam; and he who will use means to get rid of it and leave himself free to work is no more a coward, so far, than he who takes chloroform to prevent the pain of a tooth-pulling,—mere positive evil, likewise. Aguardiente will serve a good purpose;—provided the head be not essentially weak, or too inflammable, it ascends you into the brain, and dries you there, as one hath said, all the nervous, crudy vapors that environ it. But this captain of ours drank too injudiciously, and, indeed, so obscured himself with his drink, often, that we his men were loath to trust and follow him,—doubting that he knew where he was about to take us, or for what purpose. To-night he strapped a large canteen of aguardiente about his neck and wore it into battle,—and many times, as the danger staggered, we saw him draw courageous spirit through the neck of it, and go on befogged and reassured. Yet, withal, he was no greater coward than other men,—indeed, much braver than most,—had been wounded whilst leading a forlorn hope over a barricade,—and would, I doubt not, have fought well without aguardiente, had drinking been a mark of cowardice in the army.
At length all was ready, and, with something above three hundred riflemen and infantry, under command of Generals Walker and Sanders, we started out on the San Jorge road some hours after midnight. We kept along the highway until we began to approach the town, and then turned aside into a by-lane crossing to the left. The by-lane was interrupted at one place by a deep pool of water, through which the detachment plunging, half-leg deep, some of the weak-legged stumbled and fell, getting their cartridge-boxes under, and spoiling their ammunition.
At the end of this lane we came into another highway running toward San Jorge, along which we advanced rapidly. After a while we came to a halt, and a party was sent off; then forward again, a corner turned, and another halt,—when I heard General Walker asking some one, in composed voice, "Does he know exactly where we are?" Whilst we stood there, a sudden and hot rattle of musketry began from the front, and we again advanced swiftly, by scattered adobes, turning corners, and came in full view of a barricade some distance ahead spitting flashes of fire crosswise into the right-hand side of the street. We crossed over from left to right, and halted behind an adobe. On our right hand stood a grove of small trees, through which the assailants had probably advanced, and in which, just ahead, hot work was now going on loudly,—with Minie-balls, grape-shot, shouts, outcries, and blood enough doubtless. After some delay here, part of us rangers, led by Colonel Waters, recrossed the street, and advanced, crouching, toward the barricade spitting flames in front. We crept, double file, along a palisade of tall cactus which bordered this part of the street, against whose thorns my neighbor on the right would frequently thrust me, as the shot nipped him closely,—inconvenient, but without pain, so intense was the distraction of the moment. We had crept within a few rods of the barricade, where we had glimpse of faces through embrasures, amidst the smoke and flame, and our leader, as he afterwards said, had it on his lips to order the forward rush,—when the party attacking on our right, behind the trees, gave back, and our own mere handful was checked, and retraced its steps running. A moment later, and we had gone upon that high barricade, some score of us, without backers in the street, to draw on us the enemy's whole fire,—and very likely—unless they had foolishly fled at our first rush—to be all killed there.
On the retreat, I with some others was ordered out of the ranks to pick up a wounded officer and carry him off the ground. We took him down the street, turned a corner, and laid him on the floor of a church some distance beyond. He had an arm broken and a bad wound in his body,—a hopeless man; but upborne and defiant through aguardiente and native strength. After getting him off our hands, we returned to our company, which we found sheltering behind the adobe where we had halted when on the advance. Here we remained some time, with instructions from General Walker (whom, at this time, we seemed to follow as personal guard) to keep ourselves out of reach of the missiles flying on either side of the house. The darkness was so thick that we could see only what was passing immediately around us, and therefore were ignorant as to the position of the foot, and what was now doing amongst them. It was said, however, afterwards, that their officers strove to rally and bring them up to another charge, but that they proved mutinous, and refused to move.
They had suffered, indeed, discouragement enough. Colonel O'Neal, who had led them, was mortally wounded; the barricade was too high and dangerous; they had tried to fire it without success. Some of the forty recruits, who were in front of the party, had climbed over it; and these afterwards affirmed, that, had the others followed then, the barricade had been gained; but the older soldiers had degenerated, possessed little of these men's zeal or spirit, hesitated, and, their colonel falling, gave back. Those who had gone over the barricade were killed there, or came back with wounds,—one with a bayonet-thrust through the arm,—a most remarkable wound, in which, perhaps, Central-Americans fleshed a bayonet for the first time.
Our company, or part of it,—for most had been placed about on pickets when the attack failed,—after a while fell farther back, turned the corner before mentioned, faced about, and came to a stand in the street, with an adobe house on the left. The street in which we stood ran straight forward, and crossed the one down which we had just receded at right angles, a few feet ahead of us, so that there was here a junction of four streets, or, I might better say, roads; for there were no more than four disconnected houses in the immediate vicinity,—the one on the corner beside us, one on the corner diagonally opposite, the one up the street running left, on the far side, behind which we had a little while ago taken shelter, and the square stone church, whither we had carried the wounded man, and which stood on the far side of the street some yards behind us. The rest of the space was covered with fruit-trees and a heavy growth of hushes; and concealed behind these lay the barricades and the plaza of San Jorge. But all this was seen later; then the whole was wrapped in thick darkness, it yet lacking some short time of daybreak.
Whilst our detached company was standing there, with the foot drawn up in the road a little way before us, a single horseman came out from the enemy and galloped past our picket, stationed up the road some distance ahead of the detachment. The picket fired upon him after he had passed; he dropped under his horse's side, and galloped back, apparently unharmed; but, from the direction of their fire, the picket was naturally mistaken for the enemy by the detachment in front, who could see only the flashes through the darkness. Some stood their ground, and returned the fire, placing the picket in great danger; but the bulk, already well scared by their repulse, broke away panic-stricken, and came rushing down the road toward us, thinking the enemy were charging behind them. Our company was suddenly overwhelmed, or borne along by the current, ignorant of the cause of alarm. I brought myself up behind the corner house, where many of the others were taking shelter. But hearing some one cry out, "To the church! to the church! make a stand in the church!" I immediately ran across the road and entered the church by a side-door. As I crossed the entrance, with two or three others, General Walker came running up from the interior, with his sword out, crying,—"Where's that man came into the church? Show me that man!" There were cocked revolvers with some of us, and it was, perhaps, well for General Walker that the crowd now pouring in strongly at both front and side doors diverted him. Turning to these, he threw himself first on one, then on another, battered, tugged, and thrust them out at the door with such force as I hardly thought was in him. He was soon assisted by Sanders, Waters, and other officers, and, with the curses and vociferations of these men, the confused rush of the panic-stricken crowd in the dark, and the outcries of the wounded, who lay about on the floor, as the fugitives trampled over them, there was such a pressure as might unchart a young soldier, and strand him among his fears.
After seeing enough of it, I ran out again into the street, sore bestead, indeed, to know what I should do. Day was beginning to break, and in the gray dawn I saw the men ejected from the church running hither and thither, trying to rejoin their officers. And, there being neither standards nor drums to collect by, the sergeants stood at divers points shouting at the top of their voices the number and letter of their companies, and calling the fugitives to come into ranks. Minie-balls whizzed about in the air or knocked up the dust from the street, and firing was now and then heard near by in uncertain directions, where perhaps the enemy were vexing our pickets. I believe it had been a helter-skelter day for us all, had the enemy got in then and attacked us in the midst of this confusion. They might surely have driven us into irretrievable rout, flying on the road to Rivas, by a spirited charge of fifty good men, or much less.
Whilst I stood in doubt what course to take, I saw our captain, followed by three or four of the company, looking over the ground for the missing, and I forthwith made up and joined him. Others came in, one by one; and at length, the foot being gathered together in the adobes, and things brought to order outside, the captain led his company into the church. General Walker was still there, talking earnestly with Sanders and Waters, having cleared the church of the fugitives. As we approached, he asked the captain, who by this time had emptied his canteen of aguardiente, how many of his men were killed. The captain began cursing the foot, and telling how he had been run over, having tried to stand,—and would have made a long talc, but Colonel Waters touched him on the shoulder, and said in undertone,—"Lead your company off. You are too drunk to talk now."
Our post thenceforward was at the several doors of the church, where we kept guard for the wounded, who lay about the floor in miserable plight for lack of water. Outside, drop-shooting was still kept up by the enemy in the bushes, and returned by ours from the doors.
It was an ill-looking situation for our small, panic-shaken party, resting here within pistol-shot of an overwhelming and victorious enemy. The enemy's respect for us was too great and unreasonable. It behooved them certainly, as honest soldiers, to come forth now and drive us out of their town, in which, I think, if well commenced, there had been but little difficulty. Afterwards, indeed, when I was amongst them in Costa Rica, they declared concerning this affair that they knew we were in their power then, but refrained because they were unwilling to shed more filibuster blood, preferring rather to conquer us by proclamation, and send us back to our homes unhurt,—more expensive, to be sure, but recommended by humanity. Yet I laugh at this when I remember how they crept snake-like in the bushes, and tried to pick us off at the doors, and how they strove, without much danger to themselves, to run our pickets in on us, and get to see our backs turned, whereupon, doubtless, humanity would have been little thought of, and filibuster blood cheap enough. Indeed, once that morning, with little less than four-score horse, they came charging with hope to pass a picket of ten men; but saddles being emptied, they recoiled, and their leader being slain, whilst attempting to rally them, they fled contemptibly,—seven or eight from one. However, this is only my revenge for much exasperation and deploration that they would never come away from their pestiferous walls,—where, after all, they had a right to stay, and will not be blamed by the candid and unbebullet-whizzed reader that they did stay.
We kept our post at the doors, annoyed and apprehensive, until the sun was an hour or so high, when a party of rangers arrived from Rivas with led horses to transport the wounded,—which incumbrance it was, I suppose, that prevented our withdrawal earlier. The wounded were carried out and mounted, some with a soldier behind to support them. Colonel O'Neal, however, who had both legs broken, was carried on a litter, with a cocked revolver on each side of him; for, though he had lost much blood, there was yet spirit in him, and he wanted revenge for these death-wounds. The pickets were now all brought in hastily, and the detachment began its march, leaving, I remember, one stark form propped against the church wall, with staring eyeballs fixed, and soul wandered somewhither. This, from his clean looks, had been one of the fresh California recruits, who, indeed, had found miserable entertainment on their arrival in Nicaragua, land of oranges and sunshine,—being first and longest this night at the barricade, and leaving many of their number there.
A little way from the church we crossed a road running into San Jorge, and, looking up, saw a high log-barricade, some fifty rods off, with embrasures and black-mouthed cannon frowning down on us. Why we were not fired upon I know not, unless on that same score of humanity, or because the enemy had abandoned it during last night's assault. Farther on, whilst passing through a plantain-patch, we saw the greasers some way off in our rear, watching us, running to and fro, and seemingly exercised with preparation for attacking. However, we passed out into the road, and went on undisturbed, yet still with the enemy hovering behind us.
Coming to a place where an abrupt little mound rose at a fork in the road, our company, which brought up the rear of the detachment, had orders to conceal itself behind this, and await the pursuers, and give them check. In a moment they came galloping up the slope of a hill some two or three hundred yards back, their heads only appearing at first, then the rest down to the saddle, when we arose suddenly and gave them a volley of rifle-bullets. They dropped down quickly, either to the ground or under their horses' bellies, in which manoeuvre some of them rival the prairie Indians. Others coming up from behind, we gave them more, until they all disappeared finally. After this we saw no more of them, and arrived at Rivas without further alarm.
This was now the third repulse we had sustained within a few days, with an aggregate loss, perhaps, counting wounded, (who, as I have said, were more regretted than the dead,) not very far under two hundred men,—and it became apparent that the filibuster day was over, unless General Walker could find some stratagem in his head, or some better mode of fighting than this confident rushing upon an overwhelming enemy, under strong cover, and grown bold with success. The prospect, truly, began to look black enough. The men had lost confidence in themselves and in their officers, no longer despised the enemy, and dreaded the barricades at San Jorge so deeply that they would be led against them no more. Those who intended to desert avoided every exposure to danger, and feigned sickness whenever detailed for service. One of the rifle regiments had grown mutinous, upon some quarrel with its officers, and refused to do duty of any kind, and it was absurd to attempt to compel it by aid of the others. The natives, who had charge of the beef cattle, turned them all out of the corral, and ran away in the night, leaving the army without meat, and the commissary force, some forty horsemen, to seek for prey wherever it was to be found. And then there were ill reports heard about the party on the Rio San Juan, and its success began to be doubted. But worse than all was the fast-spreading spirit of desertion, which all saw would prove ruinous of itself, unless shortly stopped in some way.
At this juncture it might have been worth while for General Walker to form a corps for one attack of all the men in his army who felt an earnest interest in driving the enemy out, and were willing to fight desperately for the sake of it. There were scores of stout men acting as lieutenants, captains, majors, etc., of slight performance in those capacities, but who, had they been formed into companies, and asked to fight now one night, at this desperate juncture, for the haciendas General Walker had promised them, would have done willing, perhaps, and excellent service. To these might be added all those among the ranks to whom, from any cause, desertion or expulsion from Nicaragua was disagreeable,—those who distrusted the Costa-Rican promises, or feared disgrace at home, or had sick or wounded friends at Rivas, or were desperate, broken men without other home, or with what other peculiar motives there might be. With this force gathered to themselves by call for volunteers, allowed to choose their own officers, furnished with Colt's revolvers, or bayonets, or both, and led in advance, as a forlorn hope, with ladders to scale the barricades by,—it is likely the enemy might have been driven out, and the cause of Regeneration set up once more. So, at least, it was thought by some. And, indeed, it must have been extremely discouraging for one of better will to be fearful at every step that his comrades would dart aside into the bushes and leave him unsupported; it must have served to cripple the efforts of all the well-intentioned in the army, and should have been remedied. However, no call for volunteers was ventured by General Walker,—he, probably, thinking it too unreasonable to ask his men to do anything for him unforced.
There were some others who thought affairs might be retrieved, if General Walker were displaced, at least from his military command, and Henningsen, or some other, put in his stead. He was exceedingly unpopular, hated, indeed, by a great many, (I have known more than one who professed to nourish the intent of shooting him during his next battle, when the deed could be covered,) was respected only for his strong will and personal bravery, and had never been superseded, solely, perhaps, because the great majority of his men were either without energy, or were careless about everything but escape, and so felt no interest in dethroning him and setting up another, when thereby they were not helping their chance of getting out of the Isthmus. However, there was now a conspiracy commenced by some who were unwilling to leave Nicaragua, and who distrusted General Walker's ability to save the filibusters much longer.
But these underworkers had made us no sign up to the night attack on San Jorge, and the day succeeding that the writer lost sight of the filibuster camp, and knew what took place in it no more. I will tell how the withdrawal was brought about, and then extinguish my story. Near the middle of the day, after returning from San Jorge, the company rode out, under command of the sergeant, to gather forage for the animals. In order to give my own mule a respite, I mounted for this occasion a bad-winded animal, long before used up, and discarded by one of the company, and left to run about the yard. As we rode out at the gateway, one of the men advised me with some pointedness to go back and get my own animal, assuring me the one I had would fail me on this expedition. Yet, knowing he was good for the distance we usually rode foraging, I paid him no heed, and thought nothing of his somewhat singular manner until afterwards. When we had gone some distance, the same man asked me if I had heard that forty deserters had left last night for Costa Rica, adding, that it was his opinion the whole army would soon be on the same road. "Well," said I, "I suppose we'll be among the last." "I don't think I will," rejoined he, "nor the rest of this company." He said no more; but it flashed upon me then that we were even now on the road for Costa Rica; and it soon became certainty, as the sergeant turned down toward the Transit road, a direction in which we had never been allowed to forage, probably because the natives on that side had more communication with San Juan and Virgin Bay, and General Walker was unwilling that the States passengers should hear too many complaints from them. I was before aware that many of the company had been for some time revolving desertion, and had myself been sounded by one a day or two previously; but could have had no suspicion that this was to be the occasion, because several of the most forward in the matter had made excuses, and remained behind in quarters.
At length we halted in a little stream, some miles from Rivas, to water our animals, and it was here openly announced that the party was on its way to Costa Rica to take the benefit of the government proclamation. I rode back toward the rear, where I saw a dispute going on between one of the company who wanted to return to Rivas and others who insisted that he must go forward. One of them met me in the path, and told me I must go with them until they had got beyond the Transit road. They had no wish, he said, to force men to desert; but this much was needed to save themselves from danger of pursuit. I told him my mule would never carry me back from the Transit road. "We will catch you another," said he, "when we reach the Jocote rancho." The whole crowd, save two or three, were with him, and it was useless to persist. So I turned and rode forward with the rest.
At the Jocote rancho we succeeded in catching a mule, but he was given to another of the company, whose animal showed worse signs than my own, which, indeed, had borne me much better than I expected, and was not yet seriously fatigued.
We came out upon the Transit road, passed over the Cordillera ridges, and, just beyond the little river which crosses the road, two miles from San Juan, turned aside into a forest-trail leading down the coast to Costa Rica. Those of us who had been pressed thus far, after crossing the Transit road, gave over all design of returning. The bonds which drew us back were not strong, and the danger of return was considerable. We had heard that the enemy was at Virgin Bay, and that their lancers frequently passed backward and forward on the Transit road, and between San Jorge and Virgin Bay. If we returned, we should be confined to the path nearly all the way to Rivas by the impenetrable forest, and easily taken, should we meet the enemy, or liable even, one or two only, to be shot down from ambush by the hostile natives who lived on the route.
For my own part, I decided to go on with hesitation and regret, and I believe, had one been ready to return, I should have borne him willing company. I preferred even the hard service and dubious chance of General Walker to the alternative of going amongst the Costa-Ricans, where a cowardly populace would probably kick and spit upon us as dirty filibusters and deserters; and should their government even keep its promises, I had no stomach for being set ashore in the city of New York, without money in my pocket, or home that I wished to go to. My health had been good in Nicaragua, and, I believed, would remain good. The motive which sent me there was still in force; and, withal, I wished to see the filibuster game played out,—with Henningsen, or some other man than General Walker, as military director. I believed it might even take a turn so, and a sans-culotte man be furnished at last with a two-hundred-and-fifty-acre home in Nicaragua,—
"'Mid sandal bowers and groves of spice, Might be a Peri's paradise";
and plantain food without sweat, and the elixir of joy called aguardiente! Nevertheless it was all left behind; and Samuel Absalom tore the large, dirty canvas letters M.R., signifying Mounted Ranger, off from his blue flannel shirt-breast; and his experience as filibuster in Nicaragua closed,—somewhat ingloriously.
* * * * *
ROBA DI ROMA.
The Christmas Holidays have come, and with them various customs and celebrations quite peculiar to Rome. They are ushered in by the festive clang of a thousand bells from all the belfries in Rome at Ave Maria of the evening before the august day. At about nine o'clock of the same evening the Pope performs High Mass in some one of the great churches, generally at Santa Maria Maggiore, when all the pillars of this fine old basilica are draped with red hangings, and scores of candles burn in the side chapels, and the great altar blazes with light. The fuguing chants of the Papal choir sound into the dome and down the aisles, while the Holy Father ministers at the altar, and a motley crowd parade and jostle and saunter through the church. Here, mingled together, may be seen soldiers of the Swiss guard, with their shining helmets, long halberds, and party-colored uniforms, designed by Michel Angelo,—chamberlains of the Pope, all in black, with their high ruffs, Spanish cloaks, silken stockings, and golden chains,—contadini from the mountains, in their dully brilliant costumes and white tovaglie,—common laborers from the Campagna, with their black mops of tangled hair,—forestieri of every nation,—Englishmen, with long, light, pendant whiskers, and an eye-glass stuck in one eye,—Germans, with spectacles, frogged coats, and long, straight hair put behind their ears and cut square in the neck,—then Americans, in high-heeled patent-leather boots, a black dress-coat, and a black satin waistcoat,—and wasp-waisted French officers, with baggy trousers, a goat-beard, and a pretentious swagger. Nearer the altar are crowded together in pens a mass of women in black dresses and black veils, who are determined to see and hear all, treating the ceremony purely as a spectacle, and not as a religious rite. Meantime the music soars, the organ groans, the censer clicks, steams of incense float to and fro. The Pope and his attendants kneel and rise,—he lifts the Host, and the world prostrates itself. A great procession of dignitaries with torches bears a fragment of the original cradle of the Holy Bambino from its chapel to the high altar, through the swaying crowd that gape and gaze and stare and sneer and adore. And thus the evening passes. When the clock strikes midnight all the bells ring merrily, Mass commences at the principal churches, and at San Luigi dei Francesi and the Gesu there is a great illumination (what the French call un joli spectacle) and very good music. Thus Christmas is ushered in at Rome.
The next day is a great festa. All classes are dressed in their best and go to Mass,—and when that is over, they throng the streets to chat and lounge and laugh and look at each other. The Corso is so crowded in the morning, that a carriage can scarcely pass. Everywhere one hears the pleasant greeting of "Buona Festa," "Buona Pasqua." All the basso popolo, too, are out,—the women wearing their best jewelry, heavy gold ear-rings, three-rowed collane of well-worn coral and gold, long silver and gold pins and arrows in their hair, and great worked brooches with pendants,—and the men of the Trastevere in their peaked hats, their short jackets swung over one shoulder in humble imitation of the Spanish cloak, and with rich scarfs tied round their waists. Most of the ordinary cries of the day are missed. But the constant song of "Arancie! arancie dolci!" is heard in the crowd; and everywhere are the sigarari, carrying round their wooden tray of tobacco, and shouting, "Sigari! sigari dolci! sigari scelti!" at the top of their lungs; the nocellaro also cries sadly about his dry chestnuts and pumpkin-seeds. The shops are all closed, and the shopkeepers and clerks saunter up and down the streets, dressed better than the same class anywhere else in the world,—looking spick-and-span, as if they had just come out of a bandbox, and nearly all of them carrying a little cane. One cannot but be struck by the difference in this respect between the Romans on a festa-day in the Corso and the Parisians during fete in the Champs Elysees,—the former are so much better dressed, and so much happier, gayer, and handsomer.
During the morning, the Pope celebrates High Mass at San Pietro, and thousands of spectators are there,—some from curiosity, some from piety. Few, however, of the Roman families go there to-day;—they perform their religious services in their private chapel or in some minor church; for the crowd of forestieri spoils St. Peter's for prayer.[A] At the elevation of the Host, the guards, who line the nave, drop to their knees, their side-arms ringing on the pavement,—the vast crowd bends,—and a swell of trumpets sounds through the dome. Nothing can be more impressive than this moment in St. Peter's. Then the choir from its gilt cage resumes its chant, the high falsetti of the soprani soaring over the rest, and interrupted now and then by the clear musical voice of the Pope,—until at last he is borne aloft in his Papal chair on the shoulders of his attendants, crowned with the triple crown, between the high, white, waving fans; all the cardinals, monsignori, canonici, officials, priests, and guards going before him in splendid procession. The Pope shuts his eyes, from giddiness and from fasting,—for he has eaten nothing for twenty-four hours, and the swaying motion of the chair makes him dizzy and sick. But he waves at intervals his three fingers to bless the crowd that kneel or bend before him, and then goes home to the Vatican to dine with a clean conscience and a good appetite.
[Footnote A: "How," says Marforio to Pasquino, "shall I, being a true son of the Holy Church, obtain admittance to her services?" To which Pasquino returns for answer: "Declare that you are an Englishman, and swear that you are a heretic."]
It is the universal rule among priests to fast before saying Mass, and never to take the wafer or body of Christ upon a full stomach. The law is de rigueur, and is almost never broken. But sometimes the temptation of the appetite, it may be supposed, will overcome even a pious man; for priest though one be, one is also flesh-and-blood. An anecdote lately told me by the Conte Cignale (dei Selvaggi) may not be out of place in this connection, and I instance it as an undoubted exception to the general rule. A friend of his, an English artist, enamored of Italian life, was spending the summer in one of the mountain towns. Finding little society there except the physician and the parish priest, he soon became on intimate terms with them. One morning the priest called on him before he had finished breakfast. A savory dish was smoking on the table, and the fumes of the hot coffee filled the room. "I wish you could take breakfast with me," said he; "but I know you are to say Mass, and that it would be contrary to rule for you to eat until it is performed." The priest shrugged his shoulders and looked deprecatorily at the artist and at the breakfast. "Still," continued the latter, "if your scruples would allow you, I should be delighted if you would help me with this capital dish." The temptation was great; the smell was savory. The priest made a strong internal defence, but the garrison was forced at last to capitulate. "Eh!" said he, as he took his seat, "in fatto e il costume generale di non mangiare prima di dire la messa e di prendere l'ostia. Ma—in queste circostanze,"—here he looked to see that the door was well fastened,—"mi pare che si potrebbe far un letto per nostro Signore, Gesu Cristo."
It is the custom in Rome at the great festas, of which Christmas is one of the principal ones, for each parish to send round the sacrament to all its sick; and during these days a procession of priest and attendants may be seen, preceded by their cross and banner, bearing the holy wafer to the various houses. As they march along, they make the streets resound with the psalm they sing. Everybody lifts his hat as they pass, and many among the lower classes kneel upon the pavement. Frequently the procession is followed by a rout of men, women, and children, who join in the chanting and responses, pausing with the priest before the door of the sick person, and accompanying it as it moves from house to house.
At Christmas, all the Roman world which has a baiocco in its pocket eats torone and pan giallo. The shops of the pastry-cooks and confectioners are filled with them, mountains of them incumber the counters, and for days before Christmas crowds of purchasers throng to buy them. Torone is a sort of hard candy, made of honey and almonds, and crusted over with crystallized sugar; or in other words, it is a nuga with a sweet frieze coat;—but nuga is a trifle to it for consistency. Pan giallo is perhaps so called quasi lucus, it being neither bread nor yellow. I know no way of giving a clearer notion of it than by saying that its father is almond-candy and its mother a plum-pudding. It partakes of the qualities of both its parents. From its mother it inherits plums and citron, while its father bestows upon it almonds and consistency. In hardness of character it is half-way between the two,—having neither the maternal tenderness on the one hand, nor the paternal stoniness on the other. One does not break one's teeth on it as over the torone, which is only to be cajoled into masticability by prolonged suction, and often not then; but the teeth sink into it as the wagoner's wheels into clayey mire, and every now and then receive a shock, as from sunken rocks, from the raisin-stones, indurated almonds, pistachio-nuts, and pine-seeds, which startle the ignorant and innocent eater with frightful doubts. I carried away one tooth this year over my first piece; but it was a tooth which had been considerably indebted to California, and I have forgiven the pan giallo. My friend the Conte Cignale, who partook at the same time of torone, having incautiously put a large lump into his mouth, found himself compromised thereby to such an extent as to be at once reduced to silence and retirement behind his pocket-handkerchief. An unfortunate jest, however, reduced him to extremities, and, after a vehement struggle for politeness, he was forced to open the window and give his torone to the pavement—and the little boys, perhaps. Chi sa? But, despite these dangers and difficulties, all the world at Rome eats pan giallo and torone at Christmas,—and a Christmas without them would be an egg without salt. They are at once a penance and a pleasure. Not content with the pan giallo, the Romans also import the pan forte di Siena, which is a blood cousin of the former, and suffers almost nothing from time and age.
On Christmas and New Year's day all the servants of your friends present themselves at your door to wish you a "buona festa," or a "buon capo d'anno." This generous expression of good feeling is, however, expected to be responded to by a more substantial expression on your part, in the shape of four or five pauls, so that one peculiarly feels the value of a large visiting-list of acquaintances at this season. To such an extent is this practice carried, that in the houses of the cardinals and princes places are sought by servants merely for the vails of the festas, no other wages being demanded. Especially is this the case with the higher dignitaries of the Church, whose maestro di casa, in hiring domestics, takes pains to point out to them the advantages of their situation in this respect. Lest the servants should not be aware of all these advantages, the times when such requisitions may be gracefully made and the sums which may be levied are carefully indicated,—not by the cardinal in person, of course, but by his underlings; and many of the fellows who carry the umbrella and cling to the back of the cardinal's coach, covered with shabby gold-lace and carpet-collars, and looking like great beetles, are really paid by everybody rather than the padrone they serve. But this is not confined to the Eminenze, many of whom are, I dare say, wholly ignorant that such practices exist. The servants of the embassies and all the noble houses also make the circuit of the principal names on the visiting-list, at stated occasions, with good wishes for the family. If one rebel, little care will be taken that letters, cards, and messages arrive promptly at their destination in the palaces of their padroni; so it is a universal habit to thank them for their politeness, and to request them to do you the favor to accept a piece of silver in order to purchase a bottle of wine and drink your health. I never knew one of them refuse; probably they would not consider it polite to do so. It is curious to observe the care with which at the embassies a new name is registered by the servants, who scream it from anteroom to salon, and how considerately a deputation waits on you at Christmas and New Year's, or, indeed, whenever you are about to leave Rome to take your villeggiatura, for the purpose of conveying to you the good wishes of the season or of invoking for you a "buon viaggio." One young Roman, a teacher of languages, told me that it cost him annually some twenty scudi or more, to convey to the servants of his pupils and others his deep sense of the honor they did him in inquiring for his health at stated times. But this is a rare case, and owing, probably, to his peculiar position. A physician in Rome, whom I had occasion to call in for a slight illness, took an opportunity on his first visit to put a very considerable buona mano into the hands of my servant, in order to secure future calls. I cannot, however, say that this is customary; on the contrary, it is the only case I know, though I have had other Roman physicians; and this man was in his habits and practice peculiarly un-Roman. I do not believe it, therefore, to be a Roman trait. On the other hand, I must say, for my servant's credit, that he told me the fact with a shrug, and added, that he could not, after all, recommend the gentleman as a medico, though I was padrone, of course, to do as I liked.
On Christmas Eve, a Presepio is exhibited in several of the churches. The most splendid is that of the Ara Celi, where the miraculous Bambino is kept. It lasts from Christmas to Twelfth Night, during which period crowds of people flock to see it; and it well repays a visit. The simple meaning of the term Presepio is a manger, but it is also used in the Church to signify a representation of the birth of Christ. In the Ara Celi the whole of one of the side-chapels is devoted to this exhibition. In the foreground is a grotto, in which is seated the Virgin Mary, with Joseph at her side and the miraculous Bambino in her lap. Immediately behind are an ass and an ox. On one side kneel the shepherds and kings in adoration; and above, God the Father is seen surrounded by clouds of cherubs and angels playing on instruments, as in the early pictures of Raphael. In the background is a scenic representation of a pastoral landscape, on which all the skill of the scene-painter is expended. Shepherds guard their flocks far away, reposing under palm-trees or standing on green slopes which glow in the sunshine. The distances and perspective are admirable. In the middle ground is a crystal fountain of glass, near which sheep, preternaturally white, and made of real wool and cotton-wool, are feeding, tended by figures of shepherds carved in wood. Still nearer come women bearing great baskets of real oranges and other fruits on their heads. All the nearer figures are full-sized, carved in wood, painted, and dressed in appropriate robes. The miraculous Bambino is a painted doll swaddled in a white dress, which is crusted over with magnificent diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. The Virgin also wears in her ears superb diamond pendants. Joseph has none; but he is not a person peculiarly respected in the Church. As far as the Virgin and Child are concerned, they are so richly dressed that the presents of the kings and wise men seem rather supererogatory,—like carrying coals to Newcastle,—unless, indeed, Joseph come in for a share, as it is to be hoped he does. The general effect of this scenic show is admirable, and crowds flock to it and press about it all day long. Mothers and fathers are lifting their little children as high as they can, and until their arms are ready to break; little maids are pushing, whispering, and staring in great delight; contadini are gaping at it with a mute wonderment of admiration and devotion; and Englishmen are discussing loudly the value of the jewels, and wanting to know, by Jove, whether those in the crown can be real.
While this is taking place on one side of the church, on the other is a very different and quite as singular an exhibition. Around one of the antique columns of this basilica—which once beheld the splendors and crimes of the Caesars' palace—a staging is erected, from which little maidens are reciting, with every kind of pretty gesticulation, sermons, dialogues, and speechifications, in explanation of the Presepio opposite. Sometimes two of them are engaged in alternate question and answer about the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption. Sometimes the recitation is a piteous description of the agony of the Saviour and the sufferings of the Madonna,—the greatest stress being, however, always laid upon the latter. All these little speeches have been written for them by their priest or some religious friend, been committed to memory, and practised with the appropriate gestures over and over again at home. Their little piping voices are sometimes guilty of such comic breaks and changes, that the crowd about them rustles into a murmurous laughter. Sometimes also one of the very little preachers has a dispitto, pouts, shakes her shoulders, and refuses to go on with her part;—another, however, always stands ready on the platform to supply the vacancy, until friends have coaxed, reasoned, or threatened the little pouter into obedience. These children are often very beautiful and graceful, and their comical little gestures and intonations, their clasping of hands and rolling up of eyes, have a very amusing and interesting effect. The last time I was there, I was sorry to see that the French costume had begun to make its appearance. Instead of the handsome Roman head, with its dark, shining, braided hair, which is so elegant when uncovered, I saw on two of the children the deforming bonnet, which could have been invented only to conceal a defect, and which is never endurable, unless it be perfectly fresh, delicate, and costly. Nothing is so vulgar as a shabby bonnet. Yet the Romans, despite their dislike of the French, are beginning to wear it. Ten years ago it did not exist here among the common people. I know not why it is that the three ugliest pieces of costume ever invented, the dress-coat, the trousers, and the bonnet, all of which we owe to the French, have been accepted all over Europe, to the exclusion of every national costume. Certainly it is not because they are either useful, elegant, or commodious.[B]
[Footnote B: That cultivated gentleman, John Evelyn, two centuries ago wrote some amusing words on this subject. After quoting the witty saying of Malvezzi,—"I vestimenti negli animali sono molto securi segni della loro natura, negli nomini del lor cervello,"—he goes on to say, "Be it excusable in the French to alter and impose the mode on others, 'tis no less a weakness and a shame in the rest of the world, who have no dependence on them, to admit them, at least to that degree of levity as to turn into all their shapes without discrimination; so as when the freak takes our Monsieurs to appear like so many farces or Jack Puddings on the stage, all the world should alter shape and play the pantomimes with them. Methinks a French tailor, with an ell in his hand, looks like the enchantress Circe over the companions of Ulysses, and changes them into as many forms.... Something I would indulge to youth; something to age and humor. But what have we to do with these foreign butterflies? In God's name, let the change be our own, not borrowed of others; for why should I dance after a Monsieur's flageolet, that have a set of English viols for my concert? We need no French inventions for the stage or for the back."—From a pamphlet entitled Tyrannus, or the Mode.
"Si le costume bourgeois," says George Sand, in Le Peche de M. Antoine, "de notre epoque est le plus triste, le plus incommode et le plus disgracieux, que la mode ait jamais invente, c'est surtout au milieu des champs que tous ses inconvenients et toutes ses laideurs revoltent.... Au milieu de ce cadre austere et grandiose, qui transporte l'imagination au temps de la poesie primitive, apparaisse cette mouche parasite, le monsieur aux habits noirs, au menton rase, aux mains gantees, aux jambes maladroites, et ce roi de la societe n'est plus qu'un accident ridicule, une tache importune dans le tableau. Votre costume genant et disparate inspire alors la pitie plus que les haillons du pauvre, on sent que vous etes deplace au grand air, et que votre livree vous ecrase."]
If one visit the Ara Celi during the afternoon of one of these festas, the scene is very striking. The flight of one hundred and twenty-four steps, which once led to the temple of Venus and Rome, is then thronged by merchants of Madonna wares, who spread them out over the steps and hang them against the walls and balustrades. Here are to be seen all sorts of curious little colored prints of the Madonna and Child of the most ordinary quality, little bags, pewter medals, and crosses stamped with the same figures and to be worn on the neck,—all offered at once for the sum of one baiocco. Here also are framed pictures of the Saints, of the Nativity, and, in a word, of all sorts of religious subjects appertaining to the season. Little wax dolls, clad in cotton-wool to represent the Saviour, and sheep made of the same materials, are also sold by the basketful. Children and contadine are busy buying them, and there is a deafening roar all up and down the steps of "Mezzo baiocco, bello colorito, mezzo baiocco, la Santissima Concezione Incoronata,"—"Diario Romano, Lunario Romano Nuovo,"—"Ritratto colorito, medaglia e quadruccio, un baiocco tutti, un baiocco tutti,"—"Bambinelli di cera, un baiocco."[C] None of the prices are higher than one baiocco, except to strangers,—and generally several articles are held up together, enumerated, and proffered with a loud voice for this sum. Meanwhile men, women, children, priests, beggars, soldiers, and villani are crowding up and down, and we crowd with them.
[Footnote C: "A half-baiocco, beautifully colored,—a half-baiocco, the Holy Conception Crowned." "Roman Diary,—New Roman Almanac." "Colored portrait, medal, and little picture, one baiocco, all." "Little children in wax, one baiocco."]
At last, ascending, we reach the door which faces towards the west. We lift the great leathern curtain and push into the church. A faint perfume of incense salutes the nostrils. The golden sunset bursts in as the curtain sways forward, illuminates the mosaic floor, catches on the rich golden ceiling, and flashes here and there over the crowd on some brilliant costume or shaven head. All sorts of people are thronging there,—some kneeling before the shrine of the Madonna, which gleams with its hundreds of silver votive hearts, legs, and arms,—some listening to the preaching,—some crowding round the chapel of the Presepio,—old women, haggard and wrinkled, come tottering along with their scaldini of coals, drop down on their knees to pray, and, as you pass, interpolate in their prayers a parenthesis of begging. The church is not architecturally handsome; but it is eminently picturesque, with its relics of centuries, its mosaic pulpits and floor, its frescoes of Pinturicchio and Pesaro, its antique columns, its rich golden ceiling, its Gothic mausoleum to the Savelli, and its medieval tombs. A dim, dingy look is over all,—but it is the dimness of faded splendor; and one cannot stand there, knowing the history of the church, its exceeding antiquity, and the changes it has undergone since it was a Roman temple, without a peculiar sense of interest and pleasure.
It was here that Romulus, in the gray dawning of Rome, built the temple of Jupiter Feretrius. Here the spolia opima were deposited. Here the triumphal processions of the Emperors and generals ended. Here the victors paused before making their vows, until the message came from the Mamertine Prisons below to announce that their noblest prisoner and victim, while the clang of their triumph and his defeat rose ringing in his ears as the procession ascended the steps, had expiated with death the crime of being the enemy of Rome. Over these very steps,—nineteen centuries ago, the first great Caesar climbed on his knees after his first triumph. At their base, Rienzi, "last of the Roman tribunes," fell. And, if the tradition of the Church is to be trusted, it was on the site of the present high altar that Augustus erected the "Ara primogenito Dei" to commemorate the Delphic prophecy of the coming of our Saviour. Standing on a spot so thronged with memories, the dullest imagination takes fire. The forms and scenes of the past rise from their graves and pass before us, and the actual and visionary are mingled together in strange poetic confusion. Truly, as Walpole says, "memory sees more than our eyes in this country."
And this is one great charm of Rome,—that it animates the dead figures of its history. On the spot where they lived and acted, the Caesars change from the manikins of books to living men; and Virgil, Horace, and Cicero grow to be realities, as we walk down the Sacred Way and over the very pavement they may once have trod. The conversations "De Claris Oratoribus" and the "Tusculan Questions" seem like the talk of the last generation, as we wander on the heights of Tusculum, or over the grounds of that charming villa on the banks of the Liris, which the great Roman orator so graphically describes in his treatise "De Legibus." The landscape of Horace has not changed. Still in the winter you may see the dazzling peak of the "gelidus Algidus" and "ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte"; and wandering at Tivoli in the summer, his description,
"Domus Albuneae resonantis, Et praeceps Anio, et Tiburni lucus, et uda Mobililius pomaria rivis,"
is as true and fresh as if his words were of yesterday. Could one better his compliment to any Roman Lalage of to-day than to call her "dulce ridentem"? In all its losses, Rome has not lost the sweet smile of its people. Would you like to know the modern rules for agriculture in Rome, read the "Georgics"; there is so little to alter, that it is not worth mentioning. So, too, at Rome, the Emperors become as familiar as the Popes. Who does not know the curly-headed Marcus Aurelius, with his lifted brow and projecting eyes, from the full, round beauty of his youth to the more haggard look of his latest years? Are there any modern portraits more familiar than the pensive, wedge-like head of Augustus, with his sharp-cut lips and nose,—or the dull phiz of Hadrian, with his hair combed down over his low forehead,—or the vain, perking face of Lucius Verus, with his thin nose, low brow, and profusion of curls,—or the brutal bull head of Caracalla,—or the bestial, bloated features of Vitellius?
These men, who were but lay-figures to us at school, mere pegs of names to hang historic robes upon, thus interpreted by the living history of their portraits, the incidental illustrations of the places where they lived and moved and died, and the buildings and monuments they erected, become like the men of yesterday. Art has made them our contemporaries. They are as near to us as Pius VII. and Napoleon. I never drive out of the old Nomentan Gate without remembering the ghastly flight of Nero,—his recognition there by an old centurion,—his damp, drear hiding-place underground, where, shuddering and quoting Greek, he waited for his executioners,—and his subsequent terrible and cowardly death, as narrated by Tacitus and Suetonius; and it seems nearer to me, more vivid, and more actual, than the death of Rossi in the court of the Cancelleria. I never drive by the Caesars' palaces, without recalling the ghastly jest of Tiberius, when he sent for some fifteen of the Senators at dead of night and commanded their presence; and when they, trembling with fear, and expecting nothing less than that their heads were all to fall, had been kept waiting for an hour, the door opened, and he, nearly naked, appeared with a fiddle in his hand, and, after fiddling and dancing to his quaking audience for an hour, dismissed them to their homes uninjured. The air seems to keep a sort of spiritual scent or trail of these old deeds, and to make them more real here than elsewhere. The old horrors of the Amphitheatre can be made real to any person of imaginative mind in the Colosseum. He has but to lend himself to the contagion of the place, and he will see the circle of ten thousand eager eyes thirsting for his blood, fill up the ruined benches and arched tiers as of yore, and hear the savage murmur of human voices, worse than the dull roar of the beasts below. The past still lives in these old walls. It is in vain to say that the ghosts of history do not haunt their ancient habitations. Places, as well as persons, have lives and influences; and the horror of murder will not away from a spot. Haunted by its crimes, oppressed and debilitated by the fierce excesses of its Empire, Rome, silent, grave, and meditative, sighs over its past, wrapped in the penitent robes of the Church.
Besides, here one feels that the modern Romans are only the children of their ancient fathers, with the same characteristics,—softened, indeed, and worn down by time, just as the sharp traits of the old marbles have worn away; but still the same people,—proud, passionate, lazy, jealous, vindictive, easy, patient, and able. The Popes are but Church pictures of the Emperors,—a different robe, but the same nature beneath;—Alexander the VI. was but a second Tiberius—Pius the VII., a modern Augustus. When I speak of the Roman people, I do not mean the class of hangers-on upon the foreigners, but the Trasteverini and the inhabitants of the provinces and mountains. No one can go through the Trastevere when the people are roused, without feeling that they are the same as those who listened to Marcus Antonius and Brutus, when the bier of Caesar was brought into the streets,—and as those who fought with the Colonna and stabbed Rienzi at the foot of the Capitol steps. The Ciceruacchio of '48 was but an ancient Tribune of the People, in the primitive sense of that title. I like, too, to parallel the anecdote of Caius Marius, when, after his ruin, he concealed himself in the marshes, and astonished his captors, who expected to find him weak of heart, by the magnificent self-assertion of "I am Caius Marius," with the story which is told of Stefano Colonna. After this great captain met with his sad reverses, and, deprived of all his possessions, fled from Rome, an attendant asked him,—"What fortress have you now?" He placed his hand on his heart and answered,—"Eccola!" The same blood evidently ran in the veins of both these men; and well might Petrarca call Colonna "a phoenix risen from the ashes of the ancient Romans."
But, somehow or other, I have wandered strangely from my subject. Scusi,—but what has all this to do with the Bambino?
The Santissimo Bambino is a very round-faced and expressionless doll, carved, as the legend goes, from a tree on the Mount of Olives, by a Franciscan pilgrim, and painted by Saint Luke while the pilgrim slept. It is difficult to say which was the worse artist of the two, the sculptor or the painter. But Saint Luke's pictures generally do not give us a high idea of his skill as a painter. The legend is a charming anachronism, unless, indeed, Saint Luke was only a spiritual presence;—but, as the whole incident was miraculous, the greater the anachronism, the greater the miracle. The Bambino, however he came into existence, is invested, according to the assertions of priests and the belief of the common people, with wonderful powers in curing the sick; and his practice is as lucrative as any physician's in Rome. His aid is in constant requisition in severe cases, and certain it is that a cure not unfrequently follows upon his visit; but as the regular physicians always cease their attendance upon his entrance, and blood-letting and calomel are consequently intermitted, perhaps the cure is not so miraculous as it might at first seem. He is borne by the priests in state to his patients; and during the Triumvirate of '49, the Pope's carriage was given to him and his attendants. I was assured by the priest who exhibited him to me at the church, that, on one occasion, having been stolen by some irreverent hand from his ordinary abiding-place in one of the side-chapels, he returned alone, by himself, at night, to console his guardians and to resume his functions. Great honors are paid to him. He wears jewels which a Colonna might envy, and not a square inch of his body is without a splendid gem. On festal occasions, like Christmas, he wears a coronet as brilliant as the triple crown of the Pope, and, lying in the Madonna's arms in the representation of the Nativity, he is adored by the people until Epiphany. Then, after the performance of Mass, a procession of priests, accompanied by a band of music, makes the tour of the church and proceeds to the chapel of the Presepio, where the bishop, with great solemnity, removes him from his Mother's arms. At this moment, the music bursts forth into a triumphant march, a jubilant strain over the birth of Christ, and he is borne through the doors of the church to the great steps. There the bishop elevates the Holy Bambino before the crowds who throng the steps, and they fall upon their knees. This is thrice repeated, and the wonderful image is then conveyed to its original chapel, and the ceremony is over.
The Eve of Epiphany, or Twelfth-Night, is to the children of Rome what Christmas Eve is to us. It is then that the Bifana comes with her presents. This personage is neither merry nor male, like Santa Claus, nor beautiful and childlike, like Christ-kindchen,—but is described as a very tall, dark woman, ugly, and rather terrible, "d' una fisionomia piuttosto imponente" who comes down the chimney, on the Eve of Epiphany, armed with a long canna and shaking a bell, to put playthings into the stockings of the good children, and bags of ashes into those of the bad. It is a night of fearful joy for all the little ones. When they hear her bell ring, they shake in their sheets; for the Bifana is used as a threat to the wilful, and their hope is tempered by a wholesome apprehension. It is supposed to be a distorted image of the visit of the kings and wise men with their presents at the Nativity, as Santa Claus may be of the shepherds, and the Christ-kindchen of Christ himself. However this may be, it is curious to observe the different characters this superstition assumes among different nations and under different influences.
The great festival of the Bifana (a corruption, undoubtedly, of Epifania) takes place on the Eve of Twelfth-Night, in the Piazza di San Eustachio,—and a curious spectacle it is. The Piazza itself, (which is situated in the centre of the city, just beyond the Pantheon,) and all the adjacent streets, are lined with booths covered with every kind of plaything for children. Most of these are of Roman make, very rudely fashioned, and very cheap; but for those who have longer purses, there are not wanting heaps of German and French toys. These booths are gayly illuminated with rows of candles and the three-wicked brass lucerne of Rome; and, at intervals, painted posts are set into the pavement, crowned with pans of grease, with a wisp of tow for wick, which blaze and flare about. Besides these, numbers of torches carried about by hand lend a wavering and picturesque light to the scene. By eight o'clock in the evening, crowds begin to fill the Piazza and the adjacent streets. Long before one arrives, the squeak of penny-trumpets is heard at intervals; but in the Piazza itself the mirth is wild and furious, and the din that salutes one's ears on entering is almost deafening. The object of every one is to make as much noise as possible, and every kind of instrument for this purpose is sold at the booths. There are drums beating, tamburelli thumping and jingling, pipes squeaking, watchmen's-rattles clacking, penny-trumpets and tin horns shrilling, and the sharpest whistles shrieking everywhere. Besides this, there are the din of voices, screams of laughter, and the confused burr and buzz of a great crowd. On all sides you are saluted by the strangest noises. Instead of being spoken to, you are whistled at. Companies of people are marching together in platoons, or piercing through the crowd in long files, and dancing and blowing like mad on their instruments. It is a perfect witches' Sabbath. Here, huge dolls dressed as Polichinello or Pantaloon are borne about for sale,—or over the heads of the crowd great black-faced jumping-jacks, lifted on a stick, twitch themselves in fantastic fits,—or, what is more Roman than all, men carry about long poles strung with rings of hundreds of giambelli, (a light cake, called jumble in English,) which they scream for sale at a mezzo baiocco each. There is no alternative but to get a drum, whistle, or trumpet, and join in the racket,—and to fill one's pockets with toys for the children and absurd presents for one's older friends. The moment you are once in for it, and making as much noise as you can, you begin to relish the jest. The toys are very odd,—particularly the Roman whistles;—some of these are made of pewter, with a little wheel that whirls as you blow; others are of terra-cotta, very rudely modelled into every shape of bird, beast, and human deformity, each with a whistle in its head, breast, or tail, which it is no joke to hear, when blown close to your ears by a stout pair of lungs. The scene is very picturesque. Above, the dark vault of night, with its far stars, the blazing and flaring of lights below, and the great, dark walls of the Sapienza and Church looking grimly down upon the mirth. Everywhere in the crowd are the glistening helmets of soldiers, who are mixing in the sport, and the chapeaux of white-strapped gendarmes, standing at intervals to keep the peace. At about half-past eleven o'clock the theatres are emptied, and the upper classes flock to the Piazza. I have never been there later than half-past twelve, but the riotous fun still continued at that hour; and, for a week afterwards, the squeak of whistles may be heard at intervals in the streets.
At the two periods of Christmas and Easter, the young Roman girls take their first communion. The former, however, is generally preferred, as it is a season of rejoicing in the Church, and the ceremonies are not so sad as at Easter. In entering upon this religious phase of their life, it is their custom to retire to a convent, and pass a week in prayer and reciting the offices of the Church. During this period, no friend, not even their parents, are allowed to visit them, and information as to their health and condition is very reluctantly and sparingly given at the door. In case of illness, the physician of the convent is called; and even then neither parent is allowed to see them, except, perhaps, in very severe cases. Of course, during their stay in the convent, every exertion is made by the sisters to render a monastic life agreeable, and to stimulate the religious sensibilities of the young communicant. The pleasures of society and the world are decried, and the charms of peace, devotion, and spiritual exercises eulogized, until the excited imagination of the communicant leaves her no rest, before she has returned to the convent and taken the veil as a nun. The happiness of families is thus sometimes destroyed; and I knew one very united and pleasant Roman family which in this way was sadly broken up. Two of three sisters were so worked upon at their first communion, that the prayers of family and friends proved unavailing to retain them in their home. The more they were urged to remain, the more they desired to go, and the parents, brothers, and remaining sister were forced to yield a most reluctant consent. They retired into the convent and became nuns. It was almost as if they had died. From that time forward, the home was no longer a home. I saw them when they took the veil, and a sadder spectacle was not easily to be seen. The girls were happy, but the parents and family wretched, and the parting was very tearful and sad. They do not seem since to have regretted the step they then took; but regret would be unavailing—and even if they felt it, they could scarcely show it. The occupation of the sisters in the monastery they have joined is prayers, the offices of the Church, and, I believe, a little instruction of poor children. But gossip among themselves, of the pettiest kind, must make up for the want of wider worldly interests. In such limited relations, little jealousies engender great hypocrisies; a restricted horizon enlarges small objects. The repressed heart and introverted mind, deprived of their natural scope, consume themselves in self-consciousness, and duties easily degenerate into routine. We are not all in all to ourselves; the world has claims upon us, which it is cowardice to shrink from, and folly to deny. Self-forgetfulness is a great virtue, and selfishness a great vice. After all, the best religious service is worthy occupation. Large interests keep the heart sound; and the best of prayers is the doing of a good act with a pure purpose.
"He prayeth best who loveth best All things, both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all."
The compensations of calamity are made apparent after long intervals of time. The sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all fact. —EMERSON.
Abdel-Hassan o'er the Desert journeyed with his caravan,— Many a richly laden camel, many a faithful serving-man.
And before the haughty master bowed alike the man and beast; For the power of Abdel-Hassan was the wonder of the East.
It was now the twelfth day's journey, but its closing did not bring Abdel-Hassan and his servants to the long-expected spring.
From the ancient line of travel they had wandered far away, And at evening, faint and weary, on a waste of Desert lay.
Fainting men and famished camels stretched them round the master's tent; For the water-skins were empty, and the dates were nearly spent.
All the night, as Abdel-Hassan on the Desert lay apart, Nothing broke the lifeless silence but the throbbing of his heart;
All the night he heard it beating, while his sleepless, anxious eyes Watched the shining constellations wheeling onward through the skies.
When the glowing orbs, receding, paled before the coming day, Abdel-Hassan called his servants and devoutly knelt to pray.
Then his words were few and solemn to the leader of his train:— "Thirty men and eighty camels, Haroun, in thy care remain.
"Keep the beasts and guard the treasure till the needed aid I bring. God is great! His name is mighty!—I, alone, will seek the spring."