In retracing their steps, they therefore passed through the old forum, and then ascending the Capitol, entered the museum there, and renewed their impression of that admirable statue. What pain!—but pain overmastered—on that brow, as he sinks in death! Nor was the charming little group of Cupid and Psyche forgotten. That kiss! it merits to be eternised. In his love, what delight! In hers, what devotion!
"But above all," said Mildred, "let us do reverence, before we part, to Aristides the Just. How self-contained! Austere—the lover more of virtue than of man. Full of his grand abstractions, he asks for nothing even of the gods. Let them do justice! Nay, let them submit to justice too! Great leveller! Is not virtue so uncompromising as this, very near to rebellion against the gods and destiny?"
The next morning the whole party were packed in their travelling carriage to start from Rome. Winston had no longer refused that fourth seat which had been destined for him at Genoa. To say nothing of some diminution of expense (a very worthy subject of consideration with all travellers,) it was a great relief to Mr. Bloomfield to have a second gentleman in their party. It decreased materially his own share of personal trouble. Besides which, the travelling experience of Winston, and his more familiar acquaintance with the Italian, rendered him very acceptable. Mildred had generally acted as interpreter; and so long as the speaker would answer in the same pure Tuscan in which she addressed him, she could perform the office admirably well. But unfortunately, the traveller in Italy has most need for his Italian exactly where any thing but pure Tuscan is spoken. She could always succeed in making herself understood; but was often sadly at a loss to understand that answer which, with all due dexterity, she had elicited.
On they now rattled through the streets of Rome. What rags upon those beggars! Patches of all colours, red, blue, brown; but worn with such an air of calm assurance, as if the garment of many colours had been bestowed on the most favoured son of humanity. They passed the peasant dame, or damsel, in her gaudy attire, with gold comb and ear-rings glittering in her jet black hair, and that square folded handkerchief on her head, which we always associate with the bandit's wife; and amidst the squalid populace there appeared now and then, quite distinct from the rest, a form or face of some youth, or maiden, or old man, that might have issued from the canvass of Raphael. The apostles of the old masters, at least, are walking still about Rome; and sometimes a Virgin Mary is seen sitting at the door, and still more often a young John the Baptist looks up to you from the pavement. Their own postilion reminded the whole party of the Suonatore di Violino of Raphael—whose fiddlestick, by the way, being that of a bass viol, might at first sight be mistaken for a folded riding-whip.
On they pass by the beautiful church of St. Giovanni, the statues on the roof and over the portico of which have at least one point of resemblance with their saintly prototypes—they are standing out there in the clear blue heavens, to which, and not to the earth, they seem to belong. At the Port Sebastian they are detained by a string of wine-carts, each drawn by one horse, with his plume of black feathers on his head, and each cart furnished with its goatskin umbrella, under the shade of which the driver lies fast asleep. Then follow a long cavalcade of peasants, mounted on mules or asses—mounted of a truth, for they sit on a high wooden saddle, their arms folded under their long brown cloaks, and a black pointed hat upon their heads. Strange figures!
"A flower in that hat!" exclaimed Mildred, as one passed her with a beautiful carnation stuck into a beaver, which, except that it retained its pyramidal form, and was there upon a human head, could not have been recognised as hat at all. "And he wears it seriously," she continued, "serenely—without the least feeling of incongruity. Oh, I like that!"
Getting clear of this train, they advanced through the gate into the open country. To their left the old aqueduct extended on the horizon its long line of ruined arches; to the right the plain was dotted with mere massive fragments of undistinguishable ruin, looking like what the geologists call boulders. The trace of man's labour was lost in them; the work of the artificer had come to resemble the rudest accident of Nature.
And so Rome was left behind.
* * * * *
"Is that smoke or a cloud," asked Miss Bloomfield, "that rests so constantly upon that mountain?"
"It is Vesuvius! Vesuvius!" exclaimed the rest of the party.
But they found themselves in a position, at that moment, the least of all favourable to enthusiastic emotions. Their carriage was delayed at the entrance into Naples, in the middle of a wide road, the hottest and the dustiest that can be imagined. There they were arrested to undergo the examination and the extortions of the custom-house gentry. Poor Mr. Bloomfield was in a fever. His passport had been asked for six several times between Rome and Naples, and each time solely, as it seemed, to extract a gratuity. Even the military guard stationed at the gates of the towns had begged. No one in Italy seemed to speak to him but to beg, or to lay the foundation, as a lawyer would say, for a begging question. And now these fellows were examining, or pretending to examine his baggage, and were evidently resolved to keep them there, in the sun and the dust, till they had paid a sufficient ransom. In this position it was that Winston and Mildred were, by stolen glances, taking their first survey of the burning mountain. By stolen glances, because they were compelled from a certain feeling of politeness to share in the anxieties and chagrin of Mr. Bloomfield. For themselves, they both agreed it was much better to submit quietly, and at once, to all these impositions; even if there were a fair chance, after much controversy, of a successful resistance. There is surely no money so well laid out as that which purchases equanimity.
They were extricated at length, and the carriage rattled on into Naples. Mr. Bloomfield had written to procure apartments in the quarter of the Chiaja, opposite the Villa Reale, (or royal gardens.) To these therefore they drove. Winston of course found his way to an hotel.
That evening he walked out to look at the burning mountain. It was now, and during the whole period of their stay, in a state of great activity, which some dignified with the name of an eruption. As Winston watched its burning summit across an angle of the bay, he thought he had never seen any thing which so completely fascinated the eye. The flame alternately rising and falling leads the spectator every moment to expect something more than he has hitherto seen, and that now it is about to burst forth. And even at this distance it is so evidently not a fire upon but within the mountain, from the manner in which the flame sinks down, and that red metallic glare which shoots along the rocky summits and cavities, here the fire is not visible. Yet fascinating as the object was, it did not entirely rivet the thoughts of Winston. To his own surprise and confusion, he found that he, a professed admirer of nature, was standing, for the first time, by the bay of Naples, under the beautiful star-light of Italy, watching one of the most magnificent of nature's wonders with a divided and distracted mind. All this scene, and all its novelty, could not keep Mildred from his thoughts. Evidently he was a lost man.
And who or what, after all, was Alfred Winston? The, question, it may be supposed, had often occurred to the Bloomfields. That he was an artist, was a conjecture long ago given up; he travelled with no portfolio, and was never known to use the pencil. That he was a literary man was also contradicted by his own straightforward unaffected denials; if he had cultivated his mind, it was solely for the pleasure or profit accruing to himself. The manner in which his time was at his own disposal, seemed to contradict the idea that he belonged to any of the learned professions. What could he be therefore but simply a gentleman? And such they had satisfied themselves, from many reasons, that he was. But there are gentlemen and gentlemen—rich, and poor. To which of these two classes did he belong? Question of questions. The moment it is asked how all vain enchantments are dispersed! how the bare earth shows itself directly beneath our feet! Where is now the bay of Naples, and star-light, and Vesuvius? Is he rich or poor?
One word on the father of Alfred Winston will best explain his own present position in the world. That father was one of a class of men altogether inexplicable, quite unintelligible to sober-minded and methodical persons; and yet the class is not so very rare. He was of good birth and fortune, of agreeable manners, and witty conversation, but utterly destitute of all prudential, all providential care, whether for himself or others. He was born to an ample estate; and, fond of pleasure as he was, he might have found it sufficient, with very little effort of prudence, to gratify all his tastes. But from the very commencement of his career, he entered upon the ruinous practice of "eating the land with the revenue," and continued, in this manner, consuming every year more of land and less of revenue. He early lost his wife. He had been an amiable husband, and manifested a decorous sorrow on the occasion; but could not disguise from his intimate friends the pleasure he felt at the recovery of his bachelor freedom. He hated the necessity of having to yield his own inclinations to another; though he hated still more the alternative of having to dispute with that other for liberty to follow his own inclinations.
After the decease of his wife, the elder Winston lived, for the most part, a roaming life upon the Continent. A little intrigue, a little gaming, the dinner, and the opera, sufficiently filled up the time of one who, while he courted pleasure, was not difficult in his amusements. And for this he could continue, with the utmost calmness and freedom from anxiety, a scale of expenditure which was rapidly dissipating his hereditary estates. His son he treated with indulgence and liberality, and when he saw him, which was seldom, with great kindness of manner. He encouraged him in all the idle and expensive habits of a gentleman of fortune, while he was utterly destroying the property which could alone support them.
He died suddenly; a fever carried him off at the age of fifty. Had he lived three years longer, he would have spent every shilling he possessed. What had he intended to do then? It is impossible to say. To all appearance he had never entertained the question. When young Winston had paid off his father's debts and his own, he who had expected to enter into an ample revenue found himself in the possession only of a few thousand pounds. This was all his patrimony. What to do he had not yet resolved; but this reverse had not prevented him from accomplishing a long cherished wish of visiting Italy. Some idea also was floating in his mind that perhaps he should select some place upon the Continent where to reside permanently upon the small pittance that was left to him.
It will be now seen at a glance, why it was that Winston fled from the attractions of Mildred at Genoa: he knew himself to be poor, and had become acquainted with the peculiar, and perhaps dependent, position in which Miss Willoughby stood. No one will blame him for running away from Genoa; but ought he to have lingered at Rome? We fear our friend was not remarkable for resolution of character. He had ardent feelings, and to counteract them he had just perceptions of what life demands from us; but he lacked, evidently, in steadiness of purpose.
And what now could he do? Flight, as at Genoa, was out of the question. He could not, by any rude or abrupt behaviour, forfeit that share of Mildred's esteem which he possessed. On his way back to his hotel he resolved—it was the utmost that his prudence suggested—that he would take occasion quietly and unostentatiously to intimate that, like Bassanio,
"All the wealth he had Ran in his veins, he was a gentleman."
It would then be seen by Miss Willoughby, as clearly as by himself, that his attentions, to use the appropriate phrase, meant nothing. What might follow would be a torture merely to himself—the torture of a hopeless passion. She would know how to regulate her own feelings towards him. He alone should be the sufferer.
Very fallacious reasoning! If he with his eyes open loved and suffered, how could he tell but that Mildred might do the same? and this quiet intimation of certain barriers and impediments to his passion was likely to prove—as indeed it did prove—little better than a declaration of love, and not the less ardent because coupled with avowals of despondency.
Meanwhile, having made this concession to the cause of prudence and his honour, he resigned himself to the charms of Mildred's society. Every day brought some new excursion to scenes of surpassing beauty, in companionship with one of the most lovely and gifted of women. Winston's theory, that what is most beautiful in nature ought to be enjoyed in solitude, was entirely overthrown. He cared to visit nothing unless in her society; nor was there any scene whatever in which her presence was not felt to be the higher gratification.
Mr. Bloomfield and his sister, after their first visit to some of the environs of Naples, felt little disposed to make any unusual exertion. They had both discovered that the bay was much the same whether viewed from the right side or the left, and that in this warm weather—it was now the month of May—the shady walks in the Villa Reale, or a promenade in the town, was to be preferred to a ride in an open carriage. To Mildred, on the contrary, almost every excursion, whatever its professed object, derived its chief attraction from the different points of view it presented her of that bay, which every hour seemed to make more lovely. It followed, therefore, that Winston and Mildred were sometimes left to proceed on their expedition alone. How the heart of Winston beat as he, handed her into the carriage, and took his seat beside her! It was something very like a curse which fell at that moment upon the memory of his selfish parent. Had he been fairly dealt with, it might have been his lot to hand her into a carriage of his own—and hers.
Winston was almost in danger of forgetting the existence of Mr. Bloomfield; but habitual politeness so far prevailed, that he occasionally brought himself to listen to the account that gentleman gave of his own impressions or afflictions.
"I was never more disappointed," said Mr. Bloomfield on one of these occasions, "or rather, I was never more mistaken in any place in my life than in this town of Naples. I had heard much of lazzaroni lying about in the sun, eating maccaroni, and of the love of the people for gaudy colours and tinsel, even to the sticking gold-leaf and little flags of red paper upon the meat in the butcher's shop; and I had seen depicted the more curious costumes of man and horse, and especially this curiculo, as I believe they call it, which seems originally to have been like our old-fashioned one-horse chaise, but by the extension of the shafts into a sort of platform before and behind, and by means of a network suspended underneath between the wheels, has been made to hold a quite indefinite number of persons, and still remains a one-horse chaise, inasmuch as the whole cluster of mortals is generally carried on at a gallop by one little black horse, who, as some sort of compensation for the work they give him, is tricked out as fine as leather and brass nails, ribands and feathers, can make him. Well, out of all these materials I had contrived for myself a picture of utter and contented idleness on the one hand, and the extreme of hilarious activity on the other. I need not tell you how little such a picture answers to the reality, how little prepared I was to encounter the din, and more than Cheapside confusion of this main thoroughfare, the Toledo street. The impression which Naples actually makes, is of a city where noise and turmoil and confusion are at their very height. Carried one step further, "chaos would come again." There is the same incessant toil for gain as in London itself—as little of repose, as little of hilarity. Here is the spirit of trade without the order and method which trade should introduce. It is commerce bewildered, and passionate after pence. There are some parts of London more thickly stocked perhaps with carts and wagons, and carriages of all descriptions, but they are order itself compared to this Toledo street. Every thing one can desire to purchase, every thing one can desire to escape from, comes walking abroad upon its even, uniform pavement, where men and carriages are circulating together. Glass, and tea-trays, and crokery-ware, and haberdashery, all meet you in the street. You are running for dear life from some devil of a driver, who thinks that if he does but shout loud enough, he is at perfect liberty to break your bones, and you are stopt in your flight by an industrious chapman, who spreads his stock of pocket-handkerchiefs before your eyes. Men are walking about with live fowls, cocks, hens, turkeys, which they hold, head downwards, in a bunch, tied together by the legs. They are the quietest animals in the street. They seem to have been touched by the utter inutility of their loudest exclamations, and therefore to have resigned themselves in silence; only when some cart-wheel grazes that head of theirs, which they naturally hold up as high as possible, lest they should die of apoplexy, do they make any ineffectual attempt to call attention to their sufferings. Even money-changers, who, in all capitals of Europe, carry on their business with a certain dignity and decorum, are here to be seen, like our apple-women, ambulatory: they keep a stall with a sort of bird-cage upon it, between the wires of which are glistening a store of coins, gold, and silver, and much copper. I saw an old woman at one of these stalls laying down the rate of exchange. No doubt she knew her arithmetic that old crone, and made no mistake, at least on one side of the account. A couple of lads with a large trayful of spectacles and opera-glasses, were the great opticians of the day. I saw all sorts of men, priests among them, trying on spectacles in the jostle of this thoroughfare. The tailor and the hatter sit outside the door-way stitching. I look into a baker's shop, if that can be called a shop which is merely a square cavity laid open at the side near the street—it is verily a baker's, and bread is made there, for you may see the whole process carried on. Against the wall, on one side, a great wheel is turning—grinding the corn; at the opposite side stands a man up to his elbows in flour, kneading away with all his might; and in front of you, if you will wait a moment, you will see the fiery oven open, and the baked bread make its appearance—a sample of which is deposited in the wire safe that hangs up at the entrance, and serves for shop-window. Would that all handicrafts were but as peaceful! A few doors further on there is Rafaelle Papa, the copper-smith, hammering remorselessly at his copper pans. And, O heavens! the blacksmith himself has come out in the open air with his fire and his forge; he has established his smoking furnace in the only recess, the only place of refuge, the whole street afforded."
"And in the midst of all this, and at every corner, what heaps of beautiful flowers!" said Mildred. "It is curious, too," she added, "to see, moving through this Cheapside throng, the mendicant friar, cowled and sandaled, with his wallet, or double sack that hangs across his shoulder before and behind, actually then and there collecting alms for his convent."
"But you must not forget the sugar saints and saviours," said Miss Bloomfield, "that one sees amongst the sweetmeats; and how in every shop there hangs up the picture of some patron saint, before which on holydays candles are burning; nor above all, those lemonade stalls, which are certainly the gayest things in the town. But tell me," she continued, "I do not quite understand them. First, there is a sort of dresser heaped up with lemons and oranges. At each end of this rise two little pillars, painted with red and white stripes, and supporting a sort of canopy, on which figures, of course, the Virgin Mary—so that the whole looks like a little altar. Well, but on each side, between these pillars, there swings, suspended by the middle, a sort of wooden barrel, and when the damsel, who makes the lemonade, has nothing else to do, she gives it a touch, and sets it swinging. Now, what are those for?"
"They hold the snow," said her brother, "which serves instead of ice, and which the damsel, by this swinging process, helps to dissolve. Some day we will have a glass of lemonade at one of these altars, as you call them. We shall get it fresh enough, and cheap enough. But you must take your sugar with you, for sugar they do not give; their customers are in the habit of taking it without. I was amused to-day," he continued, "by watching the progress down the street of a very simple style of water-cart. A butt of water, with a leathern pipe issuing from it, is drawn on a low cart by a donkey. A bare-legged fellow ties a string to the end of the leathern pipe, and follows jerking it to and fro, this side and that side—of course with many loud vociferations—and so continues to distribute the contents of his butt over a pretty large area."
"Very surprising!" said Winston, who for some time past had not heard one syllable of what was uttered.
We will not indulge ourselves, at the risk of wearying our readers, by traversing in the society of Mildred and Winston the environs of Naples; we will not wander with them through the disinterred streets and temples of Pompeii; nor attempt to partake of their delight at those exquisite views which their excursions, on both sides of the bay presented to them. Often did Winston sit by the side of Mildred, looking at those scenes, and his happy spirit for a while reflected them as calmly as the blue waters those beautiful islands within them. Alas! the pebble soon fell in one of those mirrors—the tranquil mood was ever and anon cruelly disturbed.
We will not even trust ourselves in the museum of Naples, so rich in the curiosities of the antiquarian, and in works of art; nor stand with Mildred before those statues of the goddess Isis, from which it was difficult to persuade her to move, so much was there of thought as well as beauty in the countenances. One especially (for there are several) of these statues of Isis—it was the smallest in the group—she confessed, after all she had seen of sculpture, had affected her more intensely than any work of art, by its thrilling union of deep mystery with perfect loveliness. Of Isis herself, or of the religion taught under her name, she confessed, she said, to have very obscure ideas; but if ever a temple should be erected to human philosophy, that statue, she thought, was worthy to occupy the chief place in it.
One of their excursions, however, it is necessary, for the sake of our narrative, to give some account of—it is that to Vesuvius. Perhaps there are few travellers who have not recorded the day they visited the burning mountain as amongst the most remarkable of their lives. The extreme beauty of the views as you ascend, the strange desolation immediately around, and the grand spectacle that awaits you on the summit, so vary and sustain the interest, that every emotion which nature is capable of producing, seems to have been crowded into one spot, and one hour.
The whole party started together on this expedition, but Mr. and Miss Bloomfield had no intention of proceeding further than the hermitage—a small house erected, as every one knows, half way up the mountain, before the ascent becomes steep or severe, and, for the rest, very little like a hermitage. Here they designed to stay, enjoying the magnificent view it commands, while the younger half of the party proceeded to scale the mountain. It would have been easy for them to ascend thus far by a circuitous route in a carriage, but, beside that horses could convey Mildred and her companion somewhat further than the carriage road extends, the uncle and aunt were not unwilling to partake to a certain extent the spirit of the enterprise. They all, therefore, mounted their horses, and, accompanied by their guide, advanced by the steeper and more direct path.
The ascent begins amongst gardens and vineyards—the vine flowing from tree to tree, and making of a whole field one continuous harbour. The path next winds along a vast barren hill-side, utterly without verdure, whose brown furrows present the appearance of a ploughed field; but the clods here do not give way to the tread of your animal; you stoop and touch them, they are of stone, they are the old lava. As you ascend, these clods grow larger, grow darker, till the narrow road winds between great blocks of black lava, pitched here and there in the wildest confusion. You then reach a level piece of road, on which stands the hermitage.
Here Mr. and Miss Bloomfield paused. The rest proceeded somewhat further on horseback, till the mountain, taking the shape of a cone, presents a steep ascent, to be mastered only on foot.
"Let us pause a moment here," said Mildred, when they had dismounted, "and look at the bay. I have longed several times upon the road to make a halt, but if I had, it would have been a signal for the general hubbub of conversation. You," she continued with a smile, "are a sensible companion, you know how to be silent, or can talk in those snatches or broken utterances which rather relieve silence than dissipate it, which do not scare the gentle goddess altogether from our company. Had I asked my uncle to stop, he would immediately have commenced talking, and talked till we went on again."
The scene lay outstretched before them in all its beauty, and under an almost cloudless sky. One peculiar charm of this celebrated bay depends on the islands scattered on both sides of its entrance, as Capri, Ischia, and others. These, as you shift your position on the bay, produce an endless variety—interlacing the azure water with stripes of blue mountainous land, in the same manner as well-defined clouds are sometimes set, ridge after ridge, in the clear sky. From their present point of view, the centre of their picture was open sea, and the sides filled up and diversified by these islands. Seen under the mid-day sun, they appear invested in a mist of light.
"They rise from the deep blue sea like sapphires that love has breathed upon," said Winston. "What fantastic tricks," he continued, "but always beautiful—Nature plays under her own high heaven. The hills on yonder coast, huge as they are, have a way of hiding themselves in the very air—vanishing in the very light. And, look, yonder, in the extreme distance, the light seems to have cut away the solid basis of the hills, and left nothing but the ridge, the wavy outline, which one might expect to rise into the air, it is so cloud-like."
"The earth and heaven do so mingle here, there is no separating them," said Mildred. "I wonder not that the inhabitants of such a region as this threw a certain dimness, as of twilight, over their future Elysium. Some difference it was necessary to imagine between it and their familiar earth, and could they fancy any thing more bright and beautiful than this?"
"Look behind you," said Winston. She turned, and started at the sudden and complete contrast which the utter desolation of the scathed mountain presented to her.
They then addressed themselves to their somewhat arduous undertaking. Mildred had refused to be carried up in a chair—had determined to walk. She had received a very accurate description of this part of her task, and found things exactly as she expected. The side of the mountain seems, at first, composed of large loose stones, of a brown colour; but the lava, which assumes this shape, is not loose, and you step from projection to projection with perfect safety,—with the same fatigue,—neither more nor less, as one walks up a flight of stairs. It is rather a long flight, however, and there is no bannister. This last deficiency the guide is in the habit of supplying—to such as condescend to accept his assistance—by fastening a leathern strap round his waist, and giving the end of it into the hand of the traveller. Winston insisted upon putting this strap round his own waist, and that Mildred should allow him to take what seemed to him the most enviable position, of the guide. It was a dangerous experiment. Not the weight of Mildred—for she leant very lightly—it was not the weight of Mildred which he felt at every step was exhausting his strength, till his heart beat and his knees trembled. After a little time he was compelled to sit down, faint as a child. Mildred was far from guessing the cause of this sudden weakness, but requested that the belt might be again transferred to the guide. Nor did he hesitate a moment. Had he attempted to proceed much farther they might both have been precipitated to the bottom.
Their march was toilsome; and Mildred, taking advantage of a commodious place, sat down to rest upon the lava. At the altitude which they had reached the temperature changes,—a cold wintry wind was blowing—and she had not quite prepared herself for so sudden a change. Winston, anxious only that the breath of heaven should not visit her too rudely, and forgetting to ask himself whether there might not be a too familiar kindness in the act, pulled off a light over-coat which he wore, and, making the best shawl he could of it, put it over her shoulders. She was not a little confused at the unaffected anxiety which had evidently given rise to this prompt attention; and blushed as she refused to rob him of his own attire. She attempted, by some playful remark, to remove the feeling of embarrassment which had seized upon both parties.
"But from a poor gentleman," replied Winston, alluding to something that had passed between them at an earlier part of the day, "any gift may be safely accepted. Like the priest, he wears a tonsure, which at once gives him unusual privileges, and reduces him to a subject of indifference."
Mildred made no answer; but she thought that, in one of these cases, the tonsure was so little visible, was kept so much out of sight, that it might fail of its due precautionary influence. She rose, and they proceeded on their walk, or, rather, their climbing. And now the volume of smoke which had, for some time, been concealed from view by the mountain itself, burst upon them, and a few minutes placed them on the summit. They stood within the crater, or what has been such, for, at present, the mountain discharges itself through a lofty cone which rises on one side of this strange, black, sulphurous amphitheatre. All around them, however, the volcanic vapours were steaming up from innumerable crevices, and the hot lava pouring out, moving slowly, with a dull red heat. No need here of further clothing. Their feet were burning where they stood. They had again exchanged the cold of winter, not for the heat of summer, but of a furnace.
There is a terrific grandeur in the scene. The black masses of lava, whose surface, here, is of the hue and texture of cinders, are piled and jostled together with the utmost irregularity, with deep fissures between them, in the same manner, though the material is so different, as the blocks of ice in the glaciers of Mont Blanc. Sometimes these cindery surfaces undulate and take the appearance of black coils, as of a huge cable laid in parallel folds. These coils, as you advance, are explained; for you will see the dull red lava sweltering out from underneath one of those great blocks, in a long and narrow wave, which does not subside, but stiffens as it cools, and, in this form, is pushed forward by the succeeding wave. In another part, the lava is flowing in a small stream, about a foot in breadth, just as the metal in a foundery, but more slowly, and the surface dimmed with a black scaly film; on raising which, with your stick, the flame bursts out. It flows so slowly that, sometimes, you must watch it narrowly before you detect the motion; you may be looking at such a stream and not suspect it to be this stealthy Phlegethon, till suddenly it is seen to stir, like a vast serpent moving in its sleep.
To the left of them, as they stood in this crater, the wall of the mountain enclosed them in, utterly without vestige of any kind of verdure, bare brown ore, with fissures exhaling their sulphurous vapour; before them, extending to and meeting the horizon, lay the tumbled masses of black lava, with the glowing at intervals of their dull red furnaces, and every where the same vapour steaming up; and at their right rose the conical summit from which Vesuvius was discharging its artillery, the sides of which are covered with a green and yellow sulphur that, elsewhere, might be mistaken at a distance for some sort of moss or other vegetation, but the eye has learnt to expect here nothing of so peaceful a nature. From this cone volleys of huge stones were perpetually issuing, with thunder-like explosions; and, above all, that majestic column of smoke! Smoke seems a very ordinary word, expressive of a very ordinary thing, but it forms here no ordinary spectacle. At each explosion it bursts up impetuously, struggling like frenzy from its imprisonment, revolving with amazing rapidity, thick, turbid, ruddy, mixed with flame; as it rises, it revolves less rapidly, and becomes more pure, more calm; ever rising higher, and expanding in greater and purer volumes, it at length fills the heavens, towering majestically, whiter than the whitest cloud, and floating off in light etherial vapours, which the blue sky gladly receives. "The spirit of Beauty," said Mildred, as she gazed upwards, "has triumphed."
As she looked with increasing interest on this spectacle, the spirit of enterprise grew strong within her, and she wished to ascend this cone itself. But besides that the huge stones which at that time were being constantly projected, rendered the expedition dangerous, the guide assured her that the fatigue would be to her excessive. In fact, he resolutely declined to lend his aid to such a scheme.
"If you had been alone," she said to Winston, "you would have gone farther. I am a sore hinderance to you, I fear."
"On the contrary," he replied, "if you had not come, I should not have ascended so far as this."
And he spoke the simple truth; for Vesuvius itself would have been forgotten in the society of Mildred. To ascend the mountain at night-time had been one of the most conspicuous objects he had proposed to himself in his visit to Italy; but as it was out of the question (the uncle and aunt would not have listened to it for a moment) that she should accompany him in such an expedition, he had at once foregone it, or rather it had slipped from his thoughts.
After some time longer spent in this remarkable scene, they began their descent, which they found to be quite an easy and amusing piece of business. The descent is made on a side of the mountain covered with loose ashes that yield to the foot. Up this it would be impossible to get, but you go down it with the same facility as if you were skating along the side of the mountain. Mildred, with the help of a staff, accomplished this part of her task with much ease, and not without hilarity.
Mr. and Miss Bloomfield were happy to see them return—had begun to wonder what could keep them so long—had for some time grown quite tired of their own position. The carriage had been ordered to come slowly round by the other road, and meet them at the hermitage. It was waiting for them. They were all willing to enter it, and return by the carriage road to Naples.
On the ride home Mildred was very silent. Many little incidents had occurred, many words had dropped, during the course of the day, which became subjects of reflection, not quite so calm as the works of art or nature had hitherto supplied. Winston—she could not refuse to see it—loved! But loved, as he desired to intimate, without the least hope, the least prospect of alliance. Well, she was warned. What remained for her but to keep her own heart quite sure? Keep! was she quite sure that she still retained it in undisputed custody?
But we have lost sight, all this while, of Mrs. Jackson and her daughter, which it was not our intention to do. They had not lost sight of Winston. As they had inquired of him, when at Rome, what hotel he would recommend them at Naples, and as he had very naturally mentioned the one he had selected for himself, it was not at all surprising that he should find himself, one afternoon, seated very snugly by Mrs. and Miss Jackson, at the comfortable quiet table-d'hote of the Hotel des Etrangers. Happily there existed no secrets, and no division of opinion between the mother and daughter on what now chiefly preoccupied the thoughts of both. Mrs. Jackson had herself conceived a great partiality for Winston—sympathised entirely with her daughter's romantic attachment—and was willing to promote her views by all means in her power. She was at heart a generous woman, though certain petty and rooted habits would, at first acquaintance, lead to an opposite impression. There was nothing she was not ready to do for Winston. It was only the good sense, or the somewhat better sense, of the daughter, that prevented her at Rome from secretly calling for his bill and paying it for him behind his back. At Naples, Winston almost always met them at the dinner table; and it was impossible for him to be churlish towards persons who seemed so very pleased with whatever he said, and so kindly disposed towards him. Mrs. Jackson was confidential in the extreme as to the several items which formed her worldly prosperity, and very clearly intimated the extremely benevolent designs she had upon himself. To Louisa, indeed, it was a sad blow and heavy discouragement when she met him in the company of one so beautiful as Mildred; but she had tact enough, even from Winston himself, to extract certain particulars respecting the fortune of the lady, which went far to set her fears at rest.
And now began in Winston's mind one of the saddest conflicts and confusions that could visit a poor mortal. On the one hand was hopeless passion—poverty forbidding; on the other, a fortune offered to a needy gentleman—ay, and affection too, if he could resign himself to accept it. Strange as it may seem, it was his very love for Mildred that gave its greatest influence to the fortune of Miss Jackson. By a marriage with this latter lady he should escape from the tortures of his hopeless passion; it would be a refuge from this, and all like disquietudes. Most people will be doubtless of opinion that the attractions of wealth need no auxiliary. Those, however, who are well read in the human heart, will have no difficulty in believing us when we say of Winston, that if he had never encountered Mildred, he would have merely smiled at the idea of a marriage with Louisa Jackson. It now came recommended to him as an escape from an intolerable torture: he would rush into matrimony as a shelter from love.
When passing the morning in the society of Mildred, not a single fragment of a thought fell to the share of Louisa. But when, having left her, he proceeded to his hotel with a heavy and perplexed heart, and asked himself where all this was tending—when he afterwards found himself seated by the side of two persons, somewhat silly and ridiculous it is true, but kind-hearted and most amiably disposed, able and anxious to offer him that only safe harbour of life which property builds up for us—a harbour, too, which would secure him from that wild tempest so evidently preparing for him—it seemed that a very little more would turn the balance in favour of Louisa.
That very little more, an incident which we have to record, supplied.
Whilst walking and sitting with Mildred in the Villa Reale, he had noticed that a tall, military-looking gentleman had appeared singularly struck with the beauty Of his fair companion. In this there was nothing unusual. Few people passed her without paying a certain silent homage to those blue eyes and their singular sweetness of expression. Even the common people, even the beggars, when they had received their alms and stayed no longer to beg, would still stay, lingering about, to catch another look at that face, when it should be turned towards them. But in the stranger's manner there was something more than admiration expressed; and, what was more remarkable and more alarming to the feelings of Winston, Mildred herself manifested towards this stranger—if he were a stranger—an almost equal degree of interest. On the last occasion, when they encountered him, this gentleman was observed to turn and follow them, and watch them to the door of Mr. Bloomfield's residence. Winston, after parting with his companion, re-entered the gardens opposite, and from this position he saw the same stranger return to Mr. Bloomfield's door, ring at the bell, ask, as it seemed, several questions of the porter, and then—enter the house!
As he stood staring at this inexplicable vision, he was accosted by a young Englishman, with whom he had some slight travelling acquaintance; and, by a singular coincidence, the very first question his companion put, was—whether he knew that gentleman who had just entered the house opposite?
"No! do you?" was the prompt reply of Winston.
"I do not," said the other; "but I confess I am rather curious to learn. He must be somebody—travels in grand style—has taken the best rooms in the Victoria. I took him for a Russian prince, but he speaks English like a native."
"The Russians are said to be such good linguists, this may be no criterion," said Winston, hiding, as best he could, under the commonplace remark, the agitation that he felt. He very soon made some excuse to escape from his companion, and returned to his hotel. That day he was at dinner more absent than usual; yet there was something in his manner which Louisa liked, which gave her more hope than she had lately entertained.
The next morning Winston called as usual at the Bloomfields. They had ridden out; and he learned, on inquiry, that his seat in the carriage had been occupied by this mysterious stranger. Where should he go? what should he do? He now felt how complete a slave he had become—how utterly dependent for all his happiness upon another. His happiness! what but misery could he reap from this passion? And now to love was to be added all the pangs of jealousy.
He entered the gardens opposite the Villa Reale. That "prince of promenades," as some one has called it, extending as it does along a quay unparalleled for the beauty of its position, with its thick dark shelter of olives on the one side of you, and its light and graceful avenue of acacias on the other, with its statues surrounded each by its parterre of flowers or niched in its green recess, with the fountain bubbling from the ground at its feet—all had ceased to please. At one part the promenade projects into a small semicircle, fitted up with marble seats, which commands an uninterrupted view of the bay and of Vesuvius. It is difficult to recognise our old boisterous friend, the sea, such as we know him in our northern latitudes, in the dancing blue waters which, stirred by the lightest breeze, are here flinging the whitest foam over the polished black rocks or stones that line these coasts, and still more, in the glassy azure which extends, like a lake, in the distance: it is a scene to induce the most perfect repose. But Winston found no repose in it, and its beauty awoke not a single emotion of enthusiasm. He turned towards Vesuvius. Its column of smoke, rising always there, neither subsiding nor increasing, now irritated him by its sameness and its constancy. "Always thus!" he mentally exclaimed. "Why does it not explode at once? Why not at once give out all its rage?"
He passed through the gardens. They lead, at the further extremity, into an open space, where much rabble assemble, where a sort of market is held, and where, on the neighbouring beach, the fishermen draw up their boats: fishermen bare-legged, bare-thighed, but legs and thighs not of flesh but mahogany. At other times he had been amused with the sudden contrast this scene affords with the well-dressed crowd within the gardens. It now disgusted him. There was nothing but noise and dirt, nothing but dust and heat, and glare. The various beggars who had often vexed him by their clamours, but had generally ended by extorting from him some pence and some good-humour, were quite intolerable. The little children, with their naked feet, tanned and dusted to the colour of the road, girt with their scanty complement of rags, with nothing on earth but their little shrill voices—their Signor! Signor!—to get their daily morsel with, and who had so often, when Mildred was at his side, received a whole handful of copper coins amongst them, now excited not the least commiseration, called forth nothing but some passing execration upon the slovenly government that could permit human life to sink down into all the wildness, and more than the destitution of the brute animal.
After the lapse of some hours, spent in this horrible restlessness, he again called on the Bloomfields. They had returned from their drive. He ran up the stairs: but, when he reached the landing-place, he paused. Perhaps that stranger might have returned with them. The door of the drawing-room was half-open: he looked, and saw that formidable intruder seated there. He was not formidable, evidently, to Mildred. She stood gracefully before him, and, putting back his dark hair from his fine manly brow, she stooped, and laid a kiss upon his forehead. Winston drew back instantly, and hurried from the house.
He had not retreated, however, so quickly, but that he had been seen by Mildred—thanks to the tall mirror before which she stood, and which had faithfully reflected his image. Had he been less distracted, he would have heard a soft voice call him by his name, from the head of the stairs; but he heard nothing, and he seemed to see nothing, as he strode along the street, and, rushing into his hotel, shut himself up in his room. "This intolerable anguish!" he cried; "it must have an end. To a passion which itself is the merest despair, must I add the maddest of jealousies?"
That day, after the dinner was concluded, Winston accepted an invitation which Mrs. Jackson had often pressed upon him in vain, to adjourn to her sitting-room, and partake of a dessert there. He accepted the invitation. It sealed his fate; and he intended that it should. He left that room—he, the lover of Mildred—the affianced of Louisa Jackson!
The next morning—it was a sleepless night that intervened—he paid his respects, with the due appearance of felicity upon his countenance, to Mrs. Jackson and her daughter. It was into their carriage he was now to enter, to take one of those drives in the environs which he had so often enjoyed with Mildred. It was to their admiration he was now to listen and respond.
The party was preparing to start, when a message was brought to them that two ladies were below who wished to speak to Mr. Winston. Mrs. Jackson, all anxiety to be polite, told the servant to show the ladies into her room. Immediately after Miss Bloomfield and Mildred Willoughby were ushered up stairs.
Never was Mildred looking more beautiful, for never was she so happy in her life. The name even of Mrs. Jackson she had never heard pronounced; and, not aware of being in the apartment of that lady, but considering she was in some room destined for the reception of visiters, she merely made to the ladies that slight curtsey by which the presence of a stranger is recognised, and immediately turned and addressed herself to Winston.
"Congratulate me!" she said. "Congratulate me!—But first I must repeat my message from Mr. Bloomfield, who insists upon it that you break through your unsocial rule, and dine with him to-day. And now again congratulate me! My father has returned from India. It was he whom we called the mysterious stranger. As to the conflicting reports which had been spread of him in England, you shall hear all at leisure. But he has returned!—and he has returned wealthy and amiable."
There was a slight tremor in her voice as she uttered these last words. That slight tremor, it was the response now given to certain passionate but desponding declarations, which he had so often half uttered in her ear.
The answer came one day too late. Winston stood as if struck dumb. His rage, his shame, his agony of vexation, he knew not how to express. And indeed there was that convulsion in his throat which, if he had attempted to speak, would have choked his utterance. But there was one amongst the party who found words fit for the occasion, and quite explanatory. In what she conceived the prettiest manner in the world, Louisa Jackson laid her hand upon Winston's shoulder. She had heard something of an invitation—"But, Alfred dear," she said, "you will not surely dine out to-day!"
Mildred started at the tone of that address, telling as it did so strange a history, so utterly unexpected. Then collecting herself, and taking the arm of Miss Bloomfield, she expressed her regret, in some words of course, that they could not have the pleasure of Mr. Winston's company to dinner, and, curtseying slightly to the rest of the society, withdrew.
What a drama had passed between them, and in silence! What feelings had been hidden under those few words of formal and ceremonious speech!
No sooner had she left than Winston rushed into his own apartment. Amongst the curiosities which he had collected in Italy was a genuine stiletto. This had sometimes accompanied him in his solitary rambles; and of late he had sometimes, in his moods of despondency, contemplated that instrument, thinking the while of some other purpose than that of striking a foe to which it might be applicable. They are dangerous moments which we spend in reflecting on the mere possibility of some fatal act. The imagination becomes familiarised with the deed. When the fiery and ungovernable passion falls upon us, it finds the train ready laid. Winston locked his door—ran to the stiletto—buried it in his heart!
The horror and distraction of Louisa and her mother may be easily imagined. It might be a subject of more deep and curious interest to trace the influence of such a catastrophe on the mind of Mildred; but this also we must leave to the reflection and perspicacity of the reader. Mr. Bloomfield and his sister soon after left Italy, embarking in the steam-boat direct for Marseilles: they had grown weary of travel. Colonel Willoughby and his daughter Mildred took the route by land, and quitted Naples for the north of Italy and the Alps.
* * * * *
THE EARLY TAKEN.
The idea embodied in the following verses is the subject of an old German legend, intended, perhaps somewhat painfully, to represent a repining and diseased spirit awed by a fearful vision of eventual futurity into a becoming resignation for the early loss of those who might have proved unequal to the temptations of a longer life.
A mother mourned her children dead, Two blooming boys, whose opening prime Along her path a light had shed, Now quenched, alas! before its time.
She mourned as one who dreamed that here Our home and dwelling place should be; She mourned as if she felt no fear Of earthly sin and misery.
Once, in the watches of the night, Before her dim and tearful eye, Beyond the clouds an opening bright Revealed a vision of the sky.
There, amid amaranthine bowers, Where God's own glory seemed to shine, She saw, on beds of golden flowers, Her dear departed ones recline.
Thence bending down, a pitying smile Their fair illumined features wore: "For us now freed from guilt and guile, O, dearest mother, weep no more!"
But still her tears rebellious flow, And still she raves of angry fate, As if, with blind and selfish wo, She grudged her children's blissful state.
Again in visions of the night, Sent to impart a sad relief, The matron saw another sight That stayed the torrent of her grief.
A youth, by wine to madness stirred, Stood brawling on the midnight street, And as a clash of swords was heard, Sunk lifeless at a rival's feet.
New horrors o'er her senses steal; She sees, appearing through the gloom, A hardened outlaw on the wheel, While crowds around applaud his doom.
She gazed upon the hapless youth, She gazed upon the hardened man, And dawnings of the dreadful truth To rise upon her soul began.
Then thus a voice was heard to say, "What now they are thine eye hath seen: Here, had they not been snatch'd away, See also what they would have been."
* * * * *
A RIDE TO MAGNESIA.
Smyrna is a capital starting point for eastern expeditions, though it is too full of gaoors, of every description, to be, in itself, a fair specimen of orientalism. The man would carry home a queer account of Turkey who should begin his notes at Smyrna, and, passing up the Dardanelles, make up his book as he travelled overland from Constantinople to Jannina, en route to Tower Stairs. This is the approved track, or, perhaps, it may be up the Danube in the Austrian steamer. Such an expedition is capital fun, no doubt, and to be recommended to any of our friends with a little loose cash, and some six weeks' holiday. It introduces to many notabilities, first-rate in their way, but not to that singular notability, the genuine old Osmanli. He is a branch of the ethnographical tree that will not flourish in European atmosphere: though the same exuberance of vigour that first sent forth the mighty shoot from central Asia, has prevailed to pass through the feeble defences of the West. It is as an overgrown weakling that he exists in our quarter of the world. His eyes are without fire, his manners without the stamp of originality. He succumbs beneath the presence of the Frank,—the hated and despised, and yet the feared and the envied. The better feelings of his nature suffer from the constant presence of those whose superiority he is forced to admire, but whose personal character he naturally detests. Such conflict of feeling cannot but be with detriment to the spirit, which, so fettered, refuses the generous offices of brotherhood, and yields the debt of civility only from policy or by constraint. How different is this man in his proper country! where the usages and language, and ideas are unmixedly those which have been his father's before him; where the leading idea of gaoors is, that they are infidel dogs, who eat pork and are unenlightened of Islam; and where every one firmly believes that the whole set of Franks are allowed to occupy and rule only by the clemency of their high and mighty lord the Padishah! Here the Turk may condescend, and here he can be truly generous and hospitable. The Frank comes as a wanderer from his own remote, settlement (somewhere or other at the world's end,) to see the lords of the earth, the true believers. He is a poor ignorant stranger who cannot speak a word of intelligible language. It is kind, and gratifying to self-esteem, to receive such an one, and show him those good things that shall make him sigh to return to his own forlorn fatherland. Besides all this, the outward modifications affecting the European Turk spoil his nationality. The reforms of Mahmoud, and of the present sultan, have wofully cut up the appearance of their subjects; and, of course, sumptuary changes such as these affect especially those who mix with the world, and are near court. Who can believe in the ill-looking fellow with smooth face, regular built boots, and tight frock coat, buttoned up to the chin,—to say nothing of the wretched red cap he wears instead of a turban! That a Turk! pshaw!
When I landed at that nest of pirates, Valona,—what time we bore a message to the respectable inhabitants, that unless they took a little more pains to grow honest, we should be under certain painful necessities with respect to them,—was I to look upon that wretched rabble as Turks? Men dressed in every variety of shabby frock coat and trousers; and, above all, men who were undisguised in the exhibition of vulgar curiosity. What amount of excitement would it take to make a genuine Turk open the eyes of astonishment? or, should he even be betrayed into an unguarded Mashhallah! has the power of morbid attraction been discovered which may draw him from his seat and lead him to any effort of inquiry? When, then, I saw these people flocking together on their jetty to meet us, I at once recognised them as mongrel and degenerated. They were queer fellows in their way, too, quite worthy of observation. The whole community are piratical: the youth practically, the seniors by counsel. They manage their evil deeds with a singleness of purpose that neglects no feasible opportunity; and with a caution that restrains from doubtful attempts, and almost secures them from capture. They are not like the pirates of the nautical novels, who embark in a sea-going ship, and stand by to fight it out with any cruisers they may meet. Like cautious sportsmen, they mark down their prey first, and do not waste powder and shot. In a breeze there is no danger on their coast. But wo betideth the trabaccalo or short-handed merchantman that may happen to be becalmed in their sight. Incontinent they launch their boats,—terrible vessels that hold twenty or thirty armed men besides the rowers, and cleave their irresistible course towards the motionless and defenceless victim. On such occasions it is only by rare hap that any individual survives to tell the tale and cry for vengeance. And how shall this cry be satisfied? The bloody work is no sooner over than its traces are obliterated and the community restored to the appearance of inoffensiveness: the boats are pulled up on shore, the crews dispersed. Should an avenger arrive on the spot, he finds the miserable huts either deserted or tenanted by women and old men. How can these be made to suffer for other men's offences, or forced to give information which they declare themselves not to possess?
The same dissatisfaction must be confessed with Previsa Salonica, that place of steady disrespectability, which has maintained its bad character since the apostolic days, and even with Constantinople. This last is a gem of the earth, but, its beauties are to a great extent those of civilised elaboration. Courtiers form but one species, and breathe pretty much the same atmosphere throughout the world. He who has studied them throughout the world has marked only the circumstantial differences of locality producing their effect on a spring of action, itself one and constant. To search out and know this principle it may be useful to visit foreign courts; but Man, beyond the exhibition of this one phase of character, does not flourish in such places. If the best place of observation be not actually the wilderness, because that too is as extensive, calling forth necessarily particular energies, and exhibiting to a great extent one effect, we may take favourable ground somewhere midway between the extremes. It is to the heart and centre of a country that we should go for the vigorous current of its life. Here the colour is vivid, the speciality preserved, the family features of our brethren distinguishable.
I suppose it was some such profound rumination as this that suggested to my two friends and myself the idea of the cruise hereinafter to be recorded. All three were right travel-smitten, a state of mind which marvellously thrives on slight nourishment. We had had substantial food in this way, and were proportionately vigorous in enterprise. We had seen at odd times a good deal of our friends the Turks, but it had been chiefly of the vagabonds near the coast. Into all sorts of queer creeks and corners had we found our way in boat expeditions, that most capital mode of adventure; though rather ticklish for those who are not pretty strong in numbers. So had we dug into the sinuosities of Greece, of which both eastern and western borders were familiar to us; and it is not a little that I would take for my Horace, which I bore with me up the Ambracian Gulf, and which bears over the "nunc est bibendum" the note of my personal presence off Actium. Pleasant, too, are the recollections of our visit to Nicopolis, the mighty monument of this victory, now serving, as all things earthly must one day serve, to display the victory of time. We were forced to walk on this occasion, as to have touched a saddle or animal would have exposed us to the penalties of quarantine. Our good friend Achmet walked before with a long stick, booming the people off, who shrank from our contact right and left, as if we had been the lords of the soil, or as if it had been they, instead of us, who had to fear the plague-compromising touch. And then when we returned hungry as hunters from our march, full of ready forgiveness for any faults of cookery, what a banquet was that which consular hospitality had prepared! Oh, the jocosity of that breakfast, which was in the open air, because we could not go into the house, where we could take nothing from, and could give nothing to, the ladies, but had to keep them at most respectful distance, and be civil under the control of a vigilant guardiano.
There is no mode of travelling which can possibly be compared to this boat-work. The scope of such proceeding is certainly, by comparison, confined; but, so far as it goes, nothing is to be mentioned in the same day with it—that is, so far as comfort is concerned. Places even inland may be visited in this way, for almost any where a horse or two can be mustered, and the craft left in charge of her crew. What a difference between turning into your own berth at night, and affording the amusement one does on shore to the Hellenic vermin. One good joke in this way happened to me once upon a time, showing what quarters travellers may stumble upon even with the best recommendations. A large party of us had started, particularly recommended by letter from the consular agent of a place that shall be nameless, to no less a person than the Demarch of a high-sounding Greek town, who was to do every thing for us in the way of billeting. By great exertion, and with aching bones, we managed to reach this place after night-fall, prolonging, for its hope's sake, our course through a most break-neck road, and through unseen but clamorous numbers of their wolf-like dogs. At last we came up with a miserable shed, which proved to be the mansion of the great man. Of course we should have looked for no other floor but the mudden one we found, had it not been for our magnificent recommendation, which warranted the expectation of a suite of apartments. But the floor was so packed with goods and chattels, affording the most comfortable roosting for the fleas, and with children who brought in ever-fresh collections to the stock, that among the many undelectable nights we passed, none equalled in horrors that one of official introduction and high classical association. And such is pretty generally the hap of him who ventures to pass the night in one of those habitations where sweeping and washing remain exotics, and where the [Greek: autochthones] acquire impenetrable skins. Now, all this sort of thing you avoid in a boat, besides converting the mere locomotion from a frequent punishment into a delight: always supposing, be it remembered, that you have not to beat your way home up the Sinus Saronicus against a tempest. But the old story of the rose and the thorn comes in here too. By land you are exposed to the miseries of your nightly quarterings: by sea you may rejoice your heart with the beauties with which Nature rejoices to adorn, many of which she reserves for, the coast, and plunge each morning into the brine with an unsmarting skin; and if you be a genuine lover of the picturesque, you will be no less eager to seek it among the fantasies of human society than among the rocks and crags of a landscape.
So thought I and my two friends as we sat smoking the chibouque of reflection, at that best of Smyrna's cafes, on the French quay. We were unanimous on the conclusion that Smyrna had no earthly right to the title of a Turkish city, except the accident of its happening to be in Turkey. You may go half over the place and meet not a single Turk, except those wonderful fellows, the porters, whose Herculean powers have been so often noticed; or perhaps friend Hassan, the chief of the police, making a progress, with some couple of grim attendants. In fact, in the motley of its society, if any one colour prevail, it is that of France: for among all decent people her language is spoken, and in all reunions of pretension, her colonists are the more numerous body. The Greeks, to be sure, are in great plenty, but they occupy chiefly the lower grades. And as it so happens that the Sisters of Charity have here an establishment, and maintain, with much ability and diligence, a female school, the only one in the place—and that the Lazarists are equally sedulous in their province, it seems not unlikely that Smyrna will become entirely French in spirit, so far as the upper classes are concerned. At present the mixture only savours strongly of the Gallic ingredient. And a most agreeable mixture it makes, affording the blended essences of many nations. Few who have seen much of that society can entertain its reflection without pleasure; and all are wise to make the most of its image, as the wide world affords no twin establishment. Coming from many parts of Europe, the colonists have, by the influences of climate and association, been blended into a general assimilation of character, yet retaining the one or two salient points of nationality. Their physiognomies express the wild influences of Ionia; and it would be vain to seek in their native countries such beautiful specimens of French or Italian women (I except Englishwomen) as are to be found in this birth-place of poetry. It is a city of wonderful linguists, for the necessities of intercourse demand at least three, and in many cases four, languages: Greek with the servants, Italian with the shop-keepers, and French among the polished. Many of them possess more than this number, and truly wonderful it is to see them turn from one guest to another in their pleasant assemblies, and to each address the tongue of his proper country. The same causes that loosened the vowels and softened the utterance of the old Greek in Ionia, have dipped in honey the tongues of the modern Levantines; and whatever they be speaking it is always mellifluously. It is no less true that the old grace of these shores revives in the persons of the ladies, and gives a Lydian softness to all that they do. Whether you mark the Armenian matron, languid from her siesta, seeking the breeze at her lattice; or the more active Frank maiden at the hour of her evening promenade, you are ever struck with the idea of grace and poetry. But chiefly is it pleasant to mark them when the unruffled sea, and cloudless moon, invite them to wander on the marina, and embark on the waters—when the hot sun has persecuted the day, and evening first allowed to breathe freely. There is the bay alive with boats, and resonant of music and laughter, and the shore alive with gay promenaders. There are certain seasons when it might be presumed that the Smyrnists divorce night from sleep; for often have I listened to the cheerful sound till long past midnight, and still has some passing boat brought music to contribute to my dreams. Or, take your hat, and wander forth at evening to the banks of Meles, where Homer sang—whose waters have washed the feet of the epic father, and say whether Homer's self would not acknowledge these groups as worthy of the soil.
Now this is all pleasant exceedingly, but to enjoy this sort of thing sustainedly one should not have an English constitution. We are a phlegmatic set, to whom such zests should be dealt out homoeopathically: else do we soon begin to criticise and take exceptions. Now it so happens that we had entered upon the experience of this delectability with every good disposition towards it, but a still better disposition towards the getting beyond it if we could, that we might see something of the real state of the people. We soon voted Smyrna a bore, as was likely with those who in coming thither had been bent on using it only as a stepping-stone to get farther. But this was more easily said than done with us, who were travellers not for our own fancy's sake, but in the service of her most gracious Majesty. Had we been simply unfettered, our will was good to have started directly coastward, and to have explored those vast tracts of Asia Minor, of so much of which nothing is known. The country between the coast and the western border of Persia, explored in a direct line, not going towards Eszeroun, and a divergence southward towards and about Caramania, would be a fine field for travel. We could well afford to receive some addition to our knowledge of the central parts of Asia Minor, and I should like right well to be one of two bound to the borders of lake Van, to pay a visit to the Armenian patriarch. But such an expedition would take a deal of time and of money. Now we had but the short interval of time at our disposal, during which it was judged that Britannic interests might suffer our absence without detriment. Happily for us, we knew that foreign infection was but skin deep in this country; so that, although the curious recesses were beyond our reach, we might, by a comparatively short expedition, arrive at the texture and substance of the mass. Two cities invited us, Aidin, and Magnesia, both of which are, as nearly as possible, free from foreigners: for the rajahs, though they be Christians, are not, of course, to be considered foreign to that soil, in which they have been implanted since before its occupation by the Turks. In Magnesia, so far as we could discover, there dwelt but a single Frank, who was consular agent for England, as he was, probably, for half-a-dozen other European powers, an office little likely to be useful or needful in the case of personal protection to distressed wanderers, but no doubt not without value as a commercial relationship. Magnesia also is interesting, because it is the seat of the great Carasman, Oglu Pascha, a name to which are attached little less than royal honours. He is one of the great hereditary dignitaries of the kingdom, who, from olden time, and till but a few years ago, used to be almost kings within their territory. At the command of the Sultan, these men used to bring into the field enormous bodies of cavalry, raised by themselves, forming the staple of the Ottoman armies; and Mr. Slade, in his book on Turkey, places the alterations of Mahmoud with respect to these Beys among the prominent causes of the decay of the Ottoman empire.
The vote passed in favour of Magnesia; partly because we expected in that place to find, through the good offices of the consular agent, decent quarters in some Greek house. The question of ways and means remained. The ordinary mode of conducting these proceedings is through the ministry of a Kawash or guide; a person whose assistance is generally considered indispensable, in a country where one neither knows the roads, nor can exchange a word of inquiry with the people. But this plan was little suited to our taste, as we knew by experience that these men are apt to assume the absolute control of their parties. In this respect they are no worse than the other whole tribe of ciceroni, who assuredly are among the greatest bores that necessity imposes. If they would confine themselves to leading the way, and interpreting, and rest contented with solicitude for the horses, they would be useful and endurable. S—— forewent for a moment his amber mouthpiece to give us his experience and opinion.
"These kawashes are greater plagues on a journey than a pebble in the shoe. When I was a youngster on board the Blanche, we started, a party of us, for Aidin, under convoy of one of them with a first-rate character. We had hardly got clear of the town when he began to take command of us, coolly wanting to regulate our pace. We stood no nonsense, but set off full cry, with him at our heels shouting like mad. He was presently up with me, and caught my horse's bridle, uttering all sorts of unintelligible exclamations. The fellow drew his yataghan, and I really thought was going to cut my head off. However, he vented his rage on the brute, striking him with the flat of his weapon; and it was with difficulty I pacified him at last, by saying, 'Pasha!' several times, and pointing forward; giving him to understand that if he did not behave himself, I should complain to the Pasha as soon as we arrived."
"And then," said K——, "you must always battle with them for your halting-place, if they do not happen to fancy it. If you want to go ahead, the horses are tired; and if you want to stop, there's sure to be some better place farther on."
I joined in the vote against subjecting ourselves to tutelage.
"But these fellows do something else besides showing the way—they interpret. Isn't that rather a floorer for us?"
"Not a bit of it," said S——. "I'll be the [Greek: hegemon], for I've been the road once before; and K—— there talks a little Turkish."
"Yes, I know the numbers, and can say 'Kateh saket,' which means, 'how many hours,' or 'how far to?'"
"That will do capitally; for if you say, 'Kateh saket Magnesia?' any blockhead will know that you mean 'How far to Magnesia?' Besides, we all can say, 'Salam Aleikum,' so can do the polite as well as the interrogative."
Reader, this was a mistake. A Mussulman loves not to hear this salutation at the mouth of a Christian; it is the expression of a religious wish; and when uttered by one who receives not the Koran, it falls on the ear of a Turk as a profanation. The correct thing to say by way of being civil is, "A-oorahah!"
Thus slender was the stock of language with which we started; but perhaps we were not much worse off than we should have been had we known a good deal more. It is all very well with our European dialects to have a certain smattering of grammar and principle; but the hopeless languages of the East come under a different category. Any knowledge of their theory short of actual accuracy is nearly useless; perhaps worse than useless, because, by beguiling the unhappy smatterer into ambitious attempts, it cheats him of the little power he may have of rendering himself intelligible. A man who is content with the attainment of a certain vocabulary of substantives, in whose pronunciation he is perfect, has much the best chance, because he can eke out the other parts of speech by gesture. But the attache of legation, who has been poring over their orthography, and hammering at principle, often proves the uselessness of his acquisitions for colloquial purposes. However, we might have done very well with a little more knowledge than we possessed on this particular occasion.
We did not know at this time what Magnesia could do for us in the way of an inn, though we were quite aware of the fact, that throughout the kingdom khans are provided for the accommodation of travellers. What we had seen in this way was very undesirable, being little more than what might serve to minister to the comfort of the horses. In some places, the subsiding stream of travellers has left them bare and ruined; in others, Smyrna to wit, there is so ready entertainment elsewhere, that the khan has become little more than a public stable yard. And here, any time of the day, you may see tethered a collection of donkeys that would set up all the costermongers in London, and drivers who would surely make fortunes by their lessons, if their brethren of Hampstead possessed ambition and gratitude. The vulgar argument of the stick may be occasionally exhibited, but it is by the magic of a single word that the energies of the donkey are usually aroused. And the mystery of the training is this, that neither words nor blows are effective, except from the initiated. Often it will happen, that after long trial of coaxing, the meekest rider will be betrayed into the experiment of cudgelling. It will then certainly happen, that after having cudgelled his full, he will yield the victory to the impassible brute, and be reduced to hope, that when he has had thistles enough, he may be induced to move on. Suddenly there sounds behind him the exclamation of Deah! Deah! and the donkey starts into a dislocating trot. This is your true driver's policy, to make his presence and aid indispensable. By dint of great practice, I acquired a pretty accurate imitation of this sound, and have practised it successfully. But the animals were quick to discover the imposture, and to punish it by extra impassibility.
Many of the best khans or caravansaries are of royal foundation; others, like the fountains, the monuments of departed piety. But much as we might admire the institution, we could not feel very ambitious of occupying a billet of so very gregarious and inexclusive character. Besides, in these khans you must provide for yourself all that you require in the shape of provisions; and it was too much of a good thing to carry with us tea, and bread and butter. We clung to the hope of finding lodging in the shade of domestic hospitality, the rather because of our recommendation to the consular agent. A second string was added to our bow by a worthy Armenian of Smyrna. He kindly assisted our intention by a letter to a compatriot of his at Magnesia, of whom the least that we could expect was, that he would receive us to the fellowship of trencher and hearth; that is, should we present our introduction, for, in the first instance, our purpose was to seek the man of office.
We had some debate concerning the propriety of our going ostensibly armed—no doubt, however, concerning the advisability of our actually being armed. In those desolate tracts, where you may ride pretty well all day and meet no wayfarer, except some lone camel-driver, riding at the head of his long string of animals, it is impossible to say what contingencies may be your hap. It is, to say the least, a locality where thieves might have things pretty much their own way; for the guard-houses, scattered throughout the routes, are far from being within hail of each other, and far from possessing the control of the road mid-way. Nay, they are themselves tenanted by men so fierce by nature, and so imperfectly disciplined, that some people might fear the guards more than the robbers. They are not detachments of the regular forces, but men taken chiefly from the Xebeques, whose manners and dress are sufficiently distinct from those of the ordinary Turks. Each of these detachments is placed under the control of an Agah; and on the personal character of this officer depends the security of the district. The prescribed discipline is necessarily strict, for any admitted relaxation would soon lead to confusion. Especially is it enjoined that all spirituous liquors be absolutely excluded from the guard-houses—and a neglect of this law by the Agah is never forgiven. When intoxicated, they are said to rage like demons, respecting no person or thing—utterly rejecting all semblance of discipline. It will be long before I forget the apprehensions connected with even faint symptoms in them of approach to such a state. A party of us, with ladies among our numbers, had halted for night at a guard-house. The spot was of the rarest beauty—the evening such as breathes only in Ionia; cities and men were removed out of sight and thought; and, full of poetry and peace—the pleasing sadness we had caught on the hallowed ground of the mighty Ephesus,—we resigned ourselves to the influence of the moment. What was that sound of revelry that broke upon the stillness? The mandolin tinkled—voices were heard in chorus. We got up to explore, and found, to our consternation, that the guards of our station, having received a visit from their brethren of the next detachment, were holding festival on the occasion. We had previously been informed that the Agah was absent on duty, and had left the command to his ancient—and this we were ready to suppose was not calculated to tighten the reins of discipline. Drinking and jollity were such natural associates, that we feared terribly these men would be getting at spirits—and then what did we not fear for the fair companions of our adventure? However, to make a long story short, the men did not get drunk, and separated peacefully after the performance of many Terpsichorean novelties. But they taught the careless to feel that travellers in such a country should not be without the means of defence. It is quite true that arms may do you a bad turn, either by tempting you to a hasty display, or by being of so costly a character as to excite the cupidity of some ruffian. But it is just as true that any other thing you possess may do you the like ill turn among men who would shoot you for the value of your skin. The golden mean is to be armed usefully, but not showily; and, above all things, to be very discreet in the production of weapons.
The first of these laws on this particular occasion I egregiously transgressed. My two friends were supplied with unimpeachable pistols of their own; but I, being of peaceable disposition, had made no such provision. A worthy friend on shore supplied the deficiency, by lending me a pair of the most formidable weapons one would wish to see. They were of the old style of theatrical horse-pistols, as long nearly as a small carbine, and beyond any ordinary man's power of holding steady. The stocks were deeply incrusted with silver, or something that looked very like it. The only objection to them was, that nothing could persuade the flint to give out a spark, or induce the pan to take the hint at the proper time. Yet though I knew them to be in fact thoroughly useless, they contributed sensibly to my comfort, for they were most excellent make-believes. Our steeds were supplied by our good friend George, the Greek stable keeper, as no Turk would have let out his animals on such an occasion without sending along with them a kawash to look after the mad Franks. It betokened no little confidence in George, that he allowed his horses to be taken away, whither and for how long he know not.
It is a noble climate where you can start of a fine morning, with a certainty that the weather will continue and fulfil its promise. One starts light without any wrappings, or any thing more than he has on. One teschare, or passport, was our luggage for three. Our first little adventure was about this same teschare. It is to be got, as are all things in this land, only through the medium of interpreters and kawashs. A first-rate bore it is to be in all matters of business subjected to the ministration of these gentry: and what a pity it is that some steady Englishmen will not qualify themselves to fulfil their functions. But, from the most important diplomatic negotiations down to the most trivial matter of convenience, procedure can only be had through such agency: at least almost without exception at present, whatever revolutions may lurk in the recent studies of the attaches at Constantinople.
Mahmoud, the Janissary—by the way it is odd that they should call this consular body-guard of one by such a name—brought us the document, and then, of course, stood by to pocket his backshish. We were then making our final preparations for the start, laying in a little personal provender at the restaurant in Frank Street, at the door of which stood our animals, saddled and impatient.
"Give him his tip," we said to S——, who had been installed pay-master for the nonce.
A smile and a coin were forthwith presented to the functionary. "Bow, wow, wow," or something like it, uttered by our Mahometan friend, made us look up, and we saw him unaccepting and unsmiling. "Why, thou greedy varlet," (friend, the words were innocuous, because unintelligible,) "'tis by so much exactly too much for thee."
It is an amusing thing to have a dispute where words will not second energy. Such a scene have I noted more than once, as a fine psychological demonstration. You abuse a guide or a donkey driver in a language he does not understand, for disobeying directions that he did not understand, word or particle. The whole thing is absurd, and as a man of sense you ought to be philosophical. But when I have noted you in such case, and seen that you do not lose your temper, nor abuse the offender in round English, I will set you down as of placid temperament. Mahmoud growled, and looked as if he would fain have resumed the paper, or abducted the horses; and thus it was with the interchange of such pleasantries, and followed by his good wishes, that we started.
"Bravo," said K——; "we start with a row, we shall be all right presently."
And now stoop well your head and keep your eyes open as you turn the corner into the Armenian quarter. These houses that make such beautiful streets, are ticklish things to ride by. They all project forward, having the upper story supported by a kind of flying buttress. These are at no great height from the ground, so that an unbending horseman passing under, would infallibly knock his head against the corner of one of their first floors. But chiefly on donkeys is this risk noticeable—the stubborn brutes which it is much the fashion to ride, and whom none but the drivers can guide. On entering Smyrna by night—those dull streets where gas is not—your only plan is to keep well in the middle of the street, right in the hollow. It is a beautiful quarter of the town; in itself picturesque and variegated in colour, and beset with the fairest embellishments. Look up at that lattice for a moment only, and then prick your way again. Did you see those lustrous eyes and graceful head-dress? The sun is now high, and these stars twinkle but from lattices. Pass this way at even, and you shall see them congregated in brilliancy. They are not of the retiring nature that shuns observation. They sit congregated round every door wooing the breeze. Supper is spread in the spacious halls, beyond which the open doors give to view a perspective of garden. Nay, you may stop and stare—the men are occupied with their pipes, and the women are not offended at admiration.
Right interesting are these Armenians, of whom the men have all the riches, and the women all the beauty (at least unveiled and cognisable) of Turkey. They have lost all trace of the active spirit that in an age of iron kept them busy in the melee of nations. Their gravest senior would stare unintelligent were you to speak to him of Tiridates, or the Romans: and with their thoughts of Persia no ideas of tyranny are mixed; no stirring of the ancient spirit that kept them faithful in an ocean of foes, and rendered their land a continued battle-field. They give no signs of intelligence if you challenge them on the subject of Eutychus, by whose arch heresy they suffered severance from Catholicity, and in whose dogmas they live. They are a quiet, matter-of-fact, business-like people—the bankers and capitalists of the kingdom. Their mode of existence under the shadow of the Sultan's mercy, but without national representation or protection, has subdued them to a condition of patient endurance, and killed the energy of their nature. They are quiet, fat, and lethargic, reserving their anxieties for money-getting.
There might be to fiery spirits something humiliating in the dress to which they are so anxious to acquire the right: the huge and ugly cap which bespeaks them to be under some particular foreign protection, as the case may be, which is their only safeguard against all sorts of oppression. But where nationality is a mere idea without embodiment, it soon becomes as a dream. The Armenian is content to be endured and protected. Meanwhile he is not without a sort of national ambition; but it is of a new kind for him. They believe themselves to be the most ancient of people, retaining the original language that was spoken before the dispersion of Babel, and by consequence the identical language that was spoken by Adam. An interesting excursion might be made on this subject, seemingly so far at variance with the conclusions of learned ethnographers. Their deductions are from undoubted facts, and tend to their conclusion with a force that some philologists at least have considered irresistible.
Through the Armenian quarter our road lay onward for a short distance by the banks of Miles. It is but an insignificant stream, of scarcely sufficient tide to turn a mill; but in no better case are Ilissus and Cephissus found to be in the present day. The shade of Socrates still seems to linger over the Attic streamlet, swelling its puny tide to the capacity of the loftiest musings of the humanized; and the memory of Homer is wedded to these waters of Meles. The critics who would disprove the existence of the bard, and assign the different members of his compositions to numerous anonymous authors, or to indefinite traditions, would find this no vantage ground. The influences of the place would abash their contumacy. There is something poetical even now about the locality. The stream flows through the Armenian quarter, passing by a short course to the well-known Caravan-bridge, and thence into the open country. At pretty well all hours of the day, groups of nymphs may be seen washing clothes in the waters, exhibiting tableaux vivans of Nausicaa and her maidens. No vulgar washerwomen are these with corrugated hands at reeking tubs, but such as painters and poets might celebrate. Washing is with them a pastime, and an elegance: their laundry a studio of art. They go right into the water, and splash about their things like naiads sporting; and anon returning to the bank, put forth their little strength in beating out the clothes. It would be rash to say that the process is so effectual as our more homely method; but it is at least pretty to look at. At evening the banks of the stream assume another appearance. Gay crowds promenade, and cavalcades linger; people of many nations congregate to unbend the brow laden with the cares of the day. Fathers muse, maidens gambol, and matrons chide.