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Title: A Lady's Tour in Corsica, Vol. II (of 2)
Author: Forde, Gertrude
Language: English
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A LADY'S TOUR IN CORSICA.

by

GERTRUDE FORDE.

In Two Volumes.

VOL. II.



London:
Richard Bentley and Son,
New Burlington Street.
1880.

(All rights reserved.)

Printed By William Clowes and Sons, Limited,
Beccles and London.



CONTENTS OF VOL. II.


  CHAPTER                                                      PAGE
  I.           En Route for Bavella--An Eccentric Landlord        1
  II.          The Forest of Bavella                             16
  III.         Sartene                                           29
  IV.          The Lion of Roccapina                             38
  V.           Bonifacio                                         45
  VI.          Curiosities of Bonifacio                          58
  VII.         A Sermon by the Wayside                           67
  VIII.        To Vico                                           88
  IX.          Evisa among the Hills                            103
  X.           Giant Forests                                    113
  XI.          Porto, La Piana, and Carghese                    132
  XII.         From Carghese to Ajaccio                         147
  XIII.        Bocognano Bugbears                               154
  XIV.         The Forest of Sorba                              176
  XV.          The Inzecca                                      192
  XVI.         The Last of Antonio                              204
  XVII.        To Bastia from Corte                             213
  XVIII.       History of Corsica                               232



A LADY'S TOUR IN CORSICA.



CHAPTER I.

EN ROUTE FOR BAVELLA--AN ECCENTRIC LANDLORD.


Sainte Lucie di Tallano is the halting-place for the forest of Bavella.
From thence you can mount up to the Bocca; starting early, and spending
the whole day in the forest, returning again to sleep at Sainte Lucie.

There is another route, sometimes followed, by which you drive down the
other side of the forest to Sollenzara, on the east coast; but, as this
place is reported to be exceedingly dirty, and is, besides, not healthy
after the winter months, if it is then, it is not to be recommended.
From Propriano to Sainte Lucie is a five-hours' drive, and a steady
ascent the whole way.

The road is less interesting than usual in Corsica, and, for some
distance, is almost tame, winding amongst low green hills, and by the
side of a foaming river swept by willows. Some queer-looking crows with
white breasts were fluttering about here; and, further on, the river
was spanned by an old-fashioned Pisan bridge, wide enough only for
mules and foot-passengers, with no parapet--made in the days when carts
and carriages apparently were not.

There was a good deal of traffic on this road: plenty of
muscular-looking Corsican dames bestriding their mules, and generally
followed by a foal; and heavy charrettes, drawn by six mules, and
filled with sacks of charcoal, brought from the forests above.

Then a hideous red tower came in sight, stuck on the summit of a
low hill, like a piece of scarlet sealing-wax; and which, our driver
informed us, was the summer residence of some country magnate, who
migrated thither yearly with his family "pour prendre l'air frais."

As we mounted higher, the scenery grew finer, with a rather dreary
grandeur; and as we paused to rest the horses, Nos. 1 and 2 got out to
walk, and No. 3 took the opportunity to sketch.

Meanwhile, the driver stood beside the carriage, eyeing her performance
with some curiosity. He was a short young man, with a heavy figure, but
the head and neck of an Antinous, and a pleasant refined face, with the
mixture, often seen in Corsica, of dark eyes and a yellow moustache.
He was as proud and reticent as the rest of his race, and hitherto we
had scarcely heard his voice, although he did his duties well, and was
sternly attentive to our wants.

No. 3's first effort at friendly conversation did not prosper. "I
suppose you come from Ajaccio?" she asked, meaning to be kind and
sociable.

But your true Corsican does not understand patronage, nor care for
sociability.

"Non," replied the little man, shortly.

"Oh, from the mountains, then?" she continued, affably.

"Non plus," was the unresponsive return.

No. 3 made one more effort, although feeling a little snubbed by her
companion's taciturnity. "But you know these parts well?"

"Mais oui; je l'espére," was all the answer she got as he turned away,
either too proud or too shy to talk; leaving her mentally resolved
to make no further efforts at friendliness with this most unfriendly
Corsican.

This resolution, however, soon melted away, as did Antonio's shyness;
and, before long, we and our young coachman were the best of friends.

He was very different from most of his class.

Antonio had already, although only twenty-four, been nine years a
driver, having had only two years' schooling; but, in that short
time, had taught himself to write and to read both Italian and French.
Nature had taught him to be a gentleman, and had endowed him with two
qualities rare in his country--industry and a desire to rise.

He had a kindly gentle nature; although his sleepy dark eyes were
quite capable of the national flash of sudden anger; and joined
a conscientious integrity to the usual dignified reticence and
independence of manner.

Corsican coachmen, whether private or belonging to livery stables,
are usually paid at the rate of only twelve or thirteen francs a week
(about ten shillings); and on this wretched pay the men have to find
both food and clothes, if in a public stable. Of course, in the season,
they make about as much by their "pour boires;" but this is very
uncertain, and, at times, fails altogether.

There is not much occupation open to those few Corsicans who will work.
Agriculture only goes on in part of the country; and masons and day
labourers are really not required.

The projected railway across the island will be the greatest blessing
to those of the natives who have the good sense and manliness to prefer
work to starvation.

It is doubtful how many will do this. In Ajaccio, every winter,
families are at death's door through the inherent idleness of their
heads, who will neither work nor beg, and who apply the words of the
Unjust Steward to themselves. In the country, matters are equally bad.

Toil and beggary are equally obnoxious and degrading in their eyes;
and they often prefer, both for themselves and their innocent children,
actual starvation.

It is a most incomprehensible state of things to the practical British
mind, but a characteristic not confined to Corsica. I cannot resist
quoting a passage from Mr. Hamerton's book, "Round My House."

"The contrast between certain races and others," he says, "in regard
to the sort of pride which scorns self-help, is very striking, and
it is worth remark that a certain form of nobleness appears to be
almost incompatible with the watchful activity of really effectual
self-help. The Highlanders of Scotland and the Arabs of Algeria have
both a certain sentiment about self-help which is far from the English
feeling, and still further from American or French feeling upon the
subject. The Highlander will, no doubt, work a little when absolutely
compelled by what to him appears unavoidable necessity, but he takes no
delight in his work, and feels degraded by it. He will submit to any
amount of inconvenience sooner than apply himself heartily to remedy
it." Mr. Hamerton goes on to quote two cases in point, both of which
came under his notice but lately in the Highlands.

One was that of a congregation divided from their parish church, in all
but dry weather, by an impassable stream, which it would have been easy
enough to span with the simplest of wooden bridges, but which remained
for years unregarded, whilst the population preferred, to a few hours'
work, the constant trouble of going by a long circuit to their church.

The other case was that of a landing-stage, always dangerous on rough
and stormy days, where a little pier might have been easily run out;
but where things remained _in statu quo_ year after year, to the
destruction of property, by reason of the inertness of the surrounding
boat-owners.

But meanwhile we, on our way to Sainte Lucie, were mounting higher and
higher towards the clouds, among scenery that was becoming grand. The
purple ranges of serrated peaks that stood out against the sky were
very fine in their misty outlines; and, on the mountain side just above
us, three villages, one beneath the other, caught the last lights of
the setting sun. The upper one, called St. Henri, was distinguished by
its picturesque church spire standing out among the green trees and
grey houses; the lower one was Olmiche, and the middle one, Sainte
Lucie di Tallano. On the left of Tallano, rose a fine building like
a church, but which, we were informed, was a deserted convent, with a
treasured picture within its walls.

As we toiled slowly up the heights, many a small unpretending black
cross of wood, half covered by macchie, rose from the hills or stood
beside the roadway, marking the place where life had been lost on this
dangerous path, or taken by the hand of fellow-man through robbery and
revenge.

The situation of Tallano was lovely; but the appearance of the village
did not promise luxurious quarters for the night. The entrance to the
little inn was not bad for Corsica; but the bare little salle à manger
and comfortless bedrooms were uninviting. The floors of the latter were
dirty, the furniture broken, and chiefly conspicuous by its absence,
and the air within close and muggy.

However, here we were to stay for the night--_nolentes volentes_--so it
was of no use grumbling over the inevitable. There were but two rooms
to spare, but a _canapie_ was brought in for No. 3.

As a Corsican traveller, I give this piece of advice strongly: by
all means eschew canapies. They are usually one foot wide, and of
the consistency of a deal board; and, having been used as couches by
the family, their friends, and the children for years, without ever a
dusting, or the advantages, possessed by a bed, of changed sheets and
counterpanes, are, as a rule, indescribably filthy and unpleasant.

If, however, as at Tallano, a bed is not procurable, and you are very
tired, a canapie is perhaps preferable to bare and dirty boards, over
which disports the nocturnal beetle; and the best plan then is to shut
eyes and nose as closely as possible, and dream of your own dear cot at
home.

But I am bound to say the Tallano dirt was all on the outside. The
beds were perfectly clean, and, but for the snores of the old landlord
and his family, reposing in the salle à manger close by, we might have
enjoyed undisturbed repose.

Dinner was announced to be at seven o'clock; and we found three other
places laid beside ours at the little round table. Presently the door
opened, and in walked three Corsican "messieurs;" all very stiff and
shy, and all got up, in our honour, in irreproachable evening attire.
Three stiff but polite bows were made, to which we responded in like
manner; and then, in solemn silence, broken only by the clatter of the
ragged unkempt waiting girl, we all sat down to commence our soup, our
fish, and sweet-breads. The silence was growing hysterical, when one of
our party, afraid of losing her manners with her gravity, ventured to
remark that the evening looked stormy.

The three messieurs instantly all lifted their three shiny black heads
with a look of relief, and rushed at the witty remark with the avidity
of hungry dogs upon a juicy bone. Conversation having been thus happily
started, flourished healthily to the end of dinner.

All three were young men whose duties kept them in this small village;
one being telegraph and post-office overseer, another some sort of
government land agent, and the third of trade or profession unknown.
None of the three had ever been out of their native island, but all
seemed intelligent and well educated; and their courtesy and good
manners were beyond criticism.

They told us what they knew about the country, and about our excursion
to Bavella to-morrow; and one of them insisted upon bestowing a nice
piece of "orbicular granite" upon No. 3.

This so-called orbicular granite (which is no granite at all, but
probably a kind of hornblende) is a natural curiosity of Corsica, and
is said to be found rarely, if ever, in other countries. A fine quarry
of it is being worked in the hills just above Tallano. The stone is
of a pale malachite green, covered with narrow white rings that run in
every direction, not only across but through the stone, and have every
appearance of fossils. They are not fossils, however, but of the same
substance as the green foundation. It is very handsome when polished,
and is sold in small pieces for house and church decoration, and for
fancy articles.

Dinner being over, the three messieurs departed, each with a polite
bow; and we prepared to draw round the fire and enjoy a private chat.

But we counted without our host, who presently appeared, pipe in mouth,
and after inquiring if our dinner had been good, and putting more wood
upon the fire, drew his chair into our circle and showed an intention
of joining us. He was rather a gentlemanly old man, with keen black
eyes and iron-grey hair; but decidedly eccentric. We had been warned
beforehand that he was "quite mad;" and so felt a little alarmed now
by his friendly proximity, but were soon reassured by his manner. He
was not master of much French, however, and had a habit of saying
"Hein? hein?" all the time his neighbours were speaking, which did
not improve matters. But he was exceedingly irate when he could not
understand what was said; and his splutters of wrath were only equalled
by the geniality of his smile when, a little later, he brought up his
children, one by one, followed by their young mother, to say "bonsoir"
to the English ladies, and lift their little caps from their round
heads.

A more queer character I never saw than this old fellow, with his
irritable temper and his tender heart taking transparent turns on his
countenance. Velvet cap on head, and pipe in mouth, he told us tales
of our compatriots who had passed the night at his inn on their way to
Bavella, invariably inquiring if we were of their acquaintance; and
sometimes expecting us to recognize them by a description of their
personal appearance only, without the superfluity of a name.

One anecdote he told with especial pride, relative to a gold watch
worth 500 francs, left behind by an Englishman under his pillow the
last night he was here, and which he transmitted by the next English
visitor to its owner, subsequently found at Ajaccio.

"If you leave anything behind you, mesdames, in my house, you need have
nothing to fear. Nothing is ever lost _here_."

And he was no doubt correct. But the peppery side of his character
came to light later on in the evening, when No. 3, having retired to
her room, found the canapie made up with _one_ very narrow sheet, open
necessarily only at one side, by that means further reducing the width
of the narrow berth.

Somewhat indignant, she called up the nondescript waiting girl,
insisting upon another sheet, and the remaking of the canapie; which
was effected with a little unwillingness.

She had just retired again and locked her door (which fortunately
boasted a key), when the old gentleman came hammering at it, to know
what had been wanted.

She informed him nothing was wanted now, as her wants had been
supplied; but this did not satisfy that irate personage late of
the sunny smile, who still demanded admittance, evidently with the
intention of scolding.

But it was of no avail his rattling the door handle, and trying to
force an entrance, as No. 3, a little frightened, remained firm, and
fortunately the door also; and after an appeal to his better feelings
through the excuse that her attire was, at the moment, insufficient
for the reception of company, the old gentleman at length retreated,
grumbling loudly to himself.



CHAPTER II.

THE FOREST OF BAVELLA.


Bavella is so high up amongst the mountains, that, unless the day be
cloudless, it is useless to make the ascent, as every view is otherwise
lost.

We were favoured by the most perfect day imaginable; and from morning
till evening, not a mist wreath came to hide a single peak or confuse
a single line of the mountain ranges.

We got up at daybreak, and breakfasted on dry bread and coffee at 5.30
a.m.

At 6 a.m. we were in our carriage, brought round by the ever-punctual
Antonio, and driving up the steep ascent in the long shadows of early
day, sunlight on the mountain tops, larks singing their carol, and
heavy dew lying on the sweet-scented grass and macchie round us.

Every yard of the way was lovely, and every turn brought out new
beauties; grandest mountains rising from purple mists of morning, with
jagged peak and architectural column, wide deep gorges, and villages
nestling everywhere with campanile in their centre, among steep green
hills.

Suddenly we came face to face with the snow-clad mountain of Bavella,
white and glittering; and, standing before it, a perpendicular mountain
of purple rock, serrated in the most wonderful manner, like a row of
columns or a Druid's temple. This mountain boasted the name of the
Fourca di Basinao, we were informed; and it continued to rear its wild
hydra head before us all day from behind grassy hill or group of trees,
until at length we faced its precipitous sides on the Bocca di Bavella.

Evia, further on, is a picturesque village, embosomed in trees, which
shut out the most magnificent hills. Here was a fine old church, and
tall campanile, as usual standing apart from the church; and, pacing
slowly before it, a polite old curé, in rusty brown cassock, who took
off his well-worn wideawake and bared his white head as the carriage
passed.

The road to Bavella is not among the best. It is not a diligence road;
and is, besides, a good deal cut up by the heavy charcoal and wood
waggons which ply constantly up and down it.

The turns are sharp, and the route steep and rutty, as well as narrow;
and a nervous person might feel uncomfortable winding above a deep
precipitous gorge, at the bottom of which rushes a foaming river, and
from whose opposite slopes rises the impenetrable forest.

Mossy rocks lay up the side of the cliff above our path; and presently
great Titanic boulders, twice as big as an ordinary house, covered the
mountain flank, and hung across our road, intermixed with the gnarled
and knotted trunks of broken trees.

Here the ground grew soft and park-like; arbutus and garden shrubs
edged our way; and Mediterranean heath, nine or ten feet high, over
which peered grey crag and various trees, made the air heavy with
sweetness.

Then on, to more open ground, past the village of Souza on its
boulder-strewn hill, surrounded by groves of ilex and pine, overlooking
wooded gorge and merry cascade; on, with the smoothly rounded snow
mountain, and the peaked, richly coloured rocks ever before us--with
sheets of blue and white anemone scattered upon the mossy ground at
the foot of giant trees; ascending more and more steeply, with views
ever more and more beautiful, into the enchanted forest, fir-cones
crackling under the horses' feet, and thickly growing pines throwing
shady tracery over the sunny pathway.

Caterpillars' bags overhung the road; and here and there a hacked tree
had poured out a rich stream of turpentine. The bark of one of these
was covered by a multitude of lovely little insects, something like
ladybirds, but flat, scarlet coloured with black spots.

Gradually we went winding up to the Bocca or head of the pass,
every break in the trees showing wider and more extensive ranges of
mountains; and great golden lichen-covered crags, surrounded by ferns
and overhung by pines, presenting at each turn a more perfect study for
a sketch. Corsica is certainly the heaven of a landscape painter, and
Bavella is one of her highest attractions.

The road was rough and narrow, however, now; and here and there, where
a party of cantonniers, or road-makers, were at work repairing, their
heaps of stone still further narrowed the passage for the carriage,
which on one or two occasions passed the corner with three wheels on
the ground, and the fourth hanging over the edge of the precipice!

The forest ceased as we reached the Bocca, to recommence, at the
same distance, down the other side. The top of the mountain was bare
and rugged, crowned by a few cedars; but from this spot the most
magnificent of views lay spread out before us. The forest lay all
around us at our feet; from the other side of the gorge rose the
wonderful Fourca di Basinao; and far away below swelled seven ranges
of mountains, billowed and commingling in varied hues of purple, hazy
blue, and vivid crimson.

A few steps further brought us to the edge of the slope leading down
to the other side, and to the route towards Solenzara; and this view
was almost more beautiful than the other. Forests of pine and lighter
beeches covered conical hills, that looked as if we could have thrown a
stone upon their tops; darker majestic rocks rose like gigantic ruined
castles behind them; close beside us was an unbroken cone of pure snow;
and, far away, beyond all, a wide sweep of bluest Mediterranean with
the island of Asanzara lying, gem-like, upon its bosom.

All down this side of the hill, for two or three hundred yards or
so, the bare rocky ground was covered with low huts of wood or stone,
roughly put together, and not more than ten or twelve feet long. These
huts, which were like a series of human mole-hills scattered over the
hill-side, had an open space left for doorway, but neither door nor
chimney. Peeping inside one, we saw that it was very dirty, with no
other flooring than the muddy ground, and that the only article of
furniture within was an old pan.

These wretched hovels are, for three or four months together, the homes
of the poor cantonniers at work upon the roads; who herd here together
anyhow, obtaining bread and country wine from the little _locanda_
close by, placed under the brow of the highest slope.

At this locanda our horses were put up for the mid-day halt; and
from it, presently, a little circle of five or six women issued, very
curious to eye the foreign ladies, and, if possible, to question them.
One of these was the landlady of the little public-house (for inn it
was not), and the others were the wives of a few of the cantonniers
whose energy or means had enabled them to follow their husbands.

They were not long in squatting round us in a ring as we sketched,
talking rapidly in their Italian patois to each other, and persuading
the brown-eyed, sweet-faced landlady--the only one of the party able
to speak French--to ask us whence we came and who we were. She was too
shy to begin at first, but, once started, kept up a brisk conversation.
Here, in her little home, 3700 feet above the sea level, she had known
but few visitors, especially foreigners, and she was full of interest
and curiosity.

For some minutes we were plied by the usual round of questions as to
our nationality, as to the beauty of England, and the riches of its
inhabitants; and we found the usual difficulty in convincing them that
we were not millionaires.

"Ah, madame!" said the woman, pointing to the little reticule which No.
1 carried over her arm; "you _know_ there is enough money in that bag
to make my fortune."

As the bag in question really did contain money, her remark was not so
far from the truth as it might have been.

"Was it not very lonely living up here all the year round?" we asked
her.

"Ah, well; it was _triste_ in winter, for sometimes they were snowed
up for six or seven months together; but in summer it was not dull, for
she had friends like these with her."

"Had she any children," we asked, "to brighten up her solitude in
winter?"

The dark eyes filled with tears, and the rough brown face softened, as
she shook her head sadly, "No, not one; and she had been married four
years."

"But," we said, consolingly, "there may still be some, at some future
day."

"Ah, madame, I have prayed the Holy Mother of God, and I think it must
be because I am not good enough. But this month (month of Mary), I
have sent an offering to her shrine; and perhaps she will hear me this
time."

The wistful eyes of the poor woman still wore their touching expression
as we said good-bye, and, after a two-hours' halt on the Bocca, walked
off on our return journey.

I should advise all travellers, except those of unusually stout nerves,
to do as we did, and start before the carriage on returning, doing the
first three or four miles of descent on foot.

Even with so careful and skilful a driver as ours, cantering down this
uncommonly steep and narrow road must be a doubtful enjoyment to most
persons not accustomed to live on the edge of a precipice; besides
which, the lovely scenery can be much more fully appreciated on foot
and at a walking pace.

It is something too, to drink in the grand solitude of this
forest-covered mountain side, where the rustle of trees, over whose
heads you often look, and the weird calling of some forest bird, are
generally the only sounds to disturb thoughts which seem to expand with
the wide grandeur of nature.

About a quarter of a mile from Sainte Lucie we got out, and, dismissing
the carriage to its stables in the village, explored the little convent
church upon the hill.

The convent itself, with strong walls and narrow windows, is now turned
into a stable; but the church door stood open, and we entered.

A perfect pandemonium it appeared to be: some men playing jigs on a
wretched little harmonium in a corner of the building, and about sixty
children, of all ages, rushing about the place, dancing and shouting.

The men, as usual, took little notice of us; but the children ceased
their games, and followed us in open-mouthed curiosity from side to
side of the little church, as we made a tour of inspection. It was
a poor little place, dirty and neglected, with a number of wretched
daubs upon the walls--one, the old and treasured picture, having been
painted in the twelfth century, but certainly nothing to boast of,
except in the way of antiquity. These children of Tallano were pretty
and amusing.

We were sitting on the wall in the lane outside the inn, waiting
for dinner, when one of them, a round-faced, brown-eyed boy of about
twelve, seated on a mule, came riding past us once or twice, giving
furtive glances each time.

"Bonsoir," said we at last.

"Bonsoir," said he, turning a blushing, delighted face towards us. "_I_
said 'bonsoir' to _you_ before, when you passed me in the street."
Saying which, and having satisfied his curiosity, the little fellow
turned round his steed and finally rode away.

The expedition to Bavella from Tallano can be done in ten hours;
viz., five hours going up, two to rest on the Bocca, and three for
the descent. It is, therefore, an easy day's excursion. But it is well
worth while giving up twelve or thirteen hours to it: starting at five
or six o'clock in the morning, and returning at seven, thus having four
or five hours in the middle of the day for a good ramble in and out of
and round about this beautiful forest.

Bread and cheese, or other provisions, must be taken, as the little
locanda supplies absolutely nothing eatable in the way of food;
although they probably have some of the good red country wine, for
which Tallano is celebrated. Enthusiastic Englishmen do occasionally
spend a night upon the Bocca; but, judging from what I saw of the
locanda, it would be absolutely impossible for any lady to sleep there;
and one gentleman, who had passed a night in a log hut near the top
of the pass, and who conceives himself, as a rule, proof against the
attacks of any noxious insect, told me that he never spent so miserable
a time in his life, and that he would not repeat the experiment for
twenty Bavellas, exquisite though they might be.

At Tallano we had nothing of this sort. Discomfort, and even dirt
there might be; but it was dirt of the bearable kind, unconnected with
entomology.

But no doubt the accommodation differs. An English lady, met since
our return, informed me that she and her party spent several days in
the forest, in one of the _forestier's_ houses, for lodging in which,
permission must be obtained from the authorities at Ajaccio; and that,
although destitute of all comforts and almost of furniture, the house
was not in any way obnoxious from dirt.



CHAPTER III.

SARTENE.


The route to Sartene from Tallano descends for some distance on the
Propriano route, and is not particularly interesting.

After passing the queer old Pisan bridge, however, it branches off to
the left, into a soft green shady road, faced by a handsome conical
mountain, and bordered by ilexes, cork-trees, and clustering flowers.

The rest of the way is a continual ascent until Sartene is reached.

Steep boulders, growing grander and more massive, and half covered with
a scarlet leek parasite that is positively dazzling in the brilliant
sunshine, rise on each side of the road, interspersed with ilex-trees,
myrtle, arbutus, and many shrubs, sometimes lying gently in a flat
grassy nook, like a garden rockery.

Near Sartene, the road grows terribly steep, winding for miles round
and round the hot interminable hill, on the side of which lies the
town, looking clean and superior. Blue sea peeped out behind us, and
snow mountains invited us in front, as we got out, and, remembering
that both good men and women are merciful to their beasts, toiled up
the steep ascent beside the carriage.

Antonio had the best of it; for, with his hat pushed well back from
his sunburnt face, he was consoling himself with a pipe for his long,
hot walk. Antonio never smoked whilst on the box; hence, the sight of
a steep hill had charms for him. In this respect, as in all others, he
was a pleasing contrast to the Bastia coachman, who puffed his vile
tobacco inside the carriage night and morning. Antonio appeared to
think he must only smoke on sufferance, and at first used to retire
behind the carriage whilst enjoying his uphill treat, directing the
horses by an occasional call, and hastily smothering his pipe in his
hand if spoken to.

Just before the entrance to the town, stood, close beside the road, an
enormous boulder of grey stone. On this had been placed, evidently by
nature, a smaller round one. On the top of this was reared a lofty iron
cross, eight or ten feet high, a dove flying from its summit, and, as
is always the case in Corsica, the crown of thorns, the ladder, spear,
hammer, and nails, even the sponge upon the stick, fastened to it.

At both entrances to the main street of every considerable village or
town in Corsica you invariably see this large cross, generally of wood,
and nearly always accompanied by these implements of the Crucifixion;
but that at Sartene, reared on its great grey rock, with the background
of blue mountains and green groves, was one of the most striking in the
island.

The Hotel de l'Univers, in the principal street, was quite a cheery
sight to way-worn travellers. It was no dirty little inn, with foul
smells and objectionable bedrooms; but a really airy, pleasant hotel,
situated in a rather stuffy street, but with dainty, well-furnished
bedrooms, and a large comfortable salle à manger. After Corte (and of
course excepting Ajaccio), it was the best hotel we had seen in the
island.

After a slight lunch we went out, and, strolling through the hot
glaring streets and up a steep dusty hill, found ourselves at the
picturesque little church of St. Amiens, built on a grassy level
half-way up, overlooking lovely views.

Attached to this church is a large, thick-walled monastery, in fashion
like a bastion; and, as we sat sketching on the grass before it, a
string of monks came slowly by, entering two and two through the narrow
door which opened into the monastery.

They were dressed in brown cassocks, with light-brown girdles and long
rosaries, brown cowls, and sandalled feet that were equally brown.

They walked along demurely enough, with their eyes cast upon the
ground, until they reached the narrow doorway; but, as they turned
to go in, each monk gave way to the sinful appetite of curiosity,
and glanced stealthily from under his shaggy eyebrows at the three
strangers. A lofty wooden cross stood on the green a few yards from the
church, and we were a little astonished to see that neither the brown
monks, nor the fat and homely sisters who afterwards passed on their
way to Vespers, saluted it in any way with signs of reverence.

These sisters, comfortable-looking old ladies, with broad smiling
faces, dressed all in black with enormous flapping white hats which
were probably useful, but certainly not ornamental, were sœurs de
charité, or nurses of the poor.

The pretty little church was dainty and pleasing within as without.

In honour of the month of Mary, a very grand Madonna, dressed as
usual in sky blue, and surrounded by an arch of silver tinsel and
white artificial roses, was placed in front of the altar for the
contemplation of the faithful. Many quiet simple souls came into the
cool, shady little building from the glare outside, to tell their
beads, and to sit for a few moments in quiet meditation before the
gaudy but sweet-faced figure; and among others two little girls, who,
after kneeling down for a minute or two, commenced whispering and
giggling audibly.

I made friends with these two little things, and presently they sat,
one on each side, holding my hands and looking up into my face with
the brightest and most eager of black eyes. Jaenne and Sophie, as they
informed me they were called, were in the middle class of life, and
were good French scholars.

They were on their return from school, and were awaiting the priest's
call to attend confession. The burden of their sins did not appear to
weigh very heavily upon these small reprobates, as they chatted away
to me with great friendliness, imparting to me their great desire to
travel and to visit England, and showing particular curiosity as to the
appearance and disposition of my mother.

"Isn't she _very_ unhappy," asked the handsome little Jaenne with the
gleaming eyes, "to think you are so far away from her?"

"My mother wouldn't let me go," said the small, freckled,
mischievous-looking Sophie; "not now at least. But I'll go some day,
when I'm big."

"It's very beautiful in England, isn't it?" asked Jaenne. "Much more
beautiful than Corsica? Is it very cold?"

"I should like to live in England," remarked Sophie, sagely, "because
_everybody_ is very rich there!"

Beyond the church, and down the road for some distance, lie pretty
scattered tombs surrounded by foliage, and reposing against wooded or
grassy hills, and beyond these a populous little cemetery.

After strolling in this direction, Nos. 2 and 3 returned to the town,
and went into the cathedral at one side of the Grande Place.

As we walked up the long flight of stone steps leading to it, a group
of children rushed after us, shouting and dancing, and pursuing us
round the interior of the church itself. Not much was to be seen there.
It was a gloomy, dusty-looking place, far inferior in attractions
to the graceful, well-kept little St. Amiens; but the Virgin's altar
stood out in magnificence of large blue and silver-spangled curtains,
surrounded by flowers, real and artificial.

Hastening down the steps again, we soon got rid of our tormentors,
and walked to the other end of the town to make a quick sketch of the
boulder cross.

During the two or three minutes that we stood there, a crowd of
forty children speedily collected, with the addition of one man and
two women. The smell of garlic was suffocating; but good breeding
prevailed, and a dead silence pervaded the interested group, one and
all bent upon a polite and stealthy peep over our shoulders. For this
purpose, a low wall behind was in great request, and one or two boys
got upon each other's shoulders to attain the desired end.

The excitement became intense, when, hearing a whisper of "Ah, Rosina,
ecco!" I looked down, and perceived a tiny, picturesque child with
round face surrounded by the usual bambino's white cap, from off which
had fallen a large straw hat, still hanging by its strings behind her
neck, and proceeded to sketch her.

"She's drawing Rosina! she's drawing Rosina!" became the cry; and the
sudden rush of the juveniles compelled me to close my sketch-book, and
make good my escape, escorted by an excited, but friendly crowd, to
the Hotel de l'Univers, where table d'hôte was just over, but where a
modest little dinner of nine courses had been kept hot for our benefit.



CHAPTER IV.

THE LION OF ROCCAPINA.


From Sartene to Bonifacio is a drive of about seven hours, including an
hour's baiting in the middle of the day.

The scenery at first is not very fine, and leads through many a bleak
and rugged hill, varied by gigantic boulders, and half-stifled ilex and
arbutus.

Some of these boulders were remarkable for their strange hollowness,
and would have made excellent bandit caves, had they been a little more
hidden by the cystus and arbutus which bordered the way.

About half-way to the pass of Roccapina, however, a fine range of blue
rocks rose on our left, close at hand, and continued for some distance
to stand sentinel over the little valley through which we passed.

Our drive to-day was varied by an amusing chase. A poor little foal,
following its mother and her master, got separated from its friends,
through fear of our carriage, and fled precipitately down the road
before us.

After vainly shouting to its deaf owner, and trying by means of gentle
driving to turn it back, Antonio at length jumped down, and we all
followed his example. But the small beast, now out of sight of its
mother, and not possessed of much wisdom, would not be persuaded to
follow the same road; but, cleverly dodging our outstretched arms,
rushed for protection to the horses, nestling up between them, to their
great contempt and indignation.

The chase became exciting, and No. 3, standing at the horses' heads,
was quite exhausted with laughing, Nos. 1 and 2 having shouted
themselves quite hoarse, when Antonio, by a dexterous rush, suddenly
caught the snorting, terrified foal up in his strong arms, and began to
carry it kicking down the road. At the same moment a pitiful neighing
was heard round the corner, and the stupid owner at last appeared,
dragged back by his afflicted mare; and in another moment, mother and
child were happily re-united.

The pass of Roccapina is wild and picturesque, overlooking the sea,
and many a rocky range. The open pass is bordered by loose boulders,
and far beneath lies the little bay of Roccapina, three or four
large coasting vessels lying in its harbour, mere black atoms in the
distance; the white sandy road winding down to it, dotted with charcoal
carts drawn by their six or eight mules, looking like so many moving
centipedes upon the hill-side.

The long headland, which juts far out into the sea and protects one
side of this bay, has upon its furthest height a high round tower,
and upon the summit of the nearer hill, one of the greatest natural
curiosities in Europe. It consists of the figure of a lion, seated
upon the high peak with a lordly air, looking out to sea--an entirely
natural formation in the rock.

For miles this lion can be seen, lifelike as if from the chisel
of a sculptor, his very features being marked out by the natural
indentations of the granite, and his pose full of spirit and vivacity.

Behind the headland, sweeps of blue sea and distant points of brown
and purple rocks form a fine background, and in front the ground slopes
away by a rocky winding road to the sea level.

A little Douane, represented by one pleasant elderly gendarme, and a
tiny inn, are the only dwellings on this bleak and lonely spot, or for
miles around its windy solitudes.

A tame tortoise, and some queer Corsican ware inside the bare little
inn, consoled us during our mid-day halt for a passing shower, and
our bread and cheese was augmented by the only luxury possessed by the
good-natured landlady, who sold us an apronful of walnuts for twopence,
and laughed cheerily at our original Italian.

Distorted and fantastic boulders gave way after a time, on the road
down, to macchie and plains of corn-fields bedecked by sheets of
scarlet poppies, as we left off following the margin of the sea-shore
and struck inland once more amongst the green hills.

A wide rock-strewn plain, with a rocky line of hills in front, and
a dry sandy road, nearly stifled us, and we were glad to get into a
lovely lane hedged by arbutus, up which twined the loving purple vetch,
to a height of more than eight feet, and where flowers--scarlet, blue,
white, and golden--hid everything but blue sky from our aching eyes.

Breezy hills, peeps of sea, and malarious-looking plain, followed each
other in quick succession, as we wound up and down, never leaving the
sea-coast far behind.

Reaching the top of the last stony height, about six miles from
Bonifacio, a splendid view lay spread before us. As far as the eye
could reach the great Mediterranean glittered like a blue mirror to the
horizon, with its white cliffs and low blue hills, surrounded by many
small islands, while the white bastion walls of Bonifacio glistened in
the noonday sun far off upon the mainland, overtopping all.

On our right rose the splendid rocks, black pointed and well-nigh
inaccessible, upon which is situated the Hermitage de la Trinité.

This monastery has been for many years deserted and untenanted, but an
immense black iron cross stands out with weird arms pointing into the
summer sky from the extreme summit of this wild eyrie.

Looking at the almost perpendicular rocks, it is difficult to believe
that any one could scale those heights; and one felt that here, at any
rate, was a monastery which could have little or no communication with
the outer world.

The next four or five miles seemed interminable, as in a burning
fiery furnace of heat we drove along the level, sandy road leading to
Bonifacio, bordered by a few dusty olives, and plentifully sprinkled
with the black wooden wayside cross.

Nearer the town we passed between wonderful chalk cliffs, curved and
hollowed and glittering, some having every appearance of high built
walls. When at length we emerged from these white, cave-carved cliffs,
we were at the bottom of an almost perpendicular hill, from the summit
of which rose the bastions of Bonifacio.

The long narrow harbour which winds from the sea round one side of
the town through more curious chalk cliffs, ceased at the edge of the
roadside, and the lower little town or quay, with one or two small
stone towers, lay beside it, before us, under the brow of the hill up
which we must ascend to the citadel and town proper. A more wild and
extraordinary looking situation for a town it would be impossible to
conceive; and of all the towns in Corsica, I have no hesitation in
saying that Bonifacio is best worth a visit.

Perched on the summit of its steep hill, its chalk foundations
overhanging the blue sea on one side, and flanked by harbour and
distant purple hills upon the other, the great mass of masonry
looks proudly down, with the invincible pride of centuries, upon its
Sardinian neighbour, and upon the waters that surround three sides of
its steep fortress.



CHAPTER V.

BONIFACIO.


The town of Bonifacio proper is within the citadel walls, and two roads
ascend to the heights. One is wide and handsome, winding round the
lofty walls and entering the citadel by a strong drawbridge with fine
old chains; the other is a stony zigzag, too narrow and too steep for
any vehicle, and only available for men, women, and mules. This also
leads by a lesser drawbridge into the well-defended town.

On entering through the main gates of the city, you find yourself
in a wide street, which will be handsome when some ruined houses are
repaired, and others now building are finished. Between the houses,
come peeps of breezy hills and blue harbour. The ascent is still steep
and stony, although wide; and the street, which is the only good one in
Bonifacio, soon comes to an end.

An intricacy of narrow byways leads out of it in every direction. Into
some of these we penetrated, and found them most curious.

The houses were enormously high, supported by flying buttresses from
one roof or wall to the other across the narrow street; while the road
itself (by courtesy so called) was made up of mighty cobble-stones,
varied by large holes, with here and there a sudden drop of a foot or
two. There was of course no apparatus of any sort for lighting up these
side streets, and I could not help wondering what was the percentage of
the population whose nocturnal errands in these dark, dangerous alleys
gave them a contused or broken limb.

Here and there among the overleaning houses came a break of queer old
stone arches, leading by some black and filthy staircase into an abode
of darkness from which came the voices of dogs and children.

Our passage down these back streets, however, was a nervous and hasty
one, and we took care to keep in the centre of the five or six feet of
stony way, knowing by uncomfortable experience the national propensity
of treating the highways as drains, and the possibility any moment of
a deluge of dirty water from an upper window upon our heads.

In one street, a little wider than the others, and which boasted a row
of shops, a brown monk was collecting coppers for his order in a little
tin can, against which he rattled his brown rosary suggestively.

He was a very dirty, but a very polite monk, and showed withal rather
a pleasant, honest face as he bowed to us, turning back his cowl to get
a better stare.

The main street at its end branched off into two steep paths, one
of which led to our "hotel," (!) and the other, equally steep but
rather wider, brought us out, by rough stony passages, first to the
barracks, large and white with an open square in front, and then, under
an archway (over which is a little room once inhabited by the first
Napoleon when a Corsican lieutenant), to a wide breezy common.

This common, covered with grass and corn-fields, with flying
wind-mills, one or two military towers of heavy white stone, containing
gunpowder, and some fortifications, is the plateau of the rocky height
upon which Bonifacio is built.

Reaching the edge of the grassy plateau, we looked down the almost
perpendicular chalk cliffs to a depth of several hundred feet below,
where the blue water chafed and sparkled, as it worked away busily in
its endless task of excavation.

Straight before us, across the straits, lay Sardinia, one or two houses
showing a glitter across the nine miles of white-ribboned currents
that rushed with terrific pace between us and her. Then, turning back,
and wandering out again through the drawbridge, we descended the steep
hill up which we had come, and watched the inhabitants, as, in the cool
of sunset, they came riding in with their various burdens upon their
mules.

Many of them were loaded with grass and ferns for provender, and some
with sticks, and some had tolerably heavy barrels slung on each side of
their beast.

One long-suffering mule was heavily weighted. A barrel on either side,
a sack of hay, and a big lad of fifteen or sixteen was at first his
load; to which presently was added an additional boy, who climbed
up behind and perched himself upon the sack of hay, as the poor mule
plodded slowly uphill.

This elder boy was assuredly one of the most beautiful of God's
creations ever seen. The grace and symmetry of his figure and movements
were perfect, as with supple, bare brown feet pressing against
the mule's sides, he urged on the patient beast; his features were
faultless, and his splendid eyes were almost hidden by the long lashes
that matched the short coal-black curls under his ragged cap.

"Poor beast!" said No. 3, as the mule passed; "how tired he is!" For
one felt one must see those dark eyes raised.

They were raised, as the boy glanced up at us with the scowl of a
beautiful demon; then, suddenly changing his mind as he caught our
friendly looks, a smile broke over the chiselled mouth and flooded the
Italian eyes; and, in an instant, the demon became an angel. I would
have given a five-franc piece to have sketched that boy, but it would
have been almost as much as one's life was worth to have asked him to
stand.

A little further on came an old wayfarer, ragged and infirm, leaning
heavily upon his stick, and followed closely by a little sheep. When I
spoke to the old fellow, the sheep paused too, and looked up in my face
like a dog; and when its master held out his brown withered hand, ran
up to place a warm nose lovingly within it.

The poor man who "had nothing save one little ewe lamb, which he
nourished, and which lay in his bosom, and which was unto him as a
daughter," is a well-known character in Corsica, where tame sheep often
take the place of dogs, and are domestic favourites.

In Bastia I have seen a sheep walking leisurely down the pavement of
the street, looking in at doorways and sniffing here and there quite at
his ease, and quite disregarded, finally lying down in the sun to sleep
upon the public pathway. And I remember one handsome sheep at Ajaccio
that amused us greatly by its climbing powers.

We had strayed out upon the shore a mile or two from the town, and
were sitting down to rest by the sea, when a very grand coastguardsman
passed us. His real motive was evidently curiosity, but his feigned one
was expressed by the telescope in his hand, carrying which he mounted
a ridge of rock hard by, to gaze out upon the unbroken horizon.

The gold braid on his black and white uniform was fresh and telling;
and the tame sheep which followed his every footstep was as white as
snow.

When the coastguardsman paused, the little sheep paused; wherever he
went upon the slippery seaweed-covered rocks dashed with spray, there
followed she; and, when he was about to pass us, she stared for a
moment with frightened air, and then, with a little cry, tucked herself
close to her master's side until we were left behind.

Nearly all these Bonifacio people were civil and friendly, touching
their caps and wishing us good evening.

Military and naval uniforms gave the streets a gay air, and the
inhabitants appeared of a less solemn disposition than most Corsicans.

During the whole of our visit to the island, I never heard but one
man (or boy) whistle, out of Bastia, Ajaccio, and Bonifacio; and in
the villages nothing but chorus singing is heard, and that of the most
dismal kind, and but rarely.

But here in Bonifacio, children, and even men, might be heard singing
gay military airs about the streets.

The Hotel du Nord gave us a terrible shock. How it ever got itself
christened "hotel," even in Corsica, is a mystery to me.

The little stony street which led up to it was so steep and so narrow
that we and our packages had to leave the carriage at the bottom,
and climb up to the broken hovel-like doorway, which a swinging board
informed our astonished eyes was the "Entrance to the Hotel."

A stone step down into the darkness revealed before us a narrow,
creaking, wooden staircase, up which we went wondering, preceded by the
polite maître d'hôtel. A door then opened on a little wooden landing,
and showed a long dark room, kitchen and salle à manger in one, in
which were already seated a good many Bonifacians, drinking red wine
and smoking cheap tobacco.

Through this room and its astonished inmates, we were led into two
little apartments, each containing a bed, one of which was screened off
so as to make the larger room a sitting-room.

This was all the accommodation to be had; but a third room was promised
in another house for No. 2, "when the military gentleman now occupying
it should have departed," which he had promised to do before evening.

It seemed incredible that there should be no better inn at a place like
Bonifacio, one of the five principal towns in the island; but so it
was; though the excellent fare and unceasing care and attention of the
active little landlord deserved every commendation.

This man's French was most extraordinary, and had it not been that he
took such evident pride in its display, we should have informed him
that his Italian was the more comprehensible; but his kindness was
excessive and his charges most moderate.

He was particularly anxious to impress upon us the fact that a handsome
house, now building in the main street, was his new hotel, which
would be opened by next summer, so that we should have very different
accommodation on our next visit.

He also insisted strongly upon the cleanliness of his house, and his
knowledge of the English prejudices against creeping beasts.

"Mesdames," said he, emphatically, "pour chaque punaise que vous
trauverez ce soir, vous pourrez me donner un soufflet demain matin!"

With which handsome offer he led the way to the house, a few doors
lower down the street, where was the "extra apartment," making many
apologies as to its present state of untidiness, which would be
remedied directly.

Any place more cut-throat-looking than this room I never saw. It was
a sort of long low garret at the very top of an apparently deserted
house, up four or five flights of wooden stairs, and led out of another
lumber garret, as bare and unfurnished as itself.

"Don't sleep here," said No. 3; "you will dream of brigands all night!"

"You will be choked with dust, and devoured by fleas," said No. 1.

"I hope they _will_ clean it out," said No. 2, whose nerves were
brigand-proof; "and I hope the house won't catch fire. But I shall
sleep here."

Our polite little landlord was right as to his immunity from the worst
of nocturnal horrors. But he had been wary in omitting fleas from his
penalty of a box on the ear!

"Well, how did you sleep, mesdames?" he asked, as he brought us our
breakfast at eight o'clock next morning.

"Very well," said two of us.

"Ah!" he replied, triumphantly, "I told you my house was clean!"

"But," said the third, quietly, "twenty-seven fleas _are_ a good many
to catch at one sitting!"

The poor man's face fell. "Ah, peste!" said he, with a vexed air; "that
militaire kept three dogs in his room. What is a man to do?"

As for me, the beauty of the night alone prevented my sleeping. It
seemed a shame to be lying idly dreaming when the clear moonlight
outside was lighting up such weird beauties of nature.

My little window looked down from the very summit of the citadel
rock, over perpendicular chalk cliffs, upon the dashing waves far, far
beneath, where by daylight I had watched them playing over malachite
stones and purple seaweed.

All around stretched the bay, the chalk cliffs, and little detached
stacks, grooved and hollowed by the wasting waters; and the long
promontory, edged by black rocks, jutting out into distant depths of
blue Mediterranean. On this promontory stood a signal-house, and a
lighthouse; and at the extreme end of it was a curious natural rock,
shaped like a broad watch-tower, with pagoda roof.

But now, the bright moonlight shone on a black sea lit up by silver
crests, and golden gleams from the distant lighthouse threw strange
lights across little shadowy bays, whilst the detached rocks stood up
like black ghosts raising fantastic heads towards the deep blue sky.

All night long the sea moaned wild music ceaselessly, the rising wind
tossing up white jets of spray to catch the silver moonlight, and
increasing towards morning into a tempest cry.



CHAPTER VI.

CURIOSITIES OF BONIFACIO.


The history of Bonifacio is rich in stories of romantic sieges and
heroic deeds of valour. In 833 a Tuscan Margrave, on his road home from
Africa, first built a fortress there, calling it after his own name,
Bonifacius; he and his family becoming for nearly a hundred years the
feudal lords of Corsica.

In the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Genoese cast a prudent
eye towards Bonifacio, and seizing upon it, they raised its almost
impregnable fortifications, making it henceforth one of their chief
centres.

Special privileges were granted to the citizens, families were brought
over from the mainland, and Bonifacio became the first Genoese colony
in the island.

For the next four or five hundred years, this great citadel sustained
many a furious siege from various outsiders, and from the Corsicans
themselves; but always remained faithful to Genoa, and bid defiance to
every foe in the conscious strength of its massive bastion walls.

Many a time were the inhabitants brought to death's door by famine; but
their marvellous courage and endurance never failed them, and Bonifacio
became a byword for impregnability. Often the women, as well as the
men, assisted in the defence of the city; and women, children, and old
people voluntarily starved themselves, so as to reserve the modicum of
food to strengthen the arms of the fighting men.

On one occasion when, blockaded by the Turkish fleet and decimated
by famine, they were vainly waiting for the succours for which they
had sent, their unfailing spirit inspired them with the notion of a
successful ruse.

In the early morning, just before dawn, the enemy encamped outside
heard sounds of joy coming from the beleaguered city, shouts raised,
drums beating, and bells ringing; and when the sun rose, beheld
detachments of foreign soldiers in fresh uniforms walking upon the city
walls and filling the streets of the citadel.

That this was the long expected help they could not doubt, although
struck dumb with amazement and disgust to find that, under cover of the
night, the enemy's forces had been able to land to the relief of the
distressed city. It was only after the siege was raised, and the combat
had ended in the triumph of the heroic defenders, that they discovered
that the supposed foreign battalion was nothing more nor less than the
wives and daughters of the citizens, who, in order to intimidate them
and attain their own end, had played the part of those allies for whom
their heart was sick with waiting.

There was a bright sun and a high gale as Nos. 2 and 3 went out early
to inspect some of the curiosities of Bonifacio.

One glance at the foaming, boiling sea, told us that it would be
impossible to visit the beautiful marine caverns for which the chalk
cliffs are famous, and which lie within a short rowing distance of the
town. So we repaired to the celebrated Aragon staircase.

For this purpose we had to seek the barracks, from whence presently
issued a guide with a key. Entering through a doorway upon a part of
the cliff walled off, we followed to the very edge of the precipice.
Not till then did we see, overhanging the angry waves, the rough narrow
staircase, cut almost vertically down the face of the rock.

On one side over-arched the chalk cliff, and on the other was a rough
wall two or three feet high. If it had not been for this protective
wall, we should infallibly have been blown over into the sea, as,
frantically clutching our hats in the roaring wind, and leaving our
umbrellas at the top, weighted down by stones, we prepared to descend
the exceedingly steep and broken one hundred and ninety-four steps.

This staircase, cut out by order of the then King of Aragon (for a
long time ally and feudal lord of Bonifacio), between three and four
hundred years ago, was intended, it is said, for the approach to his
private landing stage; but, at all times, this rocky bay must have been
a most unsuitable, difficult place of embarkation for pleasure seekers,
and it seems more probable that it was first hastily excavated by the
inhabitants for the stealthy receipt of succours by sea.

Anyhow, it is reported to have been useful on many occasions to
smugglers; and this seems more than probable from its appearance.

What with wind and steepness, it took us some time to descend, and No.
3 was greatly incensed by the guide's offers of assistance, and his
final remark, "Mademoiselle a peur?"

"Do you think," she asked, wrathfully, "that there are no rocks in
England? _We_ live in an island, too!"

The little platform of rock at the bottom was raised two or three feet
above the level of the waves, and protected in front by a low stone
wall, over which surf dashed. Loose rocks of chalk lay all about, and
round and over them played the swift water, turning its shallow rapids
into richest, clearest green, brown, and orange hues.

Sardinia was pale with the mist of the sirrocco; and the "bouches"
between us raged in a storm of white breakers.

On the little plateau below lay a sheet of that surf-loving mauve
flower with which the Iles Sanguinaires abound; and also a quantity of
a beautiful kind of ice plant, whose pointed, thick, light-green leaves
glistened with an infinity of brilliant balls like dew-drops.

After a tedious mount up again to the top of the staircase, and past
the barracks, we were conducted to the "Grand Moulin," where, from an
artesian well beneath the surface of the sea, water is pumped up to the
level of the cliff.

This mill is only used in summer, and waters the gardens of les
militaires.

When there is not wind enough to move its sails, four men turn a large
iron windlass on a little platform within.

From this platform, on dropping stones, we found that they took sixteen
seconds before splashing into the water at the bottom.

Three hundred and sixty steps reach from the land level to the water
level; and down these winding stone steps our guide was exceedingly
anxious that we should go.

He shut the door, and, carrying a lantern, desired us to follow him
into the foul-smelling, dank, gruesome darkness.

But thirty-five steps led to the first platform, and here we struck
work, greatly to the man's disgust. But things creeping innumerable
bedecked the yellow walls, and monstrous beetles, two inches long,
scuttled by; and, with petticoats well tucked up, we retreated upstairs
incontinently, notwithstanding our guide's remonstrances, and his
assurances that this was far finer than the other staircase, and
decidedly the greatest curiosity in Corsica, if not in the world.

Very glad was I to escape from insect clutches, and wander out beyond
the town to seek some sketching spot in the open, sweet air.

This I found on a little path overhanging the main road up to the
citadel, and cut in the grassy slope of the cliff.

A very difficult position it was to maintain this windy morning,
and I really thought sometimes that both I and my juvenile crowd of
attendants would be blown bodily over the cliff-side on to the highway
far below, to the astonishment of passers-by.

The Bonifacio children I found extremely curious, but withal
well-behaved.

Finding that they could not be induced to retire, I made use of them;
and one held down the flapping page of my sketch-book, while another
held my umbrella over my head. We became very good friends, and they
were exceedingly anxious not to intercept my view, but the brisk fire
of questioning kept up by them added another difficulty to a rapid
sketch.

Garlic and conversation, however, had to be endured, as their
politeness did not go the length of making themselves scarce.

Even the offer of a handful of sous as soon as the carriage came up,
could not induce them to disperse, notwithstanding the persuasion of
one of their number, a pretty boy of about eleven.

Finding that his companions would not move, he turned to me, and took
off his cap. "Madame," said he, with the air of a courtier, "I go; not
for the sake of sous, but because you desire it. I have tried to make
these others come, but they will not."

"Sir," replied I, to the small but courteous Corsican, "you are a
gentleman."

And the brown-eyed, dignified boy walked off, not to be seen again.



CHAPTER VII.

A SERMON BY THE WAYSIDE.


We were glad enough to reach Sartene on our return, after a hot and
dusty drive.

We had ordered a relay of horses from Ajaccio next day, to meet us
half-way between Sartene and the capital, so as to do the whole return
distance in two days; and we quite looked forward to our snug little
rooms at l'Hotel de l'Univers. But, alas! for the futility of human
hopes!

No sooner did "shades of eve prevail, and the moon tell out her
wondrous tale," than Nos. 2 and 3 found themselves surrounded by a
black and scarabean army. From every direction swarmed these unpleasant
visitors in bold assurance, and nothing daunted by the sight of their
brethren's corpses upon the polished floor.

In this dilemma we called in the deaf but friendly waiter, who solemnly
fetched a dustpan and brush, with which he performed the funeral
obsequies of the dead, and the prompt execution of the living.

"You will now sleep well, mesdames," said he, consolingly, but
unveraciously; "behold, they are all dead!"

But he mocked us; and another five minutes found us again demanding
assistance, whilst, with disturbed faces and gathered up petticoats,
we strove to evade the approaching enemy. This time the landlord
accompanied the waiter.

"Why do the black beetles come to-night? There were none last time," we
asked, reproachfully.

"Voila, mademoiselle, they _will_ come sometimes, and we cannot help
it. The kitchen is on this floor, and there has been a spell of hot
weather. But they will not hurt you, mademoiselle, they do not bite."

"Ah!" said we, miserably, "you do not know English ladies. They have
a horror of creeping beasts. We would rather have something that _did_
bite, than a room full of black beetles."

The fat, good-natured countenance of the portly landlord was filled
with compunction at the sight of our distress. He made another tour
round our room, and crunched one or two more black beetles. "There will
not be many more now, mademoiselle, and indeed they will not hurt you.
But shall I have beds made up for you in the sitting-room next door?
There _might_ not be so many there."

But this well-meant though useless offer we of course declined; and,
with a sympathetic good night on one side, and a melancholy one on the
other, the two kindly Corsicans retired.

At half-past five next morning I was awakened by shouts in the street
outside my window, and going out into the large stone terrace upon
which our windows all opened, I looked down upon a lively scene below.

It was Sunday morning, and had been chosen as inspection day for the
gendarmes of Sartene, by a certain M. le general, who was going the
round of the island on such duties, and who was stopping at our hotel.

First came the review of the mounted gendarmes, and then of the foot
police. These latter were only fifteen in number, but seemed remarkably
well up in their drill.

M. le general, capering about on his white horse, was a very gorgeous
spectacle. His scarlet cloak was rolled up behind him as a saddle
cushion, and his pistol holsters in front were striped black and white,
while his own uniform was blue.

The inspection lasted scarcely an hour; but the general's shouts to his
small body of soldiers might have been heard a mile off.

It was a lovely sunny morning, and, as we were to leave for Ajaccio at
9 a.m., before eight o'clock No. 3 was out, tearing up the hill towards
St. Amiens, with the purpose of sketching one or two of the picturesque
wayside tombs which adorned that road.

An early walk on Sunday morning is the time to see the natives in
Corsica.

The large church square just beyond the hotel where the gendarmes had
been drilled, was full of men, three or four hundred, with, as far
as could be seen, not a single woman amongst them; but descending the
steep hill from St. Amiens were many neat, black-robed women returning,
prayer-book in hand, from early Mass, and all saluting the English lady
and her sketch-book with a grave surprised politeness.

Men, women, and children, all riding mules, were also coming in from
the country to spend their Sunday in town.

The quiet gravity and the extreme tidiness of these holiday makers
struck one forcibly. They all pursued their way in silence, the men
usually with spotless white shirts appearing under their velveteen
coats, and the younger women with clean, starched, white head-gear; but
both men and women totally destitute of either ornament or colour in
their dress.

It was a beautiful morning for a sketch, and the interruptions, though
many, were not discourteous.

Once No. 3 felt an animal's breath snorting on her neck, and turning
round, saw a mule close behind, its rider, gun on back, looking over
her shoulder with great interest.

On her saying good morning to the man, he immediately smiled and lifted
his cap; and remarking that he wished he knew how to draw, he gave his
mule a gentle kick and continued his way.

"Bon jour, mademoiselle," said a bright voice a few minutes later; and,
looking up, No. 3 saw an old woman standing before her. She evidently
belonged to the lower orders, and was poor, although neatly dressed in
a semi-conventual attire of black serge, edged with white, and wearing
a long rosary and cross by her side.

She appeared to be very old, and was toothless, and consequently a
little difficult to understand, but had an upright carriage, and the
sweetest and blithest of old faces.

"Good morning," said No. 3; "you have been to church, I suppose?"

"Of course, mademoiselle. And not you?"

"I do not always go to Mass," replied No. 3; "I am not of your
religion."

"No, mademoiselle? Ah! what a pity? You are English, mademoiselle?"

"Yes, madame."

"But they believe in Jesus in your country, do they not, mademoiselle?"
said she, innocently.

"And where are you going now?" asked No. 3, when she had satisfied her
old friend on this point.

"I? Oh, I am off to visit my 'pauvres,' and my poor dear 'malades.'"

"Do you visit them every Sunday morning?"

"Why, every morning, mademoiselle!"

"But are there many malades in Sartene?"

"Oh yes, mademoiselle. There are always plenty who are sick and
suffering, or infirm, or unhappy; and they are glad to see me. They are
all good to me, my poor children!"

"But you are so old yourself. Don't you get tired, running about all
day like that?"

The old soul laughed merrily.

"I am used to it, mademoiselle, and le bon Dieu has given me strong
legs. Sometimes I am tired in the evening; but I am longing to be off
again next day. It makes one so happy to feel one can do something for
le bon Dieu, though one is old and poor."

"You are a sister?" asked No. 3. "But you do not live in a convent, do
you?"

"Oh no, mademoiselle, I have never lived in a convent. I live by
myself, and amongst my children."

"Your poor children?"

"My poor and my sick children, mademoiselle."

"You look very happy," said No. 3, gazing up into the wrinkled, beaming
old face.

The old sister suddenly bent down, showing a large brass ring on her
forefinger, on which was carved a crucifix.

"Look, mademoiselle," she exclaimed, kissing it reverently; "this is
what makes me happy! Lui--c'est mon époux, mon ami, mon Dieu!"

It was time to return homewards; and as No. 3 got up, her new friend
wrung both her hands affectionately.

"Tell me your name, mademoiselle," she said, "that I may know for
whom to pray. And you, when you go to your Mass in England, you will
remember old Catarina Rinaldi, will you not?"

And with a parting smile, the old woman moved off briskly, her face
shining with the reflection of the spring brightness on the wayside,
down which she passed.

Open air sermons are sometimes the best.

At the bottom of the hill, a tall woman, bearing an enormous
earthenware jar perched sideways upon her head, appeared suddenly; and
an intelligent boy of thirteen or fourteen also passing, was pounced
upon by No. 3 to make known her wish to the countrywoman that she
should pause a moment to be sketched.

The black-eyed woman laughed shyly, but after a moment's hesitation
consented, understanding apparently that it was her big pot only which
was the attraction. But no sooner did she find out that her face also
was to be inserted in the sketch, than, with unfeigned fright, she
covered it with her hands and prepared to run away.

A short argument followed, in which both No. 3 and her interpreter
endeavoured vainly to reassure the model; but it proved useless, and,
still keeping her hands before her brown face, she presently hurried
off, regardless of the sneers of her juvenile but more highly educated
countryman.

"What on earth frightens her?" asked No. 3.

"How can I tell, mademoiselle? Behold, these country women are so
ignorant and stupid!" replied this youthful Solon, with a shrug.

"Do they believe in the evil eye in Corsica?"

"Maybe. A few foolish ones."

"Perhaps she does?"

"It may be so, mademoiselle. She is but an uneducated woman from the
hillside."

No. 3's new friend walked home beside her, and was an exceedingly
agreeable companion.

He spoke very good French, and his stature, which was small but
dignified, was augmented by a large shiny black hat.

No. 3 felt quite glad of his manly escort as she passed through the
great square again.

"Are there no women in Sartene?" she asked, "or do they never come out
of doors?"

"They come out in the evening, mademoiselle, and walk about; but they
never leave their houses in the morning, unless it is to go to Mass.
They have plenty to do indoors."

"And the men do nothing?"

"It is not a man's place to do household work," replied the young man,
with evasive dignity.

The carriage was at the hotel door as the two came up, and the young
Corsican took off his cap politely as we drove away.

From Sartene to Ajaccio is a nine-hours' drive, without any pause; and
of course cannot be done without a change of horses half-way.

These we had ordered at Bechisano, but they did not arrive, and great
was Antonio's disgust when we had finally, after an hour's waiting, to
drag on our tired horses to Grosseto, where we found the fresh couple
awaiting us.

We, however, had no objection to an hour's rest in the village
of Bechisano, where, sending away horses and driver for rest and
refreshment, we got rid of our bread and cheese, and began to take a
woman's portrait.

The crowd around us increased every moment, and before long I had
counted seventy-five heads, all jammed close beside the carriage. But
they were the most pleasant and friendly of people. Conversation became
exceedingly animated, and the pretty, sensible-faced woman who, with
jar and bimbo, acted as our model, became the object of much harmless
chaff.

Finally, amid a great deal of laughter, an innocent-looking old crétin,
with a childish face, was dragged forward as a fit and very willing
subject for our pencils.

But one and all, though full of merriment, were perfectly obliging and
courteous; and even the children pulled one another off the carriage,
admonishing each other not to shake the artists. One boy's face struck
me by its rare and peculiar beauty. It was of a deep olive, perfectly
oval; and his delicately curved lips never lost their gentle gravity as
he kept his large liquid brown eyes with their heavy fringes fixed upon
us, leaning his head against the carriage, and answering our remarks in
one or two gentle monosyllables. I never saw a greater contrast than
there was between this pale, beautiful, refined boy-countenance, and
the face of a poor little girl behind him. She was dirty and untidy,
ugly to an extreme, and with evil passions expressed on the childish
features to an unnatural degree. The slightest push caused her to scowl
and retort, with a malignant anger in her fierce black eyes that was
positively appalling. This small Corsican seemed more than ready to
start a vendetta on her own account before long.

We were still sitting laughing and sketching in the carriage,
surrounded by our numerous admirers, when I heard an astonished voice
at my elbow.

"Had you not better walk on a little, and so get rid of all these
people?"

And looking down, I saw Antonio's grave face, a little more serious
than usual. It was clear he regretted our want of dignity, and did not
admire such bonhomie in the foreign ladies under his care.

"We like the people, Antonio; they amuse us," said I apologetically,
and feeling sure that by the remark I was losing caste in his eyes.

Antonio immediately retired a few steps, and sat down upon a low wall
behind the carriage in silence, keeping, however, a scrutinizing watch
upon us and our surrounders, and ready to pounce fiercely upon the
first boy whose audacity might tempt him to scale the coachman's box.

And before long Nos. 2 and 3 had taken his advice and walked on,
leaving No. 1 alone in the carriage to hold _levée_ with the assembled
multitudes.

A terrific shower forced them, however, soon to rush to the nearest
shelter, which consisted of a large rough-looking wooden house beside
the road.

Entering within the doorway, they stood in a deserted passage, full of
logs of wood, and from one end of which ran a tall wooden ladder--the
family staircase up to the habited rooms. Down this ladder, presently,
peered several small pairs of bright eyes, soon augmented by a
detachment of female faces, all grinning and curious, but retreating
hastily when we showed signs of advancing.

After a time, however, one, bolder than the rest, beckoned us
hospitably upstairs; and, rather curious to see the family _ménage_, up
the steep ladder we went.

We found a low dark room, almost unfurnished, save for two or three
wooden stools, on which, and on the floor before the hearth, sat four
or five women, and as many children, enjoying the blaze of the log
fire.

Their gossip appeared very merry, and they fell into shrieks of
laughter over the attempted Italian of Nos. 2 and 3. Of French
they could neither speak nor understand a single word, except one
woman, who with many smiles offered us each a stool before the fire,
remarking with much dignity, "Moi, je suis _le maître_ de cette maison.
_Ceux-la_," pointing to her group of friends, "sont les femmes des
cantonniers!"

There was a great deal of laughter over our endeavours to parcel out
the right children to the right mothers, and a positive refusal at
first to accept the few sous we brought out as a thankoffering for the
fire and shelter.

The difference between the Corsican men and women often struck us; the
former so grave, reticent, and thoughtful; the latter so merry, gay,
and careless.

On the road back to Ajaccio, Antonio became communicative, and talked
of many things.

Sartene, he said, was not famous for its peaceable character in
this somewhat unpeaceable island. In Sartene the fashionable weapon,
however, is no firearm, but a heavy knobbed stick akin to an Irishman's
shillelagh.

Nearly every man carries one of these, as we had noticed, underneath
his arm, but with no idle idea of assistance in walking.

In a quarrel these heavy club-headed sticks can do great execution;
and, as the men are always quarrelling, broken heads are tolerably
common, and murder not unknown.

"Last night," said Antonio, "I was in the stable, and a young man was
with me, talking. Presently another entered, and after a few minutes
picked a quarrel with the first. I didn't heed them much, for I was
looking after my horses. But presently I heard a blow, and saw one of
them fall flat on his back. The other fellow had hit him on the head
with his stick, and he seemed dead."

"What did the assailant do?" I asked; "was he shocked?"

Antonio smiled his quiet amused smile. "He walked off. No, he was not
shocked at all."

"And you?"

"I did what I could. I put some straw under the young man's head, and
gave him water; and in about an hour he got up and went out."

"Is he much hurt?"

"Oh, he will have a broken head for some time."

"And what will he do to his assaulter? Break _his_ head next time he
sees him?"

"Perhaps he may do that, too. But he will go this morning and lay the
case before the prefect."

"And what will be done to the man who knocked him down?"

"Oh, he will be fined."

A queer mixture of law and barbarism appears to co-exist in Sartene.

"Antonio," I asked, as we passed through village after village full of
idling men, standing at street corners, whilst the church bell vainly
called for Vesper worshippers, "do the men in Corsica never go to
church? Have they no religion?"

"Not much, mademoiselle. They seldom go to a service unless there is
some grand procession, and, for the most part, they do not themselves
know what they believe."

"They are not staunch Roman Catholics, like the Italians?"

"The Jesuits are banished from Corsica, mademoiselle. They taught much,
and the people miss that. Then the French have brought in new ideas,
and many of our men have learnt to scoff, from them."

"Are not the priests respected, then? Are they not good?"

"Some are good, and some are bad, mademoiselle; but the people do not
listen much to them. Sometimes, monks will come round the villages
preaching, and they do good, for they are holy, and the men listen to
them."

"Do the priests never try to stop the vendetta?"

"How can they? Those that are quarrelling would not listen to them. And
for that matter, you may see a priest himself sometimes walking about
with a dagger or a pistol at his belt."

"But only to defend himself?"

"Well, yes; to defend himself," replied Antonio, a little doubtfully.

"Antonio," said I, "do _you_ think it right to shoot your enemy down?"

"No, I do not think it right."

"But, if he had shot one of your family, would you do it?"

Antonio was silent. He was a calm, but a very truthful young man.

"Would you?" I asked again.

"I don't know, mademoiselle. A man cannot tell what he may do in anger."

"But it would be murder," said I; "and now you have courts, where your
enemy would receive due punishment."

"But if he got off meanwhile to the macchie," asked Antonio, his dark
eyes gleaming with a spice of mischief, "and was never seen again; what
then?"

"Well," I said, after a pause, "you must be a difficult race to manage."

"The Corsicans quarrel amongst themselves sometimes, mademoiselle;
and they kill one another sometimes; but they are a quiet people on
the whole. They are content to live upon little, they neither beg nor
steal" ("nor work," he might have added), "and they make no commotions.
If there is any disturbance in the country, it is caused by Italians.
There are more Italians than French in the island, and they are very
rough and disorderly. If ever a stranger is molested it is by the
Italians. No Corsican will ever speak rudely to you, mademoiselle."

There are certainly no begging propensities about the Corsicans. It had
been with the greatest difficulty that we managed to make the bimbo's
mother at Bechisano allow her baby to clasp a fifty-centime piece in
his chubby hand, after refusing anything herself for her good-natured
pose of a quarter of an hour opposite our carriage.

But Antonio's eloquence on the subject of Corsican docility rather lost
its effect upon me, owing to the peculiar character of one of our new
relay of horses. He was a great raw-boned brute about sixteen hands
high, who reared upright at starting, and showed a strong disposition
to bolt the first few miles--a disposition only checked by the extreme
stolidity of his companion, who stumbled over his nose every few steps.

"N'ayez pas peur, mademoiselle," said the grave voice at my side,
consolingly; "I know him well; he will do no harm. That fellow who
rears is twenty-three years old; but he is much the best of the two.
But the 'padron' should not have sent such horses for you."

In fact, with any driver less skilful or less careful than ours, I
doubt if we should ever have reached Ajaccio that night; and we were
reminded that it behoves travellers in Corsica to choose their horses
before starting on a journey.



CHAPTER VIII.

TO VICO.


A few days' quiet at Ajaccio, was quite sufficient for us. The
hotel, lately so lively, was now completely deserted, and even the
white-capped chamber-maids had taken flight until next season. We had
the large rooms completely to ourselves, and found them melancholy. The
town, too, was hot and stuffy. Everybody was moving up to their summer
houses, and the close air was depressing.

We were glad to arrange another tour to the north-west of the island,
including the forests of Aïtone and Valdoniello. The first night was to
be spent at Vico, a village up amongst the hills, a favourite resort of
the upper ten of Ajaccio in summer.

It was a good six-hours' drive to Vico, and, as we wished to see
something of its surroundings, which we were told were very pretty, we
started before eight o'clock in the lovely morning sunshine.

The carriage was a small one, for we took little or no baggage, and
only two passengers. To No. 1, called away on a promised visit to
Italy, we bade a melancholy farewell, and, with the faithful Antonio
for charioteer, trotted through the blazing little town, down the dusty
Bastia road, and under the handsome aqueduct along the flanks of the
western hills, leaving the sea behind us glowing in vivid sapphire
tints against the purple hills.

Toiling up the hot, rocky ascent, Monte Nebbio and Monte D'Or mocked
us with cool, snow-mantled forms rising in our faces, and the large
château on the top of a steep hill termed Monte Lisa, was pointed out
to us as a favourite resort to many during the summer heat.

For miles, also, the great purple rock of Monte Gozo towered bleak and
majestic before us, rising abruptly from the green plain, and reminding
one, as it hung in cool blackness over the far-reaching glare, of a
"great shadow in a thirsty land."

Corn-fields waved softly at its foot, the corn rising five feet high;
and the village of Appieto nestled in its shade behind green knolls.

Glimpses of the western sea began to greet us as we mounted, and at the
summit of the steep Col San Sebastiano, a splendid panorama lay before
us, in many a range of blue and purple hills, backed by glittering
walls of snow.

Then, descending to Calcatoggio, the magnificent Gulf of Sagona
suddenly burst upon us, dazzlingly blue, and stretching far away in its
many indented bays, with Carghese, scarcely visible, lying between the
two furthest headlands, far out to sea.

Calcatoggio, on the side of a steep hill, backed by woods and facing
this glorious bay, has a most perfect position, but enjoys the
reputation of being a remarkably dirty village. It boasts, however, a
fountain of delicious water at its entrance, where we and our horses by
turns regaled ourselves.

A more exquisite day I never saw, and sea and sky were dazzling in
their sunny brilliancy as our little carriage ran merrily down the
green hill-sides, overlooking the purely green water, and then for
miles passing along beside its translucent, sparkling little waves, as
they danced upon their sandy floor.

The Gulf of Liamone was too tempting to pass; and, leaving the
carriage, we wandered along the fine white sands, seeing every weed and
pebble in the wonderfully clear water. No shells, however, were to be
found, and the hot sand burnt our feet and hands as we flung ourselves
down to rest.

On clambering up the bank again and returning to the carriage, No. 3
found Antonio extended upon the box, face downwards, wrapped in heavy
slumber, that even her advent did not disturb; and he only sprang up
hastily, seizing his reins, at the sound of her voice.

Antonio had shown signs of nodding ever since the mid-day halt, and an
unworthy suspicion of drink had seized upon our minds.

"You are sleepy to-day," remarked No. 3, severely.

"Si, mademoiselle," was the curt reply.

"Is it the heat?" she demanded, without abating the severity of her
tone.

"Si. And being up all last night."

"Up all last night!" she repeated, mollified at once. "How did that
happen?"

"A party in Ajaccio had to be driven into the Campagne late last night,
and I only got home at six this morning. Then I got a message from the
padron to tell me you wanted me for half-past seven. So I had to see
after your carriage and horses at once."

Poor Antonio! No wonder he was sleepy. We soon became convinced that he
was the most abstemious of men; but it was no rare event for him to be
out driving all night, and at work again all day without rest.

"They give the horses more rest than you," I said.

"Yes; but night and day work would injure the horses, and I am strong."

"Do you have your Sundays free?" I asked.

"But no. Sundays and week days are all the same to us."

"Have you no holidays?"

"None, mademoiselle. I have been at this work driving now for nine
years, ever since I was fifteen, but I have never had more than an hour
or two to myself at a time. If I had time to study and raise myself,"
he continued wistfully, "I should seek some better _métier_ than this.

"Well," said No. 3, "it is, at any rate, a very pleasant and healthy
occupation; and a man who has grown accustomed to the open air would
not be happy at sedentary work."

Antonio's white teeth gleamed as he smiled affirmatively. "It is
the best occupation in the world for happiness," said he; "a man
cannot quarrel or get into trouble by himself; and one feels always
light-hearted in the open air. But one may have too much of anything."

Sagona, which we passed soon after, is a tiny village, boasting two or
three eucalypti, and a little quay the size of a sixpence.

Near here, the river Liamone, one of the most considerable in Corsica,
throws itself into the sea, after its many tortuous windings among the
intricate maze of hills around Vico.

Leaving the sea border soon after passing Sagona, we struck inland
through cystus-covered hill, bright poppy-sprinkled corn-field, and
willows whispering and sighing among a sea of giant bracken fern;
here and there, underneath a bit of grateful shade, where myrtle,
laurestinus, and arbutus edged the hot wayside; then on, amongst wild
and rugged hills, where lizards, green and black, with bright eyes and
supple tails, glided rapidly up the face of yellow rocks, and where a
long black serpent was sunning himself in the grass by the roadside.
On--until suddenly the reins were flung down, and, with a quick leap,
Antonio was off his box, and mutely pointing to a pretty fern-shaded
fountain close beside us, a fountain boasting three spouts, under
which three human heads were instantly bending, to emerge a minute
afterwards, dripping and refreshed.

If any one wishes to gain a notion of the divine nectar of Olympus,
let him travel on a hot June day under a Corsican sun, walking up a few
of the steepest hills; and then let him apply his thirsty mouth to one
of the mountain rivulet-fed fountains placed here and there along the
wayside by a philanthropic government.

It is a nectar to be found only in Olympus; the valleys know it not.

And now, as we drove on up the steep ascent, we were looking down into
a deep close valley where a long, low, red-roofed building, strangely
isolated, marks the springs of Caldonelli, formerly much thought
of for their medicinal qualities, but whose wretched accommodation
and low-lying situation are now deserted for the more genteel and
convenient baths of Guaguo on the heights above.

Grand rocks and richly wooded hills, the resort of the wild boar, the
deer, and the moufflon, surrounded us as we mounted higher and higher,
towards a cloudless sky, where, over stony heights, looked down the
splendid range of Monte Rotondo's white heads, until at length we
reached the summit of the Col St. Antoine, nearly five thousand feet
high, with Vico at our feet, and a cool wind blowing over the heads
of mountain ranges innumerable below, and from the skirts of the
white-robed monarchs all around.

Just behind Vico, lying amongst its green and ilex-covered hills, rose
the fine rocky range of Monte Libbio, full of queer pointed peaks, "La
Sposata," the hooded wife, conspicuous amongst them.

Up the road came many a Vico proprietor, bowing to us courteously, and
reining up his terrified mule on the very edge of the steep precipice
with the most perfect unconcern.

The hill was terribly steep, and the turn at the bottom very sharp,
but we drew up in style before Pozzo di Borgo's "Hôtel de France." The
title was very grand, but the inn was neither above nor below the usual
average of Corsican inns. It was not appallingly dirty; neither, on the
other hand, was it agreeably clean.

A short rest during the terrible heat was necessary, and then we
sallied forth to spy out the land.

Feeling the sun still too hot for walking, we sat and sketched by the
roadside, finding plenty of amusement.

Up and down the road, to and from the forests, came the heavy
charrettes laden with pine-wood, and drawn by sure-footed patient mules
decorated with high spikes of wood on either side of the collar, and
a pointed hood of leather, of Capuchin shape, between; then a flock
of pretty goats, then some smiling women with laden heads, men on
mule-back, and finally, a little girl, who, after regarding us with
curiosity for a minute or two, ran back and presented us with her
nosegay.

Soon afterwards, sauntered up a big, black-eyed, black-bearded man,
dressed very poorly, but with a keen intelligent face, who, after
wishing us good evening, sat down on the wall beside us for a good
chat.

This man was very dirty, and his beard appeared to have a tendency to
run down his chest where the ragged open shirt left it bare; but he was
a good talker, and had plenty to say for himself.

As usual, he opened the conversation by inquiring our nationality and
our destination, asking also the name of our coachman, and approving of
our choice of Antonio, dubbing him "un charmant garçon," and a friend
of his.

The friendship, however, appeared unreciprocated, as Antonio, next
morning, on being questioned about some of the affirmations of our new
acquaintance, remarked, with his usual brevity, and with a somewhat
scornful lip, "Ah! _he_ said so? Voilà! he is a blagueur!"

But we speedily diverged to more important topics, and it appeared
that our companion was a literary and patriotic character. Corsica, he
said, was in a bad way, but the abolition of the Jesuits was the best
thing that had ever been done for her. He himself had laboured night
and day to get a Protestant priest for Vico. He was not a Protestant
himself--no; but that was not of so much account. What they wanted was
some one who would preach to the people about the evils and necessities
of their daily life; some one who had common sense and religious
feeling, not a man who could do nothing but beg, and talk about the
infallibility of the Pope. He had written a letter to the _Patriot_
newspaper on the subject: he often wrote letters for the papers.
In fact, our friend evidently belonged to the liberal party of more
advanced thinkers in the island. His remarks were full of shrewdness,
not unmixed with conceit and a little bombast; and he was a very
different specimen from the ordinary Corsican. He boasted that he was
the best guide in Corsica; and pointed out to us a high conical hill
rising just above, where he said the wild boar would now be disporting
themselves in no mean numbers, and where, last season, he had escorted
one or two German gentlemen to first-rate sport.

Below this wooded hill, on the slope of the lower one, hanging above
the gorge where winds the silver thread of the Liamone, stands a
picturesque white convent, now disused, but making a lovely picture
against its background of circling hills and groves of pines.

Leaving this expedition for the morning, we bade adieu to our
communicative friend, and turned in the opposite direction, passing
through the village, and descending the hill past the tall wooden
cross which guarded its entrance, through most lovely scenery. In every
direction rose forest-covered hill, snowy Alp and rocky height, while
far below, two rivers shone and gurgled through the bastioned valley.
The sun was setting over mountains of every hue and form, and casting
deep shadows on the rocks below; birds were singing in all the groves,
and little mountain streams ran from mossy bed and ferny hollow across
the roadway.

The path before us was like some vision of patriarchal times.

Flocks of goats and kids were coming home to shelter, none driven, but
all following the master's footsteps, coming to his voice, many a one
running alongside like a dog, or putting up a soft nose to be caressed,
little kids of every colour danced in and out amongst them, skipping up
into the air, or standing playfully on their hind legs to butt at each
other.

Every man, as he passed, offered his salutation with the same grave
politeness, and only the younger ones so far forgot their manners as to
stand still a moment to stare at the strangers.

It was almost dark and quite cool when we returned to our inn, and to
a dinner which is worthy of record.

It commenced with some good chicken broth, after which followed an
_entrée_ of half a boiled fowl. This was succeeded by the third course,
made up of the other half of the fowl, nicely stewed; and, after some
boiled peas, the meal closed with the _pièce de résistance_ of a whole
roast fowl!

Broccia and dessert succeeded, whilst our minds were engaged in a
melancholy cogitation as to whether the three courses of the immortal
Gladstone bore any resemblance to these.

But we had not yet solved this perplexing question, when the
anticipation of a seven-o'clock breakfast and early walk on the morrow,
sent us to bed amid serenades of countless nightingales; varied by
the less agreeable concert of two poor children in the agonies of
hooping-cough on one side,--two or three snoring women with cast-iron
lungs on the other,--and, overhead, a lively family, consisting of a
squalling baby (whose long-suffering mother found it necessary to walk
it up and down incessantly), and a man whose chief nocturnal occupation
appeared to be throwing his very heavy hobnailed boots from one end
of the room to the other (whether to intimidate his offspring or the
numerous rats I could not decide). I would willingly have strangled
that baby, and put corks down the mouths of those snoring women (for
the partitions of a Corsican inn are terribly thin); but the power was
not mine. The varying torments had to be borne until the twitter of
birds and the rosy sunlight came creeping in through the open window
to bid me rise, sadder and wiser by one more experience of the comforts
(?) of a night's rest in Corsica!



CHAPTER IX.

EVISA AMONG THE HILLS.


Before eight o'clock next morning we were descending the gorge opposite
the house, in order to mount it on the other side, and visit the
picturesque convent.

Our coffee and dry bread had been served to us at half-past seven by
the "chamber-maid."

This important person was represented by a pretty rosy-cheeked girl
of twelve, who combined her chamber duties with those of waitress,
and who, at this stage of the morning, was attired in a déshabille of
nightdress body and coloured petticoat, with bare feet. Later on, when
we returned from our walk, she was in full dress, having added a white
head handkerchief, black jacket, white stockings, and shoes.

This Vico walk was one of the loveliest we enjoyed in the island.
The steep road that climbed up the hill-side was shaded by oak and
ilex trees; numberless sparkling streams dashed down from above and
beneath us, and brilliant cyclamen nestled everywhere lovingly amongst
the ferns--bracken, felix mas, parsley, walrue, maidenhair, and
polypodium--luxuriating on this damp hill-side.

Below us writhed the serpentine Liamone; before us rose the great brown
walls of the Monte Libbio rocks; and each corner that we turned, showed
new gorges, fresh wooded hills upon one side, and more exquisite ranges
of steepest rocks and purest snow mountains on the other.

The convent, old and grey, its walls encrusted with damp and half
hidden by clustering weeds, was a strongly built edifice, overlooking
the very edge of the precipitous slope, and bearing the usual mixed
likeness to a church and a fortress.

It looked sad, silent, and deserted now; and was a strange contrast to
a gaudy but handsome little family chapel in course of erection a few
yards off.

This was built of black and white marble, Florentine fashion, with an
enormous crucifix inside, and family shields outside the walls, with
here and there niches for the coffins of its owner's family.

A little lower down the road is a rough-looking farmhouse, where
lodgings are let in summer to those of the Ajaccio _élite_ who care to
rough it in this lovely scenery.

As we turned homewards, the shadows were retreating from the roadway,
and the sun's power was growing intense.

We were glad to rest upon the low stone bridge, where arbutus overhung
the way, and where the cool moss beneath was dripping under the spray
of the little river.

A cuckoo was calling through the tree-tops merrily, while the mother
goats, creeping into the shade, cried to their wandering kids; and
a woman, standing on a rock above us, shading her eyes from the
glaring sun, beckoned to her children playing in the valley far below,
shouting, "Maria! O Maria! O Santo!" in her sing-song, chant-like voice
across the sultry air.

By ten o'clock we were in the carriage for Evisa, a village nearly
2800 feet above the sea level, where we were to spend the next night,
and which is the best starting-point for the forests of Aïtone and
Valdoniello. The ascent to the top of the Col Sevi, 1600 feet high, was
long and steep, with grand views, lying through many a wild and rugged
hill varied by chestnut groves, through which gleamed the everlasting
snow barriers on every side.

Then through ilex woods, soft and shady, with many a sylvan glade
between their gnarled, huge, moss-hugged trunks; past the village of
Renno hanging overhead, and other hamlets, to more barren hills, and
on to the summit of the Col, where a new range of snow mountains lay
before us, glistening in the hot sun and cool puffs of sudden wind.

The descent from here into the valley of Christianiccia is singularly
wild and beautiful. Our gallop down, accomplished, as it could have
been, at such a pace, only by Corsican horses and a Corsican driver,
was all too short to drink in the beauty of varying views, of grandest
perpendicular rocks, and of graceful ilex woods interspersed with
castellated boulders, overhanging the roadside. Such a gallop, however,
is delightful and inspiriting over a soft, park-like road, with snow
cones peeping out of a blue curtain, with aromatic odours flying by,
and with beasts that never lose their footing. It is a dream of cool
enjoyment that one would willingly lengthen.

The entire population of the village of Christianiccia appears to
consist of boys; and as we drove quickly up the stony street, pursued
by scores of these yelling and hooting inhabitants, Antonio's whip was
in unaccustomed requisition, and one of Mr. Lear's grasshopper pigs,
the first we had seen in the county, narrowly escaped being ran over.

From Christianiccia to Evisa is an arduous mount, somewhat resembling
the side of a house; but now, on the left, appears the glorious blue
rock called the Capo dei Signori. On the summit of this great rocky
wall once stood a castle belonging to one of the old feudal lords of
Corsica; hence its name. But not a vestige of ruin is now visible upon
the majestic purple peak, which seems to brave the fickle elements,
looking over many an intervening mile of hill and vale to the distant
sheet of western sea.

And as we turned the abrupt corner of the road to enter Evisa, other
glorious blood-red rocks came in view, only half hidden by the nearer
hillocks--the rocks of Porto.

The situation of Evisa is bleak and unprotected, and in winter it must
be bitterly cold.

Bare rocky mountains surround it on every side, and not even a
chestnut-tree relieves its wild nakedness.

Even now, a cold frosty air was blowing, and, although the sun was hot,
a thick jacket was agreeable.

M. Carrara's house is still the resort of travellers. He is a polite
wood-merchant, and it is supposed to be a private house; but, except
for the fact that there is rather less to eat and a little more to pay
than elsewhere, it is the same as other inns.

Praise, however, be given where praise is due. We could get neither
butter, honey, nor soup for lunch, and the fare altogether was
economic; but the young lady of the house, who condescended to wait
upon us, was both pleasant to talk to and to look upon, and spotless
cleanliness reigned in the little bedrooms.

As soon as we had eaten our omelette, supplied to our hungry appetites
on the principle of the acute preacher, who always stopped before he
had satisfied his audience, we strolled out down the road towards the
rocks of Porto.

About three quarters of a mile from the village, we came to a little
break in the road, where a pathway had been beaten down over the brow
of the hill.

This pathway led over an old cemetery, lying close beside the road,
without palings or protection of any sort. A little rough stone
building, a few yards from the road, and not more pretentious than an
ordinary cottage, was the now disused cemetery chapel; and numberless
little wooden crosses, black and white, but none laying claim to any
artistic value, were scattered all about--some standing, and some
ruthlessly uprooted and crushed beneath the cart wheels--to mark the
now desecrated resting-places of the poor villagers of Evisa.

The church of Evisa stood below, half a mile away, and no doubt was now
the fashionable burial-place; but had I been a native of the village,
I would have chosen this exquisite hill-side for my last resting-place.

Of all the beautiful scenes witnessed in Corsica, perhaps this was the
wildest and the grandest. On one side, the grey and purple rocks of the
Capo dei Signori; in front, twelve miles away by road, the wide stretch
of blue sea, casting up a thousand sparkling dew-drops to the bluer
sky; and, on the other side, rising up from a fathomless gorge just
below us, the blood-red rocks of Porto. These rocks are impossible to
describe; their grandeur can only be felt, as--from many a shuddering
abyss, where the lonely sea-gull circles with faint shrill calls
among misty horrors--they rise almost perpendicularly to their fearful
height, seamed and notched by many a primeval tempest, but calm, and
cruel, and forsaken-looking in their homeless inaccessible solitudes.

Leaving the little path, we clambered down the rocks a short way, and
sat in the silence opposite these glorious, fearful rocks.

Not a sound was to be heard but the gulls' cries, and the stream
far away, and, close to, the gentle rustling of the countless little
lizards among the green rocks beside us.

We sat so still that they grew quite tame, and played around us
unsuspectingly. One couple especially amused us. They had a lizard game
of romps, chasing each other round our rock with incredible swiftness,
whisking out of each other's way, and gently biting each other's tail
when caught.

Rain at last drove us home; and we were glad of a good wood fire to
sit over in the chilly evening, whilst the clouds dropped below the
village, hanging in thick white opaque swathes across the hills before
us, or chased each other, far beneath, hiding the valley in rain,
whilst we were enjoying a passing gleam of sunshine.

The evening was clear again; and, for the first time in Corsica, we
heard the national singing, which continued long after we had retired.
It was not musical, nor beautiful, but was the weirdest, strangest
vocalism I ever heard. For more than an hour, a party of young men
slowly paraded the village street, singing the same melancholy-sounding
chant, sometimes in unison and sometimes in parts, but always ending in
the same prolonged note.

The tune, such as it was, seemed always to be in a minor key, and would
well have suited one of the national _voceri_, or dirges, but I have no
idea of the words accompanying it.

This final note is a characteristic of Corsican singing, and rarely
omitted; and it is wonderful to what an extent they will prolong it.
Even mothers, singing lullabys to their babes, indulge in it, and its
effect is wild and uncommon.



CHAPTER X.

GIANT FORESTS.


The day fixed for our forest expedition to Aïtone and Valdoniello was
wet and cloudy, and it was with many misgivings that we breakfasted at
7 a.m., and before eight o'clock started for our long day.

The carriage, Antonio informed us, could take us the first five or
six miles; but after that, the road became too much out of repair for
anything less than a waggon, and we must continue our way on mules. We
had already, the evening before, seen the guide who was to escort us
into the forest, and engaged him and his two mules. This guide was to
meet us with his steeds at the forestier's cottage where our carriage
was to be left.

Ignoring the gentle spotting of raindrops and the general confusion of
earth and sky, caused by the clouds resting in patches over the path
before us, we turned our backs towards the rocks of Porto, and ascended
the steep hill above the village, entering the inland intricacies of
grand and barren rocky slopes, and, before long, creeping into the
forest of Aïtone. As we did so, the sun began to shine forth, throwing
innumerable iridescent globules from every hanging branch, sweeping
away clouds from before us, and rolling off mists from the white peaked
range rising from the other side of the gorge.

Aïtone is composed of mixed pines and beeches; but it has been terribly
mutilated, and is now chiefly filled with young trees, the older ones
having been nearly all cut down for sale. The pine-wood is of course
very valuable for ship-building purposes; but Corsica has taken so
little pains to raise her reputation in the wood market, that these
splendid trees are often sold in Italy, and even sometimes in the
island herself, as of continental growth.

Aïtone is comparatively a small forest, and, although its views are
lovely, as in every Corsican forest, it is not so interesting, nor are
its trees so imposing, as in many others.

There is scarcely any break between it and Valdoniello, and it is, in
effect, only a continuation of the latter enormous forest.

In less than two hours we had reached the baiting place, and,
dismounting from the carriage, proceeded to mount our two lanky mules.
One bore the only side-saddle of which Evisa boasted, and the other an
ordinary man's saddle. We had been informed the night before that one
of us would be expected to mount this, and when we demurred, were told
that otherwise we could not see the forest, as it was too far to walk.

The guide, a big, fine-looking man, stolid as one of his own mules,
appeared much perplexed by our hesitation--and no wonder, seeing that
such was the invariable style of riding in fashion amongst his own
countrywomen; but, after a moment's contemplation of the inevitable,
No. 3 made a flying leap upon the back of her steed, arriving quite
safely, and astonished to find how comfortable was the situation.

For the next two or three miles we jogged on through ever-increasing
depths of shade and thickness of trees, the sunlight only peeping in
here and there across the cone-scattered path. The forests of Corsica,
however, rarely lie upon a level. They grow generally upon the sides
of hills so steep, that neither light nor view is for long hidden;
and wherever a tree grew thinly, or a little group had been cut down,
spreading great arms across the road, there, through the gap, rose the
perfect, glistening snow peak of Monte Cinto, the highest mountain
in Corsica, close beside us, steeply precipitous, and clothed with
fir-trees on every ledge. Below, to the very edge of the deep valley,
we looked over the forest tree tops; while up above us, avenues of
straight tall stems rose to a giddy height.

The Pir Larriccio flourished here in abundance, a lovely variety of the
ordinary fir--its bunch of dark green foliage only on the top, and its
tall branchless stem often over 100 feet high. Many of these trunks,
when felled, have been measured to be from 150 to 200 feet high;
and one or more have exceeded that height. The trunks are perfectly
straight, and of great girth at the bottom; and, as they are very tough
to fell, they are usually burnt to a certain degree first. This custom
is an unfortunate one for the beauty of the forest, as, when a strong
wind blows, the smoke and flames will char and blacken many noble trees
on either side. The forestiers, too, are careless in their work, and
kill and injure ruthlessly many a noble monarch of the glade whose life
is not required for the charettier.

The Bocco di Vergio, or highest part of the forest of Valdoniello, is
4760 feet above the sea-level, and the main road across it was reported
by the guide to be now indistinguishable and unsafe from the deep
snow which covered it; so he led us by what he politely termed a lower
route. This route consisted of a hill like the side of a house, covered
with loose stones and fragments of broken timber, and up which was no
vestige of any path whatsoever. Looking up its almost perpendicular
face, one would have said that nothing less light and agile than a
goat could possibly have scaled its surface. But we soon found that
our mules were intended to do so, and that we must stick on as best we
could.

We must have rolled, with concentrated force of the action of
gravitation, down the hill had they slipped; but, fortunately for
us, they did not; and by wriggling their bodies, eel-fashion, and
occasionally leaping over a stout trunk or standing erect upon a small
pointed boulder, they managed at length to reach the top in safety.

A few more yards of easy climbing brought us to the summit of the
Vergio,--treeless, bleak, cold and bare, rising nakedly out of its warm
fringe of forest.

Here we ate our bread and cheese, thankful to leave our rough-paced
beasts, lying on the short dry turf, with snow on every side of us; the
big guide, a few yards off, face downwards, enjoying a heavy snooze.

This man, who wore a velveteen coat and _one_ wellington boot, boasted
the historical name of Colonna. Historical names abound among the poor
herdsmen and villagers of Corsica, and many a ragged loafer has the
blood of a grand old family in his veins.

I remember one wayside friend whose clothes would scarcely hold
together, whose cognomen was Pozzo di Borgo, and who, when I told him
it was a good name, said, "Yes, he had heard that the first of his
family was a count."

The capability for extemporary slumber possessed by Colonna was
something extraordinary. If we did but stand still for a moment to
admire the view, or stoop to gather some flowers, our heavy friend
would promptly drop upon the side of the road like a log, generally
with the cloaks he carried for us bundled under his head in a
comfortable pillow.

He was communicative, too, after his slow fashion.

"Do you find many 'continentale' ladies who will ride upon this man's
saddle?" we asked him.

"Yes. I have taken one lady on it this year beside you. She was German,
however, not English. They were a large party; four gentlemen and one
lady. She was stout--oh, very stout. At first she was frightened, and
said she could not ride thus; and, indeed, it was difficult to get her
on. She had great fear at first; but she soon got used to it, and said
she liked it."

"Better than the mule did, perhaps?" we asked.

Colonna looked at us stolidly. The comprehension of a joke, however
mild, was not in his nature.

But having finished the last scrap of bread and cheese, and searched
our pockets for the last raisin, for the frosty mountain air made us
hungry, we called to our recumbent friend, and leaving the two poor
mules dinnerless, and fastened by their bridles to a felled trunk upon
the lonely plateau, we commenced our descent upon the other side.

The view was magnificent; we were surrounded on all sides by
precipitous walls of snow rising abruptly from the lofty valley into
which we were entering. Monte Cinto was on the one side, and Monte
Artica on the other; and dense forest clothed the slopes on either
hand, and on into the valley far below for many miles.

The main road here was again completely blocked up by snow, so the
guide led us across the valley by a short cut, to emerge lower down
where the route would be clear.

Our descent, however, though shorter, was covered by deep snow,
whereas the Bocca from which we started above was free. As it was also
excessively steep and invaded by one or two treacherous little streams,
burrowing underneath false snow arches, our steps were somewhat
eccentric, and we had some difficulty in keeping up with the guide's
long strides, as, at almost every footstep, we buried ourselves in snow
up to the knees.

We had just reached the little clearing at the bottom, preparatory to
turning aside to the now clearer main route, when it began to rain.

"Will you turn back?" asked the guide promptly; "it is going to rain
all the rest of the day."

"It is only a mountain shower," said we; "why should we turn back? It
will clear up directly."

"No," said Colonna, shaking his head solemnly, "the clouds are very
low. It will rain now all day."

This was depressing, as a mountain guide ought to be expected to know
his own mountains; nevertheless we refused to return, and all took
refuge under the wooden balcony which ran along one side of a deserted
garde forestier's house.

The forest keepers live in pretty little wooden houses surrounded by
small gardens, in every direction. They are superior, well-educated
men, acting as overseers for Government over the timber clearings
and fellings. Their position, in the heart of some lovely forest,
surrounded by the most exquisite though lonely beauty, must be charming
enough in summer; but, in winter, all but blocked up by snow, and
environed by miles of stern leafless sentinels, through whose bare and
shuddering boughs a cutting wind incessantly moans and whistles, the
life must be a very dreary one.

The rain came down in bucketsful; all nature was a vapour-bath, and
the hills had totally disappeared; and for some time it appeared as if
Colonna's opinion was a correct one. More than once he reiterated his
suggestion of returning, without, however, moving our determination. We
had not come a three-days' journey from Ajaccio, to spend two or three
hours only in Valdoniello, and be frightened by a sweep of mountain
rain.

Poor Colonna, resigned at last to his fate, had but just closed
his eyes comfortably, as, with folded arms, he leant against the
earwig-covered house, seated upon the balcony--before the sun suddenly
peeped forth again, the heavy clouds rolled away, and the rain-drops
that yet fell became each a liquid opal.

In another moment we were crossing over to the hill on our right, and
entering the forest of Valdoniello. The sun was now brilliant, but it
could penetrate but dimly through the thick veil of trees on either
side. The road wound along the mountain-side, with the precipitous fall
of the hill above and below us, and boulders forcing their way between
the trees above. Pines and firs, mixed with here and there a sombre
cedar or a gay larch, were the trees, the size of whose trunks far
exceeded those of Aïtone or perhaps Vizzavona.

The steep slope of the mountain-side beneath us, however thickly
clothed, prevented the density of a level forest; and wherever a break
occurred in the fringe by the road-side, there appeared, on our left,
a wonderful wall of red or grey granite, rising from the opposite side
of the gorge like a huge rampart.

The summit of this precipitous wall was draped in snow, and it looked
as close as if a stone from us could have reached its hoary sides; but
the long lines of diminutive fir-trees, which ran up every available
ledge on its frowning flank, showed its real distance. This great
snow-covered pinnacle was Monte Cinto, over 9000 feet high.

For miles we wandered on in this enchanted forest, down a rutty road,
worn away by heavy waggon wheels, and impassable for a carriage, but
soft with fir tendrils, and sweet with the delicious scent of pines.

The solitude was perfect: the birds were taking their noon-day siesta,
and the wind which soughed gently among distant pine-tops, and the
torrent which gurgled at the foot of the gorge, played out their
peaceful music, undisturbed by other sounds.

At last we came to a sudden turn in the road, and the forest opening
out a little, we looked down far below into the large valley of the
Niolo, famed for its fertility and the industry of its inhabitants. Far
as the eye could reach it stretched away, with hills on either side--on
one side clothed with dark forests; and with the Golo, Corsica's
largest river, running in silver windings from its source among the
hills above. The river Tavignano, probably the next in size, also
rises in this district, and the two lakes of Ino and Creno are situated
in Monte Artica, close by. The people of Niolo are reputed to be the
finest in Corsica, strong and intelligent, and alike famous in poetry
and in arms.

In the beginning of the sixteenth century, their sturdy patriotism
caused them to be almost exterminated by their tyrannical foes, the
Genoese; and, since then, the valley of Niolo has given birth to many
a troublesome and adventurous bandit.

The majority of the national voceri now in print appear to have been
composed in the Niolese dialect, over Niolese bravos.

This corner the guide evidently considered the correct turning-place,
and suggested that we should retrace our footsteps. But as we had hired
him and his beasts by the day, and the day was not yet nearly half
over, we informed him firmly but politely that we intended to see a
little more of this lovely forest. At the same time, we told him that,
as we could not now possibly lose our way, he might rest and await our
return at this corner, if it so pleased him.

Colonna was rather disgusted; he evidently considered that we had now
walked as far as anything in the way of petticoats _should_ walk. The
fat German lady and her friends, he informed us, had turned before
this; and, with a look of dissatisfaction, he flung himself down on the
sunny bank of rock facing the valley, whilst we continued on our way.

The forest soon closed up again, and the Niolo was past; but far above
the tree-tops rose snowy peak and pinnacle, belonging to the Artica
range, glittering in dazzling sunlight, and fringed almost to their
summits by ridges of pines. We were rejoiced that we had persisted
in going on, for the forest here was more beautiful than ever, and we
agreed that Valdoniello, if anything, carries off the palm of exquisite
forest scenery in Corsica.

Quantities of mistletoe hung from the tree-tops, and troops of fat,
shiny beetles, round and black, walked in procession down the road
before us. Among the trees, peeping out of the patches of snow that
still clung to the mountain-side above us, were sheets of delicate
black-veined purple crocuses, but a dearth of other flowers. A large
number of trees here had their bark sliced in two places, and a rich
stream of turpentine poured from most of the wounded trunks.

After wandering on another hour or two, we returned to find Colonna
still sleeping, outstretched, upon his warm but stony couch, the
lizards playing round him, and his rough head comfortably reclining on
No. 3's red shawl.

He woke up at the sound of our footsteps, however, and seemed as
anxious as ever to go on, scarcely allowing us to rest a few minutes
after our long walk.

For some time we returned on the grande route, but presently were led
up a side ascent, as the shortest road back to the Bocca di Vergio.

This ascent was at an angle of about fifty degrees, and was nothing but
the rough, pathless side of a hill, clothed often with thick brushwood,
through which we had to fight our way with many slaps in the face.
There was no shade, and we began to melt away, as we strove, panting
and exhausted, to follow the guide's pitiless strides. I fancy he
wished to pay us out for our walking proclivities, or perhaps fancied
that, as we were so energetic, no pace could kill us; anyhow, he showed
no mercy, and only paused once or twice in that dreadful hour's climb,
to permit us to rest our weary limbs and gather up exhausted breath, on
some mossy giant, lying felled across the way.

The last bit was the worst of all. It was little better than an upright
wall of snow, up which we tacked, mounting painfully, more or less of
us disappearing at every footstep.

At its conclusion, however, we found ourselves once more on the
desolate Bocca, our patient, hungry mules still standing where we
had left them. Even a man's saddle appeared luxurious to such weary
wayfarers; and we began to jog joyfully down the incline.

We had mildly but firmly informed the guide that we preferred
not descending by the vertical stone-strewn path up which we had
come in the morning; so we were to return by the "grande route,"
notwithstanding its snow.

Very soon after leaving the wind and rain-swept Bocca, we came to a
deep drift of this, and had to dismount hastily.

The snow was only half frozen, and the mules plunged in up to their
stomachs, whilst Colonna groaned reproachfully, "Ah! my beasts will
break their legs! I told you the road was not passable!"

However, they did _not_ break their legs, and, as anything short of a
fly must infallibly have broken its _neck_ upon the other path, we did
not take blame to ourselves for the slight risk.

We, not being so heavy, got on a little better, but not without many
ridiculous plunges into the yielding snow, as we emerged from this
drift into another, and yet another.

We were descending, however, the whole time rapidly, and presently
the snow became patchy, and by degrees disappeared; and we mounted
our unharmed beasts, and finished the last three or four miles to the
forestier's house, riding. It was only about four o'clock, but the sun
had already set behind the high mountain peaks surrounding us on every
side; and, as we returned in single file, a silent procession along
the narrow path, the forest voices sounded ghostly in the early grey
of evening; whilst through the dark lines of stately pines, the solemn
mountains, bathed in mist below, raised each his cold blanched peak of
snow on high, like the face of a corpse surrounded by its shroud.

At the forestier's, the faithful Antonio was in waiting for us, and in
a few minutes we were speeding down the steep and winding road through
Aïtone and on to Evisa.

We parted the best of friends with Colonna, regaining his good opinion
by a douceur of three francs, which, in addition to the stipulated
charge of three francs for man, and seven for mules (including one for
the hire of the side-saddle), brought the extra expenses of Valdoniello
for two people to the not exorbitant amount of thirteen francs. On
the other hand, we calculated that we had walked fifteen miles and
ridden on mule-back about nine; and, as we only walked where riding was
impossible, it would be as well for those who cannot manage much upon
their own feet, to put off going to Valdoniello until summer has melted
the snows from off the "grande route."



CHAPTER XI.

PORTO, LA PIANA, AND CARGHESE.


The next day, after our long expedition, we rose late, and with
depressed spirits watched the sheets of rain that came driving
across the valley, hiding the mountain tops, and pelting against our
sitting-room windows. However, at eleven o'clock there were signs of a
slight improvement in the weather, and we hastily got under way, and
bidding adieu to our polite and smiling mademoiselle, started on the
drive to Carghese.

We had been warned against Carghese as the dirtiest place in Corsica;
and, after the experiences from which we had suffered, this was no mean
warning. But, on the other hand, we had been told that the rocks of
Porto and those of La Piana were the noblest sight in the island, and
we felt that to return home without seeing them would be unbearable.

And, unless we sat in the empty carriage all night, or encamped out
among the rocks, there was no method of seeing this route save by
sleeping at Carghese.

The event justified us in our final decision, for Carghese was quite
bearable; whereas, to have missed that day's excursion would have been
an irreparable loss. I consider those Porto and Piana rocks the most
beautiful sight in Corsica. They must be overwhelmingly magnificent on
a clear day: even surrounded by mist clouds, and devoid of sunshine,
they were wonderful to see.

For the first three or four hours of our drive, the rain kept off; and
taking the opposite road to that of yesterday, we struck off to the
left towards the coast line, and right among the rocks of Porto.

The road at first was cut out of barren mountain flanks, winding
amongst bleak savage scenery, and Scottish-looking trout streams, with
very Scotch mists rising from their banks, and veiling the hill-tops;
with the village of Marignana on one side, and the desolate red heads
of Porto gazing down over intervening hillocks on the other.

Presently came a few wooded hills to break the bare austerity of
the scene, with boulder rocks, red and green and orange, beside the
roadway; and, hanging right over our heads, the frowning and majestic
Capo dei Signori, looming out of the mist in purple shadows.

One or two more windings led us into the narrow gorge, walled in on
either side by the Porto rocks.

It is impossible to imagine anything more sublime than these blood-red
precipices--more wonderful, more perpendicular, and more lofty here
than where we had first seen them--almost shutting out the sky from
our sight, and again falling beneath us in an unfathomable gorge that
made one shudder to look into. The heads of these rocks were like
a succession of Rhenish castles, so turreted, and tower shaped, and
peaked were they; and Speloncato, with its three-pinnacled summit, was
more striking in appearance and crimson in hue than any other.

This extraordinary blood-red colour is not enhanced by sunshine or
peculiar lights; it is the real colour of the stone, of which broken
bits lie about the road. The Corsican rocks are usually very vivid, and
especially the red granite and the porphyry.

There was not a gleam of sunshine as we passed amongst the Porto rocks;
and I do not know that I regret it. The savage beauty and desolate
grandeur of such a scene is perhaps best seen under the chill of grey
sky and distant thunder clouds.

Passing, after a time, out of this wild region, we emerged once more
among more barren-looking hills, past the village of Asta and along a
boulder-strewn brawling torrent, shaded by its fringe of foliage.

Here were some most extraordinary hollowed rocks. One, like a huge
eggshell in shape, lay upon the gravel beside the stream. It was
completely hollow, like a blown egg, the shell being only a few inches
thick, with a natural opening at one side, about four feet high, and
would have made a comfortable shelter for eight or ten men. Another,
half-way up the hill-side, and something the same shape, only with a
flat bottom, was called "La Petite Maisonnette," having been adopted by
a wise shepherd as his home, and a little brick wall with a door, built
on the open side.

A few more minutes brought us to the top of a hill, whence we looked
down once more upon the sea. The Gulf of Porto lay, wide-stretching, at
our feet; the sun, which had now come out for a short gleam, lighting
up the many picturesque promontories which ran out into the blue
distance, and sparkling on the yellow line on an opposite hill, marking
the route to Calvi. A Genoese round tower lay upon the little headland
beneath our feet, and, behind it, two or three houses. Antonio pulled
up his horses for a moment at our request, and No. 3 took a hasty
sketch.

"There, mademoiselle," said he, pointing with his whip in the direction
of the round tower, "is the town of Porto."

"But where?" we asked. "We only see three houses."

Antonio smiled feebly. "There are only five in the town, I believe,"
said he.

The peninsula of Porto is almost as red as the rocks which take their
name from it, and is in a most lovely situation. It was formerly a
much larger and more important place than now, and at one time was a
favourite resort of visitors. But, built in a corner as it is, on the
sea-level, and surrounded by stagnant pool and slow river, it has now
a dangerous reputation for fever, and in summer the heat is something
intolerable to the few inhabitants.

The sun still kept out as we began to ascend towards La Piana, on a
road surrounded by richest herbage, shaded by pale green chestnuts,
through groves of arbutus and myrtle, and scattered crags of fairest
form, getting peeps of bluest sea below, and distant purple coast
lines. For about two hours we ascended, often over queer high bridges
spanning a rushing cascade, until we entered the winding mountain
defiles, walled in on either side by the perpendicular rocks of La
Piana.

The first, seen for long before entering this defile, was most peculiar
in form, bearing an exact resemblance to a triple crown. Anything more
beautiful than these rocks it would be impossible to conceive, but it
was a beauty very different from those of Porto.

Brilliant was their colouring, rosy red, pale green, and soft grey,
but upon and between their detached castellated heights grew luxuriant
shrubs and waving larch-trees; and, although they often literally
overhung the road from a great height, there was neither frowning
precipice nor gloomy gorge beneath our feet.

On the sea side, the spaces between these rocky piles, rising in
wildest and most fantastic shapes to heaven (often in spikes and high
cathedral spires), was filled in by fairy peeps of sea and circling
sandy bay, a thousand feet below.

No place can be imagined more perfect for a mid-day halt than here
among these perfect rock towers and grottoes; and here we had intended
to rest and eat our modest lunch; but, with a steady downpour of rain
beginning to shut out distant hill and even overhanging crag, and
running in little rivers along the stony road, we had no choice but to
go on to the uninviting village, two miles further on.

On one of the last of the La Piana rocks we were amused to see a happy
family of six or seven goats clustered, taking refuge from the storm of
rain. The rock, which was high but narrow, was intersected by a number
of small horizontal shelves; and on these the goats, black and white
and parti-coloured, had leaped, one on each, looking exactly like a
collection of Swiss carvings on a tall bracket.

La Piana is a wretched little village, boasting, however, a situation
that no doubt would have been lovely in less unlovely weather. The
inn, a poverty-stricken looking hovel-cottage in the village street,
appeared at first deserted; but, after Antonio had fished up its owners
from the kitchen downstairs, opened its hospitable door at the top of
a flight of dirty stone steps to receive us. We found ourselves in a
small, dark room, lighted only by a window about two feet square, or
rather, by a window hole, for glass there was none, and shutters, of
which one was closed, kept out wind and driving rain.

As usual the inhabitants, consisting of an old man, two women, and
a baby or two, came in to stare at us, smiling good-humouredly, and
full of curiosity; but unable to speak a word of anything better than
Corsican patois.

We managed, with some difficulty, and by careful docking of the
terminations of our words (which is the chief characteristic of the
national dialect), to make our small stock of Italian serve to express
our wants; and at length, after the usual offer of raw ham, sat down
to a very good omelette mixed with broccia, and a box of London-marked
sardines.

We then petitioned for a fire; and presently our smiling hostess
brought us an apron full of fir cones, and placing them on some chips
upon the large open stone hearth, we had a brisk crackling blaze, over
which to warm and dry our damp garments.

The next two hours, in the very dark grimy little room, with onion
odours from below, and no view from the window-hole but equally
grimy houses opposite, and ceaseless sheets of driving rain, were
not enlivening; and our only amusement consisted in listening to the
strange jargon of patois going on amongst the commonalty in the kitchen
underneath, and in watching the picturesque effects made in the fire by
the fir cones, as they panted and swelled their glowing orange bodies
like living things incandescent. At four o'clock we could stand it no
longer, and started anew for Carghese in rather better weather.

A little more than two hours' driving brought us there; first, through
fine mountain scenery, but very soon through a tame and uninteresting
route, surrounded by grassy hills, and across a long marshy tract, well
cultivated and planted with wheat and vineyards, but malarious in looks
and in fact. The gulfs of Chioni and Pero lay before us, and more than
one round tower kept watch upon the neighbouring headlands.

Turning a corner, we suddenly came into view of Carghese, lying little
above the sea-level, just before us, and presently drove up the main,
tolerably wide, street, to the dirty looking Hôtel de l'Univers.

Carghese is a town of some size for Corsica, but is uninteresting and
odoriferous. None of the population appear over civil, and the boys
are scarcely _safe_ for ladies walking alone. They followed us, not
only with mischievous hoots, like other gamins, but with scowls and
mutterings, and more than one stone was furtively thrown unpleasantly
near our backs after we had passed a corner, and without the slightest
provocation, except that of an unaccustomed sight,--which provocation
we sometimes see rousing our British youth to stone a squirrel or an
escaped monkey, or condemns a tame-bred canary to get pecked to death
by its untamed neighbours.

Carghese has an interest of its own from the fact that it is a Greek
colony of very ancient date, which, until quite lately, has kept up
its exclusive nationality, and shunned intermarriage with the sons and
daughters of its adopted country.

Both in physique and in manners they differ, even yet, very
considerably from the other islanders.

There seemed, from our cursory acquaintance, to be a great number of
very dark and good-looking faces amongst them; and the children are
decidedly handsomer than elsewhere; although in manliness of appearance
and pleasantness of expression the Corsicans have the advantage.

Every one sings and whistles in Carghese; and the songs of the young
men, as, for two or three hours after dark, they marched, arm in arm,
up and down the village street in front of our hotel, were far less
dismal and more tuneful than elsewhere, and only towards midnight did
they collapse into the national minor howl.

There is little to be seen in Carghese, except the Greek priest, who
is certainly worth a glance, as, with long white beard almost to his
waist, black cassock and square cap, the tall stout old man parades the
streets with no little dignity.

There is a fine round Greek church, lately built, and considered
handsome, in this land where good architecture is conspicuous by its
absence; and a Romish church, less fine,--but nothing else to interest,
either natural or artificial.

During our walk through the town, we were followed by fifteen or twenty
children, all greatly excited, who, for some minutes after we had
re-entered our inn, remained crowded round the door without, shouting,
"Inglese! Inglese!" with about the same amount of enthusiasm and common
sense as the Ephesian silversmiths of old; and it was impossible
to glance out of one's window without a corresponding rush from the
juvenile crowd, who tumbled over one another in their eagerness to see
the two surprising foreigners.

(N.B.--Next time I go up to London, and meet a Chinaman in Bond Street,
or an African in Piccadilly, not so much as to glance out of the
corners of my eyes at him.)

As No. 2 remarked, with her usual placidity of tone, to No. 3 on this
occasion, "Couldn't you imagine we were two Christy Minstrels going
down the street?"

After a very tolerable dinner, we sought our rooms with many
misgivings. We had telegraphed our coming three days beforehand, so
as to give our landlady plenty of time to scrape off a little of the
natural dirt of the establishment before we arrived, if so disposed;
but had been warned of the improbability of such a disposition on her
part, owing to sheer ignorance on the subject of that rare Corsican
virtue--cleanliness.

Even the taciturn Antonio would hold out little hope to us, and said he
feared our accommodation would not suit us.

Our rooms were not re-assuring.

One led out of either end of the low dark salle à manger. They were
small, with uneven, dirty, wooden floors, and almost destitute of
furniture.

Mine boasted one broken chair, upon which it was unsafe to sit, whilst
the washing apparatus was placed on the top of the only other piece of
furniture in the room except the bed--a high chest of drawers, where
a corner had with difficulty been cleared of its multitude of penny
Madonnas and broken shells.

There was, of course, no looking-glass at all; and the jug and basin
in both rooms consisted of an old green wine-bottle filled with dingy
brown water, and placed in a species of shallow slop-basin. The windows
were full of ventilating holes, and strips of filthy carpet adorned
the floor by the bed-side, which strips we carefully took up and placed
at the extremest corners of the rooms. All this was not inviting; and
we discussed the advisability of sitting up all night, and getting a
siesta next day; but finally braved the horrors of the little rooms,
and found them far less horrible than their appearance warranted, and
in all serious matters, fairly clean.

Great was our astonishment and proportionate our hearty gratitude to
our bright-eyed hostess, when, next morning, she brought us in our hot
coffee, and sour bread (apparently made in equal proportion of flour
and sand), and eaten dry, perforce, as neither butter nor honey are
attainable luxuries in inland Corsica.



CHAPTER XII.

FROM CARGHESE TO AJACCIO.


When we left our rooms next morning, the skies were black with rain,
and the downpour obliged us to put off our start till 11 a.m.; when
the pelting had turned into a gentle spattering, such as travellers in
Corsica must learn to despise.

From Carghese to Calcataggio was a steep mount, for some time following
the windings of the sea-shore, and then hanging above it, but never out
of sight of the blue waters.

The promontories were low and uninteresting; but, through the gleams of
sunshine dancing in and out of light showers, the rough sea, unrivalled
in its tideless purity of colour, green and opal, threw great arching
rollers on the white beaches and outlying red rocks.

The Mediterranean never looked more lovely to us than it did this
stormy day, the wind blowing sheets of foam across the narrow bays, and
blue and purple shadows flinging their changing hues across the heaving
mass of dark green waters.

The surf was still roaring out of sight beneath our feet as we passed
among steep grassy hills, and lanes brilliant with white and purple
vetch, marigolds, borage, sweet peas, poppies, and large-eyed daisies,
nestling all amongst long bending grasses, that swayed gracefully at
the wind's behest.

Corn-fields and general cultivation were to be seen here; and as we
neared Sagona Bay the coast-line suddenly opened out grandly, and
showed us fine outlying capes and promontories, two ranges stretching
out together.

Passing a polite group of Sagona inhabitants, who, seated outside the
little village inn, in defiance of spotting rain, nodded to Antonio,
and removed their hats to us, we mounted the old route to bleak and
stony San Sebastiani, its ugly chapel peering from the summit; and
thence cantered down, in one long descent, towards Ajaccio, by degrees
exchanging the frosty air of the Col for the warm bright sunshine of
the long plain.

It was only five o'clock when we reached Hôtel Germania; and, during
the last half-hour, we had hastily resolved, being somewhat pressed
for time, to start anew next morning on our last tour to the forest of
Sorba, and the famous precipices of L'Inzecca.

So it was our last evening in Ajaccio; and as I walked through the
little town for some final commissions an hour or two later, it seemed
gayer and more attractive than ever. The sun was shining brightly over
the blue sea, although the streets were all in shadow, and the roads
looked as if they had never known a drop of rain in their lives.

Out beyond the town, down the green avenued road, the mountains were
blushing rosy pink with purple shadows, and the descending sun threw
long golden lines across the hot sea, here quite calm and peaceful;
and on the Place Napoléon beside the shore, the better end of the
population sauntered slowly up and down, and a little boy, dressed
in the newest French style, was taking his black pet lamb for a walk,
ornamented by a pink collar, to which the blue ribbon was tied.

In the town, drums were beating, and gay chatter filled the air, as
men and women all sat out to enjoy the cool air, almost blocking up the
street. Stalls of fruit and oranges lined the road, and round them the
gamins chased each other merrily.

The little tables, under their awnings outside the cafés, were
surrounded by quiet smokers in straw hats, sipping coffee as they
lounged; and soldiers, in blue and scarlet uniforms, civilians in
striped blouses, and women in gay jackets jostled each other good
humouredly on the narrow pavement. Two or three female heads looked out
of almost every window in the high, many-storied houses; and, from two
neighbouring ones, a couple of women were having a vituperative but
innocuous fight, which provided no little amusement for the grinning
saunterers below.

By the fountain, further on, women were pausing to gossip, with every
conceivable shape of picturesque jar in every conceivable position on
their heads; and on the benches opposite the glorious sea and the Place
Buonaparte, recumbent figures lay, face downwards, full length, and
fast asleep.

Every now and then, across the hum of voices and the drumming, came
the sharp crack of a whip, and a musical "Guarda!" from some coachman,
as he steered his way amongst the crowd. Up in the Cours Grandval a
tiny, rosy-cheeked, white-capped "bimbo" stood crying for "maman" in
the middle of the road, stopping with wide-open eyes of astonishment to
gaze at the Inglese lady who spoke to her. Then on to the hotel, where,
in the wood behind the house, the nightingales and thrushes had already
begun their usual concert; and into the salle à manger, now silent and
deserted, where sweetbread and other dainties, served by a waiter whose
delight in a patron this out-of-season time was quite touching, formed
the unromantic but not unpleasant conclusion to a long walk.

Coming home this evening, I had met with the second beggar I had seen
in Corsica. We never encountered any but these two during our stay.

Antonio had been very eager, in his dignified way, upon this point.
"Mademoiselle," said he, solemnly, "there are no beggars in Corsica. No
man begs, unless he has lost the use of his limbs, and cannot work."

Oddly enough, the only two beggars I saw in the island both belonged to
the category of cripples. The first was an old man whose leg had been
amputated, and who sat by the road-side at Sartene. The second was the
one I met this night. There was something wonderfully unprofessional
about his begging, as he just touched his cap, and made a movement with
his hand, as we passed the doorstep on which he was sitting.

My hands were too full to give him anything just then, but, after
putting down my purchases in the hotel, I returned the few yards down
the road to where he still sat.

He said nothing as I came up this time, but as I put the sous into his
hand, looked up with a pleasant smile and a simple "Thank you," totally
unlike the manner of the English or Italian beggar.

One arm had been cut off, the stump being still bandaged, and I asked
him how it was done. In some machinery works, he told me, three months
ago only; but his patois prevented my understanding the details.

"Before that, I worked," he said, with a little pride (as he might well
have of his occupation in this indolent country).

"It must be hard for you now to do nothing," I said.

He looked up with a pathetic smile in his brown eyes. "Yes. And my
family are too poor to keep me."

"And so you beg?"

"Si, mademoiselle."

So far, at any rate, his new trade did not seem to have destroyed the
self-respect of the wistful-looking young fellow, who seemed to regard
it in the light of a necessary though uninteresting duty; and the
intelligence of his countenance led one to hope that before long he
might find some more worthy occupation.



CHAPTER XIII.

BOCOGNANO BUGBEARS.


After an affectionate farewell to Hôtel Germania, its comforts and its
cleanliness, bearing each of us a sweet-smelling bouquet of rosebuds,
geraniums, and heliotrope, presented by the young waiter to his last
customers with a mournful air, we left sunny little Ajaccio for the
last time, accompanied by our old friend Antonio, for whom we had been
careful to bargain.

It was a heavy thundery-looking day, though rainless, and, underneath
their white snow caps, the shadows of Monte Nebbio and Monte d'Oro
loomed purple before us as we drove up the flat Bastia road.

After three hours' driving, we reached the little village of Fiasco,
where we baited and lunched; and Antonio, who had many friends but few
intimates, and who generally preferred gravely listening to answering
the remarks of his acquaintances, retired to the stables for a good
gossip with his particular confidant, young Bella Coschia.

Meanwhile, No. 3 stood, leaning her back against the wall of the
little inn, taking the portrait of a charrette mule outside; and, by
degrees, a little group of five or six men and women sat down on the
neighbouring doorsteps, watching with curious eyes.

By-and-by, the tidily-dressed, grey-haired landlord of the inn, with a
twinkle in his eye, approached, and opened conversation. "If you would
like to buy that mule, mademoiselle, the owner says he will sell him
for a fair price."

"Thank you," returned No. 3; "but he would be rather a troublesome
piece of goods to take to England, I am afraid."

"Oh, you are English, mademoiselle?"

"I am."

"Perhaps you would like to buy some of my land hereabouts?"

"Why should I want to buy your land?"

"Oh, because all the English are so rich; they don't know what to do
with their money."

"I am not rich."

"Oh yes, you are, mademoiselle. You know you have lots of property in
England. Why not buy a little of my land? It is very good land, and I
have a great deal to sell round these parts."

The wink the old fellow again gave his companions roused the
indignation of No. 3.

"How very rich _you_ must be, monsieur!" she exclaimed sardonically.

"I, mademoiselle? Why so? I am a poor Corsican."

"To have so much good property to sell. Whereas _I_ do not possess a
rood."

The old fellow grunted, and passed on to the carriage, to continue his
inquiries of No. 2; whilst his companions laughed good-humouredly at
his discomfiture.

At half-past two, we started again, up the steep ascent to Bocognano,
through wooded hills and fine crags, every minute more closely
enwrapped in the grand overhanging mountains, and Monte d'Oro growing
steeper, bluer, and more furrowed on our left.

The diligence to Corte was not far behind us, lumbering up the dusty
ascent slowly; and a few miles from Bocognano, we passed a woman lying
on the grass by the roadside with a harnessed horse cropping beside
her.

At the sound of our carriage wheels she raised herself up, and smiled
and nodded to Antonio with some laughing remark in a deep bass voice,
to which Antonio returned his usual grave nod, without response. She
was a huge bony woman, with a rough, coarse face, and manly gait and
voice, and, Antonio told us, had, until the last few years, been one of
the regular coachmen on this diligence route, driving her horses from
here to Bocognano, of which village she was a native. Now, however,
male coachmen having become fashionable upon the public diligences, she
was degraded to her present occupation, which consisted in bringing
an extra horse to this spot for the last and steepest pull up to
Bocognano, and undertaking the post of additional whipper and shouter
to the exhausted horses. As she was a drunkard, a great swearer, and
a most violent character, the change was, perhaps, as well for the
diligence passengers; and when at the entrance to the village Antonio
pointed out to us a little crippled man as the father of this Zantippe,
we glanced at the diminutive little fellow with pitying eyes.

"He looks frightened," I said. "How often does his amiable daughter
beat him?"

"Pretty often, mademoiselle. But he drinks, too, and they are always
quarrelling. All the family are coachmen; the old man used to drive the
diligence, then his daughter took it, and now his son goes on the same
stage."

We turned our heads once more, and, at the last turn of the road behind
us, could see this female postilion standing on one of the _shafts_,
brandishing her long whip, and displaying a wonderful dexterity in
preserving her lofty and difficult position.

"Are there many drunkards in Corsica?" asked No. 3.

"The love of drink is growing, mademoiselle. There are many more now
than there used to be a few years ago."

"What are the causes?"

"Idleness, and the fashion of strangers, and the cheapness of drink."

"What do they drink? Nothing but the country wines?"

"Little else but red wine. It takes a good deal to make a man drunk on
that: but again, it costs little."

It does indeed. Good claret was often put before us in the village
inns, charged fivepence a bottle.

"Is it true, mademoiselle," asked Antonio presently, "that the English
are a nation of drunkards? I have heard it said."

"It is horribly true," said No. 3. And it was impossible not to feel
a sense of humiliation in the discovery that the national disgrace
had even reached the ears of this little out-of-the-way island in the
Mediterranean. "But in England, too, there is now a large band of total
abstainers, formed for the sake of helping the drunkards. Have you any
in Corsica?"

"No," said Antonio, thoughtfully; "we have not heard of that in our
country. But we see that many of the English who come over to Corsica
are great drinkers." He then spoke of an English gentleman, with
whose name we were well acquainted, whose passion for drink was the
astonishment of Corsicans since he came to live amongst them. "Poor
man," he said, "he is no man's enemy but his own; he is kind and
amiable, but, voila! he will go on now till he kills himself. The
English are terrible people to drink when they begin. They drink more
than our people do; and they drink brandy. I remember, a short time
ago, taking an English party several tours. There were a lady and a
gentleman, both quite young, and a little boy; and we drove about to
see some of the forests. All the time he was drinking: he never stopped
it. Once we stayed a day or two at a village up amongst the hills; and
he could not walk in the evenings when he came out of the public-house.
I drove him at last to Ajaccio. I knew he could not live long, for he
had chest disease, and could not stand the drink. I was only away a few
days with another party into the country, and when I returned I asked
after the Anglais, but he was already dead."

About a mile before reaching Bocognano we passed a rough pile of broken
wood, lying by the road-side. This was where yesterday, a charrette,
laden with forest trunks, had upset and broken upon the sharp turn,
fortunately, however, without killing either mules or drivers, as is
too often the case in these waggon accidents.

Often during our drives we noticed that, in the most precipitous
places, at the most awkward turns of a mountain road or of a narrow
bridge, the slight protecting parapet had been knocked down and
destroyed by the heavy wheels or long timbers of these over-loaded
carts.

It is said that the Corsicans know much better how to load a waggon
than we English. But certainly, the number and size of the pine-trunks
carried down in these charrettes from the mountain-side, drawn by the
four or six mules, looked appalling to our eyes.

The charrettiers, or drivers, of the waggons, who work for some
contractor on the plains, are badly paid and hardly worked, and their
occupation is one of considerable danger. Accidents are frequent upon
the narrow bad roads, some of which are made so slightly, of planks
jutting out from the steep hill-side, that you can see daylight through
to the precipice underneath.

These, of course, often break down. But a still more common misfortune
is the upsetting of the charrette at a corner, by the long pieces of
timber catching the side of the hill, or by the simple overbalancing of
the waggon on the uneven road. In either case, immediate destruction to
both waggons and horses is the infallible consequence, as they lurch
over into the descending precipice. In some cases, of course, the
drivers, walking along beside their waggons, are saved; but, as they
are nearly always stretched on the top of their timber, and sometimes
have so far forgotten prudence as to fall asleep, they constantly share
the fate of their horses, and are hurried to a speedy and certain
death. Antonio pointed out to us, near Ghisoni further on, a little
awkward wooden bridge at a precipitous turn, where, the last few years,
no fewer than five charrettes have fallen over, in every case killing
the poor beasts, and in many cases, their drivers.

Bocognano is in a most exquisite situation, completely under the lee
of Monte d'Oro, stupendous and purple,--and surrounded on every side
by groves of delicate chestnuts, and by picturesque hill and ravine;
but it is a hopelessly dirty village, and looked as uninviting in that
respect in to-day's sunshine, as it did in the mud and mist of our
former visit.

Hôtel Mouvrages, a filthy-looking broken-down tenement in the centre
of the village, was the worst in appearance of any we had yet seen.
The staircase, dark and ruinous, was redolent of various horrid smells,
and both the greasy little salle à manger upstairs, and the two stuffy
bedrooms, were most unpleasant to view.

"This is dreadful, Antonio," said I, as he followed, laden with our
wraps, into the small foul sitting-room, where a few half-washed
garments hung out of the grimy window-sills and assisted to import a
general richness to the atmosphere; "we can never stop here. What shall
we do?"

"I know not where else you can go, mademoiselle," he replied, raising
a grave disturbed face; "the horses are done up, and there is no inn
within many kilomètres of this."

"Well, then, I suppose we must abide."

And Antonio withdrew with a distressed countenance; for, although
eloquence was not his forte, it was a cause of dejection to him to
think that the ladies under his care should be uncomfortable.

As for us, leaving our belongings behind us, we hurried out of the
inn as fast as possible, and into the village street, to hunt for the
telegraph office, which exists in every little village in Corsica.

Having at last, followed by the eyes of a quantity of lounging,
velveteened men, and can-carrying busy women, and the feet of a little
crowd of excited children, found it up a stone entrance a little
further down the street, we made our way up the wooden ladder (which
did duty for staircase) from the ground floor to the first story,
where, imprisoned in a sort of wooden cage, a young woman transmitted
our telegram to Ghisoni, at which place we were to spend the next
night.

But as, contrary to custom, she either could not or would not
understand French, and required a great many directions regarding our
message, a bearded man or two and another young woman were all called
in to interview us, under the excuse of explaining matters. These
desired to know where we came from, how long we were stopping, and
whither we intended going, taking the greatest interest in our answers,
and evidently mentally making a detailed inventory of every article of
our dress and feature on our face.

When at length we escaped, they all pursued us to the top of the wooden
ladder, and put out three or four curious heads to peer after us;
whilst our juvenile friends waited for us at the bottom.

We soon shook them off, however, walking briskly up the Corte road,--as
beautiful a walk as one could well take.

After going about two miles, we came to a sharp turn in the hill-side,
from which Monte d'Oro rises in its grandest, steepest, closest
proximity.

Tremendous heavy blue thunder-clouds hung over our heads and glowered
over the purple shadows and white snows of the great Alp, rising from
the gorge just beside us; on the other side were steep maquis-covered
and craggy hills.

All along the road, and upon each hillside, we had passed the great
chestnut trunks, gnarled, knotted, and twisted; some splendid ruins,
black and mossy, some in the prime of life; and now, looking back upon
the village, it seemed embosomed in chestnuts, part of it hid by the
richness of the pale green leaves, just in leaf.

Bocognano is a very straggling village, there being four or five
distinct little hamlets straying among the embowered hills.

It is famous for being the abode of chestnut trees and of bandits.

A fine stone bridge spanned the wide torrent of the Gravona river about
a mile from the village, shaded by trees; and here we sat and rested,
watching the passers-by.

They were all shy and retiring, wanting village audacity, even the
boys.

Two pretty little fellows were catching lizards, and talked in whispers
until we were some yards beyond them, regarding us with awe-struck
eyes; and some little girls, laden each with a basket of wood from
the hill-side, and who sat likewise to rest upon the stone coping,
utterly refused to be sketched, dodging my pencil successfully, and
occasionally covering their faces with their hands.

Then came past a group of bare-footed merry-voiced women, strong as
horses, and upright as poplars, each carrying her load of wood upon
her head, and hurrying on to the village with only a glance in our
direction; and lastly, a sweet-faced girl of about fifteen, with a look
of patient depression upon her olive-coloured face touching to see.

She was carrying a heavy load of wood upon her head; her dress was
neat, and tucked up almost to her knees, showing the pretty brown legs
and round feet; and the white handkerchief over her shoulders, as well
as the one upon her head, was clean and tidy. She seemed very tired,
and flung down her load beside the bridge hastily, sitting down; but
immediately her busy fingers took some knitting out of her pocket, not
allowed for a moment to be idle. She had no objection to our trying to
sketch her, but when we spoke to her, raised her serious pathetic brown
eyes to ours with a puzzled shake of the head; and it was impossible to
hold a conversation with her.

The thunder was rolling grandly overhead as we turned homewards,
passing on our way a small cottage, before the door of which stood a
sulky, evil-faced boy. Apparently this youth objected to the intrusion
of foreigners on his native soil, or the storm had soured his temper;
for we had not gone many yards further, before a good-sized stone
came after us, hitting No. 3 pretty sharply on the shoulder. As might
have been expected, our assailant was a coward, and retired within his
doorway on our looking back.

The next day as we passed the cottage I related the incident to Antonio
with some indignation.

"Que voulez vous?" he said, with the usual shrug. "Voila, mademoiselle,
there are forty boys in this village. Among so many, must there not be
one vaurien anywhere?"

And sundry visions of refractory ragamuffins, and hours of anguish
spent in Sunday schools, forced us to admit that, even in our own land,
the percentage of vauriens was probably no less.

It was dusk in the salle à manger when we re-entered for our dinner,
which, to give every one their due, was far from a bad one.

As soon as it was accomplished we blew out the lights, and leaning out
of the windows, whence we had previously had the family linen removed,
found plenty of amusement in watching village life in the little street
below.

It was lively in the extreme, and swarmed with men and women, children
and animals. Little groups of three or four men lounged slowly up and
down, whilst women stood at the doors knitting,--or hanging their heads
out of an upper window. The children chased each other shouting, across
the narrow street, tumbling over innumerable pigs, dogs, and kids.
Cows and mules occasionally strolled in and out with a reflective air,
as being quite at their ease, and accustomed to the liberty of their
evening saunter; and some magnificent goats, one coal black and the
other snow white, lay on the pavement beneath our window, regarding
the merry scene calmly, whilst chewing the cud of contemplation,
and receiving the caresses of many of the passers-by with a proud
indifference.

Occasionally, a couple of dogs got up a fight for the general
amusement; and as it grew darker the kids became more lively, standing
on their hind legs to waltz with each other.

We were sorry when darkness and late hours compelled us to close
the windows, and retire to our uninviting chambers. But we scarcely
anticipated the miseries of that horrible night. In point of
discomfort, the rooms were much the same as at the other smaller inns.

An old wine-bottle and pudding-basin again did duty for washing
apparatus; soap, of course, there was none, and the one towel was a bit
of coarse canvas about a foot square. The luxury of a looking-glass we
had almost forgotten, and its want distressed us but little.

But what afflicted us chiefly was the number of old chests and boxes,
and of family petticoats, hung up in every direction; and the general
dirt of the wooden floors and plaster walls.

The good woman of the house explained to me that they had but one
guests' room, and that mine had been vacated by herself and spouse for
my use. When I heard that dreadful piece of intelligence, I knew what
to expect.

The horrors of that night are not to be described. Animated nature
of every description abounded in all the rooms; and, although No.
3 had her window open all night, it was necessary to burn incense
(fortunately taken out from England) every half-hour or so; whilst No.
2 never retired to rest at all, but spent the dark hours in pacing up
and down, reflecting on the humbug of fine scenery combined with filthy
inns, and registering a vow never again to set foot in this wretched
village, or any like it, for the sake of any natural beauties whatever.
In this nocturnal pacing she was accompanied by a regiment of rats
overhead, who played high jinks in the men's attic, undismayed by the
occasional boot flung at them by some disturbed sleeper.

Bocognano is situated at some height amongst the hills, and its
nights are no doubt considered cold by the inhabitants. This doubtless
accounted for the fact that, after instituting a search (to explain
the extraordinary warmth of the bed) No. 3 found two large fur rugs,
or rather undressed sheepskins, carefully laid upon the top of the
mattress, wool upwards.

With an inward groan, these receptacles for fleas were dragged across
the room, and transferred to the window, whence, in company with the
dirty quilt and the only strip of carpet in the room, they hung outside
for an unaccustomed airing.

But enough of such like tortures, which are but described for the
edification of future travellers, who are warned that they had far
better sit the night out in their carriage, if a miserable fate brings
them to Bocognano, than spend it (for I will not use the ironical word
"sleep") at Hôtel Mouvrages.

I would warn them, too, to beware of printer's errors.

In Mr. Roden Noel's account of Corsica, given in a late _Temple
Bar_ number, he mentions a filthy place called Bo_r_ognano, warning
travellers to avoid it.

This account we studied carefully, but, unfortunately, were induced,
by the differing letter, to imagine it a distinct place, or we should
scarcely have had courage to go thither. I have no doubt now that Mr.
Noel's Borognano was our Bocognano.

     "With quaking hearts we watched them come,
       From curtain, carpet, rug,
     In countless hordes, half-famished brutes--
       That Bocognano B----!

     "Another room we sought in haste,
       And thought to rest now, snug;
     But lo! again those marching troops--
       The universal B----!

     "The bed-legs next we seized, and placed
       Each in a water-jug;
     But then he dropped down from above--
       That persevering B----!

     "With Keating's dust we covered us,
       And many a nauseous drug;
     But never turned that army back--
       Th' indomitable B----!

     "We pulled the bedclothes round our ears
       With many a hasty tug;
     But quick he burrowed underneath--
       Each enterprising B----!

     "In vain to turn and twist us round
       With many a frantic shrug;
     We failed to ease the throbbing pang,
       Caused by each busy B----!

     "O traveller in Corsica,
       Flee this domestic Thug;
     Brigands are myths; but, sure as death,
       Is Bocognano's B----!"

Travellers who have visited Bocognano will hear with sympathetic
interest of a legend found amongst a certain tribe of Kurds living on
Mount Sindshar.

Noah's ark, say these worthies, having struck upon a rock in this
neighbourhood, and he and his large family being in danger of drowning,
the serpent came to the rescue, craftily promising assistance in return
for Noah's pledge, thenceforth (that is to say, after the cessation
of the deluge) to feed him upon human flesh. According to the Kurdish
opinion, Noah's faith, at this period of his life, was not strong.
Either he doubted any ultimate cessation of the flood, and so thought
to evade his promise; or present necessities made him close his eyes
to the future. Anyhow, he acceded to the proposition, and the serpent,
coiling himself up promptly, filled up the hole, and stopped the leak.

At the abatement of the deluge, the serpent demanded his promised
reward. Noah, in despair, acted upon the advice of the angel Gabriel,
and flung the serpent into the fire.

Then, casting forth its ashes, from them rose up immediately a swarm
of bugs, fleas, and all such noxious vermin, which hastened to fulfil
their destiny by the enjoyment of that unnatural food which the
patriarch had so rashly pledged to allow their progenitor.

Such is the Kurdish legend; but the English transcriber adds that, no
sooner had this been done, than Noah prayed for a return of the deluge!



CHAPTER XIV.

THE FOREST OF SORBA.


When at last cold dawn had passed away, and given place to rosy
morning, such a view was gleaming in through the little open window as
seemed almost to compensate for horrors past.

What mattered it now, in the clear brilliant sunshine, that a monstrous
black beetle, overcome by slumber or reflection, was looking down
serenely from the wall just above; or that, on lifting a shoe from the
floor, two more hopped out merrily?

A pure cone of glistening snow was rising from a belt of pines and
chestnut woods from the valley in which stood the inn, and blocking up
the little window with a dazzling vicinity of beauty.

The blue sky behind it shone like a sapphire, and everything seemed
sparkling in the glorious pure early sunshine; snow girdles above, and
dewdrops from green branches below, whilst larks were thrilling the air
with their mysterious hidden song:--

           "What thou art we know not;
             What is most like thee?
          From rainbow clouds there flow not
             Drops so bright to see
     As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.

          "Like a glowworm golden,
            In a dell of dew,
          Scattering, unbeholden,
            Its aerial hue,
     Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view.

          "What objects are the fountains
            Of thy happy strain?
          What fields or waves or mountains?
            What shapes of sky or plain?
     What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?"

After an early breakfast we left Bocognano, and proceeded on our way to
Ghisoni before nine o'clock.

For two or three hours we followed the Corte route, mounting up the
Foce Pass, where before we had descended in the diligence. But two
months had made a vast difference in the nature of the views. Where all
had been bleak and bare before, pale feathery beeches now hung over
gorge and ravine, shading the hot ascent, and chestnuts in full leaf
bent above many a foaming cascade as it rushed down the hill-side.

Snow mountains still surrounded us on either side, but rich groves of
trees filled up the valley beneath, and clothed the opposite slope with
a warm mantle, out of which rose the white conical peak of Monte D'Oro
at a great height into the burning blue sky.

The forest of Vizzavona was far more beautiful than at our first visit.
There were no naked trunks or bare branches now: both beeches and pines
were in full luxuriance, and everywhere was richest foliage and most
grateful shade, showing only occasional peeps of the grand snowy ranges
through the avenue breaks. Descending again, we baited, for our mid-day
rest, under a frying sun but a frosty atmosphere, on an exposed plateau
just beyond the forest, beside a lonely and deserted cantonnier's
house, where the ground was bare, but where snow, on grandest hills,
hemmed us in on every side.

After washing down our bread and raisins with a draught from the
delicious mountain spring that ran before us, we descended the hill
a little farther, to investigate a little pine wood just above the
road-way.

It was fringed by gigantic Mediterranean heath trees, and the ground
was carpeted by cyclamen and fir cones, out of which the lizards
darted at our approach in hundreds, some only an inch or two long, and
evidently mere babes of their tribe.

Almost at the same moment, my companion and I started two large snakes.

Mine was black, and about four feet long; hers green, and somewhat
shorter. The black fellow sprang almost from under my feet on the
narrow pathway, and wriggled away rapidly, swimming across a dyke
just beside it, and then hastening into concealment up the side of the
opposite bank.

The other one started out in the same way just before my companion, but
took refuge in the hollow of a neighbouring tree-trunk, putting out his
pretty green head and bright green eyes every other minute cautiously,
to see if the coast were clear, but always retiring when he observed us
watching.

I have no doubt that wood, and every wood and forest in Corsica, is
more or less full of such snakes; but their timidity makes them little
formidable, unless one should happen to place a bare hand or foot by
accident upon them.

Starting anew, we continued our descent through thick chestnut woods,
and beside mountains, apparently steeper and nearer; until at length,
just above the village of Vivario, we left the Corte road and struck
off to the right towards the forest of Sorba.

This forest is situated upon the summit of such a high hill that, when
Antonio pointed it out to us, it seemed quite impossible that we should
have time, or the horses strength, to reach it that day.

It proved, however, to be only a very toilsome mount of about
three hours. This ascent to the Col is certainly the most steep and
precipitous of any forest we had yet seen in the island; but the road
is fairly good, and the views, near and far, are exquisite.

As we entered the outskirts of the forest, young firs bent over the
large boulders around us; then the numerous thin-stemmed pines crowded
more closely together, growing at each turn larger, handsomer, and
bigger of girth, until, near the summit, the trees that lined the
path on either side were the finest we had ever seen for height and
circumference. Many of these trees were of vast reputed ages; which,
however, could not be computed until, after being felled, their rings
were counted. Some of them, however, sent to the Paris Exhibition of
1867, were proved to be four hundred years old.

The path mounted so rapidly that we could see over the heads of nearly
all these forest giants, except those immediately on the road level;
and through every break loomed the magnificent head of D'Oro, now
some distance, but looking grander and larger than ever, hanging like
something unearthly between sky and plain, with a wide belt of clouds
round his base, but with his head clear and cloudless.

The road which we had passed over seemed to lie under our very feet,
and, as we mounted, the boulders grew more and more gigantic and
imposing. At one place we had a very narrow shave to get past. A great
block of rock had become detached from the mountain-side above, and
fallen across our path at a remarkably steep point. We all got out
while the horses wormed themselves round the corner, and Antonio half
lifted the empty carriage after them, leaving only the wheels on one
side on mother earth, and supporting the other side himself.

"If this had been night, and we had been descending," asked No. 3,
"what would have become of us then?"

Antonio shook his head with a silent smile. He was too wise to commit
himself to any opinion on such a point.

"But no one would come down such a place at night, I suppose?" she
remarked.

"Yes," said Antonio; "the very first time I ever drove out into the
country, when I was a boy of fifteen, was down this very road. A party
had to go to Ghisoni and back in haste, and we returned down here by
night; and there was no moon."

"And you had no mishap?"

"No, mademoiselle," was the grave reply; "I have never had a mishap
yet."

As we neared the lofty summit of the Col, shifting clouds ran across
our path, and broke about us, dividing us alternately from heaven
and earth; but, as at length we reached the top, we found ourselves
enveloped in a dense fog of cloudland.

We stood for a moment on the pass to rest the horses, and, as we looked
down into that abyss of white vapour, into which we were to plunge in
another minute, its trackless desert appeared appalling, and it seemed
as if we were going to throw ourselves into a bottomless pit of misty
horror. It was almost impossible to believe that land and hill and
valley lay beneath that horrible veil.

But Antonio knew every turn of the sharp descent as we flew down the
mountain-side; and presently dim misty forms of hills, bleak and bare,
with here and there fir woods, but no snow mountains, broke through the
thinning clouds.

Ere long they cleared away, and, after passing through lines of
magnificent chestnut trees, many scorched and blackened by ruthless
forestiers, we looked down upon Ghisoni, situated in a valley closely
shut in on all sides just above a foaming river.

It was an ugly village, even for Corsica, and its inn was not cheering
in appearance, although more cleanly looking than Bocognano of
unsavoury memory.

As it proved, however, this little inn was by no means uncomfortable,
and one of the cleanest we had met with.

Whilst waiting for dinner, we took a walk, followed by some twenty or
thirty children, and made our way up to the cemetery hill, looking down
upon the noisy torrent.

The children were very friendly and not disagreeable, although rather
pressing in their attentions, most of the boys taking off their caps,
and all of them offering us nosegays of flowers.

We were quite reconciled to them before we returned to the village,
and had grown so used to our usual triumphal procession of juvenile
admirers, that it astonished us to see one of a group of men, who had
all politely bowed as we passed them, dart into the centre of our train
with a torrent of angry words, and an energy of threats that dispersed
the tribe at once and left us free.

Strolling on in the opposite direction, we went to see the famous crag
of Christalisione. This is a magnificent cliff of perpendicular grey
rock rising from the opposite side of the gorge, and overhanging the
wild torrent foaming through it, about half a mile from the village.

Some men were mending the road, which was in sore need of repair; and,
as they rested on their pickaxes and shovels to gaze after us, we spoke
to one or two of them, and found them, as usual, pleased to be talked
to, and exceedingly polite and intelligent.

The great crag looked very noble, with a band of white clouds
encircling his middle, from which the grey head and greyer base emerged
at top and bottom.

At six o'clock we returned to our inn, to find dinner laid at the small
round table for half a dozen people.

The salle à manger was, as usual, a long low room, rather dark; but it
seemed clean, and there was no smell worse than ancient tobacco smoke.
The walls were covered with gay frescoes, representing rural scenes.

It was a little embarrassing to wash one's hands for dinner under the
curious scrutiny of some eight or ten pairs of eyes. My little bedroom
window faced the village street, and as it possessed neither blind
nor shutters, I found myself an object of increasing interest to the
heads that gradually gathered at the opposite windows, and protruded
themselves to an alarming extent in the excitement of commanding my
movements.

Returning downstairs, we found that our three fellow-diners consisted
of a Frenchman, called by his companions "M. le General," and occupying
the civil post of "Garde General" of the neighbouring forests; and two
Corsicans, one a plain "garde forestier," and the other the master of
the inn himself.

It is a little peculiar to sit down to dinner with one's innkeeper;
but, except for the sentiment of the thing, we had little to complain
of, as mine host was most agreeable and well-behaved. His conversation
was amusing, and he had arrayed himself in semi-evening costume in
honour of our presence. His knowledge of the culinary resources of the
household, too, did us many a good turn during dinner, as he sent his
daughter, acting as waitress, for first one thing and then another, out
of the family cupboards.

The garde forestier was a tall good-looking man of about thirty,
dressed in brown velveteen and hessians, and seemed a clever man. Both
he and mine host spoke French with great rapidity, if not with the same
idiom as the Parisian garde general.

M. le General was a very fine gentleman indeed. He was thoroughly
French, both in appearance and conversation, and his exalted rank
evidently accounted both for his tone of good-tempered patronage in
addressing his two male companions, and the _persiflage_ with which he
favoured us.

"Flowers!" he exclaimed, when the forestier made some remark about the
floral richness of his country; "why, you haven't a garden in the whole
of this little island of yours!"

"I have some astonishing roses in my garden behind the house, which I
will show you after dinner," said the host.

"Roses, mon cher! Why, you Corsicans don't know a rose when you see
it! You gather a few miserable little worm-eaten buds, and call them a
bouquet of roses. There isn't a man in Corsica who understands how to
make a garden."

The two Corsicans took this rebuke very meekly, perhaps owning its
truth in their hearts; and presently the conversation diverged to the
subject of bandits.

"Do you know, mesdemoiselles," said the General, "that you are now in
the heart of the bandit country?"

We testified our knowledge of the formidable fact.

"Probably, mesdemoiselles, you expect these bandits to be very terrible
fellows? You would not know them from other people; in all probability
you have met one or two in the street this evening," continued our
French friend, who evidently wished to create a "sensation," and
was not particular about the use of the long bow. "Ma foi! they are
'charmants garçons,' and 'braves hommes,' these bandits--they would
behave to you with every civility."

"Possibly," said we. And the two Corsicans assented gravely, seeing
nothing in the subject to joke about.

"Yes, mesdemoiselles," went on M. le General, warming with his topic,
"you may sleep safely in your beds to-night, here as elsewhere. You
need not fear the bandits."

"We do not fear them," we remarked, unable to help laughing.

"Ah, poor fellows! They are often ill-used men, and forced into their
way of life. Is it not so, my friends?" he asked, turning to his
companions.

"They are brave men," said mine host gravely.

"They may be ill-used," remarked No. 3; "but they are not brave when
they lay wait for their enemy and shoot him concealed in the maquis. It
would surely be more manly to give him a chance."

"Yes," said the big garde forestier, "you are right, mademoiselle. The
man who fires upon his foe from the maquis is a lâche. He should shoot
him in the open street."

"Quite so, mon cher," said M. le General, "always provided that his
enemy has not a pistol with which to return the compliment!"

But the Corsicans looked grave at this levity; and the versatile
General had soon found another topic of conversation.

"Is it true, mesdemoiselles," he asked, as he poured a half-pint of
sweet oil over his salad, "that you meditate going to the Inzecca
precipices to-morrow?"

"We do," we replied.

"You had better not go, ladies. Ah! mon Dieu! _there_ are precipices
indeed! It is terrible. Such a road! One slip of the horse's foot--one
stone rolling--and vous voilà perdues!"

"We mean to risk it, monsieur."

"Ah, you English ladies are rash; you fear nothing. Have you a good
driver?"

"A very good one; and one we can trust perfectly."

"That is well; for it is a terrible place, an expedition of horror.
Precipices six hundred feet high--a wall of rock overhanging--ah,
ciel! And a steep and narrow road, where one false step may cause
destruction! Think of that, mesdames!"

We had thought of it, and enjoyed the prospect; but, as these three men
shuddered sympathetically over the horrors of the place, we began to
wonder faintly whether the Inzecca would indeed prove our romantic and
early tomb.



CHAPTER XV.

THE INZECCA.


After a comfortable night in our clean, though poverty-stricken little
rooms, we started before 8 a.m., on a cloudy morning, for the Inzecca.

The road wound above the torrent bed, and past Christalisione,
descending rapidly, and gradually becoming enclosed on either side by
steep rocky crags of great height. Behind us rose a distant fine range
of snowy peaks, soon, however, shut out by the surrounding walls.

The road was exceedingly bad and rutty, and after we had passed our
cantonnier friends of the day before, who smilingly recognized us,
became so uneven that we both flew up and down on our seats like
India-rubber balls, with an apparent possibility of landing ultimately
outside our carriage, and with an absurdity that almost interfered with
our appreciation of the view, and made even Antonio, who was driving
slowly and carefully, turn round occasionally with a sympathetic smile.

On first entering the defile, the view was lovely. Far away was a
peep of the distant sea, before which stretched two ranges of blue
and purple hills, set in a frame of steep grey rocks, green gorge, and
foaming river.

As we advanced, the gorge become narrower and the rocks steeper.
The Orbo literally churned itself in its fury, so that we could
scarcely hear each other speak, and the opposing crags, some decked
with brilliant verdure, and all dotted with pines and ilex, reared
their weird pointed ridges yet straighter into the brilliant sky, in
strata of the most vivid colours--blue, grey, yellow, green, and even
puce pink. The two latter colours were the porphyry and red granite,
abounding in Corsica. In places, the rocks were hollowed out like the
trunks of trees; and everywhere scored and cracked and seamed.

On the road-side at one point, standing out from the hill behind them,
rose two great square towers of grey rock, reminding one strongly of
the city gates of Florence.

At last we reached the particular precipice par excellence, without
having had reason as yet to desert our carriage, or fear any fulfilment
of M. le General's terrible prophecies; and here we got out and sat
down on the broken wall, to drink in the beauty of the scene.

The morning sun was now shining brightly, but the great walls of
curving rock on either side completely shut out the sunshine, and
concealed great part of the sky.

On the opposite side of the gorge, precipices about six hundred feet
high looked down perpendicularly upon the Orbo, as it rushed towards
the sea, throwing up sheets of dazzling foam, and diving under and
leaping over the great green boulders that lay across its narrow path.

On our side, the road overhung the torrent about a hundred feet, whilst
red rocks bent over our heads to a height of some hundred feet more.

Just at the turn, the road, which was without defences of any kind, and
which had hitherto not been too broad, widened out a little; and here
we followed Antonio over the little green slope, to look down into the
seething waters below.

Antonio had seated himself upon an out-jutting ledge of rock, and,
with feet dangling over the precipice, employed himself in tearing up
young boulders and sending them for our edification, with a noise of
thunder, over the edge into the depths below. One rocky crash succeeded
another, making echoes amid the wild din of the torrent, until the
young Corsican was crimson in the face with his exertions, and seemed
so much inclined to throw himself over with his heavy missiles, that
we had to represent to him the serious inconvenience it would be to us
were we to be left to make our way driverless back to Ghisoni.

This had the desired effect; and shrugging his shoulders, with a smile,
he desisted, pulling down the pink and white calico smock that he
always wore, when on duty, over his waistcoat, and returning to his
horses.

Meanwhile we walked on, down the gorge. For about another
three-quarters of a mile the precipices continued fine; then the
rocks opened out, the road flattened, and all things began to look
commonplace. We decided to return the way we had come, by Ghisoni and
Sorba, instead of following this flatter and less interesting route to
Vivario.

Coming home, we watched a boy crossing the Orbo torrent. It was here
about a hundred yards wide, and rocky, although not so angry as in its
narrower channels.

The bridge was primitive, and consisted merely of a long pine log,
balanced across the river, and over which the boy went, frog fashion,
fearing to be swept off by the stream.

Having paused to see this juvenile accomplish his awkward passage
in safety, we returned to Ghisoni, where the rain forced us to bait,
instead of eating our lunch halfway up the Sorba Mountain, as we had
intended; and where we again had the privilege of M. le General's
polite conversation and congratulations on our safe return from what he
persisted in considering our dangerous expedition. For my own part, I
must confess that I was a little disappointed in the Inzecca. They were
exceedingly striking, and the gorge most beautiful; but I do not think
they are to be compared with the Porto rocks for sublimity. Perhaps we
had heard too much of their beauties beforehand.

It is said that there are some precipices in the valley of the Niolo
steeper and higher, and in all respects grander, than the Inzecca; but
we had not time to find out these, nor even to discover if there was
any practicable route to them.

It rained more or less all the afternoon, as we wound slowly up from
Ghisoni to the top of Sorba, and down again to Vivario; and yet, even
in rain, the forest was magnificent.

The road now was covered with the caterpillars whose bags we had before
seen hanging above us from the branches of every tree. It was now time
for them to burst, and their living contents to fall upon the ground;
and our carriage wheels unavoidably became a juggernaut to numbers of
these hairy black creepers.

One bagful, passed by us, still lay, in a compact writhing ball, five
or six inches high, upon the path. The inmates had evidently only
just fallen, and not, as yet, had time to arrange their movements. But
all others were slowly serpentining along the ground in single file,
holding tight on to each other's tails, in one long black string.

It is a popular delusion to suppose that the sting of these little
animals is injurious and even dangerous. I myself held one in my hand
without harm; whilst our driver stirred them up carelessly with his
finger as they lay upon the ground.

We reached Vivario about four o'clock, and found a bright sun ready
to welcome us in the village, and a rainbow lying across the smoking
hills.

The streets, as we picked our way through them, were thick with mud,
and the numerous pigs looked even dirtier than usual, as we crossed the
redolent stable-yard to the ladderlike, outside staircase leading to
the comfortable little inn of Madame Dausoigne.

Wandering beyond the village, we picked up an amusing acquaintance.

This was an old lady, of a shrewd bright face and brisk walk, neatly
dressed in the usual black jacket and skirt, and black head-gear.
She was well-to-do looking, and evidently belonged to the bourgeoisie
class. As we came up behind her, she slackened her pace; and, after a
friendly nod and word of salutation, walked beside us.

"Well ladies, you are visitors here, I suppose, and came by diligence?"

"No, madame, we came in our hired carriage."

"Oh, indeed. And how do you like my country?"

"Very much indeed, madame. We think it lovely."

"Better than England, ladies? You are English, are you not?"

"Corsica is much more beautiful than England, madame."

"Ah! you should come here in September. You should see the vineyards
then--the grapes are magnificent."

"It is too hot for English people then, madame."

"Not at all, mademoiselle. It is most beautiful then: no rain like
now--and such fruit everywhere. The finest grapes in the country are
cultivated in these parts, and all the vineyards round here belong to
me."

"You are a large propriétaire then, madame?"

"Yes, mademoiselle, I have a great deal of property. But it has given
me much trouble."

"How so, madame?"

"I have had a long lawsuit over it. My sister disputed it with me. My
father left me all his property here; but after his death, my sister's
husband tried to get it, and we had a lawsuit for years. I won the
suit, of course; but now my sister will not speak to me. And I have to
come over here and look after the estate."

"Why, where do you live, madame?"

"In Paris, mademoiselle. Oh, there is no place in the world like Paris!
It is paradise!"

"Is your husband a Frenchman then, madame?"

"Yes, and he has a post in Paris, and lives there; and so does my only
son. Oh, he is a bel homme, my husband, a splendid man, ladies! I wish
you could see him. He married me when he was stationed over here in
Corsica, years ago; and stayed here some time. When he returned to
Paris, I went with him; but I have crossed the sea from Marseilles
three times to visit my country, and now I have been here two years."

"You are quite a traveller, madame."

"The sea is nothing to me now, ladies. The first time, I thought I and
all on board would never see land again; but now I have no fears, and
no illness. But I wish I could see my man again; he must want me back
terribly!"

"He is very fond of you?" inquired No. 3.

"Mais oui, mademoiselle," said the pretty, laughing old woman. "And
you, am I right in calling you mademoiselle? Are you not married?"

"No, madame, I am not married."

"Nor you?" she asked, turning to No. 2.

"Nor I either, madame."

"But, neither of you married! How is that, mesdemoiselles?" she
inquired, shocked at this terrible state of affairs.

"It is sad that no one will have us, is it not, madame?"

"Ah, mesdemoiselles, I do not believe that! You are rich, and you are
charming. You would find plenty of suitors in Corsica."

"If we were married, madame, perhaps our husbands would not let us run
about the world like this!"

"True, mademoiselle. But it is better to be married, if you can find
a good husband. Why don't you come and settle down here, and marry
Corsican propriétaires? The Corsicans make good husbands."

"They might shoot us when they were angry, madame."

"Ah bah, mademoiselle! Corsicans don't shoot their wives. A Corsican
would think himself lucky to get an English wife. They are all so poor,
my countrymen."

"For shame, madame! Would you have them seek a wife only for her money?"

"Ah, no, mademoiselle. They would be charmed with you too, because you
are so agreeable," replied this flatterer.

"Which do you like best, madame, France or Corsica?"

"Oh, mademoiselle, I love my own country, but it is 'triste'--France is
the country to be happy in."

It was clear our old friend was more than half wedded to the land of
her adoption, although still keeping up the dress and appearance of her
girlhood's home.

We parted with mutual friendliness, and returned to our inn to eat a
tidy little dinner, in company with six pet cats, and a gentle little
lump of canine obesity called "Jeannette."

Then retiring to neat little bedrooms, refreshing to the view in their
dimity curtains, deliciously soft clean sheets and blankets, two usable
towels, and a _bonâ fide_ basin and jug.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE LAST OF ANTONIO.


The breakfast next morning at Vivario was so deliciously and unwontedly
clean and refined in appearance, as to tempt us to linger over its
luxuries, and almost to forget the rain sweeping against the windows
outside.

The loaf on a plate (instead of on a dirty, sticky, American-cloth
table-cover), toast in a rack, sugar-tongs, honey, and, greatest of
all delights, a tiny pat of goat's butter, just made, and laid upon a
little green china leaf, like a large pearl!

After all our vicissitudes of food and lodging, these refinements,
served up in the snug, well-furnished little sitting-room, quite
intoxicated us, and we began to feel once more that we were civilized
beings, and not barbaric nomads on the tramp.

At ten o'clock we bid a fond adieu to the six cats, Jeannette, Madame
Dausoigne and her bright-faced daughter, and started for our short two
hours' drive to Corte--the last of our expeditions in our snug little
carriage behind the two immaculate bays, and our old friend Antonio.

There was an air of softness about our driver to-day, which denoted
that he himself remembered this fact and was sorry for it. The three
weeks' daily contact between Antonio and his fare had considerably
strengthened the liking we all conceived for him at first sight, and
had established a mutual respect and regard between us and the young
Corsican. He was always careful of our comforts; but to-day he was
more than usually solicitous, in his quiet taciturn way, over the
arrangement of our cushions and wraps, and about the rain which, in
defiance of his twice offered hint, we allowed to stream over us and
the little carriage as we went along. Travelling in the open air all
day long soon makes one hardy, and neither of us could bear to shut out
what view was visible on this lovely road.

Gleams of sunshine, too, occasionally glinted through the trees, and
lit them up with dewdrops, like a fairy garden of diamonds; and, for
a moment, the heavy clouds would clear away above us, and the rocks
hanging overhead would show steep, turret-shaped spires rising into
little oases of blue sky, with snow mountains beckoning from the other
side.

Not far from Vivario, we noticed coloured stakes driven into the ground
to show where the projected railway across the island was to pass.
This railway is to run from Bastia to Ajaccio, and will be a most
expensive work, as there will be a great deal of tunnelling necessary,
through the Foce Pass, and between Vivario and Corte. Some attempts
have been made for its commencement at both the capitals, but it is
now delayed, partly on account of the difficulty of obtaining funds.
It will probably have to be undertaken by the French Government, and
for some time, no doubt, will not pay. At Corte, two Corsican gentlemen
were warmly discussing the point whether it would be most advisable to
employ native or foreign labour.

"The people of Corsica are starving for want of employment," said
one; "you would not deprive them of a piece of work that would employ
thousands, and take some years?"

"Would they take the work if it were offered them, monsieur?" inquired
No. 3.

"Some would, mademoiselle. Some of our men wish for work and cannot
obtain it."

"Only a small proportion--a very small minority," said the other
Corsican. "If foreign labour were employed, the work would be finished
in two years; if native, probably not in six. And it is more than
possible, that even this small proportion of our people would not be
found willing to work."

"You are a lazy people, monsieur."

"It is true, mademoiselle. And meanwhile capital will be idle. It is
better for the capitalists, and better even for the country itself that
the work should be done as quickly as possible."

The three villages of Luco, Serraggio, and San Pietro, were now
completely embowered in lovely chestnuts, fully out; and brilliant
fields of flax were passed, in masses of light-blue flowers.

Ponte Vecchio looked more beautiful than ever, in a passing gleam of
sunshine; and as we got out for a farewell to our favourite spot, we
discovered the remains of the ancient Pisan bridge lower down the gorge
side--a narrow arch, unparapeted, thrown across from bank to bank for
foot passengers, but now lying in scattered blocks down the hill-side,
or making another boulder or two to vex and rouse the roaring torrent.

Meanwhile, the rain ran in a stream from Antonio's wideawake, and our
concern was awakened that he still used his overcoat for a cushion, and
not for its normal purpose.

"When do you wear your overcoat, Antonio?" at length one of us asked.
"Is it intended for rain?"

Antonio turned round with his grave smile. "Yes, mademoiselle, it is
for rain. But to-day is not much rain for Corsica."

"Not much rain?" we repeated. "Why, it has been pouring for three
hours."

"It has rained a long time, but not heavily, mademoiselle." And Antonio
bent his wideawake into another convenient little spout to let off the
superfluous water.

Corsica is very rarely so wet as this year when we visited it. It
is not generally considered a rainy country; but the rain, when
it does come down, is often quite tropical, and falls with a pelt
that is really appalling, upon the house roofs. To-day the rain was
English-like--soft summer showers, refreshing to plants, and reminding
of April.

When we entered Hotel Pierracci, after driving down the steep hill into
the red-roofed street, we were streaming with water from every garment,
and made large pools in the salle à manger.

But the air of Corte nearly choked us. It was indescribably hot, muggy,
and breathless, and felt like the innermost chamber of a Turkish bath.
The oppression was fearful, and although the weather had cleared up, we
could not walk, and soon returned from an attempted stroll back to our
hotel, to lie panting in our chairs before the open windows and closed
shutters.

Meanwhile Antonio had brought in the last of our possessions, and came
to receive the money for his master. His brown face was full of colour
and friendliness, as he bade us good-bye; and, with extreme shyness,
shook our proffered hands, wishing us a safe and happy return to our
own country. We felt once more the chill of our position, as strangers
in a foreign land, as our good, honest little driver disappeared,
remembering that we should now have to look after ourselves.

It was a misfortune that we could not leave the next day, for Corte,
though lovely, was unpleasant; but it was impossible to face the
idea of a ten hours' journey in the breathless interior of a small
diligence, and there was no diligence with banquette until the Monday
morning.

So we had to console ourselves with such French novels as the small
library opposite could furnish, and with staring out of our windows at
the incessant stream of strollers up and down.

The men have the French practice here, which we never noticed
elsewhere, of kissing each other, when on terms of intimacy, on both
cheeks in the public street.

Towards evening, awnings were run out from the hotel, from beneath
which rose the sound of lively voices discussing native politics, and
the clinking of glasses and teaspoons. Here, the upper class of Corte
regaled themselves with tobacco, chat, and refreshment, to a late hour;
whilst their well-dressed but poorer compatriots were content to wander
up and down in front, in groups of threes and fours, pipe in mouth,
with grave step and conversation.

Until past midnight this incessant pacing up and down the centre of
the road, and the quiet hum of voices, continued through the hot,
streaming, night-air. Two things struck me, both on the Saturday and
Sunday night: the first was the absence of drunken shouts, and the
second the absence of female voices.

Drunkards are undoubtedly to be found in Corsica, but apparently, a
sense of the national dignity of demeanour remains even to them, and
they do not shout and rave and misbehave like a Briton in drink.

As for the women of Corsica, they never join in the public promenades;
and, unless it is in Bastia or Ajaccio, the rude laugh and loud voice
of a bold girl seem unknown quantities.

It is a puzzling problem to guess how the Corsican young women ever
get married, for courtship seems a rare thing, and you never meet a
young couple walking out together in the cool of evening, through the
flower-scented lanes.

Either matrimony is conducted in a very business-like fashion in the
island, or the love-making is entirely confined to the house, and kept
rigidly private.



CHAPTER XVII.

TO BASTIA FROM CORTE.


It was seven o'clock on a tremendously hot sunny morning when we
started for our last day's journey, to Bastia. Our lofty banquette
was shared by the driver, and was a veritable perch, ten or twelve
feet from the ground, into which the only feasible way of climbing was
by seizing hold of some ropes depending from the diligence top, and
swinging oneself up, acrobat fashion.

A large group of gamins had assembled to witness our departure; and,
notwithstanding the handsome rooms and clean accommodation with which
Madame Pierracci had this time supplied us, we bade a last adieu to
Corte without any sentiments but those of relief; and wound up the
steep hills, through the blazing sunshine and pure morning air, with
increasing exhilaration.

Our perch had its drawbacks.

We found that this diligence was altogether immensely inferior to
the Ajaccio one, both in its steeds and its drivers. The horses were
poor, stiff, worn-out brutes, that could scarcely get their exhausted
limbs along, despite the incessant cracking of the long whip, and
the discordant cries of their driver; and the men were all, without
exception, the lowest specimens of Corsicans we had met with.

They were one and all good-natured, but dirty and unpleasant, and
had no tongue save their own _patois_. Their tobacco was an alarming
mixture, and their cries to their angular beasts astonishing, both in
nature and in shrillness.

"Hoi! osera! you assassin! Get on, you thief!" "Ar-r-ch, oisé! you son
of a drunkard, will you move on!" These, and sundry other epithets,
were used with astonishing rapidity to the poor, patient, insulted
horses, as we followed the somewhat barren and mountainous road, with
its occasional fine views.

For nearly two-thirds of the way to Bastia, the diligence road winds
closely above the bed of the foaming Golo. It is a handsome river here,
dashing along, green and wide, over grey boulders, and washing the feet
of pretty wooded hills.

Butterflies, blue, white, brown, and peacock, filled the air about us,
and sheets of blue borage, crimson poppies, and golden spurge, almost
hid the fern-covered bank upon one side.

The drive would have been charming, if it had not been for the little
annoyances of the dirty driver, and of the overcrowded condition of the
diligence.

We had, in ignorance, timed our journey to Whit-Monday; and now found,
to our cost, that the Fête de Pentecôte is an equal holiday with
English and Corsicans.

There was apparently no limit to the number that might be stowed away
in every nook and corner of the creaking vehicle; and, at every turn of
the road, we picked up a new wayfarer.

These were chiefly men, dressed in velveteen holiday attire, every man
having his gun strapped behind his shoulder, and gourd under his left
arm.

Twelve was the original number intended by the coachmaker as the
fare--viz., six inside, three in the coupé, and three on the coachman's
box, or banquette; but, before we had done picking up stray passengers,
our number was twenty-five! The tarpaulin cover had been taken off
the top of the diligence, and twelve persons were drawn up here,
precariously lodged where the luggage only should have been.

Among the velveteened men, were two fat women, and several soldiers;
and all were as merry as possible, chaffing and joking good-humouredly,
and the soldiers occasionally starting a song.

The diligence swayed unpleasantly with its heavy load, and the poor
horses lagged more than ever; whilst we were nearly ousted from our
elevated seats, and sent flying over their heads into the road below,
by the pressure of stout forms behind us.

Some hard substance in the coat pocket of the man behind me caused me
considerable annoyance, running ruthlessly into my back; and at last I
ventured to lodge a complaint on the subject.

"Monsieur," I said, nudging the muscular owner of the brown velveteen
coat with my elbow (in the only fashion possible in our circumscribed
position); "Monsieur, you have something _very_ hard in your pocket!"

The man, and the woman sitting beside him, turned to stare; but
regarded me with stolid curiosity without replying.

"But, monsieur," I said, goaded to indignation by his want of sympathy,
"excuse me if I ask you to remove it. Whatever it be, it is uncommonly
hard, and it hurts me."

Again the stolid stare, and the astonished silence, broken at length by
the woman's voice.

"Tiens!" she exclaimed, with a laugh, "c'est ton pistolet!"

"His pistol!" I said, with considerable animation. "Do you carry your
pistol loaded, monsieur?"

The big Corsican looked at me with a quiet scorn.

"Mais oui," he replied, coolly; "certainement!" And he gave it a tug,
shrugging his shoulders, that brought its muzzle into rather closer
contact with me than before.

"I hope you won't shoot me," said I; whereat they all laughed.

"Mademoiselle," said a merry young soldier, in bright blue, in the next
row, "do _you_ never carry a pistol when you are travelling?"

"Not in Corsica," said I. "It is unnecessary, as no one is ever uncivil
to ladies in this country."

At which innocent little bit of flattery they all grinned benignantly.

But for the next three or four hours there that pistol remained, with
its muzzle pressed firmly against my back. I don't know what would
be the sensation of most people under similar circumstances; but for
a few minutes mine were novel, and I found but a semi-consolation in
the reflection that to be shot through the heart is a comparatively
painless end.

In half an hour, however, I had forgotten the fact. And, fortunately,
Corsican pistols appear to have stiffish triggers; for, notwithstanding
several grand jolts, it kept its contents to itself, and forbore to
deposit them between my shoulder-blades.

Meanwhile, the little army of guns were placed on the top of the
hood over our heads, from whence a stiffer jolt than usual would
occasionally bring one or two flying down, to be caught in mid-air by
the passengers, before they had perpetrated any mischief.

All travellers are not equally fortunate in escaping gun accidents
under like circumstances. Only a short time before, on this very road,
a passenger, sitting in the coupé, suddenly discharged his loaded gun
by accident, and its contents were lodged in the heart of another
man above, who died instantaneously. Both murderer and murdered
were poor men; and eighty francs was all that the former was able
to pay as compensation to the widow of the poor fellow killed by his
carelessness.

Such accidents are by no means rare; but it would take a vast number
of them to teach Corsicans that the carrying of loaded firearms is not
essential to their dignity and their comfort.

At about noon the diligence stopped at a wayside inn for déjeuner;
but having, for certain reasons, our suspicions of the food provided
therein, and also preferring the lovely, hot, outside air to the
foul, hot, inside air, we walked on down the road, beside the roaring
river and the sloping rocks. We had not gone far before we came upon
a bank, forty or fifty feet long, composed of a mass of the most
magnificent maiden-hair fern, growing in fronds more than a foot long,
and wonderfully luxuriant. Here we passed a solitary man sitting by
the wayside, who eyed us attentively, and saluted us as we came up.
After a minute or two he came after us (curiosity getting the better of
the native pride for once), and walked alongside, plying us with the
usual questions. He was particularly delighted with our praise of his
country, and tried to persuade us to pay it a longer visit. He remarked
that he had been puzzled as to our nationality, as he had never seen
any Englishwomen before, and the French ladies did not walk after our
energetic fashion.

But, in truth, after we had parted from our communicative friend,
our energy soon faded, and we toiled slowly up the steep hill under a
perfectly broiling sun, glad at last to creep into a scrap of shade a
foot or two square, which was all a lengthened scrutiny could discover
on the blazing roadway. It was the hottest sun we had felt since our
arrival--a sun against which the combined protection of leaves inside
the hat, pocket-handkerchiefs as puggerees, and thick umbrellas were of
but little avail.

As we rested, at length, on the summit of the hill, an elderly Corsican
gentleman joined us, also waiting for the diligence. He seemed very
much amused at the independence of English ladies, but said it was
perfectly safe in Corsica, where no native would act otherwise than
courteously to a stranger; and that he wished it was the fashion for
his countrywomen to move about a little more. He had never been out of
his own land himself, but was extremely curious about English manners
and customs, and thought he must come some day to England. He inquired
about the expenses of travelling in England, as he had heard that they
were excessive.

What seemed to horrify him most was the price of horses in our country.
He said he could buy a capital horse in Corsica for three hundred
francs (£12); and he could scarcely credit the fact when we told him
that one thousand francs (£40) would purchase but a poor beast in
England. He did not think much of the French rule in his island, and
hoped for but one benefit from the fusion of the two races, viz.,
the rousing of his own people from the lethargy regarding domestic
pursuits, with which centuries of warfare had impregnated them.
Our friend was a most polite and agreeable companion, and it was
interesting to converse with him, for he represented the older Corsican
type, before the native character and sentiments had been obliterated
by French education, and mimicry of French thought--as is the case now
with most of the younger and more travelled Corsican gentlemen.

At last the diligence lumbered up, and up every one climbed--soldiers,
gendarmes, sportsmen, fat women, and ourselves--to our perches, to
descend the long white dusty road still skirting the river side, and
occasionally passing little groups of women and girls down by its
brink, engaged in gathering into baskets the hard grey pebbles, which
they then placed in heaps beside the path for its mending.

The long flat road to Bastia continued monotonously for ten or twelve
miles; but about seven or eight miles from the town a sudden turn
brought before us the most extensive and magnificent view. For miles
on every side extended a vast unbroken plain, and the east coast lay
before us spread out in sweeps of pale green marshy land, bright blue
sea, and intersecting salt lakes. A little further on, Bastia herself
came into view, standing white and picturesque against her brown
rocks, and over her sunny sea, on which lay many a white-sailed vessel,
unmoved by breath of wind or sway of tide in the hot calm of the June
day, whilst the large village of Furriano, on an adjacent hill, looked
greyly down from its cool green nest of foliage.

For the last few miles before reaching Bastia, the banks by the wayside
were hedged with the most splendid pointed-leaved cactus in the island,
growing eight or ten feet high, and varied by sheets of rich blossomed
flowers.

The road was gay with holiday makers, in carts, on mules, and on
foot--chiefly men, with a few women; and we noticed, as we neared this
side of the country, the increasing brightness of the costumes of both
men and women, and the relief from the universal black of the interior.

The men wore gay sashes and coloured caps, and even the women ventured
on a striped headkerchief.

Between three and four o'clock we entered Bastia, having deposited
most of our holiday passengers at the entrance to the town; and were
not sorry to jump down from our stifling banquette on to the blazing
road before the diligence office. Here we said good-bye to our elderly
friend, who introduced a nice-looking boy whom he had just embraced, as
his son; and finding two strong-armed women to carry our boxes down the
street, once more entered the Hôtel de France, and greeted our friends,
including the gentlemanly old proprietor, his son, and the conceited
little waiter, who, with his three or four companions, seemed genuinely
pleased to welcome us again.

A stroll up the shady side of the streets filled up the time till table
d'hôte, when we again found ourselves the only ladies amongst a lively
party of twenty or thirty French and Corsicans.

The Leghorn boat was to leave at 10 p.m., and at 9.30 we started
for the dock side, kindly escorted by M. Valéry himself, the head of
the shipping firm. It was a good boat, with a deck saloon and upper
deck--in every way very superior to the one in which we had arrived.

So was the weather. Not a breath of wind disturbed the utter stillness
of the atmosphere, and the moon was rising in golden glory against a
deep blue sky. Had it not been for the intense heat, it would have been
a perfect night; but as we paced slowly up and down beside the dock it
was almost difficult to breathe.

When at length the last bell rang, and we were all on board, and
pushing out to sea, the scene was exquisite.

Bastia, with her many lights, moving slowly away into soft haziness;
above, the unclouded moon, and three or four brilliant stars; and, on
the water, lying just across our track of foam, a golden sheet of glory
stretching across from horizon to deck.

The heat made it impossible to enter even the saloon cabin. We, at
any rate, thought so, although the foreign passengers all managed to
bear it; so we camped out for the night on a high coil of ropes, which
presently, in the soaking dews, became a perfect mass of sponge.

The damp, however, notwithstanding the evil prognostications of the
steward, proved harmless; and it was, at any rate, a choice of evils,
between possible fever and almost certain asphyxia.

The swell increased as we got into mid sea, but the calm and the clear
light continued; and we could see the shapes of Elba's hills as we
passed under their lee--the very lighthouse on one of them, and even
the figures of the sailors on the deck of the slower-going vessel which
was bound upon the same route as ourselves.

And so, in the romantic stillness of the summer night, and the glorious
moonlight, fitly faded away the dim outlines of the little island; and
Corsica became a beautiful dream of the past.

As Corsica is, comparatively speaking, an untravelled country, it may
be as well to add a few particulars for the benefit of tourists.

There are two principal routes from London. One is by the direct line
through France from Paris to Marseilles; thence, by sixteen hours'
steaming, to Ajaccio. The other is through the Mont Cenis tunnel, from
Paris to Turin; thence by Genoa to Leghorn, and by seven hours' steam
to Bastia.

The first route is undoubtedly the best and shortest for any but the
worst of sailors. The Marseilles steamers are larger and better than
those of Leghorn, and the whole journey from England can be done in a
little more than three days; whereas the Italian route cannot well be
done, by ladies at any rate, in less than four.

By the former journey, too, the annoyance of three custom-house
visitations is reduced to one; and, for those who have no particular
wish to cross the island, a two days' journey in diligence is
avoided--which journey is often unsafe and unpleasant in winter, on
account of the heavy snows on the mountain passes near Corte.

As regards expenses, Corsica is by no means a dear country. About nine
francs a day will pay for all expenses of food and lodgings--sometimes
less; and, as a rule, the better hotels are quite equally inexpensive
with the wretched country inns.

As there are no railways, travelling, of course, has to be done
exclusively by driving; and there are no comfortable vehicles to be
found elsewhere than at Ajaccio and Bastia. At the latter place, their
number is extremely limited.

A nice open carriage, with hood, and pair of horses, is charged at the
rate of twenty francs a day, and two francs a day at least is expected
by the driver. Thus, whilst on a driving tour, if shared, as it usually
is, with a companion, the travellers' daily expenses will be a little
more than doubled, or about twenty francs, including everything.

This, I think, is a far cheaper rate of travelling than in any other
European country; besides being a most agreeable and efficient mode of
seeing the beauties of nature.

Corsicans are first-rate drivers; and their steeds, though unsightly,
very sure-footed.

The climate is delicious in early spring, and the flowers and trees
in their glory in April and May. The lowland towns become hot and
unhealthy for visitors, in June, if not before; but for those who do
not mind roughing it, or who are anxious for sport, the higher villages
and mountain forests afford health and enjoyment all the summer.

The east coast of the island is to be avoided by travellers. It has few
beauties to offer, and is rife with malarious fever nine months out
of the twelve. Corsican fever is remarkably unpleasant and clinging,
and has been known to return year after year to its victim, ending in
dropsy.

Consumptive patients, coming for the winter months to Ajaccio, will
find every comfort there; but those who come to see the island must not
be too particular regarding the luxuries or even necessaries of life.

A good dinner at sunset (without garlic and nicely cooked), they will
obtain without difficulty, even at the tiniest villages; but that
will probably be the only eatable meal in the day,--and sour bread and
coffee for breakfast, and sour bread and cheese for lunch, will leave
them in a condition to appreciate its delights.

As regards the cleanliness or uncleanliness of the accommodation in the
country inns, the opinions of tourists in Corsica differ so widely that
one is slow to pronounce a strong verdict upon the subject.

I can only say that we found few pleasant, and many disgusting, on this
point; but I must add that this opinion is considered uncharitable by
more than one friend who has travelled as much in the country as we
did.

At the Ajaccio, Corte, and Sartene hotels, we found perfectly clean
accommodation, and the same could be said of the village inns at
Propriano, Vivario, Evisa, Ghisoni, and Belgodere; Bonifacio was not
bad, and Carghese might have been worse in some respects.

Enough has been said to warn the traveller from visiting Bocognano
or Calvi; and Zicavo and Solenzara bear likewise an exceedingly bad
reputation.

At Propriano, Vivario, or Evisa, a pleasant stay might be made.
Propriano is on the sea level, and has not much to recommend it except
its sea, its shells, and its lovely views; but Vivario and Evisa are
situated in the midst of exquisite mountain scenery, and would make
suitable summer halting-places.



CHAPTER XVIII.

HISTORY OF CORSICA.


The history of Corsica, from the earliest times down to the middle
of the eighteenth century, is an unparalleled history of bloodshed,
misery, and heroism.

As far as is known, the first colonization of the island was the work
of Phocæans; but, about 260 B.C., it fell into the hands of the Romans.
The conquest of Corsica, even in these early days, and attempted by so
formidable a power as that of Rome, was, however, no light matter; and
for about one hundred years the brave little island kept her conquerors
at bay.

Finally, however, she succumbed, remaining in their hands for several
centuries; in fact, until the fall of the Roman Empire.

From this time until the close of the eleventh century, the story of
Corsica is nothing but a series of contests, external and civil.

One foe after another attacked and devastated the unhappy island.
Greeks, Saracens, Tuscans, and others in turn attempted to possess
themselves of it; fighting over it like dogs over a bone, or handing it
unscrupulously from one to another.

The natives, meanwhile, were engaged in an incessant heroic struggle
with their foes, to whom they never willingly submitted, at the same
time that they were resisting the cruel tyrannies of their own feudal
aristocracy.

Trade was unknown, and cultivation neglected; the coasts, harassed by
marauders, were deserted; the inland villages, a prey to the lawless
exactions of the barons, were impoverished; and many of the poorer
people took refuge among the fastnesses of their mountains, carrying
with them little but their weapons and their freedom.

In the tenth century, however, notwithstanding the confusion and
warfare that reigned around, we hear of the first constitution framed
by the Corsicans, under their legislator Sambuccio.

This democratic republic was the foundation of all the later
constitutions in the island, even including that of Paoli, and bears a
strong testimony to the intelligence and the self-respect of a people
whose patriotism could not be denied even by their enemies, but who
were considered on the continent as a semi-barbarous race.

The head of the constitution consisted of a Council of Twelve, chosen
by the podestas, who comprised the lower legislative body. These
podestas, or magistrates, were the presidents of their respective
provincial assemblies, each formed of a certain number of scattered
parishes, or pieves; and, associated with them, were certain "Fathers
of the Community." These men were probably elected for a year, and
were to have a special eye to the interests of the poorer or more
defenceless portion of the community. They, again, had the right of
choosing their own president, termed the Caporale, who was expressly
intended as the people's representative in the highest council and
elsewhere.

In 1098 Pope Urban (who, without any fair title, laid claim to the
ownership of Corsica) installed the Archbishop of Pisa as feudal lord
over the island.

For about a hundred years, the Pisans kept possession of it, or at
least parts of it, never wholly subduing the warlike and determined
inhabitants; and, during this time they governed wisely and well,
building towns and making roads, and encouraging, as far as they
were able in the disturbed condition of the island, industry and
agriculture. But the moderate government of Pisa was not long to remain
unmolested. The Genoese were beginning to cast covetous eyes upon
Corsica; and, in the beginning of the twelfth century, persuaded the
See of Rome to bestow upon them about one-half of the territory she
had, rather more than a century before, given to Pisa.

The Pisans, naturally resenting this action, prepared to defend what
they considered their property; and, for the next hundred and fifty
years, an almost incessant contest was kept up between the two parties,
some of the natives remaining neutral, but for the most part joining
one side or the other.

The great hope and support of the Pisans was a noble Corsican of the
name of Guidice della Rocca, who had lived for many years in exile
at the court of Pisa, but had not ceased to love his country with
a burning ardour, and who foresaw, in the rule of Genoa, a cruel
taskmaster, and the extinction of the growing prosperity of his
country. He was brave, determined, and wise; and, for a long time,
his efforts against the Genoese, in command of the Pisan troops, were
attended with success.

But both Bonifacio and Calvi were not only garrisoned, but to a great
extent colonized by natives of Genoa, and with these _points d'appui_
and the superior power of Genoa to back him up, General Doria could not
but, after a time, get the better of his opponents.

When blind and very old, Della Rocca, the noble patriot and just judge,
was treacherously betrayed into the hands of his enemies by a son of
his own, and ended his days, deserted and uncared for, in a wretched
dungeon in Genoa.

From that time until the middle of the eighteenth century, Corsica
remained writhing beneath the scourge of the Genoese power; sometimes,
however, shaking off the yoke and chastising the enemy, and never,
for more than a few years at a time, remaining quiescent beneath the
tyranny they loathed.

Crushed but not quelled, ruined but not disheartened, decimated but
never terrified, the Corsican nature, strong and simple, remained true
to its universal instinct, the principle which was their very life and
being, and which they imbibed with their mother's milk--love of country
and love of liberty.

During that time, the land literally bathed its plains in the blood of
martyrs, and no Corsican thought it too much to give up home and life
for the sake of that suffering country which was so dear to him in her
suffering, or that freedom which was to him more than life itself.

The castle of Guidice della Rocca, who was the first Corsican of mark
to lose his life in disputing the invasion of Genoa, is situated on a
lofty rock above Monticelli, a mountain village about half-way between
San Fiorenzo and Isola Rossa. It is now, of course, in ruins, but still
commands the road below with stern grey walls that are not the less
grand for the decaying touch of age.

About seventy years after the death of Guidice, another of his family
rose up, Arrigo by name, who, until he was poisoned in the year 1401,
did good service for his country, vanquishing the Genoese, driving
them for some years almost entirely from the island, and winning the
friendship of the king of Spain.

But Arrigo, although wise and brave, was cruel; and he soon raised
up a strong home faction against himself by his remorseless measures.
This was headed by some of the barons, who ultimately drove him from
the country. But only for two months; after which time, Arrigo della
Rocca re-appeared, defeated the Genoese, and regained his power in the
island.

But Genoa had not now to learn for the first time the use of poison,
nor to seek far for assassins to carry out her infamous designs. In the
history of Corsica, treachery and murder on the part of the Genoese
republic play a conspicuous part, and they were foes with which the
devoted heroism and the ceaseless energy of their opponents were unable
to cope. As fast, however, as one patriot of note disappeared, another
rose up in his place to take the part of leader among his distracted
countrymen; and Vincentello d'Istria, reared an exile, and serving in
the army of the king of Aragon, but by birth belonging to the same
noble family as Arrigo, was the next to make his name famous in his
country's cause.

For more than fifteen years he led his countrymen, with varying
success, against the Genoese forces; at one time even wresting from
them Calvi, their great stronghold, and going near to possessing
himself also of Bonifacio, which, however, after a brave resistance by
its Genoese garrison, was relieved at the last moment.

But at length force and intrigue together proved too much for D'Istria,
his enemies cunningly sowing dissensions in every available quarter,
and rousing up against him the antagonism of some of the proud and
lawless seigniors, or barons. He left Corsica to entreat the assistance
of Spain, but was taken prisoner on the voyage, and ended his days by
decapitation at Genoa in 1434.

For the next twenty years greater confusion than ever reigned in the
unhappy island.

Here and there a noble-minded patriot was to be found amongst the
barons, a man who loved his country better than rank or wealth, and
who could merge his own interests uncomplainingly in those of his
suffering countrymen; but as a rule, the seigniors were selfish and
proud, fighting more for their own supremacy than for the freedom of
their land, and the nobler spirits were to be found amongst those of
less noble birth.

During these twenty years half a dozen barons kept up petty civil wars
in their country, each striving after the position of chief or king of
Corsica; whilst the contest with the Genoese troops never flagged; and
the king of Aragon likewise put in a claim to the island.

In 1453, by the consent of the puzzled and distracted people, whose
blood had been shed unavailingly in every direction, and whose foes
were as numerous as the hydra-headed monster, it was resolved to accept
the "protection" or supremacy of the Bank of St. George of Genoa, a
company of capitalists, useful to the Genoese court, which ceded its
Corsican claims to them. The Bank accordingly commenced its process
of "farming" Corsica, which, save for an interregnum of about twenty
years, when the Milanese and Piombinese took their place, was continued
for nearly three hundred years. But not unchallenged.

A large proportion of the people had never consented from the first to
this change of masters. They had no greater faith in the Bank of Genoa
than in the Court of Genoa, and preferred death, starvation, and ruin
to any foreign master. And by degrees the cruel exactions and boundless
injustice of the new governors brought over to their opinion the small
remnant who, in their despair, had agreed to the new arrangement.

Another Della Rocca appeared on the scene at this time, and for many
years he and a rival nobleman, Giovanni Paoli da Leca, with their
retainers, fought with equal spirit against each other and against the
common enemy.

In 1501, Da Leca was driven from his beloved country, never to return;
but the dauntless Renuccio della Rocca continued his efforts for
many years longer. Constantly defeated and chased from the island,
he as constantly returned again to harass his bitter foes, sometimes
accompanied only by a few followers.

Twice he was forced to come to terms, and was carried as a prisoner to
Genoa; but his spirit never failed, and each time he managed, after a
short space, to escape from prison, the Genoese on the first occasion
revenging themselves for the loss of the father by the execution of his
eldest son.

In 1510 this determined man returned for the last time to his native
land, with only eight followers. The peasantry were exhausted and
decimated by ceaseless wars, and the leader for whom they longed was
the exiled Da Leca.

They knew the cause was hopeless; and Della Rocca, the declared enemy
of their favoured Da Leca, had not their confidence. They pitied him,
but they would not follow him; and Renuccio became a wandering bandit
amongst the western hills. His previous unsuccessful risings had been
followed by the most remorseless cruelties on the part of Andreas
Doria, the Genoese commander, who had tortured the inhabitants and
laid waste the villages which had given countenance or shelter to their
fellow-countryman.

And now, once more resolved to free itself of this unpleasant enemy,
the Genoese Bank recommenced its usual course of cruel persecution.

Renuccio was sought for in every direction by bands of Italian
soldiers, whilst the unhappy villagers around were put to the torture
to force them to discover his whereabouts.

This no man was found capable of doing. They would not deliver the man
who had fought for them and for their country into the hands of his
enemies; but, overcome by their miseries, they slew him themselves, and
his dead body was found at length among the fastnesses around Ajaccio,
in May, 1511.

For now nearly forty years, there was a temporary lull in the active
resistance of the Corsicans to their masters; and during this time
the Genoese Bank mitigated a little their severity, and ruled their
ill-gotten possession with some apparent benevolence.

Many of the higher nobles migrated to other lands, and entering foreign
service, distinguished themselves in continental warfare. The people,
meanwhile, were suffering from national exhaustion consequent on the
incessant destructive warfare of centuries, and perhaps also waiting to
see if the present promise of a paternal government were likely to be
fulfilled.

They had not long to wait. The fair pledges of the Bank soon faded
away--the reality of cruel exactions took their place--and once more
the indefatigable people rose to arms. The period of apparent calm had
but been the moment's lull before the storm, the gathering up of fresh
forces for renewed contest. And those few years had matured perhaps the
greatest man ever produced by Corsica--a man whose heroism and whose
devotion were equal to Paoli's, but who possessed besides a savage
grandeur of nature peculiar to himself, his country, and his age.

This was Sampiero, the truest friend, the most implacable foe, and
perhaps the most iron-nerved man the world has ever known.

His youth was spent abroad, and he served with equal distinction
amongst the Medici Black Bands at Florence, and subsequently with
the French army, where he became colonel of a Corsican regiment under
Francis I., and won the friendship of Bayard.

It was not until Sampiero was nearly fifty years old that he took any
active part in the struggles of his country.

Some two years before, he had visited his native land in order to woo
and win the beautiful Vannina Ornano for his wife.

The Ornano family was, in point of nobility, far superior to Sampiero's
own, but the Corsican colonel's fame in courts and in the field
was already too widely spread for him to be considered an unworthy
son-in-law to any noble; whilst he himself, we may well believe, was
of an appearance well fitted to succeed in winning the affections of
any woman. He was a tall man, with the carriage and piercing eye of a
soldier, and with dark curling hair and features of a stern nobility,
that harmonized well with his character. His nature was simple and
self-denying, his life spotless and engrossed with noble aims, and his
depth of affection great; but his anger was terrible, and his scorn for
weakness or dishonesty almost cruel.

The history of his marriage is a terrible romance, ending in tragedy.

He was already, at the time of his marriage, dreaded by the masters
of his country as one likely to be a formidable foe; and they only
followed their usual illegal system of tyranny, in falling upon him so
soon as he set foot in his own land, and thrusting him into prison.
He was soon liberated again, owing to the interference of the French
ambassador at the Genoese court; but the incident cannot fail to have
deepened his determination to be his country's deliverer when occasion
offered.

An opening soon occurred in the project of the French king to lead his
troops against Corsica, both as an injury to Genoa, with whom he was at
war, and also as a menace to their ally and his enemy, the emperor of
Germany.

In the year 1553, a French fleet, joined by some Turkish vessels,
and having on board Marshal Thermes, and Admiral Paulin, and Sampiero
himself, together with many other exiled Corsican patriots, sailed for
the island.

An emissary had already been despatched thither some time before
by Sampiero, and the greater part of the nation were awaiting their
arrival with eagerness, prepared to welcome the French as friends, and
to assist them against the common foe.

The gates of Bastia were immediately thrown open to the invaders. The
Genoese garrison and bastion walls of Calvi and Bonifacio proved for
some time too strong for Turkish and French vessels; but San Fiorenzo
was made to capitulate to Thermes, and the impregnable Corte, and the
fortress of Ajaccio, both threw wide their gates to welcome Sampiero.

Presently Bonifacio, after a heroic resistance by the Genoese garrison,
surrendered to the Turks; and the Genoese, routed in every direction,
had no single fortress left to them save Calvi.

For about three months these successes continued; when the Genoese
Bank, terrified at the loss of all their possessions, sent Andreas
Doria to the rescue. Doria was now an aged man, but his good fortune
remained true to him, and he succeeded in wresting back some of the
victories obtained by the French.

Sampiero being also about this time incapacitated by a severe wound,
he defeated the Corsicans in the battle of Morosaglia. This defeat,
however, quickly brought the sick hero from his bed, again to turn
the fate of war; and for five years the contest continued with varying
success.

Then followed a cruel stroke to the poor deluded islanders, who had
fancied that France was for ever to be their protector and ally. The
king of France, tired of war, and ungenerously forgetful of former
promises, concluded a treaty with his continental enemies, by which
he again surrendered Corsica to her old tyrant Genoa. Decimated
and discouraged, the Corsicans saw their six years of bloodshed and
impoverishment wasted by the political selfishness of their stronger
neighbours, and the independence for which they had so willingly laid
down life, and laid desolate home, toyed with as a plaything, and
bartered by the monarch in whose good faith they had trusted.

But, if their power of resistance was not crushed, much less was
Sampiero's. Throwing up his old employment, he now travelled from court
to court, seeking assistance for his beloved country in this her last
and most treacherous stroke of fortune.

Whilst engaged in this occupation, a terrible domestic calamity
suddenly reached his ears--a calamity which, to his half-savage,
wholly-noble mind, engrossed with love of country and a passion for
that country's freedom, seemed the cruellest and basest disgrace that
had ever befallen a man.

His wife Vannina, who had not lived much, in these troublous times,
with her stern and warlike husband, was now residing with her two boys
at Marseilles, under French protection. The Genoese, hoping to injure
Sampiero through her weakness, surrounded the lonely woman by friendly
seeming spies, who at length persuaded her credulous nature that the
cause of her husband was one useless to his country, prejudicial to
his own interests, and that it was the duty of a true wife to dissuade,
rather than to abet this madman in his lawless endeavours.

Sampiero was in Algiers seeking the assistance of the celebrated
Barbarossa, when news was brought him that Vannina was about to escape
to Genoa.

Scarcely able to credit the terrible idea that his own wife could
desert the cause that to him was more sacred than life, he yet refused
to leave the work on which he was engaged, and sent a friend instead to
Marseilles to follow and intercept the fugitive.

Vannina was overtaken at Antibes, and took refuge in the bishop's house.

The prelate, however, afraid perhaps of Sampiero, soon ejected the
miserable woman, who proceeded to Aix. The Parliament there offered her
its protection.

But Vannina, though weak, was of Corsican blood, and sprung from a
race of heroes, and she refused to be protected from her husband. "I
have sinned," she said, sadly; "I am his wife; let him do to me what he
pleases."

And she waited for his arrival in the castle of Zaizi, near Aix, where,
after concluding his more pressing business, the stern patriot came to
fetch her.

Silently the two travelled back together to the deserted home at
Marseilles; the heart of one full of bitter pain and shame and anger,
the other of a sad realization of her treachery.

What was the tempest raging in the mind of Sampiero, we know not; but
it is impossible to believe that one of his nature contemplated murder
beforehand.

As he crossed the threshold of the house, where he had left Vannina
a beloved and trusted wife, now empty and tenantless owing to her
desertion of her country's cause and her want of faith in him, the
realization of the disgrace she had brought upon herself and him, and
the disloyalty she might even have instilled into the hearts of their
children, suddenly roused the demon of passion in his breast, and
possessed by madness, he turned upon her and plunged his dagger in her
heart.

It was fifteen years now since the rugged Corsican had married his
beautiful bride, and his love for her had never cooled. The very
fierceness of his affection, however, only added a sting to the frenzy
of his outraged feelings; and if Sampiero ever repented him of his
cruel deed, none knew of that remorse, further than believing they
could read its signs on the sterner, sadder features of the old man's
face.

In 1564 Sampiero landed in Corsica with a little band of about fifty
men, French and Corsicans.

He had been courteously treated by one and all of the courts he had
visited, but he had failed to obtain any help for his country more
substantial than promises.

In accordance with his chivalric spirit, he burnt, on landing, the
vessel in which he had arrived, that the means of return might be
closed to his followers and himself.

As he advanced into the country the people everywhere rose and joined
him; and, defeating the Genoese before Corte, he took possession of
that important citadel.

The victory of Vescovato soon followed; and the Genoese, trembling for
their cause, sent Stephen Doria with a superior force to oppose the
skilful patriot.

One of Doria's first actions was a puerile and ignoble one. Marching to
Bastelica, the birthplace of the great Corsican, he burnt the village,
and destroyed Sampiero's house.

But Sampiero's house and his possessions were little to him, compared
to the sufferings of his country; and he was far more deeply touched
by the cruelties inflicted on the harmless and the innocent by his
unfeeling foe. For three years he carried on the warfare, more or less
successfully, against the very superior forces of Genoa; and during
this time was not merely the military leader of his people, but also
their statesman, convoking national assemblies, which he guided by his
far-seeing wisdom to prudent measures, and in every way endeavouring to
lay the seeds of a constitution that, when peace should come, might be
a blessing to his country.

But the patriot was doomed at length to fall by treachery. Since the
fatal act of passion which resulted in his wife's death, the family of
the Ornano had naturally become his bitterest foes; and, to abet their
terrible vendetta, they deserted their very country and offered to
assist the Genoese by stratagem.

The old warrior was decoyed by forged letters, with but a small party
of followers, into a narrow defile, where his enemies, rushing suddenly
from their ambuscade, swarmed upon him, eager for his blood. The old
lion fought hard for life, but was at length overcome, and his head cut
off and carried to Doria.

It was in the year 1567, when Sampiero was in his sixty-ninth year,
that this greatest of Corsicans thus fell, by the sword of his
fellow-countrymen.

For two years his eldest son Alfonso continued the war with
considerable success; and then a treaty was concluded with Genoa on
favourable terms for the brave little island.

For the next fifty years Corsica remained inactive; depressed and
miserable under renewed Genoese exactions and tyrannies, but too
exhausted to resume hostilities.

In 1729, however, fighting again broke out, suddenly roused by one of
the many private wrongs then pressing upon the lower orders, and the
rebellion soon spread over the whole island.

It was well organized under two leaders of energy and ability, and was
more determined in its measures than ever. Internal reforms had been
effected, a general oath of resistance to the death against Genoa was
adopted, and the very clergy, who had sometimes shown themselves but
lukewarm friends to their country's cause, were at length roused by the
dishonesty of the republic, to take part with their fellow-countrymen,
and to declare the war a sacred one.

Genoa had recourse to the emperor of Germany, from whom she bought
several thousand mercenaries, who were sent across the sea to try
their skill upon these unconquerable islanders. Genoa paid high for
her assistance: thirty thousand gulden monthly for the force of eight
thousand men; and for every man killed or deserting, a compensation of
one hundred gulden.

The Corsicans, who knew of this arrangement, and who, half armed and
half clothed, half starved and unaided, had nothing but their own
natural skill in warfare, and their heritage of heroism upon which to
depend, were in nowise intimidated by their new antagonists; but, when
they struck down a German, were in the habit of shouting scornfully, "A
hundred gulden, Genoa!"

Meanwhile, the courage and chivalry of his insular foes had won for
them the regard of the opposing General Wachtendonk; and, chiefly
through his mediation, a treaty, supposed to be favourable to the
islanders, was concluded between Genoa and the Corte legislative
assembly in 1732.

Wachtendonk remained in the island another year to see the treaty
carried out, and in June, 1734, the German general returned to his own
country, carrying with him the regard of his enemies, who would fain
have had to deal with him instead of the republic that had hired him.

But he had scarcely retired before the treaty was broken. Genoa began
anew her system of illegal arrests and attempted assassinations; and,
once more, the people rose under Hyacinth Paoli, an obscure native of
the little village of Morosaglia, but a man of spirit and talent, and
a scholar.

Under the direction of this man, and of Giafferi, his colleague, a
democratic constitution, in the highest degree prudent and practical,
was framed for the Corsican people; whilst the popular enthusiasm in
the continued war found vent in standards representing the Holy Virgin
and her Son, implying that, unassisted as they were, and unreached
by human sympathy or compassion, they placed themselves beneath the
guardianship of Heaven.

Early in the next year occurred a strange and romantic adventure in
this adventureful country.

A man, handsome and well-dressed, surrounded by obsequious courtiers,
and attended by every luxury, landed in the island from a vessel
well-furnished with gold, ammunition, and arms.

This man was a German adventurer, Baron Theodore von Neuhoff, who,
after a romantic youth, had suddenly conceived a desire to become king
of Corsica.

He was a man of great talent and personal fascination, of good
judgment, and enthusiastic disposition.

He had fallen in love with the bravery and determination of the
Corsicans, and longed to head such a nation.

He had put himself into communication with the leading islanders;
and, having really some little influence at the continental courts,
persuaded them that he had much more.

He offered to obtain such assistance from foreign potentates, by his
persuasions, as should effectually oust the Genoese; and, in return,
requested the crown of Corsica.

His genius and his enthusiasm were so great, and his promises so
dazzling, that, after some hesitation, the poor Corsicans, in their
despair, seized upon this last straw; and in March, 1736, Theodore was
crowned king.

His exertions for the good of his country were untiring. He established
manufactures and promoted with all his power art and commerce, at the
same time that, with all the force of his genius, he endeavoured to
persuade foreign powers to lend their assistance to his new subjects
in the field. His style of living meanwhile was regal and sumptuous,
and a contemporary Italian historian tells us that he was incessantly
surrounded by a state guard, and that his meals were served to him from
the richest silver dishes.

But, alas! the fleet which he had promised his new subjects never
arrived.

The foreign princes declined to assist him; and presently the Corsicans
became dissatisfied, and began to demand something more convincing
than reiterated promises. Towards the conclusion of his first year
of sovereignty, Theodore left Corsica on a continental tour, with
the avowed object of hastening the promised succour. In two years
he returned, bringing with him three large and several smaller war
vessels, handsomely laden with ammunition, which had actually been
raised by means of his talents and persuasive faculties, chiefly
amongst the Dutch.

But, meanwhile, the Corsicans had had other affairs to which to attend.
France had interfered at the request of Genoa; and negotiations were
actively going on, which the arrival of the pseudo-king could only
interrupt.

Theodore, although now so well attended, found himself unheeded and
disregarded; and after a few months was forced to leave his new kingdom
to its fate, and to return to the continent.

Five years later, in 1743, he again returned, again well equipped, this
time with English vessels, but with the same ill success. Convinced now
that his chance was over and his dream of royalty destroyed, Theodore
returned to England with a sore heart, spending his remaining years in
this asylum for dethroned kings and ruined adventurers. His tomb may be
seen in Westminster Abbey.

For the next five and twenty years the war continued between Corsica
and Genoa, still fought out on the blood-deluged plains of the unhappy
little island.

But the republic of Genoa was now long past her prime, and her energies
were fading into senility; and, had it not been for the ever-increasing
assistance of France, her intrepid foes would long ere this have got
the better of her.

In May, 1768, a treaty was signed between Genoa and France, by which
the republic ceded her now enfeebled claims on Corsica to her ally, and
left her long-oppressed victim to fight the contest out with the French
troops.

During this time, first Gaffori, then Pasquale Paoli, were the leaders
of the people. Gaffori, a man of refinement, and a hero of skill and
intrepidity, was murdered in a vendetta in 1753, and in 1755 Pasquale,
youngest son of the old patriot Hyacinth Paoli, left his position as
officer in the Neapolitan service, and landed, by the general desire
of his own people, at Aleria, to undertake the command of the Corsican
army.

Pasquale was quite a young man at this time, but was well known to be
a highly educated student of no mean abilities, and a soldier who had
served with distinction in foreign active service.

He did not confine his services to the military affairs of his country,
but endeavoured to put a stop to that terrible internal scourge, the
vendetta, which was ruining a noble people.

Notwithstanding that he was now and then harassed by opposition from
one or two of the inland nobles, he continued his good work, and
effected many domestic reforms, at the same time that he fitted out a
Corsican fleet, and successfully resisted the French attacks.

From 1764 to 1768 a truce was concluded between the foes; and this
time Paoli spent in preparations for future emergencies, and in a wise
consolidation of the independent constitution of his country.

Militia were trained and banded, schools established, and crime
punished; and law and order, under the wise administration of this
great man, began everywhere to prevail.

In August, 1768, the truce was to expire; but, before the appointed day
had arrived, an army of twenty thousand French suddenly swooped down
upon the luckless island, and endeavoured by sheer force of numbers to
crush out resistance at once and for ever.

It was a hopeless struggle for Corsica; but the heroism of the
undaunted people moved all Europe to sympathy.

A company of Germans, and many other foreigners, joined their ranks and
fought side by side with the patriots in the defence of their island.

The French sent over their best generals to the small country; and
Marboeuf, Chauvelin, and De Vaux in turn worked at its subjugation.

A short but desperate struggle ensued, which was distinguished by the
wildest and most romantic deeds of valour; and, against the greatest
odds, the Corsicans at first got the better of their formidable foe,
at the Bridge of Golo, in the taking of Borgo, and in other lesser
actions.

Boys, and even women, joined in the fight; whilst quarter was refused
and unasked.

Marboeuf was wounded, and the garrison of Borgo, consisting of seven
hundred men, forced to surrender, after the defeat of the entire French
army.

Ten new battalions were sent for from France, and these again repulsed
in Nebbio.

The Corsican troops were commanded by Pasquale Paoli and his brother
Clemens. As Pasquale Paoli was undoubtedly one of the noblest and
wisest men of his time, so was his brother one of the strangest and
most romantic of characters.

Pasquale, with the clear blue eye, the line brow, and gentle
dignity of carriage, was at once the statesman, the general, and the
philanthropist.

He was the most unselfish and the most upright of men; benevolence,
simplicity, and patriotism endeared him justly to his own country,
whilst his talents and his breadth of mind made his friendship valued
by the great men of all countries. Frederick the Great, Alfieri, and
Dr. Johnson may be named amongst their number.

Clemens was of a different character. With perhaps less breadth of
intellect, and less diplomatic power, he was gifted with a passionate
depth of nature that could scarcely have existed in less troublous
times.

Having for many years served as a soldier--first at Naples, and then
amongst his own people--he afterwards added the profession of a monk to
his military occupations.

Entering the convent of Morosaglia, he emerged from it only to
fight his country's battles, with a courage and a skill that seemed
unparalleled.

Burning with enthusiasm, at once for his religion and his country's
cause, he spent the night in prayer, and the day in deeds of unheard-of
prowess. His success was wonderful; his spirit never failed, nor
was his hope quenched; and he constantly rescued his brother from
difficulty and danger, gaining many a brilliant action over the foe.

He was said to be a dead shot, and to have an eagle eye, and instant
judgment in battle; but in daily life to be gentle, grave, and
melancholy.

The French, not content with their overwhelming forces, essayed
the corruption of some of the national leaders by gold and by fair
promises, and managed to sow distrust amongst the Corsican generals.

Meanwhile, the country was being destroyed, and the troops becoming
exhausted; and none but Clemens Paoli could now believe in the ultimate
success of the Corsicans.

The battle of Ponte Nuovo, on the 9th of May, 1769, at once and for
ever annihilated the Corsican cause, and lost the brave islanders their
independence.

After this victory, the French rapidly gained possession of the whole
island, and shortly afterwards the struggle was abandoned. Paoli
foresaw the uselessness of protracting a bloody and hopeless contest;
and, preferring the possible sneers of a few to the ruin of his beloved
country, left Corsica with most of his generals for the continent.

In the same year, 1769, Napoleon Buonaparte was born in the house out
of the Place du Marché at Ajaccio. "I was born," he said himself in a
letter to Paoli, "the year my country died."

For some years exiled Corsicans of note endeavoured to resume the
struggle, landing from the continent here and there on the shores
of their own country; but none of these efforts were successful, and
Marboeuf, who succeeded Count de Vaux as governor of the island, did
much, by his wise and benevolent rule, to reconcile the people to their
new masters, and to promote the prosperity of Corsica.

He died in 1786; and shortly afterwards the Revolution drew the two
nations together, into relations which were at first friendly, and
finally enthusiastic; so that, in the year 1789, Corsica, by her
own desire, was incorporated in the new constitution of the French
republic.

Clemens Paoli had remained in Italy; but, for twenty years, Pasquale
had now eaten the bread of exile in London, when he was invited by his
own people and by the French National Assembly to return to Corsica.

Made much of on his way through Paris by Robespierre and the leaders of
the people, at Marseilles Paoli was welcomed by a Corsican deputation
headed by young Napoleon Buonaparte and his brother Joseph.

Reaching his own island, he became President of the Assembly and
General of the National Guard, but soon roused French suspicion in
these capacities.

Paoli was no bonnet-rouge or regicide, and sympathizing, as he did,
with the French republican constitution, he hated the crimes and
extravagances of the French communists. This was soon discovered, and
a report being promulgated that Paoli intended to alienate his country
from France, he was summoned before a court of inquiry.

The result was party strife in every direction. The main body of
Corsicans refused to consider their countryman guilty of high treason,
whilst a few sided with France, and fighting soon broke out.

Paoli requested the assistance of the English, offering to place the
island under their protection.

Admirals Hood and Nelson proceeded to Corsica, where they succeeded in
completely routing the republicans, and in making themselves masters of
the island.

After a good deal of misunderstanding, and some juggling on the part of
the English, the Corsicans consented to be governed by a vice-royalty
under Great Britain.

The whole island expected Paoli would be viceroy; instead of which, he
was recalled in his old age from the country for which he had spent his
whole life, and a stranger sent out in his place to govern his native
land.

Clemens, more happy, had returned--after twenty years of monastic life
at Vallombrosa, in Tuscany--to die in his own country, and had closed
his weary eyes in his native village of Morosaglia; but Pasquale came
back, a saddened and humiliated man, to England, dying in hopeless
exile, after the gleam of hope had once more illumined his path.
The bones of the last great patriot of Corsica lie in St. Pancras
churchyard.

The British government was not successful. Sir Gilbert Elliot
(afterwards Lord Minto) was ignorant of the country he had to deal
with, and deficient in tact.

On one occasion, noticing the dirty condition of the streets leading to
the citadel of Bastia, he ordered out a party of Corsican soldiery, to
sweep them clean. When the men found out for what purpose they had been
assembled, they were exceedingly indignant. Had the officer insisted,
there would have been a mutiny. Throwing down the shovels and brushes,
they dispersed angrily, remarking "that they had enlisted for soldiers,
and not for scavengers."

On another occasion, when the viceroy was paying his first visit to
Ajaccio, a ball was given in his honour by the inhabitants. A bust of
Paoli adorned the hall; seeing which, the viceroy's aide-de-camp flung
it down, exclaiming, "What business has this old charlatan here!" The
bust was thrown into a closet and broken to pieces; and when complaint
was made to Sir Gilbert, he refused to interfere, or to inflict any
punishment on his aide-de-camp.

By 1796, Sir Gilbert had alienated all the Corsicans, and quarrelled
with most of the English in Corsica. And in the month of November,
Napoleon Buonaparte, just victorious in Italy, found the sympathies of
his country all on his side when he despatched a force to the island
under two of his generals.

The English, on their part, already half-tired of their bargain,
relinquished the country after the faintest resistance; and once more
Corsica found herself united to France, through the means of her own
compatriot.

From that time to this the country has remained a province of France;
and now by degrees the national peculiarities are fading away, and
French words, French thought, and French manners are slowly superseding
the strong national characteristics of the warlike and singular people
living on this little island, which was for so long the hunting ground
of richer and more powerful, but less noble nations.


     THE END.

     PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,
     BECCLES AND LONDON.              J. S. & S.



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

  Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have
  been preserved.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.





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